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!

Review, Young Adult

YA Review: BAD HAIR DAY by Carrie Harris

BAD TASTE IN BOYS was the first zombie book I’ve ever read, and I loved it. I would have written a review, but it fell in that Christmas vacation window. Since the sequel was already out, I demanded that my library purchase it, so now I get to talk about BAD HAIR DAY instead.

I read this book in one day. One day. It helps that it’s shorter than most YA novels, but the point is that I couldn’t put it down. If you haven’t read the first book, even the description gives some spoilers for BAD TASTE IN BOYS, so you should stop reading now. And my review will definitely have spoilers from the first book but none for the second.

Ok, here we go:

Bad Hair Day by Carrie HarrisKate Grable is geeked out to shadow the county medical examiner as part of her school’s premed program. But after he’s arrested for murder, she’s left with the bodies. And when Kate’s brother, Jonah, stumbles upon a dead gamer girl, Kate realizes that the zombie epidemic she cured last fall was only the beginning of the weirdness taking over her town. Someone—or something—is murdering kids. Something really hairy. And strong. Possibly with claws.

Could it be werewolves, like Jonah and his dorktastic friends think? Kate’s supposed to be a butt-kicking, zombie-killing genius . . . but if she can’t figure out what’s behind the freakish attacks, the victims—or what’s left of them—are going to keep piling up.

And the five things I loved most are:

1. It’s not really supernatural – That’s only a spoiler if you haven’t read the first book. In BAD TASTE IN BOYS, it turns out the zombies aren’t really zombies. They’ve been infected with a virus that attacks the brain and makes them look and act like zombies. I fully expected there would be a scientific explanation for the “werewolves” and there is. And I love the way Carrie Harris weaves in what we know about werewolves–hairy, a connection to silver, etc.–and explains it all. So clever.

2. The sibling relationship – Kate and Jonah are such a great representation about how you can drive each other crazy but when it comes down to it, you’d give up your life for them. Jonah started out as an annoying pest in the first book, and I really enjoyed how they grew closer in this book. She knows her brother has her back.

3. The setup – So how likely is it that Kate would cure a zombie virus and then she’d be in the right place to solve a werewolf epidemic, too? I don’t care! Maybe she’s on the Hellmouth of scientific freakiness. In any case, having her work for a medical examiner was the perfect way to kick off the story, and her previous connection with Detective Despain allows her some freedom with her investigation. I love the way Carrie Harris gives a little dig at the improbabilities toward the end of the book. As far as I’m concerned, bring on the vampires for the next book!

4. She’s still just a teenage girl – So maybe Kate’s a super-geek who knows way more about medicine than anyone else her age, but she’s still just a girl, too. She worries about what’s going on with her boyfriend as much as she does solving the murders and finding a cure for the werewolf issue. Because the hot girl stalking your boyfriend is equally important, right? Sure it is. I believe it. It makes Kate an authentic teenager.

5. It’s definitely not easy – As a writer, I often get the advice that I’m being too easy on my characters. That’s definitely not the case here. Kate gets thrown into a wall, jumped by her boyfriend’s stalker, attacked by a werewolf, electrocuted … and that’s not all. Wow. I don’t know how she keeps going, but I believed she could while I was reading, so it’s well done, and it’s what kept me from putting the book down.

I’m not kidding about the vampire thing. I want to see Kate stake a vampire with one of Jonah’s pseudoswords. And I want to see what kind of scientific explanation Carrie Harris can come up with to explain a person who starts living on blood instead of food.

Have you read this series? What do you like about it?