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REVIEW:  The Four Graces by D.E. Stevenson

REVIEW: The Four Graces by D.E. Stevenson

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No Matter What Life Throws at Them, the Grace Sisters Always Have Each Other

The four Grace sisters—Liz, Sal, Tilly, and Addie—love their quiet life in the country village of Chevis Green. To some, their insular world might seem dull, but the sisters and their father, Mr. Grace, never seem to run out of conversation, jokes, and pleasant ways to pass the time together. They truly are the happiest of families.

Dear Readers,

I think had I not already been a fan of D.E. Stevenson in general and the Miss Buncle series of books in particular, I might have read this blurb and thought, “Hmm, how dull and uninteresting.” But since I’d already fallen for Stevenson’s gentle tales of country England before and during WWII, I clicked the buy button without a moment’s hesitation.

Set in the bucolic village of Chevis Green and close to Wandlebury, the story picks up not long after “The Two Mrs. Abbotts” though readers new to Stevenson need not worry about starting here. A few characters from previous books appear but their backstories are quickly sketched in and then it’s back to the four young ladies who give this book its title.

The young women are daughters of the local vicar or “Passon” as the villagers call him. Happy in their home and family lives, they’re content as they deal with wartime rations and the wedding of the new Squire who hyphenated his name in order to inherit the Chevis estate while slightly less thrilled with the two young men who wander into their lives courtesy of their father’s absentminded invitations and their dread Aunt Rona who knows everyone and everything and isn’t shy about announcing it.

“The Four Graces” has that happy charm which I fell in love with while first reading about Miss Buncle. Issues arise and are gently dealt with, life flows through the village while standing in line with your ration book or making sure there’s a clean start to the children’s footrace during the annual fete. And swirling through all this are two romances which kept me guessing about who would be paired with whom. When all was said and done, it makes perfect sense who says “I love you” to whom and while one marriage is hurried due to wartime postings, the other serenely takes its time to develop.

I did wonder if perhaps Stevenson had plans for the two unmarried sisters which never came to be written. Unless anyone can tell me differently, I’ll mentally match one with the ankle judge and conjure up some dashing serviceman from London for the other sister.

A fast and funny book, “The Four Graces” is a great finish to a delightful “series” and could stand as a fine introduction to Stevenson’s work. It’s a sweet look at village life which was in the process of changing and probably changed forever after the war. As is usual with her books, it’s filled with both charming and eccentric characters and could serve as a blueprint to navigating village politics. It also goes to show that a cup of tea can fix any problem. B

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Perfect Lies by Kiersten White

REVIEW: Perfect Lies by Kiersten White

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Dear Ms. White,

I still have yet to pick up your Paranormalcy trilogy, but I enjoyed Mind Games, a thriller about two sisters with special abilities who’d do anything for each other. That book ended with the sisters separated: psychic Annie free at last and violent Fia returning to the school to take it down from the inside. I couldn’t leave the sisters there so of course I was anxious for the second installment of this duology.

After the events of Mind Games, Annie escapes the Keane institute by faking her death and joins Lerner, a group determined to destroy Phillip Keane. All she cares about though is her baby sister, Fia. But as the days pass without word, Annie realizes the worst. Fia isn’t leaving Keane at all and if anything, seems to be embedding herself into the institution even further.

Fia’s happy that her older sister is free. When the two of them were still under Keane’s control, their well-being could be used against each other. Now that Annie is gone and presumably safe, nothing can be used against her. She’s free to do as she wants. And what she wants is to destroy Phillip Keane by any means necessary.

To that end, she’s teamed up with James, Phillip’s son. This makes things convenient because she’s also in love with him. A dangerous couple, indeed. But does James actually want to destroy his father? Or is he just playing Fia and counting on her feelings preventing her from seeing the truth?

As I said, I loved Mind Games. I loved the desperation and urgency laced through the narrative. It was very much a thriller and I enjoy reading that kind of pacing.

Perfect Lies lacked that same magic. While Fia’s stream-of-consciousness narrative worked in the previous book, it was actually the weaker of the two perspectives in this book for me. If anything, I found it incredibly annoying. It wasn’t the fact that she was starting to break under the pressure. I think the narrative did an excellent job of portraying her increasing mental instability.

No, what bothered me was that it wasn’t immediately obvious that Fia was actually doing anything. She was just following along with James, not thinking about the implications of their actions and relying solely on her perfect instincts. And I understand her instincts have never failed her but she really should have started questioning James’s motives earlier. Why couldn’t he tell her the plan? If he was afraid she was going to be read by a psychic, then what about him? It just doesn’t add up.

By contrast, I found Annie’s narrative to be interesting, which is a reversal of my experience with Mind Games. While her perspective isn’t as sharp as that of Fia’s from the previous book, I appreciate her proactiveness and desire to take charge of her life. Yes, that’s right. I was just plain happy a YA heroine showed a backbone and helped in smart, competent ways. (I realize this isn’t entirely complimentary about the YA genre’s current state.)

I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I think Perfect Lies stretches too far. It aspires to too much. Mind Games was the story of two sisters who’d do anything for each other, to the point of one becoming an assassin and the other targeting an innocent boy to save her sister’s life. It shows how the sisters become that way and how they take charge of their lives.

Perfect Lies aims to tell the fall of a shady institute from two sides: the outside and the inside. And while I love character-driven stories, that is not enough to carry this kind of novel. This kind of book needs heavier plotting and that is what Perfect Lies lacked. When characters are constantly lying to each other and keeping secrets and there’s double-crossing, not to mention the skipping back and forth in time, the plot becomes the machinery driving the novel. It has to be strong. So if there are elements that are clumsily handled, it takes the whole thing down.

To be honest, I think your writing shines most when it tells the character-driven stories. When it switches to a more plot-dependent narrative, some rough spots appear. Maybe in the future a better balance will be struck.

As for the various romantic subplots, I liked Annie and Cole. While obvious, I thought that development was well-handled and the way that Annie asks Cole out on their first date is hilarious. On the other hand, I really disliked Fia and James. I didn’t like the idea of them in the first book and I liked it even less in this one. I get that James was meant to be a bad boy but I could only ever see him as a sketchy dude who made my skin crawl.

Having loved Mind Games, I anticipated reading Perfect Lies. Sad to say my expectations were not met. The majority of the plot was something of a mess. Even though I thought the ending was brilliant and wrapped up all the threads nicely, it wasn’t enough to make up for the first three quarters of the book. C-

My regards,
Jia

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