Mystery/Thriller, YA Contemporary Fiction

My Review: Two Can Keep a Secret: by Karen McManus

Publish Date: January 8th, 2019
Number of Pages: 329 Pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genre(s): YA Mystery, Suspense/Thriller

Total Star Rating: 2 Stars

Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.”

– Benjamin Franklin

Okay lesbehonest…who else is shook that the quote we hear so much now is actually missing someone from the original quote? Maybe one of them really is dead?…

One thing we do know is that secrets never fully stay buried for long, they always have a way of revealing themselves, whether or not we want them to be or not. Like insects, they like to find a way to sneak through the cracks and infest themselves…But I can’t lie; they sure do make things interesting…

When I’d read Karen McManus’s debut novel, One of Us is Lying (see my other book review by clicking the link in the text), I was kind of impressed that someone had stepped up to give YA readers something different, which was a Mystery/Thriller genre title. The section is filled to the brim on either Contemporary Romance or Fantasy (usually with romance too), and I’ve got to admit, they all are starting to bleed together…they’re just becoming spinoffs of each other, and less and less titles are beginning to feel original. One of Us is Lying felt different! It was something semi new to the table, and sure, it had the stereotypical characters that we’d all seen before…but that was only a base that she profusely deviated from in a fun and entertaining fashion! They developed and changed and completely turned around on their original expectations and it was enjoyable to grow with them as I read the mystery surrounding their story!

I’ve heard that while the debut novel of an author can be a huge success, it’s the sophomore novel that can be more of a challenge in terms of a good story or whether the author learned from their first and can keep up the momentum, but I admit that the former may be called into question because I regret to inform you guys that I wasn’t all that impressed with this title. The author’s craft continues to improve, there’s no doubt about that, but this book just wasn’t as much fun as her previous work for me. It was unpredictable and left me guessing who was behind it, but it never got me too excited or fully invested.

To sum it all up: it wasn’t terrible, but it was just an okay read.

It explores the idea of a seemingly pristine town that is riddled with a violent and mysterious history, and is infected with many dark secrets underneath the surface. It’s people on the outside appear darn-near perfect, but we all know things are never as they seem.

What It’s About:

When their mother is sent to rehab after a brutal car accident, Ellery and her twin Ezra are sent to live with their grandmother in the town that their mother grew up in but has the dark history of not one, but two missing girls were mysteriously murdered: Echo Ridge. The twins are used to not drawing too much attention to themselves along with taking care of each other with because of their troubled mother, but they learn the night they get into town that they’re connected to the towns troubled and murky history more than they’d ever expected.

Haunted by the past, their grandmother reveals to them one of the murdered girls was actually their mother’s twin sister, the aunt they never got to meet. Ellery becomes engrossed into what really happened all those years ago, and as a self-professed true crime aficionado, she’s up to the case and starts digging, despite not entirely sure she’ll like what she finds.

But like secrets, past events never stay fully buried, and the very night they arrive and learn the startling family reveal, a body is discovered in the road. A beloved teacher is found dead after a hit and run with no known suspect. More mysterious occurrences begin to happen, and threatening notes are found all over town, threatening the girls on the Homecoming Court and that they will all soon be dead. It’s exactly like what happened with the other girls many years prior, and the town is put into a terrified uproar over the past coming back to haunt them, history doomed to repeat itself.

To make matters worse, before anyone can do anything about it, a girl does go missing.

Ellery must work faster than ever to save a fellow classmate, and must work with local fellow high school student, Malcom (who’s family also has a bad history involved with the murders), in order to solve the mystery and rid the town of a possible killer on the loose.

What I liked:

  1. It’s Unpredictable! The author can really craft a great mystery, anyone who reads her novels I hope can see that! She expertly weaves red herrings, scapegoats, and other subplots together in order to keep you guessing and not have a clue as to who the killer could possibly be. I admit I had no idea who it was until the climactic final showdown.
  2. Great Minority Representation! The main character is Latina with a gay male twin, and there’s two asian side characters with one of them being bisexual! Instead of sticking with stereotypical characters as a basis for her main cast, Karen mixed it up and made the characters for this title much more diverse, which is a huge plus for the YA market. If not Game of Thrones-esque Fantasy, representation has been a huge selling point for contemporary titles, which is so great to see in recent years!
  3. The Final Line of the Book! The only thing that made me feel something was the very final line of the book as it left quite a chilling impression. It was a great way to end a suspense/mystery!

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. Title Sounds Like A Sequel…I feel like it’s confusing that this was titled Two Can Keep a Secret when her first novel was titled One of Us Is Lying, and yet they’re completely unrelated to each other. This isn’t the sequel even though the title suggests otherwise; it’s a complete standalone…Something about that feels disappointing to me.
  2. There’s Less Points of View…One aspect of One of Us Is Lying that I loved was how we heard from four different characters as you read that book. I love to get inside the minds of completely different characters and see how they operate with a different perspective, but we only got two characters for this title, much to my disappointment. I was also bummed that among the voices we heard the most of, none of the cast really stuck with me. They were fine, but nothing too special or memorable.
  3. This Was Too Character Driven…It sounds odd for a mystery, but a lot of the novel moves based off the characters and how they react to stuff that happens, which is what made this a slower read than I liked. I know it contradicts what I usually say about that style of story, but I think a murder mystery shouldn’t be so character driven. What’s also lacking is that the characters didn’t really develop or change all that much as time went on. They just learned more secrets and reacted to them.

Conclusion:

It wasn’t a terrible book by any means, but I must say that for me, it was a lackluster sophomore murder mystery novel. Other readers, maybe younger and/or newer ones, can immensely enjoy this title. I blame the personal hype I gave this book from how much I did enjoy her first book, along with how many other books I’ve read which has raised my standards over the years. I recommend this title to anyone who’s a fan of teen thriller TV shows Riverdale and Pretty Little Liars (Karen can certainly write content better than both of those comparisons)!

Luckily, Karen has shared on her Twitter that she will have 2 books come out in 2020, including the actual sequel to OOUIL, One of Us is Next, which is expected to come out January 7th, 2020! I can say I’m still a fan of hers, so ya know I will check her other titles out and see what she comes up with next. Her craft can only go up from here!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Horror, Mystery/Thriller, YA Contemporary Fiction

My Review: Project 17: by Laurie Faria Stolarz

Publish Date: December 18th, 2007
Number of Pages: 248 Pages
Publisher: Hyperion
Genre(s): Young Adult, Paranormal, Mystery, Horror

Total Star Rating: 3.25 Stars

Who hasn’t had the urge to break into an old building that’s probably haunted? Imagine talking this over with your friends:

Let’s go film a movie, make some creepy scenes, put the hot girl right in the main shot to get views, and maybe ignore those footsteps we keep hearing, the shadows that keep moving, or maybe the bloody graffiti that spelled “GET OUT” back there…nothing can go wrong, right?

So I will be honest, I have not read this book in quite some time. In fact, the last time I ever opened the pages was probably 2009-2010, and even then it was purely for nostalgia, because this book holds a special place in my heart. As cheesy as it sounds, it was a key that opened up a time of my life that I look back on rather fondly. You’re really interested and want to hear the story???

I know you don’t, but screw it, here it goes:

It’s 8th grade, and me and my classmates get into groups for a big english project in making a short film. There’s groups of 5-6 students, and one of my partners, Shelby, introduced this book to our group when we were still figuring out what to do. None of us had ever read it, but it inspired us to make our own version of it, which was basically a cheap, god-awful Blair Witch Project knockoff with no plot other than random kids walking a dark hallway and things pop out and scare the crap out of them. I can say though, we got creative and ripped a doll’s head off, hung it by a string and shined a strobe light on with a creepy recording of a girl saying “Baby Debbie come to play, Baby Debbie come to DIE,” the last word going demonically low, which got quite a few laughs from the classmates that watched it.

The point of this story is what it did, which was surround me with a group of girls: Vy, Jenna, Melodi, Shelby and Rachel; it had us hang out a lot outside of school, and helped make some great memories that made me feel like I’d found a small group of actual friends for the first time in my life. Unfortunately, I lost contact with pretty much all of them thanks to high school and then moving away for college, but It was still one of the best parts of my life! Thanks girls! I doubt you’ll ever read this, but from the bottom of my heart and to quote Fall Out Boy, Thanks for the memories!

I apologize to everyone else; there was just a lot of backstory with this book as it’s got a lot of sentimental value to me, but now onto this actual book itself!

What It’s About:

This story is about Danvers State Hospital, an abandoned insane asylum atop Hathorne Hill just off the edge of Boston. It was rumored that the lobotomy was created there, and hundreds of unmarked graves littered the grounds of those that perished away within the cold, hard walls; their spirits haunting the dark and ominous halls. The building is about to be torn down, and all the memories and restless souls lost forever.

This story is about six teenagers who make one last appearance before the building is demolished, and they all have their own reasons for being there:

Derik is the popular guy with the less-than-stellar reputation when it comes to girls, and has been an underachiever because he knows he’s pretty much trapped into taking over the family diner unless he makes something of himself past graduation. He falls upon a film competition with prize money; it may be his last chance at a better life.

Liza is the smart, gorgeous, unattainable overachiever who has perfect grades, her transcripts for college all spick and spam, shiny and perfect except for one thing…she never really did any extracurriculars. Colleges look to see how students get involved; it’s not just about good grades and test scores anymore; maybe a student film being made is her chance to beef up her resumé?

Mimi is a rebel, an outsider, someone who doesn’t belong, and has people look at her funny because she wears all black and has lots of makeup and piercings on her face. She tries to hide it, but she has a personal reason for wanting to get into Danvers before it’s demolition, and despite the company, she volunteers to join Derik’s project.

Chet is the class clown, can’t take anything seriously, and usually makes just about everything into a sexual innuendo, but if he has to go back to that house where his father hits him almost every night, he might just hit his breaking point…whats another night out of that house and away from his drunken father’s fists?

Greta and Tony are the theater nerds who don’t know the boundaries of PDA…They are looking for any chance to get their made-up crowns onscreen in some way, and this project that Derik has started may or may not be their ticket to fame…

They all come from different social circles, but they all come together and break into the abandoned hospital on the eve of its demolition and film their adventures. Maybe they’ll get a few souvenirs to bring home, make a fun movie, but things quickly take on a darker, twisted and more ominous tone as strange occurrences keep happening: cold spots in the basement, film and audio equipment malfunctioning, doors locking on themselves, and the feeling that they may not be alone…

Soon, they find themselves trapped in a deadly scavenger hunt as they unravel some of the terrible secrets this hospital had kept locked and hidden until now, and a mystery that surrounds a specific inmate and the importance of the number 17 that keeps showing up all over the place. Together, they will work together to try and help one lost soul hopefully find their way, and have the night change them all forever…

What I Liked:

  1. The Research Done About Danvers! So fun fact, but Danvers was actually a real place! It was an insane asylum that was fully constructed in 1874, opened in 1878, then eventually closed down in 1992. It was actually demolished like they talk about in the story, and was also the setting in the horror flick, Session 9, which filmed on the actual ruins of the building. I never watched it, and I hear it’s much more gruesome than this novel, but remains of the very few visual pieces that showcases the actual site of the hospital. The author really seemed to have done her research on the building and its tragic history, including its well…questionable methods of therapy, and implemented it incredibly well into her story. She touches on the horrific past of malpractice of the patients that were admitted to places like Danvers and plenty of others back in the day.
  2. “The Breakfast Club” Trope! Some could argue that it’s played out, boring, and overdone, but I always appreciate books that have a cast of characters that normally don’t interact with each other, but are somehow forced together by some sort of force or plot point, whether it be in after-school detention, or you know…illegally breaking into an abandoned asylum to make a short student film. The cast of characters are nothing original (The popular jock, the theater nerds, the clown, the princess, etc.) but they make for reading the book to be enjoyable while touching on the issues of rumors and reputation while trying to survive high school in a more modern setting than a John Hughes’ 80’s teen classic.
  3. The Mystery Around Christine! So while they explore the hospital (collecting files, souvenirs, graffiti from over the years, gathering footage, and even discover a bathtub with bars enclosed over the top), they discover the diary of one of the patients from many years ago, a young girl named Christine. Through the diary, the dark secrets of Danvers comes to light and the teens find themselves on a hunt through the whole hospital of finding out what happened to her and if they can possibly put her spirit to rest.
  4. It’s A Quick Read! This book is lighter in volume, so it’s a good choice for more beginner level readers, or someone who just needs a quick, fast read that’s somewhat entertaining. For the speedier readers, you may even be able to finish this book in one setting! The ending is also quite satisfying and ties everything together quite well, especially for Mimi.
Danvers State Hospital, circa 1893, image credit to owner

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. It’s Not Creepy Enough…If you’re looking for something to really scare the crap out of you, make you afraid to walk into any dark room or make you need to leave the light on while you sleep, this book is not for you…It’s pretty basic and safe in terms of violence, gore or any other sort of horror aspects. There are some creepy moments, sure, but nothing that really seems too shocking for someone who’d consider themselves a veteran of the horror genre.
  2. Too Much Plot Convenience…While I can excuse the cliché characters, one thing that irked me was how easy and convenient it was for the characters to find patient’s files, equipment, props, etc. especially when it was integral to the plot. Like, it felt so choreographed that important documents just happened to be lying around on the floor, conveniently waiting to be discovered by them when they popped into the room, and it had classified information towards the malpractice of the doctors and nurses… The building’s been closed for quite some time by the time they get there, shouldn’t the place be leached out by then? Or the Documents have been shredded or something?

Conclusion:

While it’s pretty basic in terms of horror and creepiness, it’s still a quick and fun read for someone who’s looking for something along the lines of creepy, paranormal fiction. The characters are nothing new or original, but they make for a familiar and funny little escape for those that’d open the pages and give this book a try. It’s a good starting point for those that hate to read, but still need something to read for whatever reason, like an easy book report. It’s not deep and meaningful, it’s just fun, and there’s nothing wrong with that!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Fancasts/Dreamcasts

My Fancast/Dreamcast: An Ember In The Ashes Series by Sabaa Tahir

Image courtesy of Sabaa Tahir’s Instagram profile

In Sabaa Tahir’s debut YA Fantasy series, Laia is a young girl living in poverty under the Martial Rule of the Empire in a world reminiscent of Ancient Rome, and must become a spy for a covert rebellion group her parents were a part of in order to get answers and secrets from the most dangerous and cruel general in Serra, but discovers more than she could’ve ever imagined….

Elias, the son of the very same general and star pupil at military training camp, secretly wants a life of freedom and to run away from the scrutiny and expectations that have weighed him down for as long as he remembers, but unexpected events leads to a tournament where he must compete against his fellow classmates in order for a new emperor to be crowned puts everything on pause…

Meanwhile, dark forces are at work, and a malicious shadow known as the Nightbringer is developing a sinister plot that could mean the end of life as we know it…

Check out my review of book #1: An Ember in the Ashes – Click HERE

Check out my review of book #2: A Torch Against the Night Click HERE

Check out my review of book #3: A Reaper at the Gates – Click HERE

Check out my review of book #4: A Sky Beyond the Storm – Click HERE

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Here’s my official Fancast/Dreamcast:

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Laia of Serra: Sophia Ali, or Shiva Negar

Sophia Ali, image courtesy of the actress’s IMDB profile
Shiva Negar, image courtesy of gemmamagazine.com

This one was a little harder to do because there aren’t a whole lot of well known, Middle-Eastern/Pakistani/Muslim actresses out there that I felt would be fitting of the role. However I did remember these two women; Sophia has been on the more recent seasons of Grey’s Anatomy playing a young intern, and Shiva was in American Assassin.

Elias Veturius: Eliran Biton, or Jorge Del Rio

Eliran Bitan, image courtesy of the model’s Instagram profile
Jorge Del Rio, credit to owner

Elias was incredibly hard to cast! A lot of other fancasts that I’ve looked at have made him caucasian, but I remember reading somewhere that Sabaa Tahir said he wasn’t. Toni Mahfud has been a popular choice to fancast him since, but for me, something about him just didn’t fit the bill. I found this guy on Instagram, found out he’s of Israeli descent, and so I thought he looked much more like what I imagined Elias to appear as. Jorge is another choice based off his hypnotic eyes, but he may not fit the ethnic background that Elias may fall under.

Helene Aguilla: Claire Holt

Image courtesy of glamaholic.com

I’ve loved her ever since her days as Original Vampire Rebekah Mikaelson in the CW’s The Vampire Diaries. Like Rebekah, Helene doesn’t seem like much more than an a spoiled, elitist brat, but develops into a strong, brave & admirable young woman, so I believe that Claire would successfully showcase that if they cast her into the role.

Cain: Paul Bettany

Image courtesy of starwars.com

Paul has basically been my go-to guy for casting in strange, otherworldly male roles. He’s a terrific actor, has a unique look to him, and has a soft, yet powerful presence like his role as Vision in Marvel’s Avengers movies, so I believe he’d be absolutely wonderful as the mysterious Augur, Cain.

Marcus Ferrar: Willy Monfret

Image courtesy of thatsmags.com

I also would’ve cast Jesse Williams possibly, but I always cast him into roles and he seemed a little too old to play Marcus, but this model (who is seen in several Nicki Minaj music videos) would also serve to play the egocentric, crazed, power-hungry antagonist, Marcus.

Darin (Laia’s Brother): Deniz Akdeniz

Image courtesy of the actor’s IMDB profile

I’ve seen this guy play Aladdin on ABC’s Once Upon A Time, he’s also been on Jane the Virgin, and Agents of the S.H.I.E.L.D. He’s got a look that reminds me of Darrin, and seems good at playing the older brother of our Heroine, Laia.

Avitas Harper: Sean Sarantos

Image courtesy of samuelmecham.com

Avitas Harper was also a hard one to cast; not too much is given to us as to what he looked like. Sean is known more in the fitness world than Hollywood, but this half korean/ half greek model has a perfect look I had in mind for Avitas Harper, since the character is of Eastern Asian descent, according to the author!

Afya Ara-Nur: Priyaka Chopra Jonas

Image courtesy of sawfirst.com

For some reason, I originally cast Angela Bassett as the role…I think I was riding a high from her iconic-ness from American Horror Story, but after looking into it and realizing that she didn’t look anything like the role, and was way too old to play this Tribal-woman! I thought Priya would be able to harness the power that Afya possesses as being the leader of the tribe that takes in Elias and Laia in the second title, A Torch Against the Night.

Keris Veturius (The Commandant): Cate Blanchett

Image courtesy of GQ Magazine

I mean…do I really have to explain myself with this one?

Keenan: Ken Bek

Image courtesy of the model’s Instagram profile

There aren’t a whole lot of ginger men in Hollywood, at least younger ones. Most people would probably cast Eddie Redmayne or Sam Claflin, but neither felt right for this role. He’s not an actor, but this male model has a bit of danger in his eyes, a bit of swagger that I imagine Keenan had as he prowled the streets of Serra in search of causing a little chaos as he helps the rebellion cause.

Izzi: Scarlett Leithold

Image courtesy of fashionmodeldirectory.com

This model has what I imagine the similar features as our kitchen maid, Izzi. There’s no eyepatch, but she has young features, is absolutely gorgeous but not too prominent about it, and has a little more on an innocent vibe than other young blonde actresses that I could find.

Cook: Bahar Soomekh

Image courtesy of the actress’s IMDB profile

So the cook is such an interesting character…I really can’t say why, but this actress who I know from movies like Crash and Mission: Impossible 3 kind of, sort of fits my bill for what the Cook could possibly look like, especially as we get to know her character more and more.

Spiro Teluman: Nuufloeau Joel Seanoa

Image courtesy of ibtimes.co.uk

This guy is actually a WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) Superstar with his ring name being “Samoa Joe.” He fits the bill for what I imagined Spiro Teluman to look like; a big, brutish man who secretly makes weapons to aid the rebellion.

Zacharias Ferrar: Kendrick Sampson

Image courtesy of the actor’s IMDB profile

Another go-to of mine when it comes to POC male characters with lighter eyes, but I thought he’d still be able to pull off the quieter, more softer brother to Marcus.

Shaeva: Sabaa Tahir

Image courtesy of the author’s Twitter account

Why not have the author of the dang series make an appearance if they ever make it a cinematic adaptation? I think if she ever wanted to go into acting, why not have her play the role of the Soul Catcher we meet in the second title?

Musa of Adisa: Sam Asghari

Image courtesy of spockandshristine.com

I could be WAY off base with this one, but based off my impression of Musa (aka “The Beekeeper), he’s this model-esque hunk of dream boat, and the man who’s dating Britney Spears seemed to physically fit what I imagined the smug, charismatic prince consort who has the magical ability to control lesser fey creatures.

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Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

YA Fantasy, YA romance

My Review: Caraval (Caraval #1): by Stephanie Garber

Publish Date: January 31st, 2017
Number of Pages: 407 Pages
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Genre(s): YA Fantasy, Romance

Total Star Rating: 4 Stars

Your running through the streets of Venice, Italy at night with thousands of colorful lights dancing on the edge of your vision. The gondolas are traipsing through the canals, and a menagerie of people in glamorous costumes walk past. The sweeping feeling of adventure and slight danger as you turn towards the sailor that brought you there, the one that you know is hiding something, but you’re curiosity to find out overpowers the dread of the unknown. They take your hand, your heartbeat accelerates with attraction mixed with distrust as you run towards what you think may be the answer to the next clue on the list, and you forge on because it means getting that much closer to whatever it is you want most…

Thats some pretty cool sounding visuals, right?

This title is filled with aesthetically pleasing images and beautiful words that sweep you off your feet, take your breath away, and bring you on a magical adventure that so many readers, authors, and reviewers have praised since it’s initial release back in 2017.

I’d actually owned this book twice to be completely honest; I bought a copy earlier on, but gave up before I even opened it and sold it to a used book store, thinking that it sounded too juvenile for me and not worth my time, so that was it and I’ll never open those pages or even think about them ever again. But as time went on, and the other titles of this trilogy, Legendary & Finale, released and more and more praise rang out. That, plus a personal recommendation from my old store manager, I reluctantly bought another copy and decided to give it another chance, and was happy with that decision upon finishing this book!

This book was escapism literature in some of its finest form. I so easily got lost inside the pages; letting the imagery overtake my senses, and give me excitement over what would happen next, even as it got late into the night and I had to get up early for work the next day. It was nothing too dark or too serious of a read, and I think that’s what made it so much fun, honestly. There was danger, but nothing too dramatic or gritty as its essentially people playing this scavenger hunt in order to win an ultimate prize from its mysterious host.

What It’s About:

Our main protagonist’s name is Scarlett Dragna, and she lives on a tiny island somewhere what feels like some land thats similar to Italy or Greece, and she has one younger sister as they are the daughters of the Governor. Over the years, she’s dreamed of escaping his harsh rule, and has imagined going to Caraval, a once-a-year event where the audience is specifically chosen to arrive and to participate. She’d written letters to its mysterious host, Legend, at least once a year for many years, but to no response every time. Those dreams suddenly evaporate into a cloud of mist as the wedding day of her arranged marriage draws closer, but then the unthinkable happens…

She receives a letter from Legend. Inside, she finds three personal invitations to this years Caraval; one for her, her sister, and her betrothed.

Her younger sister, Tella, has always been the exact opposite of her. While Scarlett is cautious and sheltered, Tella is much more bold and impulsive. She allows herself to have more fun and to give into her desires. When Scarlett goes searching for her with the news of the letter, she discovers her down in the whiskey cellar in a compromising position with a handsome stranger. Fed up with their father’s unfairness, they decide to escape into the night and go towards their dreams, towards Caraval

Plans quickly change, and Tella ends up being kidnapped as soon as they set foot on the island where the magical event takes place, and it turns out that that she will revolve around this season’s contest as the winner will be whoever can find her first. With the help of a charming but aloof sailor, Julian, Scarlett races across the coastal town in search of her missing sister, swept up into the elaborate performance of it all. She will find out that things are NEVER as they appear to be, secrets are the way of currency, that everyone has some sort of motive and should be weary of being trusted.

How much of a game is it all, really?

What I Liked:

  1. The Aesthetics! Like the image I painted in the very first paragraph, the visuals this story paints for you are so incredibly gorgeous; I imagined Venice Italy celebrating Mardi Gras with Cirque du Soleil performers running around. Plus, coastal towns right on the ocean back in what I imagined as 17-1800 era Europe, and dress-wear that changes form and color with your emotions make for the overall setting of this story quite memorable.
  2. The Romance! Some people would say they didn’t like it or that it cheapened the story a bit, but I personally was a fan of it. A huge part of the book was the developing love story that was taking place while the game was escalating, and the mystery surrounding it along with everything else. I thought it developed rather well and I became invested with it as it was a great addition towards the enemies-to-lovers trope.
  3. Julian! I have to give him then MVP award of this book, because he was probably my favorite character out of everyone. Scarlett kind of took the heroine protagonist spot a little backwards, as she constantly got into trouble and needed a man, usually Julian himself, to come rescue her. It’s true its a part of her character arc, but I’d read too many badass female characters already to revert back to the damsel. Julian is bold, rugged, charming, secretive, and it was good to see him become a more important role to the overall plot instead of just being eye-candy. He’s constantly grappling with what he wants to do versus what he should do, and it’s great to see him usually choose the later, especially when it came to Scarlett.
  4. The Mystery/Lore of Caraval! It’s never really explained how the annual event came to be or how it disappears every year, along with the rumors and stories that surround the host, but the lore behind it all did add a whole lot to the story, making it more intriguing and fun to read! Hopefully, more answers come in the next books!
  5. Scarlett’s Terrible Decisions! The girl makes a ton of bad calls, no joke…if anyone’s seen the first Scary Movie, where Carmen Electra comes to a fork with two signs that point towards safety or death, I think you know which one Scarlett would probably take. I know A LOT of criticism towards this book is because of that, but honestly, I found it actually pretty realistic. She’s never done anything like Caraval before, she has a hot-but-distrustful sailor working with her and she’s constantly worried about her sister…whose mind would be in the right place during all that?! I’d for sure be making those bad calls too, and I thought it was endearing how she makes a lot of mistakes but still learns from some of them and finds an alternative path towards what she’s after.
SCARY MOVIE, Carmen Electra, 2000, ©Dimension Films/courtesy Everett Collection

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. It Needed More Danger…While her sister is taken from her and the threat of what may happen drives Scarlett forward towards finding her, I still felt like the stakes could have been raised even higher with this story. It hardly felt like there was any actual danger as it’s supposed to be one big show/game/performance, but I can say there are a couple scenes that change this around. I wished the author added more scenes like those ones to give this book an even sharper edge.
  2. The Abusive Father…With all the lore, all the mystery, all the magic, I still found having an abusive father like Scarlett and Tella’s to be a little more ridiculous part of the story. It made their decision to run away almost too easy, but what really made me scoff was how he didn’t even try to hide the fact that he was abusive…Usually, abusers try to hide that little tidbit towards the public or anyone else; he’d only leave bruises on areas of the body that wouldn’t be seen, he’d try to keep up the persona that everything’s okay and normal, and wouldn’t dare try to strike anyone else in front of others either. Nope, he smacked his daughters around for everyone to see; he even struck other characters later on in the story, and it felt like cheap plot manipulation just to easily makes us hate him, and we do, but it could’ve been done better.

Conclusion:

Overall, this book was a fun, entertaining, magical, escapist read that is safe, but a great addition to the YA Fantasy genre nonetheless. I haven’t read this other title yet, but it has what I imagine to be a similar vibe to Erin Morgenstern’s Night Circus. Even just reading the blurb, I feel like they have similar themes, aesthetics and story arcs (Not a bad thing, and I do plan on reading that title as well some day!)

I will definitely be reading the next books in this trilogy because while the ending was satisfying, it left some things open ended and hints at much more to come, and I want answers! This title isn’t too dark, ominous or creepy, and even the romance is pretty tame, but that’s totally okay! It’s supposed to be not be taken so seriously; a little more lighthearted, fun, fairytale-like and dreamy as it left images of lights, cobblestone streets at night, laughter in the air, and the chills that creep onto your skin as you sneak away into the night about to do something you know is wrong, but it feels so right!

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell