Caraval Review

I actually don’t even know how to write a review for this book! There is just so much happening on every page and, at first, I really disliked it; there was too much going on, so many different characters and events to pay attention to, that I felt lost in translation. Perhaps I was overwhelmed because it’s been a while since I read a book that completely transfers the reader to a different time and place. There are many twists that lead the reader down different winding paths, allowing them to think they understand whats going on, but then completely changing what was originally going on. So while writing this, if I disclose any spoilers, I will make sure to alert before hand.

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Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Published by Flatiron Books on January 31st 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Thriller, Magic, Romance, Family, Mystery
Pages: 416
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Nobles

Final Review: Both 3 out of 5 (in the beginning) ★★★☆☆                                                             and 5 out of 5 (at the end) ★★★★★


In one of my previous posts, regarding the firsts of 2017, I mentioned the first WTF book I read of the year being The Graces by Laure Eve, and the runner up is this book here: Caraval. Welcome to the strange, yet mystical world of Caraval, where a fantastical circus meets a late 1800’s theme park, mixed with the game Clue. There are magical shops that sell one of a kind items only found at Caraval, dresses that are bought not with money, but with truths like biggest fear, most kept secret, etc from the buyer. Now while the people need to be invited to the mysterious island and city of Caraval, there are two ways they can participate: either the person can be a watcher and spend the five days exploring, shopping, and ultimately watching the game that’s taking place before them. Which is the other way the people can participate: by being a part of the game. The game is different every time Caraval opens and revolves around clues that the players need to discover. Which is where the main characters, sisters Scarlett and Tella Dragna, enter the game.

I’m not sure if this is planned, but Tella is my least favorite character. I mean, how dare she do this to her sister! I can’t give away what happens in the end–spoilers: there are tons of twists and turns!–though while Tella is annoying and selfish (to me) she is also brave and curious, leading Scarlett to amazement. I think what kept me the most entranced was the relationship between Scarlett and Julian. It’s the classic hatred turned love, and yet so much more. What about Scarlett’s relationship with the infamous Legend, even though she has yet to meet him, there is certainly a connection there. Scarlett’s love for both men is just beautiful:

She imagined loving him would feel like falling in love with darkness, frightening and consuming yet utterly beautiful when the stars came out…

She remembered thinking falling for him would be like falling in love with darkness, but now she imagined he was more like a starry night: the constellations were always there, constant, magnificent guides against the ever-present black (page 211 and 273).

The reader is taken on a wild goose chase throughout the canals and winding streets of Caraval as Scarlett and Julian are forced to search for the (spoiler!) now missing Tella. Much like Scarlett, the reader has absolutely no idea what’s going on and yet pushes through, desperate to understand what is happening in this strange game. Scarlett is certainly the most admirable character in the book–her only goal being to find her sister and right every wrong. She’s charming and innocent, but strong too; she’s strong enough to endure the craziness that Legend puts her through, the emotional ride that comes with Julian, and her own self-growth.

Garber’s world of Caraval is as captivating as the message of sisterly love portrayed by Scarlett and Tella. I want more from Garber and, though I’m not sure if there is a sequel coming out, the ending does leave much to the imagination and sets up for a sequel. I am desperate for more of Julian and Scarlett, and I still have no idea about Legend! So please, Stephanie Garber, give me some more! I want to feel the magic of Caraval envelop me again, it comes off the page and sucks the reader in. I can feel myself there at times, seeing the shops and bourgeois dresses, the scent of popcorn and candy mixed with apple cider and river, the laughter of the watchers as they observe the players scattering around. We feel all the emotions that Scarlett does, we are surprised with her too, just when we think we’ve figured it out, Legend has something else up his sleeve for us. The reader can feel it all as if she were a part of it, as if we were invited and are playing the role of the watchers.

Hope is a powerful thing. Some say it’s a different breed of magic altogether. Elusive, difficult to hold on to. But not much is needed (page 318).

If you were given an invitation to Caraval, would you be a player, or a watcher?

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Jackaby Review

This is an old book! I’m not sure why no one has told me to read it, seeing as it has two sequels and it’s really good, but alas, I had to find it on my own and I’m glad I did.

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Jackaby by William Ritter
Published by Algonquin Young Readers on August 25th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Thriller, Historical Fiction, Romance, Friendship, Mystery
Pages: 304
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Nobles

Final Review: 4 out of 5 ★★★★☆


The quote on the front of the book, by the Chicago Tribune, somewhat accurately sums up this book: “Sherlock Holmes crossed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer”–I’m not sure I see the Buffy part, other than banishing demons, but certainly the Sherlock Holmes part. Particularly because Jackaby himself is quite quirky and odd, much like Sherlock or the eleventh Doctor.

The story follows immigrant Abigail Rook, who, coming from England, is searching for a job that can pay her enough so she can live, and seeing as it’s 1893, finding a place to sleep at night in the warmth is important. She stumbles upon an advertisement for Jackaby, an assistant in his investigative service, and the rest is the book. What really drives readers in is the mystery entwined with fantasy to the point that it seems real: there is some sort of demon on the loose, killing victims for their blood (oh here’s the vampire reference). Abigail, never having heard of any of this before, is of course bewildered but stays strong, thinking the murders are a mere sick joke.

What makes this book different however, which is important because the similarities to Sherlock Holmes are quite striking, is the charming demeanor of everyone but Jackaby. Of course he’s going to be odd, carrying around tons of random objects in his pockets, drinking potions that allow him to see through walls and what not–all of this is almost expected seeing as it is a piece of fantasy writing. However, having Abigail be a strong and smart woman–she wanted to be a paleontologist!–instead of necessarily a damsel in distress (she does have her few moments though, since we all do!) makes for an interesting pair. Ritter also could have made Abigail and Jackaby love interests to each other, and refreshingly so, he didn’t. Instead, there are certainly underlying backstory regarding Jackaby’s past, as well as Abigail’s, that keeps the reader turning the pages.

Furthermore, the non-lead characters, such as the ghost roommate, Jenny and the strange ghost-seer Hatun, are potentially more intriguing and just as influential as Jackaby. Women are important in Jackaby’s life, in fact all the female characters, save for a few classic strumpets who hate Abigail for not being more proper, are linked to the fantastical realm and are sought after by Jackaby. Hatun, for example, is described as:

see[ing] a different world than [Abigail] or [Jackaby], a far more frightening one, full of far more terrible dangers, and still she chooses to be the hero whom that world needs. She has saved this town and its people from countless monsters countless times. That the battles are usually in her head does not lessen the bravery of it. The hardest battles always are (104).

Hatun may be called the crazy lady that takes care of an invisible troll to the towns folk, but to Jackaby, she is truly necessary in solving this case. Jenny, the ghost roommate, makes Abigail feel more at home, being the one to talk her down when the magical realm becomes too much her to handle, and allows her to steal the clothes Jenny can no longer wear (since she’s a ghost). Miss. O’Connor and Mrs. Morrigan are, as well, crucial to the murder investigation. And, of course, Abigail, being another set of eyes for Jackaby at all times. Ritter may unconsciously or consciously alerting the readers that no man can ever truly do anything on their own, and when they do, in the case of the bad guy (no spoilers here!), they will undoubtedly get caught by a woman.

At first, I was really hoping this story would be an historical, fantastical twist on the classic Jack the Ripper open case. Jack the Ripper being some sort of fantastical, demon-like creature, that instead of stealing organs to do god knows what with, is either eating them or using them for something else, much like the strange creature Abigail and Jackaby face here. Then, Jackaby, being able to see things that no one else can, would understand that he is simply a misunderstood demon and needs to be sent forth from our world–that’s how I would have wrote this story and maybe in one of the sequels, the story continues (I wouldn’t know, I haven’t looked at them yet).

Please give this book a chance, given its age, if you’re interested in something fun and quirky to read. Jackaby is laughable and the character relationships are deep. I haven’t decided if I’m going to pick up the next two books, more because I have so many books to read already and less because I don’t want to. Jackaby doesn’t necessarily end on a cliff hanger, but it certainly does end with the reader interested in learning more about the dynamic duo.

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Italy, Gelato, and Romance, oh my!

Let me just start by saying this book made me want to travel. End of story.

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The Regulars by Jenna Evans Welch
Published by Simon Pulse on May 3nd 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Friendship, Romance, Travel, Family
Pages: 400
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review 4 out of 5

★★★★☆

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Carolina, or Lina, isn’t having an easy life so far. Growing up fatherless, her mother and her share an irreparable bond. But when her mother suddenly gets diagnosed with pancreatic cancer with no hope for a long future, Lina’s life turns upside down.

So many questions swim through Lina’s head: What is she going to do now that her mother is gone? Who is her father? Why does her mom want her to go live in Italy? As her last request, Lina’s mom ships her off to Italy, to stay at a cemetery that is run by Lina’s mom’s friend Howard. Lina’s mom had never mentioned Howard before, but suddenly Lina’s grandmother says Howard is Lina’s father. This can’t be true, can it?

Following in her late mother’s footsteps, Lina begrudgingly takes on Florence, Italy. She wants to be swept off her feet by the magical city, but she can’t bring herself to want to stay. Howard is nice, yes, so are some friends that she meets, but she feels that her place is back home in the states. However, a lost journal of her mother’s winds up in her lap and she is forced to look at the city, Howard, and everything around her differently.

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This story is just so adorable, I love it. I plucked this book off of the shelf because of its cute, minimalist cover and two things one can’t not love: love and gelato. Although I wasn’t fortunate to visit Italy during my six months abroad, I knew that stepping foot into this little book would make me dream of going back.

After such a heavy and determined read of The Regulars, Welch brings me back to earth with her lighthearted voice and story. Perhaps lighthearted really isn’t the right word actually, Welch does have the power to make one crave gelato as they sob their eyes out. I actually had to stop myself from reading all the way to the end because I was crying so hard.

Though it took me a little while to fully feel absorbed by the story, once I was in, I was in. Lina became a young woman I could see myself in (although I won’t ever understand her hesitation to live in Italy. I mean, come on! It’s Italy!). Her mother passes, sending her into a totally understandable funk. Not only this but suddenly she is shipped off to a non-English speaking country to live with a man she’s never met and claims to be her long, lost father. Who wouldn’t be frightened of that life? She goes through the trials and tribulations of trusting the right and wrong people, finding out that there were many things she will never know about her mother and her time in Italy, and just who her father really is.

Of course there is a love triangle involved, every good story needs to have one:

He sat down next to me and I unwrapped the sandwich and took a bite. OF course I loved it. But it was nothing compared to how I felt about Ren.

And yes. I’d totally just compared the only guy I’d ever felt this way about to a ham sandwich (page 294).

If I had a nickel for every time I compared my boyfriend to food, I would be a healthier woman. But this isn’t just some silly way to compare her crush–Welch subtly takes her reader on a walking journey of Italy. We see the towns of Florence and Rome through Lina’s eyes and we are new to the strange, yet utterly magical world of Italy just like she is. We learn Italian words, mini history lessons regarding famous points of interests in the Florence streets, and of course how amazing real Italian food truly is. So instead of rehashing the age-old tale of “girl goes to live with an estranged father, meets a boy, falls in love, the end”, Welch spices things up by giving us a reason to want to follow Lina to Italy, eat gelato and fall in love as well.

Not only this but she gives us a reason to believe in love again. The love that Howard has for Lina’s mother is indescribable. Welch truly paints a beautifully broken relationship that hurts my heart just thinking about it.

He settled in, like he was about to tell a story he’d told a million times. “When I was twenty-five I met a woman who changed everything for me. She was bright and vibrant, and whenever I was with her I felt like I could do anything” (page 336).

I want someone to talk about me the way Howard talks about Lina’s mother–it makes me have faith in love and humanity again. It makes me want my parents, who are happily divorced and friends still, to tell me about their short-lived moment of true love. Welch breaks my heart by forcing me to know that even though things can work out for Lina because she’s still so young, sometimes love hurts like hell and it doesn’t work out, even in magical Italy.

“One day with Hadley was easily worth a lifetime in Italy” (page 344).

Love is difficult. It isn’t something that can easily be grasped by a gorgeous prince on a white horse. Sometimes we make mistakes in love and Lina learns this lesson the hard way. Her heart is broken by her mother’s death, by finding out deplorable things about her father, and by hurting someone she didn’t even realize she loved. But Howard says it perfectly: “A life without love is like a year without summer” (page 376). Regardless of how much it hurts, we all still pursue love constantly. From our parents to friends and finally to that special someone who may have been unseen at first, but now glows brightly every time we look at them.

Thank you Jenna Evans Welch for providing me with a story that melts my heart, just like gelato on a warm day.

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