Friday, 24 March 2017


Seventeen-year-old Ruby is a Fireblood who has concealed her powers of heat and flame from the cruel Frostblood ruling class her entire life. But when her mother is killed trying to protect her, and rebel Frostbloods demand her help to overthrow their bloodthirsty king, she agrees to come out of hiding, desperate to have her revenge.

Despite her unpredictable abilities, Ruby trains with the rebels and the infuriating—yet irresistible—Arcus, who seems to think of her as nothing more than a weapon. But before they can take action, Ruby is captured and forced to compete in the king’s tournaments that pit Fireblood prisoners against Frostblood champions. Now she has only one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who has taken everything from her—and from the icy young man she has come to love.

You know how too much of a good thing can make you sick? This book is the literary equivalent of that. Think of every YA fantasy cliche and/or trope you can think of, stick them all together (you know the order!), and you've got Frostblood. A friend of mine gave me this book when I went to stay with her after DNF-ing it herself and, to be honest, I very nearly did the same thing.
The story was well written, the plot decent and the pacing tight. It was just so . . . boring. I've read this book before. Time and time again. Every single YA trope is trotted out here, and you could practically forget the chapter numbers and just play "name that cliche" with titles instead.
The bitter protagonist with a troubled past and nothing left to lose? Check.
The mysterious love interest with a hidden secret? Check.
The hate to love relationship? Check.
The tyrannical king/queen/ruler who hates magic - or at least the kind of magic that our heroine possesses? Check.
Little girl lost rising up to lead a band of rebels and fighters far better suited to the job than she herself is? Check.
The chosen one? Check.
Training to control a long denied/newly discovered power? Family deaths? Survivors guilt? I'm just going to go ahead and give them all a big fat check.

It's all here. Don't get me wrong, I love YA tropes. I've done a post on exactly why I love them too. But when a book just reels them off one after another without bringing anything new or innovative to the table, without putting its own unique spin on them, I get bored. Once or twice in a book is fine. But in this sheer volume, it just bored me to tears. I knew exactly how this story was going to end within a couple of chapters. Not because I'm particularly perceptive, but because the lack of originality here pretty much announced the well worn path the story was going to tread.

That characters were . . . fine, I guess. Not good, not bad. Just okay. Ruby was your typical "fiesty" (I normally hate that word for being so cliche, but, in this instance, it's incredibly fitting) protagonist, hiding her magical powers in semi-isolation with a family member who the plot dictated was doomed from the start. Like the friend we all have who confuses being "real" and "honest" with being rude, Ruby was pretty unlikable for the most part. Arcus fared a little better, but was still hobbled by the plot which meant he was probably supposed to be brooding and mysterious, but just came off like an asshole with poor communication skills. Their relationship was so by the numbers that I never felt it as anything more than a plot contrivance. The king (I can't even remember his name) was a bog-standard bad guy with a backstory, and none of the supporting characters made enough of an impression for me to remember their names.

The biggest problem I had with this book though was that I just didn't care. It didn't hook me. It didn't even feel like it was trying. It just felt like the same book I'd read a hundred times before with a different dust jacket. I'd rather have a book featuring a character or a story I dislike but actually makes me feel something than a book that I can't bring myself to care about one way or the other. Personally, that's the worst kind of book for me - one that makes you feel absolutely nothing for every single aspect of it.
To be honest, had it not been for a delayed flight, I probably would have DNF'd this book, but as it was I had nothing else to read. Frostblood isn't a bad book by any stretch of the imagination, and I'm sure the rest of the series will be a huge success, but I'm also sure of how it will end. And I don't care enough to read it.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Scarecrow Queen

The final battle is coming . . .

As the Sleeping Prince tightens his hold on Lormere and Tregellan, the net closes in on the ragged band of rebels trying desperately to defeat him. Twylla and Errin are separated, isolated, and running out of time. The final battle is coming, and Aurek will stop at nothing to keep the throne forever . . .

Ah, the finale in a trilogy. I'm always a little cautious when picking up the last book in a series, especially one I've been waiting for for the best part of a year. This is where Melinda Salisbury's twisted fairytale comes to an end. The ending to a trilogy can go so right, or so wrong. Is it going to be Toy Story 3? Or is it going to be more X-Men: The Last Stand? The good news is it's not the later, but the bad news is it's not the former either. The Scarecrow Queen doesn't quite reach the bar that The Sin Eater's Daughter set, but it's a good end to the series.

 I loved The Sin Eater's Daughter. I really liked The Sleeping Prince. And I liked The Scarecrow Queen. And they look all kinds of gorgeous on my bookshelf!

Scarecrow Queen picks up immediately where Sleeping Prince left off. Literally. The protagonist of The Sin Eater's Daughter, Twylla, crawls out of the hiding place she dove into at the end of the last book (it doesn't feel so much like a book break as a chapter break. You'd better hope you remember the story from book two!). Prince Aurek has taken the throne of Lormere and the protagonist of the second book, Errin, hostage. The characters are scattered and pretty much either broken or battered or both. After the crushingly bleak story of The Sleeping Prince that was one awful event after another, I was bracing myself for more of the same in this book. So I was pleasantly surprised that there was a more optimistic, hopeful story this time around. 

The pacing of this book was pretty lean, almost to a fault. Because everything happened so quickly and, dare I say it, easily, the world, which had felt so expansive in the last books, felt much more contained. It felt less like a battle crossing two kingdoms and more like guerilla warfare in neighbouring cities. The structure of the book makes everything feel a little rushed too. Split into thirds, the first person pov switches from Twylla to Errin, then back again for the final third. This gives a view of both sides of the battle, but it also means that you never spend enough time on either side to really feel the threat and peril. Twylla goes from cleaning out chamber pots in a field somewhere to Katniss Everdeen in the space of about three chapters. Key plot points are skimmed over or mentioned in passing in the other character's chapters. There are some moments - like Prince Aurek's treatment of the alchemists or the rebels burning down of his castle - that it would have been better to see rather than just hear people talk about. There's a lot of talk in Errin's chapter's about the so called Dawn Rising group, but aside from a few stunts, I never really got a sense of this enormous rebellion that could pose a threat to the Sleeping Prince. The story, which felt like it had been getting bigger and bigger, felt a bit deflated this time around.

Speaking of the Sleeping Prince ... woah! Just ... woah! Do you ever sometimes worry about an author based on the horrible things they are able to imagine their character doing? The scenes where the prince manipulates Errin like a literal puppet are incredibly dark and pretty sickening. Aurek is a proper villain. There's none of that tragic backstory stuff that dilutes a truly magnificent bastard. Aurek isn't a misunderstood anti-hero who's just need the love of a good woman to save him. He's pure evil, through and through.

It's because of this I was really disappointed that Errin didn't get any sort of venegance on Aurek. After everything he did to her, I was looking forward to her getting some payback, so it was a colossal letdown that she was still being used by him right up until the end. Her relationship with Silas and Aurek's using them against each other fell a bit flat too. They only get two scenes together and maybe it's just because it's been too long since I read The Sleeping Prince, but I didn't feel any connection between them at all. When another character posits that Errin loves Silas, I think I actually said "really?" out loud. I loved the characters of Errin and Twylla though. Both were badasses in their own way, with Twylla bringing the fight to Aurek despite her own self-doubt, and Errin using her apothecary skills to create the poison needed to bring him down. It was a bit of a shame that Silas was MIA for pretty much the entire book (and when he is around all he does naff all), but the two male thirds of book one's love triangle, Lief and Merek were back and then some! I was always on board the Twylla/Lief ship, even when it all went to hell at the end of The Sin Eater's Daughter. Realisitcally, there was never going to be a happy ending for this pair, and if there had been it would have felt like a massive rug-pull that would have probably annoyed me more than anything else. I loved Lief so much in the first book that I couldn't really hate him, despite the awful things he did. Is he a good buy who made a (series of) bad decision(s)? Or a bad guy who had a little glimmer of good in him? Who knows?

I was glad that Melinda Salisbury didn't go down the road of getting Twylla and Merek together, even though there were hints of the attraction between the pair. It always feels lazy to me when authors feel the need to pair up absolutely everyone in their cast of characters rather than write more complex relationships that don't fall into neat and tidy couples. I didn't expect her to really. Melinda Salisbury is an author who doesn't really do the "... and they all lived happily ever after" thing. Every character - bar Silas - gets their moment in the sun. Their actions and motivations always feel genuine. You believe these people have lived through the horrors of war. You believe that they'd risk their lives and their sanity to bring peace to people they've never even met. They've changed. They've grown. They feel like real people and you feel like they've earned their journeys and their endings. With a lot of YA stories, the journey from beginning to end can feel like it fell in the heroines lap and she was just along for the ride, but there's not a bit of that here. The characters are so incredibly well written, they're the best thing about a series that has a lot of things vying to be the best bit.

There was one plot point that really bothered me though, and unfortunately it was quite a big one because it sort of dumped on something I loved about the first book. After the searing indictment of religion and its exploitation by the powers that be to keep the masses in line, it ended up kind of saving the day here. In The Sin Eater's Daughter, the evil queen used the lie that Twylla was the living embodiment of a vengeful goddess to keep control over her people and anyone who may have threatened her. This was crap of course, and the queen was just poisoning her enemies and claiming it was the work of a higher power, but Twylla uses that same lie to get people on side and launch a claim for the throne herself. Yes, it could be argued that it's for the greater good, but it's a shame that something that was so cleverly subverted earlier in this series ended up being pretty standard. I suppose you could argue that Twylla was exploiting the queen's earlier exploitation of her to her advantage, but I just read it as her doing exactly the same thing to the people as the earlier queen did. Perhaps that's a hint of a dark future for Twylla, but it's never really followed up on or hinted strongly enough for me to belive that was the intention.

One of my biggest criticisms of the The Sleeping Prince was that it was so unrelentingly bleak that it was hard to enjoy it. Even when you're reading a gripping story from the pen of an incredibly talented author, when the plot is the equivalent of one slow motion punch in the feelings after the other, you do get a little weary. The Scarecrow Queen has it's moments - particularly between Errin and Aurek - but there's much more hope and cautious optimism to be found here. If you didn't really enjoy The Sin Eater's Daughter and/or The Sleeping Prince, this book isn't going to turn the series around for you. But, much like those books, it's a darkly irresistible read, a twisted fairytale, and a fitting conclusion to a fantastic trilogy. 

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (that I know of)

The world is Cassie Fremont’s playground. Her face is on the cover of every newspaper, she has no homework, no curfew, and no credit limit, and she spends her days traveling the country with her friends, including a boy who would flirt with death just to turn her head. Life is just about perfect—except that those newspaper headlines are about her bludgeoning her crush to death with a paintball gun, she has to fight ravenous walking corpses every time she steps outside, and one of her friends is still missing, trapped somewhere in the distant, practically impassable wreckage of Manhattan. Still, Cassie’s an optimist. More prone to hysterical laughter than hysterical tears, she’d rather fight a corpse than be one, and she won’t leave a friend stranded when she can simply take her road trip to impossible new places to find her, even if getting there means admitting to that boy that she might just love him, too. Skillfully blending effective horror with unexpected humor, this diary-format novel is a fast-paced and heartwarming read. 

Quick disclaimer - I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, however this has in no way influenced my write-up. There are no five stars for freebies here! Also, this review contains spoilers. I tried to avoid them, but there were some plot points that I couldn't not mention to get my points across.

Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (that I know of) - or just Confessions, which is what I'll be calling the book from here on out, because I'll be damned if I'm typing that title out again! - is a good idea on paper. Bascially, teens inherit the earth after a zombie outbreak, one that seems to kill off most responsible adults for much of the book, and make off on a cross country roadtrip to rescue their stranded friend. The execution however, is a bit fumbled, which unfortunately strips much of the tension and excitement from the story. If you'll pardon the pun, it lacks bite. I don't necessarily want the characters to be showing fear, but I do want to feel that there's genuine peril.

Whether the characters are fleeing a zombie horde that's cornered them in an abandoned store, are discussing the logistics of driving through gridlocked roads, meeting other survivors or happily (a little too happily for me to be comfortable with) smashing in undead skulls, everything reads exactly the same. Cassie accidentally kills her crush. Cassie is locked up pre-outbreak on suspicion of murder. Cassie stumbles upon her zombified parents. And we don't see one iota of emotion. When one character is killed on the road, another deals with it by abandoning the group and shacking up with the first hot guy they stumble across. Another's best friend is killed, and after locking himself in a room for a bit of sulk, he abruptly appears to get over it and never mentions him again. Everyone acts like their parents have gone away for the weekend and left them in the house alone, not that everyone they loved is dead and the world's gone to hell around them.

The author's writing style was good, but it could have done with a tighter edit to make the actual action it was conveying a little clearer. The tone was clearly going for a Buffy-esque narrator and characters loaded with sarcasm, quick-wit and an irreverent tone, and it certainly succeeded, but that meant it was hard to get all that invested in the story. Cassie, and every single one of the supporting characters, joked about, mocked and downplayed any threat that the story should have carried. Even Buffy got serious when things were bad! It's hard to feel much investment in the story when it's told by someone who's so detached at all times.

The action was kind of hard to follow a lot of the time too. Because we're in the main character's head, and she thinks in the same chatty, colloquial style that she speaks, it's not always easy to work out exactly what's happening. There's a scene where one of the supporting characters gets bitten by a zombie and has to be quickly killed, but I had to read the scene four times (I'm not kidding) to figure out A. that he'd been bitten, B. that he'd subsequently been killed before he could turn and C. which other character it was that performed his coup de grace. I not averse to a writer leaving some things to the imagination, in fact I love author's trusting their readers to fill in the blanks, but I shouldn't have to read a scene multiple times just to work out what I'm being presented with because it's buried in a character's train of thought and an endless stream of references to other events.

The ending was a bit out of left field, when the story suddenly veered into Mad Max territory, with Cassie and the other survivors holed up in a convenience store fending off an armed group. But the dramatic climax fell pretty flat thanks to a hastily tacked-on epilogue, which essentially undoes a tragically poignant death (I'm sorry, but no one takes a gunshot to the stomach in a world without hospitals and sterilised medical equipment and then turns up alive in the next chapter with just a gravelier voice to show for it). I'm not a big fan of books - or movies, or comics, or anything else for that matter - that try and have their cake and eat it by going for a big emotional death, only to then backtrack and have the character turn up alive.

There were some inspired moments - the group's trip to Elvis's mansion was pure Zombieland! - and the book certainly delivered on its promise of a kick-ass protagonist. If you like first person narrative and diary style storytelling, you'll probably love most of the elements I couldn't get on board with. Confessions was a pretty standard post-apocalyptic zombie, with a contemporary YA twist that sparked it to life. Unfortunately that same twist made the plot a little hard to follow and made the characters too hard to empathise or identify with.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Cover Reveal - Ninja Girl

Ninja Girl
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance
Release Date: March 30th 3017

Summary from Goodreads:

Seventeen-year-old Snow-Soon Lee kicks ass--literally. She teaches at her family-owned martial arts gym, The Academy, and cares more about training to be the next Bruce Lee than hooking up. In fact, Snow's never even been kissed. But when Girls Night rolls around, Snow decides to prove to her friends (and herself) that she's not just some boring tomboy. Impulsively, she kisses a hot stranger and even manages to escape his two security guards.

One stolen kiss…

Ash Stryker's senior year sucks. His politician father pulled him out of Chariot High, separating him from his championship-winning soccer team. Now he's stuck at a prissy private school with no friends, no team and no chance of being scouted. On top of that, thanks to the death threats his dad's received, Ash has a security tail aka professional babysitters. When the mystery girl from the movies shows up at his school, rappelling from the rafters, Ash knows one thing: he won't let her get away again.

One interesting job proposition…

After a seemingly random attack, Ash's mother surprises everyone. She hires Snow to be Ash's personal bodyguard until after the election. But can Snow's kick-ass skills hold up against the rising threats to Ash's family? More importantly, can Ash convince his ninja girl to screw ethics and kiss him again?

Opposites attract in this YA romance where a smooth talker meets his match in the tough girl who (literally) sweeps him off his feet. Moral of the story:

Sometimes even bad boys need a bodyguard.

About the Author

Cookie O'Gorman writes YA romance to give readers a taste of happily-ever-after. Small towns, quirky characters, and the awkward yet beautiful moments in life make up her books. Cookie also has a soft spot for nerds and ninjas. Her debut novel ADORKABLE is out now!

Author Links:
 photo iconwebsite-32x32_zps1f477f69.png  photo icongoodreads32_zps60f83491.png  photo icontwitter-32x32_zpsae13e2b2.png  photo iconfacebook-32x32_zps64a79d4a.png

Cover Reveal Organized by:

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Stacking the Shelves #2

Stacking The Shelves is all about sharing the books you are adding to your shelves, may it be physical or virtual. This means you can include books you buy in physical store or online, books you borrow from friends or the library, review books, gifts and of course e-books! Thanks to Tynga's Reviews, for hosting!

Books bought
How to Be a Woman - Caitlin Moran
An appropriate pick for a book club held on International Woman's Day! I've not read anything by
Caitlin Moran before, but a quick flick through was enough to make me laugh. I don't agree with Caitlin's recent claims that women should avoid all books written by male authors (possibly one of the least equal claims for equality I've ever heard!), but How to Be a Woman has made me snort out loud with laughter several times already and I'm only a couple of pages in.

Wintersong - S Jae-Jones
Because David Bowie is the Goblin King.

The Scarecrow Queen - Melinda Salisbury
The final book in Melinda Salisbury's Sin Eater's Daughter trilogy. I'm not expecting this to be a cheery read, and the ending is probably going to be the literary equivalent of being punched in the face, but I've come too far with this series to give up now!

The Huntress: Sea 
I bought this one as a kind of buddy read with my twelve-year-old niece for when she comes to stay with me. Plus it's gorgeous, so wins all round.

Books borrowed
Lion - Saroo Brierley
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

I inevitably walk away from my book club with more than one book to read! Someone brings along four books for the rest of us to pick next month's read, but there's always more than one book that I like the sound of. How to Be a Woman was the "official" choice this month, but I ended up borrowing these two as well. The fourth pick, in case you're interested, was The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: The Japanese Art by Marie Kondo. Thankfully, no one voted for that one!

Books for review
Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (That I Know Of) - F J R Titchenell
Blood Orchid - Claire Warner
The Black Lotus - Claire Warner

Thanks to YA Bound Book Tours for these!

I also got sent a copy of The Auctor Trilogy by T.R.Wolf 

It's been a good week for books! What's been added to your bookshelves?

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Waiting on Wednesday #7 - The Evaporation of Sofi Snow

Another Waiting on Wednesday, another book added to by ever-growing and seemingly unconquerable TBR shelf! The difference with these books is they go straight to the top of said pile when they're finally released, or more likely they'll just bypass the pile entirely and I'll start reading the moment they arrive.

My Waiting on Wednesday pick this week is The Evaporation of Sofi Snow by Mary Weber. The first in a duology (which seems to be the new trilogy!) isn't due out until June (!!!), but I am counting the days. If you follow my blog, you probably know I'm more than a little obsessed with Mary Weber's Storm Siren trilogy (see evidence here, here, and here).

I love her books, and will forever buy anything she writes! Her mix of flawed yet human characters, epic world building and beautiful writing style makes anything with her name on an instant pre-order. Her new series sounds a lot more sci-fi than the straight up fantasy of the Siren series, with some serious gamer girl props, something sorely lacking in YA! Throw in the charming playboy love interest (because duh!), sibling bond and intergalactic politics and you've got all the ingredients for a must-read.

Ever since the Delonese ice-planet arrived eleven years ago, Sofi's dreams have been vivid. Alien. In a system where Earth's corporations rule in place of governments and the humanoid race orbiting the moon are allies, her only constant has been her younger brother, Shilo. As an online gamer, Sofi battles behind the scenes of Earth's Fantasy Fighting arena where Shilo is forced to compete in a mix of real and virtual blood sport. But when a bomb takes out a quarter of the arena, Sofi's the only one who believes Shilo survived. She has dreams of him. And she's convinced he's been taken to the ice-planet.

Except no one but ambassadors are allowed there.

For Miguel, Earth's charming young playboy, the games are of a different sort. As Ambassador to the Delonese, his career has been built on trading secrets and seduction. Until the Fantasy Fight's bomb goes off. Now the tables have turned and he's a target for blackmail. The game is simple: Help the blackmailers, or lose more than anyone can fathom, or Earth can afford.

When this book finally lands on the doormat, I may do an actual happy dance. Although I probably shouldn't, because I have a glass porch and my neighbours may think I'm crazy.

So, while I count down the 90+ days I have to wait for this book, what's your Waiting on Wednesday?

Friday, 3 March 2017


Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved 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 far-away, 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. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic 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.

2017 has been a hit and miss reading year for me so far. I've one or two brilliant books, a couple of colossal let-downs, and a lot of middle of the road stuff. And then I read Caraval, a book that's unlike anything I've read in a long time. This review has been so hard to write, because turning my fangirl ravings into something coherent has been an arduous process! So, just in case I don't manage to get my point across in the rest of this post, I'll say it simply up front: buy this book. You need it in your life.

Caraval is an amazingly assured debut novel, so much so that I trawled Goodreads for ages looking for a psuedonym or previous books by the author, only to choke on my own disbelief when I couldn't find any. Honestly, this is one of the most well-written books I've ever laid eyes on, debut or otherwise! The writing is completely and utterly spellbinding. Stephanie Garber's dreamy style and vividly lush descriptions are a joy to read. Her writing sparks my imagination and emotions in a way few books manage to do, reminding me of how I felt reading Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, which remains my favourite fantasy series to date. At it's heart, Caraval is a very simple story, but it reads like nothing else. I'd need to be a writer of Stephanie Garber's calibre to accurately describe how I feel about this book!

The vivid descriptions of colours and their ties to human emotions were woven throughout the novel, and was one of the main reasons I fell so utterly head-over-heels in love with it. Red isn't just red, it's the colour of hearts and blood and shame. Cerise isn't just pink, it's the colour of seduction. Eyes aren't just brown, they're the colour of caramel and liquid amber lust. Everything leaps from the page like one of those old-school pop-up books. Stephanie Garber sprinkles her story with a little details that add an incredible depth to the world. You don't have to imagine you're there, you are there.

"She felt as of she could taste the red of the curtains. Chocolate cake drenched in wine."

This kind of writing could end up like the aforementioned wine-cake - delicious at first, but quickly nauseating. And to be honest I think a persons enjoyment of Caraval will live or die depending on how they feel about that kind of storytelling. But me? I love it! It amazes me how much depth and how many layers there are to a book that felt like such a quick read. Whereas some authors seems obssessed with loading their books with quotable sentences, the kind that look great in calligraphy font over a sunset background but read clunky as hell, Stephanie Garber manages to get across far more effectively in a sentence or two the kind of thing I've seen other authors struggle to convey in entire paragraphs.

The opening of the story is masterclass in setting the scene, without a surplus word that could have been cut in the edit to be found. We learn everything we need to know about the characters, their back stories and their aspirations before the adventure starts. No navel-gazing, no flashbacks, no unnecessary scenes or supporting characters only written in to provide exposition. It's brilliant! The story opens with Scarlett receiving her tickets to Caraval, courtesy of its mysterious ringmaster Legend, and stumbling upon her sister Donatella in the arms of a handsome sailor from another land. Within a matter of pages, Tella is missing and Scarlett is en route to rescue her with said handsome sailor at her side with motives of his own for entering the game. It's breathtakingly taut! Little details about Scarlett and Tella's past are scattered through the story when they're relevant to the present, just enough to keep you intrigued, but not lengthy enough to outstay their welcome or kill the pace with awkward infodumps that plague some books. I don't know if this is down to the author's writing style, a brilliant editor, or a combination of both, but major applause for somebody!

From the moment Scarlett and the aforementioned sailor, Julian, enter Caraval proper, there's a distinctly Alice in Wonderland feel to this magical world where nothing is quite what it seems and everything is tinged with a sense of intrigue and seduction. It's a world of colour and vibrancy that reads like Alice fell down the rabbit hole stright into the pink elephants scene from Dumbo. With a couple of hot dudes thrown in. Although it might sound weird, that's a compliment of the highest order coming from me as I love all of those things! From Scarlett's ever-changing dress (that switches from one utterly gorgeous design to another depending on the situation and/or Scarlett's emotions - depending on which would be more inconvenient to her at the time!) to a jewel-encrusted shop sign that warns would be thieves they'll be turned to stone, this is truly a world to get lost in. And it's here that Scarlett is forced to confront something that she never expected in the search for her sister. Herself. Having been so caught up in looking out for her sister, Scarlett struggles in the face of her own fears and wants in a place where there's nowhere for her to hide. People seem to know more about her than she does, dresses require payment in secrets rather than coins, and the truth is worth more than lies when it comes to finding Tella.

Scarlett and Tella's relationship was one of my favourite aspects of the story. It's rare and refreshing to come across a story in YA where the protagonist is motivated by love for family rather than a love interest or revenge. At first, Tella seemed like a little shit, always stealing from Scarlett and trying to get her into trouble, but it soon became clear how close the pair were and why they behaved the way the did in the presence of their abusive asshole of a father. Considering how little time the pair spent together on the page, the strength of their bond and Scarlett's constant desire to protect her flighty sister (sometimes from herself) shone through, giving weight and reason to Scarlett's choices even when they should have seemed totally out of character.

The subplot of Scarlett's mysterious fiance didn't really come to much, but her willingness to sacrifice her own happiness and throw herself into marriage with a complete stranger in order to protect her sister was the point, rather than the man's identity. Everything she does feel believable, and I was 100% invested in her search for her sister. I was a little disappointed not to get much of a physical description of Scarlett though. Given that everything else in the book is so richly described, I had a hard time picturing her the way I did other characters. Loyal, focussed and selfless to a fault, she's never the less a compelling protagonist and her gradual unravelling as the book, and Caraval, goes on is spellbinding.

I wasn't on board with Scarlett's initial damsel in distress status and her constant need to be rescued by her reluctant companion Julian, and I have to admit that in the early chapters I thought the romance between them was going to feel unnecessary. It didn't help that we're introduced to him when he's feeling up her sister! But I'll be good and goddamed if my cynical heart wasn't won over. In a way, Julian was something of a cypher, more a personification of Scarlett's long overdue acknowledgement of her own wants and desires than a soul mate. In theory, he could have been anyone. But then we'd have missed out on the latest addition to my ever-increasing roster of book-boyfriends! Despite finding Julian a deeply unsexy name and intially seeing the character as nothing more than a walking cliche of wolfish smiles, sparkling eyes and muscles atop muscles, he quickly became my favourite character. His scenes with Scarlett crackled with energy and sexual tension. I wasn't a huge fan of his nicknaming her Crimson, just because it's so clunky and awkward to say it felt a bit shoehorned in for the sake of a cute nickname ("Red" would have read so much easier - no pun intended!), and you could never be sure where his shifting allegiances truly lay. The hate-to-love thing is a bit overdone in YA, but when it's done right it works. And Caraval does it right! It doesn't feel rushed. It doesn't feel contrived. It feels like a consequence of the story, not a plot point in itself, which is my biggest problem with book romances. If they feel obligatory rather than organic, I tune out and disengage with the story. Thankfully, that does not happen here.

"When his soft lips touched her skin the entire world shattered into a million shards of coloured glass."

Sure, the ending doesn't really hold up to much scrutiny, and a journey itself was far more enjoyable than the destination it finally reached, but good god what a journey! I think any book which sets the bar so high with mystery and intrigue and twists and turns is always going to struggle to end with a payoff that feels worthy of the set up, but the character arcs were utter perfection. I've been in a bit of a reading slump for weeks now and this book well and truly kicked me out of it! The only problem I have now is trying to find another one to live up to it.