Caraval by Stephanie Garber

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Scarlett Dragna is about to get married to a Count she has never met. That’s ok though, she’s hoping it will lead to safety for her and her sister away from her abusive father and the tiny isle of Trisda she has never once left.

But her sister Tella is determined to help her live a little and when an invitation arrives for them to visit the magical Caraval, a once-a-year, five-day performance where the audience participates in the show, she forces Scarlett’s hand so they have to go. But there’s a dark side to Caraval and although Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance when Tella is kidnapped by the show’s mastermind organiser, she has to find her before the game is over, and her sister disappears forever.

This is billed as the perfect book for those that love The Night Circus, and honestly … it is!

It’s a little lighter and aimed more at Young Adults or at the fantasy market but the writing has some wonderful poetry to it. The world is absorbing and the characters are believable. If I wanted to be hypercritical I would say that the author could have dug deeper still into the motivations of the characters and fleshed them out even more.

That being said though I’d still thoroughly recommend it – it’ll bring a  flash of glorious colour to your winter nights!

4 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

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Thaniel Steepleton is getting by rather than living. His job as a telegraphist at the Home Office earns him just enough to support his widowed sister but not enough for him to afford to pursue his love of music. Then one day he returns to his tiny flat to find a gold pocketwatch on his pillow. It isnt a birthday present from his sister but unfortunately he has no time to investigate further as a credible bomb threat has just come through.

When the watch saves Thaniel’s life in the threatened blast, he starts to investigate where it came from. His search leads him to its maker, Keita Mori – a gentle Japanese man whose seductive world of clockwork and music entrances him. Meanwhile, Grace Carrow will soon be making her entrance into his life but meanwhile she is sneaking into an Oxford library dressed as a man. A theoretical physicist, she is desperate to prove the existence of the luminiferous ether before her mother can force her to marry.

This blend of historical fiction and fantasy creates an enchanting steampunk-esque thriller. A character that can remember the future, one that can see sounds, the aforemantioned theoretical physicist, plus detectives from Scotland Yard, Japanese ambassadors, Irish nationalists and cameo appearances from Gilbert and Sullivan show what a talented writer Natasha Pulley is. Each character is utterly believable even if they barely grace the page.

The plot is intriguing but the author also adds in magical details like a clockwork Octopus with a penchant for stealing socks so there is never a dull moment. But these details are never just gratuitous. I can’t say any more than that or I’ll be guilty of spoilers!

One of the things that really sets this book aside though is the attention to sentence structure. That might sound like a very dry thing to say but when a book contains so many teeny tiny nibbles of pure bliss then the dish as a whole is definitely going to be tasty!

If you want some well-crafted escapism pick this up!

4 Bites

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

NevernightMia Covere is just ten when she watches her fathers execution.  For the next six years she is tutored in the arts of stealth, self-defence and murder but the day she takes her first life is the day she’s been waiting for.  Now she can become an apprentice in The Red Church, and, if she survives, earn the right to avenge all of those that killed her father.

But the apprenticeship at The Red Church is not her path alone and all those competing to complete it know they must face death many times over – even from each other’s hands. Luckily Mia has at least one friend, a not-quite cat made of shadow’s that drinks her fear.

This booked hooked me right from the start and I would totally recommend it to all lovers of fantasy. Jay Kristoff’s world-building skills are superb, I felt I knew where I was all the time I could so easily envisage all the settings.

This is the genre at it’s best, lots of action, menace and magic. It’s quite gory, there’s lot’s of death – it could probably give ‘Game of Thrones’ a run for it’s money! It has a strong female lead as well as a good gender balance throughout, the characters are interesting and well-developed too. The only thing I didn’t like about it was the fact I have to wait ages till the next book in the series comes out!

It’s not life-changing or overly thought-provoking but it will keep you thoroughly entertained!

4 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

cover87989-mediumThis novella was inspired by a classic H.P. Lovecraft tale, but one that women were completely invisible in. Kij Johnson wanted to honour the story but also provide a female counter-balance to it. This then is the story of Professor Vellitt Boe. A woman who was once a far-traveller of the dream world but who has taught at the prestigious Ulthar Women’s College for many years.

One night, one of her most gifted students elopes with a dreamer from the waking world, this could spell disaster for the Women’s college, after all, no matter how prestigious they are there are still plenty of men that think women should have no place in academia and this could be the excuse they need to close it down. Vellitt volunteers to retrieve her.

The journey turns out not to be as straightforward as she’d hoped, just missing her student she then has to try and gain access to the waking world, no easy thing so she ends up on a quest across the Dreamlands. Along the way she meets people from her past and faces the dangers of demons and ghasts.

This is a fairly short book but the quest doesn’t feel rushed at all, in fact there is plenty of description of Vellitt’s journey, masterfully portrayed so you feel as if you’re walking alongside her all the way.  Sadly for someone like me who is quite a character driven reader, much of her journey is alone. The lack of dialogue or interaction with others did make the story seem a little flat to me.

I’d read Kij Johnson again, but this wasn’t enough to make me a massive fan – 3 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

imageIt’s 1945, and Claire Randall and her husband Frank are on their second honeymoon in the Highlands of Scotland. Separated by war, during which time Claire served as a nurse and Frank worked in MI6, this is their opportunity to rediscover each other and truly start their married life. Frank, history professor and genealogist, is also using the trip to learn more about his heritage. His six- times-great-grandfather, Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall was a captain of dragoons, stationed in the Highlands around the time of the Jacobite Rebellions.

During the festival of Beltane (Celtic May Day), Claire goes alone to the standing stones of Craigh na Dun to study some unusual plants she saw growing there. Claire touches the great stone at the centre of the circle, causing the stone to scream. Disorientated, she staggers towards it and when she wakes, she discovers she has been transported back to 1743.

Rescued from Frank’s less than chivalrous relative “Black Jack” by a clan of Highlanders, she is taken to Castle Leoch, where the chieftain Callum MacKenzie puts her to work as a healer, whilst trying to discover what a lone Englishwoman was doing in the Scottish countryside dressed only in her shift. Claire’s tale of a widow subjected to highway robbery while trying to get to France to see her family doesn’t wash, and Callum suspects her of being a spy.

And so, Claire must try to find a way home: to escape Castle Leoch and return to Craigh na Dun and therefore to the 20th Century and Frank. What she doesn’t count on is the growing feelings she has for Jamie Fraser, clansman to the MacKenzies, or the sadistic nature of Black Jack who also has questions about this unusual Englishwoman.

I have to admit that I got hooked on the TV version before I read this book (not something that happens very often), but this is one of the rare examples of a TV show that does its source material proud. If you are looking for perfect writing, it’s not for you. Fairly soon after Claire finds herself in 1743, she seems to have adjusted to it. There isn’t a lot of emotion in this part, certainly not much sense of panic or desperation. She mentions a need to get back to Frank a couple of times- it seems like lip service really. What really makes the book pop out is the characters. The relationship between Claire and Jamie develops wonderfully. Claire has just enough pig-headedness to stop her from being a complete Mary Jane, and Jamie is hot headed, brave and handsome. Black Jack has layers to his character which also keep him the correct side of stereotype.

This is a fun book. It’s not too serious. It’s long, but very easy to read. It’s twee in some places and predictable in others, but fun. I’ve already bought the next book in the series!

PS- You should totally watch the TV show!

4 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Returning Eden by Maria Mellins

imageThe fact that this book is described as a  “gothic ocean mystery” intrigued me straight away. Often we think of the sea as sparkling and sunshiny so this promised something that would embrace it’s depths rather than its shallows!

Eden and her family left the remote island of Cantillon, and her best friend Dylan, suddenly when she was just a child. But now she’s back and starting college much to the chagrin of her parents.

But just as she’s settling in and making new friends,  she escapes an attacker, then a corpse dressed as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, is found floating in the ocean.

Her new friends and Dylan help her investigate the mystery, scared that the killer will strike again. But as they do so they discover that Eden is at the centre of a dark and dangerous mystery – keeping her safe puts them all in peril!

I have to be honest, when I first started reading this I got a sinking feeling in my stomach and not because I was worried about the characters. It seemed to be aimed at a younger age group than I’d thought and the authors voice was a little clumsy. I stopped reading it and didn’t pick it up again until 2 weeks later.

When I did I wasn’t sure why I’d thought the writing was clumsy, and, rejoining the book after the chapters on Eden and Dylan’s childhood friendship, it was clearly aimed at those in their mid-teens upwards. I breathed a sigh of relief and settled in for a good read.

The author does a really good job of creating a perfect gothic atmosphere – misty, menacing and myopic. It’s balanced well by the teenage mood swings – optimism, melodrama and determination, and the story cracks on at a good pace.

If I was to be hypercritical I have to say the characters aren’t quite developed enough, but it seems this is the start of a series so that might be rectified in future novels.

I really liked the idea, it is different and I think a lot of those that read Young Adult books will appreciate that.

3.5 Bites

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.