Thursday, January 26, 2017

Review: Caraval (Caraval #1) by Stephanie Garber

Firstly, thanks to Hachette Australia for this review copy <3



Date Read: January 1 - 2 2017
Date Released: January 30th 2017
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Source: Review copy via publisher
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating:

Warning: this review contains mild spoilers for the plot of the book.

Synopsis:
"Welcome to Caraval, where nothing is quite what it seems.

Scarlett has never left the tiny isle of Trisda, pining from afar for the wonder of Caraval, a once-a-year week-long performance where the audience participates in the show.

Caraval is Magic. Mystery. Adventure. And for Scarlett and her beloved sister Tella it represents freedom and an escape from their ruthless, abusive father.

When the sisters' long-awaited invitations to Caraval finally arrive, it seems their dreams have come true. But no sooner have they arrived than Tella vanishes, kidnapped by the show's mastermind organiser, Legend.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But nonetheless she quickly becomes enmeshed in a dangerous game of love, magic and heartbreak. And real or not, she must find Tella before the game is over, and her sister disappears forever."

---

Again, warning, this review contains mild spoilers. Stop here if you haven't read the book.

Caraval has got to be one of the most hyped YA releases of 2017. Pitched as having Night Circus vibes (which I haven’t read) I wasn’t sure what I was expecting going into Caraval. I can say it definitely wasn’t what I expected and I don’t think it’s really what I wanted either.

Firstly, I’d like to say that I expected Caraval to be circus-y. A week long performance where participants are a part of the magical show - this is what the blurb tells me. Not sure what those performances would be but like I said I thought it’d be like a circus cross carnival with acts. Instead, Caraval is more like a game of Cluedo. The story is literally a search for Scarlett’s missing sister Tella. It’s a thriller more than anything.

I’m just going to be blunt and say Scarlett was not a character I liked. She was not a character I could relate to and this greatly affected how much I enjoyed Caraval. As frustrating and annoying protagonists go, she’s up there. Scarlett thinks she’s all that, being the bigger sister she’s soooo selfless and sacrificed soooo much for her selfish and immature sister who doesn’t love Scarlett as much as Scarlett loves Tella. I mean yes I could tell that Scarlett loved her sister and I admired how she was willing to die for Tella with the dangerous goings on of Caraval but really, every other page was her going on about how Tella didn’t care for anybody but herself and that Scarlett was the considerate one. This grated on my nerves so much. Then there’s the way Scarlett thinks she’s always right and because she’s braved her father’s abuse all these years, she’s such a great judge of bad character and getting out of trouble. Um no. Repeatedly throughout the book she’s proven to be wrong and gets herself into so much shit. I’m fine with that, if the character grows and learns from their mistakes. BUT SHE DOESN’T. LIKE OMFG SDJHFNSFJDS. My rage at this girl. She even acknowledges that she’s wrong but she doesn’t change. She’s so stubborn, constantly wallowing in self-pity that by the end I swear she had no character growth.

Hands down Tella stole the show for me and I loved this girl so much. While absent through the majority of the book, her presence resonates through snippets of memories and clues left throughout Caraval. She’s fiery, passionate, lives life on the edge. At first, seemingly selfish but bits and pieces slowly reveal just which sister is the more considerate and loving one. By the end I was kind of in awe of this girl and what she was capable of. My kind of girl.

How do I feel about the romance? I don’t know. Y’all know I’m a hopeless romantic but in this case I could have gone without the romance. Like either or it didn’t really matter. The romance didn’t give me lots of feels but I did kind of like the love interest. To me the romance was a plot device for Scarlett to grow and change and listen to her sister’s advice to take risks. I liked that but at the same time it kind of killed me that Scarlett needed a guy for her to change instead of her own personal journey to finding her sister, does that make sense? I don’t know haha.

The plot… like I said it’s literally Scarlett finding clues through Caraval to find her sister. That IS Caraval. It’s not a circus or a carnival of any sort. The show is a lost girl and the quest to finding her. The magic is vague and it’s all kind of like mind games. Honestly felt like real-life Cluedo. Where were the mazes or the trapeze artists, the fantastical elements of intrigue? I wanted chases through labyrinths of mirrors, being tricked into shooting water in a clown’s mouth for a clue, running through flaming rings OR SOMETHING. I felt let down in that regard. Someone tell me my perception of a circus/carnival is wrong because that’s what I expected.

The build up to the ending was mind blowing though. It felt like inception, games within games within games. The plot twisted round and over and I was left questioning every single one of the characters and their motives. Through it all, the illustrious Legend, creator of Caraval, oversees everything that’s going on but we never see him (or do we?). How much of it is orchestrated by Legend, is he truly evil? Or are those the actions of the players and their desire to win. It was chilling, thrilling and a real page-turner! I lived for that ending.

There is no denying that Garber is a talented writer though. I sped through Caraval, finishing it in 1 day. I didn’t want to put it down and I desperately needed to know what happened to Tella and how much of Caraval Scarlett had taken too seriously despite the warnings. Garber’s descriptions are lush and detailed and the story is grand in that regard. She really sets the atmosphere, creating an exotic and mystical nighttime when the game is alive versus a washed-out and empty daytime.

With gorgeous writing and an intriguing plot, Caraval is a real page turner! I guess I was left wanting a bit more though. I can say that I’m the black sheep with regards to this book though because looking at the Goodreads ratings, EVERYBODY loves Caraval, so I would say check it out!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Review: A Shadow Bright and Burning (Kingdom on Fire #1) by Jessica Cluess

Firstly, thanks to Penguin Random House Australia for this review copy <3


Date Read: January 10 - 19 2017
Date Released: January 3rd 2017
Publisher: Penguin Random House Australia
Source: Review copy via publisher
Genre: Paranormal Fantasy
My Rating:

Synopsis:
"Henrietta Howel can burst into flames.
Forced to reveal her power to save a friend, she's shocked when instead of being executed, she's invited to train as one of Her Majesty's royal sorcerers.

Thrust into the glamour of Victorian London, Henrietta is declared the chosen one, the girl who will defeat the Ancients, bloodthirsty demons terrorizing humanity. She also meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, handsome young men eager to test her power and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her.

But Henrietta Howel is not the chosen one.
As she plays a dangerous game of deception, she discovers that the sorcerers have their own secrets to protect. With battle looming, what does it mean to not be the one? And how much will she risk to save the city--and the one she loves?"

---

A Shadow Bright and Burning had so much potential but it fell short of being a great alternate Victorian paranormal in many regards. The whole premise of the chosen one not really being the chosen one was promising but the execution really could have been done better.

Reading from our protagonist Henrietta Howel, the supposed chosen one, was not something I enjoyed. I had a lot of issues with her character, especially with her consistency. While an orphan, she claims to be a proper lady and upholds the customs of Victorian England such as wanting a suitable marriage and not ruining her reputation by being seen with young men while unchaperoned. And yet she’ll happily walk around London on her own without a thought (I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt here because she’s a Sorcerer), flirt with one of the other apprentices… but the worst part was the swearing. SHE SWEARS. A LOT. “Bloody”, “damn” and “bastard” are common words that fall out of her mouth. Like what kind of lady in Victorian England says these words on a daily basis as casual expressions? Hell even I don’t use bastard freely. This really ruined the atmosphere for me. Also, for someone who is so stubborn, she’s pretty damn gullible in believing other people’s claims. Some guy mentions her father’s name and she’s all into believing every single word that falls out of their mouth. She wasn’t a relatable MC for me.

I did enjoy the harem style with the one female among six male apprentices thing. The guys were all different and memorable. Flirty Magnus, sullen Blackwood (MY FAV), dreamy Wolff, shy Dee, quiet Lambe and funny Cellini. But my god Magnus was a flirt, it was funny at times and a bit much at others. Wolff and Lambe are adorable and I ship them for reasons. Then there’s the sullen and broody Blackwood. Lord Blackwood. Lord is right oh Lordy *fans self* I have a thing for the broody ones hehe. I mean there wasn’t even that much about him but I loved him nonetheless.

Romance you say? I had no feels for the love interest to be honest. I mean maybe it’s because I was watching Reply 1997 at the same time, a K-drama which portrayed its romance perfectly and had me feeling all the feels, but I didn’t see the chemistry between Henrietta and her supposed love interest. She’s kind of all over him but doesn’t admit it. Based on the above paragraph I’m sure you know who I ship her with.

The plot left a lot to be desired. The blurb promises lots of Sorcerer secrets and dark reveals with many twists but I didn’t find them to be that explosive or mind blowing. The end had a big build up and lots of action but I’m not entirely sure if there was meant to be a single big revelation because I didn’t see it. I enjoyed the fight but I wish it was more drawn out with more details (I’m fantasy trash ok so I’m used to fights that last whole chapters). I did like the whole premise of the Ancients though. I’m hoping this gets explored a lot more in the sequels - where they came from, R’hlem’s agenda and how the whole thing connects. This aspect definitely had me intrigued.

For a paranormal alternate Victorian England, the world-building was done poorly. The magic came too easily, there didn’t seem to be a proper magic system between the different types of magic-wielders and it really felt like a hodge podge of staff spinning, supposed concentration and ‘channeling’ the elements whatever that means. I also felt the descriptions of this Victorian England were lacking. It required more detail for me to feel how this was the same/different to reality Victorian England in our history. For the record, for 90% of the book I thought they were in Elizabethan England because they mentioned Elizabeth, the ‘queen’ and it wasn’t until the end when they mention Victoria that I realised the blurb was right. You might say 200 years should be easy to determine based on customs/the world, but that’s the thing - the speaking style, customs and glossed over London made it hard to determine which monarch we’re under.

Overall, I felt something was missing from A Shadow Bright and Burning. Hopefully, this gets resolved in the sequels as the story’s pace has been set and we gain some traction.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Review: Windwitch (Witchlands #2) by Susan Dennard

Firstly, thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia for this review copy <3



Date Read: January 7 - 9 2017
Date Released: January 10th 2017
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Source: Review copy via publisher
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating:

Synopsis:
"Sometimes our enemies are also our only allies…

After an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak—which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed.

When the Bloodwitch Aeduan discovers a bounty on Iseult, he makes sure to be the first to find her—yet in a surprise twist, Iseult offers him a deal. She will return money stolen from him, if he locates Safi. Now they must work together to cross the Witchlands, while constantly wondering, who will betray whom first?

After a surprise attack and shipwreck, Safi and the Empress of Marstok barely escape with their lives. Alone in a land of pirates, every moment balances on a knife’s edge—especially when the pirates’ next move could unleash war upon the Witchlands."

---

The more I think about Windwitch, and the Witchlands books in general, the more I fall in love with the series. I loved Truthwitch and the way it introduced us to the four main characters of the series, showing the bonds between the characters and our main ladies Safi and Iseult. In Windwitch though, each character is explored even more and the world expanded.

By the title and prologue, this is Merik’s book. However, Dennard switches between our four MCs which makes me feel like this is a book for all our characters and each of their journeys. This series to me is one that's more character driven than plot driven, and that suits me just fine!

Our main man Merik trudged through Truthwitch with the belief that his family hated him and thought him ill-deserving of the Nubrevnan crown. As a result of various circumstances the Prince is deemed dead and he’s now on a quest to prove that his sister Vivia is the one that destroyed him. This dangerous investigative work drives his story through Windwitch and despite everything, I admired his never dying love for his people and his need to protect those he loves. His desire to prove his sister’s guilt becomes an obsession for him but his eventual growth towards the end warms me. His is a journey of tolerance, acceptance, and a sharp dose of opening one’s eyes to the world around them for the sake of a kingdom.

My heart bled for Safi and everything she went through in Windwitch. Like omg is her life just basically going to be her on the run from everyone? All the kingdoms want her, to use her power or to barter her; the poor girl is being used left, right and centre. And she knows it. Her growth by the end of Truthwitch and her sort of ‘theme’ throughout Windwitch is her selflessness. It’s a real change from the girl I met on the first page of Truthwitch. Safi’s growth to thinking like a Domna, to trying to leverage her worth to help others really shines through in Windwitch but it also lands her in a lot of unfavourable situations. It’s like she can’t help but attract bad luck? It makes me love her more though, her compassion and drive to be better.

Iseult. My girl. My person. Hands down my favourite character. Maybe it’s because she’s got Asian in her blood and I relate to her more? I love her logic and calm. I love that, while it always seems like Safi is the main person because she shines so brightly, Safi needs Iseult too and actually, one isn’t complete without the other. Iseult never for a single moment holds a grudge or ill feelings towards Safi. I mean Safi lands them in a lot of shit but Iseult is just that selfless. She has a lot of inner demons to battle as well as coming to terms with her powers which aren’t what they seem. When I look at Iseult, I see solidarity. I actually love that Safi and Iseult were separated in Windwitch so that the reader could see each be their own person and be independent. Their bond and friendship was established in Truthwitch and Windwitch is about the strength of their connection while apart.

Then there’s Aeduan. Mysterious Aeduan who I started shipping before I even knew his name in Truthwitch. Dennard calls him Baeduan for good reason. This guy is shrouded in mystery and is a walking conflict to be honest. Like I just didn’t know what he’d choose most of the time and I loved that Dennard kept me second guessing myself. Just how morally sound is he? What is his past and connection to the other characters. This guy is mega chill and his vibe is “I’m bored, you don’t matter and I give no fucks” and then he’ll just whip out his sword and start doing his blood magic and I’m like LOOOOOOOL. I love him and I can’t wait for his book (SOOOON. Next year *sobs*).

We’re introduced to other characters as well that really stand out on their own - we finally meet Vivia who is So. Much. More than what Merik thinks. There’s the Empress of Marstok, Vaness who is the strongest Ironwitch EVER. I freaking loved the juxtaposition of these two monarchs. One is fighting for her rightful crown in a council that thinks she’s unworthy, while the other yields so much power it’s like the crown was just given to her. But both are powerful in their own right as we see in the way they can think and act quickly, and most importantly, in their love for their people. I mean they have questionable methods but yaaaas I cannot wait for more of these two.

Plot wise, there’s a lot of politics going on and it’s the intrigue that surrounds this Twenty Year Truce - why, if all the kingdoms don’t want to go to war, do they all start preparing for war. Everything is precarious and there’s STUFF going on in the background that’s pulling strings and I felt like a pawn being placed just so on the chessboard. All the characters have a part to play BUT WHO WILL BE THE ONE THAT CALLS CHECKMATE?

Something that I wished was delved upon more was the way the magic system works. The main elements make sense to me but Iseult’s power I still can’t grasp or picture. I wanted to know exactly how she sees these Threads - is it literally like a person is made of coloured yarn or where do these Threads stretch? If they’re not connection Threads to others but ‘feelings’ then what do they look like? Still hoping this gets explained in later books.

I loved the diversity that came so naturally in this series. It’s a multicultural fantasy which is what one expects in a high-fantasy world - Dennard draws on various ethnicities and features to create races within Witchlands. There’s also diversity of sexuality expressed by a number of characters, and a gender fluid character that plays an important part in the book who warms my heart.

I basically can’t stop gushing about Windwitch and if you haven’t started the series then do it. I breezed through Windwitch (hehe see what I did there) in like 2 days and I couldn’t put it down. Action packed, fast-paced, yet leaving so much room for character growth and exploration while furthering an intriguing plot, I was hooked. I kind of really need Bloodwitch now.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 End of Year Book Survey

HAPPY 2017 LOVELIES. I for one am not sorry to kick 2016 out the door and shut it for good!

I'm a tad late to the annual End of Year Book Survey created by Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner but it's a tradition soooo... I'm not even going to ramble like I do, let's just get into it!

Image CR: http://www.perpetualpageturner.com/


2016 Reading Stats

Number of Books You Read: 76
Number of Re-Reads: 0 (I don't re-read lel)
Genre You Read The Most From: fantasy (of course!)

Best in Books


1. Best book you read in 2016?

Overall: A Court of Mist and Fury (A Court of Thorns and Roses #2) by Sarah J. Maas - this sequel to ACOTAR absolutely blew me away omg!



But also...
YA: The Rose and the Dagger (The Wrath and the Dawn #2) by Renee Ahdieh
Adult: It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover - wow this was tumultuous and emotional but beautiful and heartbreaking. Abuse trigger warnings but a wonderful read.


2. Book you were excited about and thought you were going to love more but didn’t?

A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2) by VE Schwab - don't get me wrong I love V's books and her writing is fantastic but Lila Bard in AGOS just didn't cut it for me :(

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?

A Court of Mist and Fury - I never expected the direction Sarah would take with ACOMAF and it pleased me SO. DAMN. MUCH.


4. Book you “pushed” the most people to read (and they did)?

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel - a brilliant sci-fi debut I think I pushed this on like 20 people and I know at least 7-10 went out and bought it :D

5. Best...

Series you started in 2016? Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle #1) by Jay Kristoff
Sequel of 2016? ACOMAF AHAHAHA (Gemina is a close second)
Series ender of 2016? The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh was THE perfect ending to The Wrath and the Dawn. Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows of #2) by Leigh Bardugo left me in tatters. Don't make me choose. DON'T.

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2016?

Nicola Yoon! I finally read Everything, Everything and fell in love. The Sun is Also a Star is wonderful.

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch had a horror tag on Goodreads which it sort of was but wasn't (more thriller sci-fi) but I loved it so much and I hate horror.

8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

Gemina (The Illuminae Files #2) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff - this sequel was even better than Illuminae! I sat down with this for 5h and COULD NOT STOP. Amazing. Thrilling. All the action at every page.


9. Book you read in 2016 that you are most likely to re-read next year?

I don't re-read books but I would definitely re-read my favourite bits of ACOMAF :D


10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2016?

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken - it's saaaahhhhh pretty


11. Most memorable character of 2016?

Inej Ghafa - Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom duology because THIS. GIRL. Read my post on why you should read the duology here.


12. Most beautifully written book read in 2016?

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi - oh my lordy the writing is STUNNING. Intricate and detailed, very different, lovely and you should read my gushing review here.

13. Most thought-provoking/life-changing book of 2016?

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes - this book had no right and wrong. It made the reader question what it means to have choice, to really live. I cried so hard it was beautiful.


14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2016 to finally read?

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline - as a gamer I feel ashamed I didn't pick this up until this year. It came out 5 years ago and speaks to every gamer's heart.

15. Favorite passage/quote from a book you read in 2016?

“To the stars who listen— and the dreams that are answered.” 
- Rhys from A Court of Mist and Fury *sobs* it's so beautiful

16. Shortest and longest book you read in 2016?

Shortest: The Crown and the Arrow by Renee Ahdieh - 9 pages, The Wrath and the Dawn short story
Longest: according to Goodreads Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas - 693 pages buuuut...
The Way of Kings (part 1 and 2) by Brandon Sanderson - 1122 pages total I read the split versions

17. Book that shocked you the most

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1) by NK Jemisin - this book was so intriguing (it intrigues me still, I can't wait to read the sequel), every turn a surprise!


18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

FEYRHYS (ACOMAF)


19. Favorite non-romantic relationship of the year

The friendship between Emmy, Caro and Drew in Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway - SQUAD GOALS


20. Favorite book you read in 2016 from an author you’ve read previously

ACOMAF...?

21. Best book you read in 2016 that you read based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else/peer pressure:

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel - I saw Crini raving about this (and her posts on the cover). I LOVE THIS BOOK.


22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2016?

Amar - The Star-Touched Queen *bites lip*


23. Best 2016 debut you read?

SLEEPING GIANTS BY SYLVAIN NEUVEL OMG

24. Best worldbuilding/most vivid setting you read this year?

Ommgggggg ACOMAF because THE NIGHT COURT. A court of dreamers *sobbing*


25. Book that put a smile on your face/was the most FUN to read?

PS I Like You by Kasie West - her contemporaries are serious yet cute and so sweet.


26. Book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2016?

I fucking cried my eyes out in Crooked Kingdom


27. Hidden gem of the year?

I'm not sure you heard me the first time SLEEPING GIANTS BY SYLVAIN NEUVEL.

28. Book that crushed your soul?

Crooked Kingdom FML

29. Most unique book you read in 2016?

Gemina because there really is no other like it.

30. Book that made you the most mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury - I've never read a more pointless book in my life

There we have it folks my year in books. Basically ACOMAF flailing right hahaha.