BOOK REVIEW: Caraval, by Stephanie Garber

BOOK REVIEW: Caraval, by Stephanie Garber

Check out my review on The YA Shelf, reprinted below!


This book whisks you on a magical adventure full of deliciousness for all of your senses. Caraval is about two sisters, Scarlett and Donatella (Tella for short), who live under the iron thumb of their cruel father. Scarlett, the practical older sister, has agreed to marry a stranger to try to ensure a better life for her and her sister. Her only flight of fancy is the letters she has written since she was a child to Legend, the mysterious proprietor of the famous Caraval, an exclusive yearly exploit that is part game, part performance. When Legend sends them three tickets to Caraval, Tella, the flighty younger sister, heads to the game with the help of a dashing young sailor, Julian, and Scarlett is forced to follow. Before long, they find themselves swept up in the madness of the game.

Scarlett is thrown headfirst into the mystery of Caraval as Tella is kidnapped, and she must compete with hundreds of other players to rescue Tella before it’s too late. The game winds Scarlett and Julian, who grow closer as the game progresses, through an enchanting island full of strange locales and even stranger people. As Scarlett and Julian struggle to determine what’s real and what’s part of the game, the reader starts to wonder as well!

The good: Garber’s writing is so delicious you want to eat it up. The imagery is rich and colorful, and you are quickly pulled into the gorgeous tapestry of Caravel. The characters and players have a Wonderland-esque quality about them, and you never get bored. Scarlett is a likeable protagonist, smart but innocent enough to be overwhelmed by the madness of it all. Her romance with Julian is sweet but sultry, and definitely pulls you in! The plot lines are interesting and myriad, the clues and riddles intriguing to try to unravel. This is definitely a book that takes you for a beautiful ride.

The not-my-favorite: Tella is a fairly annoying character. Luckily, she’s only in a few scenes, but every scene shes in she manages to screw things up. The sisterly bond between Scarlett and Tella doesn’t come through very strong (perhaps because they’re not together for much of the book), so I find myself wondering why Scarlett is so protective of Tella when Tella is so obviously self-destructive. The lack of rules in the world of Caravel felt a little too convenient for the author, as well, and there were several events that were not explained well within the framework of the world. It’s a pet peeve of mine when magic conveniently solves something (especially if it’s not being used consistently within the rules of the world) and this book was definitely guilty of that. But, for those who aren’t as particular about their magic systems, this might not be an issue!

This book launches January 31, 2017, and I received an ARC from Flatiron books. This is definitely one you don’t want to miss!

BOOK REVIEW: The Raven Cycle, by Maggie Stiefvater

BOOK REVIEW: The Raven Cycle, by Maggie Stiefvater

Can I share about my newest girl crush? It’s on Maggie Stiefvater, the author of the Shiver books, The Scorpio Races, and *squeal* the Raven Cycle. I tend towards fantasy in stand-alone worlds, and so I wasn’t sure what I would think of the Raven Boys, the first book in the four-part series. It’s about a psychic’s daughter named Blue, who has always been told that if she kissed her true love, she would kill him, and Gansey, a golden-haired all-American golden boy rich kid who is obsessed with discovering a sleeping Welsh King. Unusual premise, but I’m interested.
The Cycle:

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them–until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her. His name is Gansey, a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little.

 If you could steal things from dreams, what would you take? Ronan Lynch has secrets. Some he keeps from others. Some he keeps from himself. One secret: Ronan can bring things out of his dreams. And sometimes he’s not the only one who wants those things.

 Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs. The trick with found things, though, is how easily they can be lost.

All her life, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love’s death. She doesn’t believe in true love and never thought this would be a problem, but as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.


A few chapters in, I was hooked. I flew through all four books in about two weeks, reading book 2 and 3 in less than 24 hours. Three things make these books.
  1. Stiefvater’s writing style. Now that I’m a writer, I tend to notice a beautiful turn of phrase. They stand out to me, and I think about the writing process that probably went into that gorgeous snippet of prose, the satisfaction the writer felt when they got the wording just right. Uh, these are peppered throughout the book. The writing is really gorgeous, and funny, and poignant, and frankly I’m jealous. But in a good way.
  2. The characters. The Raven Boys. Blue befriends Gansey and his three close friends, Adam, Ronan, and Noah. Each of these boys has incredibly deep, unique, magical stories that you don’t see coming. By the end, you know them each inside and out. She peels the onions of each of these boys over the course of the books and wow, you just love them, and the messy dynamics between them. Blue is a wonderful protagonist but for me she was almost a foil for the boys, this was their story as much as hers. Then there are the secondary characters, which are also colorful and lively. Blue lives in a wild house full of loopy psychics and you can just imagine the smell of patchouli and candles… but it feels so homey you want to visit.
  3. The magic. You think this series is about one thing, and in each book it deepens and grows more complex. After the first book, I was excited to keep reading, but I wondered where she could go with the story for three more books. Things changed dramatically, weaving in whole new magical elements that were unique and thought provoking. The story is dark and spooky at times, but lovingly rendered, and you just want to eat it up!

Is the series perfect? No. especially the last book left me wanting a bit more. The ending is satisfying, but could have been stronger. There were some tangents that felt unnecessary, loose ends left untied. But, that’s ok, because overall, I loved it. I highly recommend this series!

BOOK REVIEW: The Wrath and the Dawn, by Renee Ahdieh

BOOK REVIEW: The Wrath and the Dawn, by Renee Ahdieh

This magical read is based on A Thousand and One Nights, the Arabian tale of Shaharazad. Girls are being murdered by the young caliph of Khorasan. Every day he marries one, and in the morning they are strangled with a silk cord. After Shahrzad’s best friend, Shiva, is murdered in this same fashion, Shahrzad volunteers to be the next doomed bride in order to exact vengeance on the cruel king. But when her chance for revenge arrives, she realizes she can’t do it…because she’s developed feelings for the caliph. Duh-duh-duh…

Wrath and the dawn

First, the good. The setting is sumptuous! Adhieh paints a lush landscape of fragrant foods, colorful silks and damask, stern warriors wielding scimitars and falcons. The setting is definitely one of my favorite characters, and keeps the book interesting when the plot lags.

Like in the beginning. This one got off to a slow start for me. I didn’t buy the fact that the caliph (named Khalid) would be so entranced with Shahrzad’s storytelling that he would postpone killing her just to listen to the rest of her tale. Shahrzad frustrated me as well, as her behavior seemed flippant and foolhardy, despite the fact that her life hung in the balance. The alternating viewpoint of her childhood love Tariq, who set the wheels of a rebellion in motion after finding out about Shahrzad’s impetuous choice to wed the caliph, kept me going in the beginning. But luckily, it got better.

Shahrzad is a fiery and enjoyable heroine, with a quick tongue and wit, and a strong sense of loyalty to her friends. I didn’t mind the Stockholm syndrome-esque element of her relationship with Khalid, their love grew slowly and organically enough that I bought it. The secondary characters were great, and I liked how we got to spend time with many of them, from Tariq to Despina and Jalal. The intrigue grows to a head as Shahrzad uncovers the real truth behind the murders and truly falls for Khalid, right as her family and friends put their rebellion in motion and try to rescue her. This book definitely ended on a cliffhanger, so fair warning if that is your pet peeve.

Overall, I really enjoyed this and would recommend it. My main complaint seems to be with the 1,001 Nights backstory, which Ahdieh only had partial control over.  Khalid feels inconsistent in his treatment of the curse which requires him to kill his brides. First he decides to kill all these girls to avoid his other subjects suffering, but then stops to save Shahrzad, even though he knows it will cause more death and make all the prior girls’ deaths meaningless. But, setting that aside, the story and characters were wonderful. I will be reading the sequel!

BOOK REVIEW: A Mortal Song, by Megan Crewe

BOOK REVIEW: A Mortal Song, by Megan Crewe

Tomorrow is launch day for A Mortal Song, the newest book from an author friend of mine, Megan Crewe! A Mortal Song is set in Japan and chock full of Japanese mythology, history, and stories. If you liked Moonburner, you’ll  definitely enjoy A Mortal Song! Check out my review on The YA Shelf, reprinted below. Also, stop by the A Mortal Song Facebook party! I will be guest-posting at 12 P.T., and there will be lots of giveaways and prizes all day!

It’s pretty common in fantasy book for the main character to discover their special power or destiny and then come to terms with it throughout the book. Are you a little tired of that old story-line? If you are, A Mortal Song is for you! This fantastical YA novel is set in Japan and throws that old trope out the window.

 

Sora is a kami, a mythical Japanese spirit that protects and maintains the earth. Or at least she thinks she is! On the eve of her 17th birthday, her home of Mount Fuji is ruthlessly attacked by a demon and a horde of ghosts. Sora narrowly escapes with the help of two other kami, her dragonfly friend Midori, and the handsome warrior Takeo. They seek the aid of an ancient kami seer to defeat the demon, save Sora’s parents (the kami king and queen) and retake Mount Fuji. But the seer turns Sora’s world upside down when she reveals that Sora is not the girl prophesied to save the kami. Her parents switched their real daughter, Chiyo, at birth with Sora to keep her safe from their enemies. Sora is human–not kami at all.

 

Despite this bombshell, Sora is determined to help her foster parents, and she, Takeo and Midori travel to Tokyo to find Chiyo, as well as three sacred artifacts that will help them defeat the demon and his ghostly minions. Hounded by ghosts at every step of the way and unsure who to trust, Sora must come to terms with her true identity and learn what it means to be human, before it’s too late.

 

This book is a page-turner with a unique premise. Sora was an extremely likeable character, tough but kind-hearted, talented but not entitled. You really feel for her when the rug is pulled out from under her and she realizes she is just a plain old human, but she doesn’t give up or wallow in self-pity too much (there’s a little self-pity, which is totally understandable). The characters are interesting and varied, and the differences between human and kami personalities is well-portrayed. The book is clearly very well researched from the settings across Japan to the kami mythology.

 

The story felt tailored to younger readers, almost leaning more towards a middle grade novel than YA. It was pretty clean, the romance was fairly innocent, and while the ghostly bad guys were unlikeable, nothing was that violent or horrible. Lovers of YA will still enjoy this book, however, especially if you are into Japanese culture and/or mythology!
BOOK REVIEW: Rebel of the Sands, by Alwyn Hamilton

BOOK REVIEW: Rebel of the Sands, by Alwyn Hamilton

Check out my review of Rebel of the Sands on the YAshelf.com, reprinted below!


This YA fantasy book sweeps you away to a dark mystical landscape full of shifting sand, nightmare monsters, and fantastical tales. Add a gun-toting kick-butt heroine straight out of a wild-West movie, a handsome stranger with a mysterious past, and a band of brave but out-numbered rebels, and you have the makings of a book that I gobbled up in one sitting!

Amani lives in Dustwalk, a backward desert town on the edge of nowhere that exists solely to support the munitions factory of the Miraji sultan and his unwelcome allies and occupiers, the Gallan army. Amani’s fate is bleak–when she overhears her uncle talking about taking her as another one of his wives, she realizes she has to get out of Dustwalk or die trying. Her plan to win a shooting contest and skip town is complicated when her fate tangles with that of Jin, a handsome stranger wanted by the authorities, and on a whim she helps hide him. After they are discovered, Amani and Jin skip town on a mythical desert horse, just ahead of the Gallan soldiers.

Amani and Jin begin an adventure through the harsh desert landscape, harried on every side by the Gallan military, allies turned enemies, mythical desert predators like skinwalkers and nightmares, and sometimes, each other. As Amani heads towards a town where she hopes to begin a new life, she uncovers a plot that could put all of Miraji at risk and finds the most unlikely allies in a group of rebels working to overthrow the Sultan.

Quote image thanks to iceybooks.com

Quote image thanks to iceybooks.com

I loved this book! The writing was lush and lyrical, bringing to life the mystical scene of the Miraji desert, almost as if it was its own character in the book. Amani was a great heroine, tough but flawed, perhaps a little too willing to save her own skin at the expense of others. The attraction between Amani and Jin was smoldering, growing slowly throughout the book in a natural but satisfying way.

The plot was fast-paced and intriguing, keeping me engaged the whole way. There were some serious plot twists that I didn’t see coming, but which made sense in retrospect. I wish we would have had a little more time to explore the connection between Amani and her new allies in the last third of the book, but I really don’t have many complaints. I can tell that we will be getting to know these characters more in later books.

This book has it all. Magic, mystery, adventure, and romance, all set against a gorgeous backdrop of the mystical desert. Do yourself a favor and read it!

BOOK REVIEW: Truthwitch, by Susan Dennard

BOOK REVIEW: Truthwitch, by Susan Dennard

Truthwitch is a fast-paced fantasy featuring the daring adventures of two best friends. Think Thelma and Louise meets Jason Bourne meets Lord of the Rings!

The story features Safiya and Iseult, two bad-ass chicks with dangerous magical abilities. High-born Safiya is a truthwitch, a rare gift that helps her tell truth from lies, and would make her a valuable asset for any king or noble. Iseult, her BFF, is a Nomatsi threadwitch, Nomatsi being a group that is hated by most of society (I think they are akin to gypsies in traditional European history) and threadwitch meaning she can see people’s threads, or emotions. Their world is turned upside down when an ambush goes awry and they catch the attention of a dangerous bloodwitch, a man who can track a person by their scent across land or sea, and apparently can’t die. Safiya and Iseult, in trying to flee the bloodwitch (who recognizes that Safi is a truthwitch) are plunged into political turmoil that leads them into swashbuckling fights, headlong escapes on horseback, a voyage by sea on the ship of a handsome prince (and a few battles on the sea) and a final culmination with a new dangerous enemy who can control the dead (almost dead? Unclear). And there are some more juicy developments that I won’t share cuz, spoilers. Whew!

Quote Safiya Truthwitch

From http://thewitchlands.com/

The world-building is well done. In this world, people have different types of witcheries, or magical powers. The book is set at the end of a twenty year truce between three powerful empires, and it looks like war is set to explode once again. The setting, cultures and history are interesting and varied. The story whisks you along at a break-neck pace, stopping only briefly for some short vignettes of Safi and Iseult’s friendship, and Safi’s growing romance with Prince Merik, who ended up being a pretty great character. This book will not bore you!

Complaints? It felt a bit like an action movie, and not like the old action movies where you actually know who the bad guy is and understand the plot. It felt like one of the new action movies where the cinematography in the car chase is so wild it makes you feel slightly nauseous, and you can’t follow who is double-crossing who and you walk out wondering if you really understood what just happened. This book is pretty long for a YA, but I felt like it could be longer, or it could be two books, because there was a LOT happening and there really wasn’t enough set-up to understand why everything was happening.

Also, Safi kinda felt like that naturally beautiful entitled girl from high school– you actually do like her–but are also annoyed that she has everything in life handed to her on a platter but still manages to complain about it. I really liked Iseult though. I hope she gets some more pages in the next book.

Take-away? Four out of five stars. I think this book bit off more than it could chew, but really that just means I would have liked MORE. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I think lovers of fantasy will find this to be a great adventure and a fast read. I will definitely read the next book, Windwitch!

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