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 First Purge (2018)

8

“Please don’t tell me you’re sending mercenaries into the island disguised as purgers?”
– Dr Updale

SYNOPSIS: America’s third political party, the New Founding Fathers of America, comes to power and conducts an experiment: no laws for 12 hours on Staten Island. No one has to stay on the island, but $5,000 is given to anyone who does. – via IMDB

Sweet baby Jesus, this franchise is never gonna give up the ghost. There was The Purge, which was wasted potential because it was a home invasion movie with an interesting concept we didn’t really get to see. Then there was the Anarchy sequel, and I unexpectedly loved that one – we actually got to see the Purge, and I got all excited that the franchise was actually going to do something with itself. But no. Then there was that botch job that was Election Year, and I thought it couldn’t get worse. Well, it could. I also see that there is now a series on Amazon. Come on! Will this never end?!

Apparently not. So let’s tackle this one. It sucked. Plain and simple. It was predictable and it was awkward and it just… no. Like wheeling and dealing with politics with absolutely no finesse, giving us characters we don’t give a crap about, generating more idiotic sequences than you can shake a stick at, not to mention that the psychological angle of this was completely and utterly ignored, which in conjunction with the politics had the potential to deliver a much better punch. But no, let’s not do that.

The pacing was off, too, because while the movie doesn’t necessarily boast a long run time, it feels like forever and six days long, and just didn’t feel like it was coming to a close at all, or moving along. It was so frustrating, and that adds to the litany of issues I have with it. I wanted to see so much more than this. I mean let’s face it, this franchise has been milking the concept because it is one that has fascinated viewers, but hasn’t really fleshed anything out. It strives to from time to time but falls short. It’s just coming across as a cash cow.

So no, I was not a big fan of this one and feel that this was an interesting concept, I mean the first  Purge, and how it came about, and instead of spending some time exploring the psychological aspect and truly delving into the politics, we get this half-assed offering from a tired franchise that churned out exactly one good movie. My recommendation? Skip it.

July Blind Spot Review: Before Sunrise (1995)

8

“Isn’t everything we do in life a way to be loved a little more?”
– Celine

SYNOPSIS: A young man and woman meet on a train in Europe, and wind up spending one evening together in Vienna. Unfortunately, both know that this will probably be their only night together. – via IMDB

I know I am in the extreme minority with this one (apparently), but I found it really hard to get excited about this one while watching it, and after. In fact, I have no real excitement to write this review, either. I watched this weeks ago and haven’t even been able to muster the oomph to write about it. I really don’t want to write a half-assed review, so let’s see how it goes.

I totally don’t mind a dialogue based movie at all. I really don’t, if I feel that the dialogue is worth following. For me, that wasn’t the case here. It came off as pretentious and meh, like it was trying too hard. Truly. For two, I do like Ethan Hawke, a lot, I think he gets a lot of flak and he really isn’t the terrible actor that people say he is. I just thought that there was like no chemistry between him and Delpy. The runtime, too, felt like the movie was forever and two days long and it was actually (technically) a really short movie.

Okay, you know what, I am just going to leave it there. I didn’t like this, and I really wanted to. There was this romantic angle that could have been more than it was. Not because I wanted some Disney-style something, but because I really thought that this could have been more genuine. For some it probably is, for me it fell flat. I know there are two more movies in this trilogy that is so well loved, but I don’t know if I will be taking the time to check them out.

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: Nocturnal Animals (2016)

6

“Do you ever feel like your life has turned into something you never intended?”
– Susan Morrow

SYNOPSIS: A wealthy art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a symbolic revenge tale. – via IMDB

Ah, Nocturnal Animals. Where do I even begin? I had forgotten about this completely, except Natasha wanted to check it out, and so we did. Goddammit, so we did. Two hours folks. Two. Nocturnal Animals is a pretentious pile of garbage that actually has some semblance of potential which is unceremoniously pissed away. The opening alone was just grotesque and came across as pretentious, right out of the gate. To shock, to inspire, to make you think that the movie has more depth than what appears on the surface? Screw that. It did not. Revenge tale, and that is that. Not even a good one, while we are at it, despite what it would have you think.

This also seemed like something I would like – dark and a thriller, plus Gyllenhaal? Ticked all the boxes. In fact, I liked the cast for the most part. The film is divided into three segments: the past, the present, the story in a novel. Three. Of these three, the novel coming to life is a fantastic revenge tale, a mysterious story that gets you worried and draws you in, and you feel for the main character of it, and are intrigued by his plight and the relationship he forms with the detective investigating the crime which the main character is a victim of. Awesome. But then there are the other two parts of the movie – the past and the present, and they are both boring and bland and just annoyed me.

My reception of the movie was not helped along by Amy Adams, whom I cannot stand. Her character was such a waste of space. Armie Hammer, too, felt like he was useless here – the script was so skinny. He was pretty much there for some aloof eye candy, and that is that. Gyllenhaal and Shannon are the stars of this, without a doubt. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, too, shone here. Every moment they were on screen, you were engaged. They were so good. A whole movie just about them and their segment would have been fantastic. Instead I had to sit through all that drivel and possibly one of the worst endings I have seen in my life.

I see this movie being lauded as dark, thought-provoking, deep. Pretentious, I will say it again. The movie is not as deep as it wishes to be, and because of that comes across as desperate. While we are at it, it is generic and brings nothing new to the table. I cannot in good conscience recommend this to anyone, though I am aware my opinion is in the minority.

Review: The Girl On The Train (2016)

11

“My husband used to tell me I have an overactive imagination. I can’t help it. I mean, haven’t you ever been on a train and wondered about the lives of the people who live near the tracks? The lives you’ve never lived.”
– Rachel Watson

SYNOPSIS: A divorcee becomes entangled in a missing persons investigation that promises to send shockwaves throughout her life. – via IMDB

As some of you may recall, I recently read the book and I was totally not a fan. At all. I decided to watch the movie just because I wanted to see if it could convey better to screen, because surely there would be a better way to tell the story than the way it was presented in that absolutely godawful book. Well… right and wrong.

The way the movie was presented and the story told was better than the book. It wasn’t the same frustrating back and forth jumping in time, leaving you lost and confused. You get the story told from the perspective and times of three different women, but it is so much easier to follow. So much of the excess crap and internal monologues of the book are cut away here, so things definitely flow better. That being said, that is probably the only good stuff to note from this disappointing outing.

I couldn’t stand any of the characters. Again. No shocker, I expected this, but still. I really didn’t want to compare this to Gone Girl, especially with all the comparisons that exist, but now I can see it. While reading the book, I didn’t necessarily see the parallels too much (make no mistake, they are there at times), but this movie just felt like a cheap, sad knockoff. Tate Taylor definitely tried to pull a David Fincher with a washed out palette, a dark story, and a solid cast. Instead of any of that working, it falls apart here, and the cast just fails to make the boring material any more acceptable. Their performances just feel hollow. The story is not smart and unpredictable and twisty – its just bland and average.

I also found that the movie pushed to put a lot of sex in this, but it comes across as really unsexy, not the dark, forbidden, screwed up sex it tries to be. It fails miserably there. Also, how do you manage that with Luke Evans on screen? Unacceptable. I was not engaged once throughout the course of this movie, and I was frustrated watching it because I was bored beyond belief. I thought we were nearing the end (and how sad is that, considering I have actually read the book) and say that we were only a hour and five minutes in. What the heck?

The Girl On The Train features deplorable characters, a dull story, absolutely zero tension and atmosphere, and will leave you feeling disappointed and robbed of your precious time. It’s an absolute snooze fest, one I would highly recommend you skip and stay away from.

Review: Psycho Analysis – V.R. Stone

4

I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

SYNOPSIS: A serial killer who wants to quit. A detective struggling to keep his personal life out of a murder hunt. And a celebrity psychiatrist facing an incredible challenge. Three damaged individuals, linked by their traumatic histories. They’ve chosen very different paths. Now those paths are about to cross.

Sarah Silver is a hedge fund manager – from Monday to Friday she makes a killing in the markets. At weekends, though, she hunts men, not profits. Martin White used to be a brilliant detective. But his family, judgement and self-control are deserting him. And Karl Gross has sold millions of books on serial killers. However he’s a controversial figure in the medical community.

Can Martin keep it together and catch a killer who commits almost perfect crimes? Is Karl capable of unravelling Sarah’s psyche and putting an end to the killing? Or will she disappear when she realises that the hunter has become the hunted? – via Goodreads

Hmmmm. I really thought that this would be better, appeal to me more than it ultimately did. I liked the cover, I studied psychology, this books speaks of a female serial killer… all things that are fascinating, and should have held more sway. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Psycho Analysis has all the makings to be good, but is instead a silly, bland affair. Not impressed.

The story, which I assumed was going to be engaging, was something that left me bored and unsatisfied. I was never reeled in. I also couldn’t stand any of the characters. The writing of them also implied that we knew more about them, which at a stage had me wondering if this book was part of a series, to find that it is not, but is in actual fact a debut novel. For a debut novel that means it is written well enough if I thought it was part of a series, but the story never actually did anything for me. Considering the author had studied psychology, I was really expecting more punch. It just never came.

I found the dialogue in Psycho Analysis stinted, and was also not a fan of the lead, DI Martin White. He was just… no. Plus when the whole reveal about his life came? So poorly executed. The book just came across as messy. The doctor who was discussing Sarah’s issues with her had his own, but they, too, were glossed over. I really thought there would be more of a twisted relationship between Sarah and Karl, as it was an interesting component. Then, of course, there was the silly relationship between Martin and Sarah – it never took off, and I didn’t care whether he was killed or she was caught. I also struggled to suspend reality for a lot of this book, and it should not have been that difficult to do.

Psycho Analysis is an uninspiring debut novel, and not something I would recommend.