The Thanksgiving Tag

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Hi friends! Happy Thanksgiving! I have much to be thankful for this year, including ALL OF YOU. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because it celebrates 1) being with people you love, whether it’s your birth family or your family of choice; and 2) reflecting on things you’re thankful for. One of the greatest blessings in my life has been the book blogging community. This community is a “family of choice” to me, providing me with so many dear friendships, so I wanted to come up with a way to celebrate with all of y’all. That’s how I came up with the idea of the Thanksgiving Book Tag–this is just a way to have a little fun and talk about some of the books that we’re most thankful for this Thanksgiving. Oh, and it also allows me to talk about food, another of my great loves. Though I can assure you that this English Trifle will NOT be on my dinner table this year. ;)

Disclaimer: I conducted a search to make sure a tag like this didn’t already exist, so I wouldn’t neglect giving due credit. My search didn’t provide any results, but I apologize if someone has already had this idea and I didn’t see it.

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The Halsey Book Tag

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HELLO THIS IS OUR 500TH POST. LOOK AT US BEING BLOGGERS WHO ACTUALLY BLOG. WE HAVE COME SO FAR SINCE I (JUDITH) STARTED THIS SILLY BLOG IN 2012. DON’T LOOK AT ME I’M NOT CRYING. I’M SO PROUD OF US. AND WHAT BETTER WAY TO CELEBRATE THAN WITH HALSEY, AMIRITE? ANYWAY, BACK TO ELLIS.

You might have lived under a rock for the past few months if you don’t know who Halsey is. (Or just not that into Tumblr, Twitter, good music, certain people on this blog, and the people they like to yell with about exciting things in the aforementioned spaces.) In any case, when I (Ellis) saw Angie mention to someone she wished there was a Halsey book tag, I crashed that conversation, and we came up with some prompts. Then Meg crashed our conversation and helped us fill in the missing spaces. Et voilà, next thing you know, Angie creates a full-blown book tag on her perfectly named new blog, Lady Knight Reads. Technically, I wasn’t tagged but I’m going to interpret contributing to the creation process as a tag of sorts. And obviously, I’m dragging my co-bloggers down with me. Also EEEP 500th post (even though I haven’t even blogged here for a year.)

Note from Ellice: EEEEEEEEEEEEEE 500 posts! *cupcakes for everyone!*

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Mini Review: The Girl on the Train

Mini Review: The Girl on the TrainTitle: The Girl on the Train
Author: Paula Hawkins
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Release Date: January 13, 2015
Source: Borrowed
Add it: Goodreads
Rating: 3 Stars

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

my thoughts

I’m honestly struggling for what to say about The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. It has left me somewhat at a loss for words. The story itself was a bit lackluster, which I’m afraid is due partly to my own unfair expectations. It received a starred review in Library Journal, and I had read several reviews that described is an edge-of-your-seat thriller. That, it was not, however. At least not until the very end. The beginning was super slow. It took several chapters for the story to start flowing at a pace that made me want to continue reading in the same sitting. And the characters? Ick! Like in Gone Girl (a comparison I’ve seen repeatedly which, in my opinion, is spot-on), the characters in The Girl on the Train are detestable. There isn’t a single one that I wanted to root for (one of the characters did have me fooled for a while, but then nope, never mind!). However, I did enjoy this book so much more than Gone Girl— I felt that these characters, though unlikable, had some depth to them, and at times, I even found myself sympathizing them.

I know I sound super negative, and you’re probably thinking to yourself, “why did she give it 3 stars if she didn’t like it?” Well, there were things about this book that I really did like. I really like suspense novels. I like looking at each character that is presented to the story and wondering if he/she is the murderer, and this story is so intricately woven that there are several characters that seem viable as the “bad guy.” The way that Hawkins weaves the first-person perspectives of three different females into a cohesive narrative is very impressive. You get to see into the lives of the different characters from different perspectives, and I found that fascinating how the same story can look so different (or similar, in some cases) through another person’s eyes. I did figure out who the culprit was, but it was late in the novel, and it was such a surprise that I wasn’t disappointed that I figured it out early.

I wish I hadn’t had such high expectations for The Girl on the Train. I feel so let down by these books like this one and Gone Girl that promised to be “unputdownable.” However, I’m starting to think that maybe I have some unfair expectations of the genre of psychological thriller as a whole. I’m not sure. But all-in-all, I would recommend this book to someone who likes mysteries with unreliable narrators, because this book does achieve that quite well.

memorable quotes

“I can’t do this, I can’t just be a wife. I don’t understand how anyone does it–there is literally nothing to do but wait. Wait for a man to come home and love you. Either that or look around for something to distract you.”

“We shouldn’t, we ought not to, but we will. It won’t be the last time. He won’t say no to me. I was thinking about it on the way home, and that’s the thing I like most about it, having power over someone. That’s the intoxicating thing.”

“Hollowness: that I understand. I’m starting to believe that there isn’t anything you can do to fix it. That’s what I’ve taken from the therapy sessions: the holes in your life are permanent. You have to grow around them, like tree roots around concrete; you mould yourself through the gaps.”

“And now I find myself behaving exactly like she used to: polishing off the half bottle of red left over from dinner last night and snooping around on his computer. It’s easier to understand her behaviour when you feel like I feel right now. There’s nothing so painful, so corrosive, as suspicion.”

“You’re like one of those dogs, the unwanted ones that have been mistreated all their lives. You can kick them and kick them, but they’ll still come back to you, cringing and wagging their tails. Begging. Hoping that this time it’ll be different, that this time they’ll do something right and you’ll love them.”

Guest Post: The Challenge of Writing Horror for YA Readers

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Hi y’all! It’s almost that time again… time for another #historicalfix Twitter chat hosted by author Erin Lindsay McCabe, Leah and myself. I’m so happy that we’ve had such a positive response to these chats, and I’m honored that Erin has asked me to participate again. I enjoy discussing one of my favorite genres with a group of readers and authors who are passionate about it as well. This time, we decided to include the topics of horror or paranormal in historical fiction since it’s so close to Halloween. Ghost stories! Eep! We have some special guests who will be appearing in the chat, including Katherine Howe, Cat Winters, Jennifer McMahon and today’s guest on the blog, Lynn Carthage. Be sure to join us TONIGHT (Tuesday, October 20) at 8:30 ET/7:30 CT. Now, I will turn the floor over to Lynn Carthage!

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Series review: His Fair Assassin

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Title: His Fair Assassin series
Author: Robin LaFevers
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Release Date: April 3, 2012
Genre/Age Group: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Source: Purchased
Add it: Goodreads
Rating: 4 Stars

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

my thoughts

(Yes, I have already reviewed Grave Mercy separately, but after finishing both Dark Triumph and Mortal Heart I feel like I can most accurately sum up my thoughts in a series review.)

Robin LaFevers’ His Fair Assassin series is one I have put off for the longest time, mostly because it intimidated me too much. I don’t have a lot of experience reading historical fiction and for some reason I thought these books were going to be very dense and hard to get through. The opposite was true. Just a couple of chapters into Grave Mercy, I fell completely in love with the world, the politics and the characters, and I couldn’t put it down. Unfortunately for me, I was on vacation at the time, and after finishing the first book, there was no way to get my hands on the second and third straightaway. So I sulked, because I was so very into this world LaFevers has created, in which the brutal wars between Brittany in France in the 15th century got combined with folklore fantasy and court politics. And assassins. I immediately fell in love with the convent of Mortain, in which his daughters were trained to be his handmaidens. 15th century assassin nuns, trained to seduce men and kill them when they’re vulnerable. It’s like this series was written for me.

After finishing all three books, I especially like how well they each show different parts of the story, and complement each other so well. Grave Mercy, the first book, starts slowly with the arrival of Ismae at the convent and then the Breton court, and we learn about the history and politics of 15th century Brittany most of all. In Dark Triumph, a lot of the politics is pushed back in favor of Sybella’s personal story, which was horrible to read about, but it also definitely made Sybella the most fleshed-out character of the three of them. Mortal Heart focuses on the mythological side of things, as we follow Annith from the convent to find her destiny and her place in Mortain’s grace. While reading the first book especially, I kept wishing to learn more about the mythological side of things, or I thought the way the politics were left off in Grave Mercy was a bit abrupt. However, when you look at all three books combined, it’s just an amazing story. Both this and the fact that I found them very easy to read made me wish I would have binge-read this series. In fact, if I hadn’t brought the first book with me on vacation and had yet to order the others, I would have done just that.

So, let’s get into the separate books a bit more. Even though I already reviewed Grave Mercy separately, I am going to repeat my thoughts here because I want to and because my initial review was all over the place. The thing with reading Grave Mercy was that, though a lot of people apparently thought it was a bit slow, I wish it could have been longer. However, now that I’ve read all three books, I know I wouldn’t have felt that way if I’d just binged the series. But I repeat myself. In the first book of the series, we meet Ismae, who, after a brief marriage to an asshole, learns that she is the daughter of Mortain, the god of death, and is sent to his convent to train to be come his handmaiden (also known as assassin). After Ismae gets sent out on her first mission a few years later, she eventually gets sent to the Breton court, and there she has to deal with the politics of a country about to go to war with France. This part of the story actually reminded me of the start of The Crown of Embers, and court politics never manage to bore me. Even though I think Ismae is the most standard and least fleshed-out of the characters LaFevers has created, I do love her feistiness and stubbornness. I just wish she had been developed a little more. I also really enjoyed the romance, even though I usually struggle with that part, and not in a small part because of the best sex scene in the history of ever.

Where Grave Mercy, more than anything, tells the story of the politics in Brittany, Dark Triumph is focused on Sybella’s personal story, which makes her a much better developed character than Ismae. I am so glad LaFevers chose a different path, because Sybella is, by far, my favorite of the three assassins, both because of her general attitude and because she is better developed than the rest of them. Sybella’s story is also the hardest to read, though, because it focuses on her gruesome childhood. After barely getting the chance to heal from her past in the convent, the abbess sends Sybella back into the horrific household of her father, filled with abusive assholes, and I wanted to punch them all with bricks. Watching Sybella (who reminds me of both Quintana of Charyn and Helena from Orphan Black, except slightly less out of it) face her demons was awful, but she is so strong and I love her so much, my precious queen. Her romance was also my favorite of the three, because I love Beast the most. I do, in a way, feel like Sybella gets the most overlooked of all three handmaidens, and with her story being the shortest, I can’t help but feel like she deserved more. Mostly, I wish her story had been longer – not because I feel like the plot wasn’t finished, as I feel like her story was very well-written, but because I just want more of her, and I feel like there could have been more.

Mortal Heart is, in my opinion, the best of all of them, although not necessarily my favorite. The way LaFevers crafted this story is just very impressive. We start out back at the convent with Annith, and after two books where the convent was barely a prominent setting, I was happy to finally learn how it really worked. What this final book in the trilogy also cleared up was the mythology, which I hadn’t realized I missed in the first two books until this one. In Mortal Heart, Annith is stuck. The abbess wants her to become the convent’s seeress, while Annith has always so desperately wanted to go out and serve Mortain – and because she is the best novitiate he has probably ever had. I didn’t like Annith at all in the first two books – I thought she was whiny for no reason – but surprisingly, I liked her a lot in this book. She is still my least favorite, but I could really understand her thought process, and could relate to her feeling of loneliness at times. The romance is not my favorite, because it made me feel a bit weird for spoilery reasons, but I do think it was a really cool thing. It’s really hard to talk about this book without discussing spoilers, because a large part of why I think this is such a good book is the big twist at the end (or series of big twists is more like it). I also loved seeing Ismae, Sybella and Annith together for the first time, and I wish there had been more of that. Squad goals tbh.

There are more things that stood out to me. I loved, for example, how there was this subtle feminist message throughout the entire series. I say subtle because, not talking about the fact that it is about assassin nuns killing men, there were these smaller moments of female empowerment and justice, for example when Sybella tells Julian what he did was not and never would have been okay, and Annith telling Balthazaar that the fact that she entices his men is not her problem but theirs. This blatant stab at victim shaming is so important and I’m so happy LaFevers wrote these moments in. Furthermore, I just loved so many of the side characters. Anne, for one, is one of my absolute favorites. She was, in every way, such an inspiring character, and one it was just impossible not to love. Duval, like Ismae, was not the most original and outstanding of characters, but brothers protecting their baby sisters will never not get to me, and I admired his brilliant strategies. Beast is my favorite of the male characters, for loving Sybella, but also just for being so kind to pretty much everyone. Balthazaar I didn’t really like, because for the most part, he was the embodiment of the typical dark, brooding guy in YA. However, I love how LaFevers wrote his character, and that improves much.

All in all, I think that the His Fair Assassin series is amazing, and one of the best series for binge-reading I have ever read. I just wish I’d done that. I’m so impressed with the mythology that LaFevers created (especially in Mortal Heart, this was one of my favorite aspects) and there were such great plot twists that I really do think she’s an amazing storyteller. I love the main characters (Ismae, even though she is the least original, Sybella, because she is a precious queen, and Annith, because I could relate to her) and surprisingly, I also loved the romance (Ismae and Duval, because they are adorable and because of that sex scene, Sybella and Beast, because they are precious and sweet and they deserve it so much, and Annith and Balthazaar, not because I liked their romance per se, but because of that plot twist and because it makes sense). Though I don’t think it’s completely perfect, I had the best time discovering this world, politics and mythology and history included. I loved both the court politics and the traveling the country, both the assassin aspect and the war games, and just the entire atmosphere of this series. It’s just really, really good.

Forever hesitating between 4 and 4.5 stars.

memorable quotes

(I already listed my favorite Grave Mercy quotes here, but these are from Dark Triumph and Mortal Heart.)

“You never said how you know so much about treating injuries,” the knight says.
I glance up at him in annoyance. “Why have you not yet passed out from the pain?”

“One of the men loses his grip, and the horse startles, slamming Beast’s wounded leg between its flank and the helping guard, and Beast faints.
I sigh. “I fear that has become a new habit of his,” I murmur to the others.”

 “I didn’t abduct you; I rescued you!” He sounds affronted by my lack of appreciation.
“I did not ask to be rescued!”

“And so I turned to Saint Mer. Her wildish nature called to me. I wished to dance with storms, like She did.”

 “Truly, we are the gods’ own children, forged in the fire of our tortured pasts, but also blessed with unimaginable gifts.”

“From the moment I was first sent out, nothing was as I had been preparing for. There was none of the black and white that the convent had used to paint the world for us. The people, the politics, the world itself, were much more nuanced, with who was right and who was wrong often simply a matter of where one stood.”

“Of a sudden, I feel shy around her, around both of them, for they have changed so much, and I feel as if I have been let behind to calcify and harden like a barnacle on the hull of one of the convent’s boats.”

Ismae opens her mouth, then closes it again. “I do not know,” she finally admits, “but I would like to think she would not kill an innocent man.”
Sybella rolls her eyes. “There is a reason you are Mortain’s mercy and I am not.”

“We cannot be held responsible for what our families do, especially when we have no way to control them.”