The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang – Non-Spoiler Review

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fivestars

Book: The Poppy War

Authors: R.F. Kuang

Pages: 544

Genre: Adult (maybe borderline YA), fantasy, historical fiction

My Rating: ★★★★★

Goodreads Synopsis:

When Rin aced the Keju, the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies, it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard, the most elite military school in Nikan, was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

The Poppy War is one of those books that will forever stay with me and is one of my favorite reads of 2018. My friend Melanie recommend The Poppy War to me and I am forever grateful for this. I always appreciate reading books outside of my comfort zone and I’ve been wanting to read more own voices and adult fantasy this year. I cannot recommend this book enough if you’re a fan of war fantasies/historical fiction.

However, I want to mention some major trigger warnings right off the bat: brutal torture/murders, genocide, infanticide, rape (told via recounting), bullying, racism, drug use/addiction, animal cruelty, and overall very, very graphic scenes and descriptions of war. If you watch Game of Thrones, then I’d say the type of graphic violence in The Poppy War is on par with that (or maybe slightly worse.) Also, even though I’ve seen Goodreads label this as YA, I feel like it’s very loosely a YA book due to all the mature content. The story itself is inspired by the Second Sino-Japanese War, most notably the Nanking Massacre. I implore you to read up on these events to get a better understanding of how horrible, yet important, they are to remember.

I was instantly hooked from the very first page. We follow Rin, a war orphan who, wanting to avoid an arranged marriage, enters an elite military academy. I want to say how much I LOVED this school setting; from the combat classes to the odd teachers and (some horrible) classmates. Here Rin faces bullying and racism, but to watch her character arc has been one of the greatest things I’ve ever read (she is so fierce and badass. In fact, several of the females are in this book.) I found myself rooting for so many characters (even some who didn’t deserve it).

But this isn’t just a story about students; there is an entire continent with a war erupting, and an island nation that seeks revenge. Greater things beyond human control come into play and the story evolves into epic, magical battles.

You’ll also read about some great friendships and loyalty, but do not expect any romance. I will admit I had a few ships in mind. But you’re not going to get any romance out of this book.

While this book is over 500 pages, it is very fast paced and a huge page-turner. Every scene is action-packed and you’ll be in for some big twists. There were times I felt there were info-dump scenes I had to re-read to understand better (history lessons, war strategies), but they were all so interesting and I found myself tabbing alllll the pages! I seriously don’t even know how Kuang was able to construct this beautiful story (and it’s her debut!) but I cannot wait to read more!

fivestars

xx,

Amy

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Awaken the Travel Bug In Me

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. There is a new topic each Tuesday, so check out her blog for more info!

This week’s prompt is a list of books that awaken the travel bug in me. I have a mix of fantasy, beachy reads, and memoirs — so let’s get started!

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Queen of the Road by Doreen Orion

I read Queen of the Road (a memoir) many years ago and got to know the author via Facebook. She and her husband are both doctors who decided to live on a bus full-time while touring the United States. Major bucket list goals right there.

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The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

This book will forever show up on any lists that have to do with traveling. The main setting is rural Scotland, which tugs at my heart because I want to go there soooo badly.

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The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

The Wicked Deep is a gorgeous, atmospheric read set in the Pacific Northwest. There’s a haunted town with local legends — all things that remind me of my home (sans ocean) so, of course, I want to visit some place like this in real life. [Review]

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Caraval and Legendary by Stephanie Garber

Okay, I know Caraval is a totally fictional place, but it gives me lots of night time festival vibes. It brings back my memories of being in Phuket, Thailand with my family. [Caraval Review & Legendary Review]

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A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

There are four different versions of London in this series, guys. Need I say more?

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Along For the Ride by Sarah Dessen

This book doesn’t necessarily trigger a travel bug in me BUT it is super summery and beachy. It reminds me of sleepy, relaxed beach vacations which I could certainly use right about now.

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Invictus by Ryan Graudin

Invictus takes us through several places all over the world at different points in history. It’s so fast paced that I wished they spent more time in those locations! (I don’t want to be spoilery so I’m not going to mention the different locations.)

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Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Sky in the Deep is a viking-inspired fantasy that just screams Scandinavian vibes. Touring the fjords and visiting Scandinavia is a major bucket list item for me! For now I have to settle for EPCOT. hahaha. [Review]

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Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

I know. I feel like this is such a cop out but I can’t help it. Any time I read HP I am immediately transported into cozy pubs, inns, and cute shops. I also don’t mind the cold so I’d love to go to England in the fall.

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The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

This Russian-inspired fantasy is perfect for those wintery days. This book is so atmospheric — I wanted to travel to Russia immediately.

 

An honorable mention goes to travel books in general. I love flipping through travel books and foreign language phrase books. Nothing gets me more excited than reading those!

What book inspires you to travel? Let me know in the comments! And I hope you’re all having a lovely week! ❤

xx,

Amy

My Plain Jane (The Lady Janies, #2) by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, & Brodi Ashton: Non-Spoiler Review

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ARC provided by HarperTeen via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review

fourstars

Book: My Plain Jane

Series: The Lady Janies, #2

Authors: Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, & Brodi Ashton

Pages: 464

Genre: YA fantasy, paranormal, historical retelling

Publication Date: June 26, 2018

My Rating: ★★★★

Goodreads Synopsis:

You may think you know the story. After a miserable childhood, penniless orphan Jane Eyre embarks on a new life as a governess at Thornfield Hall. There, she meets one dark, brooding Mr. Rochester. Despite their significant age gap (!) and his uneven temper (!!), they fall in love—and, Reader, she marries him. (!!!)

Or does she?

Prepare for an adventure of Gothic proportions, in which all is not as it seems, a certain gentleman is hiding more than skeletons in his closets, and one orphan Jane Eyre, aspiring author Charlotte Brontë, and supernatural investigator Alexander Blackwood are about to be drawn together on the most epic ghost hunt this side of Wuthering Heights.

My Plain Jane has been one of my most anticipated reads of 2018, so I want to say a massive thank you to HarperTeen for the ARC via Edelweiss! My Lady Jane was one of my top favorite books I read last year, so naturally I had the burning need to read and review My Plain Jane ASAP.

In case you’ve never heard of The Lady Janies series, they are satirical retellings based on Janes throughout history/literature. My Lady Jane is based on Lady Jane Grey (aka the Nine Days Queen) with a magical twist, while My Plain Jane is a Jane Eyre retelling with a paranormal twist. The third installment will be called My Calamity Jane (I am SO excited for this one!) Do these books have to be read in order? No. But I did notice a little cameo from My Lady Jane in My Plain Jane, so if you blink, you may miss it 😉

Like I said, My Plain Jane is a Jane Eyre retelling. So if you’ve read Jane Eyre, then you’re going to be able to predict the major plot points. Do I think this is a bad thing? Not necessarily. However, I do think it takes a little bit of the mystery away from the story.

With that being said, I still adored this book and all the witty banter, lovable characters, and GHOSTS! My Plain Jane follows a young woman named Jane Eyre and her best friend Charlotte Brontë (hehe, get it?) Jane can see spirits, and there’s a ghost hunting society that wants to recruit her into their ranks. But Jane has her mind set on becoming a governess for the brooding Mr. Rochester of Thornfield Hall.

This book is very much a Ghost Hunters meets Ghostbusters meets Jane Eyre mash up. You’ll be on a ghost hunting adventure as these characters are trying to solve the mystery behind some strange things happening at Thornfield. Not only did I love the Monty Python-esque dialogue between the characters, but I also loved the friendships, cute romance, and various homages to modern pop culture and history. I found myself laughing out loud during so many scenes, and you may even pick up a few hidden Easter eggs as you read along.

I definitely recommend this book if you’re into satire or just want a good, heartwarming laugh. I fell in love with these characters and even found myself tearing up during certain parts. I especially loved Helen Burns, Jane’s ghost friend, and I found myself relating to Charlotte so much. Not to mention the women in this book are so strong and badass. I want to be best friends with them all!

My Plain Jane releases June 26, 2018! Happy reading!

fourstars

xx,

Amy

 

 

May 2018 Book Haul

Hi there! So, let’s just jump right into this! I actually bought less than usual in May haha… but it’s still quite a lot. I’m really lucky I was sent some books from publishers and authors! And this is also my first month repping for FairyLoot! (My code COURT5 is good for a 3 or 6-month subscription for May, June, and July!)

Books I Purchased:

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Vicious by V.E. Schwab – UK hardback

The Surface Breaks by Louise O’Neill

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff [Review]

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas [Review]

Furyborn by Claire Legrand [Review]

Legendary by Stephanie Garber [Review]

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor [Review]

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton

Books From Subscription Boxes:

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The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Book the Month)

Still Lives by Maria Hummel (Book of the Month)

A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas (Illumicrate: Starfall)

Catching Stars by Cayla Keenan (Owlcrate)

Whisper by Lynette Noni (Booked for the Weekend)

Love & Luck by Jenna Evans Welch (Beacon Book Box)

Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne (Shelflove Crate) [Review]

Beyond a Darkened Shore by Jessica Leake (FairyLoot)

Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young (Owlcrate) [Review]

Onyx & Ivory by Mindee Arnett (FairyLoot)

 

ARCs / Books Sent by Authors & Publishers:

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Rule by Ellen Goodlett (Little, Brown/NOVL)

The Movement by Samantha Armstrong (Koru House Press)

Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean (HMH Books for Young Readers)

This Body’s Not Big Enough for Both of Us by Edgar Cantero (Doubleday Books)

The Demon Race by Alexandria Warwick (Wolf Publishing)

Legendary by Stephanie Garber (Flatiron Books)

Escaping From Houdini by Kerri Maniscalco (Jimmy Books)

Amara’s Rose by Brianna Goux  (First Choice Books)

Bad Man by Dathan Auerbach (Doubleday Books)

Unwifeable by Mandy Standtmiller (Simon & Schuster)

 

Digital ARCs:

Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart (ARC provided by Little, Brown/NOVL via NetGalley)

Not Even Bones (ARC provided by HMH via NetGalley)

 

Wow! I’m always amazed by how many books accumulated over the period of one month! There were definitely some pre-orders in the mix, and as always, I am so forever grateful for the books sent to me by publishers and authors. ❤ I hope you’re all having a lovely weekend!

xx,

Amy

May 2018 Wrap Up

I had a very productive reading month! I’m actually a bit shocked I read 12 books. I usually average around 6 books per month. I think a lot had to do with 1) needing to review ARCs in time and, 2) participating in buddy reads. Buddy reading always gets me to read a certain amount each day, which really helps keep me motivated!

So here they are: the physical and digital books I read in May. If you’re curious how well I stuck to my May TBR, you can check out that page here. I think I did a pretty good job! 🙂 My reviews are linked below.

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Mirage by Somaiya Daud [ARC provided by Flatiron Books. Buddy read with Melanie, Lilly, Jules, Chelsea, and Julie!]

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian [Buddy read with Jen, Chelsea, Clarisa, Stacia, and Heather]

A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas

Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody [Buddy read with Julie, Melanie,  Jules, Chelsea, Courtney, and Alexis]

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black [Re-read on audio]

LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Legendary by Stephanie Garber [Buddy read with Melanie!]

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab [Physical ARC borrowed from Mary at Fox & Wit ]

Bruja Born by Zoraida Cordova [Buddy read with Alexis, Lori, and Melanie!]

Tell Me No Lies by A.V. Geiger [Buddy read with Jen!]

I have another ambitious TBR for June, so I’m crossing my fingers I’m able to read everything on my list! Did you read anything good in May? 🙂

xx,

Amy

June 2018 TBR

Hi, friends! I have another overly ambitious TBR for June! I’m so lucky I get to buddy read with some amazing bookworms again. I am also so grateful I get to read a few ARCs! I want to say a huge thank you to the publishers for allowing me these opportunities. ❤

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Shadow and Bone (Grisha, #1) by Leigh Bardugo [Buddy read with Jen and Terri <3]

Rule by Ellen Goodlett [ARC provided by Little, Brown/NOVL]

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan [ARC provided by Jimmy Books. Buddy read with Melanie, Lilly, Jules, Chelsea, and Julie!]

Escaping from Houdini (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #3) by Kerri Maniscalco [ARC provided by Jimmy Books]

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang [Buddy read with Jen, Clarisa, Heather, Chelsea, and Evdokia <3]

Hunting Prince Dracula (Stalking Jack the Ripper, #2) by Kerri Maniscalco

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Digital Galleys:

Not Even Bones by Rebecca Schaeffer [ARC provided by HMH via NetGalley]

My Plain Jane (The Lady Janies, #2) by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows [ARC provided by HarperTeen via Edelweiss]

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand [ARC provided by Katherine Tegen Books via Edelweiss. Buddy read with Melanie!]

 

I really hope I can get to all of these! Which books are you excited to read in June? 🙂

xx,

Amy

Tell Me No Lies (Follow Me Back, #2) by A.V. Geiger: Non-Spoiler Review

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ARC provided by Sourcebooks Fire via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

threestars

Book: Tell Me No Lies

Series: Follow Me Back, #2

Author: A.V. Geiger

Pages: 336

Genre: YA Mystery/Thriller

Publication Date: June 5, 2018

My Rating: ★★★

Goodreads Synopsis:

Love. Obsession. Jealousy. Murder.

No one knows what happened to pop icon Eric Thorn. His Twitter account? Frozen. His cell phone? Cracked and bloody, buried in the snow.

Agoraphobic fangirl Tessa Hart knows the truth, but she’s finally left her #EricThornObsessed days behind. She has no intention of ever touching her Twitter app again. But Snapchat… That’s safer, right?

After months of living under the radar, Tessa emerges from hiding, forced to face the deadly consequences of her past. But in the interrogation room, answers only lead to more questions in the pulse-pounding conclusion to the Follow Me Back duology.

This review will contain spoilers from the first book, Follow Me Back.

I have some mixed feelings about Follow Me Back, but after that cliffhanger? I NEEDED to know what happened to Eric. Seriously, you cannot end a book in that fashion and expect me to just be okay!

After the mysterious ending that was Follow Me Back, Eric Thorn goes missing. Tell Me No Lies picks up right where the cliffhanger left off, and we learn pretty quickly what happened. Just like the format in Follow Me Back, Tell Me No Lies alternates between third person narrative and police interrogation transcripts. There are also lots of chat transcripts from Twitter and Snapchat. I’m a huge fan of chat transcripts and mixed media formats, so I was happy to see this again in the sequel.

Lately I haven’t been a huge fan of YA thrillers but honestly? I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I buddy read the ARC with Jen at Pinot and Pages, and we both devoured it within one day. We could not put it down. Is the writing the best? No. Are the characters the greatest? No. Is it a page turner? YES. There were so many red herrings and twists that I honestly didn’t know who to trust.

Tell Me No Lies once again follows Tessa, who is under police interrogation… AGAIN. Not only is she hiding something, but some new (and old) characters come into play. And as if these characters never learned their lesson before, they go back on social media where it, AGAIN, ruins their lives.

And, yes, while there were so many (so. many.) times I wanted to punch Tessa in the face, I loved how Geiger was able to keep me interested and engaged the whole time. The obvious theme is how far we can get carried away with social media, how dangerous that other person at the end of the internet can be, and how we can’t trust anybody. This also brings up the notion that we now live in a society where we are basically monitored 24/7. We really can’t hide. Ever.

Tell Me No Lies does read like a young teen novel, so that’s something to keep in mind if you’re not a fan of constant social media speak. The characters don’t have a lot of growth and the scenarios are unbelievable. But hey, the mystery had me on the edge of my seat the whole time, and I really enjoyed the ride!

Lastly I’d like to mention this book discusses mental health (especially anxiety and agoraphobia) a lot so please proceed with caution if this topic may be a trigger for you.

Tell Me No Lies releases on June 5, 2018. Thank you so much to Sourcebooks Fire for the digital ARC!

threestars

xx,

Amy

 

 

Legendary (Caraval, #2) by Stephanie Garber: Non-Spoiler Review

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ARC provided by Flatiron in exchange for an honest review

fourstars

Book: Legendary

Series: Caraval, #2

Author: Stephanie Garber

Pages: 416

Genre: YA Fantasy

Publication Date: May 29, 2018

Legendary rating: ★★★★

Caraval rating: ★★★★

Goodreads Synopsis:

Stephanie Garber’s limitless imagination takes flight once more in the colorful, mesmerizing, and immersive sequel to the bestselling breakout debut Caraval

A heart to protect. A debt to repay. A game to win.

After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more—and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets…including her sister’s. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice. But now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about—maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…the games have only just begun.

This review will contain spoilers from the first book, Caraval.

Over the past week Stephanie Garber has become one of my favorite authors. I know Caraval had polarizing reviews, but I’m in the “I loved it” camp. Stephanie Garber writes the types of stories I crave and could devour in one sitting. Her stories are wrapped in mysterious, cunning characters woven into a luscious world of myths and magic.

Overall I immensely enjoyed reading Legendary. I was immediately whisked away into this atmospheric world again and it made me so happy! Legendary picks up right where Caraval left off, but this time we’re following Tella. And, wow, we really do hit the ground running. Tella owes a debt to a mysterious person and she once again has to play the game in order to pay her debt. But in good ol’ Caraval fashion, things aren’t always as they seem; you can’t trust anyone and whatever rules you learned from the last Caraval can essentially be thrown out the window.

Because this time around, we really don’t know if it’s a game anymore.

“As fantastical as Caraval might feel, the next five nights are very real.”

While I wasn’t the biggest fan of Tella during the first book (I did like her at the end, though), I immediately loved her in Legendary. There’s nothing I love more in a MC than sarcasm and a sharp tongue. Time and time again she proves herself to be brave and calculating. And you will get to discover so much more of her past, which was just barely skimmed over during Scarlett’s POV in Caraval.

And while Scarlett and Julian are in this book, they do take a bit of a back seat. New and old characters come into play, and guys, you’re in for a real treat. I won’t spoil anything so I won’t be naming names. But my heart was bursting with joy as I fell deeper into the story. Let’s just say Chapter 13 is my new favorite thing I’ve read in a very very long time. I legit had to put the book down to send a raving Snap to my friend Melanie. Oh, and I am 100% all in for shipping a certain couple. *heart eyes*

“Magic can be fueled by time, blood, and emotions.”

Aside from loving the cast, I was so immersed in the new world. The Caraval games are being held in Valenda, an empire that holds many secrets and legends. You’re in for quite a ride because there are so many new myths and magical systems to learn. My ARC copy is covered in page tabs because I wanted to memorize the history behind these legendary myths.

Okay, so you’re probably wondering why I gave this book 4 stars when I’ve been gushing about it. Well, I did have a few qualms that inevitably made me lower my rating by 1 star. Without giving away any spoilers, I found it to be a little too romance heavy (nothing wrong with this at all. I really liked the romance but at times I felt like it took away from the story). I also wasn’t the biggest fan of some twists and I really wanted a bit more Scarlett and Julian.

But wow, that ending! I wanted to throw my book across the room. Not in a bad way, but in a what-will-I-do-with-myself-for-another-year kind of way. Seriously, once I got down to the last 30 pages I did not want it to be over! Legendary is an amazing middle book of a trilogy, and it’s already setting up for a wild ride in book 3 (which already has a title: Finale.) I don’t know how much more my heart can handle, but I am so ready for it.

I truly did love this book despite my tiny complaints. Please pick up this book especially if you enjoyed Caraval. You’re going to discover such a fun, new world sprinkled with some morally grey characters and beautiful tragedies. I hope you love this book as much as I did!

Buddy read with Melanie! ❤

All quotes were taken from an ARC provided by the publisher and is subject to change upon publication.

fourstars

xx,

Amy

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab: Non-Spoiler Review

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ARC borrowed from my friend Mary at Fox & Wit

fourstars

Book: City of Ghosts

Author: Victoria Schwab

Pages: 272

Genre: Middle grade, paranormal, fantasy

Publication Date: August 28, 2018

My rating: ★★★★

Goodreads Synopsis:

Cassidy Blake’s parents are The Inspectres, a (somewhat inept) ghost-hunting team. But Cass herself can REALLY see ghosts. In fact, her best friend, Jacob, just happens to be one.

When The Inspectres head to ultra-haunted Edinburgh, Scotland, for their new TV show, Cass—and Jacob—come along. In Scotland, Cass is surrounded by ghosts, not all of them friendly. Then she meets Lara, a girl who can also see the dead. But Lara tells Cassidy that as an In-betweener, their job is to send ghosts permanently beyond the Veil. Cass isn’t sure about her new mission, but she does know the sinister Red Raven haunting the city doesn’t belong in her world. Cassidy’s powers will draw her into an epic fight that stretches through the worlds of the living and the dead, in order to save herself.

It’s safe to say I am a huge fan of Victoria Schwab. She can write adult, YA, and middle grade fiction and I’d be the first in line to buy them all.

I’m also a huge paranormal fan. I grew up in a “haunted” college town. I’ve loved ghost stories as a kid and I still have a fascination with old legends and local haunts. City of Ghosts is being marketed as Stranger Things meets Ghost Hunters. I agree with the Ghost Hunters part. But, did you ever watch Are You Afraid of the Dark? on Nickelodeon? Because I legit feel like City of Ghosts could be an episode from that show.

Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this story…

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Ahem. I digress.

I’ll skip writing a summary since the synopsis above already does a wonderful job explaining the key points (which I think is a bit of a shame because it really could benefit from a more vague description.) However, since this is middle grade, the synopsis is probably overly descriptive for parents to judge whether this book is right for their child/age group. So please keep in mind that this is a middle grade book. If you only prefer Schwab’s adult books then this might not be the perfect match for you.

There were so many things I loved about City of Ghosts: The unshakable friendship between Cassidy and Jacob, the adventures they ensue in Edinburgh, their quirky ghost-hunting parents, and all the creepy spirits. The story is very fast paced and flows beautifully. I especially loved how the Veil was used as a means for Cassidy to use her “gift” and discover her “purpose”. My only qualm is I wish we got a little more info on Jacob, but I think there’s a possibility this is setting up for a sequel.

 

“Embrace your strange, dear daughter. Where’s the fun in being normal?”

 

Overall this was such a treat from Schwab. I really hope we get more Cass and Jacob. This would be perfect for Halloween and for anyone who wants a quick, haunting read. If you want some spooky lore set in Scotland, amazing friendships, and that dash of nostalgia à la Are You Afraid of the Dark?, then I highly recommend City of Ghosts!

Thank you so much to my friend Mary for letting me borrow her ARC copy of City of Ghosts!

All quotes were taken from an ARC and is subject to change upon publication.

fourstars

xx,

Amy

Caraval (Caraval, #1) by Stephanie Garber: Non-Spoiler Review

 

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fourstars

Book: Caraval

Series: Caraval, #1

Author: Stephanie Garber

Pages: 407

Genre: YA Fantasy

My rating: ★★★★

Goodreads 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.

“Welcome, welcome to Caraval! The grandest show on land or by sea. Inside you’ll experience more wonders than most people see in a lifetime. You can sip magic from a cup and buy dreams in a bottle. But before you fully enter into our world, you must remember it’s all a game.”

I can see why Caraval has such polarizing reviews on Goodreads. And while I do agree with some points mentioned in the lower-rated reviews, I found myself thoroughly enjoying this book. I loved the twisted games, the cunning and manipulative characters, and the overall ambiance. Caraval is so atmospheric; I could taste the ciders and smell the flowers described to me. If you’re into these types of books, then I recommend you give this series a try!

Caraval follows two sisters who live on an island with their tyrant of a father, Governor Dragna. Scarlett and Donatella (Tella) have wanted to attend the magical show, Caraval, all their lives. After years of writing to Master Legend, Scarlett is sent three tickets to attend. Then they meet Julian, a mysterious sailor who helps them get to Isla de los Sueños, where Caraval is held.

First and foremost, Caraval is a game. This is mentioned several times to remind us that Caraval is a competition. You get the choice of being a spectator or a player. Whoever wins gets a wish granted by Master Legend himself.

But things don’t go quite as expected. Tella disappears, and soon everyone is told that in order to win the grand prize, they must also find Tella. Now fearing for her sister’s life, Scarlett chooses to play the game. And so begins the whirlwind of a journey into the world of Caraval.

Per usual, I’ll now discuss the things I liked and disliked about this book.

The Good:

  • The writing. The writing style seems to be a major complaint among other reviewers but I actually really loved it. I loved the lyrical writing; it painted the perfect pictures for me. I was able to vividly imagine scenes and emotions so strongly from Garber’s descriptive words. I didn’t feel like it was overly descriptive, either.
  • The game. I think a big misconception with this book is that it’s going to be a full-blown carnival. In reality, it’s a competition where the players must follow clue after clue that will lead them to their grand prize. No one can be trusted. The players (and performers) are cunning and, at times, the game takes some dark turns. And twists. So many twists!
  • The magic. Not everything is black and white or appears as it seems. The magic constantly makes Scarlett (and us) question what’s real and what isn’t. On another note, my favorite magical item is Scarlett’s dress that will change based on her mood or occasion. Where can I find one of those?!

The Bad:

  • Some of the characters. I wasn’t a huge fan of Scarlett or Tella. I found myself wanting to talk some sense into these girls. I had to keep reminding myself they’ve been so sheltered all their lives (with a horrible jerk father!), so I gave them a pass at being a bit idiotic. However, I do love their strong sisterly bond. Also, Julian is an awesome character who I sympathized with the most.
  • The romance is a little shaky and it does border on the insta-love territory. But honestly? I didn’t think the insta-love was that bad, and overall it was very sweet.

If you’re in the mood for a book with mystery, magic, dark characters, and romance, then I highly recommend you pick up Caraval. I had such a great time reading this and I’m looking forward to diving right into its sequel, Legendary!

fourstars

Happy reading!

xx,

Amy