Review: The Guinevere Deception

The Guinevere Deception
By Kiersten White
Published November 5, 2019 by Delacorte Press

Publisher’s summary:
There was nothing in the world as magical and terrifying as a girl.

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?

The Guinevere Deception is an Arthurian retelling that puts the emphasis on Arthur’s queen. I love the Arthurian legends, but they do tend to be a bit male-centric, so I’m a fan of retellings that focus on the female characters.

GuinevereGuinevere is an imposter. The real princess died, and the false Guinevere is a shadowy creature, the daughter of King Arthur’s magician Merlin. The kingdom of Camelot has forbidden the use of magic, and Merlin has been banished by Arthur (although he did it unwillingly). Now, with Arthur’s agreement, Merlin sends Guinevere to Camelot to become Arthur’s bride and to protect him from forces that threaten the kingdom.

Guinevere is something of an unreliable narrator. She knows that she is Merlin’s daughter and that she learned her magic from him, but there are many details of her past that she doesn’t remember, including the identity of her mother. She embraces her role as Arthur’s magical protector, and the two develop a tentative bond, even though the marriage is in name only.

Part of the fun of an Arthurian retelling is seeing how an author interprets the original tales. This version has all the original characters, including Tristan, Lancelot, Mordred, and Gawain, but there are also a couple of rather minor female characters from the legends who are given larger roles here. The author does some really interesting things with Mordred, who is usually a rather cardboard villain. Here, he’s a much more nuanced character.

White is a skillful writer who breathes new life into a well-known story. The Guinevere Deception is an engaging read, and I’m excited to see where the story goes in the next book (it’s going to be a trilogy).

I received an ARC from the publisher through Amazon Vine.

Review: The Memory Thief

The Memory Thief
By Lauren Mansy
Published October 1, 2019 by Blink

Publisher’s Summary:
In the city of Craewick, memories reign. The power-obsessed ruler of the city, Madame, has cultivated a society in which memories are currency, citizens are divided by ability, and Gifted individuals can take memories from others through touch as they please.

Seventeen-year-old Etta Lark is desperate to live outside of the corrupt culture, but grapples with the guilt of an accident that has left her mother bedridden in the city’s asylum. When Madame threatens to put her mother up for auction, a Craewick practice in which a “criminal’s” memories are sold to the highest bidder before being killed, Etta will do whatever it takes to save her. Even if it means rejoining the Shadows, the rebel group she swore off in the wake of the accident years earlier.

To prove her allegiance to the Shadows and rescue her mother, Etta must steal a memorized map of the Maze, a formidable prison created by the bloodthirsty ruler of a neighboring Realm. So she sets out on a journey in which she faces startling attacks, unexpected romance, and, above all, her own past in order to set things right in her world.

 

The Memory Thief is a young adult fantasy with an interesting premise, but it just didn’t work for me.

This book has a great concept. In this world, memories are currency. The Gifted can take The Memory Yhiefand give memories, and this talent is often abused. The idea of someone invading your memories, stealing them, and even profiting from them is creepy and fascinating. The Gifted can gain a talent or skill by stealing a memory. For example, the heroine, Etta, is a skilled fighter because of memories she’s stolen. This is all very cool, but the rest of the book didn’t hold up.

My biggest issue is that the pacing of the book felt off. There are a bunch of plot twists that come in quick succession in the middle of the book. Although they were cool twists, they didn’t have much impact because they happened so quickly and with characters that had just been introduced or hadn’t been well developed. The pacing is also an issue in the romance that develops between Etta and another character. It happens so quickly and then there’s a plot twist that might drive them apart, but since they had barely been together, it felt contrived.

I also had trouble keeping track of the various groups. There are the Gifted and ungifted, but also multiple other groups and they weren’t well defined. There were two groups introduced briefly with no information, and it wasn’t until I found a glossary at the end of the book that I was able to figure out who and what they were. I wonder if this book was originally much longer or intended to be more than one book, because there is so much compressed into 300 pages. It could have benefited from being a bit longer.

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.

Review: Cursed

Cursed
By Thomas Wheeler
Published October 1, 2019 by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Publisher’s Summary:
Whosoever wields the Sword of Power shall be the one true King.

But what if the Sword has chosen a Queen?

Nimue grew up an outcast. Her connection to dark magic made her something to be feared in her Druid village, and that made her desperate to leave…

That is, until her entire village is slaughtered by Red Paladins, and Nimue’s fate is forever altered. Charged by her dying mother to reunite an ancient sword with a legendary sorcerer, Nimue is now her people’s only hope. Her mission leaves little room for revenge, but the growing power within her can think of little else.

Nimue teams up with a charming mercenary named Arthur and refugee Fey Folk from across England. She wields a sword meant for the one true king, battling paladins and the armies of a corrupt king. She struggles to unite her people, avenge her family, and discover the truth about her destiny.

But perhaps the one thing that can change Destiny itself is found at the edge of a blade.

I went into Cursed with some trepidation. I’m mildly obsessed with the Arthurian legends, so I have a high bar for retellings. And Cursed is going to be a Netflix series, which is already in production before the book is released, so I was a bit worried this Cursedwould be just a novelization of the show. But I was pleasantly surprised by how good it was.

Cursed is a very loose retelling of the Arthurian legends. There are characters named Arthur, Nimue, Lancelot, and Merlin, but these versions are far from the originals that we know from the legends. The story centers on Nimue, a young fae girl whose village is destroyed by the Red Paladin, monks who are on a mission to destroy the fae people. She escapes with a sword and tries to follow her druid mother’s dying order, which was to take the sword to Merlin. She joins forces with Arthur, a young mercenary, and they soon find themselves pursued on all sides by people who want to the sword.

Cursed is a fun, fast-paced story, with a memorable main character. Nimue is very different than in the the original legends. She witnesses the massacre of her village, and she’s filled with survivor’s guilt and a thirst for revenge. She’s thrust into a situation she never wanted and she’s forced to grow up quickly. If you’re an Arthurian purist, you may not enjoy this book, because Arthur is not the star of the show, but I definitely recommend it.

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.

Review: The Grace Year

The Grace Year
By Kim Liggett
Published October 8, 2019 by Wednesday Books

Publisher’s summary:
Survive the year.

No one speaks of the grace year. It’s forbidden.

In Garner County, girls are told they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, to drive women mad with jealousy. They believe their very skin emits a powerful aphrodisiac, the potent essence of youth, of a girl on the edge of womanhood. That’s why they’re banished for their sixteenth year, to release their magic into the wild so they can return purified and ready for marriage. But not all of them will make it home alive.

Sixteen-year-old Tierney James dreams of a better life—a society that doesn’t pit friend against friend or woman against woman, but as her own grace year draws near, she quickly realizes that it’s not just the brutal elements they must fear. It’s not even the poachers in the woods, men who are waiting for a chance to grab one of the girls in order to make a fortune on the black market. Their greatest threat may very well be each other.

With sharp prose and gritty realism, The Grace Year examines the complex and sometimes twisted relationships between girls, the women they eventually become, and the difficult decisions they make in-between.

 

The Grace Year is getting a lot of hype because it’s already been optioned for a film. In this case, the hype is well deserved. It’s a gripping, creepy, devastating book.

The Grace YearIn Garner County, the patriarchy reigns supreme. Although women outnumber men, it’s men who have all power. Women can be wives or workers (in approved professions) once they reach their teen years. Women who don’t fit the mold or have been punished for transgressions against the social order are banished to the outskirts, where they become prostitutes.

Every year, all of the 16-year-old girls in the county are sent away to remote location in the wild for a full year. It’s believed that teenage girls have magic that needs to be expunged from them, and this year in the wild, know as the Grace Year, is supposed to do this. The girls are told nothing about what will happen during that year, but they know that not everyone survives the year. Oh, and there are poachers who hunt the girls, kill them, and sell their body parts.

This book was fantastic. I tore through it. It’s a little bit of The Handmaid’s Tale, Lord of the Flies, and The Hunger Games, with a whiff of the Salem witch trials thrown in. I won’t say much about the plot because I think it’s best for the reader to go into the story knowing as little as the girls do when they begin their Grace Year.

This book is brutal, but then so is the patriarchy. The book does really well at showing how patriarchy pits women against each other, and how it can’t survive without women buying into the system. The heroine Tierney is a great character. She’s not perfect, but she’s strong and she recognizes that things are seriously messed up in the county.

“…I only feel tired. Tired of hating each other. Tired of feeling small. Tired of being used. Tired of men deciding our fate, and for what?”

Read this book and prepare to feel a lot of rage.

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.

Review: The Last True Poets of the Sea

The Last True Poets of the Sea
By Julia Drake
Published October 1, 2019 by Disney-Hyperion

Publisher’s Summary:
The Larkin family isn’t just lucky—they persevere. At least that’s what Violet and her younger brother, Sam, were always told. When the Lyric sank off the coast of Maine, their great-great-great-grandmother didn’t drown like the rest of the passengers. No, Fidelia swam to shore, fell in love, and founded Lyric, Maine, the town Violet and Sam returned to every summer.

But wrecks seem to run in the family. Tall, funny, musical Violet can’t stop partying with the wrong people. And, one beautiful summer day, brilliant, sensitive Sam attempts to take his own life.

Shipped back to Lyric while Sam is in treatment, Violet is haunted by her family’s missing piece – the lost shipwreck she and Sam dreamed of discovering when they were children. Desperate to make amends, Violet embarks on a wildly ambitious mission: locate the Lyric, lain hidden in a watery grave for over a century.

She finds a fellow wreck hunter in Liv Stone, an amateur local historian whose sparkling intelligence and guarded gray eyes make Violet ache in an exhilarating new way. Whether or not they find the Lyric, the journey Violet takes-and the bridges she builds along the way-may be the start of something like survival.

The Last True Poets of the Sea is a young adult contemporary novel that’s loosely based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Last true poetsViolet’s family is falling apart. Her brother Sam attempted suicide, and now he’s in a treatment facility and she’s been sent to stay with her uncle in the small Maine town of Lyric, where her mother grew up. Her brother’s mental health issues are long standing, and Violet has been dealing with her fractured family for the past year with partying and sex.

In Lyric, Violet befriends some local kids, including Orion and the beguiling Liv. Lyric is a quirky place, and Violet’s family has a long history with the town, which was founded by her ancestors Ransom and Fidelia. Fidelia was the sole survivor of a shipwreck that’s never been located. Liv is obsessed with the town’s legends, and she and Violet bond as they search for the shipwreck.

I really enjoyed the family dynamics that are explored in the book. Sam’s mental health issues have been the family’s focus, and Violet has found ways of acting out. She feels banished to Lyric and guilty that she wasn’t there for her brother. It’s an interesting look at the ripple effects of mental health issues.

I loved the depiction of Lyric. It’s a quirky place with quirky people, and it’s a good place for Violet to heal. I was really interested in her family’s role in the town history, and I wish there had been a bit more of that in the book.

Overall, this was a moving look at a girl whose family is in crisis, and it has a very sweet queer romance. I recommend it for anyone who likes their contemporary YA on the whimsical side.

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.

Review: The Girl the Sea Gave Back

The Girl the Sea Gave Back
By Adrienne Young
Published September 3, 2019 by Wednesday Books

Publisher’s summary:
For as long as she can remember, Tova has lived among the Svell, the people who found her washed ashore as a child and use her for her gift as a Truthtongue. Her own home and clan are long-faded memories, but the sacred symbols and staves inked over every inch of her skin mark her as one who can cast the rune stones and see into the future. She has found a fragile place among those who fear her, but when two clans to the east bury their age-old blood feud and join together as one, her world is dangerously close to collapse.

For the first time in generations, the leaders of the Svell are divided. Should they maintain peace or go to war with the allied clans to protect their newfound power? And when their chieftain looks to Tova to cast the stones, she sets into motion a series of events that will not only change the landscape of the mainland forever but will give her something she believed she could never have again—a home.

I really loved Sky in the Deep, Adrienne Young’s debut novel, so I was excited to read the companion novel, The Girl the Sea Gave Back. It’s not a direct sequel, but it’s set in the same world as Sky in the Deep and the main characters appear in supporting roles.

The Girl the Sea Gave BackSet 10 years after the events of Sky in the Deep, the Nadhir have experienced an unprecedented stretch of peace, but the neighboring tribe of the Svell are growing in strength and may be a threat to the Nadhir, who are still rebuilding after the events of the first book. Halvard is 18 and has been chosen as the heir to the chief of the Nadhir. He wrestles with whether he is truly the right choice for the job.

One of the Svell’s advantages is a young woman named Tova. She is a Truthtongue, someone who can see the future. She is also a member of another tribe, the mysterious Kyrr. She washed up on a beach and was found by Jorrund, the Svell’s spiritual leader. Her life with the Svell has been hard. Although they need her, they also fear her, and the only person who shows her any kindness is Jorrund, but Tova always wonders if it’s because he needs her abilities to maintain his power.  She lives in constant fear of outliving her usefulness to the tribe.

The story is told in alternating chapters from Tova and Halvard’s points of view. It’s effective because the characters have very distinct voices. Tova’s lonely life contrasts with Halvard’s much more secure position. She’s an outsider with no memories of her past, while he is a favored son of his tribe, with a supporting and loving family. The two have little in common, but when Tova casts the rune stones, a connection between them is forged.

The book has a fast moving plot, and most of the action takes place over just a few days. Young’s spare prose works well for the story. The bleakness and beauty of this world really come through in her writing. It’s a gripping story, and I hope Young writes more books set in this world.

Although this is sort of a sequel, it’s possible to read it without having read Sky in the Deep. But the two books go so well together, I would recommend that you read the first one before reading The Girl the Sea Gave Back.

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley.

Review: The Babysitters Coven

The Babysitters Coven
By Kate Williams
Published September 17, 2019 by Delacorte Press

Publisher’s Summary:
Adventures in Babysitting meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer in this funny, action-packed novel about a coven of witchy babysitters who realize their calling to protect the innocent and save the world from an onslaught of evil.

Seventeen-year-old Esme Pearl has a babysitters club. She knows it’s kinda lame, but what else is she supposed to do? Get a job? Gross. Besides, Esme likes babysitting, and she’s good at it.

And lately Esme needs all the cash she can get, because it seems like destruction follows her wherever she goes. Let’s just say she owes some people a new tree.

Enter Cassandra Heaven. She’s Instagram-model hot, dresses like she found her clothes in a dumpster, and has a rebellious streak as gnarly as the cafeteria food. So why is Cassandra willing to do anything, even take on a potty-training two-year-old, to join Esme’s babysitters club?

The answer lies in a mysterious note Cassandra’s mother left her: “Find the babysitters. Love, Mom.”

Turns out, Esme and Cassandra have more in common than they think, and they’re about to discover what being a babysitter really means: a heroic lineage of superpowers, magic rituals, and saving the innocent from seriously terrifying evil. And all before the parents get home.

The Babysitters Coven is so much fun. It’s got a definite Buffy the Vampire Slayer feel to it (and one of the characters actually references the similarity of their situation to Buffy).

Esme is a typical teen just trying to get through high school. She’s neither popular nor unpopular, and she and her best friend stay mostly under the radar, spending their spare time The Babysitters Covenbabysitting. When new girl at school Cassandra wants to join their babysitters club, Esme is a little surprised. When she figures that Cassandra has no experience with kids and is a totally incompetent babysitter, she’s really confused. But Esme is also confused by weird stuff that’s happening around her, stuff that she seems to be making happen. And Cassandra apparently has the same problem.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s funny, fast-paced, and very self-aware (it’s got a very Buffy vibe, and that’s actually acknowledged in the book). Esme is a great character. She’s a typical teen dealing with some very atypical stuff. Cassandra is much more of a loose cannon (the Faith to Esme’s Buffy), but she was orphaned as a young child and grew up in the foster care system, so she hasn’t had the stable parental influence that Esme has from her dad (but not her mother, who has been institutionalized since Esme was a small child). I thought the contrast between the two characters worked really well.

This is the start of a series, and I’m interested to see where things go.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.