Review: Show Us Who You Are by Elle McNicoll

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When Cora’s brother drags her along to his boss’s house, she doesn’t expect to strike up a friendship with Adrien, son of the intimidating CEO of Pomegranate Technologies. As she becomes part of Adrien’s life, she is also drawn into the mysterious projects at Pomegranate. At first, she’s intrigued by them – Pomegranate is using AI to recreate real people in hologram form. As she digs deeper, however, she uncovers darker secrets… Cora knows she must unravel their plans, but can she fight to make her voice heard, whilst never losing sight of herself?

I knew this was going to be good because I’ve heard so many amazing things about it, but wow. What a book. What I didn’t expect was to be quite so blown away by this, or quite so reeling with emotion throughout and especially in the last 10 or 20 pages. I was not prepared for or expecting the emotional rollercoaster that this book is, and trust me Elle McNicoll does not hesitate to discuss some really deep and important issues.

Our main character, Cora, is neurodivergent and has autism. She quickly becomes friends with Adrien, who has ADHD. Their friendship was so real and heartwarming to read about, and I loved the portrayals of both of them individually and together. This book is own voices as I believe the author has autism themselves, and it makes the portrayal of Cora’s autism all the more authentic. Not only will this book be amazing for neurodivergent kids, who will finally see themselves on the pages, it will also hopefully serve as an educational tool for all children and help them understand their friends and classmates. Although I am not neurodivergent, I did see myself a lot throughout this book because of Adrien’s homeschooling. I was homeschooled myself, specifically because I struggled in school, and some of the comments made me feel seen in a way I never have before in relation to homeschooling.

I have every right to be here. As me. Exactly as I am. I might be different to you, I might be different to every person in this room, but you have no more of a right to exist than I do. 

What I expected from this book was two neurodivergent kids having Scooby-Doo style adventure. And while there are certainly aspects of this throughout, Show Us Who You Are runs so much deeper than I could have expected. It is such an important story that genuinely hit me hard in places and made me really emotional. Seeing Cora explore her own identity and grow in confidence throughout this book really warmed my heart. I rooted for her the whole way.

The characters were amazingly written and great to read about, some cleverly planned to be turned against you when you least expect it. Although I did guess one of the major plot points towards the end, a lot of this book left me reeling with the reveals. I loved the wider cast of characters, especially some of the more heartwarming parents and teachers. Cora’s situation as a child who has recently lost her mother not only allows for some amazing, heart-wrenching discussions about grief, but also single parent rep, which I found really important.

You don’t get to pick and choose which bits of me are fine. All of me is fine.

On top of all of the aspects of this book I adored is that the writing is truly excellent. This was so fast to read, and I read in a couple of sittings over 24 hours, but is also hard-hitting, beautiful and sometimes poetic. It is just perfect for this rollercoaster of a story. I’m so glad I picked it up and I can’t wait to recommend this to people around me, adults and children alike.

★★★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry by Joya Goffney

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Quinn keeps lists of everything – from the days she’s ugly cried, to “Things That I Would Never Admit Out Loud,” to all the boys she’d like to kiss. Her lists keep her sane.
By writing her fears (as well as embarrassing and cringeworthy truths) on paper, she never has to face them in real life. That is, until her journal goes missing . . .
An anonymous account posts one of her lists on Instagram for the whole school to see and blackmails her into facing seven of her greatest fears, or else her entire journal will go public.
Quinn doesn’t know who to trust. Desperate, she teams up with Carter Bennett – the last known person to have her journal and who Quinn loathes – in a race against time to track down the blackmailer.
Together, they journey through everything Quinn’s been too afraid to face, and along the way, Quinn finds the courage to be honest, to live in the moment, and to fall in love. A razor-sharp, passionate and addictive YA romcom that readers will love.

I really, really loved this book. It is such a heartwarming but brutally honest read with such great characters. Quinn puts all of her hopes, dreams and deepest, darkest thoughts into her journal. Then her journal goes missing, taken by a fellow student who begins to blackmail her. While trying to find her journal, she ends up unexpectedly teaming up with the last person to see it: Carter.

This book had such a found family feel with a close friendship group that I adored. I always love reading about friendships, and I love that these felt really honest and natural. The dialogue and banter between them felt authentic and I enjoyed how they interacted with one another. I especially appreciated the relationship and it didn’t feel like an insta-love, more of a friends to lovers that I adored. It felt real and I rooted for them both.

I don’t know that. Fear is dangerous. Fear kills Black men.” “You think my dad would kill you?” I ask, meeting his gaze. “If your dad had a gun on him that day, I think I might be dead right now.”

Despite the heartwarming easy read this one was, it also didn’t shy away from important subjects, and I felt these topics were written so well. I loved how upfront and honest some of these conversations were, especially about race. Quinn faced her parents and former friends with some very important discussions, and her experiences around racial injustice felt real and honest. Frankly, we need more books like this in YA.

I really liked the main character, Quinn, and I thought the author was so clever to write her the way she did, because of the questionable things she has done in the past. Quinn does make mistakes but also realises it and matures so much throughout these books. These characters felt appropriate for their age but also developed throughout this story, which was brilliant to see.

It hurts that he would fear for his life at my house. That a boy with skin as dark as mine doesn’t feel safe around my father.

Overall, this book had so many amazing points. My only complaint is how one of the seemingly major side characters, Matt, fell off the face of the earth for most of this book after the first couple of chapters. It was so weird. Despite this, I really enjoyed reading this one and would highly recommend it for those who love contemporary reads with a twist! Also, I can’t go without mentioning that title. If that title doesn’t make you want to read it, I don’t think I can convince you.

★★★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

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Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine’s father. After Mr Earnshaw’s death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine’s brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries. The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this unique novel a masterpiece of English literature.

This book was recommended to me by my friend Sophie, and it’s one I’ve wanted to read for years. One of my favourite books of all time is Jane Eyre, so naturally I wanted to read this one by another Bronte sister. I also visited the setting of Wuthering Heights years ago, and have wanted to read it more since. I was warned by Sophie that this one isn’t narrated by the person you would expect, and is actually told by a housekeeper to the master of the house, telling the story of Wuthering Heights, which is actually the neighbour’s house.

I definitely have a little bit of a love/hate relationship with not only these characters, but the writing and book in general. I found this such an rollercoaster, not in an emotional sense but more in the sense of finding some of this book highly enjoyable and some of it really difficult to take in and focus on. I read this in audiobook format, and I did really like the narration of it. I just found it so strange that I found some parts 5 stars and other parts so much lower.

He’s more myself than I am.

I found the start of this book really enjoyable, and I loved the Gothic aspects of it. I found throughout this book, the Gothic parts really drew me in and had such an amazing atmosphere. The atmosphere came partly from the setting of the Yorkshire moors, which I adored. However, I found some of the parts of this story difficult to read (or listen to) and I just couldn’t really focus on the story. This book follows a very long time span, and multiple character’s in the same families, and are often referred to by their family names. I actually looked up a character map for this one just to make sure I was following the right people.

I did enjoy the writing, I found it quite accessible and utterly charming, which was a nice surprise. I also feel like reading classic books on audio is something I have been drawn towards recently and is becoming a kind of tradition for me. However, I definitely feel like this book would have been much more enjoyable if it had been told by one of the main characters, not a side character relaying the story years after it happened.

Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.

Overall, I feel very torn about this one and my feelings on it. I would love to watch a movie adaptation soon to get this story a little straighter in my head and see it from a different perspective!

★★★★
3.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Finale (#3) by Stephanie Garber

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It’s been two months since the last Caraval concluded, two months since the Fates have been freed from an enchanted deck of cards, two months since Tella has seen Legend, and two months since Legend claimed the empire’s throne as his own. Now, Legend is preparing for his official coronation and Tella is determined to stop it. She believes her own mother, who still remains in an enchanted sleep, is the rightful heir to the throne.
Meanwhile, Scarlett has started a game of her own. She’s challenged Julian and her former fiancé, Count Nicolas d’Arcy, to a competition where the winner will receive her hand in marriage. Finaly, Scarlett feels as if she is in complete control over her life and future. She is unaware that her mother’s past has put her in the greatest danger of all.
Caraval is over, but perhaps the greatest game of all has begun―with lives, empires, and hearts all at stake. There are no spectators this time: only those who will win…and those who will lose everything.

I feel so torn about this ending to one of my favourite series at all time. I still really enjoyed this book, it just let me down slightly once again when I compare it to Caraval. I have been reading this series alongside Alex, and we’ve had some really interesting discussions about these books. Alex mentioned how these books feel like the author had an amazing idea and gave it all to the first book, meaning the other two are slight let downs and feel slightly forced.

However, I did still enjoy this a lot and I did enjoy it ever so slightly more than Legendary. Legendary was told from Tella’s point of view, after Caraval was told from Scarlett’s. However, Finale has both of the sister’s points of view, which I really liked. Throughout reading Legendary, I wasn’t aware I missed Scarlett’s narration. However, when I started Finale, I found I had missed Scarlett’s narration and the quirks that came with it.

Occasionally, there are minutes that get extra seconds. 

I enjoyed the plot of this one, although it did still lack a little something that Caraval had. I also felt that the two sister’s had kind of similar plots and explored similar themes throughout this book, which felt a little confusing and fell flat for me in places. Although I did enjoy reading both of their plot points, I just wish they had a few different elements to tell them apart more clearly.

I loved the setting of this one and I did find it a little more vivid than Legendary. It definitely did feel slightly reminiscent of the first one and the magical, captivating setting of the game of Caraval. This one did have a similar atmosphere that I appreciated, but was still a little lacking in comparison to the first book.

I really love the sisters as strong female protagonists throughout these books, and I also love how Stephanie Garber manages to write character’s and then completely change our opinions of them as the reader. I also want to point out how easy all of these books are to read, which is great for fantasy!

Moments so precious the universe stretches to make additional room for them.

Overall, these books are honestly brilliant, and I am so sad this one wasn’t on par with Caraval. However, I still love this series so much and the first book is one of my favourite books in the world. These are brilliant introductory fantasy reads with strong female characters who I really adore!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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ARC review: Blackout by Various Authors

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The irresistible blockbuster YA romance of summer 2021 that celebrates Black love stories, by six of the biggest voices in YA. Perfect for fans of Jenny Han, Netflix’s Let it Snow and Bolu Babalola’s Love in Colour.
When a heatwave plunges New York City into darkness, sparks fly for thirteen teenagers caught up in the blackout. From the exes who have to bury their rivalry and walk from Manhattan to Brooklyn in time to kick off a block party, to the two boys trapped on the subway who come face-to-face with their feelings and the pair of best friends stuck in the library and surrounded by love stories and one very big secret, they are all about to see that when the lights go out, people reveal hidden truths, love blossoms, friendship transforms, and all possibilities take flight.
Six of today’s biggest stars of the YA world bring all the electricity of love to a collection of charming, hilarious and heartbreaking tales that shine the brightest light through the dark.

Thank you to Electric Monkey (Harper Collins) for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! This book is released on June 24th in the UK.

I have wanted to read this one as soon as I saw it on 2021 YA releases lists. Yes to all of this. Yes to Black voices and Black love stories. Yes to an anthology. Yes to a New York blackout setting. Yes to cute romance. Yes to queer romance. There are so many things I adored in this book.

This is a collection of short stories following different teenagers throughout one night. On this particular night, New York falls into darkness during a blackout, and I adored this setting. It reminds me of the Friends episode The One With the Blackout, which is also one of my favourite episodes because I love the concept of what happens during a weird phenomenon like a city-wide blackout.

The short story concept was so sweet, especially because they kind of intertwined and the characters in some stories mentioned characters from others, which I really liked. I also liked how one of the stories was placed throughout the book in sections, with other stories breaking it up. My only let down was I expected a big scene at the end bringing all of the characters together, and I was a little sad that didn’t happen.

I love how different these stories were, in setting and story and characters. My favourite of the stories was actually sapphic, and was just so sweet. It was set in a home for older people, and the character’s were so sweet. The only downside I find with short stories is I find I struggle to connect to the character’s quite as much because of the lack of time to become connected to them. However, with Made to Fit by Ashley Woodfolk, my favourite story, I just fell in love with the characters. Also one of these stories was set in New York Public Library, which I adored!

These stories were so cute and fluffy, and made for a perfect summery romance read! I loved the differences between the stories but there actually wasn’t one I disliked. I’d highly recommend this one and especially the Waterstones exclusive edition because those sprayed edges!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Railway Children by E. Nesbit

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When Father goes away with two strangers one evening, the lives of Roberta, Peter and Phyllis are shattered. They and their mother have to move from their comfortable London home to go and live in a simple country cottage, where Mother writes books to make ends meet. However, they soon come to love the railway that runs near their cottage, and they make a habit of waving to the Old Gentleman who rides on it. They befriend the porter, Perks, and through him learn railway lore and much else. They have many adventures, and when they save a train from disaster, they are helped by the Old Gentleman to solve the mystery of their father’s disappearance, and the family is happily reunited.

I decided to read this one on audiobook while driving, walking and running around the British countryside this past weekend, and honestly it was just perfect. I could not recommend a better way to read this, but enjoying the very countryside talked about in this book and glimpsing railways over the hills and through the trees. This is also a super short audiobook, clocking in at around 5 hours and it was just perfect for a big weekend of travelling!

This one was actually a major surprise for me, especially as I have been not enjoying classics quite as much recently. This was recommended to me to me by Alex, who loves this book, and trust me she has some great classic recommendations! I read The Secret Garden a couple of months ago on her recommendation, and I loved that one too. However, I actually ended up enjoying The Railway Children just a little bit more!

I think everyone in the world is friends

This one follows a family as they move to a small house in the British countryside due to mysterious circumstances leaving them without their father. This is told from the perspective of the three children of the family as they explore the countryside and get to know the people in the nearby village and on the railway. I loved reading about the children, and I imagine I would have absolutely adored this as a child. The children also don’t know why they’ve moved or their father has not moved with them, leaving a mystery aspect surrounding this book that I really didn’t expect to have!

The children also have some really interesting discussions throughout this book, including about gender identity, race, friendship, family, wealth and status. Some of these discussions felt very ahead of their time and I was surprised they came up at all. Alongside their loving and caring mother, these children learn the importance of looking out for one another through tough times and helping those around you despite their backgrounds.

if you can only get them to see you don’t want to be un-friends.

Overall, this was such a pleasant surprise. I loved the feeling of adventure throughout, and the mischief these kids got up to was so fun to read about! The relationships and friendships were so heartwarming and beautiful, and left me with goosebumps when I finished this book.

★★★
4.5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by Matthew Inman

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This is not just a book about running. It’s a book about cupcakes. It’s a book about suffering. 
It’s a book about gluttony, vanity, bliss, electrical storms, ranch dressing, and Godzilla. It’s a book about all the terrible and wonderful reasons we wake up each day and propel our bodies through rain, shine, heaven, and hell.
 

If you didn’t know, I started running in March 2020 and completed Couch to 5k over the couple of months that followed. Inspired by my boyfriend and friends, I really wanted to start running and a few people recommended me the Couch to 5k program. I have since built up by myself to running 10k, and I now run a (roughly) 5k and 10k per week.

My entire life, I never got running. I never saw the appeal of it, and it wasn’t until 2020 when I finally wanted to start. And although I sometimes still fail to really see the appeal in running, I also love it. And this is exactly what this book is about. My boyfriend Mark has been a runner throughout his life, and handed me this book the other day as something to read at some point. Instead, I sat down and read it from start to finish, there and then. You may recognise the style of this book as similar to the widely known How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You, who is by the same one-man-band, Matthew Inman (aka, The Oatmeal).

This book is displayed in comic format mostly, with different sections and reflections on running and the reasons why we run. Drawing on Inman’s own history and experience, it was so honest, relatable and absolutely hilarious. As a runner myself, I absolutely loved this because it was just so relatable. Although I’m not quite there yet with long distance runs like marathons and half marathons, I could still relate to a lot of the humour. If you’re a runner yourself, I would really recommend picking a copy of this up!

★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Legendary (#2) by Stephanie Garber

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A heart to protect. A debt to repay. A game to win.
After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.
The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more—and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets…including her sister’s. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice. But now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about—maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever.
Welcome, welcome to Caraval…the games have only just begun.

I’m so glad I decided to re-read this. I read Caraval when it came out, and read Legendary when it came out too, and something just felt missing to me. I decided I wouldn’t risk leaving the same gap with Finale in case that was the reason I didn’t feel so captivated by this, and am finally reading them all back to back with Alex. And although this one definitely doesn’t capture my heart in the same way as Caraval, not leaving a gap between them definitely helped!

This book follows Scarlett’s sister, Tella, in the next game of Caraval. I really like both Scarlett and Tella as main characters, and I definitely wasn’t disappointed to follow her for a while. Both the sisters are strong female characters and Tella is especially ruthless, knows what she wants and isn’t scared to get it. This story is definitely more character heavy than Caraval, which is weirdly one of the ways it disappointed me.

Every good story needs a villain.

One of the things I adore about Caraval so much is the location and the setting heavy style of the writing. I feel as though Legendary goes away from this a little and focuses more on the characters instead. And although I enjoy the mix of both, I did miss the vivid descriptions and way of picturing the scene. I also really liked the romance in this one, and I feel like Stephanie Garber writes romance really well and does an amazing job of capturing your heart with characters you’d least expect.

The plot was definitely one of the best parts of this book. I didn’t find it quite so enthralling as the first one, but I still found this super easy to read and get into, and it was very readable. Learning about the wider world of Caraval and exploring some of the other relationships outside of the one’s already mentioned in Caraval was really interesting. The character dynamics were well written and I enjoyed reading about them.

But the best villains are the ones you secretly like.

I do still feel like this book is lacking something in comparison to Caraval, a kind of vibrancy in the descriptions. So although this is still a super enjoyable one, I couldn’t help but feel ever so slightly let down. We’re reading Finale next for the first time and I’m really looking forward to seeing how it is!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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ARC review: The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

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Edward Fosca is a murderer. Of this Mariana is certain. But Fosca is untouchable. A handsome and charismatic Greek Tragedy professor at Cambridge University, Fosca is adored by staff and students alike—particularly by the members of a secret society of female students known as The Maidens.
Mariana Andros is a brilliant but troubled group therapist who becomes fixated on The Maidens when one member, a friend of Mariana’s niece Zoe, is found murdered in Cambridge.
Mariana, who was once herself a student at the university, quickly suspects that behind the idyllic beauty of the spires and turrets, and beneath the ancient traditions, lies something sinister. And she becomes convinced that, despite his alibi, Edward Fosca is guilty of the murder. But why would the professor target one of his students? And why does he keep returning to the rites of Persephone, the maiden, and her journey to the underworld?
When another body is found, Mariana’s obsession with proving Fosca’s guilt spirals out of control, threatening to destroy her credibility as well as her closest relationships. But Mariana is determined to stop this killer, even if it costs her everything—including her own life. 

Thank you to W&N for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! Also, happy book birthday/release day to this one!

Wow, this one was such an intricate web and it definitely trapped me in it. The Maidens is such a page turner and absolutely unputdownable after the (around) 100 page mark. This book follows Mariana, who is a group therapist who has recently lost her husband. When mysterious murders start happening at her niece’s university, she tries to uncover the mystery and is convinced she knows who the murderer is – she just needs to find some evidence.

This one kept me guessing until the last pages. I had my suspicions about a few of the characters throughout but it kept throwing me off and misdirecting me, and just as I thought I had worked it all out something else would happen to let me know I had it all wrong. I never, ever even had suspicions about the person who actually ended up being the killer.

I love how this book was interwoven with Greek myths and Greek tragedy, taking inspirations from mythology. This, along with the dark academia setting, gave such a creepy sense of foreboding throughout this book, and it definitely made my skin crawl and I felt on edge at many points throughout. It definitely unsettled me and added to the brilliant atmosphere around this.

The characters were really interesting, especially because they all have their own questionable actions. This was incredibly clever, as I could never pinpoint who was the most suspicious or likely to have been a part of the murders. However, this did mean I didn’t like Mariana as much as I wanted to and couldn’t quite gather her true intentions, thoughts and feelings. It also made me feel disconnected from the love interest, as I didn’t know who to trust.

My only other slight complaint is this did take me a while to get into, probably 100-150 pages. However, once I got past the first part, I couldn’t put it down. After the 150 page mark I was so drawn into this story and I became desperate to know what happened. The chapters are also super short which helps it become such a page turner!

Overall, this one was brilliant, clever and so enthralling. I would highly recommend picking it up!

★★★★
4 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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Review: Caraval (#1) by Stephanie Garber

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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.

This was my second time reading Caraval and I will be honest, I was a little hesitant going into this for the second time. The first time I read this, I hadn’t read a lot of fantasy and this provided a brilliant introduction to the genre. However, years on, I was worried I wouldn’t be quite as blown away by this as I was the first time. I wasn’t quite as blown away, which does make sense as I was obviously a bit aware of the plot from the first read.

I was still super impressed with this the second time. Although it is still a brilliant introduction to fantasy, it doesn’t feel in any way inferior because of it. I found this super easy to read and such a page turner, and is such an easy-going fantasy. It is so intriguing and captivating to read as the world is so involved and magical.

Hope is a powerful thing. Some say it’s a different breed of magic altogether. 

The setting is definitely my favourite part of Caraval – it has an amazingly written setting and is very location heavy, which I loved. I pictured this world so clearly and vibrantly because of the setting. The world of Caraval and the game within it is so magical and enthralling. This series is like no other in the fact it is set within a game – the closest book I can think of is The Night Circus.

The way this book is written including a game is so impressive because as the reader, you never know what is real and what is part of the game. Even the second time, I found this such an amazing way of writing because I never knew what would happen at the end of the game and was so captivated by the plot because of it. The plot was so twisted, dark and full of secrets of and lives.

Elusive, difficult to hold on to. But not much is needed.

I adored this book once again the second time around and I am so happy. I once again absolutely fell in love with the enchanting plot and beautiful world I could picture so well. The characters are brilliant, and I love the strong female leads throughout this series in Scarlett and Tella. I can’t wait to continue with my re-read and first time reading Finale!

★★★★★
5 out of 5 stars

-Beth

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