Mini Book Reviews: The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White and Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

As I mentioned in my June Wrap Up, I’ve been suffering from back pain the last couple of weeks so haven’t been able to spend much time at my computer. I was going to miss doing reviews for these two books as I have lots of things to catch up on now that my back is a bit better. But I really wanted to share my thoughts on them so decided to just write some mini reviews.


The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: November 2019 by Delacorte Press

Pages: 352

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

Princess Guinevere has come to Camelot to wed a stranger: the charismatic King Arthur. With magic clawing at the kingdom’s borders, the great wizard Merlin conjured a solution–send in Guinevere to be Arthur’s wife . . . and his protector from those who want to see the young king’s idyllic city fail. The catch? Guinevere’s real name–and her true identity–is a secret. She is a changeling, a girl who has given up everything to protect Camelot. To keep Arthur safe, Guinevere must navigate a court in which the old–including Arthur’s own family–demand things continue as they have been, and the new–those drawn by the dream of Camelot–fight for a better way to live. And always, in the green hearts of forests and the black depths of lakes, magic lies in wait to reclaim the land. Arthur’s knights believe they are strong enough to face any threat, but Guinevere knows it will take more than swords to keep Camelot free.

Deadly jousts, duplicitous knights, and forbidden romances are nothing compared to the greatest threat of all: the girl with the long black hair, riding on horseback through the dark woods toward Arthur. Because when your whole existence is a lie, how can you trust even yourself?

I was super excited to read this book as it’s a retelling of King Arthur legends. The concept of Guinevere not being the real Guinevere was very intriguing. I liked the idea that Guinevere is there to protect Arthur and how the book puts her character in the spotlight.

While I enjoyed it, I could only give it 3 stars. The writing style was quite simplistic. I think it perhaps just wasn’t to my taste. Arthur seemed a bit one-dimensional to me. The depiction of his character was quite typical and seemed to rely on the concept of Arthur as a great person and king, without really showing that much of his personality.

I also found it frustrating that a lot of the mysteries introduced weren’t solved by the end of the book. It’s a series, so not every question will get an answer, but I’d have liked if we’d got more of a hint at who Guinevere really is by the end of this first book.

Despite this, I did really enjoy the book and will definitely be picking up the sequel, The Camelot Betrayal, which comes out later this year.


Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction 

Publishing Info: October 2016 by Rock the Boat 

Pages: 659

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Hanna Donnelly is the station captain’s pampered daughter and Nik Malikov is the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. Together they struggle with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, blissfully unaware that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall with news of the Kerenza invasion.

Picking up about five minutes after Illuminae ends, Gemina is the electrifying sequel to the hottest YA novel of 2015.

Illuminae was my first read of 2020 and I gave it 5 stars because it absolutely blew me away. It is absolutely one of my favourite books. The second book in The Illuminae Files series is just as thrilling and captivating. However, I only gave it 4 stars because it didn’t knock my socks off quite as much as the first.

The novel is once again told through instant messaging, CCTV camera footage, diary entries etc. which is such an interesting way to tell the story. The events follow on from Illuminae but from the perspectives of two new characters – Hanna and Nik. I can’t say much more without spoiling Illuminae.

Gemina is full of lots of twists and turns. Though the science did confuse me a bit in the latter section of the book. It’s a lot to get your head around but I think I understood it in the end.

The Illuminae Files has become one of my favourite series and I will absolutely be reading the final book in the trilogy, Obsidio.

This style won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but if you haven’t read these books yet, I really recommend them, even if you don’t think they are for you, as you might just be surprised by them.

Book Review: Fear by Michael Grant

Fear by Michael Grant

Genre: Young Adult, Dystopia

Publishing Info: May 2015 by Egmont Books (first published 2012)

Pages: 576

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

Welcome back to the FAYZ! This is Book 5 in the series that Stephen King calls a “Driving, torrential narrative.” Night is falling in the FAYZ. Permanently. The gaiaphage has blotted out the sun and the barrier that surrounds the town of Perdido Beach is turning black. It’s Sam’s worst nightmare. With Astrid still missing and Edilio and Lana struggling to maintain order, Sam and his followers need all the courage they can get. As their world descends into darkness, only real heroes will survive. The GONE series is Lord of the Flies for the 21st century. In turns breathtaking, harrowing, and utterly terrifying. Its complex characters and moral dilemmas will delight fans of The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner. This is dystopian fiction at its best.

Fear is the fifth book in Michael Grant’s Gone series. We re-join the kids and teenagers trapped inside the FAYZ as they try to survive inside the dome. Now they face a new obstacle – the dome is turning black and will eventually leave the FAYZ in total darkness. This is a suspenseful premise but unfortunately I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the previous ones in the series.

Just like it’s predecessors, Fear is a fast-paced and suspenseful read. I read it in hardly anytime at all. In this book we also get a few scenes from ‘Outside’ so we get to see how the world has reacted to the appearance of the dome which added an interesting perspective. However, I didn’t find it as gripping as previous instalments.

One thing I do love about this series is seeing how the characters grow and change. In the first book, there appears to be ‘good’ and ‘bad’ characters but as the series progresses and you get more insight into all of them, you see how the lines between good and bad are blurred. They are changed and shaped by their experiences in the FAYZ and boy have these kids been through a lot.

I think some of the reason I didn’t enjoy Fear as much is that I’m starting to feel a bit burnt out with the series. It’s starting to feel a little repetitive. Although each book the characters face different challenges and conflicts, some elements are just the same e.g. kids running around a confined area fighting each other with superpowers. It’s starting to feel like it’s being dragged out too long.

One of the characters, Penny, has the ability to make people see and feel hallucinations like they are real. This happens a lot in the book and it was just too much for me. Most of these scenes made me feel very uncomfortable. The things Penny makes people see are really horrible and it was just really unpleasant to read.

Although I didn’t enjoy this book as much as previous ones, I’m still invested in these characters and want to see how everything will end in the final book, Light.

Book Review: The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant (eARC)

The Court of Miracles by Kester Grant

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: eARC from Harper Voyager

Pages: 464

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

Les Misérables meets Six of Crows in this page-turning adventure as a young thief finds herself going head to head with leaders of Paris’s criminal underground in the wake of the French Revolution.

Liberty

1828 and the citizens of Paris still mourn in the wake of their failed revolution. Among them, in the dark alleys and crumbling cathedrals of the city, the most wretched have gathered into guilds of thieves, assassins – and worse. Together they are known as The Court of Miracles.

Family

Eponine has lost more than most. When her father, Thénardier, sells her sister to the Guild of Flesh she makes a promise to do anything she can to get her sister back, even if that means joining the Court of Miracles, the very people keeping her sister a slave.

Treachery

Eponine becomes perhaps the greatest thief the Court has ever known, finding a place among them and gaining another sister, Cosette. But she has never forgotten the promise she made, and if she’s to have any hope of saving one sister, she will have to betray the other.

This beautiful reimagining of Les Misérables tells the stories of your favourite characters and what might have happened if the French Revolution had not come to pass.

Thank you so much to Harper Voyager and NetGalley for the eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This book was one of my most anticipated releases of the year so I was super excited to get my hands on an advanced copy. It’s been billed as a retelling of Les Misérables and The Jungle Book meets Six of Crows, which are certainly very attention-grabbing comparisons. This is a dark reimagining of 1800s France and that darkness and grittiness comes through really well. Unfortunately, this book wasn’t as good as I’d been hoping. I enjoyed reading it. I was engaged and absorbed throughout thanks to the great writing, but I didn’t connect with it.

This book didn’t meet my expectations for a retelling. In some ways the Jungle Book retelling element works better than the Les Mis element does. The villain of the book is known as the Tiger and (thanks to the actions of our protagonist) is after Ettie, which seems to be representing the tiger from The Jungle Book, Shere Khan, being after Mowgli. It includes most of the characters from Les Misérables and there is the element of the revolution and the barricades, but it doesn’t retell the book in any meaningful way. To be honest, I felt that this book might actually have been stronger if it had not been written as a retelling of Les Misérables. It just didn’t really feel like a retelling. For many of the characters, there’s too much reliance on readers’ knowledge of the original characters, rather than doing something different with them or developing them as individuals separate from the original work.

The book is set into separate sections with some quite big time jumps in between that make for a disjointed reading experience. The one that caused the most problems for me comes early on in the book. We rejoin Nina about to enact her plan to get her older sister, Azelma, back from the Tiger, but at the cost of her younger adoptive sister Ettie. After setting this in motion, Nina very quickly changes her mind and ends up needing to protect Ettie (who she put in danger in the first place) and then the rest of the book revolves around keeping Ettie safe from the Tiger. But we don’t know anything about Ettie or her relationship with Nina due to the time jump, so this shift comes a bit out of the blue. We don’t have any understanding of their relationship or why Nina would move heaven and earth to protect a character we only just met.

At the start, Nina is driven by her goal of helping Azelma. But then when her goal shifts to protecting Ettie it’s like she’s completely forgotten about setting Azelma free. Because of the time skip, this sudden shift in the protagonist’s goal is jarring. We’ve only just met Ettie and there isn’t anything at first to show that Nina cares about Ettie as a sister. Their relationship develops well and I enjoyed seeing the two characters interact later on. But at first, there’s nothing to show why Nina would suddenly change her mind and give up on her plan to save Azelma and instead focus on protecting Ettie, a character we know nothing about and don’t yet care for. One moment, Nina is willing to sacrifice Ettie to save Azelma, which she has been carefully planning, and the moment she puts that plan in motion she makes this sudden u-turn.

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Book Review: Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova (eARC)

Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: eARC from Hodder & Stoughton

Pages: 464

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

An epic tale of revenge and redemption in a world where a memory thief must fight against terrifying monarchs bent on the destruction of her people.

When the royal family of Puerto Leones sets out to destroy magic through a grand and terrible inquisition, spy and memory-thief Renata seeks to kill the prince, leader of the King’s Justice, who plans to use a terrible new weapon to wipe out the magic of the Moria…

For fans who enjoyed the ferocity of Ember in the Ashes, INCENDIARY explores the double-edged sword of memory and the triumph of hope and love in the midst of fear and oppression.

Thank you so much to Hodder & Stoughton and NetGallery for the eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Incendiary is set in a fantasy world inspired by Inquisition-era Spain. The concept of having a character who can steal memories intrigued me. But while the world and concept were interesting, this book was in some ways disappointing.

The opening few chapters grabbed my attention, but there was a lot of new information for the reader, some of which could have been explained better. I did feel a bit lost at times with all the new words and concepts. It was never really explained why Ren is occasionally referred to as an Incendiary, and since that’s the title of the book, it’s a shame that doesn’t come across. I like that we were thrown right into the story, but that did mean I found it a bit difficult to get my head around the magic system. There is a lot of exposition which makes the pacing drag. The first section of the book is very exciting and the last section is also very gripping, but the middle was quite slow and didn’t keep me hooked.  

Ren is a good protagonist. While she’s shunned by society because of her magic, she’s also looked upon with mistrust by the Moria because her magic is rare and seen as dangerous. She has the ability to steal people’s memories, and if she steals too many she can leave a person as a Hollow. This creates some great conflict, as Ren doesn’t really fit in anywhere, and it also means she has a lot of internal conflict which is what drives a lot of the story. However, many of the reveals come from memories Ren has stolen. While she is an active rather than passive character, she doesn’t do much to work things out for herself at times, the reveals for the reader are kind of handed to her.

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Book Review: Defy the Fates by Claudia Gray

Defy the Fates by Claudia Gray

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction           

Publishing Info: April 2019 by Hot Key Books

Pages: 394

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

Hunted and desperate.

Abel only has one mission left that matters: save the life of Noemi Vidal. To do that, he not only has to escape the Genesis authorities, he also must face the one person in the galaxy who still has the means to destroy him. Burton Mansfield’s consciousness lives on, desperate for a home, and Abel’s own body is his last bargaining chip.

Alone in the universe.

Brought back from the brink of death, Noemi Vidal finds Abel has not only saved her life, but he’s made her into something else, something more. Not quite mech, yet not quite human any longer, Noemi must find her place in a universe where she is utterly unique, all while trying to create a world where anyone–even a mech–can be free.

The final battle between Earth and the colony planets is here, and there’s no lengths to which Earth won’t go to preserve its domination over all humanity. But together, the universe’s most advanced mech and its first human-mech hybrid might have the power to change the galaxy for good.

Defy the Fates is the final book in the Constellation trilogy and while it’s a good conclusion, it could have been better. The last book in a series is always a tough one, since the author has to wrap everything up. And while Defy the Fates wraps up all the storylines introduced in the first two books, it didn’t have the same spark.  

In the first two books, the action sequences had me on the edge of my seat, but in Defy the Fates the action scenes just weren’t as thrilling. There was too much packed into the book and a lot of it felt rushed. The writing overall also wasn’t as good, which is some of the reason the action scenes weren’t as exciting. The suspense wasn’t built as well through the writing. It felt like the book needed a bit more editing. I have a feeling that perhaps this last book was rushed out by the publisher. If the author had been given more time it could have been better. I don’t know if that’s the case or not, but that’s what it felt like when I was reading the book, given how much better the first book was.

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Film Review: Downton Abbey

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Film Review: Downton Abbey

Release date: 13th September 2019

Director: Michael Engler

Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Laura Carmichael, Elizabeth McGovern, Jim Carter, Maggie Smith and many more

Runtime: 120 minutes

Genre: Period drama

Watched in: 2D

Rating: 3/5 stars

Downton Abbey is the much awaited return of a very popular series. This time, the characters take to the big screen with a film version of the television programme. Downton Abbey aired between 2010 and 2015 and was very popular, so in many ways it’s no surprise it made it to the big screen. The film sees the family, and servants, at Downton Abbey preparing for a royal visit from the King and Queen.

While I was delighted to once again hear Downton’s wonderful main theme and return to the halls of the grand house, I wonder if the film was a step too far. It was charming and entertaining, but the plot was a little thin. It would have perhaps worked better as a special episode for TV, as that’s basically what I felt like I was watching, rather than a film. It will certainly appeal for fans of the show, but is not the best entrance to the world of Downton Abbey for anyone not familiar with the TV show.

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Book Review: Internment by Samira Ahmed

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Internment by Samira Ahmed

Genre: Young Adult, Dystopia

Publishing Info: March 2019 by Atom

Pages: 386

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

Rebellions are built on hope.

Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.

With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.

Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today.

Having seen the description for this book, I just had to buy it. The idea drew me in right away because of its relevance. Negative attitudes towards Muslims have sadly become more prominent lately, which is completely unfair. This book imagines what could happen if the situation in America escalated, and shows how quickly things can change. I wanted to love this book. It had so much promise, but I was a little disappointed. Although I felt it could have been better, it was also incredibly shocking, as well as moving and heartbreaking.

Rather than being set in a far-flung ultra-futuristic setting, Internment is set in a near future that unfortunately you can really believe could actually happen. I think it being near future makes it more terrifying. So many dystopias are set in a distant future that feels a long way away, like something that wouldn’t happen for a while. But sadly you can imagine this happening now. The book tackles big issues such as Islamophobia and illegal detainment, and it’s so good to see serious subject matter explored in young adult fiction.

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Book Review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

23664731Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Publishing Info: September 2015 by Corgi (first published 2015)

Pages: 308

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

I have very conflicted feelings about this book. On the one hand, it was really interesting to see the world from a different perspective in YA, but on the other I’m not sure about how Yoon handled the subject matter. The novel is told from the perspective of Maddy, who has SCID and has not been able to leave her house since she was a tiny baby. The house is adapted with air filters and she has a nurse stay with her all day.

In the first section of the book I really felt connected to Maddy’s character and got a real sense of her isolation from the rest of the world. Despite this isolation, she wasn’t unhappy. She gets on well with her nurse, Carla, and has a great relationship with her mother. I liked seeing her interactions with these two characters in the first half.

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Book Review: Ringer by Lauren Oliver

36299564Ringer by Lauren Oliver

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Publishing Info: 2017 by Hodder & Stoughton

Pages: 502

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

Like its ambitious companion novel, Replica, this far-reaching novel by powerhouse bestselling author Lauren Oliver digs deep into questions of how to be a human being in a world where humanity cannot be taken for granted.

In the world outside the Haven Institute, Lyra and Caelum are finding it hard to be human—and neither of them knows where they belong or who they can trust. When Caelum leaves without warning to pursue the dream of a place he belongs, Lyra follows him, convinced that together they will hunt down a cure for the illness that’s slowly consuming her mind. But what they uncover is a shocking connection to their past—even as their future seems in danger of collapsing.

After discovering the uncomfortable truth about her connection to the Haven Institute, Gemma struggles to return to her normal life. But when she learns that her controlling and powerful father has new plans for Lyra and Caelum, Gemma and her boyfriend, Pete, leave in the middle of the night to warn them of the danger they face.When an untimely accident derails them, they are mistaken for the escaped replicas and seized by strangers hired to capture them. The Haven Institute wasn’t destroyed after all, and now Gemma is the one behind the walls.

Lyra’s and Gemma’s stories can be read separately—with either story first—or in alternating chapters, but no matter which way you turn the book, the two distinct stories combine into one breathtaking experience for both heroines and readers alike.

Ringer is the second, and final, book in Lauren Oliver’s Replica duology. You can read my review of the first book here. Before reading, I wondered why it was called Ringer, and having finished I was still none the wiser. It seemed like they decided it should start with an ‘R’ and plucked a random word out the dictionary. So I looked it up, and a ringer is someone or something that looks like something else. Essentially another word to describe a replica. Interestingly, while a replica is exactly the same, a ringer seems to mean that they look very alike but are not exactly the same. This seems rather fitting, since Ringer explores the question of whether the replicas are ‘human’ and whether they can be distinguished from one another. So it’s actually a well thought out choice for a title.

For those not familiar with the series, Ringer (like Replica) includes the stories of Gemma and Lyra, with the book formatted as two separate halves that has to be ‘flipped’. They can be read one half after the other, either way around, or in alternating chapters. When I read the first book, I read Lyra’s story first then Gemma’s, whereas this time I read Gemma’s story first and then Lyra’s.

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Book Review: Specials by Scott Westerfeld

81vov3tq3hlSpecials by Scott Westerfeld

Genre: Young Adult, Dystopia, Science-Fiction

Publishing Info: May 2011 Simon Pulse (first published 2006)

Pages: 350

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

Tally thought they were a rumor, but now she’s one of them. A Special. A super-amped fighting machine, engineered to keep the uglies down and the pretties stupid.

But maybe being perfectly programmed with strength and focus isn’t better than anything she’s ever known. Tally still has memories of something else.

Still, it’s easy to tune that out—until she’s offered a chance to stamp out the rebels of the New Smoke permanently. It all comes down to one last choice: listen to that tiny, faint heartbeat, or carry out the mission she’s programmed to complete. Either way, Tally’s world will never be the same.

 

Specials is the third book in the Uglies series, and the final book in the main trilogy. There is a ‘companion’ novel, Extras, and Westerfeld recently released Imposters, which is set in the same universe. While I enjoyed this book to a small degree, it didn’t blow me away. It didn’t leave me with any significant lasting impression.

The book opens with brilliant writing. Some amazing descriptions really make you feel like you’re seeing the world through Tally’s special super sense eyes. However, this isn’t carried through the rest of the book. That level of description all the way through would be too much, but I’d have expected more. If you introduce the idea that a character has these extra senses, you have to carry that through and show how they see the world with their super senses in the rest of the book too, not just at the opening to get the reader’s attention.

They’re supposed to be specials, superior to everyone else. They might be in terms of their super reflexes and senses, but they still go around doing tricks and acting not much different from how they did before in some ways.

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