Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: NIGHTFALL by Shannon Messenger

It’s been a while since I’ve written a review on the blog. My life has been a little consumed by Pitch Wars, and I now have my manuscript out in agents’ hands, awaiting their verdicts. But I did pre-order the Barnes & Noble special edition of Shannon Messenger’s NIGHTFALL, the latest installment in her Keeper of the Lost Cities series, so I thought that would be the perfect book to jump back in with a review.

If you haven’t read the first five books in this series, you should stop reading now! Even the description for this book includes spoilers for the previous books, as will my review.

Okay, if you’re still here, on to the description.

Nightfall by Shannon MessengerSophie Foster is struggling. Grieving. Scrambling. But she knows one thing: she will not be defeated.

The Neverseen have had their victories—but the battle is far from over. It’s time to change tactics. Make sacrifices. Reexamine everything. Maybe even time for Sophie to trust her enemies.

All paths lead to Nightfall—an ominous door to an even more ominous place—and Sophie and her friends strike a dangerous bargain to get there. But nothing can prepare them for what they discover. The problems they’re facing stretch deep into their history. And with time running out, and mistakes catching up with them, Sophie and her allies must join forces in ways they never have before.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The crushes – Okay, so I am way too involved in the love lives of these fifteen and sixteen-year-olds. In fact, my nine-year-old and I got into an argument about which team we were on. (Yes, there are teams.) But that being said, I love how well Shannon Messenger portrays the confusing emotions Sophie feels toward the boys and how she sorts through them. It’s so authentic and how I remember feeling at that age. And if you’re wondering, yes, even though the characters have gotten older, the romance part still sits firmly in middle grade.

2. The twists – NIGHTFALL is the sixth book in this series and so you’d think Ms. Messenger wouldn’t be able to keep surprising readers, but she continues to come up with new twists in every installment. I was pleased with the new turns in this latest book, and I can’t wait to see what she does in book seven and (maybe?) eight.

3. The special bonus – I ordered the Barnes & Noble special edition in order to get the bonus section from Keefe’s point of view, and it was so worth it! Granted, Keefe is basically my favorite character aside from Sophie, but I loved how it showed a different side of him.

4. Amy – I loved that Sophie’s human sister was a part of this book and how Sophie’s relationship with her added another layer to her character. It was fun seeing the elvin world through her eyes.

5. Ro – The ogre princess is an awesome addition to the cast of characters. She’s hilarious and also brings a new dimension of understanding to a species the elves have only seen a certain way up to now. Love her!

Every year I’m dying for the next book, and then as soon as I finish it I wish I could somehow force myself to wait longer so I wouldn’t be anxious for the next one as soon as I finish. Because, of course, this book ended with another cliffhanger. Although it wasn’t as bad as the end of NEVERSEEN. I might never forgive Shannon Messenger for that one :). Okay, I do forgive her since she fixed it in LODESTAR, but still. I have a total love-hate relationship with cliffhangers.

What about you? Have you read NIGHTFALL yet? What did you think?

Giveaways, Interviews, PitchWars, Review, Young Adult

YA Interview & Giveaway: CATALYST & FORGOTTEN by Kristin Smith

As promised, today I’m featuring an interview with the second of my Pitch Wars mentors, Kristin Smith. Her debut, CATALYST, came out in 2016, followed by the sequel, FORGOTTEN, just last month. I’m thrilled to be giving away e-books of both CATALYST and FORGOTTEN, and Kristin is adding swag–signed bookmarks, a postcard, and a magnet! Here’s the description of the first book to whet your appetite.

Catalyst by Kristin SmithIn a crumbling, futuristic Las Vegas where the wealthy choose the characteristics of their children like ordering off a drive-thru menu, seventeen-year-old Sienna Preston doesn’t fit in. As a normal girl surrounded by genetically modified teens, all of her imperfections are on display. But after the death of her father, everything she’s ever known and loved changes in an instant.

With little skills to help provide for her family, Sienna clings to the two things that come easily—lying and stealing. But not all thief-for-hire assignments go as planned. When a covert exchange of a stolen computer chip is intercepted, she becomes entangled with a corrupt government official who uses her thieving past as leverage, her mother as collateral, and the genetically modified poster boy she’s falling for as bait.

In order to rescue her mother, there may only be one option—joining forces with the Fringe, an extremist group, and their young leader who’s too hot to be bad. Problem is, these revolutionaries aren’t what they seem, and the secrets they’re hiding could be more dangerous than Sienna is prepared for. In the end, she must be willing to risk everything to save the one thing that matters most.

And here are Kristin’s answers to five questions about the five things I loved most–in this case, about both books :).

1. The premise for this series is so cool (and a bit scary)! A society where the rich genetically modify their children? Where did you come up with the idea?

Why, thank you! 🙂 The spark of the idea came in the form of a vivid dream. This idea then led to a lot of what if questions. What if there was a society of people who were matched according to their genetics? Then taking that a step further, what if these people were genetically modified and matched according to their genetics? What would a society like this look like? What might be some challenges for a society like this? And through this, the idea for CATALYST was born.

2. I love how it’s set in a futuristic Las Vegas. The gritty city and surrounding desert, then the new setting of Pacifica (a futuristic L.A.?), are so well drawn. How did you research? How did you decide what to keep from the present and what to change?

I lived for a short time in Las Vegas so I’m very familiar with the area, which really helped when writing CATALYST. And yes, even though it isn’t specifically mentioned, I do picture the Capital of Pacifica (Rubex) as a futuristic L.A. area. I’ve been to L.A. and up and down the Pacific coast, so it wasn’t too hard to draw on personal experience, like how cold the ocean water is no matter what time of year.

I did take some liberties when it came to buildings and structures that may or may not exist in 100-120 years. I think that was the most interesting thing about writing a story set in the near future. I was able to play around with things like architecture and buildings, while staying true to landscape and landforms like mountains, oceans, and deserts that shouldn’t change too much over time. It was a good balance between research and imagination.

3. There are so many twists in these books. Do you have a strategy for planting twists, particularly across a series?  

Um, I wish I could say that I have this magical formula, but the truth is, I really don’t. I generally know the direction the book or series is going, but sometimes I even surprise myself. If there’s a big twist (or several), then during the revision stage, I go through and make sure there have been enough clues sprinkled in so it doesn’t feel too farfetched. I’m a firm believer in the saying that “books are not written, but rewritten.” I do like to keep my reader always guessing.

The other key thing for this series is the backstory, which the reader doesn’t really know much about until the 2nd book, FORGOTTEN. I had to fully flesh out characters we don’t see or know that much about in order to be able to do these twists. I think that’s what made this story such a big undertaking. I couldn’t truly delve into Sienna’s story until I had completely fleshed out her dad’s story, which is what leads the reader to a lot of questions and a lot of twists.

4. The boys! You have two strong love interests with Zane and Trey, and I don’t even know whose team I’m on. I was leaning one way after CATALYST, and FORGOTTEN tipped me the other direction. Did you start writing the series with a clear ending in mind for the love story? Any suggestions on writing an effective love triangle?

Ahh, this is such a great question! When I first started writing the series, there was no question in my mind who Sienna would end up with. But now, I’m not so sure. They are both incredible guys, each with their own strengths, and Sienna loves them both in different ways. And I think that’s the key to an effective love triangle. Each love interest must stand on his own, meaning, each one should offer her something different. Perhaps in one the MC finds adventure and security, but the other provides compassion and companionship.

In addition, a good love triangle should be about more than just the three characters trapped in the triangle. It shouldn’t be a plot in and of itself. But when you can weave it into a story that has bigger stakes, then I think you’re on the road to creating a successful love triangle.

5. In FORGOTTEN, you tell the story from both Sienna and Zane’s viewpoints. What tips do you have for writing from two different POVs?

Don’t screw it up! Lol. No, really, I think it’s all about finding the voice of your characters. It requires you to dig deep and really get to know your characters better. Sienna was easy because I already knew her voice. Zane was a bit trickier because A) I had to tap into a male voice and B) I had to tap into the voice of a guy who has been bred since birth to be this poster child for his father’s genetic modification company. He’s well-bred, well-spoken, and well-rounded.

I would suggest doing character sketches or character interviews to really get a feel for the mind of your character. It may take rewriting chapters if you find your voice drifting. The main thing is to stay true to your character.

Thank you, Kristin!

Now, on to the giveaway! I’m giving away e-books of both CATALYST and FORGOTTEN, and Kristin is adding signed bookmarks, a postcard, and a magnet. United States only, please. To enter, click on the Rafflecopter link. Good luck!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/ba24b44a19/?

Character, Giveaways, Interviews, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Interview & Giveaway: AT FIRST BLUSH by Beth Ellyn Summer

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I’d be sharing more about my Pitch Wars’ mentors’ books, and today I’m thrilled to host Beth Ellyn Summer with an interview about AT FIRST BLUSH. Even better, I’m giving away a copy of her book, and Beth is adding on swag–makeup and a signed bookmark! First, here’s the description.

At First Blush by Beth Ellyn SummerWho would have thought that a teenager could have a successful career creating makeup tutorial videos on YouTube? For Lacey Robbins, this dream has been her reality. An up-and-coming YouTuber, she has thousands of fans and can’t wait for the day when her subscriber count reaches the one million mark. And when she is offered a high school internship at On Trend Magazine, she figures that this could be the make it or break it moment.

But sometimes your dream job isn’t all that it seems. Her editor is only interested in promoting junk products, and her boss in the Hair and Makeup department introduces her to the larger world of makeup artistry, making her wonder if making tutorials online is all she is meant to do. To top it all off, when the magazine’s feature subject , musician Tyler Lance, turns his broodingly handsome smile her way, falling for him could mean losing her fans, forcing her to make a decision: her YouTube life or her real life?

And here are Beth’s answers to five questions about the five things I loved most.

I love the inside look at life as a YouTuber, especially since it’s becoming more common for teens to have channels. Did you experiment with your own channel? Talk to YouTubers? How did you research?

This was definitely a case of binge-watching tons of beauty tutorials and calling it research! I’m deathly camera shy so making my own channel was never an option. YouTube beauty videos have this really fun, sleepover-with-your-best-friends vibe that’s so addictive. I spent months studying how gurus interacted with their subscribers, how they conducted giveaways and handled dramas and scandals. What shocked me most was just how much hate these girls deal with on a daily basis. When pop stars and movie stars get hate, they can avoid social media and Google. But YouTubers literally make their living off interacting with subscribers, so reading hateful comments is all part of a day’s work. I admire anyone who can look past all that to do what they love and make a career out of it.

Lacey’s makeup expertise is so ingrained it’s obvious it originates with you. After reading this book, I feel like I’m probably doing it all wrong and should go watch some tutorials myself. Any tips for those of us who might be in a makeup rut? Who should we watch since Lacey Blushes is fictional?

So, confession: I was always pretty terrible at makeup. Like, awful. My mom did my makeup for me up till college. But then one day I realized I’ve got to figure this out for myself, and I got really hooked on tutorials! These girls made it look so easy, and it’s because of YouTube tutorials that I learned the key to flawless makeup application: a thorough and moisturizing skin care routine, and the right tools. I didn’t realize that you need good quality brushes (you can get really inexpensive ones), otherwise the products don’t apply well. Good brushes are game changing.

My advice if you’re in a makeup rut (and I literally just dragged myself out of one) is to experiment with new brands. Also: play with vibrant eyeliner colors! I have a tough time working with colorful eyeshadows on my lids, and I never have the patience to blend properly, so I tend to stick with my usual neutrals. By adding a pop of teal or turquoise or purple eyeliner, it takes things up a notch without going too far out of a comfort zone.

I highly recommend these beauty channels: Emily Noel, Lisa Eldridge, Pixiwoo, Ingrid Nilsen, Tanya Burr, FleurDeForce, Carrie Rad. I have so many favs but I learn the most from these girls!

I love how Lacey and Cynth’s friendship is portrayed in the book. What suggestions do you have for writing a great friendship?

I’m the biggest sucker for strong friendships in YA. I think a good best friend helps a MC figure themselves out, but I really love it when the friends learn something new about their friendship within character arcs. My favorite way to write a best friend is to make them a polar opposite of my MC. It usually makes for some laughs, all while helping the MC step out of comfort zones. I usually take conversations and silly moments I’ve had with my own best friends and play off that!

Lacey grows so much in the story, figuring out what she wants to stand for and what she wants out of her YouTube career. Did you plan out her arc in advance, or did she reveal herself to you along the way?

I’m a pantser, so a lot of Lacey came to me as I was writing her. But I always knew Lacey would come to the conclusion that dreams can change, and she’d want to do something different from YouTube. I just kept thinking…what would it be like to have a girl who dreams of being a big YouTuber and the true conflict comes when she does get everything she wished for?

The romance! The famous boy who just wants a girl to like him for himself is one of my favorite tropes. I love that he cooks and has major weaknesses where his family is concerned. I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this one, but was there a particular inspiration for Tyler coming from a family boy band?

Ha! Haha. Yes! My favorite thing about post-publication has been reading the guesses from bloggers and readers about who Tyler Lance is based on! It was kind of a huge mix in my head, to be completely honest. I’m a Hanson girl. I grew up going to their shows, and with walls covered in their posters, and I still adore them. I’m really just fascinated with family bands in general. I watched a feature on R5 once where the focus was solely on Ross Lynch and I just wondered…what would happen to the family if the band broke up? There’s some Jonas Brothers and R5 influence in Simply Complicated as well. Despite all the family drama stuff, I also took plenty of inspo from Harry Styles. I based Lacey and Tyler’s romance off of the media firestorm that was Taylor Swift and Harry Styles’ relationship, and Taylor’s 1989 album was my At First Blush playlist. Hardcore Swifties will probably notice references to Out of the Woods and Style!

Thank you, Beth!

Now, on to the giveaway! I’m giving away an e-book of AT FIRST BLUSH, and Beth is adding on an e.l.f. shimmering facial whip and signed bookmark. United States only. To enter, click on the Rafflecopter link. Good luck!

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/ba24b44a18/?

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Series Recommendation: Geek Girl by Holly Smale

A couple of weeks ago I had the most frustrating book-buying experience of my life. I might be exaggerating a bit in honor of this series’ main character … or maybe not. See, I bought GEEK GIRL by Holly Smale at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale. As soon as I finished, I wanted to keep reading, so I checked out books 1.5 and 2 from the library, followed by 2.5 and 3. Then I hit a snag. The library had the novella that went between books four and five but none of the rest of the books. When I put in the suggestion for them to purchase the books, a note came back saying the books were not available for them to buy.

What? I’ve had the library deny a request before, but never saying they couldn’t buy a book. And I had to read the rest of this series, so I went on Amazon. I could order book four relatively easily, but books five and six were only available to order from England. (Same on ebay.) Did I mention Holly Smale is a British author? Anyway, I had to pay a premium for these books and wait two weeks to get them. (I’m not a patient person.) And the real kicker was that when I checked on my order two weeks later, Amazon suddenly had the books available on Prime. Argh!

Anyway, the books were so worth the wait! And it was interesting to read the British versions, without any of the language Americanized :). I guess I should get on to the review.

Geek Girl by Holly SmaleHarriet Manners knows a lot of things.

She knows that a cat has 32 muscles in each ear, a “jiffy” lasts 1/100th of a second, and the average person laughs 15 times per day. What she isn’t quite so sure about is why nobody at school seems to like her very much. So when she’s spotted by a top model agent, Harriet grabs the chance to reinvent herself. Even if it means stealing her Best Friend’s dream, incurring the wrath of her arch enemy Alexa, and repeatedly humiliating herself in front of the impossibly handsome supermodel Nick. Even if it means lying to the people she loves.

As Harriet veers from one couture disaster to the next with the help of her overly enthusiastic father and her uber-geeky stalker, Toby, she begins to realize that the world of fashion doesn’t seem to like her any more than the real world did.

And as her old life starts to fall apart, the question is: will Harriet be able to transform herself before she ruins everything?

Here are the five things I loved most about this series.

1. Harriet’s facts – Harriet is full of facts she throws at people randomly. With a few exceptions, people are either annoyed or baffled by her facts. I found them interesting or funny, and they were always relevant to the story. I thought Ms. Smale did an excellent job weaving in Harriet’s thought process so the reader understood how Harriet’s brain worked. For example, from book five:

So, here are some statistically unlikely events:

  • Achieving an Olympic gold medal: 1 in 662,000
  • Becoming a canonized Saint: 1 in 20,000,000
  • Winning an Oscar: 1 in 11,500
  • Being hit by an asteroid: 1 in 700,000
  • Being voted President of the United States: 1 in 10,000,000

How do I put this?

They’re all more likely than Annabel allowing her eight-month-old daughter to start working as a fashion model.

2. The secondary characters – There are so many great characters to choose from–Harriet’s best friend, Nat; her stalker, Toby; her grandmother, Bunty; the models she meets on her travels. Every single character is uniquely and richly drawn.

2.5. The modeling – Yes, I slipped in a half-point. The books had novellas in between, so I’m adding in-between points. The inside look at the modeling industry was fascinating–the crazy shoots, the variety, and the fact that haute couture is nothing like what you see in a regular advertisement. It’s more like art.

3. The humor – It’s only appropriate to put humor after the point about modeling because many of Harriet’s modeling experiences result in situational humor. I found myself laughing out loud during every single book, even as I was shaking my head at Harriet, internally shouting at her to stop what she was doing immediately. Yep. They’re those kind of books–where you just can’t look away from the train wreck the character’s causing.

3.5. The settings – Through the course of six full-length books and three novellas, Harriet travels to Russia, France, Japan, Morocco, the United States, Australia–I’m missing some. And, of course, there’s plenty in and around London as well. Having traveled to a couple of the places she’s written, I felt like I’d traveled there all over again. And I want to visit the others. Fantastic!

4. The parents – I love Harriet’s parents. It’s explained early in the first book that Harriet’s mother died giving birth to her, and her dad remarried when she was young. Neither her dad nor her stepmom, Annabel, is perfect, but they are such a realistically drawn family. I loved watching them work through ups and downs through the course of the books.

4.5 Harriet’s growth – Some readers might find Harriet to be an unlikable character. She’s very high-maintence and has few friends as a result. She’s very inside her head and so literal that she constantly misses social cues, but that’s part of what makes her so interesting. During the course of the series, she has to recognize her shortcomings, and there are consequences for them. I liked how she grew up and adapted.

5. The romance – I left this for last because it was by far my favorite part of the whole series. I’m such a sucker for a good romance, and if an author manages to drag it out through this many books? Wow, that’s quite a feat. Let me just say that the fourth book, ALL THAT GLITTERS, broke my heart. I was seriously balling–which is very hard to make me do–and my kids came over and gave me hugs and then wanted to me to explain why. My nine-year-old son didn’t get it, but my seven-year-old daughter understood it was all about LOVE. (This is pretty much the way to make me cry–through relationship drama.) Anyway, I was very satisfied with the way the romance wrapped up. I was smiling at the end :).

Hopefully I’ve convinced you all to read this series, and I also hope you’ll be able to get your hands on all the books much more easily than I did!

Giveaways, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review & Giveaway: FOLLOW ME BACK by A.V. Geiger

A couple of weeks ago I won a giveaway for A.V. Geiger’s FOLLOW ME BACK, and as I just read the book in a day, I think it merits a review. Also, for some reason they sent me two copies, plus swag, so I’m doing a giveaway! Details are at the end of the review.

Follow Me Back by A.V. GeigerAgoraphobic fangirl Tessa Hart doesn’t dare tell a soul about the traumatic incident that caused her to drop out of a prestigious summer program, the month after high school graduation. Instead she spends her days immersed in the online fandom of her pop star obsession, Eric Thorn. She knows it sounds crazy, but he’s the only one who seems to understand her, even love her…

That’s what he says over Twitter anyway: that he loves each and every fan. But the truth is he’s terrified of them. Ever since a super-fan murdered the lead singer of British boy band Fourth Dimension, he can’t shake the feeling he’s next. Murderous fangirls may be one in a million, but with 14 million Twitter followers, the odds aren’t in his favor.

When a plan to alienate his fans instead leads Eric to befriend @TessaHeartsEric via a fake Twitter account, the two form a bond that neither could have imagined. For Eric, Tessa is the one honest voice in a sea of fakery. For Tessa, her mysterious online friend might just give her the courage to let go of her traumatic past and untangle herself from the world of online fandom and celebrity obsession. But this is no fan-fiction fairytale come to life. Dark secrets from Tessa’s past surface, and the fanatics in Eric’s fandom get a little too close for comfort. When the two arrange to meet IRL, fake identities are revealed and what should have made for the world’s best episode of Catfish, turns deadly.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The unique storytelling format – The story is told through a combination of police transcripts, Twitter DMs, and traditional narrative. They’re woven together perfectly, so that you’re given just enough information in the present to wonder what happened in the past before you read about it. And with this being a thriller, that’s no easy task!

2. The pacing – While I alluded to pacing above, it’s worth breaking out as its own point. I did not want to put this book down. With every chapter, there was something new revealed, some new piece of information that kept me anxious to read on and discover either what was about to happen in the present or what had happened in the past.

3. The romance – I loved how the relationship developed between Tessa and Eric, even if she didn’t know who he was. In general I like the trope of characters who fall in love from a distance, and I appreciated how it wasn’t all smooth sailing, with misunderstandings that had to be worked out.

4. The twists – I said “What!” out loud more than once reading this book. Not every twist caught me by surprise, but there were a couple, and I love it when that happens. Well done!

5. The ending – Whoa! That’s really all I want to say about it because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but I am now dying to read the next book in this series. It’s the kind of situation where I hate that I read the book right when it came out because now I have to wait a whole year :(.

To win FOLLOW ME BACK, plus a tote and bookmark, click on the Raffelcopter link below. North America only, please. The giveaway will be open until Aug. 2. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING by Nicola Yoon

I think the fact I didn’t have much time to read during our trip, combined with my kids being gone for three days last week, put me into a reading frenzy. I read five books in the past week, including two full-length adult books. As I’m sure many of you middle grade/young adult readers understand, adult books seem so long when you’re used to MG and YA, but I still enjoyed them. Sometimes it’s nice to switch things up. I actually have a pile of them because several of the adult authors I still read–mostly romance :)–have had books come out in the past couple of months.

Anyway, I’ve been hearing about EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING by Nicola Yoon forever and kept thinking I should read it, but I confess it wasn’t until I watched the movie trailer that I made it a priority. So glad I did!

Everything, Everything by Nicola YoonMadeline Whittier is allergic to the outside world. So allergic, in fact, that she has never left the house in all of her seventeen years. She is content enough—until a boy with eyes the color of the Atlantic Ocean moves in next door. Their complicated romance begins over IM and grows through a wunderkammer of vignettes, illustrations, charts, and more.

Everything, Everything is about the thrill and heartbreak that happens when we break out of our shell to do crazy, sometimes death-defying things for love.

 

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The mixed media – I loved the use of drawings, health logs, IMs, emails, etc. But I especially loved how Maddy looked at life as a science experiment and charted out each potential experience. My favorite was “Kiss Mechanics.”

2. The romance – I love how this romance builds from a distance at first. There’s physical tension, and it’s very well done, but it comes later. The relationship is built on them getting to know each other before they’re even able to be in the same room.

3. The humor – One of the reasons I delayed reading this book was that based on the premise, I mistakenly believed it was going to be a depressing read. It spans a range of emotions, but the one that took me by surprise was humor. There’s a whole sequence with a Bundt cake that’s just hilarious. I won’t spoil it by telling you anything more.

4. Madeline’s growth – I really felt for Madeline as a character–to be trapped in your home for your whole life and to know that leaving could cost you your life. What kind of a decision is that? The end of this book wasn’t the point–it was watching her decide what it meant to live.

5. Madeline’s spoiler book reviews – These sort of go with the mixed media above, but as I was paging through deciding what to highlight, I kept chuckling at them. Example:

ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND BY LEWIS CARROLL

Spoiler alert: Beware the Queen of Hearts. She’ll have your head.

There’s so much more I want to discuss about this book, but I will ruin it for you if you haven’t read it yet, so GO READ IT! And then come back and discuss it with me. Now I’m anxious to read Ms. Yoon’s other book, since I loved this one so much.

Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber

I did not read nearly as much as I thought I would on our trip to Australia, but it’s because I was busy doing things like holding koalas and feeding kangaroos.

Actually, I ticked those off my bucket list on our first day there while visiting the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary outside Brisbane. I highly recommend the experience if you’re ever in Australia. It was the highlight of the trip, although a close second was singing on the stage of the Sydney Opera House during our backstage tour. Sorry, I don’t know you all quite well enough to post that video here :).

I could share a hundred more pictures, but the purpose of my blog is to share either writing or book reviews, and today I want to talk about the last book that came through on my Kindle during the trip. I didn’t actually read it in Australia, but since I downloaded it there, I felt like that gave me an excuse to share a couple of pictures. Anyway, here is the cover and description for CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber.

Caraval by Stephanie GarberScarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their ruthless father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the legendary, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

Then, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation to Caraval finally arrives. So, Tella enlists a mysterious sailor’s help to whisk Scarlett away to this year’s show. But as soon as the trio arrives, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nonetheless soon becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with her sister, with Legend, and with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The sisters – The relationship at the core of this story is a sisterhood. Their relationship is complicated, and they’re oh-so-different, but at the core is love. It was great to see a novel with a sibling relationship at its center.

2. The descriptions – The writing is just gorgeous. It’s easiest to just give you an example.

The sky was black, the moon visiting some other part of the world, as Scarlett took her first step into Caraval. Only a few rebel stars held posts above, watching as she and Julian crossed the threshold of the wrought-iron gate, into a realm that for some would only ever exist in wild stories.

While the rest of the universe had suddenly gone dark, the grand house blazed with light. Every window shimmered with buttery illumination, turning the flower boxes below into cradles full of stardust. The citrus scent from before was gone. Now the air was syrupy and thick, still much sweeter than the air on Trisda, yet Scarlett only tasted bitter.

3. The romance – I’m a sucker for a rascal of a love interest. It must be all those romance novels I grew up reading. Anyway, I loved how the romance built between the two characters. There was just the right amount of tension.

4. The twists – Wow. It seemed that with every new chapter, a new twist was being revealed. Honestly, I was second-guessing every character–and I LOVED IT! It made complete sense within the world Ms. Garber built. None of the twists were gratuitous. So well done!

5. The pacing – I couldn’t put this book down. I was reading it during my son’s birthday party with a bunch of nine-year-olds running and screaming around my basement, so obviously that classifies it as unputdownable. I think it’s in large part due to what I mentioned about the twists, but also because there was a ticking clock–always a good strategy for keeping you reading!

Also, the ending was a perfect teaser for the next book in the series, so I’m anxious to read on. I sort of hate reading the first book in a series when it first comes out for this very reason, but oh well. I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it. If you’ve read CARAVAL, I’d love to discuss it further with you in the comments!