A+ characters, C+ plot: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray [REVIEW]

3682A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Series: Gemma Doyle #1
First published in December 2003
Tags: Young Adult, Historial Fiction, Fantasy

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Source: Library
Rating:  photo three stars_zpsohkkn6ww.png

A Victorian boarding school story, a Gothic mansion mystery, a gossipy romp about a clique of girlfriends, and a dark other-worldly fantasy—jumble them all together and you have this complicated and unusual first novel.

Sixteen-year-old Gemma has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother’s death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls’ academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique. Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions. Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions “for a bit of fun” and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the “others” and rebuild the Order.


I’d heard a lot of good things about this, but it didn’t quite reach me even though it was good. 

So this is a young adult series from before YA was cool, i.e. before Twilight. Nice. It’s set in the Victorian era (although it’s probably not the most historically accurate book ever) in an all girl’s school. The atmosphere is kind of gothic, which I enjoyed. 

We meet Gemma, who grew up in India but after her mother’s death (which she foresaw in a mysterious vision) is sent to England to go to school. There she meets three girls; Felicity, Pippa, and the outcast Anne, and together they stumble into a world of magic and powers. 

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Good, but not memorable: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab [Review]

23299512This Savage Song by Victoria (V.E.) Schwab
Series: Monsters of Verity #1
First published in June 2016 by Greenwillow Books
Tags: Young AdultFantasy

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Source: Purchased

Rating:  photo three stars_zpsohkkn6ww.png

There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.


Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

I don’t know how long this review will be, because I honestly don’t have that much to say. I have a very on-again-off-again relationship with V.E. Schwab. I gave Vicious a glowing 5 star review, it’s one of my all-time favorites and everyone should read it, but A Darker Shade of Magic bored me to tears. 

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Kind of Doctor Who-ish: 172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad [REVIEW]

15790843172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad
First published in Norwegian by Cappelen Damm in September 2008
Pages: 376
Tags:
Young AdultScience FictionHorror
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Source: Library

Rating:  photo three stars_zpsohkkn6ww.png

It’s been decades since anyone set foot on the moon. Now three ordinary teenagers, the winners of NASA’s unprecedented, worldwide lottery, are about to become the first young people in space–and change their lives forever. Mia, from Norway, hopes this will be her punk band’s ticket to fame and fortune. Midori believes it’s her way out of her restrained life in Japan. Antoine, from France, just wants to get as far away from his ex-girlfriend as possible.

It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, but little do the teenagers know that something sinister is waiting for them on the desolate surface of the moon. And in the black vacuum of space… no one is coming to save them.


In this chilling adventure set in the most brutal landscape known to man, highly acclaimed Norwegian novelist Johan Harstad creates a vivid and frightening world of possibilities we can only hope never come true.

I want to read more Norwegian books and I decided to start with this one, because it sounded fairly interesting, plus it has an English translation and is thus relevant on this blog. Yay. 
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I listened to this on audio and I think listening to it made me enjoy it more than if I actually read it. I feel like if I was reading it then I would have been more bored than I was during the first half of the book. 
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Because the first half of the book is a little bit slow. I don’t think they leave for the moon until the second half and there’s a lot of background information for the characters as they go about their every-day life back home. Speaking of the every-day, I found the chapter from Antoine’s ex pretty unnecessary. That’s not to say the first half isn’t interesting though, because it is. Especially the chapters from the old man in the retirement home, those were great. 

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Space wars and rogue AIs: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff [REVIEW]

young adult scifi booksIlluminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
Series: The Illuminae Files #1
Published by Random House in October 2015
Pages: 599

Tags:
Young AdultDystopia, Science Fiction, Thriller
Source: Purchased
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Rating:  photo three half_zps8cnkrlqd.png

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.

This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.


But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.


Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

The spoilers in this review have been hidden, so you can safely read without being spoiled, if you so wish.

This book is hard for me to review, because I can’t really figure out what it is that made this book not get five stars from me, and instead 3.5. Maybe I’ll figure it out as I write. Let’s see… 

I really love books written in alternative formats, with pieced together information found-footage style. I love it and if you know more books like that then please let me know. Illuminae, as you all probably know, is a dossier consisting of interviews, chat logs, emails, reports, wikipedia articles, etc., about the Kerenza disaster (the main character’s planet). At times you have to turn the book upside down to read, which is another thing I enjoy (House of Leaves anyone? Oh boy.)

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Review: The Basic Eight by Daniel Handler

8166391The Basic Eight by Daniel Handler
Published by HarperCollins ebooks in October 2009 (first published 1999)
Pages: 416

Genres:
Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery
Source: Purchased
Buy:
Amazon | Book DepositoryBarnes and Noble
Rating:  photo three half_zps8cnkrlqd.png

Flannery Culp wants you to know the whole story of her spectacularly awful senior year. Tyrants, perverts, tragic crushes, gossip, cruel jokes, and the hallucinatory effects of absinthe — Flannery and the seven other friends in the Basic Eight have suffered through it all. But now, on tabloid television, they’re calling Flannery a murderer, which is a total lie. It’s true that high school can be so stressful sometimes. And it’s true that sometimes a girl just has to kill someone. But Flannery wants you to know that she’s not a murderer at all — she’s a murderess.

This was Daniel Handler’s, aka Lemony Snicket, debut novel. It’s a character driven novel (as opposed to plot driven) about a group of high schoolers that call themselves the Basic Eight. The book is epistolary, we’re reading the narrator’s journal as she counts down to Halloween, the night she murders her crush, Adam. She tells us in the beginning that she’s writing from prison, so we know she’s been caught and is serving time for her crime. She wants you to know that the media is wrong wrong wrong about her and the Basic Eight.

This is Flannery Culp, a wholly unreliable narrator. But she makes sure you know she’s unreliable, she tells you several times that she’s editing and rewriting her journal, that what you’re reading isn’t necessarily exactly what happened. And if it happened, it might’ve taken place at another point in time. You can’t trust Flannery, that’s part of what makes this novel interesting and fun to read. 

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Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

13519397Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Published by Bloomsbury in 2012
Pages: 404

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance

Source:
Purchased
Buy: Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble
Rating:  photo two stars_zpsbcb0mxir.png

Meet Celaena Sardothien.
Beautiful. Deadly.
Destined for greatness.

In the dark, filthy salt mines of Endovier, an eighteen-year-old girl is serving a life sentence. She is a trained assassin, the best of her kind, but she made a fatal mistake: she got caught.

Young Captain Westfall offers her a deal: her freedom in return for one huge sacrifice. Celaena must represent the prince in a to-the-death tournament—fighting the most gifted thieves and assassins in the land. Live or die, Celaena will be free. Win or lose, she is about to discover her true destiny. But will her assassin’s heart be melted?

I read this book as a read-along with Trang, Lora Shouse and Luke Taylor. It was a lot of fun, I love discussing a book as I read it and I’ve had this on my tbr for ages. 

I have a lot of thoughts on this book. I’m not sure I’ll remember to mention everything but I’ll try. 

If you read my discussion post (link above) you already know that I knew what to expect when I started reading the book. For instance I knew it focused more on romance than action. So I didn’t go into this with very high expectations and that way I didn’t end up being disappointed even if I only ended up giving it two stars. I wish it was better, but it’s exactly what I thought it’d be. Let me explain. 

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ARC Review: The Truth by Jeffry W. Johnston


The Truth by Jeffry W. JohnstonThe Truth
 
by Jeffry W. Johnston
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication date: February 2nd 2016
Pages: 240
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Thriller, Mystery
Buy: Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble
Rating:  photo three stars_zpsohkkn6ww.png

Lie, torture, kill—there’s nothing Chris and Derek wouldn’t do for their younger brothers…

When Chris wakes up tied to a chair in a dark basement, he knows that he’s trapped—and why. He shot and killed Derek’s little brother. He had his reasons, but no matter how far Derek goes to uncover the truth about that night, Chris’s story won’t change. It can’t. There is far too much at stake…

Derek is desperate to prove his brother didn’t deserve to die. And if kidnapping his brother’s killer is the only way to the truth, than he’ll go to extremes. But Chris’s truth is far more dangerous than Derek could have imagined, and knowing could cost both their lives…

I received a free ebook copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This is a short, quick and easy read, it took me about 2-3 hours.  It’s a mystery/thriller story as well as a tragedy and it will keep you wondering what the big “truth” is.  

It’s a story about family, sacrifice, and the reveal of said truth. There are two pairs of brothers in this equation: Chris and Devon, and Derek and Caleb. I just realized the characters share initials for a reason. Nice. 

The story starts with Chris waking up tied to a chair in a basement. It’s Derek who’s kidnapped him, and Derek wants to know why Chris shot and killed his little brother only a few days ago. 

The Truth reveals the, well, truths, bit by bit throughout the story. It alternates between “then” and “now” sections, i.e. it switches between Chris talking to his kidnapper and flashbacks to what happened before, during, and after Chris shot Caleb. A lot of the reveals are predictable and I was worried the very final reveal would be too, but I actually didn’t see it coming. Perhaps I should have because I had plenty of pretty wild theories throughout, some much wilder than the actual truth, but for some reason what actually happened didn’t cross my mind. I feel like an idiot, haha. 

The brothers, particularly Chris and Devon, have a Sam-and-Dean-Winchester-esque relationship. At least that’s the association I got almost immediately. Chris is 16 years old, Devon is only 10. Chris is fiercely protective of Devon and always puts him first, forgetting to have fun himself and actually act like the teenager he is. After their father was killed in the line of duty three years ago, Chris ended up taking over that role. Their mother admits that Chris is a “better parent than [she is].”

The book keeps you guessing and it’s fast-paced and fairly intriguing. You read and wonder what the hell Chris could be hiding that he’s willing to lose his fingers for. Still it’s only an okay book. I mean, I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t love it either. It lacked something that kept me from giving it more than 3 stars. Just that little something that would have made it into a complete page-turner. I can’t really tell you what that is, it might be just me. 

I did want to feel more connection with the characters though. I wish it made me really care about Chris and Devon, Devon in particular. 

There are also some lose-ish ends, like what happened to Rita? What was the purpose of her character outside of being some sort of love interest? I didn’t feel the connection between her and Chris, so to me she didn’t even work as the love interest. She says she said no the first time Chris asked her out (pre-story) because she legitimately wasn’t interested in him, but now she suddenly is? Why? Because he killed someone and she feels bad for him? I wanted just a little bit more there, without the book turning into a romance. The Truth doesn’t really need the romance part at all, but maybe the author felt like he should have at least one female character in the novel who’s not the mother? Possibly. But in that case you should probably avoid making her the love interest only. 

The constant “I know there’s something you’re not telling me” from Derek got a bit repetitive after a while too. I get it, you have to move the plot forward because there is something Chris is not telling Derek, but is there another way to get to that point? Or is Derek psychic? He seems pretty certain Chris is hiding just that one thing. 

That aside, this is an interesting little thriller. It’s easy to read and I admit I was surprised by the ending and I, like most readers, like being surprised. It’s not gory, despite the garden shears, but there are some mentions of child abuse (including rape) so if you need warnings for that then consider this your warning. It’s nothing descriptive or graphic at all though. 

I recommend this book for fans of young adult psychological thrillers/mysteries and interesting sibling dynamics. Don’t expect a masterpiece, but expect to be asking yourself some interesting questions after you’ve read the final page. 

The Truth by Jeffry W. Johnston
Have you read The Truth? Are you going to? 
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