Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Hello lovely readers, how’s your day going? I know I’m a little behind the times on this one, but if you haven’t read the absolute fantasy phenomenon that is Caraval yet, then this review is for you.

TL;DR It’s a dreamy, enchanting fantasy romance, but just like the game, it has sharp edges and dark corners, and getting swept away could be dangerous…

Blurb

A legendary competition.
A mesmerizing romance.
An unbreakable bond
between two sisters.

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.


Title: Caraval

Author: Stephanie Garber

Link: https://www.amazon.com/Caraval-mesmerising-Sunday-Times-bestseller-ebook/dp/B019J2875E/

Format: Paperback (library)

Review: 5 stars

I’d been meaning to read Caraval for years, I’d only heard good things about it, but I never got around to picking it up. Until I spotted it on the shelf at my mobile library and thought, it’s time. Now, I wish I’d read it sooner! And I’ve put a hold on the next two books in the series, so they’ll be arriving the next time the library comes around, and I can’t wait.

I’d describe Caraval as a cross between The Night Circus and Alice in Wonderland, with a hint of Stalking Jack the Ripper mixed in (yes, it’s dark under the glittering surface). There are some very serious topics touched on, including abusive parents, kidnap, torture, murder, suicide, manipulation and coercive control. But they add a depth to the story that is very much needed, and takes it from being a pretty book with flowery prose and exquisite descriptions, to a deeply fascinating, gripping and moving book about the bond between two sisters and the lengths they’ll go to to protect each others.

No one is who they seem in Caraval, that much is made clear many times throughout the story, from the warning at the beginning of the game, to Julian’s constant reminders that Scarlett shouldn’t trust anyone she meets, to the mysterious Master Legend. The true extent of this isn’t fully revealed until the very end of the book, when twists I had not seen coming were exposed, but the hints and foreshadowing were there, so I did find the ending mostly satisfying (aside from a couple of threads left hanging for books two and three).

Scarlett wasn’t my favourite YA heroine, but that’s not to say I disliked her or she wasn’t strong in her own ways. She looks for a way to get herself and her sister, Tella, away from their violent and despicable father, she chases after Tella and actively decides to stay at Caraval and search for her, and she does spend most of the book making decisions and doing things towards her goal, so it’s not that she’s passive or boring. It’s just that other characters steal the show and cast her in their shadows.

Julian was a dream book boyfriend, handsome and rogueish, pushing Scarlett away for her own protection with one hand, and pulling her towards him when he couldn’t fight his feelings with the other. The whole romantic subplot is completely swoon worthy and filled with its own twists and turns that make it that much more convincing and delicious.

I loved the back story of Legend and the whole basis for this years game, and I’m intrigued to see how books two and three will follow this up. Sort of like The Hunger Games, where you think we’ve seen the games now, how can the sequel beat that? And then Catching Fire comes along and knocks book one right off its perch (for me, anyway). I’m hoping Legend will be a similarly triumphant experience.

All in all, I give Caraval five stars, but I’m expecting the rest of the series to top it, so maybe it’s more of a 4.5. Either way, I loved every minute, I read it fast (and I’m traditionally a slow reader) and I cannot wait to get back to the world and the characters Garber has created.

Lyndsey

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Review: Kingdom of Lies by R. S. Williams

Hello, hello! How is this baking hot heatwave treating you? I’m just about managing not to melt into a puddle, but it’s touch and go.

I just finished reading the first book in a new epic fantasy series by R. S. Williams and wanted to tell you all about it, mainly because it’s brill, but also because book two is coming in September and preorders are already open and just 99c! So you won’t have long to wait to binge both books. Plus there’s a prequel novella you can grab for free when you sign up to the author’s email list, I’ll tell you a little about that later…

Book

Title: Kingdom of Lies

Author: R. S. Williams

Rating: 5 stars (it has 4.5 stars on Goodreads and 4.1 on Amazon overall)

Link: https://www.amazon.com/Kingdom-Lies-Kane-Saga-Book-ebook/dp/B096VYX2DZ/

Audio book: https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/Kingdom-of-Lies-Audiobook/B0B5LWX5Q8

Blurb

Magic is back in Adelith, and with it the return of Cyran.

Elijah spends his days preparing for the annual Hollom horse race and working at his guardian Merrick’s forge. That is, until Merrick is summoned back to Castle Aebarrow in Adelith by the king.

Unable to stay in Rheanydd without a legal guardian, Eli is forced to go with Merrick who takes up the position of captain and trains the new guards. But the more time Eli spends in Adelith, the more his lost memories resurface-and they throw up worrying questions about his past.

As a member of Princess Sienna’s Elite Guard, Eli saves her life when it’s threatened by the presence of a mysterious Missing Prince. Eli’s heroics incur the wrath of a mad sorcerer known only as The Master, hell-bent on ending the courting prince’s life.

Elijah enters a dangerous path of self-discovery where magic and secrets intertwine. The truth about his past is within reach, but can he unlock his memories and solve the riddles in time to save the true heir to the throne? Or will the castle be brought crumbling down once more?


Review

Kingdom of Lies feels like a good old, classic epic fantasy, along the lines of The Lord of the Rings and Eragon. It follows Elijah, who has been raised by his guardian, Merrick, and is both a talented rider and skilled swordsman, thanks to Merrick’s tutelage.

When Merrick, who is an old friend of the king’s and a legendary soldier, is summoned back to the castle, Eli is forced to join him. But as soon as they arrive he begins to be struck by painful headaches and flashes of strange memories and visions of the past.

With an old threat rising once more, a rumoured missing prince and rightful heir to the throne, and spies infiltrating the castle and poisoning the princess, Eli joins the Elite Guard and finds himself embroiled in a dangerous mission to discover the truth about the unsettling memories he’s plagued with.

This book is a serious slow burn in every sense of the word. The romance between Elijah and the love interest (no spoilers here!) is hinted at and there are some sweet and swoon worthy scenes peppered throughout, but it isn’t the main focus of the story so fans of low romance fantasy will be happy. The plot also builds slowly, but the pace does keep the pages turning, and the world Rhianne (that’s R. S. Williams to me and you) has created is uncovered piece by piece, revealing magic, betrayal, fascinating herbology (I may have pinched this term from Harry Potter, but you get my meaning), and even dragons.

We don’t get to see any actual dragons in book one (see what I mean about a slow burn?), but as book two, coming in September, is titled Return of the Dragons, I’m guessing they’ll feature heavily in that one!

My favourite thing about this book was the characters, and especially a few of the secondary characters. There is a strong theme of friendship and loyalty (not surprising for a book with ‘lies’ in the title), and I loved the bromance between Elijah and Sahab. I also adored Eli’s friendship with Maevine, one of the princess’s ladies maids. At first I wondered if they might become more than friends, but it never developed into a romance, and pretty quickly it became obvious Eli was meant for someone else, but their bond stayed just as strong and unbreakable. Another character I adored was Naoko, one of the nurses in the castle infirmary. She’s a strong, self-assured and knowledgeable woman who doesn’t take anyone’s crap, and I totally respect that.

The magic system is subtle and I’m looking forward to learning more in the next two books, as well as the prequel novella, Tournament of the Elite.

Speaking of Tournament of the Elite, did you know that if you subscribe to Rhianne’s email list, you can read this novella completely free? Click here to check it out and sign up:

The novella will give you a good insight into the world and history of the story (it’s set years earlier and follows the young king) and let you decide if you think this series is for you. But, I would say, if you like classic sword and sorcery, epic journeys and battles against mysterious foes, a light sprinkling of romance that doesn’t overshadow the main plot, and, of course, dragons, then The Kane Saga is right up your alley!

Now, I’m off to read Tournament of the Elite, and then dive into my ARC of book two!

Happy reading friends,

Lyndsey

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Review: Broken Things by Lauren Oliver

Hi friends! You all know how much I’ve been loving thrillers recently, and I was lucky enough to pick up my library hold of Broken Things by Lauren Oliver (author of Panic and the Delirium series) before I took off on my holiday across Europe earlier this month.

This book combined my three favourite things: Young Adult, true crime, and fairytale books-within-books. If you enjoyed The Hazel Wood, with its creepy collection of fairy stories (now available in book form as Tales from the Hinterland) woven through, but kind of wish the stories had stayed fictional, then you might just like this book.

Long story short, I loved it. Keep reading to find out why!

Blurb

It’s been five years since Summer Marks was brutally murdered in the woods.

Everyone thinks Mia and Brynn killed their best friend. That driven by their obsession with a novel called The Way into Lovelorn the three girls had imagined themselves into the magical world where their fantasies became twisted, even deadly.

The only thing is: they didn’t do it.

On the anniversary of Summer’s death, a seemingly insignificant discovery resurrects the mystery and pulls Mia and Brynn back together once again. But as the lines begin to blur between past and present and fiction and reality, the girls must confront what really happened in the woods all those years ago—no matter how monstrous.


Title: Broken Things

Author: Lauren Oliver

Link: https://www.amazon.com/Broken-Things-Lauren-Oliver-ebook/dp/B0791H6451/

Rating: 4.5 stars!


Review

I loved the voice in this book, it’s so strong and entirely YA, but the themes and plot are really dark and heavy. Lauren Oliver manages to balance the absolute worst of humanity (the brutal and ritualistic murder of a young girl) with plenty of humour and lighter moments, making this an exciting read with enough tension and suspense to keep me turning the pages late into the night (cue me having nightmares – worth it).

The story is split between the POVs of Mia, a quiet but incredibly strong eighteen-year-old whose mum has a bit of a hoarding problem, and her ex-friend Brynn, the acerbic, fake-addict who has spent the last few years hiding in institutions rather than face the wrath of her neighbours. Because Mia and Brynn have been judged guilty by the residents of their small town, despite never being convicted for the murder of their best friend when they were thirteen, and life in Twin Lakes has been unbearable ever since.

With the five-year anniversary approaching, Mia stumbles across the original copy of the book the trio were obsessed with as pre-teens, The Way Into Lovelorn, and starts to wonder all over again who could have known about their obsession and used it to kill their best friend. With the help of Brynn, a curvaceous beauty influencer called Abby, and Owen, the boy who was the original suspect back when the murder first happened, they set out to uncover the real murderer and the motive behind Summer’s death.

The novel is interspersed with sections from the classic fairytale book the girls loved, as well as snippets from the fan fiction they were writing, Return to Lovelorn. There are also flashbacks to the year it all happened, and extracts from the police interviews with those involved. The pace is quick with plenty of twists and turns, the plot never slowed or dragged, and the main characters were entirely credible (although some of the secondary characters, including the antagonist, sadly, are a little two-dimensional).

I enjoyed everything about this book, from all the dance references in Mia’s chapters, to the deliciously slow revelation of the toxic friendship the three girls shared, and the pressure-cooker style atmosphere Oliver created in their tiny, oppressive town. I knocked half a star off because I sussed the killer really early on, like on the second mention of the character (Oliver later makes it a bit too obvious by highlighting the girls’ method of naming the fictionalised characters in their fan fic), and I wasn’t wholly convinced by their motivations or explanation of the crime. But it didn’t detract from the book that much for me, it was more about the journey, and I actually wouldn’t have minded if there had been no big reveal – if the killer had never been uncovered or the truth had been that Summer’s death was a suicide as a result of her traumatic childhood. (Sorry if that’s a bit of a spoiler, but there is a real killer and they do get unmasked.)

There’s also lots of great representation in this book, Brynn is a lesbian and Abby is omnisexual. Plus Abby is described as “fat and very beautiful” and is regularly portrayed as attractive and desirable, from both Mia and Brynn’s perspectives. Themes include rehabilitation facilities, home schooling, foster care, mental illness, cosplay, alcoholism, hoarding disorder, child abuse, small towns, first love, self harm and the intensity of teenage friendships.

As far as trigger warnings go, if you’re sensitive to anything related to child sexual abuse, violence towards children, self harm, drink or drug abuse, then you might want to give this one a miss. Oliver doesn’t pull any punches, and while she doesn’t go so far as to graphically depict the murder or describe Summer’s injuries in too much detail, she doesn’t shy away from the emotional impact of what happened.

This was a brilliant thriller with a great cast of characters and a fast-paced plot, I really enjoyed the way the story peeled itself back, layer by layer, until the climax became almost inevitable. But my favourite thing about this book is Lauren Oliver’s writing. There are so many quotes I could give as an example, and you can take a look at the ones highlighted on Goodreads, but I’ll leave you with this one:

“In books, secret worlds are accessible by doors or keys or other physical objects. But Lovelorn was not such a world, and appeared at whim and only when it felt like it, with a subtle change like the slow shifting of afternoon to evening.”

Lauren Oliver, Broken Things

If you adore invented fairytales or books-within-a-book, like The Tales of Beedle the Bard, The Language of Thorns and Tales From the Hinterland, or if you’re a true crime fan (check out Sadie by Courtney Summers!), or you just love a really well-written YA book with a strong voice, great characters and good mystery to unravel, then I highly recommend Broken Things!

Lyndsey

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