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Tag: Grimm reviews

Valkyries and Liars: Book Reviews

There are some good books around at the moment! Here’s a couple I’ve enjoyed recently:

The Strange Maid, Tessa Gratton

If you haven’t read the United States of Asgard books yet then you should! This is a companion novel to The Lost Sun – it’s not really a sequel because it starts before The Lost Sun, then catches up and passes it. You could read this one first; it might be a bit spoilery but you wouldn’t be confused.

The United States of Asgard are an alternative United States where the Norse gods are real and preside over the running of the country, where there are Beserkers, Valkyries and trolls – it’s a bit dystopian (the trolls help here), but also not at the same time. The Strange Maid introduces Signy Valborn, a Valkyrie-in-waiting who has received a prophetic riddle from Odin she must solve (and, in doing so, fulfill her destiny). Signy is a tough customer with a troubled past, and she’s not going to be outdone by the riddle or other people’s disappointment in her. When a strange man tells her he knows the answer she jumps at the opportunity to crack it, even if the solution is dangerous to the point of impossibility.

This is a great read, particularly if you like strong female characters (too busy being kick-ass to be nice sometimes), a lot of action, and a bit of poetry mixed in here and there. It’s also a good introduction to Beowulf. Really recommend it!

We Were Liars, E. Lockhart

E. Lockhart strikes again! We loved Frankie Landau-Banks, and have waited ages for this one.

An old, privileged East-Coast American family owns an island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, and every summer they stay there, each branch of the family in their own house. Cadence, a couple of her cousins and a close friend make up the Liars, and they’re inseparable.

That’s as far as I go because I don’t want to spoil things, because the book has big secrets! It might not have important things to say like Frankie does, but, wow, that ending will catch you unawares (unless you go snooping for clues on the internet – but we definitely don’t recommend doing that!).

~ Grimm

Best of 2012: Grimm’s Pick

The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater

All her life, Blue has been told if she kisses her true love he will die. But! Blue’s not too cut up about this, because there are more important things to worry about when you’re a feisty, creative, intelligent young woman who lives in a house full of quirky psychics (therefore the prediction of future doom). Blue’s not psychic herself, so she’s surprised when on St Mark’s Eve – when the spirits of those who will die in the next twelve months walk the Corpse Road – she sees Gansey. The psychics say this is either because Blue will kiss him or just plain kill him, one or t’other. When Gansey turns out to be a Raven Boy – a student at the elite Aglionby academy – Blue decides it’s probably the latter. When she meets him, she’s fairly sure this is the case (best to steer clear then). But Blue’s drawn to Gansey and his Raven friends, who are on a quest to discover the resting place of the long-dead (or rather long-sleeping) Glendower. Gansey is convinced Glendower is around these parts, and that he will grant his waker (being, if all things go to plan, Gansey) a favour.

The Raven Boys is like a supernatural double mystery story (one obvious, one that gradually reveals itself), and if the start sounds like a romance, you might be surprised (don’t be deterred!). There’s a large cast of characters, and they’re all distinct and interesting: I couldn’t decide who I liked best, the competition was stiff. The final sentence is really very good. This book received a lot of advance publicity (um, some of it from me here) and is on its way to being a film.

I also particularly liked this year:

Grave Mercy, Robin LaFevres

Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein

Bitterblue, Kristin Cashore

Quintana of Charyn, Melina Marchetta

Braveheart

Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein.

“I AM A COWARD,” begins Verity. “I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was. I have always been good at pretending.”

“Verity” has been captured in a town in France because she looked the wrong way crossing the road, crashing into a truck right outside Gestapo headquarters in 1943. So, she’s not the most talented spy the British have ever seen then, or is she? Tortured by Gestapo Captain von Linden and his underlings, Verity has cracked under the intense pressure, and agreed to give up British war secrets in exchange for her clothes (“The warmth and dignity of my flannel skirt and woolly jumper are worth far more to me now than patriotism or integrity”). She tells her story on recipe cards, music scores and doctor’s prescription forms, gradually revealing the truth about herself, the British espionage effort, and her best friend Maddie – who flew her across the Channel to begin her short-lived mission – all the time loathing herself for her cowardice, and being loathed by her fellow prisoners. Her story reaches its stressful conclusion about half way into the novel, and I shall say no more!

Except, Code Name Verity is an awesome World War II espionage novel. “Verity” is a wonderfully unreliable narrator (would you trust a spy?), and her story is of two heroic young women who throw themselves headlong into the war with unexpected and frightening consequences. Bring your hankie, or two.

Elizabeth Wein has said this novel was inspired by her research into female pilots in World War II (as a pilot herself – cool! – she wondered what role she could have played), and you can read about her other literary inspirations for the story in this Book Smugglers post here.

If you’re also interested in reading more about women’s participation in World War II (the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, for example), then here are some titles.

Also, Flygirl by Sherri L Smith is about an African American woman who pretends to be white in order to be accepted into the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).

~ Grimm

It’s not easy being queen

Bitterblue is the third book by American writer Kristin Cashore (blog here), and acts as a companion to Graceling and Fire.

Bitterblue has been Queen of Monsea for eight years when the novel opens. Being Queen of Monsea, in practice, means struggling under a great weight of paperwork supplied by her trusted advisors, who assure her that it is indeed essential to the running of her kingdom. It also means she is isolated from her friends (who are busy overthrowing kings in other countries), and increasingly frustrated by how little she knows about Bitterblue City and Monsea. It is hardly surprising then, when one night she snatches the opportunity to escape the castle and explore the streets in disguise, finding herself drawn to a pub where a storyteller has his audience enthralled.

This begins an intricate journey of discovery for Bitterblue and the people of Monsea, who have been kept from the truth first by Leck (Bitterblue’s heinous father, as seen in Graceling and Fire), and then by a misguided assumption that sweeping things under the carpet and quietly moving on is the best way of dealing with attrocities. Bitterblue is about secrets, lies, and the truth that slowly wangles its way out of hiding. (And also adventure and romance.)

Bitterblue is a quiet, page-turning read. There’s a large cast of characters, all with strengths and weaknesses – it’s hard to separate the goodies from the baddies, which is mostly the point. Bitterblue herself differs from Kristin Cashore’s other two heroines (Katsa and Fire), in that she doesn’t have a special power and isn’t (she thinks) particularly beautiful (describing herself as being built like an eggplant), but she does have a large amount of pluck and courage and wit, proving that you don’t have to be magic to be strong, and being strong is an admirable quality in a heroine.

Apart from being a great story, Bitterblue has some other features:

  • – Cyphers! I never really understood how cyphers work, but now I do! Just don’t ask me to explain.
  • – Illustrations – some nice pictures by Ian Schoenherr, including of Monster Bridge, Winged Bridge, Winter Bridge.
  • – “A Who’s Who of the World as We Know It” (a list of characters) – compiled by Bitterblue’s excellent royal librarian, Death (which rhymes with teeth, you see).

You can read the first couple of chapters here. There’s also a website with extras.

~ Grimm