Just another place I’ll never be able to visit | Caraval by Stephanie Garber

CaravalScarlett has dreamt about attending Caraval ever since her grandmother told her magical stories from the last time Caraval was in town. But now that Scarlett’s arranged marriage is looming, she’s given up on that dream and only wants to make it to her wedding day so that she can get herself and her younger sister, Donatella, away from their abusive father. Unexpectedly, a letter arrives from Caraval’s orchestrater, Legend himself, inviting Scarlett, Tella, and Scarlett’s fiancé to attend this year’s Caraval performance. Scarlett has already put Caraval behind her, but Tella won’t take no for an answer. They soon find themselves on Legend’s private island with a sailor, Julian, who neither knows much about as they finally enter the world of Caraval. It’s only a game, but what happens when everything starts to feel too real?

My new dream in life is to attend Caraval. I would literally trade 1,000 Hogwarts acceptance letters to attend one week of Caraval. This place sounds amazing. There’s a scavenger type hunt and lots of intrigue and yummy sounding foods. You pay for things with secrets, desires, and truths and you’re only allowed out at night. Talk about atmospheric! I thought the author did a pretty good job describing the scene, but if we’re going to compare it to The Night Circus (which everybody has been) then more definitely could have been done to create the atmosphere and build the world. All of the places that Scarlett goes are pretty well described, but they don’t always make sense in the grand scheme of things. Because of that, it makes elements of the plot feel a little too coincidental throughout the book. While I could visualize specific shops, I had a hard time imagining what Caraval must look like as a whole (even with the map in the front cover).

The plot itself was pretty good. There’s a clear goal, but the journey would get a little fuzzy at times. The clues didn’t always make the most sense to me. I know they were supposed to be kind of obscure, but it didn’t feel clear enough how things were supposed to connect with each other. Again, this made elements of the plot feel super coincidental instead of calculated as I think they were intended to be. Without getting into any spoilers, I felt that the ending was a bit of a let down with how the rest of the plot had been built up. There were too many convenient things that happened which, I felt, cheapened the rest of the story. It was just kind of like, “Oh, this plot point is explained by this thing that was happening but nobody knew about, but trust me it was happening. Boom, plot point solved.” I would have appreciated some loose ends or at least less closure.

The characters were just okay for me. I thought some of the secondary characters were pretty great like Jovan and Aiko, but the main characters themselves weren’t much more developed than the secondary characters. Everybody seemed to be pretty one note with one motivation and one motivation only. Scarlett just wanted to get her sister and go home–she didn’t want to let herself enjoy Caraval at all and for someone who’d been looking forward to it, I didn’t find it genuine that Scarlett didn’t loosen up at all. Tella was just kind of selfish the whole time. There was a small glimpse of her love for Scarlett at the beginning of the book, but those strong feelings never really surfaced in the rest of the book. Julian was just kind of a weird character. I didn’t feel very connected to him and I didn’t feel that the relationship between him and Scarlett was super believable or well-developed. All of a sudden, it was just happening. Honestly, I was rooting for Dante, but Scarlett probably doesn’t deserve him. Legend was kind of a strange character as well. He spends so much time off-screen, so to speak, that I’m not really sure how I feel about him.

Overall, this review kind of makes it sound like I didn’t enjoy the book, but I really did. There were so many things to love about it but I think my expectations were a tad too high. I love scavenger hunts and so I was a little disappointed with how that all worked out and atmospherically, this book can’t really compete with The Night Circus. With that being said, I would definitely recommend this book. You’ll find yourself lost in the world of Caraval and imagining which shops you’d visit first and which foods you’d taste. You’ll ponder whether you would be a player or a watcher (I’d probably play, but I wouldn’t be super competitive about it). I’ll be interested to see how the next book plays out (yeah, I didn’t know this was going to be a duology either).

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Mild
Violence: Heavy. Quite a few scenes with the sisters and their physically abusive father.
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Moderate

Deaf Graffiti Artist Hates Everyone | You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner [ARC]

You're Welcome, UniverseJulia was only trying to defend her best friend and if somebody also appreciated her awesome graf, then so be it. Unfortunately, that same best friend ratted her out to the school administration and Julia is expelled from her deaf school and forced to go to a normal public school. Now she’s trying to avoid her new interpreter, Casey, while lying low so her moms don’t find out that she’s trying to plan a graffiti masterpiece for the underpass. When someone starts tagging her work, Julia becomes obsessed with figuring out who this new graffiti artist thinks they are.

So many feelings about this book… First I’ll say that the writing was fast-paced and punchy which made the flow really fun to read. I also thought that the insight into deaf life was really interesting. I liked that the author didn’t feel the need to say “signed” every time somebody said something. Characters just had normal conversations, but since they were deaf I imagined them signing without the author having to tell me explicitly that that’s what they were doing. I also liked the illustrations included throughout the book and the emoticons that Julia used were a fun touch as well.

That’s about all the positive things I have to say about this book unfortunately. Julia reminded me a lot of Parker from Eric Lindstrom’s Not If I See You First. They were both just so angry as characters. I didn’t really understand where all of Julia’s anger came from. She was very quick to judge other characters and overall I thought she was very selfish with almost no development throughout the story. I mean, she calls her new best friend YP (short for Yoga Pants) throughout the whole book. We literally never learn her name. A couple times Julia just refers to her as “Pants”. Is this for real? That’s so demeaning! And her friend is apparently just okay with this? No thanks.

Julia’s relationship with her old best friend, Sydney, is strange from the start. Julia apparently feels really protective of her. So much so that she graffitis the school. But then her friend rats her out and Julia goes from protective to hating her best friend’s guts. That just doesn’t feel like a genuine relationship at all and only seemed to serve as a way to kick off the story and get the plot going.

My last issue is about the distribution of diversity in this story. I’m all for diversity in YA, but we have this one character who has a disability, is a minority, and also has two moms. It just seems a bit much for one person? I’m not saying that one person can’t have this many diverse characteristics, and the author more or less incorporated each one into the character’s previous development, but it just seems like all of the diversity is concentrated around Julia. She’s surrounded by white characters (with the exception being one of her moms) and even though Sydney is technically also deaf, she has Cochlear Implants so she’s basically a “hearie” according to Julia. It just would have felt more real if the diversity was spread out a little bit more. Share the love!

Lastly, the plot was just kind of there. It was a little confusing and not the most compelling, but it was alright. I didn’t really understand why YP’s ex-boyfriend got so much screen time, but whatever. I would have liked to have had her issues explored a bit more. She had an eating disorder, but then overcame it. But now she’s getting bullied and she has this weird relationship with her ex. But Julia’s so focused on herself that we never get to see what’s going on with YP or figure out why her dad bakes so much. The last thing I have to say about the plot is that the conflict between Julia and YP towards the end felt forced.

Overall, I probably wouldn’t recommend this book. The main character is just too angry and I felt so bothered every time I saw the letters “YP” on the page. I think it’s great that the author is trying to write a book with a deaf main character, but I would recommend Song of Summer by Laura Lee Anderson over this one (my review here).

Overall Rating: 2
Language: Heavy
Violence: None
Smoking/Drinking: None
Sexual Content: Moderate. There’s one scene in particular (not too explicit) that came out of nowhere and literally had no impact on moving the plot forward.

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Under My Radar | Provo City Library Best Books of 2016

My local library does a fun thing every year where they go over the best books that came out the previous year. A lot of the books that they talked about I’d already read (like Crooked Kingdom and The Lie Tree), some I’d just heard a ton about (like The Sun is Also a Star and The Crown’s Game), but then there were some that had totally slipped under my radar! So here are a few that I thought sounded really good, that I hadn’t really looked into before tonight (covers link to Goodreads).

WanderlostTell Me Three ThingsMy Sister Rosa

Wanderlost by Jen Malone – European cities and old people. I seriously love a good secondary cast of the elderly.

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum – I’ve seen this cover EVERYWHERE but I’d honestly never really looked into it. It was described as a “You’ve Got Mail” type story.

My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier – I don’t think I’ve seen anyone talking about this one, but it sounds amazingly creepy. A boy moves from Australia to New York and is in charge of watching his 10-year-old sister who he suspects is a psychopath. (o.O)

This is the Story of YouScytheThe Smell of Other People's Houses

This is the Story of You by Beth Kephart – There’s a super storm and so now this girl has to survive with some other people and the few supplies that she has. The writing was described as being punchy and lyrical.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman – This is another book where I’ve seen the cover floating around everywhere, but I hadn’t really looked into at all.

The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock – This is a book about teens in contemporary Alaska. That’s pretty much all I know, but the cover’s really pretty.

At the end of the evening they had four drawings for some of the books that they talked about during the presentation. There were five of us in the room. Guess who was the only one to leave without a book? That’s right, it was me. It’s alright though, I’M NOT BITTER. 😉

Have you guys heard of any of these or did they slip under your radar as well? If you have read some of them, what did you think? Which ones should move to the top of my TBR?

Hang on while I plan my trip to Tokyo real quick | Seven Days of You by Cecelia Vinesse [ARC]

Seven Days of YouSophia has always known that her days in Tokyo were numbered. Her mom is a professor at Rutgers University who has been on an extended sabbatical for the last four years. Sophia’s about to leave the only friends she’s ever known, the only place that has ever really felt like home, and the boy that she’s been crushing on basically since she got to Tokyo. Then she hears that Jamie’s coming back to town and she can’t wait to leave just so she doesn’t have to face him. Unfortunately, he’s set to fly in a whole week before she leaves. Now there are T-Minus seven days until New Jersey but only seven minutes until she has to see Jamie again and Sophia is panicking.

This book totally surprised me in a mostly good way. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. First of all, I need to fly to Tokyo as soon as possible and eat all the food. ALL THE FOOD. Different foods were mentioned so frequently in this book and I was repeatedly looking up what they were and everything looked delicious. That being said, we don’t really get that big of a glimpse of Tokyo beyond the food and the weather. I would have liked a little more in that department to really set the right tone and atmosphere. Every once in a while Sophia would say, “I’ll really miss this [insert architecture feature/landmark]” and then that was about it. It almost felt like the author had never actually been to Tokyo though I’m sure that’s not the case. Another thing that didn’t really help in this area is that basically all of our characters are white (except for Mika and her family I think). Even random people on the street I kept picturing as being white–we might as well have been in the United States (but maybe that’s more my imagination’s fault than the author’s).

The characters were messy and had depth but even so, they were less than realistic. I mean, maybe that’s how ex-pat teens in Tokyo live? That’s the only explanation I can think of. We see a fair amount of Sophia’s mom, but most of their exchanges are through text and we mostly just get descriptions of Mika, David, and Jamie’s parents. The lack of parental supervision really bothered me. They’re all staying out until four in the morning, traipsing all around Tokyo, and doing a lot of underage drinking and while we’re told that some parents care, nothing is done about it. Seriously. Nobody gets grounded once?

I thought this book was interesting from the perspective that we’re coming into the lives of these characters at a time when everything is changing. There’s a lot of backstory and emotions that we’re just kind of thrown into when the story starts. Somehow it works though. I felt like I got a handle on who the characters were pretty quickly. A secondary character that especially intrigued me was Sophia’s sister, Alison. I thought their relationship was very interesting. As someone who has a not-super-close relationship and completely different personalities from her sister, I felt that I could relate to their dynamic in some ways. I liked that we could see Alison’s protective side coming out and in the end it was definitely apparent that they both care for each other.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. While the romance did happen quickly, I could buy it because of the history between the characters. I felt that Sophia was a very real and likable character and I loved that she’s super into Physics (hooray for a portrayal of a smart girl being normal!). On the other hand, there was too much swearing and underage drinking throughout the book for my taste and I wish that the adults hadn’t been villainized.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Heavy
Violence: None
Smoking/Drinking: Heavy. A lot of underage drinking.
Sexual Content: Moderate, nothing explicit.

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A timely book about racism | Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham [ARC]

Dreamland BurningRowan Chase has a dead body on her family’s property. A brief investigation shows that the body was likely dumped there sometime in the 1920’s (almost 100 years ago) and Rowan is determined to figure out the story behind it. William Tillman is just another white teenage boy growing up in Tulsa during the Prohibition. After getting a black man killed for touching a white girl’s hand, Will starts to rethink how he feels about black people. On a Summer night in 1921 all of his new-found convictions are put to the test. While these two characters live in different times, their stories are unquestionably intertwined.

I have some mixed feelings about this book. As a minority myself, I have given a lot of thought about the representation of minorities and race in books (especially YA). I, personally, have a hard time sometimes when white authors write about these subjects as they don’t have the same personal experiences that a non-white person has had (regardless of how much research they’ve put into their book). Instead, I feel that we need more diverse authors to write about the experiences of diverse characters (you can read my whole post here). As far as I can tell from some Googling and website/blog reading, Ms. Latham is white (and I apologize profusely if this is not the case, but I haven’t been able to find anything that would indicate otherwise) so I’m not sure how authentically she can tell the story despite the large amount of research she put into the book. There was one part in particular that had me scratching my head a little. Geneva, the forensic anthropologist, tells Rowan (who is half-black, half-white) that she can tell that the body is most likely black due to facial structure. Rowan then has this internal debate about whether or not she’s offended at these “racist remarks”. Mmmm…maybe it’s just me, but I don’t find that offensive at all. It actually makes sense to me that different races would have different bone structure. My eyes are shaped differently than white people, so why wouldn’t my eye sockets be shaped differently as well? Other than a couple of other things like that, I felt that the author did a good job dealing with such a heavy topic.

So let’s actually get into the book. I thought Latham did a great job creating our two main characters.They were both likable and I think that’s impressive especially for Will as he has some racist tendencies due to the environment that he grew up in. You kind of want to hate him because of what happens in the beginning of the book, but then you just start to feel really sorry for him. He becomes really conflicted and his internal battle seemed pretty genuine to me. Rowan was a firecracker and a fun character as well. Her best friend was interesting but I do question why Latham chose to make him asexual as it didn’t really feel like it had an effect on who he was as a character–it felt more to me like diversity for diversity’s sake (which, again, I’m not a fan of).

I liked that the book had a bit of mystery to it. The book alternates between Rowan and Will so the reader ends up with quite a bit more information than Rowan as she’s trying to figure out whose body is in her backyard. It was fun and interesting for me to see Rowan making incorrect assumptions. Based on the information she has her deductions are quite logical, but we know that she doesn’t have the whole story. The reader is given clues from both the past and the present so I was able to figure out who the body was maybe around the 70% mark–but I think the author meant for us to figure it out at that point. The way the two story lines came together was also interesting and (for the most part) felt natural.

I can’t speak for black people, but as a minority I do appreciate that Latham has chosen to tackle this big topic of race and racism in America. While I think the book would have felt more meaningful if it had been written by a black author, it is apparent that Latham had done an extensive amount of research while she was writing. She doesn’t shy away from painting things as ugly as they were–she’s not pulling any punches here. This book has frank depictions of racism and the kind of cruelty that humans will inflict upon each other. Latham also illustrates the small types of racism that are still around today. Overall, I thought this book was well-done and I would recommend it for mid to older teens.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Moderate. Specifically the n-word is used several times (along with other language), but I did not feel that the author used it excessively in the context of the book.
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Mild. One brief, non-descriptive scene of attempted rape.

Note: I received this book free from The NOVL in exchange for an honest review.

TRAILER: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

I’m sure most have you have already seen the trailer, but I just watched it for the first time. The casting looks pretty perfect and it seems like things stay pretty true to the book. Maddy is such a spunky character and I hope that comes across in the movie (I LOVED her book reviews). Check out my review for the ARC of Everything, Everything here. And here’s the trailer if you haven’t seen it at this point:

What do you guys think? Is the movie going to live up to the book/reader expectations? Or is that impossible? How do you feel about the casting?

February Reading Update

There’s Something About Nik by Sara Hantz – Read and reviewed
Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham – Read, review coming
Seven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse – Read, review coming
You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner – Currently Reading
The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco – DNF 15%
Maid of the King’s Court by Lucy Worsley
Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo – Read, review coming
Clandestine by Nichole Van – Read, review coming
Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Wires and Nerve by Marissa Meyer
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

So far this month I have finished 5 books with 1 DNF and I’m feeling pretty good about the amount of reviews that I’ve been able to put out!

How is your month going so far?