& Fridays: Owl Crate April 2016

I celebrated a birthday this March (YAY for one year older!), and a couple of my amazing friends pooled their resources and got me several months to Owl Crate, a Young Adult book subscription box! I received Uppercase Box for Christmas this last year (some of my unboxing posts here and here). And I have been loving that. And this month, my very first Owl Crate and this month’s Uppercase Box arrived within a few days of each other! What a good mail week! (although I get excited when I get a reminder for a dentist appointment in the mail, so I’m probably not a good judge of a good mail week…)

My very first Owl Crate in all of its glory!

My very first Owl Crate in all of its glory!

Both boxes are structured much the same. Owl Crate sends along a new hardcover Young Adult book release, this time with a photocopied note from the author of the book, as well as several book themed mini posters, jewelry, and other paraphernalia.

This month’s Owl Crate book is Flawed by Cecilia Ahern. Description as follows:

Celestine North lives a perfect life. She’s a model daughter and sister, she’s well-liked by her classmates and teachers, and she’s dating the impossibly charming Art Crevan. But then Celestine encounters a situation where she makes an instinctive decision. She breaks a rule and now faces life-changing repercussions. She could be imprisoned. She could be branded. She could be found flawed. In her breathtaking young adult debut, bestselling author Cecelia Ahern depicts a society where perfection is paramount and flaws lead to punishment. And where one young woman decides to take a stand that could cost her everything.

postdystopia2Very dystopian-y, young adult fantasy lite sounding. I thought the author’s name sounded familiar: turns out she wrote both P.S. I Love You and Love, Rosie, which both went on to become movies. This one is probably not one I would reach for on the shelf and then really want to take home based on the description, but that is what these boxes are for, right? Exposing readers to new stuff!

And the book goodies that came with this book just kept going! We have a temporary tattoo and poster of the book, we have a poster with a quote from another dystopian book (The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, which also sounds reallllyyyy interesting…). We have a mini notebook of Orwell’s 1984.

postdystopia6We have a sticker from The Maze Runner series, a magnet featuring the one and only Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, as well as a HG-themed bracelet from @thegeekycauldron (what a wonderful name…). And possibly my favorite thing: a coaster with a quote that’s apparently from the series Shatter Me: “I have spent my life folded between the pages of books.” The coaster is beautiful, and I almost wish it were a magnet instead – I’m not going to put my drinks on this! Maybe I’ll end up gluing a magnet to the back anyway…

So there you have it! My very first Owl Crate. Owl Crates are themed, this month’s having been “Dystopia.” Next month is “Steampunk,” so look out for my review next month!

Just look at that beautiful coaster!

Just look at that beautiful coaster!

& Review: Morning Star by Pierce Brown

Morning Star by Pierce Brown. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Del Rey February 2016

Morning Star by Pierce Brown. Science Fiction/Fantasy. Publisher: Del Rey February 2016

The Book Itself: I gotta say… was not really expecting the last title to be “Morning Star.” Sounds a little less intimidating than the first two installments: Red Rising, Golden Son…but I like it. I like the SlingBlade as the last symbol. All of the books have had those simple, graphic covers you know I love.

My Review: Darrow would have lived in peace, but his enemies brought him war. The Gold overlords demanded his obedience, hanged his wife, and enslaved his people. But Darrow is determined to fight back. Risking everything to transform himself and breach Gold society, Darrow has battled to survive the cutthroat rivalries that breed Society’s mightiest warriors, climbed the ranks, and waited patiently to unleash the revolution that will tear the hierarchy apart from within.

Finally, the time has come.

But devotion to honor and hunger for vengeance run deep on both sides. Darrow and his comrades-in-arms face powerful enemies without scruple or mercy. Among them are some Darrow once considered friends. To win, Darrow will need to inspire those shackled in darkness to break their chains, unmake the world their cruel masters have built, and claim a destiny too long denied – and too glorious to surrender.

How do you start to suss out your feelings for the end of a series you’ve loved? Thank god I wasn’t reviewing books when I read the Harry Potter series. I don’t think I could take it. On the one hand, you love the books. You spent 2, 3, maybe even 7 books with the same characters, and you stuck around for a reason.

And then what if they kill off one of your favorite characters? What if they totally ruin a relationship you’ve loved? What if things just DON’T GO YOUR WAY?

I mean first of all, get over it because the author will do what they do and they can’t please everyone, and also they don’t work for you etc. Then continue to freak out because that is what you do about things you are passionate about.

And I’m passionate about this series. I have never read anything like it. The characters, the politics, the world that has been built over these many hundreds of pages…it’s original (some people contend this point, saying certain technologies and features are similar if not the same as in other sci-fi epics, to which I say that nothing is truly new and original anymore. What is original is how you use such things, and who uses them. And for that Rising is original to me. Rant over). And at least for me, the series has been incredibly emotional. It elicits excitement, anger, heartbreak, sadness, fatigue (that last one’s mostly because I stay up reading just one more chapter…) and I love it, all the way through the end.

And including the end, because holy crap was that intense. So I’ll start there. Thank goodness I had the evening free when the last 70 pages or so started rolling. Because boy howdy is that a ride you do not want to interrupt. It is all of your favorite characters coming together in one final move that is so suspenseful, so well-plotted, that I had to catch my breath at the end. It’s one of those moments where you know Darrow knows what he’s doing, you know there’s a catch to this situation that seems unwinnable, and yet you are still shocked at how everything turns out.

It ends tremendously, and for the most part, satisfyingly (more on that in a bit). But how does it get there?

Morning Star, more than any other installment in the Red Rising series, has its slower moments. Not to say that slowing down is bad. The first two books start off sprinting and never ever stop, so in a way it’s nice to have a chapter where the characters are just having a meeting. No enemy comes charging in to chop off heads or make a big speech and throw another wrench in the works for our heroes (oh wait…there is actually a chapter like that…but rest assured, there are regular meetings in there, too). This book, more than the others, gets more political. Which is good, because it colors in the world and fleshes out the society Darrow and Sevro and Mustang live in (also, how awesome would a Red Rising coloring book be?!).

Even if politics, even fictional ones, are not my favorite (I tend to get the glazed-over eyes when monologues about strategy start pouring through) these scenes were few and far between. And you have Sevro and Kavax for comic relief. I don’t know why Kavax has a pet fox who loves jellybeans, but it makes any scene more lighthearted and enjoyable.

Morning Star also ratchets up the drama(tic). Not only are the stakes higher, the characters under more pressure than ever, the scenes where there is action breakneck and hyperventilating-worthy, but Darrow likes his dramatic narration. There are a lot of lonely musings with our favorite brooding protagonist, and I could see the POV being an acquired taste. Darrow is a character thrust into extraordinary circumstances, in a rapidly changing fictional world, and he wants to talk about it. Dramatically. I found myself sucked into the story and style of writing/narration, but to each their own.

And remember Ragnar? The Stained that Darrow befriending and enlisted to the cause, the big guy with the tattoos who only speaks in bold-faced text? He’s here, and he’s awesome. A string of the plot sends the gang to Ragnar’s hometown. Which is, as you can imagine, intense. There are fierce battles on the ice, and a moment so poignant and upsetting that I had to put down the book for a bit to fume and cry. It’s a welcome break from a plot filled with space battles, yet remains crucial to the plot.

Onto my favorite characters. Yes, I play favorites. I went to a signing Pierce Brown did at a local bookstore (Friday post on that soon!) for the release of Morning Star. And when it was my turn to get the book signed, I told him that if he killed Sevro or Mustang, I would be very, very upset with him. I’m not about to tell you whether they do make it or not, but those two (Sevro mostly, Mustang was a little mysterious and aloof during the whole story) were near and dear to me. Other character’s demises were sad, yes. But so help me if Sevro or Mustang got killed…

And Sevro’s still a fiery, witty badass. He’s the story’s comic relief, the respite and counterpoint to Darrow’s sullen broodiness. He gets a romance in this book, which we don’t get to see a whole lot of detail of (because the story is from Darrow’s perspective). So it kind of seems out of left field, although if Sevro would be with anyone in the world of this story, it would certainly be with this person (no spoilers, sorry!)

Mustang…I am torn about Mustang. On the one hand, she’s intriguing. She’s often touted as the smartest person in the room, and she’s this big force in Darrow’s life, the main love interest. And while she reams Darrow again and again for not letting her in, for keeping things from her…I don’t feel as if I know an awful lot about her. I am trying to remember if we get a scene, a moment in any of the books where she and Darrow chat at an extended length of time and she reveals a deep, meaningful story from her childhood, or any other facts that help us get a real solid sense of her character and how she is as an adult person. But really, she and Darrow spend most of this book apart. They have a handful of touching, meaningful moments. The rest of the time, Mustang admits to “testing” Darrow to see if he is worthy of her trust again. Which seems unfair, especially seeing as she wasn’t clear about her own past and parentage in the first book, at the Academy, and in the second book, when she was seeing Cassius behind his back. Sort of a people in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks kind of thing…

And then, in literally the last couple pages, a plot twist kind of makes me hate Mustang. It is revealed that she kept something from Darrow so huge, so life- and plot-changing, that it makes it pretty difficult to forgive her (and Pierce Brown for throwing a wrench in the works during zero hour – curse you for playing with my emotions like that). Because it’s a capital “b” Big Deal. And she literally deemed him unworthy of dealing with it for a good long while.

And see, I would have been okay with that as a character flaw. Everyone is hypocritical. But for a major character to keep something that big, and for her to repeatedly not accept Darrow into her life because he’s aloof, I want to really know that major character. I want to have seen her in action, I want to hear a lot of her conversations, and I want to know why and when she makes decisions. I don’t feel as if I know that about Mustang. And so her testing Darrow kind of pisses me off.

It reminds me of the trope that someone titled the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Now, Mustang is not that: she’s stoic and fierce and a lot tougher than that trope implies. But Manic Pixie is often scowled upon because those characters pop into someone’s life, are amazing and beautiful and have wonderful personalities…but they aren’t very round characters. We get to know them only on the surface. I guess all of that translates into me wanting to know Mustang more as a character in order for me to reconcile some of the pretty crappy things that she did.

But despite me falling a little out of love with Mustang, Morning Star is a triumphant finale to a series that actually isn’t quite a finale. Pierce Brown announced that the saga will continue in a kind of companion trilogy, Iron Gold. As I understand it so far, this will pick up where Morning Star left off, but feature a new host of characters. I will be in line for that new book, absolutely, no-questions-asked. I loved the series, the world, the dramatic narration, all of it. Bloodydamn awesome.

My Grade: A

& Fridays: March Uppercase Box

If you haven’t heard about Uppercase Box, go ahead and backtrack to a couple of my previous reviews here and here. I received a gift subscription for Christmas to this lovely service that sends you one newly released YA title, signed by the author, as well as a couple of book-themed items once per month. It’s terrific.

So there are three options for Uppercase Box. The first is book only. The second is the book and some book-themed goodies. And the third is a book selected pertaining to your interests, as well as those book goodies. I have the second option. But judging by the past three boxes or so, you would think I had the third option, with books picked specifically for me!

My best friend actually sent me a photo of this book cover a few weeks ago and said “Should we read this?” I read the description and decided that yes, we should. Luckily I didn’t buy it (unlike last month where I had already purchased the book that was sent to me – oops!) because here it is in this month’s Uppercase Box!

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The cover is gorgeous and the description sound very action-y and atmospheric. Here’s the description of Alwyn Hamilton’s Rebel of the Sands:

She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from.

Destined to wind up “wed or dead,” Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she’d gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan’s army, with a fugitive who’s wanted for treason. And she’d never have predicted she’d fall in love with him…or that he’d help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is.

Romance-y, baddassery…hopefully it’s as awesome as it sounds.

bookgoodies

And what are the book-themed goodies, you might ask? Well, they’re pretty sweet as well. An author-signed bookplate, notecards having to do with the book plot that you could use as bookmarks, decoration, symbols of your undying fandom, etc. etc. etc. An awesome magnet that everyone needs everywhere for everything (although could I actually read more?)

Annnnd these amazing quotation earrings. I actually have teeny tiny silver quotation earrings, but these are the perfect size! Not too big and obnoxious, but not too small as to disappear entirely so no one knows you’re wearing them.

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Ahhhhhh…..that’s my happy book place. Thank you Uppercase Box, once again!

Sign up for a gift subscription here!

& Friday: February Uppercase Box

Another month, another Uppercase Box! I am really loving this subscription. I am always really happy to see it waiting for me in the mail, and I love the book-themed goodies in addition to a shiny new addition to my to-read shelf. And this month did not disappoint – it might be my favorite one yet!

The first thing I saw as peeled open this month’s canvas bag (really need to figure out how to repurpose these – they’d make great cord and charger wranglers, maybe for travel!) was a sky blue scarf WITH WORDS ON IT. A REAL, HONEST TO GOD BOOK SCARF!!

So already, me and this box were going to get along.

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The scarf comes complete with quotes from Anne of Green Gables, a classic I am ashamed to say that I have not yet read (I can hear your gasps of shock from here. I know, I know. I told you I am a terrible classics reader!) But since it is one of my New Year’s Resolutions to read more classics, I might have to remedy that soon!

This month’s book is Starflight by Melissa Landers. Now, I was bad, and I have already purchased and read this book before my box came in! Uppercase is awesome because it sends you brand spanking new books – only released this month. And they’re not about to send you sequels in series you haven’t started. But I had heard about Starflight in a couple of publications and bought it on a whim on a recent trip to the bookstore. At the time, I didn’t even think about my Uppercase Box in the mail, or whether or not it might include this one. If I had, I would have refrained from buying it just in case my box included it.

But it really isn’t an issue to me. I really liked the book (see Monday’s review), and now I have a beautiful, signed copy! Now I can foist my first copy on a friend without worrying about her getting it back to me 😉

The book comes with the bookmark with codes for special features (a great tie-in to the books they’re sending). And a poster with a quote from the book. Some girls have boy bands or movie stars on their walls, I just might have walls wallpapered in book quote posters…

book+wraps

Another Starflight goodie: nail wraps featuring the cover art! What an awesome idea! It helps that Starflight has a great cover with a space theme that lends itself to cool-looking nails. But I also use nail wraps all the time, so I might be sporting Starflight nails soon! Also when I write and publish my novel, someone please get me customized nail wraps? Okay thanks.

I can’t say this was my favorite Uppercase Box yet, because I feel like that’s a little unfair: I have already read the book and know that I like it. But the book “extras” were fantastic this time!

Anybody else recently get an Uppercase Box or another subscription that they’re loving? If you could have any book cover on your nails, what would you get? Or what quotes would you like on a scarf?

HAPPY FRIDAY!!

& Review: Starflight by Melissa Landers

Starflight by Melissa Landers. Publisher: Disney-Hyperion February 2016

Starflight by Melissa Landers. Publisher: Disney-Hyperion February 2016

The Book Itself: This book cover is gorgeous! The trails of gold are shimmery, and the space is a deep inky purple and black. The font is whimsical and it makes me want to read the book!

My Review: Life in the outer realm is a lawless, dirty, hard existence, and Solara Brooks is hungry for it. Just out of the orphanage, she needs a fresh start in a place where nobody cares about the engine grease beneath her fingernails or the felony tattoos across her knuckles. She’s so desperate to reach the realm that she’s willing to indenture herself to Doran Spaulding, the rich and popular quarterback who made her life miserable all through high school, in exchange for passage aboard the spaceliner Zenith.

When a twist of fate lands them instead on the Banshee, a vessel of dubious repute, Doran learns he’s been framed on Earth for conspiracy. As he pursues a set of mysterious coordinates rumored to hold the key to clearing his name, he and Solara must get past their enmity to work together and evade those out for their arrest. Life on the Banshee may be tumultuous, but as Solara and Doran are forced to question everything they once believed about their world—and each other—the ship becomes home, and the eccentric crew family. But what Solara and Doran discover on the mysterious Planet X has the power to not only alter their lives, but the existence of everyone in the universe…

First of all, sorry I have been so terrible about posting things. I would make excuses about a busy life, but really I have just been lazy and absolutely wonderful at procrastinating 😛 I am trying to make it a priority to keep up on posts, writing a little bit every day. Even if that is during breaks at work, or typing out autocorrected sentences on my phone while I wait for takeout food to get here!

But I digress. I will admit that I went into Starflight in a weird way. Morning Star, the third installment of a series I really love, was coming out but I still had a couple of days. I picked up Starflight in the hopes that it could fill the gap, but knowing that if Morning Star showed up, I would instantly put the book I was reading down to go through it.

Luckily, Starflight is very good and I didn’t feel the need to drop it once Morning Star came out, and I did finish it in a manner of days because I wanted to see what happened.

I’m into space these days, apparently. YA space operas, sci-fi with ships and aliens and artificial intelligence…I’ve had a good reading streak with those themes. Starflight is no exception. It starts off with plenty of action, and we get to know our characters who seem at first to be familiar tropes: rich boy given a lot of opportunities from birth and has the attitude to show for it, and the poor girl down on her luck, with a criminal history to boot. It’s the opposites attract, wrong side of the tracks kind of relationship, but luckily both Solara and Doran become more complex than that.

There are a few things that can really sour a YA adventure for me: love triangles, instant-love, and shallow character development. This had none of the above! Hooray! It’s not without its faults, even within that romance and that space opera plot, but I liked it just the same.

Solara manages to convince people that Doran is her servant, and not the other way around, and they board a ship of misfits (yay misfits! They often make the best characters). There are fights and escapes, both planet-side and space-side, space pirates, interesting if predictable side characters, and a romance that you actually see build instead of instant feeling.

It’s not without cliché – the butterflies in the stomach when a character is first attracted to another, the princess in disguise, the lovable curmudgeon everyone becomes attached to, etc. But I didn’t mind it so much. I thought the events and characters built a world I would like to revisit, and I rooted for Solara and Doran even when they very clearly misunderstood each other.

So you come for the character development, stay for the worldbuilding. Landers manages to make a complex solar system and culture without vast amounts of info-dumping, blurring the story into a whitewash of little details about her made-up society. It’s a sneaky kind of plotting. What we get of the world comes through from the characters perspective: Solara’s desire to make it to land in the outer reaches of space so she can just own some property for herself and live simply, Cassia and Kane’s link to a foreign government and their dismay about what might happen should they ever return, etc. What we get of the setting is nestled into action-motivated scenes. I don’t know why, but I loved the sequence where Solara is using Doran’s currency to get supplies for their trip, navigating an interstellar mall in a sense, while watching her back for the bad guys.

The story itself is complex too. You’ve got multiple antagonists, side characters with their own agendas and a plot that, despite its side stories, makes its way to a satisfying end. Cassia and Kane will be the focus of the next story, and while I did enjoy Solara and Doran’s installment, I am looking forward to picking up the next book.

My Grade: B