Caraval: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Caraval by Stephanie GarberScarlett and her younger sister Tella grew up hearing their grandmother reminisce about visiting Caraval as a young woman. Scarlett writes to Legend every year hoping against hope that he might bring Caraval back to the small island of Trisda in the Conquered Isles.

When tickets to Caraval finally arrive, Scarlett knows she won’t be able to go. Not when being prepared for her upcoming arranged marriage, which can free Tell and herself from their abusive father, is far more pressing. Except impetuous Tella has other plans and recruits a disreputable sailor to help bring Scarlett to the magical show.

Caraval is meant to be a game and a decadent diversion for both players and spectators. But Tella’s disappearance is very real and, Scarlett soon realizes, central to this year’s game.

As Scarlett tries desperately to follow the clues to her sister, the dangers of the supposed show become very real. If she fails to find Tella and win the game, Scarlett risks losing her sister forever in Caraval (2017) by Stephanie Garber.

Caraval is Garber’s debut novel and the first book in a series. The book is written in close third person following Scarlett’s perspective. Although the epilogue promises  twists and adventures in future installments, this novel functions for the most part as a standalone.

Garber’s vibrant descriptions bring the whimsical and dangerous elements of Caraval to life as Scarlett begins to discover the wonders to be found in a place where secrets can become currency and time can be bought and sold.

Scarlett is a cautious and timid heroine for much of Caraval. She has spent years trying to shelter her sister from their father’s calculated abuse and manipulations. Scarlett’s primary concerns are safety and distance from her father. Love, adventure, and all of the things Tella craves feel secondary if not entirely superfluous in comparison.

Caraval features a varied array of characters and some romance but this novel remains surprisingly introspective in its focus on Scarlett’s own journey toward autonomy and agency. A few predictable twists and some unexpected turns serve as a strong backdrop for Scarlett’s growth as she realizes she is the victim of her father’s abuse, not the cause. As Scarlett moves deeper into the machinations of Caraval she begins to correct her earlier mistakes both in the game and in her own life while learning to trust her instincts.

Caraval is a thrilling and evocative fantasy sure to appeal to readers who enjoy stories imbued with magic and adventure. Intricate world building and the circus-like atmosphere of Caraval lend this novel an extra bit of flair that even Legend would admire.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*

Like a River Glorious: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*Like a River Glorious is the second book in Carson’s Gold Seer trilogy. This review contains spoilers for book one. If you’re new to the series start with book one Walk On Earth a Stranger*

“I thought my magic would save us all. But it turns out, all the magic in the world is rubbish compared to good people who take care of their own.”

Like a River Glorious by Rae CarsonOctober 1849: Leah “Lee” Westfall has made it to California along with her new family of misfits, outcasts, and unlikely friends that she met along the trail. But even with her best friend Jefferson and her family by her side, the path to gold and prosperity is not easy–even for a witchy girl like Lee who can sense gold.

Hiram, Lee’s uncle, is still desperate to use her powers for her own gain. Lee was helpless to stop Hiram from killing her parents, she’s determined that he won’t hurt anyone else she cares about.

Lee’s plan to best Hiram backfire leaving Lee vulnerable as her uncle’s captive. Separated from her friends, Lee will need every ounce of her witchy powers, her resilience, and the help of new allies if she wants to free herself from Hiram’s grasp once and for all in Like a River Glorious (2016) by Rae Carson.

Like a River Glorious is the second book in Carson’s Gold Seer trilogy. This review contains spoilers for book one. If you’re new to the series start with book one Walk On Earth a Stranger.

Like a River Glorious picks up shortly after the conclusion of book one (which ends right when Lee and her group arrive in California). Lee has found them a gold-rich area to claim and their settlement is well on its way to becoming a town called Glory. Then Uncle Hiram shows up, takes Lee captive, and everything goes to hell.

In order to read this book, it’s important to acknowledge that westerns are inherently problematic. As a genre the western often centers the experience of white characters while ignoring or diminish native experiences. Older westerns (and bad modern ones) romanticize expansion, systemic genocide, and white savior tropes while exoticizing, stereotyping or dehumanizing American Indians. If you want to see critiques of books through a Native lens, definitely check out Debbie Reese’s blog, especially her review of the first book in this series.

Reading Like a River Glorious with the above in mind, there are still some problems inherent to the genre. But in this second installment, Carson does the work on the page to constantly check Leah’s privilege as well as that of the other characters (male privilege for instance). This book also thoughtfully engages with a lot of the racism/biases/stereotypes that Lee encounters.

The scope of this book is much smaller, Lee spends a lot of the story held captive by her uncle. Her world narrows to securing survival and safety for herself and those she cares about. She see the atrocities her uncle is perpetrating in his mad search for gold and she feels helpless in the face of it. Understandably, that makes Like a River Glorious quite bleak but also very important as, through Lee’s first person narration, the novel the problems of westward expansion along with the wonder that pioneers felt as they sought opportunities at the expense of the indigenous populations.

Carson uses this shift in tone to create a more character driven story focused particularly on Lee and Jefferson as the two friends try to reconcile their lifelong friendship with what comes next when Jefferson wants more and Lee wants to maintain her autonomy.

Lee grows up a lot in this installment as she realizes she cannot (and should not) always be the hero. Jefferson remains a perfect counterpoint to Lee as male lead and an excellent character in his own right. Like a River Glorious is a well-researched work of historical fiction with a slow burn a slow burn romance and inclusive cast and a touch of fantasy. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede

The Smoke Hunter: A Review

The Smoke Hunter by Jacquelyn BensonEllie Mallory has few regrets when she loses her position as a government archivist after her arrest at a suffragist rally. Her exit ends with a neat bit of rebellion when Ellie grabs an unassuming Psalter that has been mis-catalogued.

Inside the book Ellie finds a mysterious stone with odd carvings along with a map to a hidden city that shouldn’t exist. The map claims to lead the way to a Mayan city deep in the jungle that was flourishing long after the civilization’s collapse. Finding the city could make Ellie’s career and open doors for her that have long been barred because of her gender.

When pursuers threaten to take Ellie’s prize out from under her, she embarks on a journey on her own to Belize City where she plans to mount her own expedition and find the city first. Ellie reluctantly hires on Adam Bates, a local surveyor and experienced explorer, to help her reach the hidden location.

As Ellie and Adam approach their destination there realize there is more at stake than credit for an unprecedented discovery. Dark forces are at work and Ellie and Adam are being drawn to their source in The Smoke Hunter (2016) by Jacquelyn Benson.

The Smoke Hunter is Benson’s debut novel.

The Smoke Hunter unfortunately has a slow start. A prologue dating from 1632 sets the scene but also delays drawing readers into the story. Despite the breakneck pacing and constant action, Ellie’s journey is slow to start with substantial setup as she discovers the map and also as she works to begin her exhibition.

Stilted dialogue and overlaps in the narrative from chapters that alternate close third-person point of view work to create an uneasy distance between readers and what should be a plot filled with urgency and immediacy.

Ellie and Adam are unlikely allies and a powerful force as they learn to trust each other and work together over the course of The Smoke Hunter. Readers willing to put in time with the setup in the beginning will be rewarded with a story filled with light adventure and high action.

Possible Pairings: Heart of Fire by Linda Howard, The Secret Sister by Elizabeth Lowell, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, Sandstorm by James Rollins, Indiana Jones, Romancing the Stone

Goldenhand: A Review

*This is the fifth book in Nix’s Old Kingdom series. It contains major spoilers for the rest of the series. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen, and Clariel*

Goldenhand by Garth NixSix months ago, Lirael was instrumental in the binding of Orannis where she lost her hand and was separated her from her truest friend, the Disreputable Dog. Now Lirael has a new hand forged out of metal and Charter Magic. She is no longer a Second Assistant Librarian in the Clayr but the Abhorsen-in-Waiting using her bells to bind and banish both Free Magic creatures and the dead.

When Lirael’s duties as Abhorsen-in-Waiting bring her across the wall to Ancelstierre, she saves Nicholas Sayre from a dangerous Hrule only to realize his injuries are slow to heal because of the Free Magic that riddles his body despite the Charter mark meant to contain it.

As Lirael seeks help for Nick at the Clayr’s Glacier, trouble brews near the northern borders of the Old Kingdom. A girl named Ferin leaves her nomadic clan to travel across dangerous terrain evading pursuers and Free Magic creatures as she makes her way toward the Clayr’s Glacier with a message for Lirael about a threat from the Witch with No Face.

Lirael, Ferin, and others will have to work together to unravel the truth of who the Witch with No Face is and what she is planning. With magic keeping the Witch alive both in Life and Death, it will take everything Lirael and her friends have to stop this new threat in Goldenhand (2016) by Garth Nix.

Goldenhand is the fifth book in Nix’s Old Kingdom series. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen, and Clariel. This book is set six months after the events of Abhorsen and picks up immediately after the conclusion of Nix’s novella “Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case” found in his short story collection Across the Wall.

Nix blows the world of the Old Kingdom wide open in this installment as he brings his characters and readers North of the Old Kingdom where even the Great Charter cannot reach.

Written in close third person, Goldenhand alternates chapters following Ferin’s journey to deliver her message and Lirael’s travels to the Glacier with Nick and then beyond the borders of the Old Kingdom.

Ferin is a fine addition to this series with a brusque manner and directness that is refreshing and contrasts particularly well with Lirael’s often tentative interactions as she makes sense of her new status and notoreity.

It’s fantastic to see Lirael’s growth as she processes and reacts to the fact that she is not the person she once was (a Sightless Second Assistant Librarian, that is) and learns to embrace her new position and everything that comes with it. Lirael’s relationship with Nick is guileless and utterly charming as these two characters circle each other and ultimately make each other better as they grow closer.

Goldenhand is an interesting expansion of the world of the Old Kingdom and the conclusion this series needed and deserved when the original trilogy ended. A completely satisfying end to a favorite series. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

Crooked Kingdom: A Review

*Crooked Kingdom is the conclusion to Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology. It contains major spoilers for book one. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Six of Crows*

“But what about the rest of us? What about the nobodies and the nothings, the invisible girls? We learn to hold our heads as if we have crowns. We learn to wring magic from the ordinary. That was how you survived when you weren’t chosen, when there was no royal blood in your veins. When the world owed you nothing, you demanded something of it anyway.”

—-

“Crows remember human faces. They remember the people who feed them, who are kind to them. And the people who wrong them too.”

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh BardugoIn a city where trade is sacred, Kaz Brekker knows the ins and outs of negotiation better than most. But even Kaz’s knack for staying ten steps ahead of his enemies and rivals can’t help him when he is double-crossed in the wake of what should have been the greatest heist of his nefarious career.

Now Kaz and his crew are scrambling to evade their enemies and regroup before moving against some of the most powerful figures in Ketterdam. Kaz may have lost a member of his crew. He may be branded as a traitor. But Kaz is also one of the only people who understands the true dangers of the drug jurda parem. And Kaz, along with his crew, is the only one who can hope to make things right.

Kaz and his crew are alone in a dangerous game that could change the face of Ketterdam and the rest of the world forever. As the odds turn against him, Kaz will have to use every trick he’s learned to change the game and get justice once and for all in Crooked Kingdom (2016) by Leigh Bardugo.

Crooked Kingdom is the conclusion to Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology. It contains major spoilers for book one. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Six of Crows.

As a sequel, Crooked Crows had a lot of promise and high expectations to meet. Like Six of Crows it is written with alternating close third person viewpoints for each member of the crew (Kaz, Inej, Nina, Metthias, Jesper, Wylan) as well as some other key figures. The multiple plot threads and overlapping narratives play against each other and build tension as the novel moves to a conclusion appropriately filled with surprises.

At her launch event for Crooked Kingdom, Bardugo mentioned that this series was inspired by her love of heist movies. Unfortunately, the plot devices in heist films rely heavily on visual cues or sleight of hand, neither of which translates well into a novel. Bardugo makes her inclusion of clues and hints to make the payoff for various cons and twists in this book seem effortless.

Bardugo’s prose is intelligent, deliberate, and thoughtful. Any author can give a character a redemption arc but the truly impressive thing here is that Kaz is exactly what he says he is from the beginning. He is a monster. He is a villain. He is ruthless. And yet by the end of this series he also has depth and nuance and is so much more than even he can fathom. The level of development and growth for the entire cast of characters was fascinating and incredibly satisfying.

This novel is an amazing reference for the mechanics of how a novel comes together and how a series should culminate. Every single thing that is hinted at either in Six of Crows or in the beginning of this book eventually comes together and is resolved. Surprises perfectly balance expected outcomes and characters shock as much as they impress. Crooked Kingdom is an excellent story with a tightly wound plot and characters who are flawed and grasping even as they learn and grow. A perfect conclusion to an exceptional duology.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, StarCrossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

My Lady Jane: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi MeadowsEdward (King of England, teenage boy, lover of blackberries, and dogs) is dying. Before he has a chance to kiss a girl or do much of anything with his tragically short life. Edward would like to wallow about his pending demise thanks to “the Affliction” but instead he’s facing a lot of pressure to secure his line of succession. Unsure if he can trust his sister Bess with the crown, and positive he can’t trust his blood-thirsty sister Mary, Edward’s only option seems to be his cousin. Jane.

Lady Jane Grey has little interest in marriage or the crown. But faced with a royal decree arranging her marriage, she has little choice but to comply. When she ends up married to Lord Gifford Dudley–an aspiring poet by night and a horse by day thanks to his uncontrolled Eðian (eth-y-un) magic–she is resigned to a quiet life with a husband who may or may not be horrible.

Then Jane’s dear cousin Edward dies (or does he?) setting off a hectic nine days with Jane in the throne and, eventually, on the run with her new husband in My Lady Jane (2016) by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows.

My Lady Jane is a delightful historical fantasy co-written by three authors (who will be writing at least two more “Jane” books about other famous Janes in history). The novel alternates first-person narration between Edward, Jane, and G.

The authors start the book with a preface explaining that this book offers an alternate (and true, according to them) history of England and Lady Jane Grey. The authors don’t expand upon what they changed but interested readers can easily research the key players online. The addition of shape-shifter magic works surprisingly well within the context of English politics at the time.

My Lady Jane is a page-turner filled with adventure, action, sweet romance, and even some magic. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, The Romantics by Leah Konen, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer

Compass South: A Graphic Novel Review

Compass South by Hope Larson, illustrated by Rebecca MockNew York City, 1860: When Alexander and Cleopatra’s father disappears, the twins are soon forced into service for the Black Hook Gang to try and survive. Facing jail time after a heist goes awry, Alex and Cleo inform on the gang in exchange for tickets out of the city.

The twins hatch a plan to head to San Francisco impersonating the long-lost sons of a millionaire. But like most cons, nothing goes quite right.

When they meet Silas and Edwin, another set of twins with the same con in mind, tempers flare and trouble forms leaving Alex and Edwin shanghaied on a ship heading to San Francisco.

While Alex and Edwin try to find their way on the ship, Cleo and Silas reluctantly join forces to reunite with their brothers in Compass South (2016) by Hope Larson, illustrated by Rebecca Mock.

Compass South is the start of a projected graphic novel series.

Cleo and Alex are orphans being raised by their uncle (known to them as their father) with only two mysterious treasures–a watch and a knife–as their family legacy. The larger mystery of the knife and the watch begins to unfold as Alex and Cleo’s madcap trip to San Francisco begins.

Silas and Edwin serve as a nice contrast to Alex and Cleo with different priorities and outlooks during the course of their journeys. Larson’s nappy dialogue (in easy to read speech bubbles) works well with Mock’s carefully detailed full-color illustrations.

This story, filled with a variety of moving parts, subplots, and characters, comes together nicely in a fun introduction to the indomitable Alex and Cleo. As might be expected in a story with two different sets of twins, sometimes it’s difficult to gauge who is being shown in frame however visual clues and dialogue help to quickly clear up any confusion.

Compass South is a fast-paced graphic novel filled with action and adventure. Sure to appeal to readers of all ages looking for an exciting piece of historical fiction, and of course to comics fans. Readers will be clamoring to see what comes next for all of the characters and eager for future installments.