Review: Caraval – Stephanie Garber

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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: The Mist – Stephen King

5

SYNOPSIS: It’s a hot, lazy day, perfect for a cookout, until you see those strange dark clouds. Suddenly a violent storm sweeps across the lake and ends as abruptly and unexpectedly as it had begun. Then comes the mist…creeping slowly, inexorably into town, where it settles and waits, trapping you in the supermarket with dozens of others, cut off from your families and the world. The mist is alive, seething with unearthly sounds and movements. What unleashed this terror? Was it the Arrowhead Project—the top secret government operation that everyone has noticed but no one quite understands? And what happens when the provisions have run out and you’re forced to make your escape, edging blindly through the dim light? – via Goodreads

I have been on a real roll with King recently, and wanted another read recently, but did not want to commit to a bigger book again (don’t even judge me), and decided I have put off reading The Mist for way too long now, even though I have seen the movie and enjoyed it, too. Well, The Mist is a great pick as you get your King fill and it breezes along so quickly that it is over before you even know it.

The Mist is not a long book (obviously), but is a bit longer than one would expect for a short story, so it’s pretty cool like that. The book wastes no time setting itself up and diving into the story, and also doesn’t spend too much time exploring the whys and the whats, it just gets into it all, which is fantastic. You get this little slice of terror and then it is over, leaving you reeling, asking all the questions that won’t really get answered, and that is okay.

For a short story, there are quite a few characters, and more are fleshed out than you would expect, and I liked that. Our main peanut is David Drayton, and we read of him, his struggles, and how he tells the story of all the crazy that ensues after Maine suffers a heavy, odd storm. Ollie is a character I enjoyed, as well as Mrs Reppler (teacher). Mrs Carmody peeved me, so in a few short pages King still manages to give you a character to dislike.

The Mist is a great example of a monster horror, which is awesome. Not much mincing around with the paranormal or psychological here my friend, oh no, let’s get straight into that bizarre, nasty, monster horror that one sometimes so desperately craves. This book totally delivers on all fronts there, so that is good.

Overall, The Mist is a pretty damn good short, quick read if you are interested, and has monster horror to keep you going. It knows what it is and it goes for it, no mincing about. It is well written and barrels along, definitely worth the read.

Review: Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three – Mara Leveritt

2

SYNOPSIS: In 2011, one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in American legal history was set right when Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley were released after eighteen years in prison. Award-winning journalist Mara Leveritt’s The Devil’s Knot remains the most comprehensive, insightful reporting ever done on the investigation, trials, and convictions of three teenage boys who became known as the West Memphis Three.

For weeks in 1993, after the murders of three eight-year-old boys, police in West Memphis, Arkansas seemed stymied. Then suddenly, detectives charged three teenagers, alleged members of a satanic cult, with the killings. Despite the witch-hunt atmosphere of the trials, and a case which included stunning investigative blunders, a confession riddled with errors, and an absence of physical evidence linking any of the accused to the crime, the teenagers were convicted. Jurors sentenced Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley to life in prison and Damien Echols, the accused ringleader, to death. The guilty verdicts were popular in their home state, even upheld on appeal, and all three remained in prison until their unprecedented release in August 2011.

With close-up views of its key participants, this award-winning account unravels the many tangled knots of this endlessly shocking case, one which will shape the American legal landscape for years to come. – via Goodreads

You know, I heard about this clusterfuck when I was much younger and watched Paradise Lost. I was horrified. Me, my husband, my circle of friends? We were (and still are) those “weird” kids, those “Satanists” with our black shirts, our band shirts, our black trench coats, spiked wristbands and belts, outspoken questioning of religion, dark hair, dark makeup, black nails, the whole shebang. Back then, and even now, if you had to look at my reading habits, movies/series collection and Google search history in a witch hunt style and with and closed mind, I would probably also have been tossed in prison and the key thrown away. Appearances can be deceiving.

I know that there is a vehement back and forth about whether Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley are innocent or not. This book is a great read to get you up to speed with the finer nuances of the case, investigation, and trial. Yes, Leveritt tried and for the most part succeeded in being as impartial as possible concerning the West Memphis Three, and the book never came across as repetitive. The book read very easily and was a thorough affair. The notes substantiated the content, and the content is written in a way that it is not bogged down by inner monologue and personal opinions, and so presents the horror that was visited on those three poor victims, as well as that botched investigation and joke of a trial. It is presented in a clear, concise way and is structured in a way that is understandable and easy to get into. It is presented that the information never bogs you down, and makes logical sense.

I was hooked on this book, and I highly recommend it for a read. It is not boring, and doesn’t read too heavily, either, making it daunting. It just barrels along and isn’t repetitive at all in giving forth the information, and you don’t feel Leveritt is forcing an opinion on you, just informing. The lunacy of the situation had me gasping and in shock on multiple occasions. Super solid true crime read.

Review: Outrage – T.R. Ragan

2

Faith McMann #2

SYNOPSIS:  The happy life Faith McMann knew as a wife, mother, and teacher was destroyed when vicious criminals murdered her husband, kidnapped her children, and left her for dead. After paralyzing grief, fear, and despair, there was nothing left for her to feel…except fury. But striking a staggering blow against a brutal ring of human traffickers was just the beginning of her uphill battle.

Though her daughter remains missing and her son is lost in the wilderness, Faith’s relentless efforts have reunited some children with their families. They’ve also made her and the rest of her family the targets of a sadistic crime boss. But Faith has learned plenty about survival in the lawless underworld she’s storming. And she’s forged an unbreakable bond with two no-holds-barred allies in the war against evil. As they dodge assassins and take down predators, Faith travels deeper into the heart of darkness, determined to rescue her children at any cost. – Goodreads

So I blew through this one directly after having finished the first as I liked it that much. I thought that this was another solid read, and I quite liked it. There are a lot of things going on in this one, but it never gets messy in the way that it detracts from the story.

We get a closer look into the relationship between Beast and Rage, and especially with Little Vinnie in the mix, you have to appreciate it. It is also nice to get to know a little more about the characters and make them tick. Faith, too, grows a lot more and you can totally understand her frustration. Yeah, there are plenty “convenient” plot devices and things, sure, but it tells the story. Naturally you are not expecting a totally realistic story when going in for something like that. I still really like the family bond in Faith’s family, they truly do stand together.

This trilogy deals with a rather heavy concept – trafficking is not a light subject, and this book takes the horrors and weaves a fictitious story between it, but never minimizes the fact that the issues are real and truly despicable. The suffering is real and never undermined or forgotten. Miranda gets some more time and some payback in here, and I like that.

Outrage barrels along just as rapidly as Furious, never losing you along the way and keeping you hooked throughout. Again, it doesn’t feel like there is a lot of filler in this, which makes for another great read. As you guys can tell, I am highly enjoying this series of T.R. Ragan, and highly recommend it, providing you can deal with a heavier story than most authors are willing to tackle.

Review: Bonfire – Krysten Ritter

4

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. 

SYNOPSIS: Should you ever go back?

It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all visible evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands.

But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town’s most high-profile company and economic heart, Abby begins to find strange connections to Barrens’ biggest scandal from more than a decade ago involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her closest friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.

Abby knows the key to solving any case lies in the weak spots, the unanswered questions. But as Abby tries to find out what really happened to Kaycee, she unearths an even more disturbing secret—a ritual called “The Game,” which will threaten the reputations, and lives, of the community and risk exposing a darkness that may consume her. – via Goodreads

Well, this one was unexpected. When I saw Krysten Ritter’s name attached to this I requested it purely to see how it was. I was interested to see whether I would prefer her writing to her acting. I honestly didn’t have high hopes – it can’t be easy getting involved with multiple arts. Well, I am here to tell you that Ritter indeed writes rather well, surprisingly!

The book opens and hits the ground running, but in fragmented pieces, so it takes quite some time to get the flow of things and work things out, and it works really well here. The lead character, Abby Williams, is not necessarily a character you like too much, but she grows on you. You can understand parts of her logic, too, even if you don’t always agree. Most of the characters are rather flat, but this book is Abby’s internal show, and you definitely get some of that. To see her return to her hometown and to see how a decade has made a difference is quite cool.

The story is quite a heavy one, told in  bits and pieces, and the primary water investigation becomes a totally secondary thing in Abby’s hunt to find out what, exactly, happened to Kaycee, who sounds like a right piece of work. Misha, too, is a nasty character. Bonfire does fall prey to some debut mistakes in some parts of predictability in characters, but it is a pretty good ride all the same.

Abby’s investigation yields results piecemeal, and it ties in rather neatly with what Abby originally went to Barrens for. I liked Condor as a character, and Brent just seemed odd. I was relieved that a love triangle was not jammed into this, as it is not the time, story, or place for it. The reveals are spaced just right, giving you what you need, when you need it. I do feel that the relationship between Joe and Abby was glossed over, and yet it is described as more important in the book.

Bonfire might not be perfect, but it is engaging, has a pretty good story, hooks you while barrelling along. Well worth checking out I reckon, and I will certainly check out any other work from Ritter in future.

Review: Sandcastle and Other Stories – Justin Bog

4

sandcastle and other stories cover

I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

SYNOPSIS: These twelve literary, psychological, and suspense tales are nothing short of an adventure through a roiling sea of emotion. Meet: an old man twisted by fate and a lost love . . . a young girl playing on the ocean shore who becomes entangled in nets of a mercurial god . . . a divorced man mired in troubles who’s coerced into taking a singles cruise . . . a Hollywood actor in a television drama who’s always typecast as the bad boy . . . a child kept awake by night terrors, and a woman who hides her secretive personality from everyone on the beach one sunny day. Genuine voices of the characters, mixed with a clear-eyed tonal directness, make this a series with mesmerizing psychological interaction. Stories span a broad depth of human understanding and build a bridge between deepest chasms of pain and high portals of joy. Read these dark tales and stand witness to unspeakable hate sitting with cozy wile, right beside unconditional love — a provocative and compelling mirror on the human condition. – via Goodreads

GRADE 7.5I was pleasantly surprised by this. I picked it up, was interested to see the short stories that featured, and there were some solid reviews about it. I had no real idea what to expect from the author, who is someone I had not heard of before, or his style of writing or the type of content. Something I am going to draw attention to from the off is the fact that Justin Bog can write. I mean it, really well. It flows quite well, each story brought something different to the table, even though a lot of them had repeating themes (such as oceans, twins, waves, paranoia, trees, psychological issues, names, etc). Bog’s writing style is engaging and creepy, and all his stories featured here are quite unsettling and psychologically creepy, crawling in under your skin. This might not appeal to the average reader, or someone who does not like some twisted tales, and it will upset those thinking they are getting a light, happy-go-lucky read. However, it totally ticked all my boxes for a short story. Doesn’t give away too much, but just enough to make you think, to wonder, and the way that Bog concludes the stories is also quite good, leaving a world of possibilities open to explore. Sandcastle and Other Stories is a really fast read, so it won’t demand an overkill of your time, and offers a great alternative to the average lot of short stories, something I am not usually a fan of. I looked forward to every story, and even when my mind went wandering, it never strayed too far, and always whipped back to the moment. Each story contains a darkness that is executed very well, and some of these stories linger long after you have  moved on. I am so glad that I took a chance on this, as I am certainly looking forward to reading more of Bog’s work, I would love to see how a full fledged novel from him would play out. If you are into short stories, or would like something that is quick but different, I would highly recommend Sandcastle and Other Stories.