Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy  

Publishing Info: KindleEdition, January 2017 by Hodder and Stoughton

Pages: 416

Star Rating: 2/5

Back Cover Summary:

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.

I was very conflicted over how to rate and review this book. I’ve had Caraval on my Kindle for a little while and was excited to finally get round to reading it. So many people love this series and the concept sounded really intriguing. Unfortunately I didn’t love it from the start. I didn’t enjoy the first half all that much, but things picked up in the second half and I found myself a lot more absorbed.

I can’t quite place my finger on why, but for some reason I just wasn’t hooked from the opening few chapters. Even once Scarlett reached Caraval, I didn’t feel engaged. I was expected to be enchanted by this story, but in the first half I was actually a little bored. I found Scarlet to be an irritating protagonist at the start. Her thoughts were very repetitive and I just didn’t connect with her character. She didn’t want to be there. So I didn’t want to be there. I think if Scarlett had been more excited about the magic and wonder of Caraval, I would have been too.

Scarlett’s focus is on finding Tella and there is some jeopardy around that, but we don’t get to know Tella that well at the beginning of the book, so I wasn’t really invested in the goal of finding her. I liked that she isn’t the cliché sweet sister, but I didn’t find her particularly likeable from what little we see of her before she disappears, so I just wasn’t worried about her. Later we do get to see there is more to Tella, but for most of the book I didn’t like her character.

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Book Review: A Throne of Swans by Katharine and Elizabeth Corr (eARC)

A Throne of Swans by Katharine and Elizabeth Corr

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy  

Publishing Info: eARC from Bonnier Zaffre  

Pages: 352

Star Rating: 2/5

Back Cover Summary:

In a world where the flightless are ruled by those who can fly…

When her father dies just before her birthday, seventeen-year-old Aderyn inherits the role of Protector of Atratys, a dominion in a kingdom where nobles are able to transform at will into the bird that represents their family bloodline. Aderyn’s ancestral bird is a swan. But she has not transformed for years, not since witnessing the death of her mother – ripped apart by hawks that have supposedly been extinct since the long-ago War of the Raptors. 

With the benevolent shelter of her mother and her father now lost, Aderyn is at the mercy of her brutal uncle, the King, and his royal court. Driven by revenge and love, she must venture into the malevolent heart of the Citadel in order to seek the truth about the attack that so nearly destroyed her, to fight for the only home she has ever known and for the land she has vowed to protect.

Written in rich detail and evocative language, this is the start of an irresistible, soaring duology about courage, broken loyalties and fighting for your place in the world.

Thank you so much to Bonnier Zaffre and NetGalley for the eARC of this book.

The concept for this book’s world is what first caught my attention. Also, the cover is striking and the title, A Throne of Swans, is clearly similar to A Game of Thrones. In this book’s world, shape-shifters are the rulers and the flightless, those who cannot transform into birds, are inferior. This is the strongest aspect of A Throne of Swans. This societal structure is well thought out and depicted, including integration into the characters’ language and interactions.

Aderyn is a likeable but uninteresting protagonist. She has a strong character arc, as she seeks to overcome her own fears and regain her ability to fly. However compared to most of the other characters she seems entirely honourable and above reproach. Lucien criticises some of her actions, as she thinks before she acts at times, and is unversed in court manners. But I felt her character lacked depth. Other characters were quite one-dimensional, and the antagonists weren’t intimidating and lacked motivation beyond a need for power. Any reasons for their actions are left a mystery, making them into almost caricature power-hungry villains plotting to take the throne. One antagonist in particular features substantially in the book, having multiple conversations with Aderyn, and giving the authors ample opportunity to provide insight into that characters motivations. But sadly that wasn’t explored at all, missing an opportunity to add more depth. 

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Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Publishing Info: September 2013 by Macmillan Children’s Books

Pages: 481

Star Rating: 2/5

Back Cover Summary:

Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan.

But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

I feel kind of mean giving this book 2 stars. It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t good. It started out well and had me engaged at the beginning, but I just didn’t enjoy it that much the further it went along. It just ended up being kind of, well, boring.

To begin with, I was excited to read a book set in college rather than high school. It made a refreshing change to read about characters embarking on a different part of their educational and life journey. Although I can’t imagine sharing a dorm with someone. We don’t really have shared rooms in accommodation much in the UK. I liked having my own private space to retreat to – it would have been weird to have a roommate! Reagan – Cath’s roommate – was a great character and really different to Cath. At first they don’t really get along and mostly ignore each other, but eventually they become friends in a way that seemed genuine and not forced by the author.

One thing positive I do have to say is that I really related to Cath. She’s anxious about being in a new environment she isn’t familiar with, and Rainbow Rowell managed to describe those feelings really well. I liked how Cath and Wren’s relationship evolves over the course of the book. As twins, they’ve done everything together. Then suddenly Wren wants more independence, but Cath is so used to having Wren around, she feels lost without her. There are lots of ups and downs in their friendship over the course of the book.

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Book Review: S.T.A.G.S by M. A. Bennett

35912128S.T.A.G.S by M. A. Bennett  

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery

Publishing Info: Kindle edition 2017 by Hot Key Books

Pages: 304

Star Rating: 2/5

Back Cover Summary:

Nine students. Three bloodsports. One deadly weekend.

A twisting thriller for fans of One of Us Is Lying and Pretty Little Liars.

It is the autumn term and Greer MacDonald is struggling to settle into the sixth form at the exclusive St. Aidan the Great boarding school, known to its privileged pupils as S.T.A.G.S.

To her surprise Greer receives a mysterious invitation with three words embossed upon on it: huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ – an invitation to spend the half term weekend at the country manor of Henry de Warlencourt, the most popular and wealthy boy at S.T.A.G.S.

Greer joins the other chosen students at the ancient and sprawling Longcross Hall, and soon realises that they are at the mercy of their capricious host. Over the next three days, as the three bloodsports – hunting, shooting and fishing – become increasingly dark and twisted, Greer comes to the horrifying reality that those being hunted are not wild game, but the very misfits Henry has brought with him from school…

Before reading this book I didn’t really know what ‘blood sports’ were so I wasn’t really expecting a book about a group of posh, aristocratic teens hunting deer, shooting pheasants and catching fish. I had to adjust my expectations a little as the term ‘blood sports’ and not knowing what it meant skewed my expectations a bit. I hope I’m not the only one who didn’t know what blood sports are…

The first few chapters of the book were written in a way that included a lot of summary, which I struggled to get into. Although reference to a murder on the first page certainly caught my interest. Fortunately, it didn’t continue with lots of summary and I enjoyed the writing more when the book got going.

I liked that it was set in England, that made a nice change, and how Greer often thought in terms of films as she has watched a lot of them with her dad, so her sphere of reference fit her interests. I enjoyed Greer’s character and her narration. Other characters, however, were not given much personality. The ‘villains’ of this book were very one-dimensional, quite clichéd, and given no individual motivations. They’re rich and evil and that’s basically it.

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Book Review: Changeling by Philippa Gregory

71qbw-gazclChangeling by Philippa Gregory

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction

Publishing Info: 2013 by Simon and Schuster (first published 2012)

Pages: 272

Star Rating: 2/5

Back Cover Summary:

In 1453, seventeen-year-old Luca Vero, accused of heresy and expelled from his monastery, is recruited to help investigate evil across Europe but frees his first subject, Isolde, from captivity in a nunnery, and together they seek the one who defends the boundaries of Christendom and holds the secrets of the Order of Darkness.

Philippa Gregory is such a well known name in the book world, and especially in historical fiction. This was my first time reading one of her works and unfortunately it was a poor introduction. It really wouldn’t encourage me to read any of her other books, but I would have hoped some of her other novels are far better than this. It was quite shocking to read such a bad book by a bestselling and well-known author.

The premise is interesting and had potential, but it fell a long long way from that. My main issue with this book is the plot – or lack of it. It reads like its split in two halves. The first half of the book is readable but unremarkable. Luca is investigating witchcraft at the nunnery where Isolde has recently been made Lady Abbess. I found the mystery intriguing and didn’t guess the ‘solution’ to the investigation. It wasn’t a great mystery, but it was okay. There was just about enough to keep me reading.

It went quite downhill after that point. The second half of the book is a rambling mess with no direction. Coincidence after coincidence follow one after another. They happen to stumble upon another unusual happening to investigate totally by chance and decide to get involved, but it’s totally unconnected from the first half of the book. I couldn’t get into the second half at all because I could not see the point of it. The ‘solution’ to this investigation was highly predictable. I guessed it almost instantly so there was nothing to keep me engaged. There was no end goal, no point. There wasn’t even a point in all the characters being there except Gregory wanted them to all be there, so she found a lame excuse to shoehorn them all together. The plot (if you can call it that) is poorly planned out and it just seems to be a random jumble of events.

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Book Review: The Kill Order by James Dashner

9781909489431The Kill Order by James Dashner

Genre: Young Adult, Post-Apocalyptic

Publishing Info: 2013 by Chicken House (first published 2012)

Pages: 331

Star Rating: 2/5

Back Cover Summary:

Sun flares have unleashed devastation on the earth. Mark and Trina were there when it happened, and against the odds they survived.

But now a violent and high contagious disease is spreading like wildfire. Worse still, it’s mutating, and people are going crazy. Mark and Trina will do anything to save their friends – if only they can avoid madness and stay alive…

The opening few chapters got my interest, and I wanted to know more. I wanted to keep reading to find out why the virus was happening. The opening action sequence was exciting and gave me high hopes for the rest of the book. Unfortunately, it didn’t continue as well as it started.

The plot is vague. It just didn’t really go anywhere. Despite the constant action, I lost interest because there wasn’t anything else to keep me engaged. There was a lot of action, maybe too much. The action scenes become quite repetitive. Some of them were hard to follow. There was a scene at some kind of base, where I just couldn’t visualise the awkward attempts at describing the characters’ surroundings and spent a few chapters feeling confused because I couldn’t visualise what the characters were doing. In a couple of places, Dashner made the odds the characters had to face (e.g. the number of enemies in a fight) so difficult that it seemed unrealistic for them to get out of those situations.

The fast pace also meant there was little time to develop characters. As with the Maze Runner trilogy, most of the characters were bland, and the book lacked any kind of character arcs. Only Alec’s personality came through, but only through repetitive emphasis on his characteristics.

I wasn’t keen on the flashbacks, but that may have been to do with the way they are written. The narrative switches to present tense for the flashbacks. Dashner’s writing seems to read even worse in present tense than it does in past tense. His writing is simple, which I didn’t have too much issue with in the other books, but for some reason in this one it’s very clunky. I also felt the dream flashbacks didn’t add anything that couldn’t have been conveyed in other ways, such as through Mark’s thoughts.

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Book Review: Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

twilight-meyer

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal, Romance

Publishing Info: 2009 by Atom (first published 2006)

Pages: 434

Star Rating: 2/5

Back Cover Summary:

When Isabella Swan moves to the gloomy town of Forks and meets the mysterious, alluring Edward Cullen, her life takes a thrilling and terrifying turn. With his porcelain skin, golden eyes, mesmerizing voice, and supernatural gifts, Edward is both irresistible and impenetrable. Up until now, he has managed to keep his true identity hidden, but Bella is determined to uncover his dark secret. What Bella doesn’t realize is that the closer she gets to him, the more she is putting herself and those around her at risk. And it might be too late to turn back …

It’s probably clear from the 2 star rating that I didn’t particularly like this book. As I said in my previous blog post, I’m reading Twilight for the first time, as it’s on the reading list for my degree. I’ve seen and disliked the films, and I’ve heard so many mixed opinions about this book that in many ways I didn’t actually know what to expect. Would I hate it as much as I was anticipating? Or would it be not as bad as expected? I tried to go in with an open mind.

The book actually starts out reasonably well (much to my surprise). Unfortunately it set up an expectation that I might not hate the rest of the book as much as I expected to, but that hope didn’t last all too long. It starts off fairly typically – a girl moves to another town, which she dislikes greatly, and is the new girl in school. Something that’s been done plenty of times before, but although Bella didn’t want to move, it was her choice to, not her parents’ choice. That piqued my curiosity because it seemed to be a contradictory situation and I was interested to know why Bella had made that decision even though she seemed to hate Forks so much. So my initial impression of the book was a reasonably good one. Bella seemed to be an ordinary girl, and not quite as bland as in the films (I think the acting contributed there).

Even when Edward was first introduced I still didn’t mind the book. If I hadn’t seen the films and knew nothing about the story, I probably would have been intrigued to find out more about the mysterious Cullen family. At first, I could understand why Bella was interested in Edward, his peculiar behaviour towards her meant that it made sense for her to be thinking about him and wondering if and why he seemed to hate her and have a physical aversion towards her. Then they get talking and spend a lot of time staring at each other and Bella spends a lot of time thinking about Edward, and I mean yeah she’s a teenage girl with a crush, but she’s constantly thinking about it and it just started to get on my nerves. I still didn’t mind the book too much though. At this point, I didn’t even dislike it yet.

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Book Review: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Genre: General Fiction, Adult Fiction

Publishing Info: Vintage; Reprint edition (3 Jan 2008)

Pages: 166

Star Rating: 2/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

It is June 1962. In a hotel on the Dorset coast, overlooking Chesil Beach, Edward and Florence, who got married that morning, are sitting down to dinner in their room. Neither is entirely able to suppress their anxieties about the wedding night to come…

On Chesil Beach is another masterwork from Ian McEwan – a story about how the entire course of a life can be changed by a gesture not made or a word not spoken.

I found this a peculiar novella to say the least. The book was well written, like all of McEwan’s works and is a fairly quick read since it isn’t very long. The whole of the book takes place on Edward and Florence’s wedding night, with some flashbacks about how they met and so on. So if you don’t like books that take place in a very short time frame (e.g. one evening) then I would not bother even picking this up. The plot is thin and focuses on the characters general everyday lives.

The characters were well written, although I found them a little plain and boring. I didn’t really connect with them at all and there was no development – they were the same all the way through. Surely experiences change people – not these two.

McEwan captured the 60s era very well, which I felt was one of the strengths of the novella. There was a real sense of setting and social expectations which influenced the characters and their actions.

It was a very slow book in which not much happens. It shows the characters feelings well, assisted by the dual narrative, yet this is the focus of the novella. There was nothing in it that kept me engaged and frankly I was bored a lot of the time reading it. The only reason I didn’t put it down is because it is so short – I thought I may as well finish it. As endings go it was nothing spectacular and kind of inevitable. However one small, tiny bit was quite touching.

I have little else to say about On Chesil Beach. It was a pretty mediocre book – it wasn’t good but it wasn’t exactly bad either. I think a lot of it depends on personal preference. Some people might really like his style of writing but unfortunately this book did not ‘wow’ me at all. I endeavour to read one of McEwan’s full length novels in the hope I shall enjoy one of his works, since he is undoubtedly a great writer.

Book Review: Silence by Becca Fitzpatrick

Silence by Becca Fitzpatrick

Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal, Romance

Publishing Info: October 2011 by Simon and Schuster

Pages: 438

Star Rating: 2/5

Back Cover Summary:

The noise between Patch and Nora is gone. They’ve overcome the secrets riddled in Patch’s dark past…bridged two irreconcilable worlds…faced heart-wrenching tests of betrayal, loyalty and trust…and all for a love that will transcend the boundary between heaven and earth. Armed with nothing but their absolute faith in one another, Patch and Nora enter a desperate fight to stop a villain who holds the power to shatter everything they’ve worked for–and their love–forever.

Silence is the third book in the Hush, Hush series and was, unfortunately, a disappointment. I loved the first two books in the series (Hush, Hush and Crescendo) but Silence was a complete let down. This will be a short review, since, well, nothing much happened.

I don’t want to spoil anything so won’t say too much, but basically Nora loses her memory of the last several months and is trying to find out who kidnapped her and remember everything that happened. This is incredibly frustrating because as the reader you already know what happened to her. It wasn’t too bad for me as it had been several months since I read the second book so couldn’t remember everything anyway. But if you read it straight after it would be so frustrating and boring. The memory loss isn’t even a vital part of the plot! It seems like Fitzpatrick just flung it in for the fun of it. To be honest, the majority of the book could have been scrapped and the small amount that was necessary put on the beginning of book four.

What I liked most about the first two books was the mystery. It wasn’t just a paranormal/romance, it actually had a large element of the mystery genre which kept me intrigued. There wasn’t any of that in Silence (unless you count the pointless memory loss plot device which backfired). Barely anything actually happened in the book. There was a little bit of excitement and intrigue in the last two chapters but other than that it was pretty eventless (bar maybe two other scene – no spoilers).

Furthermore, Nora was at her worst in this book. She spent most of her time being a whiny damsel in distress. There is one thing that has dismayed me throughout the series, and that is why on Earth Nora fell in love with Patch. He is incredibly devoid of personality and a bit creepy. He doesn’t improve in the third book at all.

I don’t have much else to say other than that I don’t want to put you off the first two books, as they were very good. I hope this is just a blip and that the fourth (and last) book will be an improvement.

Book Review: Matched by Ally Condie

Matched by Ally Condie

Genre: Young Adult, Dystopia, Romance

Publishing Info: Penguin 2 June 2011

Pages: 384

Star Rating: 2/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

On her seventeenth birthday, Cassia meets her Match. Society dictates he is her perfect partner for life.

Except he’s not.

In Cassia’s society, Officials decide who people love.

How many children they have.

Where they work.

When they die.

But, as Cassia finds herself falling in love with another boy, she is determined to make some choices of her own.

And that’s when her whole world begins to unravel . . .

 

I’m going to be honest and say this book disappointed me. It had such potential but failed to meet it on pretty much all accounts. Generally, I’m rarely disappointed by books and have never given a book below 3 stars before, until now of course.

What really intrigued me about the book was the setting – it was such an interesting setting which rung a little like 1984. However, I didn’t really get a feel for the setting and there were lots of terms such as “Aberration” and “Infraction” which weren’t properly explained which left me feeling quite confused.

As I read, I kept thinking ‘It’ll get better, just keep going, something exciting will happen!’. But to be honest – it didn’t. Not much really happened. The only thing that really kept me reading was the hope that something big was going to happen. There was only really one subplot and it wasn’t exactly gripping. It was just a very uneventful book.

One of the worst things about it was how dull it was. I didn’t connect with the characters at all. There wasn’t really anything wrong with their characters themselves, I just felt they weren’t developed well at all and the romance fell flat. I felt no connection between Cassia and Ky at all. I never really felt for the characters. There was only really one scene which made me feel any emotion towards the characters and their situation. One thing I didn’t like was the narrative and Cassia’s inner thoughts – they seemed very unreal to me, she seemed to look way too in depth at everything in a way that is just completely unrealistic.

Well, now for a little paragraph of things I did like. I loved the way Condie used the telling of the poetry and of Ky’s story and it made me sad every time she had to incinerate a part of something she had been given by these people she loved so. The relationship between Cassia and her family was very well written – I really believed that they cared for each other and Bram was written very well also. I found the concept of the blue, green and red pills very interesting and wanted to know what the red pill would do (and thankfully, unlike so much of the rest of the book, I was not disappointed but I won’t give any spoilers). There was one good thing about the silly love triangle that seems to be a necessity in Young Adult literature: the ‘love interests’ were normal, nice guys who were Cassia’s friends. So often at least one of the love interests is actually horrible or cocky or something. I could actually believe that Cassia would fall for Ky or Xander, unlike so many of the other ‘love interests’ in YA novels. I also quite liked the writing style, it’s just a shame the plot didn’t live up to its potential.

Overall I felt this was a very average, bordering on dull, book. It didn’t keep my attention and the plot and romance fell very flat. I don’t know whether or not I’ll be reading the sequel, Crossed, but most likely I will not.