Review: The Crooked Castle by Sarah Jean Horwitz

thecrookedcastleThe Crooked Castle by Sarah Jean Horwitz

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: Carmer and Grit

Date Published: April 10th, 2018

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Pages: 368 pages

Source: Publisher

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Shortly after saving the faeries of Skemantis, magician’s apprentice Felix Carmer III and his faerie companion, Grit, head out to see the world. They soon come across a mysteriously magical flying circus. As they get to know the outlandish world of Rinka Tinka’s Roving Wonder Show, it becomes clear there’s something not quite normal about this circus or its inventor—and that recent airship disasters plaguing nearby Driftside City may have a sinister explanation.

Fans of the Wildwood trilogy and Lockwood & Co. series will love the thrills and chills of The Crooked Castle as it takes readers up in the air with a flying circus, under the sea to the evil Unseelie kingdom, through a terrifying magical snowstorm, and on a chase with the menacing Wild Hunt.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

This is one of those novels that is very challenging to review because of how much I loved it—I have absolutely no idea where to start. At the beginning of last year, I read the first book in this series, The Wingsnatchers, and it quickly ended up becoming one of my all-time favorites. The Crooked Castle was, by far, my most anticipated book of this year, and I was not disappointed in the least. This novel is equally as charming, thrilling, and heartwarming as the last. I so enjoyed returning to this beautifully crafted world and following the adventures of this incredible cast of characters. This novel is pure magic.

We begin following Carmer and Grit not long after their heroic acts in Skemantis, as they set out on their journey to see the world. Though they are pursuing adventure, it usually finds them first—and this time around, it literally comes crashing into their lives in the form of a balloon and its balloonist, Bell Daisimer. Bell joins the pair in order to get to a city where he can find the necessary parts to repair his balloon, but his stay is not quite as temporary as they all expect.

They soon discover a glider mixed up in the remnants of Bell’s balloon, and inside the glider is an exclusive invitation to Rinka Tinka’s Roving Wonder Show—a massive flying circus. Upon arrival in Driftside City, and after gaining access to the Wonder Show, it becomes apparent that there is more to this flying circus than meets the eye. Everything appears to be much more mysterious—and decidedly too magical—than they ever could have anticipated.

To top it off, they learn of a whole slew of unexplained airship disasters that have recently been plaguing the city. In their attempts to investigate just what is behind these accidents and the inner workings of the show itself, they stumble across dark secrets and a lot of wicked Unseelie fairies as they attempt to save the lives of their newfound friends, as well as their own.

I completely devoured this novel. It immediately pulled me in, swept me away on an adventure, and melted my heart once again. Taking place in a steampunk world and packed with lovable characters, amazing inventions, and enchanting magical elements, it is such an utterly charming read. The narrative is incredibly fast-paced and exciting, with new twists and turns constantly popping up. Each page makes you eager to get to the next, and I found it difficult to put down.

Reading this story was an absolute joy–there is such a nostalgic tone to it for me. It made me feel so warm and comforted, as though it had wrapped itself around me like a cozy blanket. That is the same pleasant sense so many of my favorite books from my childhood evoked, and I love that I can still reflect on and experience that today due to novels like these. I can see myself cherishing these stories for a long time.

Horwitz’s remarkable talent for storytelling stands out even more than it did before. Her description and world-building are top-notch and her words flow flawlessly from page to page. Every single part of this story is crafted so meticulously, down to the most minor details, and filled with a tone that sparks that childlike sense of wonder. She knows exactly how to unfold fascinating stories, brimming with elements similar to those of a classic tale. It is easy to see the appeal of her work and nearly impossible not to feel a connection to it on some level.

The characters are one of the most wonderful aspects of this story. Whether they are lovable or despicable, they are so vivid. I love the fact that we are able to see more of Carmer and Grit’s friendship and how it has progressed since the last novel. They are a perfect pairing and complement each other so well. And I absolutely adored the new additions to the cast, particularly Bell and another character that enters closer to the end (no spoilers!). Everyone is so fleshed out and multi-dimensional, so it is hard not to become emotionally invested in them and their lives—they will work their way into your heart.

Horwitz seamlessly captivates her readers by making her work accessible to all generations. It is hard not to get caught up in this fantastical world—the type that fuels your imagination and feeds your soul. She not only has a huge amount of talent as a writer, but she is also extremely gifted when it comes to writing fresh, unique stories that still retain that timeless, fairytale-like quality. She is truly doing what she is clearly meant to do by writing these types of novels, and I am completely blown away by what she has created.

Overall, I wholeheartedly adored this novel and never wanted it to end. It met and exceeded all of my expectations, and I was completely enthralled all the way through. Just like the previous installment, Horwitz has produced a story that—while targeted at a middle grade audience—is universally enjoyable, spanning every age group. This novel is an absolute masterpiece and will undoubtedly touch the hearts of every reader. I very highly recommend diving into this enchanting world, and I hope there will be more stories to come in the near future.

5.0 TARDISes

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Guest Post: Author Sarah Jean Horwitz

Today’s post is a guest post about the process of character creation, written by the very lovely and talented author, Sarah Jean Horwitz. Sarah writes the Carmer and Grit series, which rocketed up my all-time favorites list early last year. I am incredibly honored to have this chance to feature her on my blog and to work with her to promote her wonderful books! Please make sure to check out Sarah on her websiteTwitter, Instagram, and Goodreads. The Carmer and Grit series consists of The Wingsnatchers and The Crooked Castle.

How to Grow a Boy

14612081The Crooked Castle, my second book in the Carmer and Grit series, begins with something very large crashing into Carmer’s roof.

Well, not something, exactly – someone. 

When seventeen year-old balloonist Bell Daisimer loses control of his balloon and literally crashes into the lives of Carmer and Grit, he starts a chain of events that leads them to a magical flying circus, a brand new mystery, and a whole lot of scary faeries. An aspiring pilot always game for an adventure, Bell helps Carmer and Grit navigate the aeronautical community they suddenly find themselves immersed in. The story couldn’t exist without him.

But Bell Daisimer was not always a balloonist.

In fact, the Bell Daisimer that exists on the pages of The Crooked Castle is nothing like the character I originally imagined – and that’s what so great about him, and about writing stories in general. Back in the early days of brainstorming for the book, Bell was one of the first characters I knew I wanted to add.

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The first book’s villain ran a number of enterprises, including a scientific school for boys. With the villain’s defeat came the unraveling of many of his businesses. Bell had little connection to said villain, but he was a scholarship student at that school. Bell lost his scholarship in the fallout, and at the start of the second book, he was determined to find out the real reason behind his benefactor’s meteoric rise and fall.

Bell was supposed to spend the book as the thorn in Carmer’s side, always sticking his nose where it didn’t belong, eagerly searching for evidence of faerie magic. Much of the book’s plot at that time revolved around telephone and radio technology, so Bell was named after – you guessed it – Alexander Graham Bell.

If you’ve read The Crooked Castle – or even taken a casual glance at the jacket! – you’ll know that there’s nary a mention of telephones, radios, or dissolved educational institutions. But Bell Daisimer somehow managed to make it through every iteration of the story, evolving and changing until he became the character on the page today.

thewingsnatchersThis character evolution was a new experience for me. Most of the characters in The Wingsnatchers simply popped into my head, fully formed and ready to be written. Carmer, Grit, the Amazifier, Kitty, Gideon Sharpe, Madame Euphemia – even minor characters like Echolaken and Ravene – they all simply appeared in my mind’s eye, walking and talking almost exactly as they do in the finished draft. I was extremely lucky to have such a great cast of characters pop out of nowhere, ready and waiting to be written about.

While writing The Crooked Castle, however, fewer characters appeared to me as fully formed. Many, like Bell, started out as mere seedlings of ideas. Perhaps I knew one or two of their distinguishing features, or how I wanted them to function in the story. I definitely had to work for them, teasing out their voices through lots of brainstorming, reading aloud, and revisions. 

Sometimes, stories and characters come easily, like a garden that flowers all at once, filled with vivid and healthy and complementary plants. Maybe they need a bit of rearranging or a bit more sun here and there, but otherwise, they’re complete. Other times, you’ve got to stare at your plot of dirt for a bit, plant a few seeds, and coax them into something beautiful yourself. You’ve got to go in pruning and weeding and watering and getting your hands dirty. Both processes have their pleasures – and at the end, you’ve still got a garden. The trick in storytelling, of course, is to make the finished story smooth enough that no one can tell how you grew it!

I hope you and your readers enjoy meeting Bell and the new cast of The Crooked Castle. Though this book was a challenge for me, I do hope to write more Carmer and Grit stories in the future. I can’t wait to see how my garden will grow with each one.

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The Crooked Castle will be out on April 10th! And of course, make sure to check out The Wingsnatchers as well!
My review of The Crooked Castle will be up in a few days, and if you would like to read my review of The Wingsnatchers, click the teacup below!

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Review: The Wingsnatchers by Sarah Jean Horwitz

thewingsnatchersThe Wingsnatchers by Sarah Jean Horwitz

My Rating: 5/5 TARDISes

Series: Carmer and Grit

Date Published: April 25th, 2017

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Pages: 368 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: A stunning debut about a magician’s apprentice and a one-winged princess who must vanquish the mechanical monsters that stalk the streets and threaten the faerie kingdom.

Aspiring inventor and magician’s apprentice Felix Carmer III would rather be tinkering with his latest experiments than sawing girls in half on stage, but with Antoine the Amazifier’s show a tomato’s throw away from going under, Carmer is determined to win the cash prize in the biggest magic competition in Skemantis. When fate throws Carmer across the path of fiery, flightless faerie princess Grit (do not call her Grettifrida), they strike a deal. If Carmer will help Grit investigate a string of faerie disappearances, she’ll use her very real magic to give his mechanical illusions a much-needed boost against the competition. But Carmer and Grit soon discover they’re not the only duo trying to pair magic with machine – and the combination can be deadly. 

In this story perfect for readers of the Lockwood & Co and Wildwood series, Sarah Jean Horwitz takes readers on a thrilling journey through a magical wooded fairyland and steampunk streets where terrifying automata cats lurk in the shadows and a mad scientist’s newest mechanical invention might be more menace than miracle.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

I just finished this novel, so I’m still having a bit of trouble settling my thoughts down so I can put them into actual words. Over the years, it has become much rarer for me to give out a full five-star rating to a book, but I absolutely adored this novel. After only the first chapter—maybe even the first few pages—I was already completely hooked and in love with everything about it. It is one of those books that is written for a younger audience, but ends up transcending those limits, creating a magical tale that can be enjoyed by anyone.

This is truly a heart-pounding book. Horwitz quickly makes her readers fall in love with her characters from the very start, causing us to feel a huge range of emotions through all the trials and successes, funny moments and those that break our hearts. I laughed so hard. I deeply felt the moments of fear, pain, and sadness. And I have to admit, I even shed some tears, primarily at the nostalgic feelings this novel evoked for me. I tore through these pages, finding it so hard to put down. I just had to know the fates of these characters I had come to love so much.

Full of mystery, magic, industry and mechanical science, from start to finish it is a compelling tale full of captivating steampunk goodness. It has been a long time since I have been so drawn into a novel. It threw me back to my childhood, to all the years I spent dreaming up fairytales and magical worlds. To all the years of constantly hoping to reach a point where I am able to spend the rest of my days bringing these stories to life for others on paper and in their minds, the same way they came to life for me—the same way they have given me life all these years. This particular tale is most definitely going to stick with me for a long time.

In this novel, we follow the adventures of a young boy named Felix Cassius Tiberius Carmer III (Carmer for short) and a one-winged fairy princess of the Seelie realm named Grettifrida (but always call her Grit). Carmer, a magician’s apprentice and aspiring inventor, and Grit, a sassy, flightless fire fairy, are thrown together as a chance meeting evolves into a race to save the entire fae realm—as well as themselves and the city of Skemantis—from a mad scientist.

When fairies begin to go missing, captured by an unknown evil they have named “The Wingsnatchers”, it is up to Carmer and Grit to get to the bottom of the mysterious disappearances. And what is the connection of these odd events to the unexplainable ones simultaneously occurring in the human world? Mixing science with fantasy, real magic with the closest replications that humans can accomplish, this is an enchanting and fast-paced modern fairytale that will leave readers on the edge of their seats, wanting more.

The depiction of the characters—both the main and the side ones—was one of the standout points of the book for me. Every single one of her characters are fleshed out quite well, and even the most minor of characters are memorable. Carmer and Grit have such a lovely friendship, even though they are each struggling through plenty of their own troubles.

Carmer is attempting to take control of his future and leave behind his past as an orphan, and Grit is trying to make others understand that her disability does not define her—that she is as strong and capable as anyone else, despite what people may think. Though they have some extreme—and understandable—differences and find themselves at odds occasionally, once they learn to trust one another, they end up making a brilliant duo.

This is Horwitz’s first novel, but it reads as if she has been writing for decades. Flawlessly executed and incredibly beautiful, her writing is fluid and easy to fall into. It grabs hold of your imagination, your senses, and hangs on long after the final page has been read. Her vibrant descriptions and world-building are solid, showing her talent for weaving her stories into the minds of her readers.

I truly had an enjoyable time using Horwitz’s vivid narrative to put myself into this unique setting. I felt like I was there watching these events unfold right alongside the characters. She also relates this book to our present world by dealing with some themes that are very common in society today. Horwitz handles every aspect of the novel with care, meticulously unfolding an action-packed narrative. This was just such a fun adventure I did not want to pull myself out of it until I ran out of book.

I will reiterate—though I know I don’t have to at this point—that I completely fell head over heels for this novel. And unsurprisingly, I would highly recommend it to anyone and everyone. It is a beautifully crafted tale of family, friendship, and how two exceedingly dissimilar groups can set their differences aside and team up to fight a threat that affects them all.

Overcoming obstacle after obstacle—even those their own families and sometimes they themselves place in the way—Carmer and Grit unite in a heart-warming friendship that withstands the forces that test it. This is a fantastic beginning to a promising series. Though I don’t quite know how I am going to stand the wait, I am extremely excited to get my hands on any and all future novels.

5.0 TARDISes

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