Tag: Shannon Kennedy

Review: MORTAL HEART by Robin LaFevers

51szrPzZtOL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Mortal Heart – His Fair Assassin – Book 3 by Robin LaFevers, HMH Books for Young Readers, November 2014 – 5 Stars


In the powerful conclusion to Robin LaFever’s New York Times bestselling His Fair Assassins trilogy, Annith has watched her gifted sisters at the convent come and go, carrying out their dark dealings in the name of St. Mortain, patiently awaiting her own turn to serve Death. But her worst fears are realized when she discovers she is being groomed by the abbess as a Seeress, to be forever sequestered in the rock and stone womb of the convent. Feeling sorely betrayed, Annith decides to strike out on her own.

She has spent her whole life training to be an assassin. Just because the convent has changed its mind, doesn’t mean she has.


 Annith watched her friends, Ismae and Sybella leave the convent of St. Mortain to confront the enemies of their country and ruler, Duchess Anne while staying behind. When will it be Annith’s turn to go to battle? One of the nuns, Sister Vereda who has the ‘Sight’ and foretells the future has fallen ill so she can’t be depended upon to help Annith gain her freedom and face her destiny. To her dismay, she overhears the Abbess tell another nun that she, Annith will be the next Seeress who sends out the Handmaidens, young students, on their deadly quests.

Being locked up for the rest of her life frightens Annith and she decides to fight, to do whatever she needs to do to escape this fate. A skilled assassin, the best in the convent with a bow, a knife, on a horse or the ground, she doesn’t believe her future lies behind the walls of St. Mortain’s. She prays for aid, careful not to tell the Abbess or other nuns that this godlike figure the women serve isn’t a secret to her – she actually ‘sees’ him and remembers previous conversations with him. Of course, this spiritual information would only cause the women in charge to ‘know’ Annith ought to be the next Seeress regardless of her protests.

Discovering that the recent change in expectations for her comes from the mortal authorities, not Saint Mortain leads Annith to escape. She forges a note from the Abbess, currently gone on a trip to court, collects food and weapons ~ her is the bow and arrows, then steals her favorite horse and heads off to connect with her friends. On the journey, Annith meets up with a group of unearthly riders known as the ‘harlequin’ who find the recently deceased and escort them to the Underworld or possibly Limbo. Their leader, a warrior known as Balthazar intrigues her. She finds herself joining the band for a while, but not quietly. She wants to know more about the members and interviews them.

Through Annith’s narrative, LaFevers explains the ‘harlequin’ want to help the ‘lost souls’ because it shows there is ‘rest for all souls eventually’ even for them. As they travel closer to their destination, she becomes increasingly drawn to Balthazar and wonders if this is the first time they’ve met. Choosing to investigate further, she discovers he has the arrow she crafted for her ‘god’ during a holiday celebration. While unsure precisely why he has the gift, she seizes a sudden opportunity to escape the ‘harlequin’ and this decision becomes the catalyst for more conflict in the future, especially when she learns that another handmaiden failed, dying on her maiden mission.

In Rennes, Annith reunites with her friends and confronts the Abbess about Mateline’s death, but more mysteries remain to be solved. Since Mortal Heart is the culmination of the trilogy, LaFevers has several unanswered questions from the previous books to resolve. Ismae’s and Sybella’s leaving the convent becomes one of the largest conflicts that Annith faces especially since she’s sent to complete a lethal assignment – killing Chancellor Crunard. While enroute to the city where he’s imprisoned, she faces Balthazar yet again. She must decide if she’s found a mortal or immortal man to love and what will be the cost of her choice?

More twists and turns abound, but the pacing never slows in the turbulent plot. The setting is as well-developed as that in Ismae’s and Sybella’s stories with all of the details from that historical period. Characters from the earlier works continue to evolve. As before, LaFevers effectively utilizes her heroine’s point of view to narrate the story. Readers never lose sight of Annith’s clear perspective, creating a wonderful resolution to a terrific adventure.

Review: DARK TRIUMPH – His Fair Assassin by Robin LaFevers

51OahoGngaL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Dark Triumph – His Fair Assassin – Book 2 by Robin LaFevers, HMH Books for Young Readers, April 2014 – 5 Stars by Shannon Kennedy


Sybella arrives at the convent’s doorstep half mad with grief and despair. Those that serve Death are only too happy to offer her refuge—but at a price. The convent views Sybella, naturally skilled in the arts of both death and seduction, as one of their most dangerous weapons. But those assassin’s skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to a life that nearly drove her mad. And while Sybella is a weapon of justice wrought by the god of Death himself, He must give her a reason to live. When she discovers an unexpected ally imprisoned in the dungeons, will a daughter of Death find something other than vengeance to live for?



In this second installment of the His Fair Assassin trilogy, Sybella came to the convent of St. Mortain already a killer, half insane from the demands of her power-mad father who intends to steal the throne from the rightful ruler of Brittany, thirteen-year-old Duchess Anne. Forced by the convent to return to his castle, Sybella does her best to undermine him while she waits for permission from St. Mortain to kill him. When D’Albret tries to force Anne to marry him, Sybella determines to do anything to protect the girl, not simply because of her age and innocence; Sybella knows her father murdered all six of his previous wives including her mother.

Damaged by her past, Sybella may be a flawed character who longs for death at times and is angered because Mortain constantly denies her. Rage is the one quality that she consistently portrays and yet she also has an inherently kind heart which she vehemently refuses to admit. She pities those who stand up to her father and die for their principles yet she also attempts to help whoever she can to escape him, even if it’s only two orphaned household servants. Readers will want this poor, pathetic teenager to live, to learn that there is hope and she has a chance not only for peace but also for a happy, decent future, but how can this happen in her desperate situation?

To complicate matters, Sybella receives orders from the convent and the abbess to rescue Sir Benebic, the Beast of Waroch currently trapped and tortured in her father’s dungeons. She is to return him to the court of Duchess Anne. During this dangerous hunt, Sybella also discovers the extent of her ‘father’s’ horrendous plans. D’Albret intends a gruesome death for the valiant soldier and plans to send pieces of the man’s body to the teenage ruler. It’s a measure of her integrity that Sybella decides if she can’t get Sir Benebic out of the dungeon, she’ll grant him a merciful death, much kinder than the hanging, drawing and quartering described so effectively by LaFevers.

Using the means provided by the convent, i.e. drugs that cannot only kill but also the garrison of soldiers to sleep, she bribes the night-soil man for his cart. However, she doesn’t expect the so-called, Beast of Waroch to knock her unconscious and take her to Duchess Anne’s court with him. The journey lasts several days and Sybella finds herself drawn to the giant, battle-scarred warrior. It is symbolic of LaFevers’ skilled writing that she never allows her heroine to find the ‘Beast’ a super handsome, brilliant hero. Instead, Sybella consistently reminds herself of his physical flaws. When she insults him, he laughs, finding her more amusing than she appreciates. He also respects her lethal abilities. She’s as skilled with her daggers as he is with his sword which comes in handy when they’re forced to confront their pursuers. To her amazement, Waroch wants to protect her from her evil relatives, a new experience for a girl who has always defended herself.

Sybella lacks Ismae’s innocent belief in the convent, its leaders and the saint or god of Death. Because of her dysfunctional upbringing, Sybella doesn’t trust anyone and often feels betrayed since she was promised that her father, D’Albret has been ‘marqued’ for death and she will have the opportunity to kill him, the reason she returned to his environs. So, it comes as no surprise to her that when she and Waroch arrive at the Rennes and the royal court, the abbess plots to ruin any chance of peace Sybella may have found. With the country at war, she may be the only asset they have to spy on her traitorous father and Waroch may not have enough influence to keep her safe.

Fifteenth century politics become the backdrop for this unusual young adult alternate history. As before the setting of this book adds to the depth of the novel. Ismae and Duval are integral to the plot and it’s wonderful to watch their romance continue to unfold. Some readers may have trouble with Sybella and the Beast’s unconventional love story. His attempts to protect her aren’t ‘PC’ for our time, but remain historically accurate. Her unwillingness to share everything she knows creates conflict, but is perfectly understandable considering how much guilt she feels over the past.

Another problem may be her incredible ‘warlike’ abilities. She has an intriguing skill-set when it comes to killing others. Unlike most teen protagonists, Sybella doesn’t hesitate to dole out death and feels no particular emotion toward her victims. They get what they deserve. An odd element is that neither she nor Beast exhibit much survivor guilt or PTSD symptoms. They are warriors determined to see the war through to its end and hopefully they will win both life and love in the process. However, there aren’t any guarantees and these two characters accept that more easily than readers may.

On Monday’s blog – Review of Book 3 MORTAL HEART by Robin LaFevers


519KJVvvQ8LGRAVE MERCY – His Fair Assassin – Book 1 by Robin LaFevers, HMH Books for Young Readers, March 2013 – 5 Stars by Shannon Kennedy

Finding new authors – well, new to me, that is ~ was one of the benefits of hitting the 2016 conference circuit last year as a writer, editor and reader. One of my most amazing discoveries was Robin LaFevers and her fabulous trilogy about teen assassins in the Middle Ages who are determined to put a young girl on the throne of Brittany.

Described as historical fantasy, this series is grounded in a little known era when twelve-year-old Anne of Brittany inherited her father’s throne and held it despite constant upheaval and betrayal from her so-called supporters, as well as dealing with the French regent’s, another woman’s attacks. Somehow, Anne managed to win despite the fact she was in charge of an unstable kingdom, had an empty treasury, and several wanta-be husbands who only wooed her for the country she ruled.

Fantasy elements include the worship of the “9 Saints” ~ former gods now being incorporated into the organized religion, something that historical authorities claim the Catholic church did when it absorbed pagan religions in unconquered nations. In the Brittany of this series, the saints are still worshiped as Gods, especially St. Mortain whose acolytes are raised and trained as warriors from the time they arrive at the convent.

Most of these girls have survived traumatic births ~ where their mothers die ~ and the result is frequently some sort of immunity, such as the first heroine, Ismae’s ability to withstand poison, or the second, Sybella’s sensing heartbeats/life-forces of anyone around her, or Annith’s ability to talk to the ‘dead’. In addition, these young, teen assassins see a ‘marque’ or stain on the faces of those doomed to die and that ‘marque’ gives them permission to kill the evildoer.

LaFevers effectively incorporates other fantasy elements into this trilogy, moving each story forward. Nothing is extraneous and the world-building is often reminiscent of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Avalon series. Everything seems so believable, even when Annith rides with a troop of dead soldiers led by a man who isn’t what he seems.


Seventeen-year-old Ismae Reinnes faces an unusual destiny when she flees a forced marriage and runs to the convent of St. Mortain, the god of death, now considered one of the ‘nine saints’ of the church, but she knows better. During her stay, she trains to become an assassin with unusual skill in poisons – her gift since she is apparently immune to them – and is told that the saint actually ‘sired’ her so she is considered not only his handmaiden, but also his daughter. Set in 15th century Brittany, this story incorporates the historical background of the Middle Ages when truth seems stranger than fiction.

Continue reading “Review: GRAVE MERCY – HIS FAIR ASSASSIN by Robin LaFevers”

Review: THINGS I CAN’T EXPLAIN by Mitchell Kriegman

unknownTHINGS I CAN’T EXPLAIN by Mitchell Kriegman Thomas Dunne Books, November 2015 ~ 5 Stars

Blurb: A complete re-imagining of the 1990s television hit Clarissa Explains it All as 20-something Clarissa tries to navigate the unemployment line, mompreneurs and the collision of two people in love.

She was a smart, snappy, light-hearted girl who knew it all at fourteen and let television audiences everywhere know it. Now a woman in her late twenties, her searching blue eyes are more serious, but mostly amused by the people around her. The gap-toothed smile that made her seem younger than she really was is gone, but she still lightens up the room. Her unpredictable wardrobe rocks just like when she was a kid, but her fashion sense has evolved and it makes men and women turn their heads.

After leaving high school early, Clarissa interned at the Daily Post while attending night school. At the ripe old age of twenty- two she had it made – her own journalism beat (fashion, gender politics and crime), an affordable apartment in FiDi and a livable wage. She was so totally ahead of the game. Ah, those were the days! All three of them. Remember the Stock Market Crash of 08? Remember when people actually bought newspapers? All of Clarissa’s charming obsessions, charts, graphs, and superstitions have survived into adulthood, but they’ve evolved into an ever-greater need to claw the world back under control. Her mid-twenties crisis has left her with a whole set of things she can’t explain: an ex-boyfriend turned stalker, her parents’ divorce, a micro relationship with the cute coffee guy, java addiction, “To-Flue Glue,” and then there’s Sam. Where’s Sam anyway?

Things I Can’t Explain is about knowing it all in your teens and then feeling like you know nothing in your twenties. It is an entertaining and must-read sequel to all fans of Mitchell Kriegman’s Nickelodeon TV show, Clarissa Explains It All.

Review: Clarissa Darling, a character made famous in the television sitcom, Clarissa Explains It All, returns in this New Adult novel trying to deal with life as a ‘wanta-be’ grownup. It really isn’t working for her since her parents separated, her brilliant, younger brother disgraced himself ending up in prison after ripping off the Russian mob, her newspaper job died with the economy and her ex-boyfriend has become her stalker while her childhood BFF, Sam has vanished – perhaps to the wilds of the world’s oceans – it’s never quite clear. Clarissa definitely has issues. That’s even more obvious when her parents, yes together, arrive for a surprise visit. One would think it might last longer than a few hours since they’ve traveled from home to New York City, but it’s not. They want to meet her boyfriend, yes the stalker and that’s Cso not happening. Clarissa hastily introduces them to her favorite barista, a hot guy named Nick who happens to be filling in for the coffee stand’s owner, a friend on deployment in Afghanistan.

This makes Nick even more engaging as an appropriate love interest, especially when he jumps in and plays the part of Clarissa’s new “boy-toy” which includes going to dinner with her parents. Problems arise because he actually has a “real” girlfriend, a rough, tough “rocker girl” that Clarissa just knows is all wrong for him, but he apparently doesn’t understand that. Her friends encourage her to follow up with him and see if that relationship will last. She does. This doesn’t seem a very intelligent choice. How does she know the rocker won’t assault her?

As a character, Clarissa comes across as sweet, naïve and charming with zip in the way of self-preservation. It’s beyond time for her to grow up. At her age she should start judging situations for herself, make decisions and follow through. She’s able to do this with her ex, so why not with Nick? She also needs to stand up to her folks, not find herself locked into attending the wedding of her worst enemy from high school.

Of course, this does allow her to reconnect with Nick, her supposed boyfriend who agrees to attend that wedding with her. This creates even more problems and a reasonable person would cut the ties to Nick, but not Clarissa. Yes, he’s a decent person, but he’s also a wuss and it makes the reader wonder what Clarissa sees in such a spineless wonder. Yes, he’s hot – but, but, but, when will she be adult enough to stop judging by appearances?

A hero, whether male or female, ought to have some basic courage, integrity and honor either at the beginning of the story, but definitely by the end of the quest. Clarissa keeps making the same mistakes again and again until the reader wonders what it will take for her to learn the definition of insanity, i.e. making the same choices repeatedly and expecting different results. She’s the proverbial train-wreck of a character and it’s a sign of Mitchell Kriegman’s fabulous writing that the reader can’t look away or put down the book even when there are times that Clarissa could only benefit from a “Gibbs” slap to the back of the head to get her brain functioning.

How can she explain anything to anyone when she doesn’t understand it herself? Or is that meant to be the humor in these continuous, tumultuous times? In addition to being unable to judge people and situations to her own detriment, Clarissa seems determined to “hook up” with guys who are emotionally unavailable. Again, it’s beyond time for her to take steps and grow up, not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

She is such a well-drawn character that most readers will want to help her deal with life and adversity, to yell at her – “Come on, it doesn’t have to be that impossible. Cope, girl, cope!” With great characters, terrific dialogue and an extremely effective stream of consciousness, this story will engage and entertain readers. Despite her issues, we will want even more time with Clarissa whether she can explain it all – or not!

Review provided by Shannon Kennedy for her column Shannon’s Space in the Sept/Oct edition of The Book Breeze.

Review: FROM A HIGH TOWER by Mercedes Lackey

51j3i4j7jal-_sx328_bo1204203200_FROM A HIGH TOWER by Mercedes Lackey DAW, June 2016 ~ 4 Stars

Blurb: From a High Tower is the newest adventure in Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters series, featuring a retelling of Rapunzel’s not-so-happily-ever-after ending.

Review: Book 11 in the Elemental Masters series showcases the “Rapunzel” fairytale detailing the adventures of Giselle, a born Air Master who is adopted as an infant by an Earth Master that some people label a witch. At 14, Giselle lives in a high tower, once part of an old abbey or convent. While she doesn’t have human companionship at times, she does have the sylphs – tiny winged women who offer conversation and friendship. This means Giselle doesn’t feel too lonely when her mother leaves to buy winter supplies in a distant town. It seems unlikely that before leaving, she didn’t warn Giselle there are more dangers than tramps and gypsies in the surrounding Black Forest and this becomes the first “bump” in the story.

The arrival of a charming young man, Johann Schmidt fascinates Giselle and she begins to realize how much she misses knowing her peers and having admirers. When he wants to visit her in the tower, the “Rapunzel” effect takes place although she doesn’t use her hair as a rope, but one that Johann provides. Again, she doesn’t question why he would bring a rope with him – it seems a contrivance – but he has an ulterior motive, one she is too innocent and naïve to suspect. Once he arrives in her room, he attempts to assault her and she comes into her own, calling up a powerful storm to defend herself until her mother arrives in time to help save her. This event launches Giselle’s training as an Air Master. At the age of 20, after the deathof her mother, Giselle is ready to support herself by winning shooting contests. Yes, she can control where the bullets go since she rules the Air and its elements.

It seems as if she can and does cope with any problems that arise during her adventures. Yet, another of the flaws in the story is the fact that she has a hidden enemy who is out of sight during the majority of the book. Instead of paying attention to this and the occasional feeling that someone stalks her, Giselle works at a traveling Wild West Show from America now touring Germany, honing her craft as a sharpshooter and an Air Master.

One of the elements from the “Rapunzel” fairytale is the fact that Giselle’s hair grows so quickly and she frequently cuts it, storing away the extra lengths. She isn’t sure if she actually believes what her mother said, that the rapid growth is a side-effect of her magick. It’s difficult to accept this since none of the Air Masters in the previous books in the series had similar characteristics and Giselle continues to deal with her “hair” issue as an adult.

The well-developed, ensemble cast includes Rosamund, an Earth Master from the previous book, Blood Red, a retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood.” At the end of that story, we left her going to work as a “Hunt Master” who patrols the nasty sections of the Black Forest and takes care of any threats such as evil vampires, witches, bad werewolves, trolls and shapeshifters. Rosamund is perfectly capable of dealing with a crew of actors who are magical amateurs putting on a Wild West Show and she opts to go along to get along, hopefully protecting them from things that go bump in the proverbial night.

Each character has a story and Ms. Lackey provides good descriptions to make them come alive for the reader. Despite the great setting, and excellent dialogue, there are still plot-holes and missing details that may baffle readers. One would think that Giselle’s mother would have taught her adopted daughter not to judge by appearances. These early mistakes from childhood create ongoing problems throughout the book and all of these loose ends aren’t resolved, leaving readers who follow the series to wonder what will happen next.

An extremely skilled writer, Ms. Lackey ensures that the story flows and the pace never dulls. Perhaps, she will answer the questions raised in this book in the next Elemental Masters novel, or pardon the pun, they may be left up in the air. Readers can only wait and see. Of course, we’ll also have to wait to see which classic fairytale will be co-opted and retold in Ms. Lackey’s distinctive style.


51b30x5tsyl-_sx331_bo1204203200_DRAGONS OF DESERT AND DUST by Susan Brown / Create Space / December 2015

Blurb: A boy with the Heart of a Dragon… Fourteen-year-old Angel Cerillos is stuck living with foster parents at a second-rate desert motel while his mother is in the hospital. Despite threats from a local rancher and his greedy foster father, Angel is determined to scour the harsh desert for turquoise nuggets that could pay for his mom’s care. Without them, all he has of value is a carved, two-headed turquoise serpent, left to him by his mysterious father. It’s a hard life. But the desert spirits are awakening, and the mythic power of his dragon talisman spins Angel into terrifying danger.

Continue reading “Review: DRAGONS OF DESERT AND DUST by Susan Brown”

Review: DRAGONS OF FROST AND FIRE by Susan Brown

51jtadefkhlDRAGONS OF FROST AND FIRE by Susan Brown / Create Space Publishing / June 2015

Blurb: “I know she’s still alive!” A year ago her mother disappeared in an Alaskan blizzard, but Kit Soriano refuses to give up. Against all logic, propelled by recurring dreams of ice-white dragons and a magical silver knife, Kit journeys to the wilderness town of Silver Claw where her mother vanished. She’s clearly not welcome, but her knife throbs with heat and her dreams show the impossible – mythical dragons are guarding her sleeping mother. Desperate, Kit has no choice but to rely on Dai, who knows more than he says about the wild magic rippling beneath the surface of the town. She wants to trust him. But is he her friend or an enemy? If she’s wrong, will she too be lost forever in the unforgiving Alaskan wilderness?

Review: In this YA fantasy, sixteen-year-old Kit Soriano travels with her father to a small town in Alaska to discover what happened to her mother. Even though everyone around Kit insists that Dr. Nora Soriano noted for her studies in genetics must be dead, killed in a harsh winter storm, Kit knows better. Haunted by dreams and inspired by a family heirloom, a dragon-shaped knife, she plans to find her missing mother regardless of any roadblocks. She hasn’t counted on fighting the entire town of Silver Claw, Alaska, much less her own father who thinks she needs closure, not answers. Kit sets out to solve the mystery beginning in the town library where the elderly librarian thwarts all of Kit’s research attempts. She also must deal with Dai, a “hot” guy who acts as a local guide, but she thinks of him more as a local spy. She must avoid him in order to determine what happened to her mother, however he is so…..cute!

This is a well-plotted story with carefully crafted characters. A discerning reader may catch onto all the clues provided, but it is much more fun to journey along with Kit and allow her to share the conclusions she draws. Her arguments with Dai and the other teens are realistic, but it would be nice to learn more about what happens to some of the supporting cast. What happens to Kirsti? The clues are carefully put in place, but we need to know if she achieves what she most desires.

The setting showcases the story too, effectively describing the solitude of native Alaska. More sensory details would have added depth but Ms. Brown has a deft touch with sounds as well as sights in this short (147 page) novel. One can really hear the ice falling off the glaciers near Silver Claw. The point of view remains with Kit, but would have been stronger with Dai’s input. Still, Ms. Brown, a skilled writer who honed her craft writing for Scholastic has penned an intriguing story that will enthrall readers. She leaves the story open for a sequel or even a series where we can discover and share more of Kit’s adventures, hopefully with Dai. Meanwhile, I’m off to find another of her “Dragon” tales.