Welcome to a new year of the Relaxed & Groovy Book Club. This year is all about the debut author! Yes, with each book, we’ll be discovering someone brand new. What fun!
This first book the season, CARAVAL, by Stephanie Garber was a smashing debut from last year. It wasn’t however, this author’s first book out of the gate. It wasn’t even her second attempt or her fourth. As I mention in this post, the story of her overnight success took seven years and six attempts. Talk about persistence! And let me just say, totally worth the wait!
Her second highly anticipated book, LEGENDARY, comes out later this year. I will be pre-ordering that one, no doubt!
Current Relaxed & Groovy Book Club selection:
CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber
Published by: Flatiron Books
Release Date: January 31, 2017
Genres: YA, Fantasy
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.
Welcome, welcome to Caraval . . . beware of getting swept too far away. (Plot summary from author’s website.)
Learn more about Stephanie Garber here.
Follow Stephanie on Twitter here.
Follow Stephanie on Facebook here.
Follow Stephanie on Instagram here.
Besides being a fabulous story set in a dazzling playground of magic where anything can happen, with a dark and twisty mystery, this is at its core, a story about two sisters with an unbreakable bond trying to save each other. And I’m a sucker for those. And trust me, you will get swept away by the story. I read this book so fast.
Here’s a peek from the opening of the book:
Scarlett’s feelings came in colors even brighter than usual. The urgent red of burning coals. The eager green of new grass buds. The frenzied yellow of a flapping bird’s feathers.
He’d finally written back.
She read the letter again. Then again. And again. Her eyes took in each sharp stroke of ink, every waxy curve of the Caraval master’s silver crest — a sun with a star inside and a teardrop inside of the star. The same seal was watermarked onto the enclosed slips of paper.
This was no prank.
“Donatella!” Scarlett plunged down the steps into the barrel room in search of her younger sister. The familiar scents of molasses and oak snaked up her nose, but her scoundrel of a sibling was nowhere to be found.
“Tella — Where are you?” Oil lamps cast an amber glow over bottles of rum and several freshly filled wooden barrels. Scarlett heard a moan as she moved past, and she caught bits of heavy breathing as well. After her latest battle with their father, Tella had probably drunk too much, and now dozed somewhere on the floor. “Dona–“
She choked on the last half of her sister’s name.
Tella flashed Scarlett a sloppy grin, all white teeth and swollen lips. her honey-blonde curls were a mess as well, and her shawl had fallen to the floor. But it was the sight of a young sailor, with his hands wrapped around Tella’s waist, that made Scarlett stutter. “Did I interrupt something?”
“Nothing we can’t start up again.” The sailor spoke with a lilting Southern Empire accent, far smoother-sounding than the sharp Meridian Empire tongues Scarlett was accustomed to.
Tella giggled, but at least had the grace to blush a little. “Scar, you know Julian, right?”
“Lovely seeing you, Scarlett.” Julian smiled, as cool and seductive as a slice of shade in the Hot Season.
Scarlett knew the polite response would be something along the lines of “Good to see you, too.” But all she could think about were his hands, still coiled around Tella’s periwinkle skirts, playing with the tassels on her bustle, as if she were a parcel he couldn’t wait to unwrap.
Julian had only been on the isle of Trisda about a month. When he’d swaggered off his ship, tall and handsome, with golden-brown skin, he’d drawn almost every woman’s eye. Even Scarlett’s head had turned briefly, but she’d known better than to look any longer.
“Tella, mind if I pull you away for a moment?” Scarlett managed to nod politely at Julian, but the instant they’d woven through enough barrels to be out of his hearing she said, “What are you doing?”
“Scar, you’re getting married; I would think you’d be aware of what occurs between a man and a woman.” Tella nudged her sister’s shoulder playfully.
“That’s not what I’m talking about. You know what will happen if Father catches you.”
“Which is why I don’t plan on getting caught.”
“Please be serious,” Scarlett said.
“I am being serious. If Father catches us, I’ll just find a way to blame it on you.” Tella gave a tart smile. “But I don’t think you came down here to talk about that.” Her eyes dropped to the letter in Scarlett’s hands.
The hazy glow of a lantern caught the metallic edges of the paper, making them blaze a shimmery gold, the color of magic and wishes and promises of things to come. The address on the envelope lit up with equal luster.
Miss Scarlett Dragna
Care of the priests’ confessional
Conquered Isles of the Meridian Empire
Tella’s eyes sharpened as she took in the radiant script. Scarlett’s sister had always liked beautiful things, like the young man still waiting for her behind the barrels. Often, if Scarlett lost one of her prettier possessions, she could find it tucked away in her younger sister’s room.
Garber paints a scene like an artist – just enough brilliant detail to make you live in it, to breathe in the surroundings. And her use of colors – just as fantastic. I love how she connects it to Scarlett’s emotions.
We soon learn why Scarlett wants to leave home, but won’t risk running away again. Instead, to escape her father’s brutal clutches, she plans to marry a man she’s never met — she doesn’t even know his name. The only hint she has of him comes from carefully censored letters her father gives her.
Here’s a scene where we discover the two sisters very different future plans:
Scarlett could still smell her father’s perfume. It smelled like the color of his gloves: anise and lavender and something akin to rotted plums. It stayed with her long after he left, hovering in the air around Tella while Scarlett sat by her side, waiting for a maid to bring clean bandages and medicinal supplies.
“You should have let me tell the truth,” Scarlett said. “He’d not have hit me this badly to punish you. Not with my wedding in ten days.”
“Maybe he wouldn’t have struck your face, but he’d have done something else just as vicious–broken a finger so you couldn’t finish your wedding quilt.” Tella closed her eyes and leaned back against a barrel of rum. Her cheek was now almost the color of her father’s wretched gloves. “And I’m the one who deserved to be hit, not you.”
“No one deserves this,” Julian said. It was the first time he’d spoken since their father left. “I’m–“
“Don’t,” Scarlett cut in. “Your apology will not heal her wounds.”
“I wasn’t going to apologize.” Julian paused, as if weighing his next words. “I’m changing my offer about taking you both from the isle. I’ll do it for free, if you decide you want to leave. My ship sets off from port tomorrow at dawn. Come find me if you change your mind.” He divided a look between Scarlett and Tella before he disappeared up the stairs.
“No,” Scarlett said, sensing what Tella wanted before she said any words aloud. “If we leave, things will be worse when we return.”
“I don’t plan on returning.” Tella opened her eyes. They were watery but fierce.
Scarlet was often annoyed by how impulsive her younger sister was, but she also knew that when Tella finally set her mind to a plan, there was no changing it. Scarlett realized Tella had made her decision even before the letter from Caraval Master Legend arrived. That’s why she’d been with Julian. From the way she’d ignored him as he’d left, it was obvious she didn’t care about him. She just wanted a sailor who could take her away from Trisda. And now Scarlett had given her the reason she needed to leave.
“Scar, you should come too,” Tella said. “I know you think your marriage is going to save and protect you, but what if the count is as bad as Father, or worse?”
“He’s not,” Scarlett insisted. “You’d know this if you read his letters. He’s a perfect gentleman, and he’s promised to take care of us both.”
“Oh, sister.” Tella smiled, but it wasn’t the happy sort. It was the way someone smiles just before they say something they wish they didn’t have to. “If he’s such a gentleman, then why is he so secretive? Why have you only been told his title but not his name?”
Great set up for the adventure to come. And Garber wastes no time getting right to the good stuff. Before dawn, Scarlett ends up on Julian’s ship knocked out, against her will — all a part of her sister’s fake kidnapping plot. The next thing she knows, she’s arriving on Legend’s private island just in time for Caraval, only her sister is nowhere in sight.
Here, Scarlett gets a taste of the magic on the island as she tries to find her sister:
Julian’s dark brows slanted up. “You’re actually considering his offer?”
“If it will get us to my sister faster.” Scarlett would have expected the sailor to be all for shortcuts, but instead his eyes darted around almost nervously. “You think it’s a bad idea?” she asked.
“I think the smoke we saw is the entrance to Caraval, and I’d rather keep my currency.” He reached for the front door.
“But you don’t even know the price,” said Algie.
Julian threw a look at Scarlett, pausing for the click of a second hand. Something unreadable flickered in his eyes, and when he spoke again she would have sworn his voice sounded strained. “Do whatever you want, Crimson, but just a friendly warning for when you do get inside: be careful who you trust; most of the people here aren’t who they appear.” A bell chimed as he stepped outside.
Scarlett hadn’t expected him to stay with her forever, yet she found herself more than a little bit unnerved by his abrupt departure.
“Wait–” Algie called as she started to follow. “I know you believe me. Are you just going to chase that boy and let him decide for you, or make a choice for yourself?”
Scarlett knew she needed to leave. If she didn’t hurry, she’d never find the sailor, and then she’d be utterly alone. But Algie’s use of the word choice made her pause. With her father always telling her what to do, Scarlett rarely felt as if she had any genuine choices. Or maybe she paused because the part of her that had not quite let go of all her childhood fantasies wanted to believe Algie.
She thought of how effortlessly the door had formed and how every clock had gone silent when Algie had touched the door’s peculiar handle. “Even if I was interested,” she said, “I don’t have any money.”
“But what if I’m not asking for money?” Algie straightened the tips of his mustache. “I said I’m offering a bargain: I’d just like to borrow your voice.”
Scarlett choked on nervous laughter. “That doesn’t sound like a fair trade.” Was a voice even a thing someone could borrow?
“I only want it for an hour,” Algie said. “It will take you at least that long to follow the smoke and make it into the house and start the game, but I can let you inside right now.” He pulled a watch from his pocket, and wound both the hour and minute hands to the top. “Say yes, and this device will take your voice for sixty minutes, and my door will lead you right inside the heart of Caraval.”
She could find her sister right now.
But what if he was lying? What if he took more than an hour? Scarlett was uncomfortable trusting a man she’d just met, even more so after Julian’s warning. The idea of losing her voice terrified her as well. Her cries never stopped her father from hurting Tella, but at least Scarlett had always been able to call out. If she did this and something happened, she’d be powerless. If she saw Tella from a distance, she’d be unable to yell her name. And what if Tella was waiting for Scarlett at the gate?
Scarlett only knew how to survive through caution. When her father made deals there was almost always something awful he failed to mention. She couldn’t risk that happening now.
“I’ll take my chances with the regular entrance,” she said.
Algie’s mustache drooped. “Your loss. It really would have been a bargain.” He pulled open the patchwork door. For a brilliant moment Scarlett glimpsed the other side: a passionate sky made of melting lemons and burning peaches. Thin rivers that shined like polished gemstones. A laughing girl with curly spires of honey —
“Donatella!” Scarlett rushed for the door, but Algie slammed it shut before her fingers grazed the metal.
“No!” Scarlett grabbed the notched wheel and tried to turn it, but it dissolved into ash, falling into a gloomy pile at her feet. She watched hopelessly as the puzzle pieces shifted again, clicking apart until the door was no more.
She should have made the trade. Tella would have done it. In fact, Scarlett figured that was how her sister had gotten inside in the first place. Tella never worried about the future or consequences; it was Scarlett’s job to do that for her. So while she should have felt better knowing Tella was definitely in Caraval, Scarlett could only worry about what kinds of trouble her sister would find. Scarlett should have been in there with her. And now she had lost Julian as well.
Hurrying out of Casabian’s shop, Scarlett rushed onto the street. Whatever warmth she’d felt inside immediately vanished. She hadn’t thought she’d been there very long, yet the morning had already disappeared along with early afternoon. The hatbox shops were now obscured in a din of leaden shadows.
Time must move faster on this isle. Scarlett worried she would blink and the stars would be out. Not only had she been separated from Tella and Julian, but she’d wasted valuable minutes. The day was almost over, and Legend’s invitation said she only had until midnight to make it inside Caraval’s main gates.
Wind danced along Scarlett’s arms, wrapping cold white fingers around the parts of her wrists her dress didn’t cover. “Julian!” she cried out hopefully.
But there was no sign of her former companion. She was totally alone. She wasn’t sure if the game had started yet, but she already felt as if she were losing.
Aren’t the characters fascinating? I love how it’s more important to Scarlett for her to make her own choices than to be right. She does make many mistakes, but she’s not a weak character by any means. Watching her grow into a strong, formidable competitor in the game is very satisfying. And Julian is no typical two-dimensional pretty boy, he’s got depth and there are many interesting twists to his storyline as well.
This book will kept me turning the pages into the wee hours of the morning. I could not stop reading it! I may just have to read it again before LEGENDARY comes out.
What did you think of the story?
NEXT RELAXED AND GROOVY BOOK CLUB PIC
BLOOD WATER PAINT by Joy McCullough
Published by: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Release Date: March 6, 2018
Genres: YA, Historical Fiction, Poetry
A stunning debut novel based on the true story of the iconic painter, Artemisia Gentileschi.
Her mother died when she was twelve, and suddenly Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father’s paint.
She chose paint.
By the time she was seventeen, Artemisia did more than grind pigment. She was one of Rome’s most talented painters, even if no one knew her name. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women, and in the aftermath of rape Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost.
He will not consume
my every thought.
I am a painter.
I will paint.
Joy McCullough’s bold novel in verse is a portrait of an artist as a young woman, filled with the soaring highs of creative inspiration and the devastating setbacks of a system built to break her. McCullough weaves Artemisia’s heartbreaking story with the stories of the ancient heroines, Susanna and Judith, who become not only the subjects of two of Artemisia’s most famous paintings but sources of strength as she battles to paint a woman’s timeless truth in the face of unspeakable and all-too-familiar violence.
I will show you
what a woman can do.
We’ll reconvene this most relaxed and groovy of book clubs in the spring. (Tie-dyed tees and funky shoes optional, as always!)