Review: Caraval – Stephanie Garber

0

Caraval #1

SYNOPSIS: Remember, it’s only a game…

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. – via Goodreads

WHY? There is so much hype about this book and so much love but why??? I just don’t get it. I started this with high hopes – it got a lot of good reviews. I wanted something magical like The Night Circus to carry me away, and instead I got… this. This lacklustre, utterly unmagical experience. I had my suspicions from the outset, as I wasn’t keen on the flat world building with no details, early villain with no real anything, and this obsession between sisters that really could have been more than the flat, generic relationship it ultimately was.

Caraval promises magic, promises to sweep you up into mystery and to have you amazed, and instead delivers an array of flat, unlikable, one dimensional characters and super bland dialogue. The writing is also peppered with all these ridiculous metaphors and this terribly flowery prose that does not change your life, but instead continually ejects you from a flat story. Instead of consuming you, taking you in, you get a heavy handed, predictable romance (and this guy’s muscles were described akin to Stephanie Meyer writing about Edward Cullen’s perfect marble everything), a game that had no spark in it, and this hunt for a sister that needed to be saved, and none of it draws you in, makes you feel anything.

The story is actually a really bland affair that the author tries to hide away with the writing she employs and the game that must be solved, and while the book at least reads really quickly, your eyeballs are in constant “I’m gonna roll” mode. Which is unfortunate. I liked the way the cover looked (see, judging books by their covers really can go both ways), the designer should be given credit. I just… didn’t like the content. There was so much potential – a love interest, a magician with a vendetta, a missing sister, an abusive father, a mysterious arranged marriage, a whole world, but the book ultimately delivers on nothing. A whole world could have been built here, but it’s nondescript islands in a nondescript time, so it doesn’t mean anything.

Again, let’s not forget the characters. Julian was ultimately predictable and Tella was annoying and supremely selfish. Then there is Scarlett, our main heroine. She is not strong, smart or cunning. She’s whiny and selfish and spoiled, and it grates on me that she is so controlling. Trust me, I understand how much your home environment sucked, but the situation and fear doesn’t feel real. The father feels more like an icon of fear resurrected whenever danger needs to be injected into the novel, and the reader knows they are supposed to feel tense about his appearances because they know he is abusive, but there is no real emotion attached to it. Legend himself, ever elusive, does not evoke wonder or anything eventually, he’s just some silly character that’s overhyped and doesn’t deliver.

Okay, so I guess you can see I was horrifically let down by Caraval. I felt it was a waste of time, lacked magic, had no real consequence, and has another two books following it (!!), which is crazy. There are a lot of people that loved this, but I was certainly not one of them.

Review: Veronica (2017)

4

SYNOPSIS: Madrid, 1991. A teen girl finds herself besieged by an evil supernatural force after she played Ouija with two classmates. – via IMDB

Ag pffffff. This movie. Why?! I got my hopes up, what with reading a lot of positive feedback and having it compared favourably to The Conjuring (even though that has no rewatch value, it’s really good the first time around). I was so ready for a horror that was going to be good, and I thought this might be it, being a Spanish horror and all.

Well. This is certainly not it. I don’t know, it pretty much irritated me from the off. I wasn’t a fan of the cast, the kids running all over the show the whole time annoyed me, the mother and her terrible parenting skills also only served to piss me off (for reals, it is not the teenage daughter’s job to keep the kids fed and clean and in school). It’s neglect, I don’t care what is said about it. Then there is our titular Veronica herself, and she was just so… dull.

Forgetting about the meh characters all round, I found that the story had no bite, and was pretty damn generic. Nothing fancy, nothing special, nothing we haven’t seen before, and certainly nothing that will stay with you after all is said and done. The best character was Sister Death, and she’s barely in it. The story could have been generic but solid. I suppose it is for others, but it did not work for me – it lacked tension and focus and the execution came across as sloppy.

Veronica is also long. Far longer than it necessarily needed to be. It almost put me to sleep at times what with the drag throughout it. Nothing made me go wow. Nothing. The score itself wasn’t too bad, I thought it a bit quirky but I liked it, so there is that.

Okay, I will stop now. I found Veronica to be a super disappointing, bland, lifeless experience. It was peppered with clichés and suffered from horrible pacing and too much screaming and a major lack of an engaging story. I didn’t find it to be atmospheric, either. It just was… there. Oh well. I would skip this, you won’t really be missing that a million other supernatural horrors haven’t done before.

Review: Dead Weight – T.R. Ragan

0

Lizzy Gardner #2

SYNOPSIS: Private investigator Lizzy Gardner knows a thing or two about living in the past. As a teenager, she was terrorized by a serial killer, an ordeal that haunted her for more than a decade before the maniac was finally stopped. So when terminally ill Ruth Fullerton begs Lizzy to reopen the cold case into her daughter’s disappearance, it’s hard to say no. More than twenty years have passed since Carol Fullerton vanished, abandoning her car by the side of a California freeway. The police wrote her off as a runaway, yet something tells Lizzy the truth isn’t so simple…

Carol’s cold case has barely begun to thaw when Andrea Kramer shows up at Lizzy’s door. Andrea’s sister, Diane, has been missing for months, and she’s convinced a charismatic weight-loss guru—part Tony Robbins and part Richard Simmons—is responsible. Diane was obese, but could her obsession with losing weight have led to her disappearance?

As if two active missing persons cases weren’t enough, Lizzy is also trying to manage her two teenage assistants, including one as wounded and haunted by her past as Lizzy. – via Goodreads

Decided to check out more of the books in this series (I bought almost all of them on a monthly special on Amazon). I was maybe not the biggest fan of the first, but Lizzy’s past was an interesting enough motivator for me to check out more. Well. Well. Well. Uhm, yeah. This wasn’t bad, but it was essentially more of the same.

The romance that was so hugely built between Lizzy and Jared in the first book is dragged up time and time again in this without actually going anywhere, and then we also  need to deal with Lizzy’s fear of so many things. Then there is Hayley, who is not adjusting to her new life and carries a lot of bitterness and resentment and is incredibly unlikable here, even though I liked her well enough in the first. I understand her anger, just got over reading about her silly inward fights. The competition and edginess between Jessica and Hayley was something I liked.

I didn’t like the pacing for this – it was messy. Lizzy is working two cases, and yet neither case feels like anything as the book is just all over the show. The one case definitely took precedence, but they both felt hollow. The saddest thing about that is that both cases are actually rather interesting, just not handled really well.

Well, considering I have all the others to check out, I will go ahead with that at some stage. I don’t think these are the worst books, and they are decent filler reads that zip along and don’t require too much investment, and that’s decent at least.

Review: 99 Red Balloons – Elisabeth Carpenter

3

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. 

SYNOPSIS: Two girls go missing, decades apart. What would you do if one was your daughter?

When eight-year-old Grace goes missing from a sweetshop on the way home from school, her mother Emma is plunged into a nightmare. Her family rallies around, but as the police hunt begins, cracks begin to emerge.

What are the secret emails sent between Emma’s husband and her sister? Why does her mother take so long to join the search? And is Emma really as innocent as she seems?

Meanwhile, ageing widow Maggie Taylor sees Grace’s picture in the newspaper. It’s a photograph that jolts her from the pain of her existence into a spiralling obsession with another girl – the first girl who disappeared… – via Goodreads

I don’t know. This book. I really thought it was going to be so more than it ultimately was, and so many people raved about it. I should have known from early on it wasn’t going to be my jam. I just felt it in my bones, and yet I foolishly soldiered on. The completist in me. Pfffffff.

Right off the bat, the characters. Oh. My. Gosh. I resented them all. The only one that was nice was Jim, the only one I didn’t mind reading about. It also didn’t help at all that none of the characters ever had their own voice. Which is frustrating as hell because every chapter is from someone else’s perspective, and the only person you can distinctly pick out from the pages is Maggie. This was really maddening. Like really, really frustrating. Not liking any of the characters didn’t help at all, because I couldn’t give a damn about their situation, the present, the past, nothing, and this book is all about that.

I was also not a fan of the writing – it was really stinted and didn’t flow nicely. The story gets told, but it comes across as erratic, and the plot twist that comes along later is not delivered super smoothly at all, it is something you sort of wonder about, especially with the plot device that the author is deliberately trying to shove down your throat, so insistently that eventually you are wondering if she would be so bold as to be so honest.

I did not appreciate the chapter division – like the perspective from a multitude of characters. This style can work for some books, but it didn’t really work here, and I think that is primarily because the characters all ran into each other, there were no major differences between them, and it was hard to keep track of who was who as they all sounded the same. Also, all the characters being equally messed up, selfish and overall meh contributed toward this. 99 Red Balloons also felt like it was going around and around in circles, not really going anywhere – it felt like an awfully long read. I feel it could have been a lot shorter than it ultimately was.

Anyway, I don’t think I need to state the obvious that I wasn’t bowled over by this. Seems a lot of people liked it, but it just didn’t work for me. Not the worst book I read this year, but it was really generic for me at the end of the day. I would say skip, but that is just me.

Review: Abducted – T.R. Ragan

5

Lizzy Gardner #1

SYNOPSIS: Elizabeth Gardner (Lizzy) is seventeen-years old when she tells her parents she’s going out with her girlfriends. Instead, she meets up with her boyfriend, Jared Shayne. As she walks home beneath an inky black sky, her perfect night becomes her worst nightmare.

Fourteen years later, Lizzy is a licensed PI known as the ‘one who got away’. When she’s not searching for runaway teenagers, working on insurance scams, or talking to her therapist, she’s at the local high school teaching young girls to defend themselves. But her world is turned upside down for the second time after she receives a call from Jared Shayne. He’s an FBI special agent now and he needs her help. Lizzy has no plans to get involved. Not until Jared tells her the kidnapper left her a personalized note. – via Goodreads

I picked this up recently on an Amazon deal, and figured it might be worth a read. Not wasted money, that’s for sure, but a lot tamer than I thought it would be. Well, I suppose it was never going to be a Karin Slaughter novel (so few are), but I didn’t expect it to be so romancy. For reals. But okay, we will talk about all these things.

The concept of a girl being trapped with a serial killer for two months before escaping is quite heavy, and there could have been so much more material to work with there. Ragan plays it safe, however, and gives us just enough for our imaginations to cook up the rest of whatever happened to Lizzy while she stayed with Spiderman. The aftermath is also never really addressed, which would be fine, but more about her parents and what happened after would have been something. Also, Cathy’s lack of empathy and support for her sister is shocking.

An issue I had with the book is how one dimensional all the characters are, which is a pity. The only characters you can really feel for are Hayley and Lizzy, no more, no less. Oh, and Jess also had quite a bit going for her. Jared, the love interest, the boy who carried guilt about what happened to Lizzy as well as a torch for her all the way into his adulthood never really becomes real, if that makes sense. Jimmy, the FBI agent who has worked the longest and hardest on Lizzy’s case is a side character who rarely gets brought up, and is supposed to have such a close relationship with Jared,  yet it is never showcased.

I liked the fact that the book was a really quick read, and despite being predictable and not really shocking, it definitely keeps you interested enough to see where it all goes. I felt that the ultimate explanation we got for the Spiderman and his antics was a bit of a cop out, and was also glossed over so quickly. I was not particularly thrilled with how quickly Jared and Lizzy picked up some sort of a relationship, despite having been in one when she was a teen and abducted. It just felt a little far fetched and forced for me. The logic was questionable, and the writing sloppy at the best of times, too.

Abducted may not be the strongest entry to a series of books and is predictable, but it was enough to entertain me (and frustrate me with the ridiculous logic) and convince me to give the next book a shot to see how it works out.

Rapid Review: House at the End of the Street (2012)

7

house at the end of the street poster

“People don’t notice all the secrets around them. Even though they’re right in front of them, just hiding, waiting to be found.”
– Ryan

SYNOPSIS: After moving with her mother to a small town, a teenager finds that an accident happened in the house at the end of the street. Things get more complicated when she befriends a boy who was the only survivor of the accident. – via IMDB

house at the end of the street tied up

GRADE 6You know, I watched this as part of the box set that Natasha got me for Christmas. I initially thought that it was the remake for The Last House On The Left, and when we started watching I realised they were two totally different films, so it was new to me. I know that Cinema Parrot Disco raged about this – she is no fan. Me? I thought that it was a decent albeit stupid popcorn film. It’s not revolutionary and great, though it features some pretty decent performances, but I can think of a huge selection of other movies that are a bigger waste of time. House at the End of the Street suffers from being generic, bland, and silly. It isn’t necessarily boring, and there are aspects to it that had so much potential to scare and get under the skin, make you think a bit, and yet those golden opportunities were passed up. There were some twists to it, one that I didn’t quite expect, but very few of them were pulled off with the finesse that they deserved. The movie never really quite hits the highs it wishes to. I thought that Jennifer Lawrence and Max Thieriot worked very well together. I also enjoyed Thieriot’s performance, and think that he is an actor that performs quite well but doesn’t get noticed much. He has potential for certain things, so it’s always nice to see him in something. The characters here are a little annoying, like the way they go about things is quite illogical. I think the safest way to look at this movie is to see it as a horror movie for young teens… I think that is the only way that you won’t absolutely hate it. As for me? I thought it was alright and not the biggest waste of my time. While unoriginal and lacking in places, there are other aspects that redeem it somewhat, and hence I can live with it.

Rapid Review: Die Hard 2 (1990)

8

die hard 2 poster

“Another basement, another elevator. How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?”
– John McClane

SYNOPSIS: John McClane attempts to avert disaster as rogue military officials seize control of Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C. – via IMDB

die hard 2

GRADE 6.5Well, here we are, at it again. John McClane lives in the wrong place, wrong time scenario forevermore. Anyway, we are back at Christmastime, and things are just not good over the holidays for the McClanes like… ever. Bruce Willis is back and kicking as the ever-sarcastic McClane, and I still reckon he was an awesome pick for the role. Al appears in here, though only momentarily, and I did miss the banter between McClane and Al, but it was to be no more. Pity. The story wasn’t very in depth or revolutionary, and at the end of the day, while entertaining at the time, it is rather forgettable (I can hear those torches being lit and pitchforks being hauled out, but it is true). Die Hard 2 is one of those action movies that has the explosions and gunfire and all those aspects, so it ticks the boxes, but it isn’t exceptionally memorable or smart. There were interesting characters and annoying characters, but the plot itself was so thin at the end of the day, and isn’t quite as entertaining as the first. The villains are also completely bland, but then topping Hans Gruber will be no simple task. A big part that makes Die Hard 2 work is how Bruce Willis embraces his role of John McClane. Just to see him having some goofy fun is alright. It takes a really long time for anything to actually start happening, so that already counted against it. It wasn’t a slow burn, it just wasn’t doing anything, then went for over the top overkill. It was a little bit too obvious about things, which also detracted. While not a terrible sequel, it is certainly not as great as it was ultimately hoping to be. I don’t really have much more to say about it, as I will just continue to repeat my sentiments.