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: The Beautiful by Reneé Ahdieh (eARC)

The Beautiful by Reneé Ahdieh

Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal, Historical Fiction

Publishing Info: October 2019 by Hodder & Stoughton  

Pages: 448

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

In 1872, New Orleans is a city ruled by the dead. But to seventeen-year-old Celine Rousseau, New Orleans provides her a refuge after she’s forced to flee her life as a dressmaker in Paris. Taken in by the sisters of the Ursuline convent along with six other girls, Celine quickly becomes enamored with the vibrant city from the music to the food to the soirées and—especially—to the danger. She soon becomes embroiled in the city’s glitzy underworld, known as Le Cour des Lions, after catching the eye of the group’s leader, the enigmatic Sèbastien Saint Germain. When the body of one of the girls from the convent is found in the lair of Le Cour des Lions, Celine battles her attraction to him and suspicions about Sèbastien’s guilt along with the shame of her own horrible secret.

When more bodies are discovered, each crime more gruesome than the last, Celine and New Orleans become gripped by the terror of a serial killer on the loose—one Celine is sure has set her in his sights . . . and who may even be the young man who has stolen her heart. As the murders continue to go unsolved, Celine takes matters into her own hands and soon uncovers something even more shocking: an age-old feud from the darkest creatures of the underworld reveals a truth about Celine she always suspected simmered just beneath the surface.

Thank you so much to Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley for the eARC of this book.

I’m a tad late with this review. I did start reading it before it was released, but didn’t end up having much time to read on my holiday to Amsterdam. But better late than never!

The premise for this book instantly got my attention. Vampires. Murder mystery. In New Orleans. In the 1800s. Count me in. I’m quite hard to please when it comes to vampire novels. I think because I have been disappointed by so many. The historical New Orleans setting was certainly a great attraction, as it made a change from all the modern day vampire novels. In fact, it didn’t feel necessarily like a vampire novel, which is a good thing, as it felt like its own rather than trying too hard to fit a mould.

There is a mysterious, sumptuous atmosphere in much of the book, which Reneé Ahdieh does an excellent job at capturing. Alluring is a good word to describe this book. I also can’t help but love a good murder mystery! However I did feel by the end still quite in the dark about all the mysterious people, and whether they are all vampires or something else. That air of mystery is very effective for most of the book, but it would have been more satisfying to get more answers and a clearer picture of this shadowy paranormal world by the end.

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Book Review: The Twisted Tree by Rachel Burge

51lDNLBOP+LThe Twisted Tree by Rachel Burge

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Horror

Publishing Info: January 2019 by Hot Key Books (first published 2018)

Pages: 248

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Martha can tell things about a person just by touching their clothes, as if their emotions and memories have been absorbed into the material. It started the day she fell from the tree at her grandma’s cabin and became blind in one eye.

Determined to understand her strange ability, Martha sets off to visit her grandmother, Mormor – only to discover Mormor is dead, a peculiar boy is in her cabin and a terrifying creature is on the loose.

Then the spinning wheel starts creaking, books move around and terror creeps in . . .

Set in the remote snows of contemporary Norway, THE TWISTED TREE is a ghost story that twists and turns – and never takes you quite where you’d expect.

 

Can’t lie, the cover is partly what attracted me to this book. I love trees as a visual, and often take photographs of them, so that got my attention. The cover also gives off creepy, mysterious vibes that piqued my curiosity. I also liked that it sounded a little unique, and certainly quite different to other YA fantasy I have read.

Rachel Burge does an amazing job of creating a mysterious, spooky atmosphere. The suspense is great and really had me on the edge of my seat and rooting for the main characters. It’s actually scary at times. The plot didn’t follow the typical heroes fighting evil villain route as such, which I found refreshing. Norse mythology was weaved in well with the plot and fit very naturally.

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TV Review: The OA Part II

mv5bmty5otkwndkzof5bml5banbnxkftztgwmdeynzi1nzm40._v1_Aired: Netflix

Created by: Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij

Starring: Brit Marling, Emory Cohen, Jason Isaacs, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Patrick Gibson

Genre: Science Fiction, Drama, Supernatural, Mystery

Rating: 4/5

When I watched the first series of The OA, I remember thinking it seemed rather bizarre, but somehow it still pulled me in. By the end of Part I I was invested, and eagerly awaited its return for Part II. I will be avoiding spoilers in this review where possible (to be honest, there are some pretty big and crazy concepts involved that I’m not sure I could explain properly anyway) as it’s best to go into this show without knowing anything.

The first episode left me feeling rather perplexed. The first series was complex and I struggled to remember what had happened. I’d recommend taking a look at a recap of Part I! Episode 1 starts off with new detective character called Karim searching for a missing girl. How this connected to the rest I had no idea. However the ending of the episode suggested things would be coming together. And they did in the second episode. While I wasn’t exactly sure how things were going to connect, I could see the beginnings of hints and foreshadowing that everything was going to come together.

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Mid-year Reading Round Up 2018

33154647We’re already halfway through 2018! So today I’m looking back at what my best books have been so far this year and looking ahead at what novels I want to sink my teeth into in the second half of 2018. According to Goodreads I’m on track to reach my 2018 Reading Challenge goal of 25 books, having read 12 so far this year.

Two books that I loved were Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray and The Young Elites by Marie Lu. Defy the Stars had me hooked all the way through and I loved the darkness of The Young Elites. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Mass was also a highlight.

I finished Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy but unfortunately was disappointed by the final book, Ruin and Rising. The series is still a favourite of mine though. Other books that didn’t live up to my hopes were The Girl King by Meg Clothier and S.T.A.G.S. by M. A. Bennett – both had great concepts and potential, but could have been much better.

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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: The Hollow by Agatha Christie

2da87b54f6f4af60e4d249408b40948d-agatha-christieThe Hollow by Agatha Christie

Genre: Detective Fiction

Publishing Info: from the Agatha Christie Collection, Planet Three Publishing (first published 1946)

Pages: 252

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

When socialite Lucy Angkatell organises a weekend’s entertainment at her English country house, The Hollow, it seems she has thought of everything: the capable butler, the requisite number of kitchen maids – in fact, the only thing she seems to have overlooked is the fact that most of her guests hate each other.

A far-from-warm welcome greets Hercule Poirot as he arrives for lunch. Instead, a man lies dying by the swimming pool, as a gun sinks slowly to the bottom..

Having only read one other Agatha Christie novel – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – I have little to compare The Hollow to. While The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was written in a first person unreliable narrator style with a focus on the solving of the crime, The Hollow has quite a different focus. The murder – and Poirot – do not appear until a third of the way through the book, with the earlier chapters exploring the characters who will fall under suspicion.

Set in a country house with a host of guests, I was expecting a formulaic mystery. What I got was an exploration into the impact of murder on a group of people. Poirot features very little in the book. The focus is very much on the guests of the weekend country get away, their relationships with each other, and their reactions to murder. Since Christie spent time letting the reader get to know the characters, I cared more about them when murder came into the equation. Having more understanding of the victim and suspects’ characters meant I felt more engaged with the story.

Despite the focus on character, rather than mystery solving, I was still glued to the pages, eager to reach the end and find the solution to the murder. Satisfyingly, it wasn’t a predictable ending, and I hadn’t worked out the ‘whodunit’.

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Book Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

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Dracula by Bram Stoker

Genre: Gothic, Classics

Publishing Info: 2011 by Penguin Classics, Hardback Clothbound (first published 1897)

Pages: 454

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

The vampire novel that started it all, Bram Stoker’s Dracula probes deeply into human identity, sanity, and the dark corners of Victorian sexuality and desire. When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula purchase a London house, he makes horrifying discoveries about his client. Soon afterward, disturbing incidents unfold in England—an unmanned ship is wrecked at Whitby, strange puncture marks appear on a young woman’s neck, and a lunatic asylum inmate raves about the imminent arrival of his “Master”—culminating in a battle of wits between the sinister Count and a determined group of adversaries.

Dracula is a long book, and although my interest in it waned and revived at various points, my overall feeling after finishing it was that I had on the whole enjoyed it. Many a classic has told a lacklustre tale of Victorian families, but throw vampires into the mix and you get an altogether more captivating read. I have the Penguin Classics hardback clothbound edition, which is of lovely quality, with thick and smooth pages.

The novel is written in an epistolary form, using a mixture of diary entries, letters, telegrams and newspaper articles, told from a variety of viewpoints. This is something which not every reader will like. The book is constantly switching between narrators and between the different written pieces (letters, diaries etc.), something which I had expected to dislike. However, because it moved around a lot between different characters, and so different stories (until the various threads become intertwined later in the book), I think that prevented me from becoming bored with it. Often when narrators switch too often it feels disjointed, but this format works for this book, as the patchwork of letters and journal entries is itself an element of the plot.

All was going well, until the latter half of the book when the male characters began to emphasise ridiculously one of the female characters ‘femaleness’ and how they didn’t want her to witness the terrible, vampire-y things going on. This went on quite persistently in ridiculous volume for a couple of chapters. Now, obviously women were viewed by society in a particular way in the Victorian period, so this isn’t exactly surprising. It was how much it was emphasised through the repetitiveness with which the male characters discussed her sensitive disposition as a woman and other such phrases. It became very irritating and made me frustrated at the book, which up to that point I had been mildly enjoying. At least she proved herself to be intelligent and resourceful, despite their attitudes towards her.

The concluding section of the book when the chase of Dracula commences was exciting and kept my attention, making me want to read to the end to discover the fates of the characters. So despite some moments that dragged and my attention wavered, and the section where the woman was treated as weak, the rest of it was actually pretty good. My conclusion upon closing the cover was that I was glad to have read it. Vampires are such a prolific part of our culture, and there have been so many varied adaptations and interpretations of Dracula, that it was interesting to read the original story.

Book Review: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

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The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Genre: Gothic, Horror, Historical, Mystery

Publishing Info: 1998 by Vintage (first published 1983)

Pages: 200

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor in London, is summoned to Crythin Gifford to attend the funeral of Mrs Alice Drablow, and to sort through her papers before returning to London. It is here that Kipps first sees the woman in black and begins to gain an impression of the mystery surrounding her. From the funeral he travels to Eel Marsh House and sees the woman again; he also hears the terrifying sounds on the marsh.

Despite Kipps’s experiences he resolves to spend the night at the house and fulfil his professional duty. It is this night at Eel Marsh House that contains the greatest horror for Kipps. Kipps later discovers the reasons behind the hauntings at Eel Marsh House. The book ends with the woman in black exacting a final, terrible revenge.

I’m not usually one for reading in the horror genre, but this was more of a Gothic ghost story so I didn’t mind reading it. The book is short which I think helped with its readability. If it had been longer I probably wouldn’t have been so interested in wading through it, but since it was only short I figured it wouldn’t take long for me to read it. I read it over a few days but could have easily read it in one sitting, not only because of its short length but also its easy to read style.

The plot is simple – there’s a house in an eerie marsh and it’s haunted. I did like the mystery element to the story when Arthur Kipps was trying to work out what had happened at the house and why the woman in black was haunting it. It was the story of the dead characters that was most interesting, while the characters who were actually living were for the most part a little flat.

Although I enjoyed it I wasn’t totally gripped, which is what you really want from a ghost story. The settings were suitably spooky and there was something unsettling in the way the woman in black wasn’t a see-through ghost like you’d imagine, but was more real and therefore creepier. There weren’t actually many ghostly bits set in the house though. Kipps actually spent a lot of time in the village near the house and more suspense could have been used in those scenes to keep my interest more.

I thought the ending brought the whole thing together and gave the book more weight. I had thought it was going to be a really dull ending but then the twist gave it a dark ending which was more sinister and satisfactory than I was expecting.

Book Review: Spin the Love by Lisa Terry

Spin the Love by Lisa Terry

Genre: Young Adult, Mystery, Thriller

Publishing Info: Self-published September 30th 2015

Pages: 192

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

It was supposed to be a game to heat up their summer—not ruin their lives.

Sixteen-year-old Whispy Callahan lands in trouble thicker than Florida’s humidity when she plays a twisted game of Dare. Everything would have been fine if she hadn’t fallen for one of the player’s “targets” along with dredging up buried murderous tendencies. Forget the game—now Whispy needs to find her boyfriend’s murderer, but that might prove difficult since everyone thinks she’s insane. They could be right.

In Spin the Love a game of dare takes main character Whispy on a bit of a roller coaster ride. A game of dare is quite an obvious tool for creating plot and tension, but what made it work really well in this book was the dynamics between the three characters involved in the game. The complications of their relations to each other made it much more interesting to see what would happen and how the plot would progress.

Whispy’s characterisation was great. Her voice and personality came through the first person narrative. Her mental health problems were dealt with with reasonable sensitivity to the subject, although the use of this aspect of her character for mystery in the plot is a bit of a trope. The other characters were also well described and fleshed out, with personal history that impacts on their present characters.

It doesn’t spoil anything to say that Whispy’s boyfriend is killed in the book, as that’s in the blurb, which is good because that’s something that didn’t quite add up to me and would like to discuss in this review. Her boyfriend is quite obviously murdered, and there is a funeral, but there doesn’t appear to be any investigation. I found this very odd and it doesn’t make sense. If someone is murdered there is an investigation, and people who know the victim are questioned. So why wasn’t Whispy questioned by police? It doesn’t make sense and I felt that was quite a hole in the plot.

The ending was phenomenal. There was a big twist that I didn’t see coming at all. I tried to piece it together as I read but I didn’t expect what happened. It kept me engaged and had a satisfying ending.

The book was well written and much more accomplished that the last book I read by the author, which while good wasn’t quite polished. Despite a couple of problems I had with the book, I really enjoyed reading it and it kept me hooked until the end.