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Summer TBR Wipeout 2017: Wrap-Up

 

The Summer TBR Wipeout Challenge ends today so it’s time to wrap up and take stock of how I did.  Can you believe I actually ended up reading all 12 of the books I had chosen for the challenge?!  After my last update, I still had 7 left on my list and was pretty sure I wouldn’t make it through all 12, but I really kicked it into high gear and finished the final book this morning.  I’m excited because it actually put a visible dent in the pile of books stacked up in the corner of my office.  I’ll definitely be looking for a similar reading challenge as we move into the fall months.

 

BOOKS I READ FOR THIS UPDATE:

 

   
      
 

I adored This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab. I’m working on a review for this one right now so I won’t say too much here, but it was a fantastic read full of creepy monsters.  It’s everything I hope for when I pick up one of Schwab’s novels.  This was a 5 star read for me.

Cress by Marissa Meyer.  My love for The Lunar Chronicles series has only continued to grow with my reading of Cress.  I’m forever amazed how Meyer managed to keep weaving new versions of these classic fairy tale characters into her unique narrative.  I keep thinking it’s going to start to get hokey at any moment, but it never does.  Cress adds a Rapunzel-like characters to the narrative who takes a liking to my favorite character from the series, Carswell Thorne. (Man, I just love that guy!)  The action really ramps up in Cress too as our fairy tale-inspired characters get closer and closer to taking out the evil Queen Levana.  This was also a 5 star read for me and I can’t wait to get my hands on Winter, the next book in the series.

Lauren Graham’s Talking As Fast As I Can was a quick and fun read for me.  Its similar in style to Anna Kendrick’s Scrappy Little Nobody in terms of it being a collection of humorous essays, but I enjoyed Lauren’s.  I don’t know if it’s because Lauren is closer to my age and so I found some of it more relatable or if I just liked that Lauren reminds me so much of her most famous character, Lorelai Gilmore, but it was just a delight to follow her on this journey.  I especially loved the parts of the book where she talked about writing both of her books – her writing process, meeting deadlines, etc. My absolute favorite part was the section where she talks about the Gilmore Girls Netflix revival series and even includes some of the journal entries she wrote while filming it.  I loved that she was experiencing so many of the same emotions that most fans were feeling at first hearing the news that there would be a revival and then actually sitting down and finally watching it.  She was as much of a blubbering mess as I was, lol.  This was such a fun read, 4 stars.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon was another quick read for me.  I loved the characters, Maddy and Olly, and watching how they were able to forge a beautiful relationship in spite of a rare and potentially deadly illness that has kept Maddy locked in her home and home-schooled, completely isolated for most of her life.  She’s basically the girl in the bubble.  Olly is Maddy’s new next door neighbor.  After seeing Maddy watching him from her window a few times and then being turned away at the front door by Maddy’s mom when he tries to come and introduce himself, Olly decides to get creative and puts his email address on his window.  Maddy writes to him and they immediately click.  The more they talk, the more Maddy desperately wants to meet him in person, even if it could compromise her health.  Her nurse secretly helps her set up a short meeting, and as soon as she and Olly finally meet in person, Maddy realizes that this life in a safe bubble is just not what she wants anymore even if it means she doesn’t live long.  I just thought this was such a beautiful story and then the plot twist near the end is just OMG, WOW!  I don’t want to give that away, but needless to say, it completely blew me away.  This was a 4-star read for me and I’m really looking forward to watching the film when it comes out.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.  What a heart-wrenching story this is! I think this is one of those books best read not knowing too much about it ahead of time, so I’m not going to say too much about it.  I’ll just say that it’s about monsters, both literal and figurative, and it’s about the lies we sometimes tell ourselves to help us through difficult times and what happens when those lies are shattered and the hard truth is all that’s left.  Filled with incredible illustrations, this is a read unlike any other.  4.5 Stars.

Fractured by Catherine McKenzie.  Fractured is a thriller in the vein of Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty and The Party by Robyn Harding.  You know the type — something horrible has happened and the reader spends the entire book trying to figure out who’s telling the truth, who’s lying, and who’s ultimately responsible.  Yeah, that kind of book.  Fractured was great because even though you find out almost immediately that someone has died – it’s not until the closing pages that you find out who and how.  This was also one of those books where I didn’t particularly like any of the characters, but the story was so compelling, I still couldn’t put it down.  Instead, I actually hated a couple of the characters so much, that I spent most of the book hoping they were the ones who turned up dead during the reveal.  If you read this and meet Cindy, you’ll know exactly what I mean, lol.  If you like a plot filled with twists and turns and lots of domestic drama (OMG, you went jogging with my husband, you whore! – I’m paraphrasing here but that’s the gist anyway), then you’ll love Fractured.  It’s a wild ride for sure.  4 Stars from me.

A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess.  I just read this yesterday and absolutely devoured it.  In some ways it reminded me of the Harry Potter series almost as soon as I started reading. Since I adore HP so much, I was hooked by this story immediately.   Henrietta Howell learns that she is a sorcerer and that she fits the description of a prophecy that says she will be the one to help defeat a group of ancient monsters who are hell-bent on wreaking havoc and destroying London.  When the Sorcerer’s order finds her, they bring her to London so that she can begin training to be a sorcerer because they want her to join Her Majesty’s sorcerers as soon as possible because the ancient monsters have been attacking the city more and more frequently.  It’s a race against the clock to get the ‘Chosen One’ up to speed before the Ancients are able to break through the protective ward that has been placed around the heart of the city.  Most of the book is centered around Henrietta’s training, which doesn’t go all that well.  Henrietta soon finds out why her training isn’t going well and what she learns throws into question everything –  she may not be the Chosen One after all and may not even really be a sorcerer for that matter.  Lots of twists and turns in this story as she tries to figure out who she really is and how she fits into the Prophecy, if at all.  I loved watching Henrietta go through her training and interact with her classmates, all of whom were male. This leads me to my one gripe about the book. Henrietta is the first female sorcerer to come along in 400 years and these boys act like idiots gawking at her.  It’s like the love triangle/love square from The Red Queen where everyone who sees Henrietta is immediately infatuated with her.  Can we stop doing that, please?  Thankfully there was lots of action, bloody battles, and wild sorcerer magic tricks to distract me from these ridiculous boys and keep this at a 4 star read for me.

 

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So, there you have it.  Challenge completed!  Thanks so much to The Candid Cover for hosting it!  And now it’s time to move on to the rest of the books piled high on my TBR pile. 12 down, countless more to go….

Book Review: Caraval

Book Review:  CaravalCaraval by Stephanie Garber
three-half-stars
Series: Caraval #1
Published by Flatiron Books on January 31st 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 407
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW

It’s always so disappointing when one of your most anticipated reads doesn’t quite live up to the hype.  Unfortunately, this was the case for me with Stephanie Garber’s CaravalCaraval is a book that was instantly on my radar as soon as I started seeing people comparing it to Erin Morganstern’s The Night Circus, which is one of my all-time favorite books.  Based on that comparison and so many glowing reviews from my fellow bloggers, I fully expected Caraval to be a 5 star read for me and ended up so disappointed that it didn’t come close to that.  That’s not to say I didn’t like the novel, because I really did. I just didn’t love it like I had expected and hoped to.

Caraval tells the story of two sisters, Scarlett and Tella, who live on a tiny island with their overbearing father. Ever since their mother passed away, their father has become cruel and abusive to his children and practically holds them both prisoner, never allowing them to leave the island.  Since she was a child, Scarlett has dreamed of attending Caraval, a once-a-year magical mystery and scavenger hunt of sorts, the winner of which is granted one wish. When her father arranges for her to be married to a man she has never met, Scarlett assumes that her dream of attending Caraval is dead once and for all, until her long-awaited invitation arrives.  Thanks to an elaborate scheme concocted by her sister Tella, and with the help of a sexy sailor named Julian, Scarlett and Tella run away for a few days so that Scarlett can finally experience the magic of Caraval before settling into this married life her father has chosen for her. The catch?  Her father has scheduled the wedding date so close to when Caraval takes places that it’s going to be a race against the clock to sail to Caraval, participate in the events, and then sail back home.  Can they make it back in time? And is experiencing Caraval really worth possibly exciting the wrath of their abusive father?

 

LIKES

I’d have to say my favorite part about this novel was the world building itself once the girls actually make it to Caraval.  I loved the idea of the exotic faraway setting and the hints of magic that were everywhere. Garber does a beautiful job of setting the stage for this great adventure and infusing everything with a touch of whimsy. One of my favorite parts was when Scarlett and Julian first enter Caraval and are greeted by a young woman riding a unicycle, immediately invoking a carnival-esque atmosphere.  Another whimsical touch I enjoyed was the outfit Scarlett was given to wear soon after her arrival.  At first glance, it looked like little more than a potato sack, but then it magically transformed into whatever attire the powers that be at Caraval decided Scarlett needed at any given moment, whether it was a gorgeous and daring evening gown or a sexy negligee.  How handy would an outfit like that be?!

I thought the whole concept for the event itself was brilliant too. I mean, seriously?  A magical game of illusion and trickery that will seem so real that you actually have to sign a contract acknowledging that you fully understand it’s all just a game before they will even let you play? How fascinating is that?  I also loved that the game was only played at night.  The participants played only once the sun went down and had to be back in their rooms before the sun came back up the next morning.  This added an extra layer of mystique to the already magical atmosphere.

I also liked the relationship between the two sisters, Scarlett and Tella.  Since their mother died, Scarlett has taken on the role of protector when it comes to her younger sister, Tella, and sometimes she has her hands full because Tella is much more free-spirited and rebellious than she is.  It is Tella’s love of taking risks that makes Scarlett’s dream of attending Caraval possible, and once they get there and Tella is “kidnapped” as part of the game, Scarlett is desperate to find her sister to make sure she’s safe.  That sisterly bond is beautiful – it’s clear either would do absolutely anything for the other.

 

DISLIKES/ISSUES

Okay, so I loved the world of Caraval, I liked the overall premise of the game, and I enjoyed the sisterly bond between Scarlett and Tella.  So where did Caraval not measure up for me?

Characters that weren’t well developed or likeable.  While I felt tremendous sympathy for these two girls because their father was such a cruel beast, I just didn’t particularly like them all that much.  They kind of fell flat.  Even though I loved the bond between Scarlett and Tella, I got so tired of listening to Scarlett constantly whine about needing to find her.  I mean, seriously, she was told by two employees as soon as she entered Caraval AND had to sign a contract stating she was fully aware this was all a game, and she still kept whining about needing to get to her sister like she was truly in mortal danger.  I just found that incredibly frustrating.

I did like Tella more than Scarlett because I did enjoy her sense of rebelliousness, but she disappears for 90% of the book, so yeah, it didn’t really matter if I liked her or not.

I couldn’t stand their father of course because he was a monster, but at the same time, I didn’t understand why he became such a monster.  It’s stated in the novel that before his wife died, he was a much kinder man.  So the love of his life dies and he chooses to grieve for her by abusing their children?  I just didn’t get this at all.

Too many twists and turns.  I never thought I would see myself complain about twists and turns, but in the case of this book, I just thought there were too many. Once Scarlett started playing the game, at first the twists and turns were fun to follow along with, but after a while it felt like every page was filled with lie after lie and plot twist after plot twist.  It just got so convoluted that I often found myself going in circles, and since I wasn’t overly invested in any of the characters anyway, after a certain point, I just really wanted it to be over.

Distracting romance.  Julian, the handsome sailor Tella enlists to help them get to Caraval, decides to participate in the game with Scarlett after Tella disappears.  Even though Scarlett at one moment is frantic with worry about her sister, the next moment she’s practically falling all over herself as her attraction to Julian grows.  I wasn’t a big fan of the romance because it seemed to come out of nowhere, especially since in the opening pages, Julian and Tella were mad flirting with one another.  The romance did grow on me a bit the further into the book I got, but for a large portion of it, it just felt cringe-worthy and too ‘love at first sight’ for my taste.

Flowery prose.  I like vivid descriptions as much as the next person, but some of the descriptions in Caraval were just too much for me.  The book is just packed with sentences like this one:  “She could see the sting of her rejection in shades of stormy blue, ghosting over his heart like sad morning mist.” I’m sure there are plenty of readers that would love a book written with these types of descriptions, but I like prose that is more simple and straightforward.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

In some ways I think I probably set myself up for disappointment because I had overhyped Caraval so much in my own mind.  Those comparisons to The Night Circus set the bar really high for me.   Even though it didn’t quite achieve the magic and mystery of The Night Circus, I still enjoyed it enough to stick with it until the end and will probably continue with the second book when it comes out.  I think for the right audience though, maybe someone who hasn’t read The Night Circus, Caraval would make for a wonderful and imaginative read.

 

RATING:  3.5 STARS

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

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.

three-half-stars

About Stephanie Garber

Stephanie Garber grew up in northern California, where she was often compared to Anne Shirley, Jo March, and other fictional characters with wild imaginations and stubborn streaks. When she’s not writing, Stephanie teaches creative writing, and dreams of her next adventure.