Books

Talking about books (when I have time to read for fun)

March’s FairyLoot Box – Favourites

It’s been over a year since I last got a FairyLoot box and I very rarely get subscription boxes in general, but I thought as March was FairyLoot’s three-year anniversary it could be a pretty cool box to get. As well as being the anniversary box (meaning it was purple instead of the usual black) the theme was Favourites.

FairyLoot is a monthly UK-based subscription box that focusses on YA fantasy. There’s usually at least one book, with them potentially being signed and/or having an exclusive cover or sprayed edges, and about five items related to books or fandoms.

The first thing I saw was a very pretty and cool scarf that was an exclusive design from Cara Kozik. The illustration on it was a couple of bookshelves with many popular and well-loved YA books on it. There was Children of Blood and Bone, Cinder, Lady Midnight and Shadow and Bone. Honestly, if you can think of it, it probably was on there.

There were some Alice in Wonderland-inspired bookish socks created by Team FairyLoot. Also made by Team FairyLoot were bookish sticky tabs which I’m sure will come in very handy and an enamel pin to celebrate FairyLoot’s anniversary. There was a gold metal bookmark from KDP Letters with a quote from Strange the Dreamer. Three art prints from morgana0anagrom which were very cool and the (what I presume is) Warcross one made me interesting in picking up the book because the character design was not something I’d seen before. The other two prints were for An Ember in the Ashes and The Cruel Prince.

There were also two more tarot cards of characters from Six of Crows – I think? They look like Jesper and Wylan anyway. The tarot cards are something that are included in each FairyLoot box and I believe different artists will be used in every couple of boxes.

There were two books in March’s FairyLoot box. Viper by Hex Hogan which is a book I’d actually seen around and I love the cover. The cover is an exclusive to FairyLoot (it’s purple rather than black I believe) and it’s signed by the author. It’s a story of magic, murder and the high seas with the seventeen-year-old heroine fighting to protect the islands from a dangerous foe who also happens to be her father. It is the first book in a trilogy.

The other book was To Best The Boys by Mary Webber which I hadn’t heard of before. This book was signed by the author, has sprayed edges and came with a letter from the author which was on the back of an art print by icandrawthingz. To Best The Boys is about a competition for a scholarship to an esteemed university that only boys may enter. Rhen dreams of being a scientist and as the people in her town fall ill to a deadly disease, she decides to pretend to be a boy in order to enter the competition and save her town.

That’s everything that was included in March’s FairyLoot box. If I’m honest, I was expecting something more from an anniversary edition, it didn’t feel that special compared to previous boxes, both ones I’ve received and ones I’ve seen people unbox. However, I like the sound of both books and as someone who is generally more interested in the books rather than the items in subscription boxes, I can’t be too mad.

Does anyone know of subscription boxes/services that are more focused on the book than the gifts? Or are there any book-only book boxes? I do think subscription boxes like FairyLoot are pretty great, but I also think they can cost a lot if you don’t really like or care about the items. This is why I generally only get one off subscription boxes from anyone when I like the sound of the theme.

Advertisements

REVIEW: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Zélie remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls. But everything changed the night magic disappeared as under orders of the ruthless king, all maji were killed including Zélie’s mother. Now she has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of her brother Tzain and rogue princess Amari, Zélie must outrun crown prince Inan who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good. But she’s not only got to learn to control her powers, but she must also control her growing feelings for the enemy.

Children of Blood and Bone is told from three perspectives; Zélie’s, Amari’s and Inan’s and each of them had a distinct voice. Zélie is a divîner, which is someone who has dark skin and white hair which is a sign of the magic that would run through her veins if magic hadn’t had been destroyed. Divîner’s are an oppressed people, they are poor and are often abused and belittled by the King’s guards. Amarai and Inan are siblings who have both been brought up in the castle and, in Amari’s case especially, sheltered from what happens in their country.

I liked Zélie a lot, she’s fierce but impulsive and she cares fiercely for her loved ones. Amari was my favourite character and is probably the one who goes through the most consistent character arc. She’s lived a sheltered life, but she has a strong sense of morals and when she gets the chance to change things and stop her father she takes it, putting her life on the line. She is sweet and naïve to begin with but as she learns how the world works and how people act, she gets smarter and she’s more resilient than she realises. Inan is a character that I never really warmed to. He is desperate to show his father what a great soldier he is, and how he will be a worthy king, but then he also flip flops on his beliefs multiple times throughout the book. He doesn’t have a strong sense of self, will change his mind on things depending on who he’s with, and is generally a disaster and not in a fun, appealing way.

I read almost 400 pages of this 535-page book in the space of two days but then I got to a point, where I got so annoyed with what some characters were doing that I put it down for five days and had to make myself continue with it. Children of Blood and Bone has an enemies to lovers romance and while the foundations of this relationship were interesting, at that 400ish page mark, there was some serious instalove as these characters went from hating one another to barely being able to keep their hands off of one another in the space of about three pages. It was way too fast and seemed needless. Their romance caused conflict with other characters, but that conflict could’ve still happened with them being reluctant allies instead of being in love. Also, their sudden infatuation with one another seemed out of character for both parties and it was a detriment to Zélie’s character especially.

Besides from the romance which I hated, I really enjoyed pretty much everything else about Children of Blood and Bone. I liked the writing style, it’s has vivid descriptions of this world and culture without being overly flowery, and how the friendship grew between Tzain, Amari and Zélie was great. I especially liked how Zélie slowly opened up to Amari, and how Amari figured out her own inner strength.

Children of Blood and Bone is a fast-paced and action-packed story. The world and its magic system are interesting, and the mythology that is introduced can only grow in future books. As a first book in a series, it’s a great introduction to the characters and the world, but I wish it had taken its time with the romance as that did sour my experience of the last quarter of the book. I do plan to continue reading this series though and I’m intrigued to see where everything will go from that ending. 4/5.

O.W.L.’s Magical Readathon 2019

The O.W.L.’s Magical Readathon is the invention of Gi at Book Roast on YouTube. It’s a challenge I heard about last year, but I wasn’t aware of it in time to take part – this year I’m more prepared! The challenge is based on the Hogwarts examinations in the Harry Potter series but you neither have had to have read the Harry Potter books or be a Harry Potter fan to take part.

The basic premise is that each Hogwarts subject has its own prompt, you read a book that fits that prompt and then you’ve achieved an O.W.L. in that subject. This readathon lasts the entirety of April so it gives you plenty of time to try and cram in as many O.W.L.’s as possible. For more information on the readathon see Gi’s announcement video. It’s clear she puts in a lot of work into this challenge, she makes study guides and a career guide that has information on lots of magical careers and the subjects you need to study in order to be able to progress in that career.

The career I’ve chosen is Ministry Worker with the idea that I’d specialise to be able to join the Department of International Magical Cooperation after taking my N.E.W.T.’s in August. That means I’ll need O.W.L.’s in Charms, Defence Against the Dark Arts, History of Magic, Potions, Transfiguration and Muggle Studies – meaning my aim is to read six books for this challenge.

I’ve had a look at my bookshelves and theoretically I would be able to get 11 out of 12 O.W.L.’s based on the books on my TBR. Below are the books I plan to read to get my O.W.L.’s for my Ministry Worker job, but also the books for the other O.W.L.’s in case I do better than expected and can fit in a couple more books during the month.

Ancient Runes – Retelling
Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi
As the title suggests it’s a Frankenstein retelling. This is a book I’ve been wanting to read for ages so even though it doesn’t fit with my chosen career path, if I finish the O.W.L.’s/books I have to read, this will be my priority.

Arithmancy – Work written by more than one author
Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam edited by Linh Dinh
A collection of short stories from Vietnamese writers.

Astronomy – “Star” in the title
This is the one subject I don’t have a book that would fit so any careers that needed an Astronomy O.W.L. was automatically ignored.

Care of Magical Creatures – Land animal on the cover
Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
Technically I think this could also work for retelling (though you’re not allowed to use the same book for multiple prompts) as it’s inspired by the Evil Queen in Snow White I think? It’s a book I got from a subscription box a while ago and I’m pretty sure it’s the only book I’ve got with an animal on the cover.

Charms – Age-line: read an adult work
Augustown by Kei Miller
I actually tend to read mostly adult books so the way I chose this book was to find one of the shorter adult books I have – at just over 200 pages, Augustown was the winner.

Defence Against the Dark Arts – Reducto: title starts with a “R”
The Red Beach Hut by Lynn Michell
This is the only book I’ve got that has a title that begins with the letter R. I was pleased I found a book as Defence Against the Dark Arts is a subject needed for many career paths.

Divination – Set in the future
Old Man Hawkeye Vol. 1: An Eye for an Eye by Ethan Sacks, Marco Checchetto and Andres Mossa
Comics are totally allowed for this readathon which is great. I recently bought a bunch of Hawkeye-related comics and this one is set in an apocalyptic future where nearly all of the superheroes are dead.

Herbology – Plant on the cover
West Coast Avengers Vol. 1: Best Coast by Kelly Thompson, Stefano Caselli and Tríona Farrell
Another one from my Hawkey-binge-buy as he’s a part of this team. It has some palm trees on the front which totally counts as a plant.

History of Magic – Published at least 10 years ago
Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut
It’s a classic so it’s definitely over 10 years old. Plus it’s pretty short which is always helpful for a readathon.

Muggle studies – Contemporary
Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart
I received this in a subscription box a while back and know nothing about it except it’s the shortest contemporary book I have on my TBR. I read We Were Liars years ago and sped through it so hopefully the same thing will happen with this book.

Potions – Next ingredient: sequel
Old Man Hawkeye Vol. 2: The Whole World Blind by Ethan Sacks, Marco Checchetto, Francesco Mobili and Ibraim Roberson
I don’t actually have many sequels (because I’m terrible at reading series) so my recent comic book purchases have definitely come in handy here.

Transfiguration – Sprayed edges or red cover
The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
This is the longest book on this TBR but it’s one of the only books I have that has a red cover. There’s rumours that the Tome Topple Readathon will happen in April so as The Angel’s Game is over 500 pages, that’ll hopefully give me an extra push to read it.

So, this is my TBR for the O.W.L.’s Magical Readathon and pretty much my TBR for the whole month of April. Are you taking part in the readathon and if you are which O.W.L.’s are you focusing on? In August there’s the N.E.W.T.’s readathon which you use to build on what you achieve in this readathon, so I hope I manage to read all the books I need to be able to apply for a job at the Ministry of Magic.

READ THE WORLD – Sweden: A Fortune Foretold by Agneta Pleijel

Translated by Marlaine Delargy.

Opening in the 1950s in the quiet university town of Lund, Sweden, A Fortune Foretold follows Neta, a shy and intuitive girl who turns to books whenever life gets difficult. When her Aunt Ricky has her fortune told, Neta becomes fascinated with prophesies, fate and what life could be. By thinking of this she starts to make sense of the chaos of her parents failing marriage.

A Fortune Foretold is a story of childhood, and not a particularly happy one. I didn’t realise straightaway but Neta is a stand in for the author Agneta Pleijel and the book is based on her childhood. Throughout the book there’s times when the narrative voice is like the adult Neta, looking back on events with hindsight and giving her thoughts on what happened now.

The language used throughout the book is melancholy, and the words are often more grown up than Neta is at the time. This fits in with the way it feels like an adult is telling the story of her childhood and has a mature way to express what she at ten years old might be feeling. With the use of more complicated language and Neta’s quietness, it feels like she’s constantly out of sync with the rest of her family. Her parents are both outgoing people and as the oldest of three girls, Neta is sometimes too old for them but not old enough to be around adults.

Neither of Neta’s parents seem to particularly like or want their children. They both are selfish in different ways but as it’s largely told from a child’s point of view, it never really passes judgement on it. Instead, that’s just what Neta’s life and parents are like.

A Fortune Foretold is quite sad as it shows how an emotionally neglectful upbringing can have ramifications for a child as they grow up. From a very young age Neta shuts herself off from the world and becomes quite distant towards others and seeing how a parent’s marriage can fall a part due to secrets and lies has a lasting affect in her.

There are some moving scenes in A Fortune Foretold about growing up and family, but it’s quite a slow story and at times the characters do feel flat and is they are just going through the motions. This may because of the way it was told, like someone recounting past events to a listener, so everything had already happened and so there was no suspense or surprises. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD – Myanmar: Letters from Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi

A collection of letters from the Nobel Peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, about her experience as a political prisoner, her countries traditions and the affects of inflation and corruption on its people.

The letters span about a year after her release from house arrest in 1995. Some are reflective on her experiences of being a political dissident and that of those of various other members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), while others are about the broader affects of being a political prisoner. How it can seriously affect children who only get to see a parent for 15 minutes every fortnight, or how the interrogations and solitary confinement can have mental and physical repercussions.

Each of the fifty-two letters are accompanied by an illustration by Heinn Hter. These illustrations are simple yet beautiful and help paint a vivid picture of the people and the country that Aung San Suu Kyi talks about in each of her letters.

The way Aung San Suu Kyi describes her country, its traditions and its people, is often quite poignant. Her writing is simple yet affecting and the way she can go from describing the beautiful and joyful moments, to the harsher reality that people live in when their wages can’t afford food and they must buy petrol on the black market.

I knew very little about Aung San Suu Kyi before reading this book, only that since she was no longer a political prisoner, she and her party didn’t necessarily live up to people’s expectations and there are some controversies surrounding them. As these letters are from the mid-90s, there’s still a lot of hope and belief in what the future can bring. In this moment of time at least, Aung San Suu Kyi is an eloquent and confident public speaker who doesn’t let the system stand in her way. Multiple times her street is barricaded for differing amounts of time, sometimes the soldiers let people pass to go to her house, sometimes they don’t, and sometimes they allow her to leave, when others they don’t. There’s no real reasoning behind it and it’s one of the many odd things that has become a part of her life.

Letters from Burma paints Myanmar to be a beautiful country, but one with a difficult future ahead. The way these letters are a combination of discussions of big political and social upheaval in the country, along with really mundane things like Aung San Suu Kyi being concerned with her home’s leaky roof; makes her seem like a down to earth and also very smart.

Letters from Burma is charming though perhaps a little idealistic. While Aung San Suu Kyi may have had the best intentions in the 1990s, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everything went as planned. I’m interested in reading more about Myanmar’s history and what Aung San Suu Kyi has done in the years since her release from house arrest. Still, I think Letters from Burma is a good place to get an overview of what the country was like in the mid-1990s and before.

READ THE WORLD – Latvia: Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena

A nameless woman tries to follow her calling as a doctor but then the state steps in. She, along with her daughter, are banished to a village in the Latvian countryside where she’s deprived of a career, her sense of self, and her relationship with her daughter. As her sense of isolation increases, will she and her daughter be able to return to Riga where the beginning of political change begins to stir?

Translated by Margita Gailiyis.

Soviet Milk is told from the alternating perspectives of an unnamed mother and her unnamed daughter between the years 1969 and 1989. During this time Latvia was a part of the Soviet Union and it’s clear from the outset how the state keeps a close eye on its people and the affect it can have on their lives. The alternating perspectives did through me a bit at the beginning as I didn’t realise that’s what was happening but as some of the passages were told from the two characters different points of view, I got the hang of it.

I enjoyed both the mother and the daughter’s point of view. It basically begins when the daughter is born and so you see her grow up, how she learns different things from her mother, and how she begins to see the restrictions placed on her and her family. When she’s a young child she is brought up by her grandmother who is also unnamed (nearly all the characters are unnamed and are instead referred to by their familial status), their relationship is very sweet and the time she spends with her grandmother and step-grandfather are moments of true childhood innocence.

After her mother’s medical career is dashed and they have to move away from the city and her grandparents, that’s when the daughter has to grow up as more often than not, she has to look after herself and her mother. Her mother’s struggles and depression are vividly realised, and the book is well-written enough that makes her actions sympathetic and not solely selfish as one might think.

Soviet Milk was an interesting insight into the psychological affects of living in your homeland when it’s occupied by an outside force. Previous books that I’ve read for the Read the World Project that have been set in countries during the time of the Soviet Union, have either been from a child’s point of view so they don’t understand the gravity of the situation, or its about characters who have just got on with everything. I think this is the book I’ve read where being a part of the Soviet Union had a real affect on the mental health of one of the protagonists. There was still the food shortages and secrets, but there was also the desperate need to be free which the mother had even when living in her own country.

Soviet Milk is a moving and poignant story about the love between a mother, daughter and grandmother and how the Soviet occupation can affect multiple generations. It was a compelling read even though each perspective was just a couple of pages long. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Estonia: Burning Cities by Kai Aareleid

Translated by Adam Cullen.

Destroyed by German and Soviet armies in the war, Tiiana’s home city of Tartu in Estonia has a lot of secrets and she’s slowly unravelling them. The adult world is of cryptic and hushed conversations and Tiiana experience both great events like Stalin’s death, and personal events like the disintegration of her parent’s marriage from the periphery. Ultimately, she is powerless to prevent the great and defining tragedy of her life – the suicide of a loved one.

I liked the way the story was told. Chapters (if they could really be called that) were often only a few pages long. They each began with a year and they’re like a little snapshot into that period of the characters’ lives, especially at the beginning when there weren’t many chapters set in the same year. As the story progressed and Tiiana got older, you spend more time with her in each year, seeing how her life changes in small and big ways.

Burning Cities begins in 1941 when Tiiana’s parents Liisi and Peeter meet, after a few short chapters Tiiana is born in 1946 and then you follow her as she grows up to the year 1962. There are a few chapters set in the 1990s and 2010s throughout the book and as you’re never properly introduced to the narrator in those chapters, it takes a while to make the connections between them and Tiiana as a child.

A lot of things to do with the Second World War or how it was in Estonia before the war doesn’t really register in Tiiana’s every day life, especially when she’s a child. She knows that other children and adults don’t like the Russians but she’s not sure why and when she becomes friends with a Russian boy from the school next door to hers, she questions whether her father’s uncertainties about the friendship is because he’s a boy or because he’s Russian.

Tiiana is a well-written and believable child. She learns to observe people from a young age and is fascinated by books and how there’s apparently different eras that the adults talk about. She’s smart but also sheltered, because of her father’s job she never wants for anything unlike some of her fellow classmates. It’s the little things that make the city of Tartu a strong presence in the novel. It’s a place that’s being rebuilt but there’s so many parts of it that aren’t whole or are broken. This mirrors Tiiana’s parent’s relationship as they drift apart and attempt to hide things from Tiiana to no avail. As Tiiana gets older she becomes more outspoken but she’s still quiet young and naïve and, much like her parents, doesn’t talk about how she feels.

Burning Cities is a story of family secrets and tragedy told, through the most part, through the eyes of a child. It’s a well-written story that often paints a vivid picture, but it still has a hazy quality to it as much of it feels like a memory with some events or people more solid than others. It’s a book that pulls you in from the very beginning, with interesting characters and a haunting writing style. 4/5.