Monday, July 31, 2017

Review: THE HUNDREDTH QUEEN

Hello! I hope you are having a wonderful day. I figured I'd wrap up the month of July (where did it go?!) with review of a YA book called THE HUNDREDTH QUEEN.



What is it about?

Kalinda, an orphan who has spent her life in the Sisterhood's mountain temple, is chosen by the king to become his hundredth wife. She's whisked away from the only life she's ever known and taken to the palace, where she must fight in a tournament to the death to secure her place as one of king's wives.

But as she's pulled into a plot to kill the king by the element-controlling bhutas (a group persecuted and butchered by the king Kalinda is supposed to marry) and she begins to fall in love with her guard, Kalinda must confront the secrets and danger surrounding her before they destroy her.

You can check out the Goodreads page for the book here.

My review:

I really enjoyed the Indian-inspired world and mythology. So many fantasy books take place in a world with a European feel, and it's refreshing to read a book set in a world that doesn't feel like medieval England. The setting descriptions make the world feel alive as you read the story. The writing manages to be descriptive but not clunky, something I definitely appreciate.

The fantasy elements in THE HUNDREDTH QUEEN are really fun, and I wish that there were more scenes filled with bhuta magic. Based on the cover, it feels like there should be a lot of magic in the story, but the book felt more focused on the many layers of politics at the palace rather than the fantasy part.

While the writing isn't amazing, it is quite accessible. The book reads more like a contemporary novel rather than a high fantasy book, so if you are just getting into YA fantasy, I can see how this book would be a good place to start.

THE HUNDREDTH QUEEN attempts to explore the role of women in a patriarchal culture and tries to convey the power of sisterhood. While I appreciate the author's attempt, the message of female empowerment is overwhelmed by the mean girl stereotypes that abound throughout the novel. When the author does try to expand upon the themes of female power through the narrator's thoughts, the book begins to feel preachy, which succeeds in bogging down the already slow-moving plot.

Overall, THE HUNDREDTH QUEEN felt like a book that was trying to do too much. There's a political plot, the romance subplot, the arena fighting plot...and rather than combining to create a fast-paced book, all these elements make the plot felt clumsy. However, the amazing world, fun magic, and accessible writing make up for the stilted-in-places plot.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Sarah J. Maas Preorder Offer!

For those of of you who don't know, I am a HUGE Sarah J. Maas fan. I love her THRONE OF GLASS series SO MUCH, and I'm really excited for the next book in the series, TOWER OF DAWN to come out this fall!

Here's the beautiful cover of TOWER OF DAWN for those of you who haven't seen it:


It's different from the other THRONE OF GLASS covers because it follows Chaol rather than the usual suspects. To be completely honest, Chaol is not my favorite character in the series. In fact, he ranks pretty low on the favorite character list.

That said, I'm hoping that TOWER OF DAWN will give me a different perspective on him as a character. Plus, I love Sarah's writing style, so I'm really here for that.

If you have already preordered TOWER OF DAWN (or are planning to!), here's the link to the preorder giveaway! I REALLY love the pouch, so I'm excited to get mine in the mail when TOWER OF DAWN comes out.

I am in no way affiliated with the giveaway. I'm just trying to pass the news along because it seems like so few people hear about them.

Here are my reviews for book one, book two, and book three in the series (there may be spoilers!).

That's it for today! Have a great week!

Monday, July 17, 2017

OwlCrate vs. FairyLoot

Last week, I did a review of FairyLoot's June box. Today I'm putting OwlCrate and FairyLoot head to head, talking about the pros and cons of both boxes based upon my experiences with both companies.

Let's start with the box itself. OwlCrate and FairyLoot both have adorable boxes. The boxes are well-designed, and they appeal to the bookworm in me. OwlCrate's box has a more nerdy leaning while FairyLoot feels more fantasy, but that fits the culture of both boxes well.

Next up: the spoiler cards. Both boxes include a card with original artwork on one side and a list of the items included in the box on the other. The OwlCrate spoiler card is significantly smaller than the FairyLoot one, which is nice because it's easier to tuck into the pages of a book or use as a bookmark. The FairyLoot spoiler card is too large to be used as a bookmark, but unlike the OwlCrate spoiler cards (which usually have the name OwlCrate written prominently and in large letters), FairyLoot spoiler cards have the company's name written in the bottom corner, out of the way of the artwork. This makes it feel like you could display the FairyLoot card for the design in a way you can't for OwlCrate spoiler cards.

Neither box has spoiler card art that takes my breath away, but I think I like the FairyLoot artwork a little bit more than OwlCrate's. That said, OwlCrate's spoiler card artwork is always a surprise, unlike FairyLoot, who uses the same artwork on the spoiler card to announce the theme on their website and Instagram.

As far as the information included on the card is concerned, the writing for FairyLoot's spoiler card is more awkward and less fun than OwlCrate's. However, I like that FairyLoot writes down every item in the box on the card. In my experience, OwlCrate doesn't include extras (like free samples for soon-to-be-released novels) on their spoiler cards.

What about the items in the box? OwlCrate and FairyLoot send out a similar number of items in each box, but the items in the FairyLoot boxes feel bigger and more useable to me. While OwlCrate usually has two "large" items (e.g. candle, tote bag, pillowcase, box of tea) per box, FairyLoot tends to have three or four.

I've noticed that OwlCrate sends out more items specific to a certain fandom or story (although I have noticed them moving away from that) while FairyLoot is more concerned with items that fit the theme.

The books. A book subscription box would not be what it is without the book. I have been really happy with OwlCrate's selections in the past, but I'll admit that some of the books they've chosen have not been my favorite. However, their taste in books is more similar to mine than FairyLoot's. 

The books themselves are similar in footprint: a recently released and hardcover edition of a YA book. OwlCrate has started doing exclusive covers, but I usually like the "real" cover more than the ones they send. 

The book's extras. Both boxes include a letter from the author and a signed bookplate. FairyLoot's book comes in a little bag and includes a bookmark and reading buddy card, which are nice touches that make the box feel special. OwlCrate usually includes stickers, a poster, a temporary tattoo, or another item from the publisher to go with the book. There's something about book-related swag that I love, so I'm a big fan of that.

Announcing the next theme. OwlCrate and FairyLoot both post the next month's theme on Instagram, so following them there is a great way to know what's next. Of course, you can also find that information on their respective websites. 

Both boxes also include an announcement in the box itself. The back page of FairyLoot's FairyScoop discusses the next month's theme, talks about the book and which fandoms will be represented (such as Harry Potter), and reveals a supplier for the box. OwlCrate, on the other hand, includes a small card with the theme on one side and a sneak peak on the other. The art you'll find on the back of the FairyScoop is exactly what will be on the next box's spoiler card, but the OwlCrate cards feature art that you won't see in the box itself. And I do have to say that I consistently love the art on the OwlCrate sneak peak cards!


Here's a picture of two OwlCrate theme announcement cards.
(It didn't turn out as well as I would have liked, but oh well.)

What about the box's price? OwlCrate boxes are $29.99 USD if you don't count shipping and handling. FairyLoot's July boxes are £26.00, which is about $34.00 (I'm rounding a little bit) at the current exchange rate.

This means that OwlCrate boxes are slightly less expensive than FairyLoot boxes. While only a significant drop in the value of GBP will make FairyLoot cheaper than OwlCrate, the conversion rate will change the price of FairyCrate boxes in USD.

How much does shipping cost? Shipping on book subscription boxes is not cheap. OwlCrate and FairyLoot shipping prices depend upon final location. For people in the US, OwlCrate shipping is $6.99 USD. The shipping on a FairyLoot box to the United States is £14.00, or about $18.00 USD.

Because of the nature of having one box in USD and the other in GBP, conversion rates do come into play. In addition, shipping ranges wildly based upon where you live. If you live in the United Kingdom, FairyLoot shipping will likely be cheaper than OwlCrate's $19.99 international shipping cost.

My verdict. I feel like I get a greater number of useable items from FairyLoot, but the shipping price places it in the "for special occasions only" area. OwlCrate is more affordable, but I feel like I often end up with items that don't have a place in my life or that belong to a fandom I'm not a member of.

I hope that helps you get a better sense of the similarities and differences between the two boxes! Which box sounds better to you?

Monday, July 10, 2017

FairyLoot June Box Review!

Hello! I'm returning this week with a review of FairyLoot's June box! This is the first FairyLoot box I've received, and I'm excited to share it with you.

Before we being, maybe I should explain what FairyLoot is. FairyLoot is a YA subscription box (similar to OwlCrate, another book subscription box I reviewed back in September). FairyLoot is a little different because it focuses on fantasy books (rather than all YA genres). That said, they'll occasionally include a book with a science fiction feel. If you are interested in checking out FairyLoot's website, here's the link.

I'm trying to become a little better at photography (my goal is to one day is to have more of my own photos on this blog, rather than just taking the occasional book cover off of Goodreads), so I took my Fairyloot box and camera outside to a garden in order to photograph the goodies I got in my box. I'm proud with how (most of) the pictures turned out, and I hope you enjoy seeing the items up close!



Here's the FairyLoot box! FairyLoot ships worldwide from the United Kingdom, and my box got a little damaged in the mail. You can see the dent in the box above. Luckily, none of the items inside the box were harmed.


(You can see the damage from the shipping on the box in this picture, too.)

One of my favorite things about subscription boxes is how cute the boxes themselves are! FairyLoot boxes have a lot of cool little details that make the box feel extra-special. My two favorite touches are the quote written on the box (which states "Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten") and the story written on the interior of the box. If you look close enough, you can see the writing on the inside of the lid.


Like OwlCrate, every FairyLoot box has a theme. June's theme was "Elementalist." Above is the spoiler card featuring artwork based on the theme. You can also see the writing on the inside of the box that I was talking about earlier.

The back of the spoiler card explains what the box contains and why FairyLoot decided to include it. The explanations on the card did an excellent job describing the inspiration behind each item, and I liked how that gave the items context and it helped all the items in the the box fit together under the theme's umbrella.

 

The biggest item in the box was the pillowcase designed by Miss Phi. I absolutely love the design (the colors are even prettier in real life!), and I ran out and bought a pillow for it as soon as it arrived. The quote on the pillow makes it a perfect addition to my reading chair.

I had a really hard time getting a decent (let alone good) picture of it, so forgive me! I'm still learning.


FairyLoot also included potion sticky notes. It doesn't say on the packaging (or the spoiler card!) who made them, but I think the little bottles are adorable. I'm not sure what I'll do with them, but I know that they will make my office a little more magical!

According to the spoiler card, the purple is for health, the blue is for magical power or mana, and yellow is for stamina.


The box also included lip balms based off of the different benders in Avatar: The Last Airbender. I'm a huge fan of Avatar, so I was really excited to receive something based off of the television series. Geeky Clean made lip balms for all four elements, and I received the waterbending one.

A few days before I received my FairyLoot box, my family was debating what type of bender I would be. I've always thought of myself as the firebending type, but they agreed that I would be a waterbender. I guess the universe (or maybe just FairyLoot!) agrees.


One of my favorite items included in the box is this bar of soap. Made by Ascent Bath And Body, the soap smells absolutely amazing...which is a good thing because everything from the FairyLoot box smells like it, too!

The bar of soap itself is black and features glitter in it. The triangular shape makes it a little hard to use, but I love it too much to care.

(Fun fact: it took me FOREVER to find a good place to take a picture of the soap.)


I received a bracelet made by In The Moment. The bracelet features a hamsa hand charm next to a shiny bead. According to the spoiler card, the hamsa hand is a protective symbol that brings the owner happiness, health, luck, and good fortune.

The bracelet itself is pretty, but it's probably my least favorite item from the box. Not only is the bracelet not really my style, but I'm also allergic to the metal that was used to make it. I'll probably end up giving it to a friend.


Another one of the cool items included in the box was a handmade vegan candle by Witchwood Remedies. FairyLoot sent out five different candle scents, and each one is based on a different type of magical storm in the book they sent out this month. I received the Firestorm candle.

The candle itself is very pretty, and I love the botanicals and crystals on top of the candle. When I first opened the candle and smelled it, I wasn't a huge fan of the scent. But it's started to grow on me. Maybe the candle just needed to age a little bit?

The candle's scent is hard to explain. It smells a little bit like a campfire with a touch of something else I can't put my finger on.

Here's a picture of the candle from above. You can see the bright red, orange, and yellow toppings.


FairyLoot also included two "extras"--a postcard based off the FROSTBLOOD series and a sample of THE WALKING LAND.


I haven't read FROSTBLOOD before, but this postcard definitely piqued my interest. If you can't read it, the postcard says:

Destroy the throne
Kill the king
Take your revenge

Pretty catchy, huh? 


FairyLoot also included a sample of THE WAKING LAND, which came out in late June. It looks like a really interesting story, so I'm excited to dig into the sample. The cover seen here is the UK edition, and the vines on the cover may have influenced my decision to do garden-y photos for this post. 

Now that I've gone through all the fun items in the box, it's time for the most important thing included in the box...the book!


FairyLoot sends the book in a cute drawstring bag. It has the FairyLoot logo on one side and the words "Happy Reading" on the other.


This month's book was...
ROAR by Cora Carmack!

Inside the drawstring bag, there's the book, a signed bookplate, a FairyLoot bookmark featuring the same artwork as the spoiler card, and a letter from the author. You'll just see the bag, book, and signed bookplate in the picture above.

I haven't read the book yet, but it looks really interesting and I can't wait to start it.


FairyLoot also included a small pamphlet (called FairyScoop) that includes an interview with Cora Carmack, next month's theme, and book recommendations for books similar to ROAR. I thought it made a nice addition to the box, and it was a fun way to get to know the author beyond her bio in the back of the book.

Before I sign off this rather long blog post...


FairyLoot includes a card with a reading buddy number. Two people get the same code, so you can track down the other person on Twitter or Instagram and share your reading experience with him or her.

So...if you received #FairyLoot00257, feel free to email me! I don't have an Instagram or Twitter account, so this is as close as I can get to reaching out to my reading buddy.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Have a lovely day!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Review: THE UPSIDE OF UNREQUITED

Hello there! I know I said that I wanted to be back in the blogging game mid-June and it is now July, but everything has been REALLY busy lately. I feel like I say that all the time now, but it's true!

The good news is that I WILL be blogging more often. I sat myself down and really considered how blogging fits into my life, and I realized that it's something that is really very important to me. That's why I'm working towards making it a priority again, but please be patient with me as I try to get back into the flow of things!

To kick things back into gear, I'm here reviewing THE UPSIDE OF UNREQUITED.


I love how the cover manages to connect to SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA but still stands apart as its own story. THE UPSIDE OF UNREQUITED stands alone, but a handful of characters from SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA make cameos in THE UPSIDE OF UNREQUITED.

(Phew. Typing those long titles out is exhausting! From here on out, I'm calling them SIMON and UPSIDE. Cool? Cool.)

A summary from me:

UPSIDE is about a seventeen-year-old girl named Molly Peskin-Suso (if the last name Suso looks familiar, it's because Abby from SIMON is Molly's cousin!). Molly falls in love often--she's gone through twenty-six crushes--and hard. But despite how much her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to make a move, Molly can't let go of her caution. That's why she's never been kissed, let alone had a boyfriend.

When Cassie falls for a new girl named Mina, Molly begins to feel a chasm opening up between them. She worries about growing apart from her sister, and she can only see one solution: dating Mina's friend, Will. But as much as she keeps pushing herself to fall for Will, she can't let go of her growing feelings for her coworker Reid. But can she manage to put her fear of rejection aside and turn crush twenty-seven into boyfriend one?

And one from Goodreads:

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back. 

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?


My review:

First and foremost, I really liked the diverse cast in UPSIDE. The world we live in is made up of people from a variety of backgrounds, and I thought that UPSIDE did a good job reflecting that.

The writing was also very good. It's similar to the writing style of SIMON, which means that it tends to be rather philosophical without turning pretentious. The dialogue feels real, and the descriptions of the different areas and neighborhoods make you feel like you are there alongside the characters.

Molly was an interesting narrator. I loved her affinity for crafts and small creative touches, and that part of her personality came out in the way she described the world around her. However, I struggled to connect with her obsession with getting kissed. There's no doubt that Molly is more than a little boy-crazy, but her persist narration about romance made it hard for me to sympathize with her and made her feel unrealistic. I kept hoping I'd learn something new about her and she'd start to feel more three-dimensional, but that never happened.

Like SIMON, UPSIDE is more than just a story. It's also chock full of amazing messages about growing up and letting go of fear. Growing apart from siblings is a theme that features prominently, and it is one that I connected to personally. Another great message talks about there not being an age where one has to meet certain "growing up" benchmarks (such as being in a romantic relationship). That's a message I want to see in more YA books, and I was a little disappointed because I felt like the rest of the story undermined it.

Unlike SIMON, UPSIDE leaned too heavily on getting its messages across that the story started to sag in places and left a number of threads underdeveloped. According to readinglength.com, UPSIDE is over 100K words long. I can't help but think that Becky Albertalli could have used that space to expand emotional impact of the story. I enjoyed every scene in UPSIDE, but many felt unnecessary to the messages or the plot.

UPSIDE's biggest problem isn't that it is a bad book--it's just that it isn't as good as SIMON. As I read it, I kept waiting for all the feels and geekiness and cuteness of SIMON to show up. And while some of that stuff was certainly present, it just wasn't as good as SIMON. I'll certainly pick up Becky Albertalli's next book. I just hope it's a little closer to SIMON than it is to UPSIDE.