March Fairyloot Unboxing

I’ve received a few boxes from Fairyloot over the past year, one of my favourite book subscription boxes, and when I saw that not only was March their one year anniversary, but that the theme was ‘Myths and Monsters’, I obviously had to order one. (Being the fantasy/dragon/mythology/creatures lover that I am).

It did not disappoint.

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The first thing in this box were fairy lights, and not just any fairy lights but unicorn ones. You don’t understand how excited I was to receive these, especially as I broke my fairy lights a few weeks ago (I’m a bit of a klutz).

Next up were these two beauties – the first is a small handheld mirror with a brilliant mermaid design on the back, which is just beautiful. On the right is a pair of bookmarks which I adore, one of a dragon and the other a phoenix. You can already tell how well chosen these items are to fit with the theme, and the box includes such a range of fantastic items.

I didn’t think it could get much better, but lo and behold it did. There was a ‘Nephilim’ candle which packs such a punch smelling like cherries, and again just excellent timing as I’ve run out of candles. Then, my favourite item of the box (which I’ve already used) is a scarf of dragon scales. Ok, not actually dragon scales, but close enough. Pictured above, I’ve matched it with my dragon earrings and feeling like Daenerys ready to conquer the world.

Then, what we’ve all been waiting for, the book:

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I’ve seen this book all over the place, and for good reason. Laini Taylor is already well known for her bestselling series Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and to find out her new book fits in with a myths and monsters theme? I’m already a huge fan. This has definitely been added to my TBR pile, and I can’t wait to dive into it.

There’s a very good reason why Fairyloot is one of my favourite book subscriptions, and they’ve outdone themselves this month. 100% worth the money, and a UK company as well, so would highly recommend to everyone. If I had the money, I’d get it every single month – but, alas, I’m but a poor student. So if you can, definitely go out and get yourselves a Fairyloot! You won’t regret it.

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February Wrap Up

I actually managed to get through another three books this month which I’m especially proud of, what with the sudden onslaught of university work that came my way – and it doesn’t look like it’s going to let up any time soon. Still, there’s always a few moments I can grab to do some reading (and although I’m not mentioning them, I also read two books on my Kindle this month, both of which were easy, fun, and the complete opposite of uni reading).

First up was ‘Caraval’ by Stephanie Garber, which I’ve discussed previously in a blog earlier this month. It’s definitely for lovers of magic and fantasy, for fans of The Night Circus, The Crown’s Game and Schwab’s Darker Shades of Magic series. It definitely has that unputdownable element, as I read it late into the early hours of the morning. Fast-paced with fun characters and great twists at the end, after I finished I thought it was one of the greatest books ever. Once I’d had some sleep and reflected, I thought that whilst it wasn’t the best book ever, it’s certainly a great debut novel.

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Next up I read Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones. Inspired by Labyrinth with David Bowie as the Goblin King, this book follows Elizabeth as she tries to get her sister back. Surprisingly poetic, this is a book that is indeed pretty and dark at the same time. I almost wish it wasn’t tied to The Labyrinth as the writing really took off when it departed from the structure inspired by the classic. I did love how our heroine is always described as ‘unlovely’ of appearance, mainly because we were able to explore the different facets of her character. It was great fun to read, and I have a serious love/hate relationship with that ending.

And finally, I finished Hot Milk by Deborah Levy. I can easily recognise that this book is beautifully written, but for now I think I need to digest it and discuss it with others who have read it in order to truly understand what on earth has just happened. It seems I have more questions than answers, and I don’t know yet if that’s a good thing. I think I’ve found that I tend to prefer books that aren’t so literary, mainly because I find it difficult to escape within its pages to a different world. It’s a difficult one, as there are plenty of books considered to be literary that I’ve loved – take A Little Life, for example, which is still one of my favourite books. But as a wannabe writer, it’s good for me to see that complicated messages and symbolism don’t work for everyone, but that doesn’t make it any less of a good book.

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So for an update on the reading challenge – I can tick off Man Booker nominee thanks to Hot Milk, and both Caraval and Wintersong were published this year so that’s another one! I’ve decided in this ongoing process that books cannot have two ‘stars’ each or count for two different categories, just to make this more challenging for myself.

  1. 4 ‘Classics’
  2. *A Man Booker nominee
  3. *A Baileys nominee
  4. A Feminist Book cover to cover
  5. *‘A Blue Cover’
  6. A Graphic Novel
  7. A Horror Book
  8. Finish a series you’ve started
  9. A friend’s favourite book
  10. Poetry book
  11. Book over 500 pages
  12. Book under 150 pages
  13. Book with a character with your name
  14. An autobiography
  15. A play
  16. *A book from your TBR
  17. **Book published in 2017

Here’s to March!

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Magic Monday: Caraval, The Night Circus, and The Crown’s Game

I recently finished Caraval by Stephanie Garber, and since finishing I keep describing it by relating to other books – in particular, The Night Circus and The Crown’s Game, the first of which I’ve reviewed previously. The clear correlation between all of them is magic, but with the added element of spectacle and ties to the circus. Clearly something works with the format, and instead of doing a standard review for Caraval I’d rather look at all three books and see what it is about their magic and setting that makes them great reads.

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So let’s look at a brief overview of each book, starting off with one of my all-time favourites The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This enchanting book is based on a circus which arrives with no warning, opening at sunset and closing at dawn. The circus is no ordinary one however, filled with secret magic and mystery. In case any of you haven’t read it and don’t want too many spoilers, I’ll be brief in saying that there is another huge plot line in the book which follows two people, both with their own kind of ‘magic’, who must compete against one another. There’s love, there’s adventure, there’s beautiful descriptions and imagery, and of course a ton of magic. You read this book for the ‘aesthetic’ I think. You read it for those incredible descriptions of the various spectacles at the circus, for the beautiful imagination the author has and the world she weaves. This book definitely stands out as an all time favourite just because of it – and after all, circus’ are meant to enrapture you.

The next book that I read out of the three was The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye, which had me completely hooked for days on end. The heart of this story follows that of Vika and Nikolai, both somehow born with magic that should only be granted to one. The Russian tsar needs an enchanter at his side, and so the two compete for the position in what is known as ‘The Crown’s Game’, a magic duel to the death that spans across several days where each enchanter must create some kind of illusion or spectacle, putting on a show for their large audience. There’s incredible imagination, brilliant characters that make you want to jump straight into the pages with them, and once again brilliant magic. This one left me with a serious book hangover that I’m still feeling today.

And finally, we have Caraval by Stephanie Garber which I finished in just a few days, reading late into the night to finish it. We meet two sisters, Scarlett and Tella, who are desperate to escape out from under their father’s thumb and go to the mysterious Caraval, a legendary game where the audience participates in the show. Tella manages to get Scarlett to the grand location of the game, but is soon taken by the master organiser Legend – if Scarlett wants her sister back, she has to find her in order to win the game. Fast plot, a dark element, a love interest and plenty of twists to finish it all off, and once again, you got it, magic.

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So at the centre of all of these books, there is that element of competition. With NC and CG, two individuals are competing against each other with magical duels, whereas Caraval is about a competition with many participants. Something about this plot line adds a layer of excitement and anticipation, but also gives the novels a structure that is easy enough to follow. Yet in my reading experience of all of them, the pacing was very very different. NC was like a slow-burning candle, with the same intensity imagination and awe throughout, but one that you take your time with to let it all soak in. CG and Caraval however were like quick bursts of flame, ones that I had to finish as soon as possible before the fire went out. I think out of all of them, I enjoyed CG the most in terms of the actual reading of it, finishing it in a few days and absolutely loving it. For long term however, NC is one that I always think back to just because of it’s amazing descriptions and I always use it as an example of how to create a beautiful book which although has a great plot, it has a slow pace which works for it. Comparing CG and Caraval, both of which are different to NC as they are part of a series, I feel far more inclined to read the sequel of CG because I still think about that ending that had me screaming along with my adoration of the characters.

Which brings me to my next point: characters. It seems each book sacrifices something out of pacing, characters, and world. NC of course has the best world out of all of them but slow pacing, CG has the best characters with a less imaginative world, and Caraval doesn’t have the best character development. CG for sure has the best balance between the three, as it is a fantasy novel based on Russia and the Ottoman empire, imagining if magic was present in the time. Caraval, although having brilliant pacing and a great setting, didn’t have the characters to back it up. It starts off great – we have two sisters, a ruthless father, and a charming sailor. Yet there isn’t much development, and starts off as slightly stereotypical; one sister is the responsible ‘boring’ one who just wants to save her sister, whereas the other is more adventurous, flirtatious and reckless. A pretty classic format that the author doesn’t really try to deviate from until the very end, so hopefully that means the sequel will have some serious character development. I’ll admit, the ending puts a new spin to what has happened throughout the book which adds to the overall effect, but I wish there had been something more sooner.

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I gave all books 4 stars and above, as let’s face it: the competitive magic format just works. I loved all three and each of them has shown me different ways a great book can be – and all three have stunning covers. NC with it’s great colour way and character detail, CG with its dramatic crown, and Caraval with it’s secretive design underneath the dust jacket, of which there are four different designs that you can get. I’d recommend them all to anyone who is a fan or who wants to try a new fantasy, depending on what you love. For fast pace, magical fun with plenty of twists, go with Caraval. For a slower and more imaginative read, with stunning descriptions and characters that will take your heart, go with Night Circus. And finally, for a plot that will make you scream at the ending and and characters that make you lose your mind, go with The Crown’s Game.

 

September Wrap Up

In my head, I thought September was an ok reading month, but now looking back I see that I actually read some fantastic books and – after spending hours last night finishing a book that I literally couldn’t put down – it seems like my reading is picking back up again.

So first off we have Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter. By the time I reached the end and had some time to think about it, I liked it far more than I thought I would. A combination of prose and poetry, it looks at grief within a family throughout the eyes of those who are left behind along with the strange character of the Crow, inspired by Ted Hughes’ poem, that has a very Tim Burton vibe. There was a good balance of dark humour along with beautiful passages and, although I was confused by a lot of it, I did love it in the end.

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Then I read the spectacular sci-fi novel, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. The world building took up most of the book, and it was incredibly well done, but it was the characters that kept me reading. I absolutely loved how we saw their relationships play out, and how everyone was very distinct. Even when something terrible happened, I felt like it was happening to someone I know – and that’s when you know that the author has really succeeded in writing.

After that was The Problem with Forever by Jennifer L Armentrout, an author who I usually read on kindle and love – she has this way of writing which is just effortless to read, and I’ve always bought her books from the Lux Series beyond. Her New Adult books are usually my favourite, and although this one was perhaps a little younger it was still a lovely read. The secondary characters, and this goes for all of her books, remain to be my favourite.

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Then came the usual mid-month Kindle extravaganza, with Retrieval, Drive, The Boss, and Machine. As usual, they were light, easy-reading, and great flicks.

The final book I finished this month was The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye, which I’d heard some great reviews on and, honestly, they weren’t lying. I adored this book, and the magic within it was perfectly done. Like the other books of this month, it was all down to the characters once again, and I am honestly desperate for the sequel. Like seriously – I need it immediately. What was that ending? What happened? I literally spent hours online searching for someone who knew the answers I’m sure only the author knows, so basically I need the sequel because I need to know what happened.

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On that note, for my physical books that brings me to 43/50! I am just seven books away – and with October already under way, I’ve already finished a book (as mentioned previously, due to the late-night-can’t-stop-reading phase). It’s so exciting as the year goes on to actually see progress, and to think that from October-December I need to have read 7 books I’m even more motivated. If I read three books a month, I will pass my  goal – and although university is kicking off and the work is piling on, I hope that I’ll make sure I find the time to read, read, read.

A Darker Shade of Magic/A Gathering of Shadows by V.E Schwab

An actual book review! Man it’s been a while – so to make up for that, I’m doing a two-for-one sort of deal. I had been meaning to pick up A Darker Shade of Magic for almost a year after all the brilliant reviews it received. Then, when I finally do pick it up, I finish it in under two days, head straight back out to buy the sequel A Gathering of Shadows, and finish that within 24 hours. It so shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that this is going to be a very positive review.

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Most people only know one London; but what if there were several? Kell is one of the last Travelers magicians with a rare ability to travel between parallel Londons. There is Grey London, dirty and crowded and without magic, home to the mad king George III. There is Red London, where life and magic are revered. Then, White London, ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. But once upon a time, there was Black London…

For spoiler reasons, I won’t post a blurb of the second book.

The first book I read by V.E Schwab was Vicious (read review here) and I loved it, so it’s surprising it took me this long to pick up this series. The world Schwab has created is enchanting and, with no better word for it, magical. Set throughout parallel worlds, all in London, we meet Kell who can travel between all three of these Londons which he has nicknamed: Red London, White London, and Grey London. We know that there used to be a Black London, but that’s all you do know going in. Grey London is supposedly the London of our world, as in the reality, without magicians and abilities and all of those marvellous things.

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Schwab’s imagination knows no bounds, and the way she’s conjured up this world (or worlds) as well as weaving an intricate plot, not to mention the fantastic characters, is just incredible. She is definitely the kind of author I want to be one day, and not just because she writes fantastic fantasy.

Kell is one of those characters that you feel inclined to love, although it isn’t until about halfway when you realise that you do actually love and adore him. He’s the definite hero of the book, and his heroine/ally/antagonist/the best person ever is Delilah Bard, the magnificent (otherwise known as Lila). A cross-dressing thief with dreams of being a pirate, I’m not quite sure how you can’t like the guarded, wary Lila. She is everything you want in an heroine, from her stubbornness to her determination to tackle everything head on. She isn’t helpless, she isn’t vulnerable, and she most certainly doesn’t need saving.

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Then there comes the charming, wonderful Rhy that you can’t help but adore. Man, I just want to live in Red London and meet these people before setting sail with Lila. It’s just a book (well, both of them) that sucks you in until, before you know it, you’ve finished it and are going crazy on the internet trying to discover when the next one is coming out. My only critique might be the few Americanisms that pop out at you which, for an English reader expecting to be firmly grounded in parallel Londons, it’s distracting.

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So, if like me, you like fantasy and a book including cross-dressing, pirates, thieves, magicians, and parallel worlds sounds appealing, then this is the one for you. Also, if you know when the third one comes out, hit me up.

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Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I’ve found that I can finish the books I buy on my Kindle within a day, sometimes two if I really need to get some sleep. When it comes to ‘proper’ physical books, I find that it takes me a lot longer. Normally it can take me anything from one week to one month, depending on how much work I’ve got to do and whether or not I actually like the book. Although as well as reading the book, I’ll often have a couple books on my Kindle at the go. Then I discovered a beautiful book called Uprooted by Naomi Novik with an absolutely stunning cover, and luckily my Dad followed through and bought me a copy for Christmas. I picked it up towards the end of January, on a Thursday night, and by Saturday night (or, should I say, Sunday at 1am) I had finished it. Seeing as I had university on Friday and work all day Saturday, it was pretty impressive.

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.
Her people rely on the cold, ambitious wizard, known only as the Dragon, to keep the wood’s powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman must be handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as being lost to the wood.
The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows – everyone knows – that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia – all the things Agnieszka isn’t – and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.
But no one can predict how or why the Dragon chooses a girl. And when he comes, it is not Kasia he will take with him.

One thing I have to say is that you can’t really tell how beautiful the cover of the book is from the above photo, as it has shiny bits which are really very underrated these days. I know everyone goes on about not judging a book by its cover, but when a book is this beautiful you just have to get it. It would be wrong not to.

Inspired by old legends and folk tales, this book is everything you could possibly wish for in a fantasy book. I knew almost nothing about this book outside of the blurb, but with a wizard called Dragon and an enemy in ‘The Wood’, how could I resist? Although I did have Meryl Streep’s voice saying ‘Into the Wood’ every time it was mentioned.

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Agnieszka is an interesting heroine, and we’re introduced to her with the belief that she isn’t the heroine, just the girl we follow. In her world, the wizard Dragon takes a girl every ten years to serve him – not that anyone knows what he truly needs from these girls or, shall I say, what he takes. Agnieszka’s best friend Kasia is the girl who everyone believes the Dragon will take this time around, but as is revealed in the blurb – and what you can probably guess without even starting the story – ‘it is not Kasia he will take with him’.

The concept of having the mysterious Wood as the enemy was fantastic and worked brilliantly, and having a kind of anti-heroine in Agnieszka was wonderful to read – she isn’t the most beautiful, or the most talented, but ends up being the ‘chosen one’. There’s not much more I can say without spoiling the book, but I will say that there is a reason I finished it in three nights – the combination of a brilliant, intricate plot, wonderfully dynamic characters, and a beautiful writing style made this one of my favourite books.

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SPOILER SECTION – I will not reveal the end, but there are a few topics I’d like to discuss which will spoil parts of the book. You have been warned.

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It’s safe to say that I adored this book, but there was a particular element that didn’t work for me. But let’s start with the positives first. Kasia easily became my favourite character, which was quite the surprise to how I felt at the beginning. Clearly Agnieszka is the one you prefer at the beginning, being the clutzy girl who isn’t all that interesting. After she’s chosen, she soon becomes this surprisingly powerful, but still stubborn, character that you still love, but Kasia’s development as a character was stunning to watch. She starts off as the ‘perfect’ one, but after the Wood takes her everything seems to change. Naomi Novik was very clever in revealing Kasia’s flaws, and I especially loved the jealousy of Agnieszka that is revealed. As the story goes on and Kasia has her new-found gift thanks to the Wood, she turns into this strong – physically and mentally – woman who is ready to fight for friendship and protect those she loves. In all honesty, I just want a Kasia side story to read, a novella will do – just something, please Naomi?

Now onto the part that I didn’t like. I do firmly give this book 5 stars, but in honesty I think I’d give it 4.8 stars if that was possible. Although I grew to love the moody Dragon, in no way did I enjoy the romance that was added between him and Agnieszka. Their first ‘romantic encounter’ was not even the slightest romantic, and felt entirely forced like it couldn’t be helped as they were consumed by their magic yada yada. I absolutely understand where Naomi was going with it, what with the connection formed by doing joint magic, but the relationship between these two characters didn’t need to progress to a romantic one. At no point did it feel natural or comfortable, and I would have far preferred it if the romance was left out entirely. Perhaps if there were a few softer moments, such as a calmer scene between the two, but all we have are a few scenes that don’t even escalate to being a romantic scene; one second they’re practising magic and the next they’re kissing and Dragon is playing out the standard mysterious love interest trope of saying that it’s not right, he’s not good for her, she needs to stay away from him, he’s trying to protect her blah blah, ok, right-o, we get it, move on.

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Apart from that, I stand by my opinion that this book was beautifully woven together and artfully told, with a new, interesting plot with legends and tale adaptations that were new to me and great to read.

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Fairytales. I love them. Why wouldn’t you love a place where if you somehow fit yourself into a rabbit hole, you end up in a new world or where it doesn’t matter if you die because some charming bloke might come along, give you a kiss and hey presto, you’re alive and now have a perfect boyfriend? Needless to say, I’ve always loved a good disney movie or magical tale where good (almost always) triumphs and everyone is happy happy happy.

There is, however, something I love even more – and that is modern adaptations and the retelling of fairytales. You recognise some of the elements, but only as a background thought because you truly have no idea how it’s going to end. Ok, so those films like Snow White and the Huntsman or Maleficent and the like are pretty standard in their adaptations, in the sense that you still know the characters and pretty much what’s going to happen. However, there are very few books that can do a fairytale retelling and make you forget that that’s what it is. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you A Court of Thorns and Roses.

Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price …

Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.

Written by the brilliant Sarah J. Maas, known for her fantastic Throne of Glass series, this retelling of Beauty and the Beast is fantastically brilliant. My favourite books that include faeries, or ‘The Fae’, still remain as the Iron King series by Julie Kagawa, most likely due to the fact that they were among the first I read so I have some nostalgia for them. Sarah J. Maas, however, has definitely claimed her place among my favourite reads, let alone favourite Fae reads. She has a perfect blend of fantasy and magic with action, adventure with that sprinkle of romance to whisk you away to another world. Her writing style is just beautiful with exquisite detail that maintains this fast pace into this new world. She builds up each scene until you’re flipping through the pages at the speed of light, devouring every word.

Feyre is a great lead character but clearly has a lot of room for development for the next books in the trilogy. Her circumstances force her to be a Katniss-like figure, hunting in the dangerous woods and providing for her family where there are other fairytale elements – for example, her two sisters almost act like the typical ‘evil stepsisters’ but in a much more realistic way. Instead of just insults and jeers, there is a complex background and history to their family relationships which only brings the story to life.

As said in the blurb, Feyre (I think it’s pronounced Fay-rah, but I’ll get back to you on that one) is taken to magical, yet sinister, Fae realm/territory and her captor’s face is covered by a strange mask. From here, you delve into a strange mystery with new plot twists at every chapter. Maas adds elements to the story like logs to a fire, so where you started with a small flame you’re left with a raging bonfire as the tale builds and builds.

I read this book in one sitting, unsurprisingly, and would definitely recommend to anyone interested in fantasy and mystery. It transforms any notions of faeries being small and sparkly people with wings and fairy dust into these terrifying, ruthless monsters that use trickery to cause pain for their viewing pleasure. A brilliant read and an easy five stars from me.