February 2017 OwlCrate Review

My February OwlCrate arrived in the mail a week or so back, and is absolutely incredible! This month ranks up there with the November box, which featured Heartless and a ton of fun Alice in Wonderland goodies! (Sadly, I did not have a chance to review November’s box, with its proximity to M’s birthday, Thanksgiving, and a ton of visiting relatives making my life quite busy and chaotic!).

OwlCrate is a monthly book subscription box that sends you a magical box each month, tailored to a fun theme. Each box includes a newly released, hardback YA novel, and 3-5 bookish items related to the monthly theme.

This month’s theme was so much fun: RUN AWAY WITH THE CIRCUS!!!

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Look at the delightful box of goodies just waiting to be uncovered!!This month was packed with awesome-sauce!

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I was thrilled about every item that came in this box, which doesn’t always happen (The book pin from the December box wasn’t all that exciting, nor was the desk calendar from the January box).

Pictured above:

  • Page flags from Girl of All Work. I desperately needed page flags, so these arrived at the perfect time! They are fun and whimsical and so much more interesting than the page flags found at Target or Staples.
  • Mini doughnut flavored lip balm from Geek Fire Labs. As soon as I saw this my heart deflated a bit. I have a coconut allergy and can’t use most lip balms, because coconut is in almost ALL of them. Literally, I have one brand I can use and I don’t like it all that much. So I was shocked and incredibly excited to read the ingredients and find…no coconut!! It smells delicious and goes on smooth…I will definitely be buying more of these!
  • Le Cirque de Reves candle by Frostbeard Studio. A blend of caramel popcorn, roasted chestnuts and bonfire…and it smells divine.

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  • Tote bag by Evie Bookish, inspired by The Night Circus. I love this bag! I recently lost my favorite tote to take to the library, so yet again, this item came into my life at the perfect time!
  • A notepad made with recycled playing cards, by Attic Journals. I always have a small notepad stashed in my purse, and this is the perfect size for that purpose!

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I had a very strong suspicion as to what book would be featured in the February box, and I was right! I can’t wait to read Caraval, and this month’s book came with a signed bookplate, exclusive quote card, and a letter from author Stephanie Garber!

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If you’re thinking of buying an OwlCrate subscription, here’s my referral link to get you started! Next month, M will join the party when she receives her first OwlCrate, Jr. box!

What do you think of this month’s OwlCrate? Any guesses as to which book will be in next month’s box? The theme is Sailors, Ships and Seas!

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Book Review – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

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Book: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Authors: J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne
Publisher: Little, Brown UK
Genre: Plays, YA Fantasy

It took me ages and ages to build up the courage to read this one.

Okay…maybe not ages…but at least six months.

For many of the same reasons why I struggled to read Go Set A Watchman. Because sometimes the originals are best left as is. Don’t mess with them!

I love the Harry Potter Universe, and I had heard grumblings about Cursed Child, so it took me a long time to decide that I still wanted to read it. Because….how can I not read another J.K. Rowling – approved Harry Potter book?

And you know what?

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I liked it.

I definitely understand how some HP fans are disappointed in this. Harry comes across as a bit of a douche (of course, he sometimes did as a teen as well). Delphini is a bit…shall we say, lackluster, as a new character. And it’s not an 8th HP book, not matter how many spells you cast trying to make it so.

That’s okay with me. I personally never wanted an 8th Harry Potter book. And Cursed Child has what I did want, some amazing cameos. I won’t say how those cameos come to be, but let’s just say it is glorious. It’s serious, yet funny, and an amazing romp back in the world of Hogwarts. Being a play, it also has some excellent snappy and witty dialogue. Stuff like this had me rolling:

Hermione: If some part of Voldemort survived, in whatever form, we need to be prepared. And I’m scared.

Ginny: I’m scared too.

Ron: Nothing scares me. Apart from Mum.

 There was one part of the book that absolutely breaks my heart. I don’t want to spoil anything or go into details, but Harry does a BIG father no-no in one scene with Albus, and it had me tearing my hair out. What were you thinking, Harry?!

Overall, The Cursed Child was good fun, but I do hope it rests here. It’s time to leave the Harry Potter world alone. As much I adore it, I adore it as it is.

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Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Book Review: Heartless by Marissa Meyer

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Title: Heartless
Author: Marissa Meyer
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Genre: YA Fantasy, Retellings, Romance

There seem to be some misconceptions floating around Goodreads, and other places, about Heartless. It is not written in the same style as The Lunar Chronicles. It is not a spin-off or side story of that world. It is set in the Victorian past, Lewis Carroll’s era, not the future. It is fantastic.

What Heartless is: a wonderful prequel story about the Queen of Hearts. Marissa Meyer does an amazing job recreating Wonderland; I felt that I was right back in Lewis Carroll’s zany, twisty-turny crazy world. I highly recommend that any reader of Heartless start out by first reading both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, if you haven’t done so already. And then revel in the creative, true to the original, back stories that Marissa Meyer created for so many beloved Wonderland characters: the Mad Hatter, the household of the Duke and Duchess, the Red and White Queen of Chess. The Mock Turtle, the silly King of Hearts, the Knave, Mr. Caterpillar…Cheshire. Cheshire! And of course…the future Queen of Hearts.

I like retellings of fairy tales and classic stories, but I am very, very picky when modern-day authors take a classic story and add on a prequel or sequel. I have barely tolerated almost every single Pride & Prejudice sequel ever written (I’m looking at you, Death Comes to Pemberley). So I went into Heartless quite cautiously.

Marissa Meyer did not disappoint.

“But hoping,” he said, “is how the impossible can be possible after all.”

Catherine, daughter of a Marquis and Marchioness, is a young woman whose only desire is to open a bakery with her close friend, house maid Mary Ann. Her parents have other plans, as she also happens to be a favorite of the King, who attempts to propose to her at the beginning of the novel. At the same Royal Ball where she runs from a possible proposal, Catherine meets Jest, the mysterious and new court Joker. Cath is determined to make her own pathway through life, with the person she chooses to love, in a world that has other plans for her.

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Of course, I had to have my own tea party while immersed in the world of Wonderland and Hatta’s Tea Party (before he goes mad)! I visited Dobra Tea Shop in Asheville on Tuesday and had a lovely green tea with a ginger and sesame cake. The only thing missing was a lemon tart or macaroon! A reader must definitely be well-stocked in delicious pastries before sitting down to read this one!

“Mind my words, Cheshire, I will have you banished from this kingdom if you tempt me.”

“An empty threat from an empty girl.”

She rounded on him, teeth flashing. “I am not empty. I am full to the brim with murder and revenge. I am overflowing and I do not think you wish for me to overflow on to you.”

“There was a time” – Cheshire yawned – “when you overflowed with whimsy and icing sugar. I liked that Catherine better.”

Heartless is heart-breaking. You know where it is going, it’s like a train wreck that you can’t derail. No matter how many times you scream NO!! DON’T DO THAT!!, there is nothing that you can do to stop Catherine from becoming the Queen of Hearts we all know and love to hate.

The journey is definitely worthy of a Lewis Carroll character.

Not only is Heartless a fantastic stand-alone novel, I also seem to notice a progression in the writing. I have read and enjoyed all of the Lunar Chronicles books, and this one seems a step above. Bravo, Marissa Meyer! She strikes just the right balance without becoming too nonsensical. I hope she continues to write more stand-alone novels!

Rating: 4.5/5 stars.

Book Review – Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

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Title: Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: YA Contemporary

Rainbow Rowell seems to be one of those YA authors that “everyone should read”. So, I figured it was about time I picked up one of her books and read it!

I picked up Eleanor & Park on a whim this month, as it was not in my planned November reading list, but I am so thankful I did. It was just what I needed right now. The characters are offbeat misfits; the story is both heartwarming and heart-achingly tender.

Eleanor and Park. Eleanor, Eleanor…I loved her, flaws and all, although the majority of her flaws were due to her horrendous family members, not her. I have seen Eleanor’s behavior before, in a friend or two, and Rainbow Rowell really nailed what it can be like living in an abusive home. My heart bled for her and her siblings so many times. It was devastating to read about her lack of basic necessities – like food and clothing – and the creative ways she learned to compensate. Particularly her self-created fashion style, born out of necessity, totally owning it. Eleanor was a teen in pure survival mode, building a wall of protection around herself and not letting anyone in through the gate…until Park comes along.

Park. PARK. I wish I had a Park back when I was in high school. What a sweet guy. He’s kind and sweet and just awesome. His family was wonderful, too.

The two of them together were so adorable. And I love how they slowly , awkwardly connected, over comic books! I think I do a happy dance every time characters bond over books.

Shakespeare. Rainbow Rowell incorporated Shakespeare into the story, and it really, truly worked! I love when Shakespeare references work. Rowell uses Romeo & Juliet to help frame the storyline – you find out in the very beginning that the story doesn’t necessarily have a “happily ever after” ending for the two young-and-in-love teens, and it is further amplified by the Shakespeare references early on.

The Ending. I won’t say what happened, but feel free to discuss in the comments, which I am making a SPOILER zone! Did you like the ending? I definitely liked the way it ended. For the most part.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

ARC Book Review – The Blazing Star by Imani Josey

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Title: The Blazing Star
Author:  Imani Josey
Publisher:  Wise Ink Creative Publishing
Release Date: 6 December, 2016
Genre: YA Fantasy

*This ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Book Blurb:

Sixteen-year-old Portia White is used to being overlooked—after all, her twin sister Alex is a literal genius.

But when Portia holds an Egyptian scarab beetle during history class, she takes center stage in a way she never expected: she faints. Upon waking, she is stronger, faster, and braver than before. And when she accidentally touches the scarab again?

She wakes up in ancient Egypt—her sister and an unwitting freshman in tow.

Great.

Mysterious and beautiful, Egypt is more than they could have ever imagined from their days in the classroom. History comes alive as the three teens realize that getting back to the present will be the most difficult thing they’ve ever done. Stalked by vicious monsters called Scorpions, every step in the right direction means a step closer to danger.

As Portia and the girls discover that they’re linked to the past by more than just chance, they have to decide what it truly means to be yourself, to love your sister, and to find your way home.

The Blazing Star contains so many incredibly awesome components: time travel to Ancient Egypt and Egyptian mythology, a diverse cast of PoC characters, strong female protagonists, and a gorgeous, breath-taking book cover. I know, I know, a book cover in no way represents the quality of writing inside of a book, but LOOK AT IT. I bow down at the feet of the artist who designed it, because I love the cover THAT much.

Much of the story revolves around the twinning, or lack of twinning, going on between Portia and Alex, as they try to find out why they were pulled back in time into ancient Egypt, and how they can get home. It’s a fun, original mash-up of fantasy, Egyptian mythology, and magic. Imani Josey truly did an amazing job of making me, the reader, feel as if I was back in Ancient Egypt with the girls. What makes the time travel plot work so well is the characters that Portia, Alex, and Selene meet. My favorites were definitely the Priestesses of the Temple of Isis: High Priestess Weret, Sikara, and Tasherit. The Prince of Egypt was exasperating.

The first half really held my attention, and did a moderately successful job of setting up the world and mythology that we learn about as the novel progresses. However, sadly, the story begins to lose its way in the second half, and in my opinion, starts to fall apart a teeny tiny bit. It became harder and harder to keep track of the timeline, and all the characters that come in and out of the story. The plot advances, but there are definitely some holes and gaps, and character’s actions that don’t make a lot of sense, which started driving me batty about 2/3 of the way through the book.

The ending is unresolved and definitely leaves room for a sequel, but also had me feeling as this was a case of lost potential. I really, really wanted to love The Blazing Star, but ultimately, it fell a bit short.

Rating: 3/5 stars.

Book Review – Gilded Cage by Vic James

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Title: Gilded Cage

Author: Vic James

Publisher: Del Ray Books

Release Date: February 14, 2017 (a lovey-dovey Valentine’s Day book, this is not!)

Genre: YA Fantasy, dystopia, alternate history

 

 

 

 

 

Book Blurb:

Not all are free. Not all are equal. Not all will be saved.

Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.

A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.

Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?

A boy dreams of revolution.

Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.

And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.

He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

*This ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Wow. What Gilded Cage turned out to be when I started reading is not what I expected! That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as I truly enjoyed this novel.

Gilded Cage takes place in an alternate England. A world in which power is often determined by whether or not you possess Skill (i.e. Magic). In this slightly dystopian England, the aristocrats are not descended from royalty, but gifted with Skill, and are known as Equals. Everyone else is deemed commoners, and must submit themselves to a decade-long period of slavery at some point during their lives.

The story primarily follows the young-adult aged children in two families. Luke and Abi, whose whole family has just started serving their slavedays. And the Equals: Heir Gavar, his unskilled brother Jenner, and mysterious Silyen. Gavar, Silyen and Jenner are part of the Parva-Jardine family. The Jardines are one of the most powerful families in England, and most of Abi’s family has been sent to their estate, Kyneston, to serve as slaves in the household.

All except Luke. Luke is separated from his parents and sisters at the beginning of the novel to serve his slavedays in Millmoor, one of the slavetowns. Millmoor is absolutely horrendous, with deplorable conditions, inadequate shelter and food, and excruciatingly long workdays.

Chapters alternate between the POV of Abi, Luke, Gavar, Silyen, and Bouda Matravers – Gavar’s fiancée.

What I liked:

  • It’s dark and mysterious. Chattel slavery in a modern setting? Pulling ten-year olds and teenagers out of school to do their slave days? A sprawling estate in the British countryside with a mysterious son who wields extraordinary magical powers? Yep…Gilded Cage definitely set the right tone for a dark and delicious storyline.
  • Silyen. Silyen, the youngest Jardine son and wielder of extraordinary powers. The extent of his powers remain unknown throughout much of the novel, and I loved the suspense of finding out just what he can do, and what his motives truly are.
  • Nuance. Thank you, thank you, Vic James for giving your characters nuance and subtlety. There is unflinching cruelty, and lovely acts of kindness…and sometimes the cruelty and kindness come from the same person. Morality, and doing something kind for the wrong reasons (or vice-versa), is definitely a theme in Gilded Cage worthy of analysis.
  • Millmoor’s version of Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men. Parts of the novel feel as if it takes place in the 19th century. And then you have the Millmoor revolutionaries: hackers and tech geniuses. Awesome-sauce!
  • Multiple points of view. The best parts of the novel, in my opinion, were the POV from Abi, Luke and Silyen.

What I didn’t like:

  • Multiple points of view. Yes, I have this in both categories. It worked really well in some ways, and not so much in others. There were too many, and I felt like Bouda’s especially, was too much.
  • The only time swearing was used was when a guy was calling a strong, powerful woman a bitch. This really bothered me. I don’t mind when there is a lot of swearing in novels, in fact, I have a bit of a sailor’s mouth myself. And the majority of the “bitching” came from Gavar, who could definitely be a sexist jerk on a regular basis. Many of the women in the novel: Bouda, Hypatia, the Overseer of Millmoor, are not very likable characters. And here are some of the words used to describe them: Overbitch, bitch-queen fiancée, harpy like Bouda, and sanctimonious old biddy. That last one is in reference to Armeria Tresco, one of the few Equals with abolitionist tendencies. Okay, Gavar is a sexist jerk, as are some of the other men. But why isn’t it called out by any of the other characters? Or even acknowledged, anywhere? Did Vic James realize how this can sound to a reader? It really did not sit well with me at all, and is one of the main reasons why the novel does not get a 4-star review from me.
  • In the same vein, only two characters were people of color, and one of them was actually referred to as looking like a thug at one point. The poor guy is beat up to the point that he is unrecognizable, yet he is described as having a “thuggish aspect”. Seriously? In a novel about slavery and oppression? Not cool.

Would I recommend Gilded Cage? Yes, especially if you are a fan of dystopias and alternate histories. However, the above negatives make this a hesitant recommendation, instead of a “go out and read this now!!” review.

Rating: 3/5 stars

OwlCrate – October 2016 Review

My first OwlCrate arrived this week! I was so excited to find it sitting sweetly on my front porch two days ago.

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OwlCrate is a YA monthly book subscription box that sends newly published YA novels and assorted goodies tied in to each month’s theme. Past themes include Diversity, Steampunk, and Dystopia. The October 2016 theme was ONCE UPON A DREAM, and it was certainly filled with dreamy, wonderful things!

Do not read any further if you don’t want to be spoiled as to the contents in October’s box!

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The first thing you see when you open the box is this cute postcard that gives you a hint as to which fairy tales will be referenced this month. The once upon a time theme comes to life with items that reference Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan, and The Wizard of Oz.

There are so many wonderful items in this box, so I have absolutely no remorse whatsoever over splurging on a subscription box! The folks behind Owlcrate did an excellent job of curating quality items that fit in well with the monthly theme.

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Here’s what this box contained:

  • The first thing I picked up was an adorable beanie from Whosits & Whatsits, inspired by the Lost Boys of Neverland! I have a small head, so it is a tiny bit too big, but not so much that I won’t wear it. The Neverland beanie is super, super cute, and would make the perfect accessory for the daily walks to and from M’s school. Added bonus: every time I look at it, the Lost Boys song by Ruth B pops into my head. I am a lost boy from Neverland, usually hanging out with Peter Pan….
  • A gorgeous bracelet by The Geeky Cauldron, exclusive to Owlcrate! Inspired by Sleeping Beauty, it has a small spinning wheel charm, and a pendant that says Once Upon A Dream.
  • Wizard of Oz passport notebook from The Unemployed Philosopher’s Guild. There are lots of cute details, including a passport photo page on the front inside cover, and a little footnote in the back, “Click your heels together to go home. Only valid when wearing ruby slippers.” How adorable is that? It’s the perfect size to jot down book recommendations – or a grocery list – when you are out and about.
  • A fabric button bookmark from My Heart My Tribe. Different fabrics and styles were sent out, unfortunately I received a pastel pink that is probably my least-favorite color, ever. Oh, well, you can’t win them all! I can never have too many bookmarks, so it will still be used!
  • Fun odds and ends: A button inspired by this month’s theme – it shows the spinning wheel from the postcard – and a bookmark advertising The New World Series by Jennifer WIlson.

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  • Finally, but most importantly, is the book included in this month’s box! Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter came with a signed bookplate, note from the author, and temporary tattoo. An urban-fantasy take on the Russian folk tale “Vassilissa the Beautiful”, it sounds like a very interesting read!

Vassa in The Night by Sarah Porter

Published by Tor Teen

Genre: YA fantasy

Release date: September 20, 2016

Book Blurb:

In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling out again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair… 

Next month’s OwlCrate…has a Wonderland theme! I am biting my nails in excitement, as it happens to coincide with the release of Heartless by Marissa Meyer!! I don’t know if that is the book or not, but whatever book is included is going to have an EXCLUSIVE Limited Edition cover!! Oh, please, please be Heartless!!

If you would like to give OwlCrate a try, please use my Referral link here!

Have you ever tried OwlCrate, or another book subscription service? What did you think? Have you read Vassa in the Night?