Caraval

27883214by Stephanie Garber
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel: January 31, 2017

Like many other people, I’ve been itching to attend Caraval for a year! Ever since the beautiful ARCs started popping up (honestly, a bit before that) it’s been on my list as a shiny 2017 debut waiting to sweep me away. And for the most part, it succeeded! I was indeed, swept away to a strange island of magic and mystery and mind games.

Scarlett and Tella have been trying to find a way to escape their abusive father for years. Then their chance comes, when Scarlett’s long-unanswered letters to Legend, master of Caraval, earns them tickets to the annual event. Once there, Tella goes missing and Scarlett realizes that finding Tella is this year’s game. With the help of Julian, the roguish sailor who took them to the island, Scarlett attempts to decipher the clues to her sister’s whereabouts as increasingly sinister things start happening.

For me, this was a strange case of loving the world and the magic more than the characters. Scarlett is a prudish, timid heroine, and I frequently felt like I was far more excited about Caraval than she was, despite it being her lifelong dream to go! She, Tella, and Julian don’t get as much depth as I would like. Caraval is fast-paced, but I still thought we’d have a minute for them to break out of their assigned roles.

What kept me turning pages was the mystery and dark whimsy of Caraval! The shops, the bargains, the strangely magical items all had me anxious to keep exploring. The strange feeling that magic was real—but only on the island—and the fact that Caraval players always remind each other that it’s all a game kept me on my toes.

The ending definitely surprised me! Was I swept away? Yes. Did I get “swept too far”? Not quite—but I think future books might achieve that magic. Pick this up for a blazingly fast read that will keep you guessing!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Futhermore is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Kingdom of Ash and Briars by Hannah West – Another case of the world and magic capturing me more than the character, but maybe I’m in the minority! Bristal discovers she has magical abilities and becomes one of the guardians of peace between three countries on an island nation. Fairy tales blend with Bristal’s story too! See my review here.
  • Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake – A magical island with triplet princesses that must fight to the death for the crown–what’s not to like? Complicated sister relationships, court intrigue, and dark magic abound. See my review here.
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – If you can’t get enough of mysterious circuses and games, try this! Celia and Marco are two magicians trained to oppose each other by their instructors–but when they finally meet, they fall in love.
  • Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody – Still need more creepy circus magic? This summer’s debut follows illusion-worker Sorina who must discover how and why her illusion companions are being murdered!

The Midnight Star

28588345by Marie Lu
YA Fantasy
5 of 5 stars

This is exactly what I needed during this time of uncertainty and fear—a story to remind me that no matter how many terrible things someone has done, anyone can still choose goodness at any time.

Adelina’s journey into darkness from an outcast with powerful illusions to a queen with everyone at her feet has held me spellbound since its beginning.  Her ambition and determination pits her against everyone, including her former allies and her own sister Violetta. Yet part of her longs for the love and light she remembers feeling with her sister and the thief Magiano before her desire for revenge took over.

Right after she establishes her empire, Adelina receives word from the former Young Elites leader Raffaele that her sister is dying—just like all elites will die as their godlike powers consume their mortal bodies. Reluctantly, Adelina joins forces with the former Daggers and Queen Maeve’s army on a quest to save themselves—if she doesn’t decide to betray them all first.

Just as Adelina’s journey to become queen felt both like her destiny and her fatal flaw, this quest carries the weight of selfish desires and fate.  The pacing is relentless, and the characters are caught in a whirlwind of battles within and outside of their group. This is more about how the changes they have already undergone affect their relationships now, rather than what changes await them.

This flew by for me and the ending is beautiful and perfect. As with most trilogy ends, it’s hard to say more without spoilers!

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Midnight Star is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski – Arin struggles to lead the Herrani resistance against the Valorians believing that Kestrel has betrayed him. Kestrel is actually in a forced labor camp because her father received the letter professing her love for Arin, instead of Arin himself. This is an emotional book for both characters as they try to reconcile their beliefs about each other and save their nations. See my review here.
  • Eona by Alison Goodman – Now that her true identity is revealed, Eona must lead the resistance to restore the true emperor to his throne while struggling with the limits of her dragon power and her true gender. A gripping study of sexism and what lies between good and evil. See my review here.
  • The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis – An unflinching look at the double standards for men and women as seen through three teens after a party turns violent. Small-town seniors Alex, Jack and Peekay all have their own reputations, dreams and fears that collide in unexpected ways. This highlights the dark and insidious patterns of rape culture and what we can do to stop it. See my review here.
  • Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor – The massive and spell-binding conclusion to this trilogy about seraphs, chimaera and star-crossed lovers that hoped to stop their endless war. Karou and Akiva’s splintered relationship is all that remains to ally them against Jael’s army of seraphs that want to rule all of Eretz and Earth. See my review here.
  • Nimona by Noelle Stevenson – A shape-shifting aspiring villain forcefully sidekicks herself to Lord Blackheart to learn the ropes, but he quickly realizes his new ward is dangerously unpredictable. See my review here.
  • Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman – Kate disguises herself as a boy and sets out to avenge her father’s murder at the hands of greedy prospectors hoping to find a secret gold mine.  She has the unlikely help of an Apache girl and a pair of brothers with their own secrets. See my review here.
  • Vicious by V. E. Schwab – An experiment meant to unlock superpowers in humans pits two roommates against each other because neither can agree who is the hero and who is the villain. See my review here.
  • The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux – A rising opera star mentored by a mysterious man finds herself caught between his obsession and the chance at true love with a childhood friend. There is a lot of nuance here that you won’t find in the musical!
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas – A man wrongly imprisoned escapes and builds his fortune as he plots to avenge himself on the three men that took his fiancée, his ship and his wealth.
  • Clariel by Garth Nix – Clariel isn’t adjusting well to her new city life–she misses the outdoors and her freedom. When Free Magic is discovered in the city, her attempts to be useful are thwarted, and her plan to regain her freedom once and for all comes with a terrible price.

Three Dark Crowns

23207027by Kendare Blake
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars

This is a book that won me over despite intense skepticism on my part. (Thanks for the rec Erin!) There’s a lot of royal competitions to the death right now, and I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to hop on board. Yet after a few chapters I found myself flipping the pages as fast as I could!

Mirabella, Katharine, and Arsinoe are triplet princesses who have grown up estranged because on their 16th birthday, they will begin a fight to the death for the throne. Mirabella is a powerful elemental that can control fire, earth, water, or air. Katharine is a poisoner, able to ingest any type of deadly plant or chemical with no effect. Arsinoe is a naturalist, skilled with plants and animals.

Except they aren’t all as strong as they say. Katharine has spent a decade building up the most basic immunity to common poisons. Arsinoe can’t make a flower bloom and still lacks her animal familiar. Their courts have done their best to keep their failures a secret, but time is almost out, and everyone assumes Mirabella will take the crown with ease. But the sisters won’t go down without a fight.

These queens and their courts felt distant at first (the third person present voice is colder than Marie Lu’s), but I found myself drawn into their plots and intrigue. I enjoyed this largely because I knew going into the story that this book is a set-up for the fight to the death–which isn’t what the jacket summary would have you think. If I hadn’t known that, I probably would have been frustrated by the seemingly slow lead-in. However, much like interviewing the Tributes made you care about who won the Hunger Games, without this book and getting to know the sisters, I don’t think we would care much about who wins. It does a fantastic job of taking what should be three very unsympathetic girls and having each of them tug your heartstrings in a different way. The girls’ character arcs are surprising and well-drawn.

The island itself is fascinating too, and the mythology surrounding it is addictive! The traditions surrounding the royal family, the backstories of the three princesses, the strange power of the land itself–it’s so atmospheric!

The biggest difficulty for me was the sheer number of POV characters. In addition to the three princesses, several people from each royal court (Elemental, Poisoner, Naturalist) receive their own chapters of scheming. It was hard for me to keep track of everyone until near the end.

This has one of the most intense endings I’ve read this year! The last twenty pages turns everything on its head and made me need the next book so much! In short, this was a pleasant surprise for me and I highly recommend checking it out before next fall’s sequel.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Three Dark Crowns is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater – Speaking of atmospheric islands with strange magic…Puck and Sean are both determined to win the annual deadly race on water horses to change their lives forever. See my review here.
  • The Young Elites by Marie Lu – Adelina survived the blood fever with terrible scars and strange powers. She soon learns that others like her are banding together, and she is determined to join them and have revenge for the way she’s been treated. See my review here.
  • The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye – A royal competition to the death to determine who will be the kingdom’s sorcerer.
  • The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski – Kestrel has put off her fate (marriage or military) as long as possible. When she impulsively buys a slave who is not what he seems, her life begins to unravel. See my review here.
  • Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch – Meira’s whole life has been dedicated to restoring the fallen kingdom of Winter, but she doesn’t know what her true destiny holds in store for her. See my review here.
  • Nevernight by Jay Kristoff – Mia Corvere has lost her family and her inheritance to corrupt officials. If she can survive initation into the Red Church, she will be one of the most skilled assassins in the land and capable of claiming her revenge. See my review here.

Hour of the Bees

22453777by Lindsay Eagar
YA Contemporary / Children’s Lit
5 of 5 stars
Debut novel: March 8, 2016

I loved this story! When I wasn’t reading it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Where to even begin…

Things that I loved? Magical realism! So well done, so beautiful. The descriptions of the desert – lovely. The food – you will be so hungry! The family dynamic–Carolina’s relationship with her grandfather, her older sister, her parents. She’s 12, that in-between age of growing up but knowing you’ll never be a kid again. Also, because she’s 12, this book is sitting comfortably between YA and MG which as you know from my previous posts, I find interesting. This book is quite long for MG and tackles some heavier themes as well, but the writing is simplistic and Carolina is too young to be a typical YA protagonist. Enjoy sorting this!

Carolina’s family is traveling to her grandfather’s remote sheep ranch to pack up the house and move her grandfather to an assisted living home because of his dementia. A 100-year drought has left the land cracked and worthless. Carolina has never met her grandfather, Serge, because her father has refused to see him for 12 years. Serge doesn’t understand why his family rejects their heritage and roots. Moments between her parents and her grandfather are tense. Her older sister, Alta, just wants to escape the ranch with her boyfriend whenever possible. Serge doesn’t want to leave his home, and insists that Carolina watch for bees, because “the bees will bring back the rain.” Carolina is in the middle of it all, forced to confront how she really feels about her roots, her family, and her future.

Carolina wants the truth of of her family’s past, but she ends up hearing a fantastical tale about a magical tree, bees, and a village of people who never grew old. She isn’t sure whether Serge believes the story he’s telling her, but when bees begin following her around the ranch, she wants to believe it.

This story is beautifully told – I highly recommend checking this out if you want something with complicated families and an unforgettable atmosphere. The theme of what makes a truly full life will have you thinking about this book long after you finish it.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Hour of the Bees is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord – Another lovely book about finding your identity amidst tragic circumstances. Paige’s first boyfriend died in a freak drowning accident, and now she faces junior year as The Girl Whose Boyfriend Drowned. Amazing female friendships and a touching relationship between Paige and her aging grandmother. See my review here.
  • Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero – Another story about learning not to spit on your roots–Gabi is Mexican-American and it seems like she is always becoming either too Mexican or too American for those around her. This book explores her senior year through her diary as she opens up to writing and dealing with the complex highs and lows of high school. See my review here.
  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold – Mim is not thrilled with her father’s stepfamily, and when she learns her mother is sick, she takes an impromptu road trip to go see her. See my review here.
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie – Junior decides to save his own future by leaving the reservation to attend the white school, where the only other Indian is the mascot. An emotional story of what it means to find yourself while staying true to your family.
  • Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma – I love this magical realism story about a small town with a reservoir and two sisters–Ruby, who is everything, and Chloe, who looks up to her older sister. Ruby will do anything to keep her sister safe with her–even if it means bending the reality of their town and everyone in it. See my review here.
  • Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt & Alison McGhee – Another touching story of sisters in Vermont coping with their mother’s death. When Sylvi disappears, Jules is left alone to navigate her new world. Nearby, a tiny fox is doing the same thing. Beautiful magical realism! See my review here.
  • Bone Gap by Laura Ruby – Finn is horrified when Roza goes missing, just like the rest of Bone Gap, Illinois. He alone wants to keep searching for her several months later, despite his disgrace. He was the only who saw the man that took Roza–but he can’t remember his face. This story is filled with magical realism and heartbreaking truths about people. See my review here.

Soundless

SoundlessBy Richelle Mead
YA Fantasy
3 of 5 stars

I wanted to read this book for months before it finally came in at my library. The cover art! The setting! The protagonist! It seemed like a real winner. I wasn’t previously a fan of Mead’s books (think Vampire Academy) but a story based on Chinese folklore instantly grabbed my attention. Turns out that much like old fairy tales, it’s hard to connect with these characters emotionally, which isn’t a problem when a story is 10 pages long, but becomes a little more awkward when it’s 250 pages. Although Fei undergoes an incredible amount of changes and adventure, I felt distant from it all, as if I was watching her through a paper screen.

Fei lives in a small village at the top of a mountain. A long time ago the passes were blocked by an avalanche, so her people depend on a zipline system with a town below to receive supplies. They get a meager amount of food in exchange for the precious metals they mine. Everyone in her village is born deaf—their ancestors lost their hearing centuries ago—but now they are starting to go blind as well. As fewer people can mine, they receive less food. Fei and Li Wei decide enough is enough: they are going down the mountain to get more food and find a way to help their village. This is only possible because Fei has mysteriously regained her hearing.

I loved the setting and Fei’s descriptions as she tries to describe what it’s like to hear for the first time. This is probably the strength of the book. Characters rarely have a sensorial disability, and the depiction of the village’s sign language and Fei’s subsequent ingenious ways to communicate throughout the book are interesting. Prejudice comes into play, as well as caste hierarchy. The culture is  vibrant and the pacing is good—I just wish I felt closer to the characters while everything was happening. It’s hard to say more without spoilers, but pick this up with you want something different.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Soundless is available on Goodreads and on Barnes & Noble’s website here. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Brothers Grimm 101 Fairy Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm – This has a close match in tone and plenty of magical tales that wrap up in a similar manner. Although these come from Europe, the gist remains the same. If you like the interesting but distant tone of Soundless, you’ll like these. See my review here.
  • Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman – A combination of traditional Chinese culture and the Avatar: The Last Airbender universe. Eon is struggling to be chosen as a Dragoneye apprentice—bonding with one of the twelve zodiacal dragons to keep order in the empire. But Eon is secretly Eona, hiding her true gender because women are prohibited to be Dragoneyes. If her secret is discovered, she’ll be killed. See my review here.
  • Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch – Meira just wants to help restore the fallen kingdom of Winter, but she has no idea what her true destiny is. Fast-paced, interesting world-building, and a traditional character arc, but still fun. See my review here.
  • The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh – A rich tapestry of culture and characters, this re-telling of the 1001 Arabian Nights is fantastic! If you love visiting less common settings in fantasy or you love fairy tale retellings, add this to your list. See my review here.
  • The Young Elites by Marie Lu – An Italian-inspired fantasy world of powerful children given markings and powers if they survive a deadly blood fever. Addictive and engrossing with amazing characters. This is a bigger departure from Soundless but deals with the same theme of understanding new gifts and how it changes your life and world. See my review here.
  • Risuko by David Kudler – Risuko is a young peasant girl in feudal Japan who just wants to climb. But when a noblewoman notices her talents, she is recruited into an organization because she could become “a very special kind of woman.” One that can save her country. See my review here.

The Rose Society

23846013by Marie Lu
YA Fantasy
5 of 5 stars
Review of advance uncorrected galley

Happy release day! In a stroke of luck, I found an advance copy of this book in a free little lending library at a coffee shop a few weeks ago! Book magic, indeed. I immediately grabbed The Young Elites, read that in a couple of days, and then went straight into this one. This series is one of my new favorites!

** Minor spoilers for The Young Elites **

Adelina’s journey is darker and if possible, more captivating in this installment. I couldn’t put this book down – we meet more Elites and learn about their intriguing powers as we watch Adelina’s personal goals shift and evolve. Pitting Adelina against Teren, Maeve, and Raffaele is a whirlwind of strategic battles and manipulation. To keep Adelina true to herself and yet empathetic to us is a difficult feat that Marie Lu has mastered. Her character arc has the feeling of inevitable destiny as well as the continued circumstantial push into choices between lesser evils. Adelina balances on a knife-edge and it is perfect. She is one of my favorite leading ladies now. But what makes this even better is that she is not alone! Maeve and Violetta battle Adelina’s will with their own, and the confrontations between these women are the most gripping. I will say every character is given clear-cut, logical reasons for their actions, and that is what makes this story so satisfying.

This action-packed sequel is a worthy follow-up to The Young Elites and the ending is just as much of a cliff-hanger, so brace yourself. I could read seven more of these books! The trilogy is scheduled to wrap up in 2016.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Rose Society is available on Goodreads and on Powell’s store website, here. Powell’s has several locations in Oregon, and is one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkoski – Another trilogy of court/political intrigue with high stakes and espionage. Kestrel matches wits with the emperor and Arin’s forces as she tries to reconcile the two halves of her heart. See my review here.
  • Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo – Alina Starkov’s powers are sought after by everyone she meets (the Darkling, a mercenary, and a band of religious rebels), but it’s time for her to decide what to do with them. This is an excellent trilogy to add to your list!
  • Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch – Meira has always known her destiny is to restore the conquered kingdom of Winter, but when she finally accepts her first rebel mission, it sets off a chain of events she never could have imagined. See my review here.
  • Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas – Spies, political intrigue, and magic abound in the fourth installment of the Throne of Glass series. Consider catching up on these while you wait for the final Young Elites book. See my review here.
  • Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman – An older duology following Eon/Eona – the first (secretly) female dragoneye in a hundred years, as she tries to gain control of her dragon and keep the peace in the empire. Note that this book has come out from several publishers under various similar titles. See my review here.
  • Clariel by Garth Nix – The Abhorsen’s duty is to protect the Old Kingdom from the dead who won’t stay dead, but Clariel never wanted this responsibility. When it is forced upon her, she must decide to follow her heart’s desire or give up her dreams – or watch as her dreams change.
  • Vicious by V.E. Schwab – College roommates Eli and Victor accidentally discover a way to unlock every human’s potential for superhuman abilities. But they could not disagree more on what to do with this knowledge or what makes a hero and a villain. See my review here.
  • The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie – Cas is kidnapped by Pirate Queen Santa Elena to train a sea monster (reckoner) to defend her ship. This goes against everything Cas believes in, until pirate girl Swift comes along and makes her question everything. See my review here.

P.S. I Still Love You

20698530by Jenny Han
YA Contemporary
3 of 5 stars
Book 2 of a duology

I wasn’t especially impressed by To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before but I am so glad I decided to read this sequel! Lara Jean was a bit too passive for my taste in the last book – even when she found out who sent out her private letters, she wasn’t even that mad about it. Her emotions felt muted, and the characters around her felt flat and muted too. Not so in this story!

Lara Jean and Peter are together for real, and as she navigates her first high school relationship she reminds everyone reading this what high school is like. So many firsts, so many social dangers and triumphs, and the feeling that everything you’re experiencing is vitally important but is also something you’re not likely to care about so much when you’re older. Lara Jean is both more introspective and takes a more active role, and her sisters and friends are more vivid as well. Everyone has grown and I enjoyed this story much more thanks to that.

I also enjoyed the more feminist take on relationships in this novel. In the previous one, I was frustrated that because Lara Jean’s best friend Chris dated a lot of guys and had already had sex, she was slut-shamed by everyone. Even Lara Jean doesn’t fully approve of her. This time around everything is presented more fairly, in a way that every girl needs to see. Women are in charge of their bodies, and what’s right for some people isn’t right for others. If a sexy picture or video of a couple goes up online, the guy is congratulated and the girl is shamed – and this is a double standard that needs to change.

This was a fun summer read and I recommend it for both high school students and anyone wanting a vibrant refresher on what it’s like to be 16.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, P.S. I Still Love You is available on Goodreads and its parent company Amazon. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn, David Levithan – One crazy night in NYC with recently-single Nick and his “girlfriend for 5 minutes” Norah that he meets at his band’s gig. The two high school seniors race around the city looking for their favorite band’s secret show, but end up wondering if they’ve found love instead.
  • Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch – Lina’s mother dies of cancer, and she’s sent to Florence, Italy to fulfill her mother’s last wish: get to know the father she just found out about 2 weeks ago. Lina is grieving and angry, but when her father’s neighbor provides her mother’s journal about her time in Italy, Lina can’t help but wonder why her mother sent her there. Add charming neighbor boy Ren to the equation, and Lina finds herself getting to know her mother all over again–and maybe falling in love. See my review here.
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – Another tale of high school first love that is incredibly bittersweet and vividly captures all the ups and downs through the eyes of both Eleanor and Park. See my review here.
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – A similar coming-of-age story with a college freshman experiencing first love as she’s on her own for the first time. Her twin sister Wren decided she wanted some space, and Cath is cast adrift to find herself before she sinks.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – The nostalgia is on every page of this introspective and humorous story of quiet high school freshman Charlie as he makes friends with seniors Sam and Patrick. See my review here.
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – This classic novel contains one of the best-known and loved romances in literature. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy can’t imagine a single thing they have in common–unless it’s their dislike. But circumstances change, and Elizabeth learns the danger of relying on first impressions. See my review here.

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