Book Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Publication Date

29th September 2016


Fantasy, YA Fantasy, High Fantasy, Fiction, YA Fiction

Star Rating



Welcome to Caraval, where nothing is quite what it seems . . .

Scarlett has never left the tiny isle of Trisda, pining from afar for the wonder of Caraval, a once-a-year week-long performance where the audience participates in the show.

Caraval is Magic. Mystery. Adventure. And for Scarlett and her beloved sister Tella it represents freedom and an escape from their ruthless, abusive father.

When the sisters’ long-awaited invitations to Caraval finally arrive, it seems their dreams have come true. But no sooner have they arrived than Tella vanishes, kidnapped by the show’s mastermind organiser, Legend.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But nonetheless she quickly becomes enmeshed in a dangerous game of love, magic and heartbreak. And real or not, she must find Tella before the game is over, and her sister disappears forever.

“Like all great – and terrible – stories, his started with love. Love for the elegant Annalise. With golden hair and words made of sugar.”

Scarlett and her sister, Tella, have been bewitched by tales of the magical Caraval that their Nana always told them. Scarlett would write letters to the Caraval Master every year, but this year will be the last time she writes.. because this is the year she will be married.

Scarletts marriage has been arranged for her by her abusive father, and she’s never even met the groom, but she longs for it. She longs for the safety it will bring to her and Tella. And so, it is just typical, that this is the year she is invited to the Caraval. And she doesn’t want to go. Caraval is danger. Caraval is mystery. Caraval won’t keep her safe.

Tella thinks differently. With the help of an handsome stranger, she kidnaps Scarlett and sends her off to Caraval. There, Tella is also kidnapped, by the Caraval Master himself, Legend. And Scarlett then has no choice but to participate in the game, to save her sister, the person she loves more than anything else in the world.

“Welcome, welcome to Caraval! The grandest show on land or by sea. Inside you’ll experience more wonders than most people see in a lifetime. You can sip magic from a cup and buy dreams in a bottle. But before you fully enter into our world, you must remember it’s all a game. What happens beyond this gate may frighten or excite you, but don’t let any of it trick you. We will try to convince you it’s real, but all of it is a performance. A world built of make-believe. So while we want you to get swept away, be careful of being swept too far away. Dreams that come true can be beautiful, but they can also turn into nightmares when people won’t wake up.”

This is where the problems start. Caraval is a game, and Scarlett is told that countless times. And yet, she still believes it’s all real. And it’s hard being Scarlett, and watching things play out through her eyes, because she’s so goddamn serious all the time. Her decisions are sometimes nonsensical and she frustrated me no end.

Luckily, the world of Caraval was more than enough to keep me going. It’s a Wonderland sort of world, where anything and everything goes and we, as the readers, don’t know up from down, wrong from right, real from the game. It’s a twisty-turny, adventure of a ride, and it’s wonderful trying to work out where it’s all going to go. Is any of it real? Scarlett seems to think so.

The writing is good, nothing special. There are some weird metaphors thrown around, some of them I got, some of them I really didn’t. I liked it though, it’s a weird world, it fits. The writing in itself seemed a little middle-grade to me at times, but the themes were definitely young adult, so it was a confusing mix. It reminded me a little bit of Garth Nix’s ‘Keys to the Kingdom’ series, in both writing style and the fact they both feature worlds that mess with our main character.

All in all, I enjoyed it. There were a few issues but none that put me off. I rated it 3.5 and I’m definitely going to finish the series. I hope that Scarlett matures and grows through the next 2 books, if she does then this could be an amazing trilogy.

Book Review: The Last Paper Crane by Kerry Drewery

Publication Date

April 2020


Historical Fiction, Fiction

Star Rating



One thousand paper cranes to achieve your heart’s desire.

1945, Hiroshima: Ichiro is a teenage boy relaxing at home with his friend Hiro. Moments later there is a blinding flash as the horrific nuclear bomb is dropped. With great bravery the two boys find Hiro’s five year-old sister Keiko in the devastated and blasted landscape. With Hiro succumbing to his wounds, Ichiro is now the only one who can take care of Keiko. But in the chaos Ichiro loses her when he sets off to find help.

Seventy years later, the loss of Keiko and his broken promise to his dying friend are haunting the old man’s fading years. Mizuki, his granddaughter, is determined to help him. As the Japanese legend goes, if you have the patience to fold 1,000 paper cranes, you will find your heart’s desire; and it turns out her grandfather has only one more origami crane to fold…

Narrated in a compelling mix of straight straight narrative, free verse and haiku poems, this is a haunting and powerful novel of courage and survival, with full-page illustrations by Natsuko Seki.

Photo from @whiskandmaps. There you’ll find a brilliant tutorial on how to make paper cranes for yourself.

“My father, he… read all the time, and he… told me there is… magic in books.’ I close the book, place the loose page on top and, with shaking hands, start to fold. ‘I’m going to go… get help, but… I’m going to leave a bit of magic here.”

Wow. I don’t know if I can write a review that will do this justice, but I’ll try to find the words.

The Last Paper Crane starts with Mizuku, a young girl who is desperate to help her grandfather, Ichiro. He used to believe that there was magic in books, but since his wife died, he has lost his faith. To find out why though, we have to journey with him to 1945, when the nuclear bomb hit Hiroshima and his life changed forever.

We follow his story immediately after the bomb dropped. We travel with him and friend Hiro through the streets of Hiroshima. We see the damage and the destruction clearly through Drewerys writing. We can practically feel the heat of the flames leaping from the pages.

I don’t want to give to much of the plot away, because I really do feel like this is a book you have to experience for yourself. I do need to explain though, that there is a point in the book that Ichiro loses someone, and I am not exaggerating when I say that I felt his pain in my heart. And I felt his guilt. And shame. And regret. And it was all the more heartbreaking to me, as the reader, understanding that he didn’t deserve any of it. At just 40%, I was so emotional, I was already close to tears. By 90%, I was a complete, blubbering mess.

The final scene, in particular, is a masterpiece of conveying emotion. No words are spoken. Drewery understands that no words are needed. Just a few small actions was all it took to end this book in the most spectacular way.

The flashbacks are written in quiet simplistic prose, but heart wrenching never the less. The present scenes are told in more of a poetic style. I would have preferred the whole book to have been in the more classic writing style, and this is the only reason I have rated it 4.5 stars, and not 5. It’s a beautiful book, and well worth a few hours of anyones time.

*Thank you to Hot Key Books and to Netgalley for giving me a an E-copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.*

Book Review: American Royals by Katherine McGee

Publication Date

3rd September 2019


Fiction, Alternate History

Star Rating



Like most royal families, the Washingtons have an heir and a spare. Each child knows exactly what is expected of them. But these aren’t just any royals. They’re American.

As Princess Beatrice gets closer to becoming America’s first queen regnant, the duty she has embraced her entire life suddenly feels stifling. Nobody cares about the spare except when she’s breaking rules, so Samantha doesn’t care much about anything, either… except the one boy that’s off limits.Then there’s Samantha’s twin, Prince Jefferson. If he’d been born a generation earlier, he would have stood first in line for the throne, but the new laws of succession make him third. Most of America adores their handsome prince… but two very different girls are vying to capture his heart.

New York Times bestselling author Katherine McGee imagines an alternate version of the modern world, one where the glittering age of monarchies has not yet faded- and where love is still powerful enough to change the course of history.

I want to start off this review by telling you all that this is not my usual read. I wanted to read something some sort of light-hearted love story for Valentine’s Day and this was recommended to me. I read the blurb, and wasn’t really sold on it.. the promises of love triangle after love triangle didn’t appeal to me, but after reading lots of glittering reviews, I decided to give it a try.

American Royals is set in an alternate version of reality, one in which George Washington became Americas king, and not president. There isn’t much a of plot to the book. Instead, it is driven by the characters.. Who are they? What do they want from life? How will they achieve their goals?

Unfortunately, the character motivation felt a little bit too predictable. Beatrice, the future queen who is struggling to come to terms with all that is expected of her. Samantha, the second daughter, who knows she is ‘the spare’, feels it deep down, and resents it. Both girls would prefer the life the other leads, but lack of communication leads to them misunderstanding each other. And then there is the youngest; handsome Prince Jefferson, who has plenty of girls vying for his love.

Ok, so I know it makes sense that each character would feel the way they do. They suit their roles and personalities exactly how you’d imagine. But, I think that’s the problem.. if I can imagine it, then it’s not new and it’s not exciting. I want to read about people who don’t do everything the reader expects them to do. Obviously, their motivations still need to make sense, but I just needed more from them. It all felt a little bit obvious. A little boring. Lacklustre. And for a character driven book with minimal plot.. it’s a problem.

The story plays out much in the way you’d expect it to in the real world. In my opinion, this was the only way it could have ended, anything else would have been unrealistic. But, just because it was the right thing to do, doesn’t mean it was good. The last few pages in particular were, well, annoying. The characters, who have all grown and matured throughout the story, all end up reverting back to their old selves. And then we end on a cliffhanger. Yes, it sets us up for the next book, but at the cost of the first book having any sort of satisfying ending.

I gave it 3 stars. It’s not bad enough for anything below that. It has a good premise and the writing flows nicely. It was somewhat entertaining throughout, but it just had no sparks and no magic. For me, it fell flat. I won’t be reading the sequel.

Book Review: The Binding by Bridget Collins

Publication Date

10 January 2019


Fantasy, Magical Realism, Alternative History, Historical Fiction

Star Rating



Imagine you could erase your grief.
Imagine you could forget your pain.
Imagine you could hide a secret.

Emmett Farmer is working in the fields when a letter arrives summoning him to begin an apprenticeship. He will work for a Bookbinder, a vocation that arouses fear, superstition and prejudice – but one neither he nor his parents can afford to refuse.

He will learn to hand-craft beautiful volumes, and within each he will capture something unique and extraordinary: a memory. If there’s something you want to forget, he can help. If there’s something you need to erase, he can assist. Your past will be stored safely in a book and you will never remember your secret, however terrible.

In a vault under his mentor’s workshop, row upon row of books – and memories – are meticulously stored and recorded.

Then one day Emmett makes an astonishing discovery: one of them has his name on it.

We’ve been called witches since the beginning of time. Word-cunning, they used to call it – of a piece with invoking demons… We were burned for it too. The crusade wasn’t new, we’ve always been scapegoats. Well, knowledge is a type of magic, I suppose.

I adore the concept of this book. A world in which books are magical things with the power to hold memories safe.

The majority of The Binding is written from the POV book of Emmet. A farmers son who has come down with a strange sickness and is no longer able to run his fathers farm. He is sent for by Seredith, who is a binder. A binder has the ability to trap memories in books, and leave the holder of the memory free of it, forever. Seredith knows that Emmets sickness is binder-bound fever, a sickness that powerful binders get, and Emmet has a particularly bad case. She wishes to take him on as her apprentice.

Emmet doesn’t know anything about binding. He’s from a family who sees it as dark magic, and have always sought to hide it from their children. Emmet asks Seredith frequently what it is, but she always refuses; he is just too sick.

Things change again for Emmet when Seredith becomes sick herself, and he is forced to apprentice for another binder. De Hallivand is an wholly unlikable character, he treats his staff like vermin and sees binding as nothing but a profit spinner. He sends Emmet to do a binding for a wealthy family who uses his services regularly. Here, Emmet learns what sort of binder De Hallivand really is.

I’m going to be honest, at this point, I was just starting to get a little bit bored. It is heavily hinted at throughout the book that Emmet has been bound himself, and it is that mystery that carried me through until this point (we are around halfway in here). I wanted to know the truth, I wanted to know his secret. What had he done that was so bad? And I was getting frustrated, it just wasn’t coming fast enough.

And then, bam, emmet finds his book, and we are catapulted into the past, to find out Emmets forgotten life. And the whole book transformed. It is now a butterfly, bright and exciting and full of wonder. And love. And heartbreak… And I hated it. And I loved it.

In the first half of The Binding, Bridget Collins does an amazing job at tackling the complications which could arise from voluntarily giving up your memories. We see the various ways it can be abused, and it leaves the reader with an uncomfortable feeling in the stomach.

And then the second half.. the beautiful, heartwarming second half, works as a commentary on intolerance, and the value of men vs women, which works wonderfully in the 19th century setting.

I was spellbound by this book. It almost made it to my favourite read of 2020 (I realise it’s only February, but it will take something amazing to push it down that list). It’s a book I won’t be forgetting very easily.

Book Review – Follow Me To Ground by Sue Rainsford

Publication Date

13 June 2019


Fiction, Fantasy, Magical Realism, Horror

Star Rating



In house in a wood, Ada and her father live peacefully, tending to their garden and the wildlife in it. They are not human though. Ada was made by her father from the Ground, a unique patch of earth with birthing and healing properties. Though perhaps he didn’t get her quite right. They spend their days healing the local human folk – named Cures – who visit them, suspiciously, with their ailments. 

When Ada embarks on a relationship with a local Cure named Samson, and is forced to choose between her old life with her father, and a new one with her human lover. Her decision will uproot the town – and the Ground itself – for ever.

I was originally drawn to ‘Follow Me To Ground’ because of the cover. I was scrolling through Netgalley and it spoke to me. I loved the spiny tree roots, reaching down, fashioning themselves into a pair of lungs. I thought it was beautiful.

Then there was the blurb, which sounded to me to be quite YA Fantasy-ish. I was thrilled when I got the e-mail that I could now read it. Yay!

But I was wrong.

This is not some average YA Fantasy, this is something different. And I mean that broadly. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before.

We follow the journey of Ada, who is permanently child-like. She is described at one point as too old to be a child, but not yet a woman, like a young adult (I’m paraphrasing there). That’s not the only giveaway for her being a little bit different. She can also cure the local townsfolk of any ailments, she can fix a sore throat, speed along the menopause, even cure cancer. That’s why the townspeople like to keep her around, despite the fact that she’s a child forever, and despite the fact she wasn’t born, she was made.. in the ground.

As the blurb mentions, Ada develops a relationship with a local boy called Samson. Things start to get weird from now on. For us, I mean, not Ada, for whom everything that happens seems perfectly normal. But for us, the readers, it’s a whole lot of sick and twisted to deal with.

Honestly, I wasn’t wholey comfortable with any of it, but you know what? I couldn’t put it down. I. Could. Not. Stop. Reading. There were times I felt sort of.. ashamed? For wanting to read on, despite how uncomfortable I felt. In fact, I read the whole thing in a few hours (at just under 200 pages, this is easily do-able).

I can’t say much more about the plot, without giving too much away, so let’s just end it with ‘it’s a wild ride’. If you read it, and you finish it, you will sit back and think to yourself, ‘what the hell have I just read?’, ‘what has just happened?’, ‘Can I erase this from my memory?’. You will. I promise.

It’s a trippy ride. One I will be reading again. I need to.. It’s a whole lot of weird to unpack.

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