Review: The Grace Year

The Grace Year
By Kim Liggett
Published October 8, 2019 by Wednesday Books

Publisher’s summary:
Survive the year.

No one speaks of the grace year. It’s forbidden.

In Garner County, girls are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, to drive women mad with jealousy. They believe their very skin emits a powerful aphrodisiac, the potent essence of youth, of a girl on the edge of womanhood. That’s why they’re banished for their sixteenth year, to release their magic into the wild so they can return purified and ready for marriage. But not all of them will make it home alive.

Sixteen-year-old Tierney James dreams of a better life—a society that doesn’t pit friend against friend or woman against woman, but as her own grace year draws near, she quickly realizes that it’s not just the brutal elements they must fear. It’s not even the poachers in the woods, men who are waiting for a chance to grab one of the girls in order to make a fortune on the black market. Their greatest threat may very well be each other.

With sharp prose and gritty realism, The Grace Year examines the complex and sometimes twisted relationships between girls, the women they eventually become, and the difficult decisions they make in-between.

 

The Grace Year is getting a lot of hype because it’s already been optioned for a film. In this case, the hype is well deserved. It’s a gripping, creepy, devastating book.

The Grace YearIn Garner County, the patriarchy reigns supreme. Although women outnumber men, it’s men who have all power. Women can be wives or workers (in approved professions) once they reach their teen years. Women who don’t fit the mold or have been punished for transgressions against the social order are banished to the outskirts, where they become prostitutes.

Every year, all of the 16-year-old girls in the county are sent away to remote location in the wild for a full year. It’s believed that teenage girls have magic that needs to be expunged from them, and this year in the wild, know as the Grace Year, is supposed to do this. The girls are told nothing about what will happen during that year, but they know that not everyone survives the year. Oh, and there are poachers who hunt the girls, kill them, and sell their body parts.

This book was fantastic. I tore through it. It’s a little bit of The Handmaid’s Tale, Lord of the Flies, and The Hunger Games, with a whiff of the Salem witch trials thrown in. I won’t say much about the plot because I think it’s best for the reader to go into the story knowing as little as the girls do when they begin their Grace Year.

This book is brutal, but then so is the patriarchy. The book does really well at showing how patriarchy pits women against each other, and how it can’t survive without women buying into the system. The heroine Tierney is a great character. She’s not perfect, but she’s strong and she recognizes that things are seriously messed up in the county.

“…I only feel tired. Tired of hating each other. Tired of feeling small. Tired of being used. Tired of men deciding our fate, and for what?”

Read this book and prepare to feel a lot of rage.

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.

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Review: The Last True Poets of the Sea

The Last True Poets of the Sea
By Julia Drake
Published October 1, 2019 by Disney-Hyperion

Publisher’s Summary:
The Larkin family isn’t just lucky—they persevere. At least that’s what Violet and her younger brother, Sam, were always told. When the Lyric sank off the coast of Maine, their great-great-great-grandmother didn’t drown like the rest of the passengers. No, Fidelia swam to shore, fell in love, and founded Lyric, Maine, the town Violet and Sam returned to every summer.

But wrecks seem to run in the family. Tall, funny, musical Violet can’t stop partying with the wrong people. And, one beautiful summer day, brilliant, sensitive Sam attempts to take his own life.

Shipped back to Lyric while Sam is in treatment, Violet is haunted by her family’s missing piece – the lost shipwreck she and Sam dreamed of discovering when they were children. Desperate to make amends, Violet embarks on a wildly ambitious mission: locate the Lyric, lain hidden in a watery grave for over a century.

She finds a fellow wreck hunter in Liv Stone, an amateur local historian whose sparkling intelligence and guarded gray eyes make Violet ache in an exhilarating new way. Whether or not they find the Lyric, the journey Violet takes-and the bridges she builds along the way-may be the start of something like survival.

The Last True Poets of the Sea is a young adult contemporary novel that’s loosely based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Last true poetsViolet’s family is falling apart. Her brother Sam attempted suicide, and now he’s in a treatment facility and she’s been sent to stay with her uncle in the small Maine town of Lyric, where her mother grew up. Her brother’s mental health issues are long standing, and Violet has been dealing with her fractured family for the past year with partying and sex.

In Lyric, Violet befriends some local kids, including Orion and the beguiling Liv. Lyric is a quirky place, and Violet’s family has a long history with the town, which was founded by her ancestors Ransom and Fidelia. Fidelia was the sole survivor of a shipwreck that’s never been located. Liv is obsessed with the town’s legends, and she and Violet bond as they search for the shipwreck.

I really enjoyed the family dynamics that are explored in the book. Sam’s mental health issues have been the family’s focus, and Violet has found ways of acting out. She feels banished to Lyric and guilty that she wasn’t there for her brother. It’s an interesting look at the ripple effects of mental health issues.

I loved the depiction of Lyric. It’s a quirky place with quirky people, and it’s a good place for Violet to heal. I was really interested in her family’s role in the town history, and I wish there had been a bit more of that in the book.

Overall, this was a moving look at a girl whose family is in crisis, and it has a very sweet queer romance. I recommend it for anyone who likes their contemporary YA on the whimsical side.

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.

Review: The Girl the Sea Gave Back

The Girl the Sea Gave Back
By Adrienne Young
Published September 3, 2019 by Wednesday Books

Publisher’s summary:
For as long as she can remember, Tova has lived among the Svell, the people who found her washed ashore as a child and use her for her gift as a Truthtongue. Her own home and clan are long-faded memories, but the sacred symbols and staves inked over every inch of her skin mark her as one who can cast the rune stones and see into the future. She has found a fragile place among those who fear her, but when two clans to the east bury their age-old blood feud and join together as one, her world is dangerously close to collapse.

For the first time in generations, the leaders of the Svell are divided. Should they maintain peace or go to war with the allied clans to protect their newfound power? And when their chieftain looks to Tova to cast the stones, she sets into motion a series of events that will not only change the landscape of the mainland forever but will give her something she believed she could never have again—a home.

I really loved Sky in the Deep, Adrienne Young’s debut novel, so I was excited to read the companion novel, The Girl the Sea Gave Back. It’s not a direct sequel, but it’s set in the same world as Sky in the Deep and the main characters appear in supporting roles.

The Girl the Sea Gave BackSet 10 years after the events of Sky in the Deep, the Nadhir have experienced an unprecedented stretch of peace, but the neighboring tribe of the Svell are growing in strength and may be a threat to the Nadhir, who are still rebuilding after the events of the first book. Halvard is 18 and has been chosen as the heir to the chief of the Nadhir. He wrestles with whether he is truly the right choice for the job.

One of the Svell’s advantages is a young woman named Tova. She is a Truthtongue, someone who can see the future. She is also a member of another tribe, the mysterious Kyrr. She washed up on a beach and was found by Jorrund, the Svell’s spiritual leader. Her life with the Svell has been hard. Although they need her, they also fear her, and the only person who shows her any kindness is Jorrund, but Tova always wonders if it’s because he needs her abilities to maintain his power.  She lives in constant fear of outliving her usefulness to the tribe.

The story is told in alternating chapters from Tova and Halvard’s points of view. It’s effective because the characters have very distinct voices. Tova’s lonely life contrasts with Halvard’s much more secure position. She’s an outsider with no memories of her past, while he is a favored son of his tribe, with a supporting and loving family. The two have little in common, but when Tova casts the rune stones, a connection between them is forged.

The book has a fast moving plot, and most of the action takes place over just a few days. Young’s spare prose works well for the story. The bleakness and beauty of this world really come through in her writing. It’s a gripping story, and I hope Young writes more books set in this world.

Although this is sort of a sequel, it’s possible to read it without having read Sky in the Deep. But the two books go so well together, I would recommend that you read the first one before reading The Girl the Sea Gave Back.

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.

Review: The Babysitters Coven

The Babysitters Coven
By Kate Williams
Published September 17, 2019 by Delacorte Press

Publisher’s Summary:
Adventures in Babysitting meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer in this funny, action-packed novel about a coven of witchy babysitters who realize their calling to protect the innocent and save the world from an onslaught of evil.

Seventeen-year-old Esme Pearl has a babysitters club. She knows it’s kinda lame, but what else is she supposed to do? Get a job? Gross. Besides, Esme likes babysitting, and she’s good at it.

And lately Esme needs all the cash she can get, because it seems like destruction follows her wherever she goes. Let’s just say she owes some people a new tree.

Enter Cassandra Heaven. She’s Instagram-model hot, dresses like she found her clothes in a dumpster, and has a rebellious streak as gnarly as the cafeteria food. So why is Cassandra willing to do anything, even take on a potty-training two-year-old, to join Esme’s babysitters club?

The answer lies in a mysterious note Cassandra’s mother left her: “Find the babysitters. Love, Mom.”

Turns out, Esme and Cassandra have more in common than they think, and they’re about to discover what being a babysitter really means: a heroic lineage of superpowers, magic rituals, and saving the innocent from seriously terrifying evil. And all before the parents get home.

The Babysitters Coven is so much fun. It’s got a definite Buffy the Vampire Slayer feel to it (and one of the characters actually references the similarity of their situation to Buffy).

Esme is a typical teen just trying to get through high school. She’s neither popular nor unpopular, and she and her best friend stay mostly under the radar, spending their spare time The Babysitters Covenbabysitting. When new girl at school Cassandra wants to join their babysitters club, Esme is a little surprised. When she figures that Cassandra has no experience with kids and is a totally incompetent babysitter, she’s really confused. But Esme is also confused by weird stuff that’s happening around her, stuff that she seems to be making happen. And Cassandra apparently has the same problem.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s funny, fast-paced, and very self-aware (it’s got a very Buffy vibe, and that’s actually acknowledged in the book). Esme is a great character. She’s a typical teen dealing with some very atypical stuff. Cassandra is much more of a loose cannon (the Faith to Esme’s Buffy), but she was orphaned as a young child and grew up in the foster care system, so she hasn’t had the stable parental influence that Esme has from her dad (but not her mother, who has been institutionalized since Esme was a small child). I thought the contrast between the two characters worked really well.

This is the start of a series, and I’m interested to see where things go.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

 

Review: The Bone Houses

The Bone Houses
By Emily Lloyd-Jones
Published September 24, 2019 by Little, Brown

Publisher’s summary:
Seventeen-year-old Aderyn (“Ryn”) only cares about two things: her family, and her family’s graveyard. And right now, both are in dire straits. Since the death of their parents, Ryn and her siblings have been scraping together a meager existence as gravediggers in the remote village of Colbren, which sits at the foot of a harsh and deadly mountain range that was once home to the fae. The problem with being a gravedigger in Colbren, though, is that the dead don’t always stay dead.

The risen corpses are known as “bone houses,” and legend says that they’re the result of a decades-old curse. When Ellis, an apprentice mapmaker with a mysterious past, arrives in town, the bone houses attack with new ferocity. What is it that draws them near? And more importantly, how can they be stopped for good?

Together, Ellis and Ryn embark on a journey that will take them deep into the heart of the mountains, where they will have to face both the curse and the long-hidden truths about themselves.

 

The Bone Houses is a gripping YA fantasy that meshes zombies and Welsh legends into a satisfying story.

Ryn is a orphaned gravedigger struggling to keep her family afloat. Ellis is a mapmaker with a mysterious past. When he comes to Ryn’s village to make a map, she agrees to take Bone Househim into the forest. But reanimated corpses, known as Bone Houses (the Z word is never used), are coming out of the forest and attacking the village, so their journey into the forest is fraught with problems.

I really enjoyed this book. Putting zombies into a fantasy setting influenced by Welsh mythology is a great concept, and it works really well. The Bone Houses are terrifying because no one knows why they’re coming back. There have always been rumors that the dead can come back, but now the village is overrun with them.

Ryn and Ellis form an alliance that’s uneasy at first. She needs his money, so she takes him into the forest, but she has her own reasons for undertaking the dangerous journey. Both characters have secrets, and their trip into the forest forces them to confront some hard truths.

In this pairing, Ryn is the muscle. Although she’s only a teenager, she’s been taking care of her family for years and she’s tough as nails. Ellis suffers from chronic pain from an old injury, and physically, the quest is difficult for him. The two have to work together the survive, and their growing bond is very appealing.

This book will appeal to horror, zombie, and mythology fans. It’s a bit of a fairy story, but with zombies, and I loved it.

I received an ARC from the publisher through Amazon Vine.

Review: The Liar’s Daughter

The Liar’s Daughter
By Megan Cooley Peterson
Published September 10, 2019 by Holiday House

Publisher’s tagline:
Piper was raised in a cult.
She just doesn’t know it.

I’m fascinated by stories about cults. How people get into them, what happens when they get out of them. Why people join them in the first place. The Liar’s Daughter is the story Liar's Daughterof a teen girl named Piper who escapes a cult. The twist here is that she didn’t want to leave.

The story is told in alternating “Before” and “After.” We know that Piper is no longer in the cult, but how she got out and what’s really going on aren’t fully apparent until well into the story. In the Before chapters, we see Piper living in a house in the woods with her brothers and sisters. They’re visited occasionally by their Father and Mother, the cult leader and his wife. It’s a weird, isolate life. The cult is your typical doomsday cult: the end is coming, the world outside is full of poison, women belong in the home, and the government is out to get us.

I found the Before Piper hard to take at first. She’s so naive and trusting, even in the face of so much bizarre cult nonsense. But her naivete makes sense in the context of the story (she’s grown up in the cult and doesn’t know any better), and it makes a good contrast to the Piper we see in the After chapters, who is paranoid and unmoored from her old life.

I really enjoyed this book. The Before and After structure of the story worked really well, and it ratcheted up the tension, as we see the buildup to Piper leaving the cult and how it happened. In a note at the end of the book, the author discusses her childhood in a cult-like religious group, and I feel like her experiences give this book an extra dose of reality.

I received an ARC from the publisher through Amazon Vine.

 

Review: The Lady Rogue

The Lady Rogue
By Jenn Bennett
Published September 3, 2019 by Simon Pulse

The Last Magician meets A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue in this thrilling tale filled with magic and set in the mysterious Carpathian Mountains where a girl must hunt down Vlad the Impaler’s cursed ring in order to save her father.

Some legends never die…

Traveling with her treasure-hunting father has always been a dream for Theodora. She’s read every book in his library, has an impressive knowledge of the world’s most sought-after relics, and has all the ambition in the world. What she doesn’t have is her father’s permission. That honor goes to her father’s nineteen-year-old protégé—and once-upon-a-time love of Theodora’s life—Huck Gallagher, while Theodora is left to sit alone in her hotel in Istanbul.

Until Huck arrives from an expedition without her father and enlists Theodora’s help in rescuing him. Armed with her father’s travel journal, the reluctant duo learns that her father had been digging up information on a legendary and magical ring that once belonged to Vlad the Impaler—more widely known as Dracula—and that it just might be the key to finding him.

Journeying into Romania, Theodora and Huck embark on a captivating adventure through Gothic villages and dark castles in the misty Carpathian Mountains to recover the notorious ring. But they aren’t the only ones who are searching for it. A secretive and dangerous occult society with a powerful link to Vlad the Impaler himself is hunting for it, too. And they will go to any lengths—including murder—to possess it.

Lady Rogue has all the charm of Jenn Bennett’s YA contemporaries mixed with an Indiana Jones-esque adventure plot and a little magic, set in 1937. It’s a really fun book. Lady rogueOur heroine Theodora Fox, daughter of famed archaelogist/treasure hunter Richard Fox, is stranded in Instanbul with no money. Then who should show up by Huck Gallagher, the boy who broke her heart a year earlier. She hasn’t heard from him since his abrupt departure the year before, but now he claims he’s here to take her to meet her father in Romania. Theo is skeptical, but when two men in black robes try to break into her hotel room, and she and Huck flee, barely making it on to the Orient Express.

It turns out that Theo’s father has been searching for a ring that may have belonged to Vlad the Impaler (or Vlad Dracula), the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula. Theo and Huck end up on an adventurous journey across the wilds of Romania, searching for her father and being chased by some sinister characters.

This book is really entertaining. Theo is a great heroine. She’s smart and she chafes at the restrictions place on her by society and her father. The “I can’t stand you but I also kind of love you romance” is well done, and Theo and Huck have great chemistry. The plot is fast moving, and it integrates history, adventure, and a little bit of magic. It’s also a fun travelogue of Romania (one of my bucket list vacation spots). It’s a perfect book for anyone who ever wanted to be Indiana Jones.

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.