Off the Shelf: A Review of Silent Victim by Caroline Mitchell

First and foremost, I just want to thank the readers who have stuck around during my hiatus. It was really something to log in and see that there were so many visitors each day checking out my reviews even without me posting regularly. It was due to that confidence booster that I decided to upgrade a few things around the site, and I hope you like the new look! Once things calm down a bit, I’ll get back to posting regularly and more importantly READING regularly (*sigh* I can’t wait…). Now – on to the review!

I’ve been a bit overwhelmed lately between work, my last semester of grad school, and planning a wedding, so I’ve been trying to sneak in a little stress-relief reading whenever possible. What’s my kind of stress-relief reading? Anxiety-ridden, high intensity thrillers, of course. I’ve read so many lately that I wish I had time to review them all. Pretty Girls Dancing by Kylie Brant kicked off my new year and my thriller-spree on a positive note with a creepy, dark suspense story set in my home state. The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn provided the pulse-pounding rollercoaster ride I’d been looking for and quickly became one of my most recommended titles to friends and fellow Rear Window fans (seriously, read it – NOW). The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor was an impressive debut that turned the creepiness dial up to eleven. All of these were worthwhile reads in my book.

And then we have Silent Victim

A psychological thriller from former police detective Caroline Mitchell, Silent Victim was offered on KindleFirst as one of the February selections. With a summary that sounded right up my alley, I couldn’t wait till the March 1st release date, and so I jumped on getting to read it early. But did it live up to the other thrillers in my recent reading spree?

 

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Silent Victim by Caroline Mitchell
Release Date: March 1, 2018

Summary (via Goodreads)

Emma’s darkest secrets are buried in the past. But the truth can’t stay hidden for long.

Emma is a loving wife, a devoted mother…and an involuntary killer. For years she’s been hiding the dead body of the teacher who seduced her as a teen.

It’s a secret that might have stayed buried if only her life had been less perfect. A promotion for Emma’s husband, Alex, means they can finally move to a bigger home with their young son. But with a buyer lined up for their old house, Emma can’t leave without destroying every last trace of her final revenge…

Returning to the shallow grave in the garden, she finds it empty. The body is gone.

Panicked, Emma confesses to her husband. But this is only the beginning. Soon, Alex will discover things about her he’ll wish he’d learned sooner. And others he’ll long to forget.

 

Things I Liked:

The summary sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? I won’t lie, I got giddy the first time I read it. Dark Secrets? Dead bodies? Correction: MISSING dead bodies? I’m all about this, and I want to know MORE. Enter: Emma. It doesn’t take long to figure out that we are probably working with an unreliable narrator here. Is she actually crazy or is someone just making it look like she is? I LOVE unreliable narrators, so I should probably love Emma, but I just never made the connection with her. To be completely honest, she actually annoyed me. BUT – she’s only ONE of the three POVs that this story is told from. We also journey inside the head of her husband, Alex (he had potential, but I ended up not caring for him either…he comes across a little too self serving and just as secretive as his wife) and Luke, the teacher that seduced Emma when she was a teenager. To be honest, Luke kept me reading. His chapters were creepy and uncomfortable to read, but being able to see inside such a sick mind was like a train wreck – you just couldn’t look away. Probably not the best promotion of a book to say that the best chapters are from a pedo’s POV, but I will say that it kept things interesting, especially seeing the same scenes depicted from both Emma and Luke’s POVs.

I typically try to find a few things (however small they may be) that I like in books that don’t win me over. Maybe it’s just that it has been a couple weeks since finishing this book, but I can’t quite remember much that stood out as redeeming. I at least finished the book…that’s something, right?

 

Things I Didn’t Like:

Looking through some other reviews, I feel like there’s an elephant in the room. Anyone going to talk about it? Anyone? Ok, just me then.

*SPOILER ALERT*
I’m pretty sure I can’t be the only one out there who has problems with that particularly rape-y scene. So, get this… Emma is cornered by her abuser who offers to leave her alone forever, if only she will just have sex with him one more time. She even says she knows she should run, grab her phone, and call for help. But wait! An idea occurs to her – the sex will last only minutes, and it’s not like she loves Luke, so maybe some good can come of this situation! She could use her attacker as a means of impregnating herself with the child that she and her husband can’t conceive….wait….what??? Yep. You read that right. This chick is justifying her own rape. “Perhaps something good could be salvaged out of all this mess. It was not like I was being unfaithful. I loved my husband. A baby would make our marriage complete, and with Luke out of my life for good there would be nothing to threaten our happiness.”  How can you read that and NOT find it problematic? It still makes me cringe.

There were several times I wanted to just put this book down and give up. That moment in particular was almost enough to seal the deal, but at that point I had to wonder if it could get any worse (ehhh, the ending is pretty contrived, but this is the part that stands out to me as I-Want-to-Throw-this-Book-Across-the-Room-Level-Bad).  

I will also issue a word of caution for anyone who feels triggered by depictions of eating disorders. I was not prepared for that subject to come up and play such a prevalent role in Emma’s life throughout the story, and perhaps if I had known that, I would have selected a different Kindle First book. I won’t comment on how it’s portrayed, but it was a struggle for me to read those parts. Fair warning.

Overall Rating:

I guess I’m just the odd man out on this one, because as popular as it seems to be, Silent Victim was not a winner for me. I’d give it 1.5 stars, and that’s mostly because there was at least enough of a story to keep me wondering how it all would end (and boy, did I keep wishing for it to end). Spoiler alert, even the ending is disappointing. I’m sorry, folks. I just don’t get the appeal to this one. I didn’t care about any of the characters, the “twists” were eyeroll inducing, and it just really missed the mark of being suspenseful to me. The only thing killed by this book was my thriller reading spree. Oh well, guess it’s time to switch to something different…

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Off the Shelf: A Review of By a Charm and a Curse by Jaime Questell

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? Although my reading list has stayed consistently full, Among the Authors has been on a bit of a hiatus while I finish up with grad school (the end is in sight! Come on, May!). However, an enticing email from Entangled Teen recently popped up in my inbox and promised a dark carnival story full of mystery and mayhem. Even with a growing to-do list (major life update since my last post: I’m engaged and getting married this year!), I couldn’t resist the call of the carnival. You all know how much I loved Caraval, and while I went into this thinking that By a Charm and a Curse would be similar, I found it to be nothing like Caraval, yet still a uniquely fun read.

I received an eARC from Entangled Teen in exchange for an honest review.

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Summary (via Goodreads)

Le Grand’s Carnival Fantastic isn’t like other traveling circuses. It’s bound by a charm, held together by a centuries-old curse, that protects its members from ever growing older or getting hurt. Emmaline King is drawn to the circus like a moth to a flame…and unwittingly recruited into its folds by a mysterious teen boy whose kiss is as cold as ice.

Forced to travel through Texas as the new Girl in the Box, Emmaline is completely trapped. Breaking the curse seems like her only chance at freedom, but with no curse, there’s no charm, either—dooming everyone who calls the Carnival Fantastic home. Including the boy she’s afraid she’s falling for.

Everything—including his life—could end with just one kiss.

 

Things I Liked:

By a Charm and a Curse is a very, VERY quick read. I picked it up and didn’t sit it back down until I was finished, only a couple of hours later. The 300 pages seemed more like half that. It’s a great book for an after-work-wind-down, when you really need something light and easy to escape the stress of the day. What better way to do that than by visiting a mysterious carnival?

The setting is a major strength to this book. It is well-written, and even though the closest thing I had to a carnival growing up was the county fair, I could clearly imagine this whimsical, enchanting circus. Speaking of circus, you might see this book compared to The Night Circus as well as Carnaval, but let me reiterate that all of these books have very different stories. They merely share a similar setting. The setting is vibrant and makes an interesting playing field for a diverse cast of performers.

Telling the story in dual points of view between the two main characters, Emma and Benjamin, was a wise choice on the part of the author. Emma was an interesting enough character, and I thought her struggles with the marionette-like transformation were uniquely creepy. Between the two of them though, I found myself looking forward to the chapters told from Benjamin’s perspective because I feel like he had a bit more depth. However, Sidney, the former Boy in the Box, easily stole the show for me. He was fun, engaging, and I wanted so much more from his character. Had the book been a little bit longer, that might have been possible.

 
Things I Didn’t Like:

There’s not much that’s surprising about By a Charm and a Curse. I think you’re meant to be shocked by the true nature of the curse, but most readers will see it coming from very early in the story. I actually was surprised by a dark and deadly moment towards the end, but unfortunately, I feel that it was unnecessary and didn’t really do anything to further the plot. While the story can get predictable, there are other parts that get rather confusing, like how certain characters don’t react to things the way people normally would or they don’t ask questions that should have been obvious.


To be completely honest, after the first few pages, I was a little concerned that this was not the book that I expected it to be and that I was going to completely dislike Emma. She complains a lot about having to stay with her dad and brothers while her mother is out of the country. She’s stuck in this place that is just soooo awful and the only thing her one friend in town wants to talk about is setting her up with boys. Then, she meets a complete stranger who, after only a few moments, Emma believes completely gets her, and all she wants to do is hold hands with him and maybe kiss him (her first kiss! *gag*). It’s all a little bit eyeroll-inducing. But stick with it! I promise the story does get better from here, although even the real romance portion of the book does feel pretty rushed and without any real conflict (other than an overprotective mother).

 
Overall Rating:

I’d give By a Charm and a Curse a solid three stars. This book is a fun escape, and one that can be easily read in one afternoon or evening. The premise is intriguing and the setting full of whimsy. The cast of characters, while sometimes lacking in depth, are memorable and add to the mystery of the carnival itself. Although it will leave you wishing it was a little longer, it’s a fairly impressive debut for Jaime Questell, and it makes me look forward to the possibilities of what she may write in the future.

Off the Shelf: A Review of Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

There are two things out of the ordinary about this review:
1) It’s not a Young Adult book.
2) It’s not a new or upcoming release.

So why would I write a review about a thriller that was released in 2006? Because I’m late to the party, and I simply can’t stop recommending it to everyone I come in contact with.

Let me start by saying this – I have always assumed Gillian Flynn was a hack. I tend to avoid books or authors that get a lot of hype because too often they end up being a disappointment. I watched the movie of Gone Girl and wasn’t impressed; however, I do remember thinking “this probably made a better book”. Even if it did make a better book, I still didn’t plan on reading it. Didn’t seem like the sort of book I’d be into. Then, my best friend (who also expected Flynn to be some over-hyped hack) picked up Sharp Objects on a whim and immediately had to recommend it, saying that it was a must read and that the author’s writing was vastly better than what she had imagined. She was so surprised by how much she liked it, that she actually wanted to read all of Flynn’s other works as well. “Meh,” I thought, “Maybe I’ll read it if I get some time.” Knowing full well that my to-be-read list was and is getting a little out of hand. Then, by chance, I stopped by a warehouse book sale while out of town, and Sharp Objects became one of several books purchased that day. It looked fairly short, and we had a long drive home, so I figured why not?

I was pages away from finishing the book by the time we got home.

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Summary (via Goodreads)

Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows, a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming.

 

Things I Liked:
At the most recent meeting of my writing group, I recommended this book as one of the best books I’ve read recently in regards to characterization. I was almost worried at how easy it was to slip into the mind of Camille Preaker, which is a rather dark and unsettling place to be. She will leave you feeling raw, having experienced the unravelling of both the mysteries behind the murders and Camille’s own secrets. And it’s not just Camille that is a crystal clear character. This was one of the books where you can easily see it play out like a movie (and I believe it is starting filming for a tv series this year), and I couldn’t help but cast a few of the characters in my head. My personal cast would have included Ellie Kemper as Camille, Jessica Walter as her mother, and Dakota Fanning as Amma (Camille’s sister). While two of the three mostly do comedic roles, for some reason they just fit the image of what I wanted the characters to look like. I’d love to hear who you think fits each role!

You might be waiting for me to tell you about some positive, uplifting thread to this story.  Instead, I’ll caution you that, if you’re looking for something happy, look elsewhere. There’s really no place for it in this book, and I think if the author had tried to add anything positive it would have felt forced and out of place. For example, a lot of mysteries and thrillers might include a romance to lighten things up. While there is a little bit of flirtation and sex in Sharp Objects, through Camille’s eyes it feels more like she’s using the other person – whether it’s for information or just a momentary bit of comfort. If you’re like me and enjoy a truly dark and disturbing read, this book will definitely live up to that.

Things I Didn’t Like:
The only thing that I disliked is that there’s a bit of a time jump at the end that feels disjointed from the rest of the story. The big reveal comes in two parts, and it’s obvious that time needed to pass between the two events. Unfortunately, once the author makes the time jump, her writing becomes a bit choppy, as if she’s racing through the ending, tossing out details, and trying to make the big reveal come full circle. I enjoyed the ending immensely, but this is one part of the story where I found the author’s writing to be a bit lacking.

Overall Rating:
5/5 I finished this book a month ago, and I have a million reviews I need to be writing right now for ARCs I’ve received. Instead, I HAD to tell you about this one. That’s how you’re going to feel when you close the final page – like you need to talk to someone about this book. I find myself still thinking about all of the complexities to the story and just how much I truly enjoyed Flynn’s writing style. I would go so far as to say that this is the best book that I’ve read so far this year, and having already read a couple other Gillian Flynn titles in the month after reading Sharp Objects, I’d be willing to say that Sharp Objects is her best work overall.

Add Sharp Objects to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads

Off the Shelf: A Review of Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

When I scroll through ARCs that are available to request, I often find myself getting into the bad habit of looking specifically for authors that I have already read. I like the familiar territory, especially if I really enjoyed a previous book by that author. The unfortunate part of that is that I often overlook some rather stunning reads because I didn’t give them a chance. I am so thankful that when it came to Wild Beauty, I didn’t pass it by. I’ve never read any of Anna-Marie McLemore’s books, which caused a brief hesitation, but there’s something about covers with whimsical silhouettes that tends to catch my eye. See how stunning the cover for Wild Beauty is? Take a look at the covers for some of her other work, such as The Weight of Feathers and When the Moon was Ours. They might say not to judge a book by its cover, but I believe that a beautiful cover can spark your curiosity. Without a doubt, Wild Beauty is certainly the kind of book that you are going to want to know more about.

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RELEASE DATE: October 3, 2017
I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 
Summary (via Goodreads)
Love grows such strange things.

For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.

The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.

Things I Liked:
I have a confession – I don’t know the first thing about flowers, other than how NOT to keep them alive. I don’t exactly have a green thumb, and to be honest, I’m shocked that the petunias and marigolds I planted at the beginning of summer haven’t shriveled up and died yet. Within the first few pages of Wild Beauty, you will realize that Anna-Marie McLemore takes flowers very seriously – this chick knows her stuff! Of course, my first reaction to this was Uh-Oh…I’m in trouble. If I can’t get a clear picture of what is happening, then I start to lose interest. Didn’t happen here though! The author’s writing is so rich in description even flowers that I’d never heard of were blooming in my mind. The gardens of La Pradera are the primary setting, and they provide a vivid landscape on which the lives of the Nomeolvides women depend.

Another plus to this book is its representation of diverse sexualities. It seems like the Young Adult genre has been especially lacking in regards to LGBT characters. Wait, that’s not entirely true…what I mean is that it has lacked LGBT characters who aren’t just stereotypes.  Or ones that only serve as a plot device and ultimately just end up getting killed off. Annoying, right? It’s also a real problem when you’ve got LGBT youth looking for representations of themselves in what they are reading, only to find themselves hidden in the background, never out front. Wild Beauty delivers a cast of characters which are mostly all bisexual. The five cousins are all bisexual, some of the mothers and grandmothers are bisexual, and there’s also a genderqueer character that quickly became one of my favorite characters of the entire book. If you’re looking for more of this kind of representation in YA, Wild Beauty is the book for you, and I applaud McLemore’s dedication to researching and providing accurate representations.

Wild Beauty is a mix of Latino folklore and magical realism, but the aspect I enjoyed most was how the threads of each family’s history were all braided together in the most unexpected ways. I found myself being more and more drawn to Fel and the mysteries behind his sudden appearance in the garden. As his past started to come to light, I felt my heart breaking for him. He considered himself undeserving of the kindness and affection he received from the Nomeolvides women, especially that of Estrella. I adored this pairing, from getting to see Estrella’s conflicting emotions towards Fel and another character, to just how much Fel truly adored her. I’m not normally one for a whole lot of romance, and the author isn’t very heavy handed with it in this regard, but I did find myself racing through the pages to see how this relationship would play out.

Things I Didn’t Like:

I’ve probably said it a million times before, but what really gets me hooked on any book are the characters. I need fully-formed, flesh and blood characters that simply feel REAL. Unfortunately, with such a large cast of characters (the five cousins, their five mothers, their five grandmothers, Fel, Bay and her family, and many others), characterization falls a little short. Sure, some of those characters are meant to hang in the background and not all of them really have a part to play in the story, and I get that. I had a pretty decent mental portrait of Estrella, Fel, and Bay (and I totally adored all three). What I found to be especially tough though was keeping all of the cousins straight in regards to their names and ages. Maybe it’s just me, but mostly they all just started to blur together in my mind, which could get pretty confusing at times.

Overall Rating:

If the characters (other than Estrella, Fel, and Bay) had been a little more distinguishable, this book would have been a home run for me. I’m giving it a 4/5, and might even go so far as a 4.5/5. I find myself still reflecting on this beautiful story even weeks after I have finished reading it. I look forward to its publication so that I can start getting it into the hands of other readers who I know will be just as drawn in by the magic of the Nomeolvides women. This book definitely has me considering picking up some of the author’s other books, and if I ever get a chance to review another Anna-Marie McLemore title, I won’t even hesitate!

Add Wild Beauty to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads

“Even in its first faint traces, love could alter a landscape. It wrote unimagined stories and made the most beautiful, forbidding places.” 
― Anna-Marie McLemore, Wild Beauty

Off the Shelf: A Review of Ash & Quill by Rachel Caine

First off, let me tell you how much I NEEDED this book. In May, I finished what can only be called The Worst Semester of Grad School in all of Time and Space. I would have never thought it possible for one semester, or even just one class for that matter, to break my spirit so severely… but it happened. I reached a point in these last several months that not only did I (1) not have time to read for pleasure, BUT (2) on the rare occasions when there was time to read, I was too tired to even pick up a book. I was a mess, and I needed a little time off to recover. So, I am THRILLED to make my return to reviewing with such a stellar book from a series that happens to rank among my all-time favorites.  I received an advance copy of Ash & Quill from the publishers in exchange for an honest review, and I honestly can’t tell you enough that you need to pick up the rest of the Great Library series before book three hits the shelves!

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RELEASE DATE: July 11, 2017

Summary (via Goodreads)
Hoarding all the knowledge of the world, the Great Library jealously guards its secrets. But now a group of rebels poses a dangerous threat to its tyranny….

Jess Brightwell and his band of exiles have fled London, only to find themselves imprisoned in Philadelphia, a city led by those who would rather burn books than submit. But Jess and his friends have a bargaining chip: the knowledge to build a machine that will break the Library’s rule.

Their time is running out. To survive, they’ll have to choose to live or die as one, to take the fight to their enemies—and to save the very soul of the Great Library….

My Reviews of the Rest of the Series
Book 1 – Ink & Bone
Book 2 – Paper & Fire

THINGS I LIKED:
If, like me, you are obsessed with all things Great Library, you probably already know that the series has been expanded to be five books instead of three. I found this out shortly before beginning to read Ash & Quill, so it definitely changed some of my expectations. The ending is one that you will never see coming, and one that gives me very high hopes for the rest of the series.

One of the things I loved most about this book? KHALILA. I said in my review of Paper & Fire that Glain and Khalila were quickly becoming my favorite characters, and they definitely didn’t disappoint this go around. Khalila especially. She is so strong, resilient, and level headed. Jess makes for an interesting enough main character, but part of me would really love to see some of this story through Khalila’s eyes. Fingers crossed that maybe one day Rachel Caine will write a short story on Wattpad from Khalila’s POV…

The characters are what really make this series come alive (a close second is the vivid alternate reality established by such richly detailed settings), and I think this book really builds on who each of them are and how they respond to having no safe place left to run.  This book really reminded me why I’d initially liked Thomas, caused me to reconsider how I felt about Dario, and gave me further reason to celebrate Santi and Wolfe. Oh, and Brendan! I mentioned in my review of the second book how much I was really starting to enjoy his character and how I hoped to see more of him in the next book, and I’m thrilled at the role he played in this part of the story.

THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE:
Ever find it hard to pick out the things you didn’t like when it’s a series that you really love? I feel like I’m grasping at straws here, but at the end of Paper & Fire, I was so stoked that our little band of rebels would be heading to America in book three. We get an excellent look into the lifestyle of the Burners in Philadelphia and how the Great Library treats them, but I almost wish our crew had been able to spend a little more time in America, perhaps outside of Philadelphia, just so we could see more of what America would be like under the rule of the Great Library.

You do also have to keep in mind that this book now marks the midpoint of the series, not the conclusion like you may have originally thought. With it being the midpoint, there’s a lot of setup going on. While I feel like a lot DID happen in this book and there’s certainly moments with a LOT of action, I didn’t feel like I was on the edge of my seat as much as with the other books in the series so far. That is, until the ending… The fourth book is sure to drop us headfirst into the heart of danger, and I simply cannot wait.

OVERALL RATING:

5/5 It took me a little longer than I would have liked to get around to writing this review, but the story itself has remained stuck in my head. There are now only a few short days until its arrival on shelves (and there’s still time to preorder!). Ash & Quill really expands on the world of the Great Library and the characters we have come to love (or hate!). At times, I feel like it lost the pacing I had loved about the first two books, but it ultimately redeems that by setting up the rest of the series for unimaginable twists and turns. It’s a great continuation that has me truly dreading the wait for the next book.

 

Add Ash & Quill to your To Be Read shelf on Goodreads
Pre-Order from Fleur Fine Books for a signed copy!

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The signed poster Rachel Caine sent to me for my new office (after one of the coolest Twitter interactions I’ve ever had, thus, reaffirming to me why Twitter is the best place on the web to interact with authors). I like to hang all sorts of memorabilia from authors that inspire me in my office. Advertising The Great Library within a library – Libraryception? XD

Off the Shelf: A Review of Caraval by Stephanie Garber

I officially kicked off 2017 by reading a book that I think will be a heavy contender for my favorite book of the year – Caraval by Stephanie Garber. I’m very picky about what book I read first in a new year, so I was very thankful to have the ARC for this one waiting on me. It delivered exactly what I was hoping for – an enchanting getaway to someplace magical. Garber’s debut is a truly immersive experience into the world of Caraval, a treacherous, dark adventure disguised as a game.

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RELEASE DATE: January 31, 2017

Summary (via Goodreads)

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.

 

Things I Liked:
I was absolutely lost in the world of Caraval, probably as much so as Scarlett. You won’t know who to trust, what to believe, what’s real and what isn’t…and then it all gets tied together so perfectly that you have to wonder why you didn’t just trust your instincts in the first place. I LOVE when a book can make you question yourself, and when you learn things at the same time as the character whose head you’ve been living inside of for 400-or-so pages.

I’m also really drawn to the relationship between Scarlett and her sister, and the horrors that they’ve faced at the hand of their father. There’s a really deep bond established between them. Having a sister myself, whom I love more than anything, made Scarlett’s desperation to recover her sister all the more real. The sisters are also uniquely different in their personalities. I enjoyed Tella’s impulsiveness, determination, and craftiness, and I really liked how selfless Scarlett is throughout the story. The abuse they’ve faced together shapes their motivations in different ways which impacts each of their decisions.

There’s a slow building romance that I appreciated for the fact that (a) it wasn’t an instant love interest (b) there’s no stupid love triangle (c) you can’t be for sure that you can trust this relationship. The question of whether or not you can trust that they both have feelings for each other or whether this is part of the game hooked me and delivered many surprises.

Things I Didn’t Like:

At this moment, I’m wracking my brain trying to think of anything that I wouldn’t have liked about the book. What don’t I like? I don’t like that I don’t already have the next one…

Overall Rating:
5/5 
This was a perfectly magical way to begin the new year. I love the adventure, the characters, and the topsy-turvy twists, turns, and thrills. This is one of those books that you will feel compelled to read all at once, and you should! I couldn’t put it down, and so I went cover to cover in just a few hours. After finishing, I was stoked to read that Caraval has already been optioned for a movie. I have a feeling that the book is going to be a big hit among readers, and I look forward to seeing the magic of Caraval play out on the big screen one day.

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While supplies last, Flatiron Books is doing this wonderful preorder promotional giveaway. All you have to do is fill out the short form at the link below and attach a photo of your preorder receipt before January 31! Check it out here:

http://us.macmillan.com/flatironbooks/promo/caravalpreordergiveaway

Off the Shelf: A Review of Scythe by Neal Shusterman

“There’s a very old expression,” Scythe Goddard told him. “To be painless is to be gainless.” He gripped Rowan warmly on the shoulder. “And I wish for you to gain much.”

Lately, life has been a little hectic, and I couldn’t be more relieved to have finally taken a relaxing little vacation. As with any vacation though, I needed something to read, and Shusterman’s Scythe definitely fit the bill. I know I’m a little behind on getting this ARC review out before the publication date (Nov. 22 – today!), but I spread it out over my trip and let myself get lost in the pages rather than racing through it to meet a deadline. Neal Shusterman writes in a way that you don’t want to miss even the smallest of details.

I have to say, I was absolutely giddy to get to review an ARC of Scythe. I discovered Neal Shusterman a few years back when I became totally engrossed by his Unwind series and the controversial themes that played out in such a dystopian setting. Shusterman is a master at crafting dystopias. Now, before you start getting all “Ugh. Dystopias are SO overdone!” – let me tell you this. These aren’t your typical post-apocalyptic YA stories about a character fighting for survival in a frightening environment created by a totalitarian government. Nope. That’s just not his style. In fact, the worlds Shusterman builds are almost ideal societies with just a small twist that make them somewhat unfavorable to the main characters. For instance, the world in which Scythe takes place, human beings have eliminated disease and freed ourselves from our own mortality, letting a virtual Cloud-on-steroids maintain our progression as a species. Scythes control overpopulation, a necessary job in this world, and a job which neither Citra nor Rowan had ever dreamed of wanting. Sounds fair enough, doesn’t it? But when the act of taking two apprentices is seen as a major controversy, particularly because of their affinity towards protecting each other, it is decided that only one will be named a scythe, and the other will meet his/her end at the new scythe’s hand.

scythe

Summary (via Goodreads)
In a world where disease has been eliminated, the only way to die is to be randomly killed (“gleaned”) by professional reapers (“scythes”). Citra and Rowan are teenagers who have been selected to be scythe’s apprentices, and—despite wanting nothing to do with the vocation—they must learn the art of killing and come to understand the necessity of what they do.

Only one of them will be chosen as a scythe’s apprentice. And when it becomes clear that the winning apprentice’s first task will be to glean the loser, Citra and Rowan are pitted against one another in a fight for their lives

Things I Liked:

I won’t lie, when I first found out that Citra and Rowan were to be forced to compete against each other for scythedom and that one of these star-crossed lovers would have to die, part of me wondered if the ending was going to be something along the lines of Hunger Games (Spoiler alert for all three of you who may not have read it), and that they’d both just end up threatening to glean themselves or something of the like. And sure, throughout the story and through both of their perspectives, they both entertain this thought. But the glorious part? That’s not what happens. I flew through the last quarter of the book, and I did not see the ending coming. Fair warning – the last line is going to be one that sticks with you well after you close the cover.

As a female reader, I generally find more in common with female main characters, but with Scythe, I somewhat flip-flopped. In the beginning, I really enjoyed Citra’s perspective and didn’t really give much thought to Rowan, or “the lettuce” as he describes himself, the unremarkable one. When they separated for training, they both face unique challenges, but Rowan truly has to confront his own beliefs and the beliefs of his mentor. Rowan became more and more intriguing to me, to the point I actually started to root for him to be the victor. The character I enjoyed most of all though was neither Citra nor Rowan. It was Scythe Curie. Why? Because that woman gave off a total Professor McGonagall vibe, and I loved every second of it. Honestly, I’d be happy to see Shusterman write an entire book devoted to her story.

It’s brutal. Really brutal. Don’t go into this expecting something light and fluffy, because you won’t find it. The gleanings are gruesome, with death being administered in a wide variety of ways, from sword to flamethrower. One thing the gleanings are NOT though is just there for shock value. These killings/gleanings stir inner ethical debates for the readers, which may have them taking sides among the scythes.

Things I Didn’t Like:

There was a big chunk in the beginning/middle where I lost my interest in the story. I persevered, because I knew Shusterman would make it worth my while, and I wasn’t disappointed. There was just a rut where not much was happening other than the apprentices being trained, which of course gave a lot more insight into their characters and some of the secondary characters, but really, not much was happening overall. The journal entries at the end of each chapter from various scythes sort of bogged down the story for me because, if they contained any pertinent information to the story line at all, the information was often revealed to the characters in other scenes anyways.

I did enjoy that the characters seemed to come from all sides of the moral spectrum, but Scythe Goddard got particularly annoying in a lot of ways. He’s obviously the “big bad”, and at times, you can see the reasoning behind his beliefs. But in a lot of ways he’s just like what The Walking Dead tv show has done to the character of Negan – made him too over the top to where he’s constantly flaunting just how much of a jerk he is. That’s Goddard, and he earned plenty of eye-rolls as I read.

Overall Rating:

4/5 I originally believed Scythe to be a standalone novel, but then about halfway through the book, I took to Goodreads to update my progress – and it turns out, I was wrong! Scythe is the first book in the Arc of a Scythe series. My curiosity is already bubbling! Will the rest of the series be about the same characters? Or will it focus on entirely new scythes? Either way, I hope to get my hands on an early copy of book two, whenever it becomes available. I feel like this is going to be another exciting series from Shusterman that everyone should keep their eyes on. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out some of his other books, particularly my favorite – Unwind.

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