{Review} The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

July 23, 2014 Review 0 ★★★★★

{Review} The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle ZevinThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Published by Thorndike Press on April 4, 2014
Genres: Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 260 pages
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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In the spirit of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Gabrielle Zevin's enchanting novel is a love letter to the world of books - and booksellers - that changes our lives by giving us the stories that open our hearts and enlighten our minds. On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means. A. J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island - from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who's always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.'s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly. And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It's a small package, but large in weight. It's that unexpected arrival that gives A.J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn't take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.'s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn't see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

The cover of the copy I read (see above) is not really a favourite. I like the iconography and the font, but it seems a little bland to me. I think this cover is actually the American cover, so I’m not sure why my Canadian library has it. However, I LOVE the Canadian cover, and this one which is very similar (I can’t figure out which country it is though… Australia maybe?). I think the Canadian one is a lot prettier and less jumbled.


I had heard a lot of “buzz” about this novel, but all I really knew was that it is being marketed as a book for book lovers. I knew an old guy owned a bookstore in it, but that’s it. When it came in at the library, I picked it up and started reading without even glancing at the jacket copy. I’ll be up front and say I loved this book – and I’m not surprised, given that Gabrielle Zevin also wrote Elsewhere, a book that has stayed with me for many years.


This book is one of those ones that I loved so much, that it becomes difficult to explain. Honestly, I feel that reading this book without knowing a whole lot about it was part of its charm… so, I’m not going to tell you a whole lot about it. The essential premise is revolves around A.J. Fikry, the owner of a bookstore on a small New England island (and he’s middle-aged, not “old”). Garth Stein wrote that “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry reminds us of what saves us all from a life of loneliness and isolation: our sense of empathy; our ability to love and be loved; our willingness to care and be cared for.” That’s basically the fundamental themes of this book, and Zevin explores them so beautifully. A.J. Fikry is a character who I immediately hated, then began to root for… and by the end of the story, I was brokenhearted to see him suffer. This book is definitely character-driven, and if you love the exploration of people and what makes them tick, you will love this book.

At first it seems pretentious. A.J. Fikry is a bit of a literary snob in the opening chapters. As I said, I kind of hated him at first. (Okay, not “kind of”… I really did.) But by the end of the book, all kinds of books are celebrated – from children’s picture books to YA to genre crime fiction. I love how Zevin incorporates so much variety into this book… everything from the types of books sold and read to the cast of characters to the setting are quirky and colourful. Zevin writes setting masterfully; Alice Island Books is another character just as full of life as the living, breathing ones.

One of my favourite back cover blurbs for this book sums up the best parts of it: “This novel has humor, romance, a touch of suspense, but most of all love – love of books and bookish people and, really, all of humanity in its imperfect glory” (Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child). While The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is definitely a book for bookish people – and thus involves a bookstore, several avid readers, and lots and lots of books – there are also other non-bookish things to love: a mystery, a baby, the lives of non-readers. I really enjoyed how this wasn’t just about books… while I love reading and I like reading about books, having such diversity in both characters and plot makes the book come alive.

There was one thing that bugged me about this book, but I have to be vague because it would be a major spoiler otherwise. The ending is… unexpected. At first I was very unhappy with it. I read one review on Chapters that said: “Ending ruins the whole book, waste of time reading it and I would not recommend it to anyone. The story falls apart and is a huge disappointment. Not worth the read at all. Wish I never read it.” While this was strongly worded for even my initial disappointment, after sitting with this book for a few days after reading, the ending is kind of fitting. It’s not a typical happily ever after, but it definitely fits with the themes of the book and Zevin’s message becomes even clearer. So, while it is a hard ending to love, I do think it is the right ending for The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.

Finally, this book left me with a recommendation that I have to mention. In the acknowledgments (which I have taken to reading lately and usually really enjoy), Zevin writes, “Lambiase and the first Ms. Fikry speak variations on the phrase, ‘A town isn’t a town without a bookstore.’ Surely, they both must have read American Gods by Neil Gaiman.’” I love this, because I completely agree with Lambiase and Ms. Fikry. I have never read anything by Neil Gaiman but have been meaning to for so long… have any of you read American Gods? Did you like it?

Ultimately, if you are reading this blog I urge you to read this book – I wish I could buy a copy and push it into your hands myself! It’s a book for any kind of reader that any book lover will be able to love and appreciate.


Have you read The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry? Is it on your TBR list? Have you enjoyed any other of Gabrielle Zevin’s novels? Do you tend to like books about books?

5 Stars


{Review} Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

July 3, 2014 Review 2 ★★★★

{Review} Lost Lake by Sarah Addison AllenLost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 21, 2014
Genres: Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 296
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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From the New York Times bestselling author of Garden Spells comes a novel about heartbroken people finding hope at a magical place in Georgia called Lost Lake.

Suley, Georgia, is home to Lost Lake Cottages and not much else. Which is why it's the perfect place for newly-widowed Kate and her eccentric eight-year-old daughter Devin to heal. Kate spent one memorable childhood summer at Lost Lake, had her first almost-kiss at Lost Lake, and met a boy named Wes at Lost Lake. It was a place for dreaming. But Kate doesn't believe in dreams anymore, and her Aunt Eby, Lost Lake's owner, wants to sell the place and move on. Lost Lake's magic is gone. As Kate discovers that time has a way of standing still at Lost Lake can she bring the cottages -- and her heart -- back to life? Because sometimes the things you love have a funny way of turning up again. And sometimes you never even know they were lost... until they are found.

I had heard of Sarah Addison Allen when her novel The Peach Keeper came out, but I never managed to pick up anything by her. A while back, I read a review of Lost Lake on a blog (can’t remember which one!) and was immediately intrigued. There is something so magical about summertime and spending it at a “lost” dilapidated lake sounded like something else. I think the cover is absolutely gorgeous – the colours are so mysterious, somehow, and the lights are beautiful – and if I had walked by it in a bookstore or library, I probably would’ve picked it up. It looks like my kind of book.

Looking back on this book the best way I can describe it is like a summer memory. You know those memories of summer that seem tinged by the hot, hazy weather, of days that melt together and nothing much is happening, but at the same time it feels like a magical time of year somehow? That’s what this book reminds me of. This book is a contemporary and it feels true to life but at the same time like a dream, and it’s in this way that the tiny magical elements feel so at home in it.

I didn’t read the jacket copy until I already had the book home, but I was immediately wary of the single mother cliché – it’s something that I usually don’t enjoy, probably because I feel so far from motherhood myself. But Kate’s problems with her daughter are really just indicative of her problems with herself. Ultimately Kate’s struggle with herself is universal; it’s a struggle through grief and confusion and wanting to understand and know one’s self, but feeling unable to. This is one of my favourite parts of the book:

“Kate was tired of sacrificing her happiness for someone else’s dreams. She’d done it for her mother when she was a teenager, and she’d done it for Matt. She’d done it all willingly, but never again. For the past year, she’d been scared that she couldn’t actually live her own life, that she was someone who was inherently incapable of it. She was scared of being a bad parent. Scared of being alone. Scared to grieve. Not anymore. This, she thought, was where her real life was going to start. She didn’t know where it was going, but it was going to start here, where she used to know herself so well, where no one else’s rules made sense but her own.”

In this sense Lost Lake is a Bildungsroman, an exploration of Kate’s childhood and adulthood. The melding of these two opposing parts of her life is what brings her a sense of peace and hope for the future. It’s empowering and motivating to see Kate take charge of her own life and cope with her grief in a way that works for her. I like that she finds the strength that allows her to be independent of others, so when she does rely on someone, it’s because she truly loves them and wants a relationship with them.

The House That Built Me by Miranda Lambert on Grooveshark

While Kate did not grow up at Lost Lake and it’s not technically her home, there is a real sense that she is returning home to “find herself.” It reminds me so much of that Miranda Lambert song “The House That Built Me.” (Just listen to the lyrics and you’ll see what I mean.) Kate’s last happy childhood was spent at Lost Lake so in many ways her trip there as an adult is all about revisiting the past. She spends a lot of time revisiting her relationships from that period of her life: “Those stories were the sound track of my summer with you.” (My favourite quote. Ever. So sweet.) There is, relatedly, a strong sense of old vs. young, past vs. future, retirement vs. fresh start. The stories of Kate and her Aunt Eby are equally important in this novel, and it is interesting to compare Aunt Eby looking back on her past with tired eyes, with Kate looking to the future with hope. This contrast really provides some depth to the story, as it’s not just about Kate’s struggles, it’s about Eby’s, too.

Allen writes magical realism, which is “a literary genre in which realistic narrative is combined with surreal elements” (definition provided by I Believe In Story, which has an excellent post on the genre). As I mentioned before, the novel is definitely contemporary and seems completely realistic in most respects. The difference is the small moments which make you question the novel’s reality, as if there’s something not quite right that you just can’t quite put your finger on. The magical realism elements of the story really create a fun atmosphere and contribute to that overwhelming sense I described before of a lazy summer day.

One of the best ways I can think to describe this book is kind of like Sarah Dessen for adults. If you’ve read Sarah Dessen, you know what I mean – characterized by summery carefree days where the focus is on emotional development and burgeoning new relationships, not the details of one’s sordid past. This focus on character development is the highlight of the book, and if you like a focus on that in your reads, this is for you. For this who love summertime and all it entails, this will check that box too. Finally, it has a super slow, swoon-y romance that is sure to delight (I adore the love interest). I highly, highly recommend this if any of that sounds like something you’d love.

A Few Favourite Quotes:

“After they ate, there was silence, save for the thrumming of the nighttime wildlife, a strange sort of chorus that seemed to call from one side of the lake and answer on the other.”

“She understood that the hardest times in life to go through were when you were transitioning from one version of yourself to another.”

“‘I taught literature for nearly forty years. The books I read when I was twenty completely changed when I read them when I was sixty. You know why? Because the endings changed. After you finish a book, the story still goes on in your mind. You can never change the beginning. But you can always change the end. That’s what’s happening here.’”

“Lisette loved the flavors of old, simple recipes, ones made so often that their edges were worn down and they tasted soft and sure of themselves. They made her think of her grand-mère, who had lost her husband and two of her sons in the war. She had cried every day for a year, walking the same stretch of road from her home to the train station, waiting for them to come back. Her tears fell as black stones to the ground, and to this day those stones lodged themselves in car tires and let all the air out slowly in a wail. People called it Sorrow Road. Lisette had very few memories of her grand-mère and her house in the country. She remembered the bread she had baked there in a sooty black stove. And she remembered her grand-mère once holding out her spotted, papery fingers and telling Lisette that old hands made the best food. ‘Old hands can hold memories of good things,’ she had said.”

4 Stars


In Praise of Slow Reading

June 30, 2014 Discussion Post 10


Before I began blogging, I thought that I was a pretty fast reader. People were always making remarks about how many books I’d read, and that I must be a fast reader. However, once I become part of the book blogosphere, I realized that I’m actually probably just slightly faster than average (I remember doing that Staples reading test a while back!). It takes me approximately 2 hours to read 100 pages, although I tend to read a bit faster on e-readers.

Sometimes I can read a book in an entire day, if I have 4-6 hours to dedicate to reading. But usually it takes me a few days. Now that I’m reading and reviewing books, I tend to push myself to read more throughout the year. Last year I read 75 books. This year though, I’m challenging myself to return to reading 50 books. Why?

Slow Reading
Upon reflection, particularly in writing my comparison of my 2012 vs. 2013 reading experiences, I have discovered that I enjoy books much more when I get a chance to sit with them (which shouldn’t surprise me, I almost always end up liking a book more that I would have if I initially rated it 3 or higher after chatting about it at book club!). Taking time to really absorb the words on the page, and to connect with the characters apparently makes a big difference to the pleasure I get out of a book.

I think another reason that I like taking my time to read through a book is that reading can help my anxiety. I’m going to be talking about this hopefully soon in a new upcoming interactive feature, but the books that have helped me get through some difficult times and deal with my anxiety are books that it took me weeks, even a month or more to read. I think this is because it is reassuring to continue coming back to a story, night after night. It provides a sense of stability, and a chance to escape in a familiar world. Racing through a book could, at times, alleviate that sense of anxiety — in regards to leaving the characters and world, to have to make a choice about another book, etc.

All this is to say that I think I’ve finally come to discover and, perhaps, more importantly, to understanding my reading personality. Sure, it’s just one facet of my reading personality. There are many other things that can be taken into account: time of day, preferred genres, hardback or paperback, e-reader or paper, and other reading quirks. It’s nice (and fun!) to realize what works for you, and to be able to put that into practice, allowing yourself to have the best reading experience you can. I don’t know if I would have discovered this part of my reading personality had I not started blogging!

*This post isn’t trying to diminish those who can read with lightning speed, and I’m not trying to say one is better than another. Go with whatever works for you as a reader!

Continue the Convo!
Are you a fast, average or slow reader (how long does it take you to read 100 pages?)? Do you prefer to routinely binge read, or does reading across a few days work better for you? Does your reading speed affect your experience, like it sometimes does me? How is your 2014 reading experience going? Let me know in the comments!



Blue Sky Days Relaunch Blitz

June 27, 2014 Blog Tour, Book Blitz, Giveaways 4

Blue Sky Days Relaunch Blitz

Welcome to the Blue Sky Days Relaunch Blitz! I rave about Marie Landry enough that by now everyone should know that I highly recommend her books, right? Well, in case you need a reminder, here’s my chance! Marie Landry is one of my favourite Canadian authors – she writes heartwrenching, laugh out loud contemporary romance stories in the vein of Sarah Dessen. Today I’m helping relaunch her first book, Blue Sky Day. Full disclosure – I helped beta read some of this book. While I haven’t finished it (yet!), I just know that she is going to rip my heart out of my chest. Why? Read on to find out more about the novel, the special importance this relaunch has to the author, and find out how you can win one of three $20 PayPal giftcards!

Blue Sky Days Relaunch BlitzBlue Sky Days by Marie Landry
on June 27, 2014
Genres: New Adult
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A year after graduating from high school, nineteen-year-old Emma Ward feels lost. She has spent most of her life trying to please her frigid, miserable mother - studying hard, getting good grades, avoiding the whole teenage rebellion thing - and now she feels she has no identity beyond that. Because she spent so many years working hard and planning every moment of her life, she doesn't have any friends, has never had a boyfriend, and basically doesn't know who she is or what she really wants from life. Working two part-time jobs to save money for college hasn't helped her make decisions about her future, so she decides it's time for a change. She leaves home to live with her free-spirited, slightly eccentric Aunt Daisy in a small town that makes Emma feel like she's stepped back in time.

When Emma meets Nicholas Shaw, everything changes - he's unlike anyone she's ever met before, the kind of man she didn't even know existed in the 21st century. Carefree and spirited like Daisy, Nicholas teaches Emma to appreciate life, the beauty around her, and to just let go and live. Between Daisy and Nicholas, Emma feels like she belongs somewhere for the first time in her life, and realizes that you don't always need a plan - sometimes life steers you where you're meant to be.

Life is wonderful, an endless string of blue sky days, until Nicholas is diagnosed with cancer, and life changes once again for Emma in ways she never thought possible. Now it's time for her to help Nicholas the way he's helped her. Emma will have to use her new-found strength, and discover along the way if love really is enough to get you through.


June 27th is the 20th anniversary of my dad’s death from leukemia. For a long time I’ve wanted to honour him in some way, and I thought having the relaunch of Blue Sky Days, a book that was partly inspired by him, would be the perfect tribute. My dad was a wonderful man—smart, funny, kind, and loyal. He was an amazing father, husband, brother, and friend. Even before he died, I knew I wanted to be a writer, and he would listen to my crazy made-up stories with the patience of a saint.

From the 27th-30th of June, half the proceeds from all sales of Blue Sky Days will be donated to the Canadian Cancer Society. If you already own a copy, maybe you’d consider buying the book for a friend or family member? Or buying another copy from a different retailer (like Smashwords, which offers the book in every format)?

I greatly appreciate the support of the online reading/writing community for helping me honour my dad.



Thanks to eight incredible sponsors, there’s a huge blitz-wide giveaway! There will be three (3) $20 PayPal cash prizes. Three chances to win – not too shabby, huh? This giveaway is open internationally to people aged 18+ who can accept PayPal cash.

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{Review} Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

June 26, 2014 Review 5 ★★★★

{Review} Grave Mercy by Robin LaFeversGrave Mercy by Robin LaFevers
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on April 3, 2012
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Pages: 549
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
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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?


I have to admit that despite the reviews that were definitely catching my eye, I find the cover a little off-putting and I was just not feeling ready to pick it up every time I walked past it in the bookstore or the library. I like the general set up of the cover but to be honest, the cover model doesn’t look like a strong kick-ass heroine to me, and it just left me feeling very meh about the book.


This book has been on my radar for quite some time, and my interest was re-piqued when I watched padfootandprongs07‘s video Fantasy Books I Want to Read and then later saw that Hannah was re-reading Grave Mercy before starting Dark Triumph (the sequel).


Despite my initial misgivings, there is actually so much to love about Grave Mercy. It is by far one of my favourite books of the year. I read it in two days (and considering it’s 500+ pages that’s pretty fast for me). Rachelia and I were going to read along together, but I was so caught up in it I couldn’t wait for her to get to it that night! (Sorry, Rachelia!) Anyway, here’s why I loved it:

1. Ismae

After reading the synopsis for Grave Mercy, I knew immediately it was a book I would love. Ismae reminded me of characters written by Kristin Cashore, Sarah J. Maas, and Tamora Pierce (who are some of my favourite authors ever). I like these ladies - KatsaCaelenaKel - because they so awesomely revert gender stereotypes.

Ismae is strong like this – her entire life has been a struggle for existence, and in the first few pages of the book, she is sold and married to a pig farmer and accosted by a madwoman her first night in the convent. She takes everything in stride and always focuses on the next step, never dwelling on whatever latest tragedy has befallen her.

She begins to struggle with her moral code and the duty she feels to the convent. This challenge felt so real and fresh; it’s a struggle many of us face, and seeing how she coped with it and the consequent character development was really interesting. Intertwined in all that are her feelings on religion and paranormal gifts, so it’s a really interesting way to view personal ethics vs. “the Man”.

2. Duval

There is a romance in this book and I have to admit I’m a sucker for that kind of thing in high fantasy. I loved Duval right from the start – tall, dark, and brooding – he’s exactly my kind of love interest. The tension in their relationship at the beginning of the novel was fantastically done, and I love the “slow burn” kind of romances. This one fits that description to a T. There are some pretty sworn-woothy moments, and it was delightful to watch them realize they’d fallen for each other: “Whenever you are ready, or if you never are, my heart is yours, until Death do us part. Whatever that may mean when consorting with one of Death’s handmaidens.” Even when being romantic, Ismae is still witty and funny!

There were some problem areas with their relationship, and at times things felt too contrived, too inconsistent, and too fast-moving, but overall I loved Ismae and Duval individually and I loved them together. One of my favourite Duval moments is when he begins to take his relationship with Ismae seriously: “When one consorts with assassins, one must expect to dance along the edge of a knife once or twice.” Even though he’s beginning to open up to her, his wry humour still kicks in. The execution of their coming together as a couple was a little wonky at times (and a certain moment of passion was a bit weird and unconvincing), but at the end of the day I can’t help but love this aspect of the book, too.

3. Setting

I can’t think of a more fascinating setting. It is 1485 in Brittany, which at the time is a duchy separate from France. This time in history was rife with political turmoil and questions of nationality and separatism were of huge importance. (Wikipedia, as always, has a great outline of the basic situation.) Not only is the time period and country fascinating, but the novel takes place first in a convent and later in a castle – which is basically the perfect recipe for a medieval setting. Convents, boarding schools, castles, etc.: these are some of my favourite settings ever, because it’s interesting to me to see how people interact when they are so many in such a (relatively) small space.

4. Genre/Themes

This book ticks all the boxes for me as far as my favourite genres go. Growing up I loved fantasy with a historical feel, and this completely delivers on that front. It’s a mix of historical fiction and fantasy with a few paranormal elements and lots of discussion on religion. I really enjoyed Ismae’s struggle with what it means to be Death’s handmaiden: “Surely He does not give us hearts so we may spend our lives ignoring them.” I think it echoes the struggles we face in our modern world with religion. I also love how LaFevers is able to so deftly weave together fact and fiction, creating a world that feels so true to life primarily because it is drawn almost completely from our history books. But LaFevers embellishes on the good parts and ups the ante at times, creating a realm and a book that are utterly fascinating.

5. Political Intrigue

One of my favourite things about historical fiction and fantasy, and particularly high fantasy, is that these plot lines are often so rife with crazy political intrigue. There are secrets and question marks everywhere you look, and there is an intense pressure and urgency to figure out what the H-E-double-hockey-sticks is going on. There is definitely lots of that in Grave Mercy. The second half of the book takes place at court so the stakes are high and there are lots of traitors and spies afoot. Ismae quickly learns that even those who she thought she could trust… she really can’t. I love the struggle to figure out who’s good, who’s bad, and who’s allied. It adds a whole other dimension of tension and intrigue!

Ultimately, I 100% recommend this book. I think there is something for everyone here, but if you are at all inclined to enjoy historical fiction or fantasy then I would consider this a must-read. At 549 pages this one is a chunkster, but it’s one of those books that you’re glad is so long because you realize you just can’t let go of the story and the world. My biggest disappointment with this book was that there wasn’t more of it – it was just that special for me!

A Few Favourite Quotes:

“I want to laugh at his concern. No, I want to wrap it around me like a blanket and use it to soothe my most recent loss.”

“The sharp metallic tang of my weapons is more welcome than the finest perfume.”

“Why be the sheep when you can be the wolf?”

“I comfort myself with the knowledge that if Duval ever feels smothered by me, it will be because I am holding a pillow over his face.”


Have you read the His Fair Assassin books? Which is your favourite? Did you like the romance between Duval and Ismae (I’ve seen some naysayers!) Does the ginormous size of Grave Mercy hold you back from starting it? Are you a historical fantasy/high fantasy lover? (If so, leave me some recommendations please!) Let me know your thoughts about this series so we can chat!

4 Stars