May 13, 2018

Bookish Teas

A while ago I was contacted by someone from Adagio Teas, offering me a gift voucher to purchase some of their products and review them. Since they have a bunch of bookish-themed teas, I jumped at the chance! I purchased the following:

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Lizzy Bennet (Pride & Prejudice) -- masala chai & blackberry & pu erh dante & raspberry leaves

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Mr. Darcy (Pride & Prejudice) -- earl grey bravo & cream & chestnut & chocolate chips (of course I needed to get Lizzy & Darcy as a matching set!)


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Mr. Jack Robinson (Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries) -- Mambo, Peach & Masala Chai



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Elixir of Life (Harry Potter) --  Strawberry, Vanilla, & Hazelnut



   

 Belle (Disney) -- caramel, summer rose, ceylon sonata, apricots






Eugene (Disney) -- hazelnut, chocolate chip, masala chai, cloves



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Shieldmaiden (Lord of the Rings) -- white peony, caramel, & ginger (this was a gift for my sister, so it's the only one that I haven't tried myself)




I really liked the variety of bookish- and fandom-themed teas that Adagio offers! The artwork for some of the teas is also very attractive (*points up* like pretty much every tea that I selected).


Inspector Jack Robinson, relaxing with a mug of his signature blend
As for the teas themselves, I found that I need to brew them longer (for several minutes), use a larger amount of tea leaves, and smaller mugs than usual in order for them to be strong enough. (I am not a fan of weak tea!) Of the teas I tried, Mr. Jack Robinson and Belle stood out as having the most distinct flavours -- the Jack Robinson tea has an interesting pop of peach amongst the masala chai (different, but it works!), and the Belle tea -- while not my usual style -- has sweet caramel and floral rose flavours that come through very clearly.

The interesting combinations of flavours drew me to a lot of these teas; however, in some cases, the unique flavour added to the mix wasn't really detectable in the actual drinking of it. While I quite enjoyed the smoothness of the Mr. Darcy tea, the chestnut flavour was too subtle; the hazelnut flavour in the Elixir of Life was overpowered by the strawberry. Most of the teas, though (even the weaker ones), smelled delicious!

Overall, I'd say that these teas get points for creativity of flavour combinations (and how they connect to the corresponding character/fandom) and artwork, but in terms of strength of flavour, they are kind of hit-and-miss. I would check them out again, though, both to try out some different flavour combinations, and to collect some more super cute tea tins featuring my favourite characters!


I'd also be interested in creating my own custom blends on their website... maybe some more Jane Austen-themed ones?

March 21, 2018

The Uncertain Places: A Rambling Review

The Uncertain Places by Lisa Goldstein

I feel like this book started out strong and then in the second half it got messy and kind of ridiculous. I liked the initial mystery surrounding the Feierabend family, but I think the source of the mystery was revealed too soon and lost some of its appeal. Also, the romance between Livvy and Will really isn't shown to the reader much at all; since this isn't a romance, that's okay, but the fact of the matter is that Livvy's wellbeing is Will's primary motivation for a good chunk of the book, which was hard to care about when we hadn't watched their relationship grow (and plus, I was kinda wary of Livvy for quite a while).

And then when they end up in the other realm everything just went Alice-in-Wonderland-y with bizarre, random occurrences happening and everyone being cool with them and going with the flow. That surreal sort of vibe tends to rub me the wrong way, as the logical part of my brain keeps yelling, 'Why would you go and do a thing like that?' It felt rushed towards the end, too, like the author was scrambling to tie up a whole bunch of storylines, without giving them enough time to breathe and feel like they were fully developed. Some things really weren't explained properly at all. Spoiler, highlight to read: Like why was Nell keeping the queen in that locked room? Was the queen Nell's prisoner? Or was she a guest in her house? I think the second half of the story definitely could have used some more editing.

I did like the whole notion of sacrifices and bargains, and the fact that these were an integral part of the other realm. I think the main villain, though, could have been made more cunning; she makes a pretty stupid error at one point that lowered her somewhat in my estimation. Spoilery details: The queen of the Fae doesn't realize that Will picks the sack so that he can conjure up Lizzy from it? I can't believe she wouldn't see that coming.

Overall I feel like this book had potential, but the slapdash execution of the second half of the story let it (and me) down.


3 shooting stars. 


 

February 12, 2018

Stalled Series #1: the Chemical Garden trilogy

Image from: https://vectortoons.com
This is a new feature on my blog, as I have discovered that there are a bunch of series I have read the first one or two books in but have not finished. (I'm not the only one, right?) I'd like to decide for sure if I really want to complete some of these series or not, so I'm turning to you, faithful readers, for your advice.

First up on the chopping block: the Chemical Garden trilogy by Lauren DeStefano.



I've had mixed feelings about the Chemical Garden trilogy right from book 1, as you can tell from my review of Wither. The writing style made it difficult for me to connect to Rhine, and I found Gabriel very boring. In the sequel Fever, I had some issues with inaccuracies/implausibilities in the scientific basis of the world-building.

So why am I even considering finishing the trilogy?

Well, there's just one more book, and I admit I'm a little curious to see how it all wraps up. I thought the "sister wives" premise was an interesting one that was well-executed. And I found Linden to be a far more complex and intriguing character than Gabriel.


So, what I need to know is, is it worth it to read the final book Sever? Does it provide a gripping conclusion to the series? Is it at least somewhat plausible? Will fans of Linden be pleased with his character development? Or should I just let the series stall forever?

Advise me, please!

January 16, 2018

2018 Reading Challenges

I'm joining a few different reading challenges this year! I'm hoping that in 2018 I will read more 4- to 5-star books and fewer 3-star ones. Maybe I need to DNF more? Or perhaps I just had bad luck in 2017.

Anyway, here are the challenges:

1.) Modern Mrs. Darcy 2018 Reading Challenge - hosted by Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy

Rather than a genre-specific challenge, this one is a more holistic challenge aimed at helping readers find amazing books to read in 2018. And considering my 2017 felt a little bit lacklustre in terms of reading... maybe this will help me discover more of those take-my-breath-away reading experiences. Here's hoping! *crosses fingers*

The challenge categories are:



Anne also provides some printables when you sign up, including a bookmark to track how often you're reading.

(If anyone has any recommendations for a book in translation or a memoir, let me know!)

2.) 2018 Finishing the Series Reading Challenge - hosted by Curly Carla and Lenoreo at Celebrity Readers


Guys, I have a number of series that have just... stalled. I've got to either finish them up or decide for sure that I'm going to quit on them.

Series like:

- the Matched series by Ally Condie — I have Reached, I got most of the way through Reached, and then... I dunno, it really wasn't doing it for me at that moment so I put it down. It may have been my mood, though, as I was in the midst of an intense Master's program and my reading for fun just fizzled. I liked Matched and Crossed, so I feel like I should give Reached another try.

- the His Fair Assassin series by Robin LaFevers — I've read the first two. I really liked Grave Mercy but was more kinda lukewarm on Dark Triumph. I have a copy of Mortal Heart so I need to get to it!

- the Birthmarked series by Caragh O'Brien — I read the first book forever ago. I think I'd need to re-read before I started on Prized, but I do have a copy of both of those so I could do that. How I feel about Prized will probably determine if I keep going with the series.

- the Razorland series by Ann Aguirre — I read Enclave AS AN ARC, that is how long ago I read it. And I've had Outpost sitting on my TBR shelves for... an embarrassingly long time. This is another one where I think I'll need to skim the first book as a refresher first.

- the Chemical Garden trilogy by Lauren DeStefano — I've read and have copies of Wither and Fever, but it's not my favourite series. Still, I kinda want to know how it ends... thoughts?

- the Nevermore series by Kelly Creagh — I read Nevermore so. long. ago. But I did enjoy it and although I'd need to get the first out of the library to refresh my memory, I own the second now, so... yeah, I need to get to that already.

Huh. 4 out of the 6 I listed are dystopian series. Shows you what I was reading a ton of like....6 years ago! :P

I'm picking the lowest level "C-List Series Finisher," as I really doubt I will finish reading more than 4 series this year.


3.) Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2018 - hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block 

 

This is a challenge for reading books that you already owned before January 1, 2018. I have so many of these that I badly need to just get read, already! I'm going to just pick the lowest level, Pike's Peak (12 books) to start with, although I'm hoping I might get to Mount Blanc (24 books).

Books I could possibly read for this challenge include:

 - Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine
 - Where I Want to Be by Adele Griffin
 - Stormy Petrel by Mary Stewart
 - Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer
 - Sold for Endless Rue by Madeleine E. Robins
 - And Again by Jessica Chiarella
 - Mad Miss Mimic by Sarah Henstra
 - Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville
 - Wrong About the Guy by Claire LaZebnik
 - Stray by Elissa Sussman
 - Banner of the Damned by Sherwood Smith
 - Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge
 - Defiance by C.J. Redwine

...and so many more. 

What challenges are you participating in this year? Which books do you think I should read for the challenges I've signed up for? Let me know your recommendations!

January 4, 2018

The Forgotten Book: A Panoramic Review

"A Jane Austen-inspired YA tale about a sixteen-year-old girl who finds a magical book—and discovers that anything she writes inside it comes true.

Emma is used to things going her way. Her father is headmaster of her prestigious boarding school, her friends take her advice as gospel, and she's convinced that a relationship with her long-time crush is on the horizon.

As it turns out, Emma hasn't seen anything yet. When she finds an old book in an abandoned library, things really start going Emma's way: anything she writes in the book comes true.

But the power of the book is not without consequences, and Emma soon realizes that she isn't the only one who knows about it. Someone is determined to take it from her—and they'll stop at nothing to succeed.

A new boy in school—the arrogant, aloof, and irritatingly handsome Darcy de Winter—becomes Emma's unlikely ally as secrets are revealed and danger creeps ever closer.
" (from Goodreads)
The Forgotten Book by Mechthild

My reaction: I was on the fence for the first 5 or 6 chapters of this book, but really ended up enjoying it (and polishing it off in a day!). Initially I kept trying to figure out which character was supposed to represent which Austen character (as I knew the book was Austen-inspired) and I was seeing all the parallels. This was kind of distracting for me, especially considering that it pulled from both Emma and Pride & Prejudice, which seemed discordant, since it wasn't following one story or the other, but a mishmash.

However, once the magical book was introduced, this became its own story (just with elements of Austen). 

Best aspect: The fantastical, magical aspect of the story. The premise of a book that makes whatever is written in it come true was explored in interesting (and sometimes bittersweet) ways. I loved the connection to fairy tales and folklore, and the messages in this story about the power of words, and the danger of trying to make wishes come true (that could end up having unforeseen consequences!). It certainly showed magic to be a double-edged sword. Plus, the whole idea of this magical book totally gave me Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets vibes!


If I could change something... I'd flesh out some of the side characters. Charlotte and Hannah seemed very similar to me, and apart from their alignment with their Jane Austen counterparts (spoilers, highlight to read: Charlotte as Jane from P&P, Hannah as Harriet from Emma) I didn't feel like they had much personality. I also felt like Darcy fell into stereotype, and could have been explored more. I was okay with the romance but I wasn't crazy about it — while I liked their initial bickering dynamic, I thought it moved quite suddenly to an "Oh, I'm in love with him" realization without a smooth transition.

I'd also tighten up the middle of the story; it felt a little drawn-out, where for a while they kept getting clues but not getting any closer to solving the mystery! (However, I liked the mystery itself, which was very intriguing and kept me hooked, and when the reveals happened, they were well done and unexpected.) 

If you haven't read it: and you want to read a story set in a boarding school with magical elements (a la Hex Hall or Vampire Academy), but tinged with a haunting, bittersweet mystery, then this book could be what you're looking for.

If you have read it: did I miss something, or did the storyline involving (spoilers: the niece Marie) get totally dropped?

Just one more thing I wanted to mention: I liked Emma's voice. She was a little immature and made mistakes, but she wasn't irritatingly immature; she realized when she made mistakes and was willing to admit it.

Final verdict: 4 shooting stars. This is the sort of book that both makes you want to believe in magic and fear it at the same time. Definitely recommend!




Disclaimer: I received this as an ARC for review from the publisher. 

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