[Caraval] Stephanie Garber

Once people leave this isle, the things they’ve done here don’t just unhappen, no matter how much they wish them undone.

Well, I’m glad that I didn’t pursue the idea of buying a UK edition. While Caraval did suffer from the fact that I went through a major reading slump while reading it, it wasn’t just that. I feel like Caraval was far too long for a story where very few things happened.  We were promised a carnival-esque setting, but I feel like I didn’t see much of it. The story primarily focused on Scarlett and Julian instead of the scavenger hunt / performance of Caraval.

Anytime I heard anything about Caraval, I heard about carnivals and circuses.  The people who participate in Caraval are supposed to solve a mystery–the disappearance of Scarlett’s sister–by following a set of clues like a scavenger hunt. It was something that sounded so interesting–a carnival steeped in a fantasy world. At the beginning of the novel, we’re introduced to several characters who are participating in this scavenger hunt, so it seems like Scarlett will have to compete against people who only want the prize, where she has a lot more at stake because it’s her sister. However, as the novel progresses, the only characters we consistently spend time with are Scarlett and Julian. The other characters are somewhere else, only showing up when they need to give hints to Scarlett or reveal that another character is villainous. There’s been other novels where I’ve complained about this before, but Caraval was the absolute worst that I’ve read to date. It basically was Scarlett and Julian wandering around Caraval and happening upon clues. I was really disappointed that the novel ended up focusing on the romance (instant-love, by the way, no matter how much Scarlett feels it’s meant to be and complains about her sister doing the same thing).

I wanted to know more about the tattooed young man and the woman who records all of Caraval–both past and present–in her book. There were shops where you answered truthfully or lost a day of your life–in the sense that you literally die for a day and then wake up the next. Those little bits of fantasy elements that were thrown in were so fascinating that had they been focused on and expanded, I think I would have liked Caraval more than I did. Despite it being about a performance, we didn’t see much of any performance. It had so much potential that wasn’t met, despite the fact that it was heavily marketed as a fantasy-circus novel. I think that Caraval is a prime example of book marketing done right–in the sense that many readers, myself included, were eagerly looking forward to getting our hands on this book. I feel so disappointed that it disappointed me.

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[The Suffering Tree] Elle Cosimano

Warning: I discuss cutting and the inclusion of it in The Suffering Tree in this review.

This cover is really nice. The colors are so lovely.

When I finished The Suffering Tree and read reviews of it I asked myself if I read the same book as these other reviewers because I absolutely do not have feelings of this being a five, four, or even three star book. The initial look at the book, aka the summary, had me hooked. It seemed right up my alley: it has a curse, a mystery, and a character coming back from the dead coupled with the outsider / outcast aspect. That summary was what led me to request an ARC on NetGalley. Sadly the summary led me astray.

The things I liked about this book are slim compared to the problems I had with it. It’s exceedingly frustrating as a reader to have most of the excitement about the book explained in the summary, because I found the actual book quite slow and boring at times. Even though the writing had beautiful and sometimes poetic moments, I couldn’t shake the disconnect from the characters despite following Tori throughout the entire novel.

Normally this is where I’d go into talking about the characters to keep with the flow of my writing, but I wanted to talk about the things I had issues with in order of importance. Because all of my issues with the characters and the points of view pale in comparison to this:

Using cutting as a way to have magical things happen is a HUGE problem

There was no indication going into The Suffering Tree that Tori self-harmed. Like this review here, I agree that self-harm is not something that should be completely erased from young adult books, but it does need to be done in a way that doesn’t glorify it the way that I felt The Suffering Tree did. The inclusion of self-harm was completely unexpected. I’ve read a few other books with self-harm in them, and generally there’s something in the plot summary that indicates to the reader that it will be discussed in the book.

I hated that other characters, namely her mother and brother, seemed to ignore that Tori was hurting. Tori had been caught before and was required to talk to someone (she no longer is talking to someone ) and Tori’s mother counts the knives in the drawers, but there’s just something so dismissive about how it was handled in the book. They just scurry out of her way in their attempts to not talk about it.  With the death of Tori’s father, subsequent eviction, and move to a new home and town, you’d think that Tori’s mother would be aware of the stressors in Tori’s life that would lead to more cutting. There’s absolutely no discussion about how Tori is doing and there’s no therapy, even though the discussion of therapy is halfheartedly made later on. Nothing comes of it, however.  It made me feel like the author just used it as a way to further the story rather than call attention to the real harm it can be.

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[Heartless] Marissa Meyer

I love the cover of my edition.

I love the cover of my edition.

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Heartless is the story of the Queen of Hearts before she was the Queen of Hearts, before she was cold and angry, before she called incessantly for the heads of those who had wronged her. Before she was the Queen of Hearts she was Catherine, a girl who daydreamed about falling in love and of starting a bakery full of the treats she had created by her own hands. Renowned for her cakes and tarts, she’s caught the eyes and the heart of the foolish King of Hearts, who is not what she envisions for a future husband at all. Unfortunately for Cath, her mother and father desire something more for her than a floured apron. As her future comes closer, Cath starts running out of options. If she wants to avoid her fate, she must try to find another path.

I was really excited to read Heartless because The Lunar Chronicles is a really good young adult series. Perhaps it’s because Heartless is a standalone, but I really didn’t find it as engaging as her series. I didn’t feel bored, exactly, but I felt a little like I was reading just to pass the time, rather than reading for pure pleasure. In fact, I ended up setting the book aside for a week because of work and didn’t feel a drive to return to it. Not in the way that The Lunar Chronicles had me going back.

This book is well-written but I’m left feeling underwhelmed at its overall content. I don’t know if I went into it expecting more than it was able to give, but I didn’t find this quite the page-turner that I expected it to be. I loved Meyer’s first series and had high hopes that I would enjoy this one just as much, but ultimately it’s only just okay.

The idea of before in Heartless was really interesting. I liked that it was an origin story of a character who is traditionally viewed as a villain. Catherine’s descent into the familiar red-faced Queen of Hearts was, for the most part, well thought out and written. But somewhere around the middle the book just dragged.

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[The Bone Witch] Rin Chupeco

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The Bone Witch was a novel with a nice premise but the execution was not strong enough to keep my interest. Told in two perspectives, The Bone Witch follows Tea, a Dark Asha, as she discovers her powers in the past and in the present as she tells her story to a banished storyteller. Her story begins when she accidentally brings her brother back from the dead and soon she is fully entrenched in her new life as a Dark Asha, one of the rare witches who can raise and command the dead, both human and daeva. Her training means that she gains more control and she must make decisions that will affect her future and that of those around her.

There were things I really liked about this novel. I thought that the fantasy part of it–the idea of it, at least–was something that was creative. I liked that the main character was ostracized even by other witches because of her powers and that she didn’t have control over them at first. I particularly liked the idea that you couldn’t hide the feelings in your heart–unless you literally hid it behind something–because you had a heartsglass that swirled with color. The little touches like this were really well done, but ultimately The Bone Witch fell too much to the side of information dumping.

The world, when it should have been interesting, was full of too much information at one time. Despite the amount of information given to me, I don’t feel like I know much about the world. Few things really stood out. I know a little bit about the daeva, these monster-like creatures that are reborn every so many years, terrorize the general populace, and need to be put down by the Dark Asha again. Then there are all of these places that were mentioned multiple times and are likely important, but I couldn’t keep any of them straight. I’m not sure if it was because of the information dumping, the point of view, or the storytelling itself, but I just couldn’t distinguish one from the other.

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[A Torch Against the Night] Sabaa Tahir

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Right then. This is the continuation of the An Ember in the Ashes series that nearly everyone seems to gush over but me. I’m not sure if it’s just the over-hype or the fact that it takes a long time for me to get into the story, but I feel like this series is kind of…boring. Which bums me out. It has all of the hallmarks of what I should like in a series, but for some reason I just can’t lose myself in it. I thought that this one would be better than the first because Ember was a debut novel, but A Torch Against the Night was only marginally better for me. I keep reading them because I want to see what it is about them, but once I finish the book I’m not really enthusiastic about it.

A Torch Against the Night begins where Ember left off, with the results of the Trials and the flight of Laia and Elias. They’re desperate to get out of a city where their descriptions are known, desperate to try to rescue Laia’s brother from the dreaded Kauf prison. Though they’re unlikely allies, Laia and Elias work together because they both don’t believe in the Martial Empire. When the burden of the journey falls heavily on Laia’s shoulders, she has to decide if she will allow it to break her or if she will rise above the hardships and be reforged anew.

Torch is a book that deals in the reforging of characters. Whether you’re a slave Scholar, a ruling Martial, or a free Tribeswoman, the choices that you make thrust you toward a new self. Often the characters would fight against the inevitability of their breaking point, other times they would run toward it because they knew they needed to change. Actions have a lot of consequences in this book, even more so than what I remember from Ember. It ups the ante a little bit by pitting former friends against each other. I liked how the characters all related to each other because of this reforging of self. Additionally, the different paths that the reforging could take was explored with each individual character. Not all of them made it to the other side whole.

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[The Dream Protocol: Descent] Adara Quick

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What would a world be like if dreams were controlled by the government and your place in life determined at age 15? What would a world be like if nightmares were weaponized and you could be punished for anything they determined were wrong? In The Dream Protocol, your life is lived in a grey world and your only escape is the dreams that you can afford. Then at age 35, you’re no longer wanted and you take your Descent. Deirdre is no longer content with living this way. As her mother’s Descent creeps steadily closer, she begins to rebel against the norm. When who she loves is threatened, she discovers that she will do anything to protect them–even if it means putting herself in danger.

So I will begin by saying that I’ve never had a novel length story published. But I have written and read a lot of stories, particularly young adult ones, in the last year and a half or so, so I know what I like to see in novels such as these. The Dream Protocol has everything that I like to see in a dystopian novel, but sadly, they all never go beyond the idea. I felt that this novel was built around the bare-bones of a plot, but was never fully fleshed out. As it’s the first novel in a series, perhaps this is explored in the next novels. However,  because it’s a first novel, the fact that it’s full of big ideas that aren’t fleshed out kind of damns it.

There are so many interesting things that are introduced in The Dream Protocol but never pan out into something more. There’s a prophecy, but we’re never shown how it’s connected to Deirdre and her family. We’re teased with hints of what the Dream Protocol truly is as we’re given accounts and reactions periodically throughout the novel, but this never expands into something more. One of my big disappointments was that I wish it had been described more. Instead, we’re given small details that don’t really flesh out the world. Everyone wore grey, the walls were grey, there was no sky…grey overwhelmingly describes the blandness of the book.

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[Throne of Glass] Sarah J. Maas

 

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Throne of Glass is the first novel in a series about Celaena Sardothien, an assassin who has been toiling in the slave mines of Endovier for a year when she is suddenly released under one condition: she must fight in a competition to be the King’s Champion. Only then will she win her freedom. As Adarlan’s Assassin, she strikes fear into the hearts of people who know her name; as Celaena, she’s only a girl to the men in the competition and easily brushed aside. As the competition continues, Celaena proves that she’s not easily ignored, but soon that’s the least of their worries. Something is killing the competitors–and it’s only a matter of time before it comes for her.

If you only read the synopsis of the novel, it sounds pretty good. It’s only when you open the pages and read the first few chapters that you realize it’s not that great. This novel came out a few years ago when I was still working at a bookstore, and I remember picking it up and dismissing it as something that I wouldn’t enjoy. That opinion held true to some extent. I still read through this book because I’d heard from several reviewers that I follow that this is one of their favorite series and that subsequent books are far better. This meant that as much as this book was overwhelmingly meh to me, I had to read it to see if the series is as good as everyone says.

That said, there were things that I did really like about this book. The idea of a female assassin was great, if poorly executed. I just didn’t believe that Celaena was that horrifying assassin. She focused entirely too much on sweets and outfits. There were more descriptions of the intricacies of Celaena’s outfits rather than her actions in this competition. That is what I was interested in. It made Celaena’s vanity–and frankly, stupidity–the focus of her character rather than her supposed talents of assassination. I do like that she is vain because it is a strange flaw for an assassin to have, but it became too much when I was looking for other aspects of her personality to shine through. I just didn’t buy that she was this feared assassin, even if she couldn’t come out and say it. However, I do think that it showed her age. She was vain and childish because she is a young character. It’s just too bad that I didn’t feel that I saw much of her mature side.

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