Book Review – Caraval

Book: Caraval – Author: Stephanie Garber

Genre: Young Adult, Adventure, Fantasy

Description from Goodreads:

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.

My Review:

I’ve seen my share of bad reviews for this book, but I actually really enjoyed it. The idea behind the game of Caraval is intriguing. It’s basically a giant cosplay-treasure hunt, where you can trade secrets and wishes for magical items and dreams. And at the end, if you solve the mystery, you may just win the prize of a lifetime. But don’t get TOO caught up or Caraval could become your downfall.

I’ll be completely upfront: the main character, Scarlett, is about as angst-ridden as you can get. Her father is a monster, her arraigned marriage is a mystery, her sister is missing, and then she starts falling for a guy who could be anyone. But somehow, she never comes off as annoying. I actually really liked Scarlett. I felt pretty bad for her situation and spent most of the book going “Come on, I know you can do this! You got this one, Scar!” I also really liked her sister, though she’s not in the forefront of the novel for very long.

The action in this one never stopped coming. I actually read the book in about 5 hours, which isn’t too bad for an over 400 page book, and most of that can be attributed to the fact that I spent about 85% of the book on the edge of my seat. The author really knows how to keep you guessing: Is creepy Dante really Master Legend? Or is Legend actually the mysterious Julian, the sailor who arrived just in time to carry the girls off to Caraval? Will Scarlett escape her father and will she ever find her lost sister? What is real and what is just the game?

This one was a knuckle-biter from start to finish. I highly recommend it to people who like adventurous books with a dash of romance thrown in (yes, I even liked the romance in this one 😉 ). I’ll definitely be checking out the sequel!

Similar Book(s):

The Night Circus – Erin Morganstern

Book Review – The List

Book: The List (aka: The Wordsmith) – Author: Patricia Forde

Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Dystopia

Description from Goodreads:

In the city of Ark, speech is constrained to five hundred sanctioned words. Speak outside the approved lexicon and face banishment. The exceptions are the Wordsmith and his apprentice Letta, the keepers and archivists of all language in their post-apocalyptic, neo-medieval world.

On the death of her master, Letta is suddenly promoted to Wordsmith, charged with collecting and saving words. But when she uncovers a sinister plan to suppress language and rob Ark’s citizens of their power of speech, she realizes that it’s up to her to save not only words, but culture itself.

My Review:

**I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**

During my years as an English major back in college, I had myself convinced that I didn’t like dystopian novels. I hated Brazil, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, 1984, Fahrenheit 451…basically all of the classic dystopians that I was being assigned. It wasn’t until I forced myself to read The Hunger Games a few years ago that I realized I didn’t necessarily hate the entire genre, just the books that had been forced on me at school.

So I started trying other young adult dystopians. It turns out that these books, while still in-depth and thoughtful, often turn out to be much more action packed and tend to keep me on the edge of my seat. Such is the case with The List.

In The List, we are presented with a city called “Ark”, which is the only (known) livable area left on the planet after “The Melting”. (Basically climate change. That’s not really a spoiler, since it’s pretty self evident in the name, and they end up explaining pieces of it early enough in the book that it becomes fairly obvious.) In Ark, there is a set List of words that the people are allowed to use, which is maintained by The Wordsmith. This is because the Leader of Ark believes that words are the main reason that people were able to destroy the planet.

This is a fascinating concept, that the world could be destroyed by language. Politicians who use language to dissuade the public’s fears and tell them that they don’t need to worry about global warming–even as the water starts taking over cities, Murderers who use language to lure in new victims, Conspiracy Theorists who spend so much time trying to convince us about things that aren’t real that we end up distracted from the things that are. What would the world be like if we didn’t have the language that let them accomplish these things?

The author uses Letta, our protagonist, to really delve into this idea. Letta grew up in Ark, completely believing in the idea that the Leader was trying to protect them, even as she strove to preserve the words that were being lost. Then she meets up with Marlo, an outsider from a group of people called “Destroyers”: artists, musicians, poets…those who want to see the beauty mankind can create brought back. Inevitably, Letta’s ideas of what is right begin to shift. Could it be that language itself isn’t the problem, but how you wield it?

There is also a ton of action. There is the usual plot where the protagonist has to save the world, with the help of her new found friends. I say “usual” because it’s a common theme in Young Adult dystopians, but the author here does a very good job making the plot believable and in keeping with the world she’s created. I won’t spoil the book by going into too much detail about it, but it’s a good mesh of detailed, actually dangerous, and quick-paced enough to keep the readers engaged.

Overall, I thought this was a very good book. I was immersed in it enough to finish it in two sittings. It would be a good introduction into the dystopian genre for younger readers. It is also a really interesting concept and presents an interesting thought experiment on how language can change the world.

 

Similar Books:

Divergent – Veronica Roth

The Giver – Lois Lowery

 

Book Review – Four Kings

Book: Four Kings – Author: M.D. Elster

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Mystery

**I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**

Description from Goodreads:

New Orleans, 1945. After a terrible hurricane devastates the city, fourteen-year-old Anaïs Reynard wakes up in an asylum with a case of amnesia. Dr. Waters, the hospital’s prestigious director, vows to help Anaïs recover her memories — this is of the utmost importance, he tells her, because Anaïs is the sole witness to a terrible crime. On the night of the hurricane, her stepfather and only living guardian was shot. A young black man has been arrested, and Anaïs finds herself under pressure from the district attorney to testify. Anaïs wants to help, but a strange feeling nags at her. She isn’t entirely sure the man on trial is guilty, and she doesn’t know who she can trust. 

Then, one night, she receives an eerie, surreal visit from a dapper man with the head of a fox who entrusts her with an ornate key that unlocks a secret door to the land of the Four Kings. Like Alice before her, Anaïs follows this curiously genteel animal down the rabbit hole to discover a magical yet fraught world of not-quite-human creatures. As Anaïs navigates the political minefields of each king’s court — Raven, Lion, Snake, and Unicorn — her bravery and resolve are tested. 

With each shocking twist and turn, and as fantasy and reality blur, Anaïs begins to unlock the riddle of her own memories, a trail that leads from Nazi-occupied Europe and her mother all the way to post-war New Orleans, and the very night her stepfather was shot.

My Review:

Ok, so the description of this one made me go “Wait…what? Is that middle paragraph for a different book?” The answer is no, this is definitely all describing the same book. But it’s not quite as confusing as it sounds.

There are two mysteries to solve in this novel: one in Anais’ real life, in New Orleans in the 1940s, and one in an alternate reality, which she visits when she falls asleep. In New Orleans, Anais’s stepfather has been shot and Anais is the only witness, though she can’t remember what happened. In the Land of the Four Kings, human girls have been turning up dead and Anais, being the only living human in the realm, must help flush out the killer.

Both realities are fleshed out very well. Over the course of the book, we learn of Anais’ childhood, a large portion of which was spent trying to survive WWII. Coming at this from the perspective of a 10-11 year old girl (Anais’ age at the time of the events), who didn’t know exactly how bad things were, was very interesting. Places and events were described well, but only as well as a young girl could understand them. This leads to some very clever foreshadowing if you pay enough attention. The same can be said of the Land of the Four Kings. The people Anais meets explain the history of the Kingdoms, but mostly in snippets (as people would in real life), with each person adding their unique perspective to the events.

Both mysteries are very well done. It’s only once you get towards the end of the book that all the pieces start falling into place and you realize just how many clues were laid out during the course of the story. Alert readers will notice how both of the realities parallel each other, with characters from each sharing personality traits and allegiances. This only enhances the story, especially when you are given the final clue at the end of the book (no spoilers, I promise) and come to realize exactly why Anais seems to be traveling to this strange Land.

The only (slight) issue I had with the book was some of the verbiage. There is no way that a young girl in the 1940s, who was raised in Belgium & Paris, would use some of those phrases. But that’s really more of a pet peeve than a real issue. 😉 Overall, I would definitely recommend this book for reader’s who like Young Adult mystery novels.

Similar Books:

The Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum

Book Review – Fairytales for Wilde Girls

Book: Fairytales for Wilde Girls – Author: Allyse Near

Genre: Young Adult; Supernatural

Description from Random House:

There’s a dead girl in a birdcage in the woods. That’s not unusual. Isola Wilde sees a lot of things other people don’t. But when the girl appears at Isola’s window, her every word a threat, Isola needs help.

Her real-life friends – Grape, James, and new boy Edgar – make her forget for a while. And her brother-princes – magical creatures seemingly lifted from the pages of the French fairytales Isola idolises – will protect her with all the fierce love they possess.

It may not be enough.

Isola needs to uncover the truth behind the dead girl’s demise . . . before the ghost steals Isola’s last breath.

My Review:

This book is going to be hard to describe without giving anything away, but I will start by saying this was one the very few books that I’ve read in the last year with which I fell completely in love. The author has a very interesting and wonderful way of writing. The book is interspersed with fairytales, though not the ones most of us know, all of which are tied into the story in a way that gives the reader a greater perspective on what is happening in the book.

The characters are all wonderful. Isola is an interesting duck. She has a ton of quirks and refuses to be anyone but herself, even for her father. Edgar is the lovable guy who moves in next door and becomes infatuated with her. But don’t be fooled, this isn’t your typical ‘manic pixie dream girl’ book, as the story focuses on Isola and her world.

I was especially fascinated with the brother-princes and I loved how the author gave us insight into their lives. I would love a book purely about them. The extent that Isola was willing to go to in order to protect them (and vice-versa) was just a hint of how important they all were to each other.

The “main” storyline of the book is nice and spooky and ends up intertwined into the history of all of the characters. Semi-spoiler alert? Be ready for a twist ending. I won’t actually tell you what happens, but I was completely taken by surprise…in a completely wonderful way. The author manages an M. Night Shyamalan ending, in which you suddenly realize exactly how many tiny foreshadows should have given you a hint at the ending, if you had only bothered to notice them.

Amazing book, that’s all I can say. If you love supernatural books, especially ones with strong female leads, this book is for you. And before you say “but it’s a young adult book”, it is SOOO much more than that. Seriously, give it a try; you won’t regret it.

Similar Books:

The Darkest Part of the Forest – Holly Black

Book Review – The Darkest Part of the Forest

Book: The Darkest Part of the Forest – Author: Holly Black

Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Supernatural

Description from Amazon:

Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointy as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down and a hero is needed to save them all, Hazel tries to remember her years spent pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

My Review:

In a town where the fairy world is never far away, life seems to be very interesting. My favorite thing about the book is that Holly Black was able to so completely entwine the worlds together. Usually, when I read these types of books, there’s at least one point story where I go “well THAT was over the top”, but even during the most monstrous attacks in this book, everything just seemed so plausible.

Perhaps the story was so believable because of the characters in the book. I thought they were all fairly well developed and seemed very realistic for their age level (high-school). They spoke and acted just like normal kids would, and reacted to the events as if they were a problem, but a problem they lived their whole lives expecting to happen, which lent credibility to even the most audacious bits of the storyline. (I also thought all of the characters were likable, which doesn’t happen all that often in YA books, so I was very happy about that.)

Part of the believability must also have come from how well the author understood the world she had created. Black describes everything in detail, from the beings themselves to their woods to their habits. She knows the world so well that she is able to explain everything that is happening in a way that makes you believe that there’s no reason it shouldn’t be happening. But she also knows her audience and doesn’t go into SO much detail that the reader gets bored.

Aside from not having to worry about suspension of disbelief, I also liked the story itself. It was a nice story with some interesting plot twists. And you actually worried about whether the characters would survive. A lot of YA books in this genre try to give their characters a super-power or some secret knowledge that you know will save them in the long run. This one didn’t really do that, at least, not overtly (I will admit, there is at least one super-power, but it doesn’t initially come off as really useful, lol). In this story, you actually cared about the characters and were concerned they might not make it to the end of the book.

It also helped that you weren’t inundated with the characters’ backstories upfront. As the book went along, relevant events in their past popped up and made you understand their reactions to what was happening in the story. This did cause some confusion in the beginning, but I think overall it was a good strategy, since trying to force all the background into the beginning of the book probably would have lost the readers’ interest.

So without giving any of the plot away, I will just say that I really enjoyed this book. There was an air of suspense and mystery through-out the entire story and plenty of action to keep you interested. If you enjoy YA and the fairy realm, you will enjoy this book. 🙂

Similar Books:

Grimm Fairytales (Original) – Brothers Grimm

The Replacement – Brenna Yovanoff

Book Review – Life of Pi

Book: Life of Pi – Author: Yann Martel

Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Philosophical

Description from Amazon:

The son of a zookeeper, Pi Patel has an encyclopedic knowledge of animal behavior and a fervent love of stories. When Pi is sixteen, his family emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship, along with their zoo animals bound for new homes.

The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger. Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi, whose fear, knowledge, and cunning allow him to coexist with Richard Parker for 227 days while lost at sea. When they finally reach the coast of Mexico, Richard Parker flees to the jungle, never to be seen again. The Japanese authorities who interrogate Pi refuse to believe his story and press him to tell them “the truth.” After hours of coercion, Pi tells a second story, a story much less fantastical, much more conventional–but is it more true?

My Review:

Well, this one was an odd one. It will be hard to review it without giving too many spoilers…but here goes.

I really enjoyed the beginning of this book. The main character, Pi, was fairly unconventional and I really enjoyed his viewpoint on religion. It was interesting hearing the perception of religion from someone who was so open to learning and experiencing every type he could get his hands on. I also enjoyed his wit. He had a way of tripping people up without being mean and I found myself laughing a lot more than expected.

The middle of the book is where I ran into trouble. I hate to say this about any book…but it was SO BORING. I know, I know, if I was actually stuck on a raft out in the middle of the ocean, I would be bored out of my mind there too. But I really feel like the length of this section was unnecessary. Especially for a book that most kids are given to read in school. I know that at any earlier than college age, I would never have finished this book.

Once past the worst of Pi’s journey, when he “lands” (no spoilers, I swear!), things got more interesting. Like, REALLY interesting. No, seriously, what was this part supposed to represent?!? And by the end of the book, I was completely back into the story. I especially like the extremely vague, extremely thought-provoking ending. (I chose to believe the first story, btw.)

This is a book that I would definitely recommend people read at least once. Though I had high hopes, since the premise of the book sounded so exciting, it will probably NOT become a favorite for me. Nonetheless, it was a very interesting read and one I think is worth a try.

Similar books:

Ishmael – Daniel Quinn

Kon-Tiki – Thor Heyerdahl