King’s Cage by Victoria Aveyard – Book Review

Warning: spoilers if you haven’t read the first two books in the series!

In Aveyard’s penultimate instalment of the Red Queen series, we once again join Mare, Cal and the Red Guard on her fight against the oppressive system in the Kingdom of Norta. After the events of Glass Sword, Mare is confined to Maven’s palace as a puppet, her once strong, fear-inducing powers now reduced to nothing. As the rebellion continues without her, Mare must watch from the sidelines. Cal, on the other hand, the exiled prince, will stop at little to get her back…

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Heading into the GCSE exam period – what I wish I had known this time last year

The time is almost here for GCSE students to take the exams they have been working so long for; it’s an opportunity to show the hard work that they’ve been putting in to learning the new, tough GCSE syllabus introduced for most of the GCSE exams last year. I took my GCSEs last year, so the experience and process is fresh in my mind! Here is a brief list of some things which I wish I’d known before I had gone into the exam period.

  1. Mindset is key. However much revision you have done, having a positive mindset is so important. So many times, I have heard “I’m going to fail, I know nothing”. Try and say to yourself “I am going to try my very best in this exam, answer as many questions as I can and show the examiner my best”. This will help you to mentally prepare before the exam. As you are preparing to go into the exam hall, try and think about this, instead of running through any last-minute knowledge.
  2. Focus on yourself. Some people will be flexing their knowledge before the exam, others may claim that they are doing no revision (not always true). Exam period is one time when you can focus on yourself. These kinds of people will just take you off-track, and distract you from what is truly important. If the environment in a form room or canteen between exams is stressing you out, take a breath of fresh air or head to the library.
  3. Extract yourself from social media. I decided to delete Snapchat and Instagram through the exam period, as I felt like I may be tempted to scroll through photos when I should be either revising or having some time off. I found that I didn’t miss it too much, and I didn’t distract myself with what other people were doing, or feel intimidated by seeing people’s photos of their revision. I did like to check twitter from time to time to see the latest GCSE memes, which kept me going through the exam period!
  4. Don’t dwell on what went wrong. If an exam doesn’t go exactly as planned, then try not to spend too long worrying about it – If you found the exam difficult, then chances are, you are not the only one, and the grade boundaries will reflect this. It’s best that you try and focus on what’s coming up next, and how you can prepare yourself for that.
  5. Be organised. Try to make sure you have every piece of equipment you need (especially for Maths exams). Arrive for your exams around 10-15 minutes before they start, to help you to get into the right mindset, and to be able to calm yourself.

I wish everyone taking their GCSEs the best of luck!

Alyssa x

Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard – Book Review

In Aveyard’s second instalment of her fantasy series Red Queen, we return to the Kingdom of Norta. After the events of Red Queen, Mare, Kilorn and Cal are on the run from the evil and wicked King Maven. As a Newblood, Mare has Red blood (the colour of common people in Norta) but also the superhuman powers of the elite Silvers. With a list of the others who share her Newblood status in hand, Mare embarks on a mission finding and recruiting these individuals to the rebel organisation, the Scarlet Guard.

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Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard – Book Review

In Norta, the colour of your blood defines you – your social status, your occupation, and whether or not you have superpower-like abilities. The elite Silvers exploit the Reds, sending them to the front line in the North and using them as their servants in their lavish residences.

Mare is a Red, and every day she becomes closer to being conscripted on her seventeenth birthday. After a chance encounter, she finds herself serving the King in his summer residence. One day, however, something happens to Mare that makes her question her identity – she appears to have Silver abilities but Red blood, so the royal family decide to declare her as a long-lost princess, to prevent any questions being asked. Mare is thrust in to the Silver world, engaged to a Silver prince. She now has the chance to take down the oppressive system that has caused her family and community so much pain and suffering. This won’t be easy; she must dodge the jealousy, lies and rivalries of the royal courts to try to bring justice to her people.

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My Quick YA Fiction Recommendations – What to Read Now

Young Adult fiction contains so many wonderful, enjoyable and inspiring books, so when I’m asked for an on-the-spot recommendation, I’m not great at giving one – I feel like I need to know what a person is looking for before I recommend a book! This inspired me to write this post; recommending books depending on what you are looking for in a novel. If you’re in the UK, it’s World Book Day today (7th of March) so what better excuse to pick up a book?

To access my full review of each book, please click on the title.

If you’re looking for: Feel Good, Easy-to-read Romance

Then I recommend: /To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the ultimate feel-good book that will make you feel warm inside! If you have watched the film and not yet read the book, then do not fear: it is a trilogy, so you can continue the story of Lara Jean Covey and Peter Kavinsky in two more instalments! If you’re struggling to get into reading a book, then I really recommend this particular book to get you quickly back in the swing of reading.

If you’re looking for: An Intense, Plot-twist-full Thriller

Then I recommend: Cruel Summer by Juno Dawson

This is an extremely gripping novel, with interesting characters that seem perfect on the surface, but all have secrets to hide. Kind of like a modern-day Agatha Christie novel, the pace of the book increases as the book progresses, with more hints and clues as to who the killer was as you read.

If you’re looking for: Exciting, Female-led Fantasy

Then I recommend: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

If you’re familiar with the book scene on Instagram, you’ll have seen this series everywhere – and for good reason. This incredibly popular book is led by Celaena Sardothien, a fiery, talented and likeable assassin that you’ll really root for. I’ve recently bought the third book in the series, and I can’t wait to read it!

If you’re looking for: Powerful, Educational, Black Lives Matter movement-inspired Story

Then I recommend: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

This book is an automatic recommendation whenever someone asks me for book suggestions. It is the perfect example of how a Young Adult book can educate you on the social issues in the world today, and I believe the more people that read this, the better. By the way, the film was also amazing.

If you’re looking for: Compelling, Tense Contemporary

Then I recommend: Fragments of the Lost by Megan Miranda

I picked this book up from the library, having never heard of it before, and I’m so glad that I took it out. The writing style allows the emotion in the book to be extremely well portrayed, and the use of flashbacks means that the reader can begin to piece together fragments of information, to be left with a picture that is unrecognisable from that presented at the beginning of the book.

I hope that you have found these recommendations useful, and decide to pick up one of these books. I really enjoyed reading all of them, and I hope you will too!

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi – Book Review

In Orïsha, a fantasy land based on Nigeria, magic is outlawed. A land that was once full with the Maji clans practicing their many forms of magic is now a place where the remaining few with magic constantly fear the heartless King Saran.

Zélie is a Divîner; she does not possess the full powers of a Maji, but has the ability to become one. All the diviners in Orïsha are oppressed by the ruling class, the Kosidàn, and are marked out by their striking white hair.

One day, Zélie and her brother Tzain head to Lagos to raise money for the crippling taxes placed upon them, and cross paths with Amari, who is escaping from the royal family of Orïsha with a magical scroll in her hand. This scroll provides hope for the Divîners of Orïsha, which prompts the trio to embark on a demanding journey to bring back magic and loosen the grip of the monarchy on the lives of the people. With the Crown Prince hot on their heels, it is a race against time to complete a ritual that would mean everything for Zélie and the Divîners. This is difficult enough, but is made more complicated when Zélie begins to have feelings for an enemy…

I took a while to get started with book, but, as with many fantasy books, once I reached middle of the book I felt like I had got into it. Adeyemi creates a world that is unique in YA fantasy – a setting based on Nigeria and West African mythology.

I am glad that this book has become well-known and liked; many YA fantasy books have very western settings and characters. Those who have read other fantasies or TV shows such as BBC’s Merlin will see a familiar plot curve, but made up for by the vividness of the world in which the story took place. If you enjoyed Throne of Glass, you’ll probably enjoy this novel.

While this is a fantasy novel, the struggles faced by the characters serve as an allegory for slavery, oppression and the police brutality against African Americans.

My main issue was the romance in this story – it seemed rushed and made little sense. However, as this book is the first in a trilogy, I hope that this will be resolved in the books to come. There are 3 points-of-view in this novel, which are all very similar – I always had to check back to remind me which character’s POV it was being told from.

The rights for the film have been sold, and as I was reading the book I thought that it would make a great film. I even believe that it will make a film that is better than the book – I am interested to see what Adeyemi has in store for the series, with Children of Vengeance and Virtue being released very soon!

How to Grow your Grades before your GCSEs this Summer

This time last year, I had received my mock GCSE results and was looking to my exams in the summer, which seemed so far away at the time; for year 11’s across the country, it’s the first time you take a public exam. I was tired of hearing the same thing about preparing for my exams, so I’ve tried to put in some different ideas as well as some tips you will have heard before, but are worth remembering. Looking back now, there are some things that I simply wish I’d known, so I thought I would share them with you now!

Before the exams

Know your syllabus. It may seem like I’m stating the obvious, but going back to the syllabus time and time again is crucial. While the course content is listed in text books and revision guides, I would recommend always looking at the exam-issued syllabus, because that will tell you exactly what will be in the exam and how much you need to know about it. I think that this is most relevant to the sciences, but you should try and print off a syllabus for each subject and put it in a revision file, going back to it at the beginning of each session.

Required Practicals. For the Sciences, taking a look at the required practicals is time well spent. Learning the methods, variables, equipment will really help you, as there is bound to be a question on one of the practicals. I think that the importance of required practicals is understated, but you should really know them as the questions are worth 6 marks (for my exam board, AQA).

Practice, practice, practice! Practice papers will be your best friend through the exam period. It’s so important that after you have done your practice papers and marked them, that you record your result and which topics you struggled with. This gives you a list of topics to go over in the days leading up to the exam, and to do questions on. I found that some of the questions that I had answered in revision were the same as the ones that came up in the exam! Also, remember to stick to the exam timings!

Order is important. For me, spending a whole morning doing Biology, Physics and Chemistry consecutively would be a struggle – I wouldn’t be able to keep up the motivation throughout because they aren’t the subjects I enjoy the most. Therefore, I found it really useful to order my subjects from favourite to least favourite, then decide on the order of my revision from that.

Take a break. When you’ve worked with no distractions, you deserve a break. Get up from your seat, go outside, exercise, chat to friends or family; try and take your mind off your work for a while and you will go back feeling refreshed. I liked to watch an episode of Brooklyn nine-nine in between revision sessions!

Talk to your teachers. For the humanities subjects, essays make up the majority of the paper. If your teacher offers revision sessions, be sure to make use of them, and ask them if you could go through/give them some essays to mark outside of school work. Hopefully, they should be keen to mark your work to help you secure those top grades!

Quizlet is your best friend. Chances are, you’re already using Quizlet, but if you aren’t, it is an amazing resource that will come in especially handy if you are taking languages. If you are short on time, and cannot create a set from scratch, there will probably be someone else’s set on there that you can use that covers your topics (but if you can, make your own so you can be sure that everything you want is on there, and the process of making them will help you learn).

Online resources. If there are some subjects that you really want to go over or if the content just isn’t sinking in, try YouTube. My favourites were Mr. Bruff for English and Malmesbury Science for science practicals (also has videos for A-Level).

Don’t lose hope. If you didn’t do as well as you would have liked to in your mock exams, use it as a learning experience; it will be of much more value to learn something from an exam that went badly than to ace an exam and lose momentum in your revision. Personally, my result in my Biology mocks prompted me to put the work in by doing practice questions on every topic. Eventually, I managed to grow my grade by 3 grades!

Before your results

Please don’t compare your GCSEs to your classmates or friends. Everyone has their own circumstances, journey and strengths outside school, and those with the highest grades will not necessarily be the most successful. As you go your separate ways after prom, whether you are taking A-Levels, BTECs, other technical qualifications or an apprenticeship, people will remember you for not how many As or A*s you have, but your personality, interests and attitude towards others.

Try your best – I’m rooting for all of you! If you need any more advice, please don’t hesitate to DM me on my Instagram, @alyssamaereads.

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Turtles All the Way Down by John Green – Book Review

In John Green’s latest novel, Aza is faced with a dilemma when the billionaire father of a childhood friend becomes a fugitive. When her best friend Daisy hears about the $100,000 reward for information leading to his arrest, the pair begin to look into anything that may lead them to his whereabouts. However, through the investigation, Aza becomes much closer to the fugitive’s son and childhood friend, Davis Pickett. Being a supportive friend to Daisy, a good student and investigating the case is a lot, but Aza must also learn how to cope with thought-spirals and intrusive thoughts caused by her anxiety and OCD. 

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Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – Book Review

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After meeting online, Simon Spier has been in contact with the elusive Blue over email, sharing their experiences of coming out with one another. It’s not long before the pair are really close, sharing secrets that they wouldn’t even tell their best friends. What’s more, not only do Blue and Simon go to the same school, but they are in the same year – as Simon begins to fall for Blue, he wants to know Blue’s real identity…

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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han – Book Review

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To allow her to express her feelings, Lara Jean decided to write 5 letters to all the boys she has had a crush on in the past. Of course, these letters were never meant to be sent. Until one day, when they mysteriously find their way out of her special hiding space, and all of a sudden, her next door neighbour and her sister’s boyfriend, Josh Sanderson, and the popular loved-by-everyone Peter Kavinsky, among others, know the intense feelings she once had for them. Now she must face the boys who once meant so much to her as she begins to realise that some still do…

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