Caraval by Stephanie Garber – Book Review

Caraval 2

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Goodreads Description:

Remember, it’s only a game…

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away.

My Review:

I loved this book!  I finished this book in two days which is a record for me.  It is a quick and fun read that is full of suspense and interesting characters.  At first Scarlett Dragna is a little wishy washy in the vein of a stereotypical romance heroine: loyal to a fiance she has never met and not as determined as she should be to escape her father’s cruel hand.  Scarlett’s sister Tella is much more adventurous and rebellious.  Despite their vastly different personalities they are very close.

When Scarlett receives her long-awaited illusive invitation to Caraval she is not as excited as she should be because her wedding is so close at hand.  Through events out of her control and the introduction of Julian, a sailor with his own agenda, Scarlett is thrown into the world of Caraval with just Julian and in search of her sister who has gone missing.

This story has the feel of a strange dream where every wrong thing happens despite your attempts to do the right thing and things just keep getting worse.  It kept me on my toes and the suspense level was constant.  I loved trying to figure out which characters were trustworthy and what events were real or just part of the game.  It was nice to see Scarlett toughen up and open up to others and be driven by her love for her sister.  I really enjoyed this book and can’t wait to read the next book in this series.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab – Book Review

A Darker Shade of Magic

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Goodreads:

Kell is one of the last travelers–magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city.

There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad King–George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered–and where Kell was raised alongside Rhy Maresh, the roguish heir to a flourishing empire. White London–a place where people fight to control magic and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

My Review:

I think this book fell victim to high expectations going into it after all the hype about it on Booktube and Bookstagram.  I was looking forward to reading it.  If it is about magic it will quickly be on my TBR.  The problem for me was quickly apparent when I realized that while this book is about magic, I did not find it very magical.

There are four parallel worlds which are very different from one another with one exception.  They all have a city called London and all the London’s have similar geography and places although everything has different names in each one.  The four Londons (Black London, Grey London, White London and Red London) used to be connected by “doors”, or passage ways, but they have been closed and now only Antari, blood magicians, can travel between the four worlds carrying messages to the different royalty.  I am still trying to figure out why these messages needed to be delivered since they really didn’t serve any specific purpose.

Kell is a young Antari, and only one of two Antari who still exist after magic became out of control and destroyed Black London.  He was raised by the royal family alongside the prince since the age of five.  Kell has no memory of his life before then and does not know where he came from.  This is explained but not explored in the book.  Maybe it will come into play in one of the sequels.  Kell travels to Grey London (the London we know) during the reign of Mad King George and it is during one of his trips that he encounters Delilah Bard, a young woman living on the streets and a cut-throat thief.  She plays a large part in the storyline and brings a breath of fresh air to the book.

I found myself trying to get through the book.  When this happens I tend to not want to finish a book but I did.  The first three quarters of the book were slow going but the last quarter really picked up with a lot of suspense and action.  Delilah definitely added to the interest of the book.  She was an interesting and plucky character and I enjoyed her the most.

V.E. Schwab writes well and I had no problem with her writing style.  I just wasn’t hooked on the story line and never became completely invested in Kell who is the lead character.  He was a little bland for a hero.  I know there are other books in this series but I don’t know if I need to find out what happens next.  Maybe one day I will pick up the second book, but not right now.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas – Book Review

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Rating: 4/5 stars

Goodreads:

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

My Review:

A Court of Thorns and Roses is very much a Beauty and the Beast re-telling with a very strong Young Adult vibe.  Being that I am quite caught up in the current Beauty and The Beast Live Action craze, I was really looking forward to reading this book.  Prior to this book, the only other Sarah J. Maas book that I have read was Throne of Glass.  I liked that book but I liked this book much better.

Feyre is our heroine.  She and her family are struggling to get by and rely on Feyre’s hunting skills.  It is on one of her treks into the forest that she comes across a humongous wolf who she suspects to be faerie.  Faerie are dangerous and Feyre doesn’t hesitate to kill and skin it for its pelt.  Little does she know how this action will change the course of her life.

Where in the original Beauty and the Beast, Beauty winds up with the Beast because of her father pilfering a rose, in this story Feyre winds up with her beast/faerie as a result of killing the wolf.  I liked the story line and the introduction of the Fae world and Feyre’s relationship with her captor, Tamlin.  There is a lot of magic and faeries and conflict.  Feyre is a typical YA heroine who has to go through hideous trials and tribulations to save the day.  I like YA novels for their fantasy and world building, but I still haven’t been won over by the assassin/kick-ass heroines who have to go through such torturous physical pain in order to be victorious.  I still like a good, old-fashioned fairy tale ending with no broken bones.

That said, I do actually look forward to reading the next book in this series.

 

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken – Book Review

 

Rating: 4/5 stars

Goodreads Description:

Passage, n.
i. A brief section of music composed of a series of notes and flourishes.
ii. A journey by water; a voyage.
iii. The transition from one place to another, across space and time.

In one devastating night, violin prodigy Etta Spencer loses everything she knows and loves. Thrust into an unfamiliar world by a stranger with a dangerous agenda, Etta is certain of only one thing: she has traveled not just miles but years from home. And she’s inherited a legacy she knows nothing about from a family whose existence she’s never heard of. Until now.

Nicholas Carter is content with his life at sea, free from the Ironwoods—a powerful family in the colonies—and the servitude he’s known at their hands. But with the arrival of an unusual passenger on his ship comes the insistent pull of the past that he can’t escape and the family that won’t let him go so easily. Now the Ironwoods are searching for a stolen object of untold value, one they believe only Etta, Nicholas’ passenger, can find. In order to protect her, he must ensure she brings it back to them—whether she wants to or not.

Together, Etta and Nicholas embark on a perilous journey across centuries and continents, piecing together clues left behind by the traveler who will do anything to keep the object out of the Ironwoods’ grasp. But as they get closer to the truth of their search, and the deadly game the Ironwoods are playing, treacherous forces threaten to separate Etta not only from Nicholas but from her path home… forever.

 

My Review

Etta Spencer is a teenage violin prodigy living in New York City with her single mother.  In one evening her world is turned upside down when she finds herself time traveling with a stranger who has kidnapped her.  Family secrets that she has been protected from are revealed and suddenly Etta finds herself on the run and desperately attempting to get back to her mother and trying to make sense of a life and family  she thought she knew.

Nicholas Carter is a sailor from the 1700s and happy living a sea-faring life and staying clear of the powerful Ironwood family.  But when Etta Spencer enters his life she changes everything.  Nicholas is charged with making sure Etta finds a special object that the Ironwood family desperately wants.  Will he protect her or turn on her?  Can Etta trust him?  Both Nicholas and Etta have their own agendas.  Will this work against them or help them?

I enjoyed this book, even though it had some slow moments.  Etta is a strong female character who was easy to like and feel for.  Nicholas was a tough and gentle character that was a good match for Etta.  I liked when the intrigue and suspense was full on.  The revelations about certain characters were done in an interesting way.  It held my attention and I look forward to reading the 2nd book.

All The Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders – Book Review

 

Rating: 3/5 stars

Goodreads Description:

Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during high school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one’s peers and families.

But now they’re both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who’s working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention into the changing global climate. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world’s magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world’s ever-growing ailments. Little do they realize that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together–to either save the world, or plunge it into a new dark ages.

A deeply magical, darkly funny examination of life, love, and the apocalypse.

My Review:

When we are first introduced to Patricia Delfine she is seven years old.  She lives with her parents and older sister.  Her parents are somewhat cruel with their punishments, i.e. locking Patricia in her room and sliding meals under her door.  It is at this time of Patricia’s life that she discovers she can speak to animals.  She is drawn to the woods near her house and finds herself speaking to birds.  This is the first glimpse of her magical abilities.

Laurence Armstead is an only child who is fascinated with science and computers.  His parents are constantly trying to get him out of the house and enrolling him in extra-curricular activities  to get him out of the house in an attempt to keep him from becoming “socially dysfunctional”.

Patricia and Laurence’s paths cross in middle school and we follow their lives and relationship as they mature and their lives diverge.  There are many magical elements to this story.  Patricia’s life follows a magical path and Laurence’s life follows a scientific/science-fiction-esque path.  These two very different life choices will eventually cross paths causing an almost dystopian-like conflict.

I was enjoying the beginning of the book and was expecting it to be more magical and less science-fiction as it went along.  I found the conflict to be the story’s downfall for me.  The characters were somewhat likable but also confused and flawed which didn’t add to their likability.  They were not characters that I bonded with or felt an affinity for.  Their friendship is tested and weathers through lots of mishaps.  I would have liked more magic and less science-fiction.  That is just my personal taste and this book did not live up to that magical potential.

 

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven – Book Review

 

Rating: 5/5

Goodreads Summary

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.”

My Review

Where do I begin?  How do I explain just how much I loved this book!  When I finished this book I was in such an emotional place that I wanted to just hold it and hug it close and then go back to some of the passages that I love so much because it is written so beautifully and made me laugh and cry and fall in love with these two broken souls who come from such vastly different school social groups yet find each other and discover new ways of approaching life because they bring out the bright places in each other.  Unfortunately, I read it as an e-book so now I have to buy a physical copy so I can just hold it, hug it close, and re-read the passages that I love so much!

Violet Markey and Theodore Finch are 17 year old students in Indiana who wouldn’t naturally socialize with each other.  It is a moment-in-time that brings them together and ultimately changes the course of their lives.  Theodore, or Theo, is on the ledge of the school bell tower contemplating jumping when he notices a female student on the ledge a few feet away.  He is able to talk her off the ledge and able to twist the story and make it look like she saved him instead of the other way around.  And that is how Violet Markey meets Theo Finch and becomes the school hero who saved the school freak from killing himself.

Theo and Violet have a class together and Finch finagles a way to partner with Violet for a class project that would require them to travel around the state discovering natural wonders and landmarks. It is this interaction that helps to slowly unfold for the reader and both characters their flaws, fears, and broken pasts and results in the two of them building each other up and trying to help each other heal.

The story is told in first person and the chapters alternate between Theo and Violet.  I thought the author did a remarkable job of creating two vulnerable characters whose pain feels so real.  They are truly likable and relatable.  I laughed and cried with them.  They were fleshed out into two of my favorite literary characters.  I felt like I knew them personally.  I was completely invested in their lives.  This ranks up there with one my favorite books read this year and any year.

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter – book review

 

 

Rating: 3.5/5

Goodreads summary:

“In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling away again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair…”

My Review

Vassa lives in Brooklyn with her stepmother Iliana, stepsister Chelsea, and half sister Stephanie. Vassa’s father disappeared some time ago.   Iliana works at night so the girls are home alone in the evening, although it is nighttime more than usual in Vassa’s part of Brooklyn.  Daylight seems to make a rare occurrence these days.  Chelsea and Vassa get along but Stephanie is always angry with Vassa because she thinks Vassa is stealing her things and holds a grudge  One night when all the lights go out in their apartment Vassa leaves to get new light bulbs at Stephanie’s urging.  Chelsea is worried because the only store open is BY’s, a local store whose owner beheads shoplifters.  Stephanie doesn’t care and is somewhat eager for Vassa to shop there.  Vassa leaves for the store, taking this task as a dare.  This is where the book takes a very strange and bizarre turn.

Around this time I was having some very serious concerns about this book and thought there was a good chance of me not finishing it.  Then I remembered that the story is based on a Russian fairy tale called Vassilissa the Beautiful.  I googled it and read a brief version of the story and that helped change my enjoyment of the story.  I really did a 180 with it.  Suddenly a story of a 16 year old girl who goes to a store in urban Brooklyn that stands on dancing chicken legs and owned by a blood thirsty witch who is hell bent on beheading her customers with the help of a set of walking hands that used to belong to a beheaded customer didn’t seem like I was reading a book that made me feel like I had just eaten hallucinogenic mushrooms.  When it is approached as a fairy tale with a heroine who is captured by a wicked witch and needs to break a spell in order to escape, it becomes much more fun and enjoyable to read.  And, oh yes, throw in a living wooden doll and a mysterious cursed motorcycle rider who has part of the night trapped in his visor and is tasked with making sure Vassa doesn’t escape.

I truly liked Vassa.  She is spunky, tough, funny, loyal and still grieving the loss of her mother.  Her wooden doll Erg, who is small enough to fit in Vassa’s pocket, is a deathbed gift from her mother.  Erg is enchanted and alludes to the fact that Vassas’ mother, Zinaida, was a witch.  Erg loves to eat, steal things, and is loyal to Vassa.  I found this story line of Vassa’s and Erg’s relationship to be very quirky and interesting.  The way it concludes is emotional.

Babs Yagg, the witchy store owner is truly scary and the perfect villain for this story.  Instead of the witch in the woods of traditional fairytales, we get Babs.  What I would have liked to read more of is her backstory and connection to Vassa’s mother.  There are several chapters called Interludes that tell the back story of events that help the reader to understand why things are happening  in the present day.  I would have liked to see more of the mother’s story fleshed out and explained.  I think this would have added more to the likability of the book and make it seem less weird.

Overall, I liked the story once I approached it as a traditional fairy tale and not the Disneyfied kind.  I love the Disney versions of fairy tales but it is easy to forget that the original versions of those stories had moments that were quite violent and scary.  This is the kind of fairy tale you get with Vassa in the Night.