The Guinevere Deception is a story about women's agency and their role in myth—and cleverly ties together known aspects of the Arthurian legends with some much needed LGBT+ and modern sensibilities.
Pacing: ★★ 1/2
I'm so mad at this book because it does not put its best foot forward. The Guinevere Deception starts out so simplistic, so run-of-the-mill, that it's boring. Boring boring. Skim-worthy, even.
But then, we cross the hump. The second half of this book is gorgeous. It's lyrical, it's feminist, it's evocative of the Kiersten White that I remember from my long-ago read of And I Darken—where women had their own agency and commentary--that I put down my kindle and went what? Is this the same story?
The Guinevere Deception follows "Guinevere," the wife of the newly made King Arthur. Arthur has won Camelot, and now he rules in a realm where magic is pushed to the edges of his borders and everything is free from chaos and everything is wholesome and good. (Ha. Obviously, this is a disaster waiting to happen.) Enter Guinevere, except we, as the reader, know the Guinevere is not really the princess at all, but the daughter of Merlin, sent to be the last line of defense for King Arthur—she is supposed to keep the king safe from magic...by using the forbidden magic herself.
Such a good plan. No holes at all. (Right.)
Guinevere enters into the world of Camelot and starts exploring the city and its people in the most mundane ways possible. The dialogue is meh, the chapters go slowly, and I caught myself jumping ahead several times because we were so clearly treading water, waiting for something to happen.
Then, some things happen.
I won't spoil anything in the plot because I think most of the enjoyment comes from being surprised, but The Guinevere Deception has some significant tricks. Guinevere isn't as milk toast as she seems, Arthur isn't that stupid, Lancelot appears in THE MOST EPIC TWIST as a different take on the character, women support women, some LGBT+ rep enters as breath of fresh air in this traditional hetero tale, and I just really enjoyed the turn of events.
The entire time I was reading The Guinevere Deception, I kept saying to myself: man, I miss Kiersten White when she gets dark. Maybe this is too light for me, and I'll stick with her darker content. But I can see the hints of darkness in the set up for book two, and call me intrigued—I think White has more things up her sleeve.
Definitely pick this one up if you're a fan of legends, myths, retelling, feminism, LGBT+, and good old fashioned plot twist surprises. I think this one is worth enjoying if you can get over its own problematically dull beginnings.
Thank you to Delacorte Press for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Gods, demons, fluid time constructs, ruthless families, and more collide in this epic fantasy opener that deserves a seat at the table with the titans of YA fantasy.
World building: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★★ 1/2
Arrah is the daughter of two powerful magic users. Her father's ties to the rural tribes keep her with one foot in the old world, while her mother's political fist in the urban Kingdom keeps her with one foot in the new. This clash of cultures, magic, and sense of morality was amazing—and split along the dichotomy of father versus mother, which was also interesting.
Arrah isn't the "chosen one" in this fantasy—in fact, she's one of the few characters without a natural source for magic—and she finds herself in an epic conflict between gods and demons.
The orishas (gods) have ruled the land for all of living memory. The Demon King and his followers were vanquished long ago, and the orishas remain in power. But then... Arrah discovers that her world isn't all that she thought it was. Her mother has her own vendetta to accomplish, and Arrah finds herself on the front line of a godly conflict that she is definitely not prepared for.
But she's willing to do anything to win.
Things I loved:
Arrah's sense of self—her rock-solid personal identity was refreshing. The land of Kefu, where time is fluid?? So cool, so unique, it added to the myth-like feel to the story. THE WRITING—GORGEOUS. The love interest was supportive and not too involved with the plot. The sidebar chapters written from the orishas to...someone(s). Those sidebars make me want to reread this book immediately, to catch references that I missed on the first pass. The world. I loved it all, honestly. One quick spoiler favorite: (view spoiler)
Things I wished were better:
The pacing—given the sheer amount of plot and time progression that occurs, Kingdom of Souls feels like more than one book that was smashed together. I would have happily read one book on the events pre-Kefu, and then another book on the events that happened after. There was DEFINITELY enough plot for more than one installment. But really, is too much plot a negative??
Surprisingly elegant and atmospheric, but definitely rough around the edges. Zombies meets ancient Wales meets myth meets....traditional YA trappings.
Visual descriptions: ★★★★
Density: ★★ 1/2
The Bone Houses has one of the coolest concepts in YA--in a small town at the edge of the mystical mountainous woods, skeletons come alive at night and wander. They're called bone houses. That kind of an opener screams to be read.
Ryn is a gravedigger, and the tough-as-nails, chip-on-her-shoulder YA heroine that we've seen before. Her father was lost to the mountains, her uncle was lost to the wilderness, and her siblings are all she has left. The family scrapes it by on the edges of poverty in a very medieval-feeling way.
Enter Ellis, the mapmaker. Kind of strange that there seems to be an entire profession devoting to traveling mapmakers, but The Bone Houses runs with it. Ellis is an orphan boy trying to find his parents, and finds himself drawn to the woods where he was found.
Ryn and Ellis also find themselves drawn to each other and end up in the woods on a quest to a) learn more about the mountains for a map, b) learn more about Ellis' past, c) try to find out what happened to Ryn's dad, and finally d) to discover the heart of the woods and find a way to stop the bone houses from rising. (It's a complicated quest.)
There was potential for me to love The Bone Houses, but I never found myself crossing the divide between liking and loving. It was cool...but I wanted more of the magic, more of the bone houses, and wayyyyy less of the YA-standards: the romance, the tying everything up together in the end, the internal dialogues on identity that took up space that could have been used on plot, etc. Give me the weird and the unexplained magic and leave everything else behind—it just bogged the story down.
We all know the story: The mansion. The colorful guests. The murder. The secret passageways. The weapons.
Mr. Boddy was murdered in the lounge with the candlestick. Or was it the wrench? Or maybe the revolver?
(In the case of In the Hall with the Knife, I bet you can guess.)
I honestly didn't know what to expect when this ARC arrived at my doorstep. I was in love with Clue as a kid (the movie AND the game) and I knew that I'd like it, at the very least. I didn't expect to love it and read it in one sitting!
In the Hall with the Knife is the perfect read for a casual fall evening. It's fast-paced, the coastal Maine spooky academy was the perfect setting, and the teenage characters were all fun to read in individual POVs. There are some changes to the main script: we have an added POV in Orchid McKee, and Mrs. White was an adult, but I didn't mind these changes—and in a weird way, I really enjoyed Orchid's entrance.
In terms of POV switching, I thought the author did a really good job at conveying each character's individual narrative voice. Even if you'd removed the names in the chapter, I would have known who was narrating—that's impressive, given the large cast list. However, hands down, I loved Peacock's entries the best. Everyone else has traditional chapters with third person narration...and then there's Peacock, who is obsessed with fitness and has her POV done within the context of a 1 page workout journal entry with a "notes" field that spills matter-of-fact details about the actual plot. Loved it.
Now, definitely keep in mind that this novel doesn't take itself seriously. Heck, the Clue movie notoriously didn't take itself seriously! The ending isn't a surprise to the discerning reader, but that's not why I loved it. I loved it for the cheese, the camp, and the modern twists on the old nods to nostalgia. It's a fun ride, and even more fun when you realize that it's actually a trilogy.
We haven't heard the last of this group, and so far there's only been one dead body...
(claps hands in excitement)
Thank you so much to Amulet Books for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Dark, fast, witty, and unique.
Did it stand out?: ★★★★★
Taking place in what feels like historic Paris during the time of Church vs. Witchcraft, Serpent & Dove follows two POVs: Louise le Blanc, the daughter of the most powerful witch leader, and Reid Diggory, the head of the Church's military faction.
Louise (Lou) ran away from her mother's coven two years ago and she's never looked back. Being a witch isn't all its cracked up to be, and especially not in the city of Cesarine. Faced with the threat of being found by her mother, Lou takes to the streets and lives the life of a cross-dressing thief. All is going well in her cutthroat world until one day she meets her natural nemesis: Reid Diggory.
Reid Diggory was orphaned on the streets of Cesarine. Like other orphaned boys, he's sent to the Church, where the Archbishop decides to take Reid under his wing and groom him for the Church's military unit, the Chasseurs. Rising among the ranks to become the head of the Chasseurs, Reid's purpose in life is simple: kill all of the witches.
Lou and Reid's lives collide in a major way when during a chase, Reid and Lou find themselves in a compromising situation. To save Reid's reputation, the Archbishop declares they marry—effective immediately. (The logic is questionable, but is answered.)
Cue one of the best YA hate-to-love romances of the year. Reid's a stubborn stick in the mud with limited ideas. Lou's a free-wheeling sarcastic former thief with a secret to hide—one that could lead to her own death at the hand of her husband. Do the two of them have a chance at a real romance? (Ugh, I loved this so much. Enjoy the trope in this one, it's great.)
Serpent & Dove's strength lies in its ability to keep you engaged even when the plot lags. A large portion of this novel is static and takes place at the Chasseurs headquarters—with limited action—and yet the characters and subplots kept me riveted. I loved the final series of reveals, and can't wait to read the read in the second book.
This was one of the most amazing YA contemporary novels that I have ever read.
The Last True Poets of the Sea hit me hard, knocked me out, and left me in the dust of its emotional magnificence. Like the coastal Maine, aquatic version of Jandy Nelson's The Sky is Everywhere, I couldn't stop the feelings. Talk about an unputdownable one-day read.
Violet Larkin grew up in a family of shipwrecks. Her great-great grandmother Fidelia was the sole survivor of a shipwreck off of Maine's coast in the 1800s, and the family has become known for disaster—and perseverance—ever since. They leave disaster in their wake, but they never get knocked down. Until this summer.
After her younger brother, Sam, tries to take his own life, Violet's family shuts down to crisis mode. Party-hard, reckless Violet is sent to remote Maine to live on the family's ancestral home with her Uncle, Sam is sent to a rehab facility in Vermont, and their parents attempt to tread water at home in New York City.
Violet's not excited to be in Maine, and she's unwilling to process the events that led to her arrival. To pass the time, Violet joins the local aquarium as a part-time volunteer—where she meets the best-looking boy she's ever seen: Orion.
This meet-cute isn't all that it seems, however, as Orion's had a crush on his long-time best friend for years. Orion invites Violet into the fold of his friend group, where Violet meets his crush, Liv. Violet discovers that maybe Orion's on to something--Liv is an entrancing bay filled with hidden rocks, and Violet can't seem to pull her ship out of the tide leading her to the rocky shore.
Will she do what she does best and create a shipwreck disaster, or will she discover what it means to be herself?
Add in a quest to find Fidelia's sunken ship, some ridiculously poignantly and quietly funny scenes from a bisexual love triangle, and a few moments worth more than a few tears, and you have one hell of an amazing debut. This will remain one of my all-time favorites.
Thank you to Disney Book Group via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review!
Buffy the Vampire Slayers + The Babysitters Club + 2019 humor. This was cute and funny, but I wasn't the right audience.
Plot: ★★ 1/2
Age range: the young end of YA
The Babysitters Coven is a FUN read. It doesn't take itself too seriously, and makes the comparison to its own roots as the 2019 lovechild of Buffy and The Babysitters Club.
Esme Pearl is a high school student with a passion for quirky fashion and a love of babysitting. She started a babysitting hotline with her best friend, Janis, and while they mainly use it as an excuse to hang out every day, they do get frequent babysitting requests.
However, things are changing in Esme's world. When she gets mad, things move. As things continue to happen around her, Esme realizes that maybe she's not going crazy like her mom did.
Enter Cassandra Heaven, the new girl in school. She seems weirdly focused on Esme, and she's definitely noticed the telekinesis. Oh, and she's obsessed with joining the babysitting club.
What's going on with the babysitters, and why does Esme feel like things are following a pre-destined path? A few spells, demons, and trainings later, and things start to make sense...
The Babysitters Coven made no bones about being filled with tropes, but it was still a rollicking good time. It's nice to see a YA novel cater to the 13-15 year olds, but due to its younger humor and use of tropes it was not a personal favorite. Unlike many of the YA novels coming out, this one is actually for its young audiences and not the many adults (like me!) who read the genre anyway.
Thank you to Delcorte Press for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Dark, diverse, feminist, eerie, memorable, and twisted—welcome to the new generation of Edgar Allan Poe. It’s a lot of fun in here.
In His Hideous Heart, editor Dahlia Adler has compiled a truly impressive shortlist of some of Poe’s most famous tales, reimagined for a 2019 audience. I couldn’t believe how nuanced and imaginative these retellings were, and how eerily similar they felt to their original inspirations. Having the original Poe tales in the back of the collection was such a good call—I actually read each tale in tandem, from new reimagining to old inspiration to compare and contrast each entry.
To keep this review shorter than its original anthology, here are my quick thoughts and ratings on each of the 13 tales:
She Rode a Horse of Fire (Metzengerstein) by Kendare Blake
The perfect opener to this anthology, this historically-minded tale about a manor house experiencing the entrancement and death of its lord was the PERFECT amount of spooky.
It’s Carnival! (The Cask of Amontillado) by Tiffany D. Jackson
A tale twisted to a diverse feminist revenge story, this entry watches the narrator as she exacts a clinical end to the man who mocked her and her family for not being Jamacian enough with deadly results in modern-day New Orleans.
Night-Tide (Annabelle Lee) by Tessa Gratton
Tied as my favorite, this prose retelling of the poem follows the summer seaside hypnotic reality of the narrator as she questions whether her illicit love for Annabelle Lee was the cause of Annabelle’s death in this historic New England tale perfect for fans of f/f star-crossed lovers.
The Glittering Death (The Pit and the Pendulum) by Caleb Roehrig
A modern tale of a serial killer who targets women, and the girl who finds herself a live captive in need of escape—extremely gritty, and another parable on modern-day feminism.
A Drop of Stolen Ink (The Purloined Letter) by Emily Lloyd-Jones
Rating: ★★★★ 1/2
Edgar Allan Poe meets the future in a world where information is coded in biometric tattoos and one girl is sent to uncover a CEO’s treachery in the high-stakes world of the tattoo-data black market.
Happy Days, Sweetheart (The Tell-Tale Heart) by Stephanie Kuehn
A high-achieving diverse female student always comes in second to the mediocrity of her white male competitor at their private school--so she decides to balance the scales of justice and eliminate him in this gruesome tale of cold revenge.
The Raven (Remix) by Amanda Lovelace
The poem The Raven, blacked out to create a new narrative, remained cool in concept by struggled to shine in between such impressive prose entries.
Changeling (Hop-Frog) by Marieke Nijkamp
Set in 1832, this tale of the Fae is reimagined as a vigilante group of former disabled and neglected abused children who receive a glorious second chance at a happy life or a vengeful one in a dark tale of one girl questing to retrieve those who deserve more than what the mortal world can give them by transporting them to the kingdom of the Fae and punishing their perpetrators.
The Oval Filter (The Oval Portrait) by Lamar Giles
A college football star’s dead girlfriend shows up in his Instagram feed trapped in an oval filter that appears to be suffocating her behind the screen—can Tariq solve the mystery behind her appearance before it drives him mad?
Red (The Masque of the Red Death) by Hillary Monahan
My least favorite in the collection, this tale should be read for the aesthetic and not for the narrative as it is essentially a color-coded picture show with a dark conclusion.
Lygia (Ligeia) by Dahlia Adler
Rating: ★★★ 1/2
A f/f tale of loss and mourning gone too far, the narrator mourns her dead girlfriend, Lygia, and tries to remake her presence in her new girlfriend with dark results.
The Fall of the Bank of Usher (The Fall of the House of Usher) by Fran Wilde
Tied as my favorite, this masterful blend of futuristic nanotech with old-school English manor joins the heist trope in this tale of (potentially) gender-fluid twins who take the job of hacking the unhackable Bank of Usher in an old manor house guarded by semi-sentient computerized mold. (I hear you saying “wtf”—just read it. It’s amazing.)
The Murders in Rue Apartelle, Boracay (The Murders in the Rue Morgue) by Rin Chupeco
Confusing and at times overly complicated given its length, this tale was a modern blend of magical realism in the Philippines told by the female narrator as she recounts the tale of her mysterious rich boyfriend who may or may not be too knowledgeable about a murder case.
Original notes: Ahhhh! So thrilled to be a part of the blog tour for His Hideous Heart. Stay tuned for my review on September 5! This is one of my most anticipated releases for 2019 so I am HYPED.
Thank you so much to Flatiron Books for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Come for the concept, stay for the drama. This was a near-perfect blend of Gossip Girl, modern day royalty, and drama.
Drama: ★★★★ 1/2
What would have happened if George Washington had accepted the offer to become America's king? As our history books state, he said no, and the Presidency was created.
But what if...
American Royals follows the modern-day lives of America's royal family—the House of Washington. A perfect mishmash of British royalty with a distinctly American twist, American Royals was SO MUCH FUN.
Beatrice Washington is the first born, and the first woman chosen as next in line for the throne. An 18-year-old with her life planned out down to the man she's supposed to marry, she secretly dreams of being allowed the freedom of choice in the land of the free. But what's a princess to do when the whole world is watching?
Samantha Washington is one part of two—her twin brother, Jefferson Washington, is America's heartthrob—and Sam's the mess up. Known as the spare, Sam realizes that the only way to carve her mark into history is to be the loudest, the worst, the most—anything and everything that Beatrice isn't. What's a spare to do when all she wants is to make an impact?
Nina Gonzalez is Sam's best friend and the daughter of the royal court's Chamberlain. She's grown up in the halls of the palace all her life, and Sam and Jeff are her closest friends. It's not her intention to fall in love with the prince, but when one night crosses the line, will she take the plunge and risk the wrath of the American people to be with her knight in shining armor?
Daphne Deighton was born to be a princess. Scraping her way to the top with a smile on her face and steel in her eyes, she was Jeff's perfect porcelain girlfriend until it all came crashing down and Nina stole his heart. What's a girl to do but take things into her own hands?
Following the POVs of these four women entangled in the palace, American Royals was something else. I couldn't get enough of the clever world-building, the hate-to-love-it cliched drama, and the scheming. Nina's window as a Hispanic woman attempting to following her own path was my favorite part of this story, seconded by Beatrice's stoic exterior/mad mess interior dynamic.
This series is going to make a splash, and I can't WAIT for the next book.
Thank you very much to Penguin Random House for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
These Witches Don't Burn? More like these witches don't bore! (Couldn't resist.)
I absolutely loved reading These Witches Don't Burn. Fun, filled with memorable characters, extreme relationship drama, and so well paced it's basically ready for its movie adaptation, this book is a great LGBT+ contemporary read.
Everyone knows the history of Salem, Massachusetts. People went mad and claimed girls were witches, and they killed them. As many other novels have explored—what if the witches were real? These Witches Don't Burn covers the same ground relating to Salem, but it does it with a surprising sense of diversity, humor, and heart.
Hannah is an Elemental witch in her junior year of high school. She's training to be a full witch in her coven, she's attempting to balance her home life with school, and she's dealing with her persistent ex. Adding some fire to the flames, Hannah's ex is one of the witches in Hannah's coven, and she's everywhere Hannah is. Awkward.
The main drama for These Witches Don't Burn lies in the relationship dynamics between Hannah, her ex Veronica, Hannah's friend Gemma, and the new girl in town, Morgan. There is an action-based pseudo-mystery plot going on in the background as the witches discover that a Witch Hunter is in town—attempting to murder them in the style of the 1600s Salem witch trials—and Hannah finds herself in the middle of the drama, but for me the main narrative lay in the relationships.
To be honest, that's why I enjoyed it so much.
These Witches Don't Burn is feminist, fun, and filled with the kind of relationship drama that everyone can relate to. I loved it. My only caveat to the story was that it fell into some of the anti-men tropes that these novels often have. The men in this novel were either suspicious, problematic, dead, or part of the mystery in a nefarious way. I can't get into the spoilers, but once you've reached the finale you'll see what I mean. I wish there had been a few positive male characters in the story not because we need positive male roles in every story, but because it seemed like an intentional oversight and felt like an over correction in the name of female empowerment.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.