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: Haunting the Deep – Adriana Mather

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How to Hang a Witch #2

SYNOPSIS: Samantha Mather knew her family’s connection to the infamous Salem Witch Trials might pose obstacles to an active social life. But having survived one curse, she never thought she’d find herself at the center of a new one.

This time, Sam is having recurring dreams about the Titanic . . . where she’s been walking the deck with first-class passengers, like her aunt and uncle. Meanwhile, in Sam’s waking life, strange missives from the Titanic have been finding their way to her, along with haunting visions of people who went down with the ship.

Ultimately, Sam and the Descendants, along with some help from heartthrob Elijah, must unravel who is behind the spell that is drawing her ever further into the dream ship . . . and closer to sharing the same grim fate as its ghostly passengers. – via Goodreads

So I devoured How to Hang a Witch and loved every second of it. When I saw that Adriana Mather had a second book, I didn’t even hesitate to order it, and as soon as it arrived, I sunk my teeth into it. I didn’t read a single thing about this book before buying it, so I was beyond thrilled to see that we got to continue on with Sam’s story. This is a great example of a sequel not ruining all that fantastic groundwork laid in the first novel.

Sam’s dad is back in action, and he is actually a character I thoroughly enjoy. The setup between the Meriwethers and the Mathers is adorable, too, and I am impressed with how Mather handled the whole Jaxon/Elijah/Sam triangle from the first. Speaking of, having Elijah pop up made me way happier than I can say. For reals, the interactions between him and Sam are fantastic.

While the villain of this book was not surprising or shocking, the read is a super fun journey to undertake again. There is magic, romance, teens with their issues, friendship and personal growth, so Haunting the Deep hit all the same highs as the predecessor, which is rare. It’s cool that the Descendants are back, and we get to learn a bit more about them here, too. Salem is also the perfect town for the backdrop for this world that has been woven, so that is really cool.

Adriana Mather writes well, has given us characters to love and a world eager to be returned to, and there is not really much more you can ask for. There is heart, humour and fun to be had. Again, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Go out. Read them now. You won’t regret it!

Review: How to Hang a Witch – Adriana Mather

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How to Hang a Witch #1

SYNOPSIS: Salem, Massachusetts is the site of the infamous witch trials and the new home of Samantha Mather. Recently transplanted from New York City, Sam and her stepmother are not exactly welcomed with open arms. Sam is the descendant of Cotton Mather, one of the men responsible for those trials and almost immediately, she becomes the enemy of a group of girls who call themselves The Descendants. And guess who their ancestors were?

If dealing with that weren’t enough, Sam also comes face to face with a real live (well technically dead) ghost. A handsome, angry ghost who wants Sam to stop touching his stuff. But soon Sam discovers she is at the center of a centuries old curse affecting anyone with ties to the trials. Sam must come to terms with the ghost and find a way to work with The Descendants to stop a deadly cycle that has been going on since the first accused witch was hanged. If any town should have learned its lesson, it’s Salem. But history may be about to repeat itself. – via Goodreads

I stumbled on this randomly recently, thought it looked alright, bought it, let it languish. I mean really, isn’t that what readers do? Then I saw it in my library and was like “it’s time”, and man, I have no regrets. This book is absolutely fantastic! It is so much more than I thought it would be, and it really does tick like all my boxes. I think one of the blurbs was something like “Mean Girls meets the Salem Witch Trials”, and dammit, it really is just like that.

I need to back up a minute and find a way to articulate myself. There is just so much going for this book that had me thrilled every step of the way. Uhm, let’s see… I really enjoyed the characters. They are not super deep characters or anything, but they all have their little quirks and things, and they really give the story some oomph. The author gives a great, authentic vibe throughout the book, too. The story flows and doesn’t ever feel forced or unnatural.

I was super swept up by this, as you can tell. Everything just worked in it, and I particularly enjoyed Elijah’s character, and Sam, too, is a fun protagonist to follow. Mrs Meriwether is a lovely lady, and Jaxon (despite that spelling) is worth reading about. The book is steeped in history, but not like historical fiction. It has most definitely been modernised, and you can tell the author has put a lot of research and time into the history (not surprising when you see she is a fourteenth generation Mather).

I think that How to Hang a Witch has it all. We have romance, fun, the supernatural, a mystery, magic, everything you would need. I really felt like a young kid reading this again. It’s awesome because while this is probably directed at young adults, it totally works for adults, too. The book speaks of bullying and alienation and other themes, too, but I am really not going to get smack involved with discussing the hell out of that. Know that there are a lot of themes in this and they are all handled really well.

The book is really well written with some super fun characters and a great story to sink your teeth into. I raced through this and was heartbroken when I got to the end because, well, then it was over. I can see how this is something I am going to revisit again in the future. I loved this and highly recommend it, and will calm down now and put a sock in it.

The Originals: Season 1 (2013 – 2014)

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the originals season one cover

*CONTAINS SPOILERS*

What I liked:

  • So. Much. Klaus. I am a huge Klaus fan, and I was from the moment we met him in The Vampire Diaries. He’s just bad to the bone, really, and so unapologetic about it. He is what he is, and he doesn’t care who you are.
  • Elijah. Again, I have always like this Original. He is so honourable, has amazing suits, always looks good, speaks beautifully and has such a dignified air about him that you cannot help but respect him. On the flip side, do not get on his bad side. Like holy wow, the man is brutal as heck.
  • Being able to manage the stories of witches, werewolves, and vampires. New Orleans, man, was the best setting for this, because there are a ton of each of the supernatural beings, and it doesn’t seem out of place in New Orleans.
  • Glimpses of the Mikaelson past. Seriously, having been around for centuries means that there is history to tell.
  • Elijah and Hayley and all their back and forth. Yes. This couple? I think they are great. I just want Elijah to be happy, and he is so into Hayley, and being the man of honour that he is? Man, it’ll just be fantastic.originals season 1 elijah and hayleyoriginals season 1 hayley and elijah
  • The warring between Marcel and Klaus. Really, to see where Marcel came from, the relationship between him and Klaus, and how things have gotten? Oh my.
  • Father Kieran. I actually really like this character – I was a bit worried when there was the requisite priestly character for this type of thing, but it worked quite well.
  • The story arc of the wolves. I like that they are actually quite important here, not just a side plot to the vampires. The Originals has managed to successfully involve all these factions, and really well, too.
  • The relationships between characters is great. Elijah and Klaus, Klaus and Marcel, Marcel and Davina, Davina and Josh, Cami and Klaus… there are just so many and they all work exceptionally well.

What I didn’t like:

  • In The Vampire Diaries, in season two, Elijah was against Klaus because he was convinced that Klaus had killed off their whole family, and then Klaus brokered a deal to give the Mikaelson family to Elijah/reunite them, if he helped him. It was then revealed that the family had merely been daggered and lying in coffins. It was big news to Elijah. However, in The Originals, there are daggerings happening left, right, and centre, and it is well known knowledge that Klaus daggers the siblings that peeve him to teach them a lesson. I was not a fan of the inconsistency.
  • Davina actually irritates the hell out of me at the moment. She is so… she’s such a bloody child, and whiny. Get your things together sweetie, such is life!
  • Rebekah still irritates me. Not as bad as before, what with getting to spend more time with her, but enough to peeve me still. I guess we will have to wait and see how all this goes.
  • Francesca. Oh. My. Gosh. You can just tell she is trouble from the off, and what an ugly chick to boot, too. What an ego she has, too! Wow!

originals season 1 klaus

Rating:
Okay, so I ended up watching this because I finished all The Vampire Diaries and was all sad cause I was so hooked. Naturally, I turned to The Originals because you all know I love my Klausie. And Eljah. A lot. So I was, of course, willing to watch a show where they were the central leads. Of course I was. I wasn’t going to look down my nose at an opportunity to see as much Klaus as possible, as well as Elijah and his gorgeous suits, phenomenal poise, and stunning vocabulary. Seeking this out was well enough, as The Originals happens to be a really good spin off series, which is rare.

The plots are well developed, the characters have depth (even if it takes time to reveal them), the show ties in nicely to The Vampire Diaries, but only briefly and quickly, so you can easily watch this without the former, and the pacing is cool. The first few episodes fumble a little, as is to be expected, but as soon as the ball is rolling, we are on a fantastic mission here. It was interesting to see how Klaus’s opinion of Hayley and her pregnancy changed as the season continued, and it showed an extremely hidden side of him. Elijah, too, stepped up and showed another side to him, which I love. The man has impeccable taste and is a man of honour, integrity, and his word mean everything. He is super polished. However, under all that, he is a brute of note.

Klaus taking on Marcel for the city was interesting, too, because they both want such different things out of the whole deal. The story arc of the witches, their oppression, and then eventual completing of the Harvest was great, and resurrecting the fallen. I thought it was crushing to see how Rebekah had brought their father, Mikael, to New Orleans all those years ago to run Klaus out of town so she and Marcel could be together, because it is a really sad thing that Klaus is painted terrible and treacherous (he is), but nobody examines what happens before all these things.

originals season 1 elijah witches

Another thing I love? The chaste relationship between Elijah and Hayley. I am quite taken with it, and the tension between them is driving me wild. Let’s not forget the Camille side of things – I actually don’t particularly enjoy her character, I find her flat and needy. Also, the jumping between Marcel and Klaus is silly, and I don’t feel that her and Klaus click at all. I just wish it would work out. I particularly enjoy all the politics going on here, and the history of the Mikaelson family is compelling. New Orleans is the perfect setting for all the power plays and all the magical factions coming together. It is really good.

And that final episode? The dramatics! The intensity! The blood, rage, and anger? Eeeeeeep! As if I didn’t dislike papa Mikael enough, seeing more of his history, what he did to his kids, and especially Klaus? Never, ever going to like him now. UGH. I am a really big fan of seeing the Mikaelson history, as well as delving into their exceptionally messy family ties. For reals. Also, Mikael returning in the end? This could get absolutely fascinating.

The Originals is a really solid series with great characters and interesting stories. It is quite well written and really well acted. No time is wasted getting into the story, and I like that. The Mikaelson family is fascinating, and watching the broken dynamics of it is engrossing, and to see how all the relationships between characters tie in together is great. Truly well worth the watch!

originals season 1 klaus and rebekah

Review: Doctor Strange (2016)

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“Death is what gives life meaning. To know your days are numbered and your time is short.”
– The Ancient One

SYNOPSIS: A former neurosurgeon embarks on a journey of healing only to be drawn into the world of the mystic arts. – via IMDB

Goodness, it only took me forever to get to this! Finally I did so, and I must say, it is a Marvel film. It’s just what you expect. Good actors, decent story, decent effects, a silly love interest thrown into the mix, and some humour… you know, the regular recipe. This felt like your average Marvel film, which is both a good and a bad thing. It means you get a consistent viewing experience on the one hand, and on the other, it’s pretty generic and won’t stay with you forever. Yes. I said it.

I didn’t buy into the hype when this came and people lauded it. That is done for all Marvel releases, and only some of them are actually worthy of it. That being said, I was still interested to see what the studio would do with this, especially when I heard it get compared to things like Inception and The Matrix. I needed to see. I agree I can see where some of these comparisons come in, but unlike the other movies, there is not real stroke of brilliance here. For all the magic and sorcery that was spoken about, it just didn’t have the same vibe and feel here. It felt like things were rushed a bit, yet the movie felt overly long – yes, the pacing was a bit of an issue.

Doctor Strange did look good though. Really good. There were actually way too many effects going on for me, but I also think it was handled really well and looked awesome. The movie was also carried by an exceptionally good cast, and they all performed as best they could with the material they were given.  I think Cumberbatch was a fantastic choice to play Doctor Strange. There was the super awesome cape (I totally need one of those), and I enjoyed some of the humour. Wong was the best, and there was all sorts of mystical knowledge to be explored. It even had Mads Mikkelsen in it, peeps. But all of that could not save the movie. Ultimately it is rather forgettable. There is a very unfortunate love story squashed in, the pacing is all over the show, the story is actually pretty damn weak, and it never really goes for gold. Well, it feels like it doesn’t.

At the end of the day I was not bowled over as most people were. It is not a bad movie, not by a long shot. It is entertaining, looks good, and has an awesome cast attached to the project, these things cannot be denied. But the experience is pretty flat, there is nothing really new brought to the table, and it will not stay with you after all is said and done. For popcorn entertainment, it wasn’t bad, but it isn’t something I will be rushing to rewatch.

Rapid Review: The Last Witch Hunter (2015)

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the last with hunter poster

“Do you know what it’s like to live forever?”
– Kaulder

SYNOPSIS: The last witch hunter is all that stands between humanity and the combined forces of the most horrifying witches in history. – via IMDB

the last witch hunter fight

GRADE 5I didn’t have much hope for this movie, but it didn’t mean that I wasn’t interested in seeing it. For the lols, you know? It was an alright movie, nothing fantastic, but I think of many worse movies to waste time on. This one also had a cast that intrigued me, and they all did a relatively good job. It was good to see Michael Caine again, but disappointing that there is nothing fresh and new to bring to the table with his character. Vin Diesel doesn’t shock, either, and delivers the performance you expect from him as well as the character he represents. It was crazy strange to see him in all the scenes from back in the day. My husband was immensely disappointed when the movie flicked from the past into the present as we know it, he thought he was totally in for something else. However, it isn’t a bad thing that the movie was set in the present because the effects for the past and the sets and all were just… not good at all, but I could understand his disappointment when he thought he was getting this badass film about with hunters with swords and old school and stakes and all that. Nope, it was just not meant to be. Rose Leslie is, of course, beautiful, and holds her own here, though I feel that the role was somewhat beneath her talents. The movie boasts some terribly corny dialogue, this has to be stated. Like, there were times I cringed, times I actually just laughed, and other times I rolled my eyes. I think if people take this seriously, they are going to hate it. If they just want something to pass time and turn their brains off for, you can do worse (though granted, you can do plenty better, too). It’s just an average film that doesn’t break any boundaries, and never strives for brilliance, which is the pitfall. Oh, and some dodgy screenwriting.

Review: The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

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Night Circus, The

SYNOPSIS: The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called “Le Cirque des Reves,” and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway–a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love – a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per-formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead. – via Goodreads

Abbi of Where The Wild Things Are recommended that I check this one out. Obviously I had to oblige, and I am so glad that I did. Whatever you do, don’t think you know what is coming because of the description of the jacket of the book or via Goodreads. In fact, rather go in blind (I did, and reading the write up after the fact it is and isn’t the story, at the same time). Initially it took me a while to get into the writing style, it was a little disconcerting, very abrupt and blunt, which didn’t help at all towards flow. Also, the story is told in disjointed parts, which could frustrate you, but just go with it and it is immensely rewarding!

The story is not told in extreme lavish detail or anything, but it is rich when it comes to the circus. As a reader you know more solidly how the competition will end, though it is shrouded in mystery within the novel. The circus is described beautifully, all lacking in colour and all gives it a terribly dreamlike quality, which is amazing. Not only that, the magic starts to seep from the pages in a sense, and you are drawn in, making the discoveries alongside Celia and Marco. I wish I could adequately describe the feeling you get when reading this book… ethereal, enchanting, mesmerizing and dreamlike. You can see the circus, smell it, damn near taste it!

The relationship between Marco and Celia is painfully beautiful, drawing you in, feeding you with a passion and a mystery you would not have believed possible based purely on the writing style from the beginning, though their love story is not wholly unexpected. It is chaste and frustrating at times, but I think the circus and the love story that lingers throughout it is what totally owns your attention throughout the pages. The circus was the venue, of course, and the moves of the challenge the love letters between the magicians, and I thought it was really well done.

I do have an issue with how sometimes the book felt a little distant, due to how Morgenstern writes, but at the same time it is almost perfectly suited for the tale that is told. Initially when I started this book, I was not totally sold. I had some severe issues with some things (the writing style, the lack of explanations, no real character depth), but then later I was drawn in and I fell in love, and all the earlier parts start fitting in and working wonders. I was disappointed by the challenge, overall, and the book description doesn’t help much because it gears you up for some crazy epic showdown, and that is not quite how it goes.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Night Circus, and I am looking forward to revisiting it so that I can look at the smaller nuances, catch things that might be more beautiful the second time around. Thanks lady, I must say this was a spectacularly magical recommendation!