Sweet Reads Box UNBOXING + REVIEW

October 5, 2017

Disclaimer: I was provided with product in exchange for an honest review. My opinions are my own and are in no way influenced by the company.

 

 

If you’re active in any of the online book communities then I’m sure you’re well aware by now how popular bookish monthly subscription boxes are. The idea is pretty irresistible. For a monthly fee that is usually much lower than the true value of the items in the box, you are sent a hand-selected collection of fun treats and swag and of course, a book. I have found myself watching live unboxings on social media because it’s almost as fun for me to see other people receiving their boxes as it is to get one myself! The only problem that comes up for Canadians like me is many of the companies charge us more in shipping or don’t ship here at all.

Enter Sweet Reads Box.

I was so excited to hear of a Canadian based company that puts together monthly book subscription boxes that I absolutely had to see what it was all about. The box contains goodies that are valued well over the price of the monthly box (my box had over $75 worth of product for a $49.99 CAD month to month box). You can try out a single box, or they become cheaper if you sign up for 3 or 6 month subscriptions.

The boxes ship out on the 15th of every month and I was pleasantly surprised that it shipped SO quickly and had a nice big logo on it so there was no way I was mistaking what was being delivered.

Once I had the box in hand, I was so ready to rip into it, I was giddy like a kid on Christmas morning. But I managed a small amount of restraint for the sake of photos, y’all. Loki offered to help me open it; he is always here for a good box.

When I got the box open I was greeted by an elephant print with an Agatha Christie quote which I could safely assume was related to the book choice. The print was made by the company and a nice touch, if maybe a little generic. Under that was a package neatly wrapped in tissue.

Why yes, that is a giant cookie with the Sweet Reads Box logo on it. Paired with the cookie was a sweet little package of tea called A Mother’s Love rose tea. It smelled absolutely heavenly. There was an adorable elephant tea infuser as well. I can’t wait to unwind with these treats this evening! Update: the cookie was lemon and delicious.

Next I pulled out a jewelry box and found a charm necklace that was made in Canada. It felt like great quality and has a quote by EE Cummings. In my opinion, jewelry is a tricky one to include in a surprise box since style is such a personal thing. Maybe that’s just me, but I like to choose my own jewelry. I probably wouldn’t wear this myself but I’m sure that many would be excited to receive it!

Last and possibly most exciting was the book! I’ve heard a lot about Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips and it sounds very interesting. And all the heart eyes for that cover!

MY THOUGHTS

The company appears to be marketed to those who enjoy popular adult releases so if you’re looking for your next book club read then Sweet Reads Box will hook you up with a fascinating book and some fun goodies to go with it. They definitely spoil you with some lovely items that are well worth the price, however I think that it could have gone further to include more inexpensive items to really give the impression of receiving more. I would love to see perhaps some more art prints by local artists, stickers, pins, or other similar things. However it was nicely put together and a lot of fun to open! I’m so glad to have a Canadian option for subscription boxes now available.

You can check out more info on the newest Canadian contender for bookish subscription boxes below:

Website: https://sweetreadsbox.com (sign up for their newsletter and you will receive 10% off a 3 or 6 month subscription!)

Twitter https://twitter.com/sweetreadsbox

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/sweetreadsbox/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SweetReadsBox/

 

 

What do you think about book subscription boxes? Do you have any subscriptions? Tell me all about them below!

Review: Zero Repeat Forever

September 20, 2017


"Dart the humans. Leave them where they fall."

Title: Zero Repeat Forever
Author: Gabrielle Prendergast
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release date: August 29, 2017
Genre: Young adult, science fiction

My rating: 4.5/5 stars
Synopsis:

He has no voice or name, only a rank, Eighth. He doesn’t know the details of the mission, only the directives that hum in his mind.
Dart the humans. Leave them where they fall.
His job is to protect his Offside. Let her do the shooting.
Until a human kills her…

Sixteen-year-old Raven is at summer camp when the terrifying armored Nahx invade. Isolated in the wilderness, Raven and her fellow campers can only stay put. Await rescue. Raven doesn’t like feeling helpless, but what choice does she have?

Then a Nahx kills her boyfriend.

Thrown together in a violent, unfamiliar world, Eighth and Raven should feel only hate and fear. But when Raven is injured, and Eighth deserts his unit, their survival comes to depend on trusting each other.

 

I'm quite taken aback by how much I loved Zero Repeat Forever. It delivers everything one would hope for from a science fiction involving an alien invasion:

-aliens (of course)
-weird alien suits and weapons
-lots of frightening post-apocalyptic scenarios that make you ponder the fragility of the human race
-some spunky kids who are fighting terrible odds of survival but never quit

But what I didn't expect at all was the beauty I would find within the pages. It was poetry; surprisingly deep, melancholy, and poignant. It really caught me off guard how intensely emotional it was, and how much it would affect me. The writing style was addicting in a gut-wrenching way; full of intensity and rage and sadness.

It took me a few chapters to get used to the slower pacing, but soon I realized that the tension doesn't always lie in the action scenes. It's often more a dark psychological thriller that explores themes of human nature and survival. I did feel like the concept was a little generic at first but it's explored in a very unique way, giving insight to both the POV of an alien invader and a conquered human girl. There are also several mind-blowing twists at the end that completely changed how I saw the story at the start so it's really worth hanging on to the end, I swear! And I gasped out loud when I found out what the title means.

 

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The story is strongly driven by well thought-out characters who are not always likeable but nonetheless striking in their complexity. We are given a look at humanity that's been peeled back a few layers due to trauma, loss, and heartbreak. I was surprised that I felt the most pathos for Eighth, the alien POV character. He was so pure and childlike and human in his outlook, and my heart broke for him on so many occasions. There is a lot of diversity as well and touches on themes of racism and prejudice.

One of the most exciting aspects for me that I need to mention is that it is written by a fellow Canadian and takes place near Calgary, Alberta. It's so rare to find a Canadian setting in YA and Prendergast does it so much justice in capturing the wild beauty of our country through all four seasons. Also there is this amazing and so very accurate line:

"He just apologized. He does that a lot."

"How very Canadian."

The book was so close to perfect but there were just a few awkward moments and phrases between characters that I didn't love or agree with. Some people may take a bit of an issue with some of these little phrases but I was able to move past them to see the greater picture of the story. However for this reason I have taken off half a star.

All in all it was a very strong start to a new series? trilogy? I'm not really sure so I better do some fact-checking. The ending was such a tease with an incredible cliff hanger and I'm burning to get my hands on book two so I can find out how the story will continue.

Until next time,

Kath

Review: Wonder Woman: Warbringer

September 15, 2017

“I am done being careful. I am done being quiet. Let them see me angry. Let them hear me wail at the top of my lungs.”

Title: Wonder Woman: Warbringer
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Published: August 29, 2017
Genre: Young adult fantasy
My rating: 3.5/5 stars

Synopsis:

Princess Diana longs to prove herself to her legendary warrior sisters. But when the opportunity finally comes, she throws away her chance at glory and breaks Amazon law—risking exile—to save a mortal. Diana will soon learn that she has rescued no ordinary girl, and that with this single brave act, she may have doomed the world.

Daughter of death.

Alia Keralis just wanted to escape her overprotective brother with a semester at sea. She doesn’t know she is being hunted by people who think her very existence could spark a world war. When a bomb detonates aboard her ship, Alia is rescued by a mysterious girl of extraordinary strength and forced to confront a horrible truth: Alia is a Warbringer—a direct descendant of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about an age of bloodshed and misery.

Together.

Two girls will face an army of enemies—mortal and divine—determined to either destroy or possess the Warbringer. Tested beyond the bounds of their abilities, Diana and Alia must find a way to unleash hidden strengths and forge an unlikely alliance. Because if they have any hope of saving both their worlds, they will have to stand side by side against the tide of war.

I need to preface this review by saying that: 1) This is my second Leigh Bardugo book, the first being Shadow and Bone, of which I didn’t particularly sing hymns of praise and 2) I don’t know a lot about Wonder Woman apart from seeing her in Justice League cartoons as a kid and then seeing the recent movie. So I went into this book without the high expectations of a huge fan. Okay, moving along.

I do have to say that with Shadow and Bone being my only point of reference, I was pleasantly surprised by this one. The writing is top-shelf, and dare I say Leigh Bardugo has matured significantly in the craft of writing since the Grisha trilogy. The prose was tight and there is just the right amount of description without lingering too long on anything. I really got a great visual of the setting and characters without feeling bogged down.

We are given a cast of such strong and unique diverse characters where feminism is song sung between them. The biggest success in my opinion is how feminism is not presented as “in how many ways can the female characters best the male characters” but rather “women who recognize each other intersectionally and lift each other up completely.” The friendships between the female characters really made this book shine and everyone should give a collective sigh of relief to read a story of supportive female friendships and not one of waging petty wars over boys and popularity.

As much as I loved certain aspects of the book, it felt like a very toned down superhero story arc. I would have loved to see less chatter and more action. Pages of funny banter would go by and I wouldn’t know what the characters are doing while they talk. The dialogue was entertaining but it was almost too light-hearted and undermined any desperation of the situation the characters found themselves in. The plot was also quite simplistic with few surprises. The lack of intense plot-driven action and abundance of childish dialogue made it feel kind of Saturday morning cartoony, rather than like the epic blockbusters we are used to seeing at the cinema.

I’m happy to say that I enjoyed this book overall even if it lacks a certain punch.

Have you had the chance to read this book yet? I would love to hear what you thought about it!

-Kath


Review: We Are the Ants

September 5, 2017

Title: We Are the Ants
Author: Shaun David Hutchinson
Publisher: Simon Pulse, imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, science fiction
My rating: 3/5 stars

“I saw the world from the stars’ point of view, and it looked unbearably lonely.”

Synopsis:

There are a few things Henry Denton knows, and a few things he doesn’t.

Henry knows that his mom is struggling to keep the family together, and coping by chain-smoking cigarettes. He knows that his older brother is a college dropout with a pregnant girlfriend. He knows that he is slowly losing his grandmother to Alzheimer’s. And he knows that his boyfriend committed suicide last year.

What Henry doesn’t know is why the aliens chose to abduct him when he was thirteen, and he doesn’t know why they continue to steal him from his bed and take him aboard their ship. He doesn’t know why the world is going to end or why the aliens have offered him the opportunity to avert the impending disaster by pressing a big red button.

But they have. And they’ve only given him 144 days to make up his mind.

The question is whether Henry thinks the world is worth saving. That is, until he meets Diego Vega, an artist with a secret past who forces Henry to question his beliefs, his place in the universe, and whether any of it really matters. But before Henry can save the world, he’s got to figure out how to save himself, and the aliens haven’t given him a button for that.

This is a difficult book for me to review because if I had any strong reactions to it, they were equally positive and negative and they kind of neutralized each other. There were a couple of things I liked and some that I didn’t, and the rest was rather muddled and repetitive and kind of made me feel like I was trying to run in waist-deep water.

I’ll start with the things that I did like and the reasons I can see why this book is so widely appreciated. I really can see the appeal of a contemporary meets sci-fi concept. My ears perked up when I heard there were aliens (okay, I was mostly here for the aliens), but I also loved that there wasn’t too much sciencey explanation to wade through like the heavier sci-fi out there. This book made me feel like how I do when I read magical realism – there is enough of the uncanny to keep things interesting but handled in an understated, minimalist way.

Then of course there’s the fact that we can check off the diversity box. Honestly, I really loved that there is a queer main character, yet it wasn’t really about the issues that sometimes go hand in hand with that. Though Henry is struggling with many aspects of life, his struggles are never about that part of his identity and it is refreshing to read diverse books that normalize being queer in such an unselfconscious way. His family is a great example of a healthy support network and never once second-guess Henry’s sexuality. Hutchinson so confidently writes Henry as just being who he was born to be with no need prove that he is equally worthy of love as someone who is straight, it’s just the truth. I love that we are finally in a time where diverse books can exist without question. We still have a long way to go but I’m so happy this book exists for how normalizing it is.

I really wish I could say that I enjoyed the rest of the book, however. After the initial concept and narrative was established, things sort of fell apart for me. I really didn’t enjoy any of the characters and I thought most of them were quite selfish and abrasive most of the time – Henry especially. I did not relate to the way he grieved the loss of his boyfriend at all. I mean, he is given the chance to save the world from destruction and he can’t see above his own personal issues to find one redeeming quality with the world. I get that there are some statements about mental health and depression being made here but there’s depression and then there’s.. thinking everyone in the whole world should literally cease existing because his boyfriend isn’t alive anymore and his life stinks? There aren’t even any of the all too real global-scale issues explored here that could have presented a real case for letting the world reset. It just comes across as so small-minded that Henry would make this decision for most of the book solely based on his own little life. If, like he is so fond of pondering, life is so meaningless, then why should the whole world suffer because of his meaningless little struggles? Where is the anger about actual issues like how capitalism is raping our planet, or child starvation, or human trafficking? I could go on and on.

The book then continues on in a long-winded rehashing of Henry’s existential crisis, and how he won’t allow himself to be loved by those around him. For a huge portion of the book, hardly any development is made with the plot or characters. Henry has the exact same conversation over chapters and chapters and still makes no progress. It was quite frustrating to read.

And there were too many details about certain relationships withheld for dramatic tension that just didn’t feel natural. These types of devices really draw me out of a story and make me hyper-aware of the author’s intention of creating drama. For example, we are given no hints of why Henry is harbouring such strong resentment towards a certain past friend, and the big reveal was disproportionate to the build-up. There is even a ‘plot twist’ about a certain character turning out to being gay after Henry assumes he is straight for much of the book when an ex-girlfriend is mentioned. Surprise! There are a few more letters than just “G” in “LGBTQ”.

Regardless of how much I enjoyed aspects of this book, it was undermined by the execution of the story and I was left feeling a big resounding “meh” upon finishing. However, I am sure that there are many out there who will feel represented by Henry in a real way, and for that reason I am glad this book was written.

Have you read We Are the Ants yet? I’d love to hear how you felt about the book below!

Xx,

Kath

Review: Flame in the Mist

August 11, 2017

“If I am marching to my death, then I will march to it as a girl. Without fear.”

Synopsis:

The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she’s appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love—a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

Since The Wrath and the Dawn was one of my favourite reads this year, I was a bubbling pot of excitement to read Flame in the Mist, Ahdieh’s latest release and the first book of a brand new duology. I fell in love with Ahdieh’s lush, poetic prose in Wrath and I was eager to be transported to another of her beautiful, historically inspired worlds.

When I heard that it was a story based in feudal Japan I knew that we would be in for a decadent cultural feast as is Ahdieh’s style. And I was not disappointed; the descriptions of the setting and food are rich and evocative. It’s all those little details that give the story dimension and life. I could wander around all day in a world of Ahdieh’s making and not get bored of the breathtaking imagery.

Yet unlike Wrath, Flame in the Mist didn’t turn out to be quite the page turner I was anticipating, which is surprising considering there are so many similar elements between the two at first glance. In both books we have a determined female protagonist on a quest to find answers and vengeance for a deep wrong-doing, a hate-to-love romance, some political intrigue, and wonderfully detailed culture woven through. So where did Flame fall short after such a success with The Wrath and the Dawn?

For one, I found the characters failed to drive the plot in a believable way and weren’t developed as much as they could have been, resulting in me feeling disconnected from them, and therefore to the plot. The only character who sparked any kind of interest in me was Ōkami, and even he was shrouded in mystery with almost no backstory revealed. Everyone else was either unlikeable or seriously lacking depth.

So let’s talk about Mariko, because we did not get along at all. She is the number one hinderance to my enjoyment of this book. Being the main protagonist, she is the primary connection between the reader and the story and gives us the lens which to see it through. However, I disliked her so damn much and consequently had little interest in whether or not things worked out in the end for her. What was so unlikeable about her, you ask? Well. There are so many things, I need to put this in list form.

1. There is so much telling of how she is the most smart, most special warrior in her own narrative and by everyone else who knows her.. yet she fumbles almost every opportunity to show us this apparent all-knowing mind.

2. In fact, she actually misjudges the actions of those around her more often than not. She is highly suspicious yet wrong on almost all accounts.

3. She is full of vengeful plans and almost never puts them to action. Her weak reminders to herself of what her goals are do little to restore her focus when she gets invariably sidetracked by hot guys.

5. And then there is her childish rage at being mocked. When she finds herself at the end of a gibe, her reaction is so disproportionate to the actual offence. I laughed incredulously after reading an entire page describing her outrage at being told… that she needs a bath because she smells. I mean, lighten up, Mariko. You probably do stink.

6. Her entire mission is implausible from the beginning. Anyone with a brain like Mariko supposedly has would recognize their strengths and weaknesses and realize what they are and aren’t capable of. It would follow much more realistically after being attacked in the woods for her to go to the city and play society there to find her answers, because that is the life she knows. But her ego is too big for that, thus she must choose the most risky and unrealistic path.

7. I really could go on and on. Eyeballs were rolled a lot.

After the first few chapters, she becomes less of a participant in the plot and more of an observer of the events happening with or without her influence, while she feebly fumes like it’s still all about her. Her character could have been cut from the book altogether and the focus instead on Ōkami (who actually has a significance to the underlying political intrigue) and the story would have remained more or less the same.

Mariko isn’t the only unnecessary character either. Most of the cast of side characters seem to exist only to take up space to fill the story with people, rather than add anything of value. There are no helpers, no clear antagonists. There are plenty of pseudo-philosophical conversations with these characters which don’t seem to go anywhere within the covers of this book. Kenshin, Mariko’s twin, took up a sizeable portion of the book with his point of view chapters and yet we still know almost nothing about him. His actions are heavily influenced by his parents’ approval and even that dynamic is hardly explored as the parents are only mentioned in a reminiscing way, rarely making an appearance. I ended up skimming through most of his point of view content.

While I have a weak spot for a good enemies-to-lovers romance, I really didn’t feel it this time. Without revealing any spoilers about who is involved, I will just say that there isn’t enough of a build up or a transition between the burning indignation and sudden desire. When it does explode into a fireworks display of attraction, Mariko suddenly sounded strangely abusive to me with thoughts like: ‘Wanted to best him in all ways. Wanted to kiss him silent.’ Should I find that romantic? Because it does absolutely nothing for me apart from making me feel a little bit stabby.

Luckily there was an interesting twist at the end that salvaged a little enjoyment for me and I finished wondering what happens next. Ahdieh has shown her ability to write incredible books so I still have hope that this story will continue on a stronger note. If I do decide to continue with this story and read the sequel I would hope to find a little more depth to the characters with a lot less telling and more showing.

Have you read Flame in the Mist yet? Let me know some thoughts below!

My rating: 2/5 stars

Title: Flame in the Mist

Author: Renée Ahdieh

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Pages: 393

Genre: YA, fantasy