Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Review: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Caraval
by Stephanie Garber

Available as: hardcover, paperback, Kindle edition, ebook, audiobook
Pages: 407
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication date: January 31, 2017
Suggested tags: young adult, fantasy



First in the Caraval series. From Goodreads:
"Remember, 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."


I read this last year when it came out, and I didn't *love* it like I expected to from that synopsis. But I mean, I was reading it during middle-of-the-night feedings with my then-newborn, so I thought it must have just been me and that I needed to reread it when my brain wasn't so mushy to fully *love* it.

But here I am, rereading it with a clear head, and... nope. It's still not complete *love* for me. Let me explain.

(And before we begin... I made all kinds of notes and highlights in my Kindle book that I borrowed from the library, but it expired and now my library mysteriously no longer owns any version of this book?? Thanks, county library, that's much appreciated. So I'm going from memory here...)

What I liked: To be fair, the first half was *LOVE*. I remember that from my first read. The beginning is like the perfect combination of the nonsense and magic of Alice in Wonderland meets the puzzle-solving and item-collecting of the old King's Quest games, both of which are obsessions of mine. So obviously I was IN IT. I tore through those pages, devouring all the clues and strange characters and lovely descriptions of enchanted gowns and magical settings. I was THERE with her, completely lost in this book and reading along like "yes, YES, you open up that secret passage and see where it goes!!"

What I didn't: But then it started to lose me a little. Because the clues were...not really clues? I appreciated that Scarlett's clue sheet was updated as she went along so we could follow along with how she was "solving" the clues, except...she wasn't, really. The clues didn't lead her to anything, and she never seemed to make any progress in the game. It wasn't like this clue led her to this new location, and she progressed from there... Every night she came back to the same room and started over again the next day. The clues just felt kind of pointless to me.

Then the last half-ish of the book lost me completely. After (SPOILER - highlight to read: Scarlett falls into the water from the carousel), it felt like the rest of the book was almost written by a different author. It lacked the polish and finesse of the first half, like it was a draft that hadn't yet been fully fleshed out. And aside from the writing style, the wrap-up of the plot didn't do much for me either. Even though everything was being revealed and all the game's secrets were coming out, there was no magic in it for me. Too many things get re-explained too many times...identities and motives are revealed, then proven wrong, then re-revealed, then proven wrong again... It was just twist after over-the-top twist, leaving me feeling a little baited-and-switched instead of awestruck.

...And is it just me or (SPOILER - highlight to read: did Scarlett NOT EVEN HAVE TO PLAY THIS GAME?? She could have waited and spectated till someone else found her sister, then swooped in and did her sister-saving wish. Because apparently she didn't need to win the game, since Legend can't "give" her a wish anyway. She had the power to save her sister within her all along. ... Sooo why did we do this, again???)

TL;DR: All that being said, there are so many glowing reviews of this book out there, so please take my opinion as just my own humble one. Unfortunately, I had to knock it down from a rating of 5 BEAUTIFUL SHIMMERING STARS to a shaky 3, because the ending just left me so disappointed. But I will still be reading the next book in the series, Legendary, because if it gives me the feels of the magical questing and puzzle-solving first half of Caraval again, it will be totally worth it no matter how it ends.


Overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars


{ Follow Stephanie Garber }

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

{ Waiting on Wednesday } April 11, 2018

{ Waiting on Wednesday } is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, where we can share upcoming releases that we just can't wait to get our hands on.



A Court of Frost and Starlight
by Sarah J. Maas

Expected publication date: May 1, 2018
Available as: hardcover, Kindle edition, ebook
Pages: 224
Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
Suggested tags: young adult, fantasy, fairies



Part of the A Court of Thorns and Roses series. From Goodreads:
"The Winter Solstice. In a week. I was still new enough to being High Lady that I had no idea what my formal role was to be. If we'd have a High Priestess do some odious ceremony, as lanthe had done the year before. A year. Gods, nearly a year since Rhys had called in his bargain, desperate to get me away from the poison of the Spring Court to save me from my despair. Had he been only a minute later, the Mother knew what would have happened. Where I'd now be. Snow swirled and eddied in the garden, catching in the brown fibers of the burlap covering the shrubs My mate who had worked so hard and so selflessly, all without hope that I would ever be with him We had both fought for that love, bled for it. Rhys had died for it."

I am absolute trash for this series. As soon as I get my hands on one of these novels, I lock myself away (for as long as I am able to persuade someone to babysit my small monster... I mean, toddler) and deeevour it. This is a novella but I don't care, I'm all about it.



What reads are you waiting on this week? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

{ Top Ten Tuesday } Books I Loved but Will Never Re-Read

Look at this awesome party that I'm super late to! I've been wanting to get into blogging more than just book reviews, and this sounds like the perfect way to get my mind thinking about books I've read in new ways.


{ Top Ten Tuesday } was started by The Broke and the Bookish but his now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. She says, "It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together."


Books I Loved but Will Never Re-Read

{ #1 }
All the Bright Places
by Jennifer Niven

This is a brilliant, wonderful book... and it absolutely destroyed me. I don't want to voluntarily do that to myself again, so I don't think I'll be rereading it. But if you haven't read it yet, definitely give it a try! (Just have lots of tissues and ice cream ready for your post-reading recovery period.)




{ #2 }
Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy
by L.A. Meyer

This (and the entire Bloody Jack series) was such epic perfection as an audiobook narrated by the late Katherine Kellgren that I don't think I could ever read it in print and have the same experience. I don't even have the desire to try. Rest in peace, Ms. Kellgren - you brought so many stories to life for me in such amazing ways.


{ #3 }
The Book of Tomorrow
by Cecelia Ahern

I loved this book when I first read it... But now I can't remember anything that happened. At all. And usually I can rave to people about my favorite books in probably too much detail. So I guess if it didn't stick with me, maybe it's not really a favorite after all?





{ #4 }
Bridge to Terabithia
by Katherine Paterson

See: All the Bright Places, above. This is a tearjerker. I read this when I was in like 4th or 5th grade, and I didn't understand it fully at the time. I read it again recently as an adult and I UNDERSTOOD EVERYTHING. It's such a heavy, painful book and I wasn't ready for that!! I mean, it's a great book, don't get me wrong, but... I just don't want to go through that again. And I'd like to try other children's classics.


{ #5 }
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
by Lynne Truss

As a proud grammar stickler, this was hilarious to me on the first read... but would I ever want to read it again? Nah. I got the humor the first time. I'm not sure it would be as funny the second time around.




{ #6 }
Girls to the Rescue, Book #2
edited by Bruce Lansky

This was one of my favorites when I was younger. A collection of fairy tales and fables from around the world with young heroines getting stuff done and generally being awesome. I read it over and over and over... and I would read it again now! This one makes the list because I can't find it anywhere! *sob*




{ #7 }
Heartless
by Marissa Meyer

I'm pretty picky about my Wonderland retellings, and I haven't really enjoyed any since I found Splintered. While I was reading Heartless, I was like "YES!! Finally! Another Wonderland series that I can get lost in!!" ... But sadly, I was mistaken. This is not a series. And I was so disappointed by that that I just don't think I want to read this one again knowing I can't go any farther in the story. I want more, and there isn't any more. :(


{ #8 }
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
by Susanna Clarke

Ok, this was definitely a favorite the first time I read it, and I keep trying to reread it... but every time I try, I give up! This is a HARD book to get through! It's soooo looooong, and there are so many footnotes... gah. I just can't do it. But it is one of my favorites, so if you're up for a challenge, try it!




{ #9 }
The Rites Wrongs of Janice Wills
by Joanna Pearson

I majored in Anthropology, and no one who asked what I was majoring in ever knew what it was, so imagine my excitement when I found a YA book with a MC who is into anthropology!!! What?? YES, totally my new favorite book, right?? ... Well, actually, meh. I mean, I still think it's AWESOME that someone worked anthropology into a YA book, but the story wasn't so great that I'd want to read it again, unfortunately.


{ #10 }
Wideacre
by Philippa Gregory

At one time, I was OBSESSSSSED with Philippa Gregory books. I devoured them all, and this Wideacre trilogy was one of my favorites. Dark family secrets! A selfish, spiteful, love-to-hate-her MC! Watching everything come crashing down around her in spectacular fashion! YES!!! I was there for it!! ... And then some years later, I reread it. And it was awful..?? I have no idea what happened, because I still like that kind of dark, desperate book. Just not... this book, I guess? Hmm. It's a mystery.


What books made your list this week? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, April 9, 2018

{ Something Old, Something New } April 2018

Ugh, I'm a little late with this for this month. Sorry. :(  There has just been a lot going on... I'm taking an impossible graduate class with a ridiculous amount of group work outside of class time (kill me), our house got tented for termites, and we had to say goodbye to our sweet wonderful old dog Josie. So I've been all over the place for a week or so, but I'm starting to get back on track.




{ Something Old, Something New } is a meant to help us focus on the new releases in our TBR piles and also hand-pick some older books that we've been meaning to read.




On my reading list for March 2018 was...

{ Something Old }

The Glass Sentence
by S.E. Grove

Release date: June 12, 2014
Available as: hardcover, paperback, Kindle edition, ebook
Pages: 439
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Suggested tags: middle grade, fantasy



I haven't posted my review yet... but it will be up soon!


{ Something New }
The Unbinding of Mary Reade
by Miriam McNamara

Release date: March 6, 2018
Available as: hardcover, Kindle edition, ebook
Pages: 336
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Suggested tags: young adult, historical fiction, 18th century, pirates, LGBTQ



You can read my review here!




On my reading list for April 2018 is...

{ Something Old }

Caraval
by Stephanie Garber

Release date: January 1, 2017
Available as: hardcover, Kindle edition, ebook
Pages: 407
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Suggested tags: young adult, fantasy



First in the Caraval series. From Goodreads:
"Remember, 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."

I read this one once before and didn't *love it* like I expected to, but it was during middle-of-the-night feedings with my then-newborn and I'm not sure my brain was really functioning at the time. It deserves a reread.


{ Something New }

Legendary
by Stephanie Garber

Expected publication date: May 29, 2018
Available as: hardcover, Kindle edition, ebook
Pages: 416
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Suggested tags: young adult, fantasy



Second in the Caraval series. From Goodreads:
"Stephanie Garber’s limitless imagination takes flight once more in the colorful, mesmerizing, and immersive sequel to the bestselling breakout debut Caraval

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.
"

See what I did there? :D It's a Caraval-fest this month! I got an eARC through NetGalley of Legendary and I'm excited to read it, but I felt like I needed to do another run-through of Caraval first.



What's on your { Something Old, Something New} reading list for this month? Pick a book that you've been meaning to read but haven't yet (your Something Old) and a new release or soon-to-be-released book (your Something New), read and/or review them, and share a link to your posts here or tweet it at me @PidginPea! I'd love to share your books and reviews when I do my { Something Old, Something New } post at the start of each month. If you'd like to read/review more than 2 books, be my guest! I'm hoping I can do { Something Old, Something New } AND a "something borrowed" and a "something blue" in the future too!

Want to put a { Something Old, Something New } button on your blog? I'd love that! Just copy and paste the code in the box below. I made the button using DeviantArt stock resources from flameshaft, gimei, and spiritsighs-stock and fonts from dafont.com and kevinandamanda.com.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

{ Waiting on Wednesday } April 4, 2018

Man. It's been so long since I've done one of these, and that makes me sad because I love them! It's so fun to see what everyone is looking forward to reading!


{ Waiting on Wednesday } is a weekly event, hosted by Breaking the Spine, where we can share upcoming releases that we just can't wait to get our hands on.



Beyond a Darkened Shore
by Jessica Leake

Expected publication date: April 10, 2018
Available as: hardcover, Kindle edition, ebook
Pages: 384
Publisher: HarperTeen
Suggested tags: young adult, fantasy, mythology



From Goodreads:
"The ancient land of Éirinn is mired in war. Ciara, Princess of Mide, has never known a time when Éirinn’s kingdoms were not battling for power, or Northmen were not plundering their shores.

The people of Mide have thankfully always been safe because of Ciara’s unearthly ability to control her enemies’ minds and actions. But lately, a mysterious crow has been appearing to Ciara, whispering warnings of an even darker threat. Although her clansmen dismiss her visions as pagan nonsense, Ciara fears this coming evil will destroy not just Éirinn, but the entire world.

Then the crow leads Ciara to Leif, a young Northman leader. Leif should be Ciara’s enemy, but when Ciara discovers that he, too, shares her prophetic visions, she knows he’s something more. Leif is mounting an impressive army, and with Ciara’s strength in battle the two might have a chance to save their world.

With evil rising around them, they’ll do what it takes to defend the land they love…even if it means making the greatest sacrifice of all.
"

This sounds like a mix of fantasy, history, and Celtic/Norse mythology. And I've heard fairies too? Um, yes please. To all of the above. I'm so glad this comes out on the 10th so I don't have to wait for it any longer!!



What reads are you waiting on this week? Let me know in the comments!

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Review: Bad Mermaids Make Waves by Sibéal Pounder

Bad Mermaids Make Waves
by Sibéal Pounder
illustrated by Jason Cockcroft

Available as: hardcover
Pages: 256
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books
Publication date: May 1, 2018
Suggested tags: middle grade, fantasy, mermaids



From NetGalley:
"A trio of smart and stylish mermaids are about to make a splash in this hilarious start to a new middle-grade series that's The Little Mermaid meets My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish.

Mermaids Beattie, Mimi, and Zelda's summer on land with temporary legs is going swimmingly-until they receive a strange message ordering them to return home at once. The beloved queen of the Hidden Lagoon has been fishnapped, and some seriously bad mermaids have taken over instead! Now, the girls are the only ones who can stop them.

If they're going to save the day, they'll need a clam car, some piranha-print nail polish, and possibly a talking seahorse named Steve (well, okay, maybe not the seahorse). Can they become bold and bad enough to turn the tides in their favor, before it's too late?

Filled with magical mysteries, fabulous shell fashions, and three fin-tastic protagonists to root for,
Bad Mermaids Make Waves is a hysterical new middle-grade adventure that will have readers begging for the sea-quel."


Mystery-solving mermaids with multicolor hair! A snarky talking seahorse with a set of false teeth for a bedroom! A giant shark that is actually a floating 5-star(fish) restaurant! A sport called shockey that is kind-of sort-of like underwater Quidditch! What more do you WANT out of life??

Summary: Beattie and her friends, twins Mimi and Zelda, are loving their summer on land... until they receive crabmail with a mysterious message from Arabella Cod, the queen of the mermaid lagoon. She is cutting their on-land adventure short and asking that they return to the lagoon. But why? And why does it look like she didn't get to finish her message? As soon as they turn back into mermaids and head back to the lagoon, they realize that something very strange is going on in their city of Swirlyshell...

What I liked: Ok, hello, MERMAIDS. With colorful hair. And awesome fashions. And tail accessories. Heck YES. I want to be one of them.

And these three little mermaids know how to solve a mystery! The whole process of collecting clues, checking alibis, and piecing things together was great. I think young mystery lovers, especially those who are new to longer chapter books, would really enjoy this one. There's enough time spent on the mystery to be able to add up the clues along with them and figure it out as they do, but it's perfectly balanced with other action and exploring and general silliness so that it never gets boring.

Also, can I please live in this fabulous world that they live in?? I love that there's five different areas and they're all so unique, with different scenery and trends and places to visit, and the mermaids living there have different personalities and interests. Beattie's mom is an awesome explorer-journalist who travels to the far reaches of their world, and I kind of want to be her when I grow up.

And ohmygoodness I want to adopt Steve the talking seahorse. He's just too cute with his little glasses and bow tie in the illustrations, dancing with his favorite cartoon... And when he gets separated from Beattie and he has like a tiny seahorse panic attack and is all "don't leave me Beattie you're my reason for living!!" ... I can't. He's too precious.

What I didn't: The mystery has a bit of a twist, which I liked, but then the big whodunnit that we were following this whole time... just kind of... dies. Like, we know who did it and we get a giant info-dump of why, but then... that's it? (SPOILER - highlight to read: Ommy gets captured in a giant shark and Beattie says, "Take him away!" and then... WHAT?? Where are they taking him? Is there mermaid jail?) And (SPOILER - highlight to read: Mimi and Zelda free their parents and all the other palace mermaids and they're just kind of like, "Hey! You did it! Good job! Moving on..." Wait, what?? Did they KNOW their daughters were capable of saving the entire lagoon AND their own lives?? Were they worried at all that they might be trapped in this sunken ship forever and no one would know where to look for them?? I NEED SOME ANSWERS HERE.) But maybe that's just my grown-up brain working too hard, and the actual intended audience for this book wouldn't mind that at all. *shrug*

TL;DR: A fast-paced and fabulously silly mystery starring smart and stylish mermaid friends. And Steve the talking seahorse. I snort-laughed multiple times and I can't wait to get my hands on the next book in the series!

(And p.s., just a note if you're looking into this book on Goodreads: Goodreads seems to be a little confused right now about what book goes with this title... I think the original UK version was just Bad Mermaids and the US version is Bad Mermaids Make Waves... which may also be the title of the UK sequel? I'm not sure. Neither is Goodreads.)


Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars


{ Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a review copy. My reviews are honest and my opinions are my own; your reading experience may vary, so give it a read and see what you think. :) }


{ Favorite quotes from Bad Mermaids Make Waves }
      "As you know, I put this summer initiative in place so every young mermaid would stop complaining that they wanted legs, swimming around singing songs about it, and just generally being insufferable."

      " 'In their paintings of mermaids, we're all sitting on rocks, combing our hair and smiling, which is nonsense because no one can comb wet hair without doing the AAARGH KNOTS face.' "

      " 'You have a talking sea horse.'
     ' Excuse you,' the sea horse said, shooting over to Zelda's face. 'I thought we were all in agreement that I am a miracle.'"

      " 'GET OUT OF THE WAY!'
     'WATCH YOUR FINS!'
     'YELLING MAKES ME FEEL BETTER ABOUT MY LIFE!' came the shouts from the crowd."


{ Follow Sibéal Pounder }

Monday, March 19, 2018

Review: The Unbinding of Mary Reade by Miriam McNamara


The Unbinding of Mary Reade

by Miriam McNamara

Available as: hardcover, Kindle edition, ebook
Pages: 336
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Expected publication date: June 19, 2018
Suggested tags: young adult, historical fiction, LGBTQ, pirates



From Goodreads:
"A swashbuckling, smart novel based on the true story of a girl who disguised herself as a boy in order to sail with the infamous pirates Anne Bonny and Calico Jack.

There’s no place for a girl in Mary’s world. Not in the home of her mother, desperately drunk and poor. Not in the household of her wealthy granny, where a girl could never be named an heir. And certainly not in the arms of Nat, her childhood love who never knew her for who she was. As a hired sailor aboard a Caribbean merchant ship, Mary’s profession—and her safety—depend on her ability to disguise the fact that she’s a girl.

Leastways, that’s what she thinks is true. But then pirates attack the ship, and right in the middle of the swashbuckling crowd of bloodthirsty pirates, Mary spots something she never could have imagined: a girl pirate. The sight of a girl standing unafraid upon the deck, gun and sword in hand, changes everything. In a split-second decision, Mary turns her gun on her own captain and earns herself a spot among the pirates’ crew.

For the first time, Mary has a shot at freedom. But imagining living life as her true self is easier, it seems, than actually doing it. And when Mary finds herself falling for the captain’s mistress, she risks everything—her childhood love, her place among the crew, and even her life.
"


I had high hopes for this one. I mean, when the synopsis promises me a "swashbuckling, smart novel" about queer lady pirates, how do you expect me to not prepare myself for a knock-my-striped-pirate-stockings-off read?? Unfortunately, it just didn't deliver for me. It's basically a romance, with very little swashbuckling and not a whole lot of anything else going on either. And that makes my pirate stockings sad.


Summary:
Mary has been disguising herself as a boy for most of her life, pretending to be her brother Mark since his death (at her alcoholic mother's insistence) so that she could inherit her grandmother's riches. No one but her mother knows her secret - not even her best friend (/her secret crush) Nat, who shares her dream of escaping their poor and rather terrible lives by sailing the high seas together.

The story is told in alternating timelines between Mary's present and her past, so without revealing too much of her past which is revealed as the story goes on, let's skip ahead to the part where she has made her way onto the high seas, but her ship is overtaken by pirates and she sees - gasp! - a lady pirate standing with the pirate captain, looking strong and beautiful and awesome. Mary shoots her ship's not-so-nice captain in hopes of gaining the pirates' favor. It works, and she's invited to become one of them. She becomes involved in their lifestyle, involved in their politics, and involved with the captain's mistress, Anne Bonny, the one she had admired when they took over her ship. She ends up on an island in the Caribbean with the pirates, and who should she meet there but Nat... So now she has to decide between Anne and Nat, between continuing to be "Mark" or becoming "Mary" once again...


What I liked: 
I thought telling Mary's story in alternating timelines between her past and present was a great way to write this one. As some other reviewers have mentioned, it gets a little iffy towards the end when the past catches up to where the book began and it feels a little repetitive, but otherwise I thought it was well done. I had no trouble following along as the timelines switched back and forth, and it seemed to reveal key moments from her past at just the right times.

I am a cis person, so my perspective on this may not be worth much, but I thought the exploration of Mary's thoughts and feelings on whether to continue to be Mark or whether to become Mary again, whether to dress in "boy's" clothes (pants) or "girl's" clothes (dresses) was handled pretty well. She goes back and forth, feeling pressured by friends/society/religion to act and dress like a girl... but she seems to feel more comfortable and more herself when she's Mark, or at least wearing her "Mark" outfit... but could she be "Mary" and still wear "Mark" clothes?...... I felt like I had a good peek into her head about it all, anyway.


What I didn't:
The characters. Not a "didn't like" so much as a strong meh. There was no one that I really liked or disliked. They were all just... there... going about their business. I didn't feel particularly connected to any of them. Even Anne, who I expected to really like, came off as whiny and immature and, well, kind of annoying. So that was super disappointing.

The plot. "Swashbuckling," says the synopsis?? There is swashbuckling for about the first 10% of this, and then THAT'S IT. The rest is pirates talking about whether or not to keep pirating, sitting on one island discussing this, and then sitting around on another island later. ... I'm sorry, but personally, I need a bit more "swashbuckling" going on in a book for it to be sold as a "swashbuckling" novel.

Speaking of the plot, there are so many coincidences that I had a hard time accepting. The first one I was like, okaaaaay, I guess I can accept that the stars could align -just so- to make this one happen: (SPOILER - highlight to read: Nat *just happens* to be the one who attacks her on the beach as all the pirates are being raided. Alllll those raiders vs. alllll those pirates, and he somehow finds Mary on the beach?? *sigh* ok, I guess...) But then, Mary meets up with literally almost everyone from her past on the second island. Whoa, really?? All the islands in the Caribbean and they all happen to converge on this one at the same time? ... I don't know. Maybe it's just me. I just... argh, I have a hard time when things happen really conveniently for maximum dramatic effect.

And yeah, this should be billed as a romance rather than a swashbuckler, but even then, the romance was not my favorite. Or I should say, Mary was not my favorite in the romance department. She is totally into her relationship with one partner, lots of physical attraction and is-it-getting-hot-in-here-or-is-it-just-me, and then jealousy and hurt feelings when that partner pays attention to someone else, so like ok, she must be really into this person... But then as soon as she decides she's mad at that person, she's onto the other partner SO FAST and it's equally as intense and steamy... Buuuut then that partner makes her angry, so it's back to the first partner right away and all oh-no-way-you-are-my-one-and-only, don't-ever-leave-me... Buuut then of course she gets mad at that one again, so baaaaaack to the other one... I was just like, ugh, MARY, seriously girl, have some devotion. Like, I fully support your exploring your bisexuality but I don't support your bouncing back and forth between partners whenever it's convenient for you. Relationships take some work - pick a partner and try to make it work with them, and make a clean break with the other one. You can't have your pirate-lady cake and eat your handsome-childhood-friend cake too. (I... I don't think that worked out as cleverly as I wanted it to, so... erm... let's just... move on, shall we...)


TL;DR: Just... meh. I think I might have liked it better if I hadn't been promised a "swashbuckling, smart novel" in the synopsis. That immediately sets my expectations up for an adventurous, plot-driven book... and that was just not what this is. At all. This is a romance novel, but it is definitely not a swashbuckling novel. And that promise in the synopsis vs. what was delivered was just way too far off for me, unfortunately.


Overall rating: 2 out of 5 stars


{ Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a review copy. My reviews are honest and my opinions are my own; your reading experience may vary, so give it a read and see what you think. :) }


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