Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Oh my gosh! This is probably going to the top of my list as one of my favorite books of all time! Caraval by Stephanie Garber is a story about two sisters, Scarlett and Tella, who live on an island with their ruthless father and dream about escaping someday. Scarlett, through the years, has written to Legend, the Master of Caraval, a magical adventure-type performance in which the audience members are the participants, and the winner is awarded a wish; has never received any response. She has finally given up her dream of ever getting to see Caraval, and has instead accepted an arranged marriage as her and Tella’s ticket off the tiny island and away from their father.
Tella, in the meantime, has a plan of her own. She has procured the help of a handsome sailor (Julian) to take the sisters off the island. Before this happens though, Scarlett receives the long-awaited invitation from Master Legend to participate in Caraval. Julian helps the girls escape to Caraval, but when they land on the island, Tella is taken and Scarlett is immersed into the heart of Caraval. In order to save her sister, Scarlett must win the game of Caraval, where she is warned that not everything is as it appears and some participants, who allow themselves to become too deeply involved, have either died or gone completely insane.
Navigating through the magical world of Caraval, Scarlett meets an eclectic array of characters. She must use her wits to figure out clues to find her sister and win the game of Caraval. But will she be able to trust what she sees, or will she allow herself to become too involved in the game?
I so much wanted to tell what happens in this book, but I don’t want to spoil it! I believe this is one of the most beautifully written books that I have read. Stephanie Garber has written a tale that draws the reader in. The imagery woven into the book, pulls you into the heart of the Caraval. I love puzzles, and this book was just like walking through a puzzle where there could be dead-ends at every point. There were so many twists and turns in the plot, I couldn’t put it down because I wanted to know what was going to happen next. Another piece that I felt was done extremely well were the characters. Not only were the main characters plausible, the minor characters were intriguing. I think any student who enjoys fantasy, would enjoy reading this book. I can see it appealing to many different students. I can’t wait until the second book in the series, Legendary, comes out on May 29, 2018.
The Smoking Mirror by David Bowles
The second book that I finished this week (last night to be exact) was David Bowles’s The Smoking Mirror. The Smoking Mirror was a Pura Belpre Award honor book. The story is about two 12-year old twins (Carol and Johnny Garza) whose mother has gone missing and father is not in a good place psychologically. Each twin has been facing some disturbing things happening to them that they have not been able to explain. At one point Carol wakes up from sleep to discover a dead rabbit lying in her hands. Their father decides to send them to relatives in order for him to get his life back together.
While at relatives, they discover they are naguals, shape-shifters. Legend has it that naguals happen every so often in families, but there has never been an occurrence of twins both being naguals. They learn from their grandmother, on her death bed, that she is also a nagual as well as their mother. It is then revealed that their mother has been taken to the Aztec Underworld, and they need to rescue her.
They travel to a cave where they find tzapame, who are like Aztec elves, the holders of “The Smoking Mirror” which is the passage to the Underworld. In the Underworld, they must pass through many areas where they meet a wide array of Aztec and Mayan creatures from mythology. They are helped along their journey by Xolotl, the giant hound who is a recreation of Quetzalcoatl. During their journey, Carol finds that she has also been blessed with a magical song ability that helps them in times of need. This power along with the power of shape-shifting, helps the twins eventually locate their mother while defeating many Aztec/Mayan Gods and demons along the way.
This was not my favorite book for a couple of reasons. The first one is that this type of genre where people can morph into other creatures is usually not my cup of tea. It is the first book I’ve read during class, where I can see this would appeal to middle school and maybe lower high school, but as an adult, I really couldn’t get into the book. The second reason I had a hard time with the book is because it did have a lot of Spanish words in it and all the Gods and demons were hard to remember who was who because the names. Even though I have read about Quetzalcoatl and others, I just had a really hard time following who was who throughout the book. The book does come with a dictionary in the back for translations, but when I have to keep going to the back to see what I’m reading, it just was becoming such an exhausting task. I do think this book is written wonderfully and steeped with a lot of Mayan and Aztec history, and I can see where some middle and high school students would enjoy it. I would though, be worried that unless the students have grown up learning or knowing about this history, they may find, like I, that this read is very taxing.