Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo • Review

Although I didn’t reach my goal of 50 books read in 2016, I still read plenty of great novels that I otherwise may not have picked up. One of those books was Six of Crows, which is about a group of ragtag ruffians and thugs on a mission to break into an impenetrable fortress in a foreign land. I absolutely loved it and when I found out there was a sequel, Crooked Kingdom, I knew I had to get my hands on it right away.

It was in this way that I fell head over heels in love with the world and characters created by Leigh Bardugo. I’d go as far as to say she’s now one of my all-time favourite writers. She has such immense talent and a gorgeous flow to her writing that you just don’t see that often anymore.

A friend of mine picked up the first Grisha novel, Shadow and Bone, for me for Christmas and I finally sat and read it yesterday. I couldn’t put it down and finished it in a few hours. The story follows an orphan girl called Alina Starkov as she discovers a unique power within her that thrusts her into the world of the magical elite. She must trust the mysterious and dangerous man known as the Darkling in order to destroy the Shadow Fold, an area of darkness that is slowly destroying the war-torn nation of Ravka. Along the way, she must face up to her love for her childhood friend, Mal, the feeling that she doesn’t belong and her attraction to the fearful Darkling.

I loved the character of Alina from the get-go and I especially loved how she was described, her personality and her simple goals. Alina isn’t a stunning beauty like so many other protagonists in fantasy novels, she’s fairly plain but sometimes pretty when she gets enough sleep and uses her power. When she says no, she means no, and she’s complex and insecure and worried about not just herself but her childhood friend and her country. She isn’t self-absorbed and she’s just so likeable. I could see myself being friends with her.

There are plenty of twists in the story and many things I didn’t expect, particularly in relation to Mal and the Darkling. I love being surprised by the direction a story takes. Naturally, this book is still full of the type of clichés us fantasy YA readers are used to at this stage – female protagonist with power she didn’t know she had, two love interests, a palace with an incompetent royal family etc. – but Bardugo takes those clichés and writes about them in such a way that it feels so fresh. Her storytelling is unexpected, surprising and at times completely delightful.

I loved learning more about the Grisha that Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom introduced to me, and I’m eager to re-read the series to see what Easter Eggs I can spot! Alina Starkov actually made an appearance in the book through the eyes of Nina Zenik, the homesick Grisha Heartrender trying to save a man she wronged and her fellow refugees.

Overall, I really loved this book. It really made me visualise what Ravka is like and I’m looking forward to seeing how Bardugo expands her world further in Siege and Storm & Ruin and Rising. Her characters are memorable and complex and full of life and I’d be practically hyperventilating with excitement if someone dropped book 2 and 3 in my lap right now. It’s the start of what I have no doubt is an excellent series, and I heartily recommend you read it if you like stories with magic, war and dangerous love.

Fairyloot Unboxing December 2016 • Sci-Fi Adventure

As you probably know, I’m a big fan of Fairy Loot, and even though I’ve only received two boxes total, I would still heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a quality bookscription box. Unfortunately, I don’t have the spare funds to buy it every month, but hopefully in the next couple of months I’ll be able to subscribe again. For now, however, I’ll be pining from afar.

fairy loot december

I received December’s box a couple of weeks ago but didn’t take the time to put up any information on it (my bad!), which is a shame as I filmed a video on November’s Royals And Rogues box, which you can find on my YouTube channel.

This month’s theme was Sci-Fi Adventure and I really enjoyed the contents! I’m not hugely keen on receiving Pop Funkos in boxes because a lot of the bigger boxes all have that and they just seem very similar to me; there’s so little that’s unique about them anymore and quality takes a nose dive. I don’t want that to happen to Fairy Loot, but I think it was a one-time thing for Christmas and the release of Rogue One.

fairy loot december

I got a Stormtrooper (although I would’ve LOVED C-3P0) and I’ll count my lucky stars I didn’t get Rey (as I accidentally have two of her!) He now sits proudly on top of my vanity table, guarding my makeup from any rebels looking to steal setting powder.

I also received Kryptonite bath powder from Geeky Clean. I actually got the October horror box from GC and loved it. It’s cruelty free (and vegan!) and the company has a huge range of sweet smelling wonders. Apparently the kryptonite smells like cupcakes but unfortunately it can’t weaken Superman. You’ll have to get REAL kryptonite for that!

I also got a pair of galaxy socks which are very cute, although I think they’re made of polyester which isn’t the most feet-friendly material. However, they’re nice to look at and lounge around in on a cold day! They’re exclusive to Fairy Loot as well, which is nice.

The Starbound trilogy makes an appearance in this box (which unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to read yet!) in the form of an exclusive watercolour bookmark by Lexy Olivia. Also included are art prints and buttons which were designed exclusively for the box by Taratjah. One of the prints features the boys from the Lunar Chronicles and the buttons feature Darrow and Sevro from the Red Rising trilogy.

fairy loot december

Bonus items include a sampler for Way Down Dark (which, to be honest, I’m not remotely interested in) a Red Rising art print and The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet art print as well. The people who put the box together also included a Christmas postcard, which was a cute touch. It’s nice to see the faces behind the business.

Finally, the book is a blend of sci-fi and rebellion. Flashfall by Jenny Moyer is the first in a new series that apparently features strong characters and is set in a unique world. Let’s hope that promise is fulfilled! It came with a signed bookplate, letter and bookmark from the author, of course.

I’m excited to get stuck in and hopefully add Flashfall to my new #30kbookchallenge for 2017. Here’s hoping it’s a good one! I’ll be sure to post a review whenever I’m finished.

I hope everyone had a wonderful new year!

REVIEW • OWLCRATE UNBOXING OCTOBER 2016 – ONCE UPON A DREAM

October’s Owlcrate arrived a few days ago but I was in Lithuania at the time so I only got around to opening it today. It’s lovely coming back to mail, particularly when that mail contains a glossy new book with some cool accessories!

In this month’s box I received a fabric button bookmark from My Heart My Tribe. I got a black and white one which I’m delighted about because I know there was a blue one too but I wouldn’t have liked it as much. Black and white goes with everything!

owlcrate october 2016

I also got a passport notebook from The Unemployed Philosopher’s Guild. There were some pretty fun details included inside that are reminiscent of the movies, which was a nice touch. I’ll add it to my pile of little notebooks I haven’t yet used! You can never have enough!

Owlcrate collaborated again with The Geeky Cauldron to create a bangle charm bracelet inspired by Sleeping Beauty. Personally, that movie scares the crap out of me (the fireplace with the green ball and THAT MUSIC still haunts me to this day). The bracelet is exclusive but it’s not really my cup of tea. It’s still quite nice though, particularly for a fan of the Disney movie!

owlcrate october 2016

I really liked the green beanie from Whosits & Whatsits inspired by the Lost Boys in Neverland. There’s a cute little red feather embroidered on the front and the colours are just perfect coming in to fall and winter.

Finally, the book I received is called Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, and it came with a signed bookplate and an exclusive tattoo. The book is a darkly atmospheric tale about the magic that occurs in the middle of the night. Based on Russian folklore, this is the tale of Vassa and her magical wooden doll Erg as they try to survive working the night shift at an incredibly ‘imagery’. It sounds really interesting so I’m excited to start reading it this week!

owlcrate october 2016

Overall, the box was pleasant but not very inspiring. I haven’t felt very excited about a box for a few months now so it may be time to move on to another subscription box.

I think this might be one of my last Owlcrates as I’m eager to switch over to Fairy Loot. It’s a little cheaper and the contents seem to be of higher quality so I might continue getting boxes until December and then switch.

Did you get the box this month? What did you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

REVIEW • OWLCRATE UNBOXING SEPTEMBER 2016 – DARKNESS

September’s Owlcrate box, which has a ‘DARKNESS’ theme, has arrived and once again I’m really happy with the contents. I was surprised that the company decided to go for this theme in September rather than October what with Halloween, but I think it’s because some of the other subscription boxes have been quite similar lately and Owlcrate might have been trying to get in there early and avoid that next month.

‘ONCE UPON A DREAM’ is the October theme so it’ll be interesting to see what they include to match the theme. I hope it’s not too airy fairy!

In this month’s box, I got a candle inspired by Throne of Glass, a very popular and highly rated series that I haven’t gotten around to reading just yet. The candle itself is apparently an exclusive from The Melting Library but unfortunately the sticker on mine is a little worn and I’m not crazy about the scent, but I’m sure it would be a favourite item of people familiar with the series.

Owlcrate September 2016

I also got some merchandise for Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children, which is another book on my TBR list. The merch I got was a canvas pouch featuring a spooky quote from the novel by Out Of Print. The movie is coming out very soon so it’s not surprising that this item was included. I’m a big fan of cute little bags and as I have an ever-expanding makeup brush collection, this will definitely come in handy!

I also got a bath fizzer from Da Bomb which is apparently a fortune teller type product. You ask a question that’s been on your mind, toss the fizzer in the bath water and wait for the answer to appear. Definitely a fun product – I can’t wait to use it!

I also received an exclusive bookmark from Evie Bookish featuring a quote from Six of Crows. I love a good bookmark and it’s bang on theme for October so I’m happy with it even though I haven’t read the book. Speaking of books (finally!), I received two in this crate, one of which is called Remade (apparently it’s an ongoing episodal book – it looks quite interesting) and the main book, called Three Dark Crowns.

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The story, by Kendare Blake, is about three sisters who are each blessed with unique powers but also cursed with the need to fight the others to their death in order to claim the crown of their kingdom. The idea sounds quite cool and I’ve already got stuck in (only 11 pages but still…) so I hope to have a review up in the next few days.

Unfortunately, I was unlucky this month because most of the products were inspired by series that I haven’t read yet, however it does give me a bit of a kick in the butt to tackle my TBR list.

Overall it was a great box and I’m excited to try out all the new things I received.

Did you get this month’s box? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

REVIEW • Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

I don’t even know where to start reviewing this. I could gush for hours about how much I loved this book because I really REALLY loved this book!

In the run-up to The Force Awakens, several books were published to promote the movie and to drop clues about the upcoming stories in novels that readers had to find. It was an exciting prospect but I must confess I didn’t really buy into it; I bought a lot of the books that came out but they’re still on my TBR list unfortunately. However, I got around to reading Lost Stars yesterday and, oh my goodness, it is one of the best YA novels I’ve ever read.

The book is written from the perspective of two childhood best friends, Thane and Ciena (pronounced SIGH-ENNA), who came together through a mutual love of flying. As they grew up, they were joined at the hip with a shared goal of joining an Imperial Academy so that, one day, they could fly for the Empire.

Lost Stars review

If you already know of the warring factions in the Star Wars world, then you’ll be thrilled to see odes to events and people throughout the book. If you’re not familiar, basically all you need to know is that the Empire is considered evil in the movies and the Rebellion are heroes and freedom fighters. The book is fascinating in that the story is told from the perspective of two good people who were indoctrinated from a young age into thinking the Empire was a force of good in the galaxy and that the Rebellion were the terrorists.

It’s so so interesting to see the justifications and mental gymnastics that otherwise good, capable people can go through to justify the actions of a clearly evil Empire because of extensive brainwashing and fanaticism. It’s incredibly poignant and I think it’s a great commentary on the world we live in today in terms of patriotism, blind faith and the matter of honour, which for Ciena in particular is absolutely integral to her character and her culture.

The characters are written so well and the author constantly keeps you guessing. The relationship between the two main characters was wonderfully paced and felt incredibly natural, if not overdue by the time they both acknowledged their feelings. The bond that the two of them share goes beyond love and friendship and seems to be tied by fate as well, which is so exciting and heartbreaking to see as they both try to do their best to stay true to their beliefs while also trying to protect each other.

Lost Stars review
This is the official image of Ciena.

The side characters, too, were so easy to remember and they were interesting all on their own. Often I find that characters whose function is to prop up the MCs are very one dimensional, boring and forgettable. However, I can remember every single one of the side characters names even now after having finished the book, even ones who weren’t in it very much.

The book was pegged as a kind of Romeo and Juliet style story and it absolutely accomplishes that. Thane and Ciena are truly star-crossed lovers (literally) and you will get so invested in their story, I guarantee it. Not only is this the best Star Wars book I’ve read, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read, and I heartily recommend it!

You would enjoy this book even if you weren’t into Star Wars at all! The book focuses a lot on the connection between Thane and Ciena, so you can ignore the other (incredibly interesting by the way) parts of the book that relate to the Star Wars world.

Have you read this book? Did you love it as much as me? Let me know in the comments!

REVIEW • OWLCRATE UNBOXING AUGUST 2016 – Fast Times At YA High

I just received this month’s Owlcrate and, I have to admit, it wasn’t their best. I mean, perhaps it was for someone really into the romance genre and likes Rainbow Rowell novels, but that’s not me.

I never read romantic books, they’re just not my thing, so I was a little sickened to get PS I Like You by Kasie West. It’s not only a romance book, it’s also set in a high school so there’ll be plenty of tropes and clichés and bitchy mean girl drama. I’m sure she’s a good writer, but I just don’t like books like that. You can’t win them all, I suppose!

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Anyway, there was also a lovely Harry Potter print included that I really love, but that was definitely my favourite item in the box. In close second is a composition notebook with a really unique inside and back cover (it’s almost too pretty to write in). There was also a de-stress colouring book and a packet of colouring pencils, which was a nice addition, but I already have a few of those that I haven’t even opened yet.

There was also a necklace inspired by Eleanor and Park, a book by Rainbow Rowell, but as I haven’t read the book I wasn’t too excited about it. It’s a nice necklace though!

Owlcrate August 2016

Overall, if I knew the contents of this box I wouldn’t have bought it, but that’s the nature of subscription boxes – you DON’T know and that’s part of the fun. Worst case scenario, you don’t like the contents, but then you have a few things lying around to pawn off as birthday/Christmas gifts 😉

Next month’s theme is DARKNESS and I’m very excited. I really loved the Good vs Evil box so I’m hoping the next one will be just as good!

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I was also looking at Fairy Loot because from what I’ve seen they’re right up my street. There’s a waiting list, however, as the box is so popular! So for now I’m going to stick with Owlcrate as it’s a nice monthly treat and it usually brightens my day.

Are you subscribed to Owlcrate? Did you like this month’s box? Let me know in the comments!

REVIEW • OWLCRATE UNBOXING JULY 2016 – Good VS Evil

This title isn’t entirely correct! This month’s Owlcrate’s theme was Good VS Evil and each reader got a box with one of those themes. The one I got was ‘evil’ and I couldn’t be happier! I thought I was going to miss out on this month’s box because there was trouble with my card (some fecker tried to rob me, but c’est la vie!) but thankfully, that wasn’t the case.

In my box I received a full size POP Funko figure of a dementor from the Harry Potter series (it actually looks so frightening, I love it!) as well as a sticker that I know is from The Illuminae Files that says ‘Am I not merciful?’. At first I thought it was something to do with Loki, as I haven’t read The Illuminae Files, but I found out the source from Instagram. Good ol’ reliable Instagram. Side note: I must put that book on my TBR list.

As well as these items, I got a very cute magnetic bookmark of the Queen of Hearts. I got bookmarks last month too but I prefer this one by far. For one, it’s bigger (which I prefer) and I like the design better. I know people who received the ‘good’ box got a bookmark featuring Alice.

Owlcrate July

The book this month is called This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab. I’m already a massive Schwab fan (A Darker Shade of Magic is fantastic – if you haven’t read it, do!) and I actually made a note of This Savage Song back in January as a book I wanted to read. Needless to say, I was delighted to receive it. I’ve already finished it and it was a really great read. It was quite unique and had interesting characters minus the cliché romance so a win-win all round! I’ll probably write up a review of it soon.

I also received an engraved necklace of the Death Star from Star Wars, with ‘good’ boxers getting a necklace of the Millenium Falcon. I have to say I actually prefer the Death Star one as I have a lot of Millennium Falcon things already, plus the Dark Side snagged me years ago!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – quality is better than quantity. There were fewer items in this box than previous boxes but they’re of higher quality and I like them much better. I think this is my favourite box so far (actually, no, there was another one where I received a pen quill and mini book about things to write about). So second favourite then!

Did you receive this month’s Owlcrate? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!