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Month: March 2018

Unboxing: Bookworm Candles & Crafts Bookish Box (March)

Unboxing: Bookworm Candles & Crafts Bookish Box (March)

Company: Bookworm Candles

Theme: Folklore Dreams

Contents

Everapple 7oz candle jar, based on events in The Cruel Prince

The Shire 4oz double wick candle tin based on Lord of the Rings

Goblin King 2oz candle tin inspired by Wintersong

Trollus 2oz candle tin inspired by The Malediction trilogy

A Throne of Glass inspired pouch

The Language of Thorns bookmark by At Home Amongst the Clouds

Faerie Wine lip balm from LitBalms

A Lord of the Rings print

A Cardan print

A folklore dreams badge

A compact mirror featuring Ignatius from the Summoner trilogy

I absolutely loved this box. I have a lot of candles from Bookworm Candles, primarily because their candles can be trusted to consistently cast scent through a room when they’re burning, and while I have candles from other companies that are very pretty, I’ve yet to find some that are both aesthetically pleasing and burn as efficiently and effectively as these. The colours and scents of the candles, and the decoration and the jar/tin designs of Bookworm Candles are beautiful and I’m sure I’ll continue to be a customer for a long time.

I really enjoyed The Cruel Prince and it was brilliant to items in this box themed on the novel. The Everapple candle smells sweet, but not cloyingly so, and I can’t wait to burn it (once I’ve used it in some Bookstagram shots!). The choice of quotation for the lid is great and an apt one for the novel as a whole, let alone the incident the candle alludes to.

Pictured on the right are the The Shire (green), Goblin king (yellow) and Trollus (blue/green) candles. I think my favourite is The Shire for its fresher notes, but the other two have great scents too – slightly sweeter – and are just my kind of thing. I’m not particularly fond of candles with heavy perfumes and they walk a nice line between floral and syrupy.

More Manon merchandise seems to be appearing in various book-related subscription boxes of late (yay!) and I was thrilled to find a pouch with a quotation about The Thirteen on it. I use a lot of fabric pouches for jewellery and nail varnish, etc, when on the move and find them infinitely useful.

The Language of Thorns remains one of my favourite reads after many months and many books. The design on the bookmark is beautiful and it’ll be finding a home in one of my copies of the book. Other paper goods in the box included two prints, one Lord of the Rings themed and another of an anime inspired illustration of Cardan. They’re both good quality, but not really my thing, though admittedly I was interested in this box primarily for the candles!

The lip balm smells lovely and I’ve already been to LitBalms’ Etsy shop to order a couple more of their products (they’re having an Easter sale until April 4th!). I’ve not read the Summoner books, but the compact mirror is adorable and I keep one in my handbag (co-incidentally, the one I’m using now is from a previous Bookworm Candles box).

All in all, this box made me smile, which has to be a good thing. I’ve never been disappointed by anything I’ve purchased from Bookworm Candles and this is no exception. The box is fantastic value for money, especially considering how many candles you receive, the size they are, and the amount/quality of the other goods included. Great products, great customer service… what more could you ask?

Unboxing: Fae Crate (March)

Unboxing: Fae Crate (March)

Company: Fae Crate

Theme: Bewitched

Contents

The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw + postcard and signed bookplate

Sightwitch candle from Spidey Scents

Angela the Herbalist ‘Craft your own Brew’ by Albion Tea Co

Swan Sisters tea strainer

Alba’s Forgetful Cakes mug cake mix

Manon mug by Verge of Wisteria

Marvelous Land of Oz Map

Sanderson Sisters magnetic bookmark by Coolyeti Creations

Bellatrix Lestrange post card from Chioink

Free ebook download of Scythe of Darkness by Dawn Husted

So many book box subscription services had a sea theme for March that I deliberately avoided ordering them, assuming that the book would be either To Kill a Kingdom or The Wicked Deep, the first of which I had loved and read an ARC of and the second I was a little on the fence about (and had an odd feeling that it would be the pick for Fae Crate) until I actually had the book in my hand. I was beginning to regret that I didn’t have a hardback copy of The Wicked Deep when the box arrived, so I was pleased to see it was the choice for this month. I look forward to reading it once I get a couple more ARCs finished and reviewed.

For my favourite item in the box, I can’t decide between the candle and the mug. It’s lovely to see a decent sized candle in a subscription box and it both smells and looks beautiful. This isn’t to say that I don’t like seeing smaller candles in other boxes, but that I tend to end up less inclined to burn them in-case they get used up too quickly. As for the mug, Manon swiftly became one of my favourite characters from the Throne of Glass series and it’s nice to see more merchandise dedicated to her appearing. I love the dragon design!

I am exercising great restraint and not experimenting with the ‘craft your own brew’ until summer hits us (if it ever does…) and I can enjoy making brightly coloured iced drinks with the ingredients. It’s a good twist on a standard tea! What restraint I’m employing there may well mean that the mug cake mix is gone by this evening, as I have zero control when it comes to making mug cakes. I’ve mentioned this about another subscription box, but it’s great that everything you need for helping make the tea (the swan tea strainer) and the cake mix (mug) are included in the box. Yes, I’m sure most people have mugs to hand, but I like to get use out of the items in subscription boxes and will be making the cake mix in the Manon mug. <3

I’ve already used the Land of Oz map in a Bookstagram photo (yet to be posted)! I’m a huge fan of the Wicked musical and the ‘Wicked Years’ series by Gregory Maguire. Out of Oz is one of my favourite books: “I may not know how to fly, but I know how to read, and that’s almost the same thing.” 

Unfortunately, the magnetic bookmark and postcard aren’t my kind of thing, as I’m not a fan of either source material, but they are both excellent pieces of artwork. I’m sure I can find homes for them with friends who will appreciate them more than me, so that’s a positive too.

I love that a second book is included in e-book form. Bookish goods are wonderful, but an extra book is a real bonus.

Though I really loved Fae Crate’s March box, I’m afraid that I probably won’t be ordering another box unless I’m really interested in the theme of the month. The price of the box plus shipping to the UK prices it a bit far above some other subscription boxes from the US, and while I’m sure it’s a necessity owing to the size of the box being bigger, it means I end up paying almost as much for shipping as for the box itself. I really wish I could justify maintaining a subscription, as their future themes and item reveals look brilliant. If you’re in the US, I highly recommend checking out Fae Crate!

Review: Legendary by Stephanie Garber

Review: Legendary by Stephanie Garber

Title: Legendary

Author: Stephanie Garber

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Pub date: 29th May 2018

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.’

Admittedly, I read Caraval long after it was released and after I had heard a lot of hype about it. However, it was a book that managed to live up to expectations and was well deserving of the praise it had received (and led to my pre-ordering more than one copy of Legendary over the past few months). To expect Legendary to be Caraval is unreasonable. What the novel does well is capture the same magic and experience of the world we were introduced to in the first book, creating a sensory journey that leaps off the page and hauls you into it whether you like it or not. Garber certainly knows her way around a simile and how to employ patterns of three to snare the reader.

I truly enjoyed Legendary, but I felt that its pacing just wasn’t quite right. I was waiting for the narrative to take off and found that I was still waiting after having read over half of the novel (I thought I was still in the opening third of the text at this point). This isn’t to say that there aren’t interesting and engaging events in that first half, but it feels as if they’re leading to something that doesn’t actually happen until much later. Much of the action is in the last third of the book, as seems to be quite standard of late, and while I absolutely did not want to put the story down at this point, I also felt like I’d done a lot of work to get there.

I’ve heard more than one reviewer remark that Tella isn’t as likeable as her sister, whereas I found it to be quite the opposite. Tella reads as more of a realist, willing to take risks when she must, not always thinking things through, and acknowledging when sacrifices must be made (even if these sacrifices aren’t her own). She’s got harsher edges than Scarlett and seems to make mistakes with her eyes wide open. It isn’t necessarily that she’s more vibrant than her sister, yet she feels somewhat more alive and real and relatable.

Legendary is a strong follow-up to Caraval and sets the stage for the third novel in the series. Much of its charm is in revisiting the world and the game – in knowing that there are no real rules and not trusting that what conclusions you’ve reached are going to turn out to be right. Despite returning to a setting we’re familiar with, Legendary reads as more of an adventure than Caraval, with higher stakes and greater risks. Thoroughly enjoyable.

I received an ARC of Legendary from NetGalley and the publisher.

Review: Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

Review: Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

Title: Ash Princess

Author: Laura Sebastian

Publisher: Pan Macmillan – Macmillan Children’s Books

Pub date: 14th June 2018

‘The queen you were meant to be.
The land you were meant to save.
The throne you were meant to claim.

Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. Ten years later, Theo has learned to survive under the relentless abuse of the Kaiser and his court as the ridiculed Ash Princess.

When the Kaiser forces her to execute her last hope of rescue, Theo can’t ignore her feelings and memories any longer. She vows revenge, throwing herself into a plot for freedom with the help of a group of magically gifted and volatile rebels.

Forced to make impossible choices and unable to trust even those who are on her side, Theo will have to decide how far she’s willing to go to save her people and how much of herself she’s willing to sacrifice to become Queen.’

I’d been wanting to read Ash Princess for months, so I was very grateful to receive an e-ARC!

I’ve read a lot of series openers lately that have the majority of the action occurring in the last third of the story, which is certainly one way of making sure that the reader wants to pick up the next book in the series, and while Ash Princess is not exactly the exception to this, it’s quite evenly-paced and weaves enough plot threads together to keep you engaged without too much heavy-handed foreshadowing. It’s never entirely clear who you can trust, including Theodosia herself, being a somewhat unreliable narrator as she begins to cast off the mask of the person she pretends to be and become the person she could be. It feels very much that the Theodosia of the novel’s conclusion is not the woman that she has always been beneath the mask – it is not some miraculous transformation into an immediately more powerful, grown-up and indestructible creature – but that she is learning and being influenced by outside factors whether she likes it or not. It’s a refreshing change from characters who ‘find themselves’ and instantly become superhuman and beyond reproach.

Yes, there are some predictable elements. The romance, for example. I really hope it doesn’t develop into a love triangle that becomes a heavy focus of the story. I found Theo’s friendship with Cress, their power struggles and shifting opinions of each other, to be much more interesting and I hope that the events at the end of the novel aren’t magically fixed in the next instalment.

There are darker elements to the story that some might not find easy to read about, but they are not an unrealistic portrayal of what tends to occur when countries are invaded and people subjugated. I feel it would have been much more callous to ignore these elements and gloss over them for the sake of a lighter story. The decisions Theo makes in response to how she’s been treated may make her unlikable at times, but they also show what she has learnt at the hands of her oppressors and that there is not always a clear cut choice between right and wrong. It’s good to have a protagonist who can do ‘wrong’ and both regret it and decide to live with it.

I look forward to the next book!

I received an ARC of Ash Princess from NetGalley and the publisher.

Unboxing: Wildest Dreams Book Box (March)

Unboxing: Wildest Dreams Book Box (March)

Company: Wildest Dreams Book Box

Theme: Family Ties

Contents

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

‘The Weasleys’ inspired shower gel from Geeky Clean

‘The Carters’ English Breakfast Tea from Rosie Lea Tea

Far From the Tree tissues

Note from Robin Benway

This might be an odd thing to start off with, but I really appreciate that empty teabags in which to put the tea of month are included in the box! A lot of subscription boxes include loose teas and assume that you’ll have a tea steeper or something of that variety to use, and though I know I do have one sitting around somewhere, the chances of finding it when I want to use one of these teas? Zero. It’s thoughtful to include the teabags in the box and something I find very convenient. The branding on the tea is lovely and the The Hate U Give  is such a fantastic book (currently doing a re-read) that it put a smile on my face to see an item themed on it in this month’s box. That it’s an English Breakfast tea? Even better.

I also love Geeky Clean’s products! As mentioned in a previous unboxing, I’m not a fan of Harry Potter, but I tend to favour citrus scents in terms of bath products, so, the shower gel being orange scented, it will get used! As an aside (of sorts), the colour scheme of this box was just my thing. I’m on an orange/pink/green kick at the moment.

I’d not heard of Far From the Tree before finding it in the box, but I’ll be looking to read it soon. I’ve read a lot of fantasy/sci-fi YA novels recently and I’ve started looking for more contemporary YA books to read. The novel is described as follows: ‘When 16 year-old Grace gives up her baby for adoption, she decides that the time has come to find out more about her own mother. Her search leads her to two half-siblings she never knew existed. When these three siblings come together, they find in themselves the place they can belong, while the secrets they guard threaten to explode…’ Given that there are Far From the Tree branded tissues included, I’m going to take that as a warning that there will be tears! I’m still recovering from reading Brave Enough, so I might leave it a few days before jumping into this.

I subscribed to Wildest Dreams Book Box in February, so this is my second box. I’ve been impressed by both, particularly by the quality of the items included and just how reasonable the price is for what you get. It’s also great to see a more affordable UK-based subscription box, hopefully opening up more opportunities for young people to take out subscriptions and enjoy reading the books they receive. Great work.

Unboxing: Wonder Crate

Unboxing: Wonder Crate

Company: Ink & Wonder

Theme: Light & Dark

Contents

An A5 Harry Potter themed print

Sew-on Lord of the Rings patch based on the Phial of Galadriel

Star Wars magnet featuring a Leia quote from The Last Jedi

Enamel ‘Lumos’ Harry Potter themed pin (glow in the dark!)

A vinyl sticking featuring a quote from The Assassin’s Blade by Sarah J Maas

An A4 print featuring a quote from George R. R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings

A Harry Potter themed tote bag bearing a quote from The Prisoner of Azkaban

Four woodmarks with quotations from Emily Dickinson, Cassandra Clare, Stephen King and Bram Stoker respectively

Review

I should start this off by stating that I am not a fan of Harry Potter. This said, the quotations used on the products within the Wonder Crate are some of the few I actually know and I’ll be using all of them in some way or another. The pin is absolutely beautiful (and glow in the dark!), I’m always in need of tote bags and love the design, and the print will most likely be used in a YA books display I’m planning for work. The A4 Game of Thrones will probably be part of the same display. 

The magnet is not in the main photo of the crate’s contents because it went straight on my fridge! So, here’s a photo of it on said fridge.

My favourite item in the crate has to be the LotR patch. I was/am a huge fan of the LotR musical that ran in Toronto and London several years ago (they keep promising to bring it back, but, so far, no sign!) and it immediately made me think of it.  The patch has a lovely colour scheme that includes my favourites, and I’ll be looking for a bag to sew it to.

I love Ink & Wonder’s woodmarks, my first experience of which was in FairyLoot boxes. I was delighted to see so many of them in the crate! I think the Emily Dickinson one is my favourite, though the Stephen King one is a close second.

The Maas sticker will be going on my laptop, once I get over the worry that I’ll immediately find something else I’d rather affix it to (this I why I have a stash of stickers I like to look at, but never stick to things). It’s not a quote that I think I’ve seen on any merchandise before and it was great to see a Throne of Glass themed item that didn’t have one of the more overused quotations on it.

I was very impressed with the quality of all of the items in the Wonder Crate. In some crates from various companies, I find that there are sometimes items that I’m unlikely to use or don’t get to see the light of day again after the initial unboxing, but I immediately knew where most of the items here would be going/what I’d be using them for. I generally only order crates/boxes from outside the UK once every couple of months because of shipping and potential import fees, and though I did have to pay import tax for the crate (which I knew was a possibility and was completely prepared to pay), it remained a reasonable price in total and certainly what I would be willing to pay for contents of such high quality. If there are to be more Wonder Crates in the future, sign me up.

Review: Brave Enough by Kati Gardner

Review: Brave Enough by Kati Gardner

Title: Brave Enough

Author: Kati Gardner

Publisher: North Star Books (Flux imprint)

Pub date: 21st August 2018

To say that I enjoyed Brave Enough is to not phrase it correctly: what I appreciated about the novel was its realistic portrayal of living with pain and potential limitations and trying to learn how to overcome them.

There’s an honesty in how Cason makes progress and drifts backward throughout the story. She doesn’t constantly feel sorry for herself, yet nor is she relentlessly and unrealistically upbeat about her situation. For a girl her age, she does her best to cope with what she has to face and tries her best to grasp at what hope she’s given when she can, and is just as ready to disregard it when she can’t handle or face it. She is human and vulnerable and has her bad days and her good ones. Her struggles ring true – trying to claim what independence she can and simultaneously resigning herself to the future she’s painting for herself in particular – and I would have gladly read more about her. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried more than once before the end of the book.

I read the whole novel, start to finish, in one sitting. Admittedly, my focus was on Cason’s story more than Davis’, but, even so, I felt no need to rush through the chapters following him, which I’m finding rarer and rarer these days with books that employ more than one narrative point of view. The romance was a little predictable, yet not overplayed and didn’t detract from the main messages of the story.

Used properly and sensitively, I feel this book could make a fantastic class reader for children in their early teens.

I received an ARC of Brave Enough from NetGalley and the publisher.

Review: Clean by Juno Dawson

Review: Clean by Juno Dawson

Title: Clean

Author: Juno Dawson

Publisher: Hatchette Children’s Group

Pub date: 5th April 2018

”I can feel it swimming through my veins like glitter … it’s liquid gold.’

When socialite Lexi Volkov almost overdoses, she thinks she’s hit rock bottom.

She’s wrong. Rock bottom is when she’s forced into an exclusive rehab facility.

From there, the only way is up for Lexi and her fellow inmates, including the mysterious Brady.

As she faces her demons, Lexi realises love is the most powerful drug of all…

It’s a dirty business getting clean…’

I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about Clean and have been wanting to read it for a while. It did not disappoint. It’s actually not my usual sort of read, but I just couldn’t put it down once I’d started. Clean does not pull any punches and, despite the glamorous lifestyle of the protagonist, crafts a believable and engaging narrative that is not afraid to make you flinch.

At the book’s opening, Lexi is not a likeable character, leaving you wondering whether she’s going to demonstrate some redeeming features and make you want to root for her. She’s crass, she’s arrogant, she has the world at her fingertips, and yet there are glimpses of vulnerability and something darker – beyond addiction – driving her to be as she is, creating a compelling character whether you truly want to like her or not. The cast she meets in rehab are equally damaged and mostly subtly charming in their own ways, each present in the facility for a variety of addictions that lead to exploration of what addiction actually is and the impact it can have on a person’s life – and whether anyone really wants to be ‘free’ of it.

The use of bad language is frequent and can seem a little too much at the beginning, yet it becomes another part of Lexi’s ‘voice’ that you soon adjust to. It feels like another layer of her armour that is gradually chipped away at. Given the world that she lives in and the situation in which she finds herself, it’s sometimes easy to forget just how young she is. On the other hand, it’s her determination to seem grown-up and take what control she can of her life that often leads to her greatest mistakes and desire to lash out in a childish manner.

To have a main character that you can so strongly dislike at the beginning and not want to part with by the end is, in my opinion, the mark of vivid story and strong characterisation well worth reading, even if the subject matter might not make it easy. Highly recommended. It’s been nearly a month since I read Clean and I still feel as if I haven’t entirely left it behind. Get a copy of this one ASAP.

I received an ARC of Clean from NetGalley and the publisher.

Review: Twice Dead by Caitlin Seal

Review: Twice Dead by Caitlin Seal

Title: Twice Dead

Author: Caitlin Seal

Publisher: Charlesbridge Teen

Pub date: 18th September 2018

‘Naya, the daughter of a sea merchant captain, nervously undertakes her first solo trading mission in the necromancer-friendly country bordering her homeland of Talmir. Unfortunately, she never even makes it to the meeting. She’s struck down in the streets of Ceramor. Murdered.

But death is not the end for Naya. She awakens to realize she’s become an abomination–a wraith, a ghostly creature bound by runes to the bones of her former corpse. She’s been resurrected in order to become a spy for her country. Reluctantly, she assumes the face and persona of a servant girl named Blue. 

She never intended to become embroiled in political plots, kidnapping, and murder. Or to fall in love with the young man and former necromancer she is destined to betray.’

I’m generally not somebody drawn to books involving necromancy in their premise, but having enjoyed Reign of the Fallen, I decided to give Twice Dead a look. I have to say that I was not disappointed and truly enjoyed the story. The tale is one that gets to the core concept of the narrative – that Naya is transformed into a wraith – quickly and without a great deal of set-up, allowing for immersion in her world and understanding of what it means to have been resurrected to unfold naturally and without vast chunks of heavy exposition.

As with many protagonists in YA fiction, Naya has ‘unique’ elements that set her apart from others in her position, yet these are not overplayed and she does not become overpowered compared to the rest of the cast of characters, allowing each to have their moments and faults and failures without ever seeming too perfect to be true. Her transformation is not one that she immediately gets to grips with, nor is comfortable with, her hesitation and missteps ones that keep the reader interested and invested in her story. She’s a likeable, relatable character, never too arrogant even on occasions when she might have the right to be, and seems, well, human. However, given some of the subject matter in the novel, that we don’t see a great deal of the true emotional impact of events is also something that potentially keeps her at a distance from the reader. This said, it makes for a lighter and engaging read that’s easy to pick up again from where you’ve left off. If anything, I didn’t want to read through it too quickly because I didn’t want it to be over too fast.

The romance is a nice enough addition to the narrative, though it doesn’t (thankfully) hinge on it quite as much as the blurb would suggest. There’s also some LGBT representation that is handled sensitively and thoughtfully, which was lovely to see.

All in all, I look forward to the next in the series!

I received an ARC of Twice Dead from NetGalley and the publisher.