Tag Archive | mystery

Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Series: Caraval #2

caraval -stephanie garberRemember, it’s only a game…

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away.


5 Drink Me Potions


Caraval is everything you can imagine from that beautiful synopsis. From a sweeping mystery to the beautifully described world of the once-a-year Caraval, my heart was pounding in excitement to the very end.

I heard that this book has been gushed over since before it came out. It makes me wary sometimes as that puts on really high expectations which could actually do the exact opposite by disappointing me in the end. That was NOT the case with this book.

Caraval is essentially about two sisters who apparently would do anything for each other. Tella’s the more reckless and headstrong sister, while Scarlett is more thoughtful in all her actions. It comes with being the older sister. I loved Scarlett. She was so understandable and her devotion to her younger sister was admirable. She would do anything to get them out of their abusive father’s hands, even by marrying a complete stranger who offered to take in Tella too.

But, the magic and mystery surrounding Caraval and its mystery hunt during its week-long performance was the one thing Scarlett had always dreamed of attending. When things turned and the sisters found themselves entering Caraval to join in on this year’s game, my heart was literally so ecstatic. Even when the “real” plot hadn’t officially started yet, I was already so wrapped up in these characters and what would await them in Caraval.

I didn’t love Tella as much as Scarlett. In part, it was due to the fact that the sisters were separated so early on and everything’s in Scarlett’s POV. But it always seemed like Scarlett was the one to be making the sacrifice. I learned to appreciate Tella a bit more over time, but any more of her presence might’ve annoyed me more. Thankfully, the other protagonist and love interest for Scarlett was surprisingly amazing.

Julian was the PERFECT guy for Scarlett. Not only was he mysterious, confident and very hot, he pushed Scarlett beyond her comfort zone in a way no one else could. And even though there always seemed to be an aura of secrets around him, he was dependable when push came to shove for Scarlett. And I thought she was good for him too. As his secrets untangled over the course of the plot (which by the way were deliciously unpredictable as I kept second-guessing what his purpose was for being at Caraval and what his connections to this place were), I felt all these emotions collide in me. Happy, sad, surprised, relieved, you name it. The chemistry between these two were literally tangible. It was such a beautiful, slow-burn romance. They didn’t necessarily want to fall for each other – after all, Scarlett was technically still engaged to some stranger. But they did and it just worked! *fangirl sigh*

As for the world of Caraval, its mysterious characters that Scarlett met along the way, and the weird rules were all fascinating. Everything was well-described and the oddity of some of the things that went on here reminded me a lot of the imaginative detailing and world of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. Of course, that only added to my joy in reading this. On top of that, the mystery game at the heart of Caraval that its contestants could join in to solve for a prize was amazing. It was well-paced, with fun clues that kept Scarlett (and me) guessing for its meaning.

Honestly, Caraval has it all. Whatever you want in a book, it should have it within its pages. Whether you believe the hype or not, I suggest you read it for yourself with no expectations and just maybe, you’ll find yourself as surprised as I was at how much I enjoyed this.

Overall Recommendation:
Caraval is one of those rare books that just makes you believe in the world that you’ve stepped into, and makes it so hard to leave it. With a loyal and empathetic protagonist as Scarlett and a mysterious love interest such as Julian, the romance department here was just HOT. And the additional mystery that they needed to solve while at Caraval with the highest stakes possible only added to the pulse-pounding experience. A well-paced and overall imaginative story, Caraval hasn’t made it to many reviewers’ good graces for no reason. A definite recommendation.

Review: The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro

Series: Charlotte Holmes #2

the-last-of-august-brittany-cavallaroIn the second brilliant, action-packed book in the Charlotte Holmes trilogy, Jamie and Charlotte are in a chase across Europe to untangle a web of shocking truths about the Holmes and Moriarty families.

Jamie Watson and Charlotte Holmes are looking for a winter break reprieve in Sussex after a fall semester that almost got them killed. But nothing about their time off is proving simple, including Holmes and Watson’s growing feelings for each other. When Charlotte’s beloved uncle Leander goes missing from the Holmes estate—after being oddly private about his latest assignment in a German art forgery ring—the game is afoot once again, and Charlotte throws herself into a search for answers.

So begins a dangerous race through the gritty underground scene in Berlin and glittering art houses in Prague, where Holmes and Watson discover that this complicated case might change everything they know about their families, themselves, and each other.


 

3.5 Drink Me Potions


Thank you Edelweiss and HarperCollins for this copy in exchange for an honest review

**The Last of August comes out February 14, 2017**

Rating: 3.5 stars

You know a story was tumultuous when you flip over that last page and realize you’ve hit the Acknowledgements section. The Last of August actually managed to surprise me in this manner. And that says a lot ’cause I wasn’t feeling it for this book for like, the first 75% of it. Can I just stop for a sec and say “O. M. G…what just happened in the last 10%?

I will try to break down my rather hard decision to rate this book at where I’ve placed it, especially compared to its prequel, A Study in Charlotte.

The Plotline

Unlike the prequel, this book was located in multiple locations in Europe. From London to Berlin to Prague, I rather enjoyed seeing our young descendants of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson take on the “bigger” world and its mysteries, compared to the rather limited school campus-restricted affair we got to see earlier. Brittany Cavallaro did a good job, I think, of setting the scene and really showing us what was going on with art forgeries investigation.

However, what the prequel did WAY better was really rack up the suspense. I didn’t feel that Charlotte and Jamie were in danger most of the time, not like the first one did. Frankly, Holmes and Watson were barely talking sometimes because they were constantly fighting so it’s kinda hard to focus on the actual MYSTERY at hand. Honestly, it felt like some TV drama half the time because the mystery was swept off to the side as we focus on their relational problems.

And I thought this was a SHERLOCK based story.

Anyway, when dangers did seem to creep into the story, it wasn’t as exciting as it could’ve been because I was just SO CONFUSED. The foundation of the mystery was all over the place. Was it mostly the gang looking for the culprit behind the art forgeries? Was it trying to figure out where Charlotte’s uncle Leander disappeared too? Was it figuring out how the Moriartys tied into all of this? (After all, their little truce seem to be over between the Holmes and Moriarty families).

I can’t give you a definitive answer. I’d say it was probably a bit of everything. Which actually sucks for an answer. So it wasn’t very focused and half the time I felt like I was just waiting for the big reveal from Holmes in order to get my AHA moment. I was hoping a lightbulb would just click in my mind when I finally reached the ending. Didn’t quite happen like that.

The Sherlock Holmes-yness in the plot

So, where was the Sherlock factor into all of this? This is a retelling of sorts on the famous detective. And his brilliant descendants – like ALL of them. Boy, must be some heavy genetics they maintained in the family line.

Anyway, this was a tough one for me. If you can’t tell from the above rant, there wasn’t a whole lot of room to even develop the mystery. Holmes went off with her plans with Jamie always trying to catch up with her thoughts process (if that’s even possible). And since we see most everything through his eyes, we’re mostly left in the dark too.

I say mostly because we get the privilege of 2 WHOLE chapters from Charlotte’s POV. Here’s where the most “sherlock-y” it gets in this book. It’s still confusing, don’t get me wrong, ’cause we’re still not given all the details of what’s going on in that mind of hers, but at least it felt more reminiscent of what Sherlock would be saying and doing. It wasn’t solely focused on the romance. And Charlotte can be quite hilarious in an unintentional way.

“Honestly, I was pleased that [the boys] were for the moment gone. Democratic decision-making had failed us so far, as a team (was that what we were?). Things ran more smoothly when I was their benevolent dictator.”


This was probably where the book started going more uphill for me. The middle portion? Solid boredom. Even the beautiful scenery couldn’t shake my funk.

The Romance…

Anyone can see that I’m not a huge lover of the….more-than-platonic-but-not-quite-romantic tensions underlying Holmes and Watson’s relationship. I tolerated it in book 1, and tried not to grit my teeth through it here. Well, let me just say, if you ARE a fan of this “interesting” dynamic between the two, you will be more delighted that Cavallaro explores that side of their relationship more here.

While I am much more satisfied when they’re working alongside each other like best friends who occasionally fight (’cause that’s what friends do – doesn’t have to always be from other tensions causing it), I will say that I DID enjoy her writing prose in those scenes. For a Holmes, showing emotions isn’t easy – or even relevant for the most part – but it made the scene even more poignant because we know it was both Jamie and Charlotte meeting halfway for each other to even get to that point where civil conversation was possible (and some other steamier things).

There’s no love triangle, not even hints of one (much to my disappointment ’cause it would’ve juiced up the constant tension in this book), but maybe it was for the better this way.

I might not be on board for anything beyond platonic for the two (or this stasis point they’ve reached), but I do love how Jamie shapes Charlotte for the better. And Cavallaro describes it beautifully.

“If August was my counterpoint, my mirror, Jamie was the only escape from myself I’d ever found. When I was beside him, I understood who I was. I spoke to him, and I liked the words I said….If August reflected me, Jamie showed me myself made better.”


That ending though….

Without giving too much away, the first thought that popped into my head after it finally settled into my mind that I had indeed reached the last page – no, my ARC had not malfunctioned on me and cut me off from all the important details – was “crap is going down like, NOW.” I did not love this book. It was hard to get through at times, as mentioned above, but now it’s like, I HAVE to read the next one just to satisfy my curiosity at what occurred here. It’s not so much what a traditional cliffhanger may leave us with, but more like you know the big, exciting moments are just around the corner and you don’t want to miss out on the wreckage flying in front of your face (yes, we humans tend to like to stare when bad things happen to OTHER people).

The epilogue was touching in ways that I couldn’t imagine it would affect me in. After all, I was on cruise mode for the majority of this book. Apathy reign supreme. But for the last 10%, I am willing (and maybe even excited) for what may come.

Overall Recommendation:
The Last of August was not mystery heavy, with a plot that was strewn all over the place and had no focus. For lovers of a potential relationship between Charlotte and Jamie, this novel really explores, teases and strips that dynamic apart in a brilliant way, whether or not you’re shipping them. I would’ve loved to see more of Holmes’ special deductions in this one and understand more of what was happening WHILE I was reading it, but the ending explosively threw me a bone that I just cannot let go of. With both heavy pros and cons, this sequel was worth it for fans of book 1, but keep in mind that 80% was confusion and maybe 20% could get your heart pumping.

NOTE: all quotes may be subject to change

Review: A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

Series: Charlotte Holmes #1

a-study-in-charlotte-brittany-cavallaroThe last thing Jamie Watson wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s great-great-great-granddaughter, who has inherited not only Sherlock’s genius but also his volatile temperament. From everything Jamie has heard about Charlotte, it seems safer to admire her from afar.

From the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else. But when a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Jamie and Charlotte are being framed for murder, and only Charlotte can clear their names. But danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other.


3 Drink Me Potions


I’ve been an avid fan of Sherlock Holmes since I was a child, having read all the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. So for a Sherlock retelling in the YA genre, it was definitely peaking my interest.

But, there were ups and downs in my opinion.

Ups:

1. Charlotte Holmes is kickass
I didn’t know what to make of a female Holmes at first. Yeah, I’m sure it’ll be great and it’s not the first Sherlock retelling that’s flipped genders (there’s that TV show Elementary going on). So I knew I’d be okay with this element.
What excited me was that she was reminiscent of the Sherlock we know. Drug addiction, blunt attitude, awkward interpersonal relationships, and brilliant as heck.
But, I also enjoy a little something that the author puts in on their own. What’s the point of a retelling if it’s EXACTLY the same as the original? You might as well re-read it. I liked that Charlotte had her vulnerabilities, in part because she’s female, and knew how to play to her strengths (a damsel in distress work like a charm in certain situations). So it was more fun to get to reacquaint myself with someone who is familiar but at the same time, still new in some way.

2. Jamie Watson’s voice
No, I don’t mean his literal voice (I did not read an audiobook so I’m not sure how that would be like).
Writing from the perspective of Watson admiring Holmes’ work (just like the original), it could’ve been a little dry but I rather liked his tone and the way he saw the world he was in. Seeing this story in Holmes’ POV would’ve been a ton different and I’d much rather see it from Watson’s eyes. This might just be a personal opinion though.

3. The mystery
Once you get through almost 50% of the book, the mystery really starts to pick up. Who’s going around hurting students at their boarding school? Why are there links to Sherlock Holmes stories? Who’s out to get Holmes and Watson?
I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect. After all, what’s a Sherlock retelling if there’s no solid mystery at the heart of it for Holmes to deduce? I thought the story wasn’t completely predictable, although once the party involved was identified, it wasn’t as much fun just waiting for the info dump from Holmes to explain her deductions (not all of us are THAT smart, Holmes).

These helped me progress through the novel, but the following kept me away from finishing this novel for over a year.

Downs:

1. The pacing
OH my goodness. It was sooo slow at first. I stopped at 36% for over a year until I felt like finally continuing. A murder does happen fairly early on (ish), but their guesses were going around in circles and it just didn’t seem like the pair of young sleuths were progressing much at all. There was too much info on what they were doing in their daily lives at the boarding school that I just couldn’t seem to care about as much. I came here for a mystery, not for “how teens live in a boarding school” contemporary!
It did pick up after 50% but the pieces of the mystery fell too slowly. There was too much focus on Watson and Holmes, too.

2. Their relationship
Don’t get me wrong. I like Holmes and Watson. They’re an inseparable team. Watson balances out the neurotic behaviours of our favourite genius, while Holmes gets Watson out of ridiculously dangerous scrapes. You can’t have one without the other.
But….I just didn’t love them together. Yes, I knew that making one of them a girl may lead to a more romantic relationship possible, especially cuz it’s YA and what is a YA book without ROMANCE?
I just didn’t care about them dating. I’m not even excited for the potential of it. Maybe it’s cuz I’m rather traditional about it but their relationship always wrung true as platonic. Friendships are important too and it just saddens me a little that this has to change as well. It’s not like it’s impossible for a guy and girl to be good friends, but thus is the world of YA I suppose.

Well, A Study in Charlotte was sweet overall, and it made me nostalgic for certain Sherlock stories. I liked it enough, but there were certain hurdles that made it hard to continue for me personally.

Overall Recommendation:
For a Sherlock Holmes retelling, it had its good moments and bad. A Study in Charlotte, paying homage to a few elements from familiar Sherlock adventures, tried its best with the mystery but took its time upping the suspense factor. Throwing in the extra bit of unnecessary romance and I had to take a year-long break to finish. Altogether, it’s not a hard book to swallow, but it may not be for every Holmes’ fan.