Subscription Box Review: OwlCrate – January 2020

Basic Box Info

This box only has two options – Owlcrate, which caters to fans of Young Adult books and Owlcrate Jr, which caters to Middle Grade readers.

  • Owlcrate (29.99 + Shipping)
  • Owlcrate Jr. (27.99 + Shipping)

Boxes are shipped between the 15th and 20th of each month. Shipping is available worldwide, with the exceptions of Mexico and Peru. The FAQ said that delivery was proving to be unreliable in these countries, though if a more reliable shipping service is available service may resume in the future.


January 2020 Unboxing: Vengeance Will Be Mine

20200119_182036

All the cool things

This month’s book feature is Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim which is described as a gender-swapped retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo. I mean, I like a good tale of revenge just as much as anybody! The OwlCrate exclusive cover is pretty darn cool but the original cover (right) was nice as well. Honestly, OwlCrate has the best exclusive covers out of all the boxes I tried.

The “big deal” item this month is a Harry Potter mug designed by Cara Kozik which features scenes from The Goblet of Fire. It’s a great quality mug and is microwave and dishwasher safe. It’s definitely going in the regular mug rotation. There are two other mug designs featured in past boxes and they were snapped up pretty quickly when they did a restock during the holidays.

20200119_182238

This month’s pin design is inspired by Scavenge the Stars. I like the design, but I like what it’s pinned to even more!

20200119_182325

A pin banner with a map from The Hobbit!! I love it – both functional and nicely decorative! I’ve pinned all the pins I like from past book boxes onto it and now it’s hanging from one of my bookshelves like it is here. It’s really sturdy material and I can fit about 10 more pins on it.

20200119_182455

Socks in boxes are always a winner! These are Crooked Kingdom inspire and I’ve already worn them. Note – they lasted a full day of wear and are mostly cotton!

Last two items – a pocket mirror with not so secret compartments. This little guy would actually make an awesome earring holder for travel. And ANOTHER CANDLE!!! It smells intensely of jelly beans and I’m not sure how I feel about that. It’s supposed to be blueberries and ginger, but all I’m gettin is jelly beans.

Waiting on Wednesday: The Black Song by Anthony Ryan

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme originally hosted on Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. This is a great way to share upcoming released you’re excited about!


Cover- The Black Song

OH DANG. The cover is out and it has a release date of August 4, 2020! The Black Song is the second book in the Raven’s Blade series, where we once again get to follow Vaelin al Sorna. I was surprised to find I loved the first book in this series, mostly because The Wolf’s Call is a return to the awesomeness of Blood Song. He must defeat the one called Darkblade before they come to Vaelin’s home and threaten his people and kingdom.

The Black Hawks by David Wragg – Review

Cover- The Black Hawks

Published: October 3, 2019

Publisher: HarperVoyager

Series: Articles of Faith #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 421 (Paperback)

My Rating: 3.0/5.0

Synopsis:

Dark, thrilling, and hilarious, The Black Hawks is an epic adventure perfect for fans of Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch.

Life as a knight is not what Vedren Chel imagined. Bound by oath to a dead-end job in the service of a lazy step-uncle, Chel no longer dreams of glory – he dreams of going home.

When invaders throw the kingdom into turmoil, Chel finds opportunity in the chaos: if he escorts a stranded prince to safety, Chel will be released from his oath.

All he has to do is drag the brat from one side of the country to the other, through war and wilderness, chased all the way by ruthless assassins.

With killers on your trail, you need killers watching your back. You need the Black Hawk Company – mercenaries, fighters without equal, a squabbling, scrapping pack of rogues.

Prepare to join the Black Hawks.


I picked up the audiobook for this last month and was pretty excited to check it out. Synopsis? Good. Cover? Pretty Cool. Reviews? Not Bad. But guess who just didn’t love it… yep, me. I was incredibly disappointed because it says right in the synopsis “perfect for fans of Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch” and that’s MEEEEE. I don’t really see the Scott Lynch comparison working, but it has the same bleakness as Abercrombie but I failed to love the characters as much.

I’m actually struggling to remember all the plot details and what exactly I thought of the book. It just didn’t stand out from the crowd of fantasy books. Perhaps this would have worked better for me in print because the narration made it feel monochromatic. No life to the story telling.

Vedren Chel (our MC) was a decent sort. He was quite dedicated to protecting the fairly useless prince he attached himself to despite the fact that this only put him in further danger. The Black Hawk mercenary group was sort of generically tough, with scary sounding names like Spider and Lemon. People were trying to kill them and they found themselves running from death at every turn. 

I was almost bored to death about 25% in, but I had a lot of cooking to do and needed something to listen to whilst I chopped, sauteed, and cleaned up. I trudged through the boring bits and lo, it started to liven up in the latter half. I started to care about what was going on (not that I can remember much now though). I will admit to loving Lemon from the start because of her angry Scots-ish ranting and swearing. It was hilarious and brightened up my attitude towards the whole book.

Long story short, it was good enough for me to finish out the book but probably not good enough for me to continue the series. Unless of course someone starts handing out rave reviews. I might even pick up the series in print at some point because I think the narration lent to my lack of enthusiasm.

Currently Reading: 1/20/20

Cover- Steel

Steel by A.C. Cobble

I LOVED the first book, Quill, and I can’t believe I forgot to see if the audiobook was out until now! News Flash – IT’S OUT AND I’M GONNA LISTEN TO IT FOR HOURS AND HOURS. The narration is done by the very talented Simon Vance and I’m about to lose myself in an awesome story for awhile.

 

 

Cover- The Shadow Saint

The Shadow Saint by Gareth Hanrahan

I enjoyed the dark weirdness of the first book and I was pretty excited when this finally showed up on my doorstep (after the release date). I thought perhaps it had gotten lost in the mail. Also, you can see my cover choices coordinate nicely this week!

 

Waiting on Wednesday: The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme originally hosted on Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. This is a great way to share upcoming released you’re excited about!


Cover- The Angel of the Crows

Am I EVER excited about this!!!! I loved the Goblin King when I read it several years ago the announcement of a new Katherine Addison book made my ears perk up for sure. The Angel of the Crows is set in 1880’s London (Jack the Ripper!) There will be angels, werewolves, and vampires in addition to all those darn humans and I’m soooo excited. It finally has this great cover and a release date of June 23, 2020 so mark those calendars!

Unnatural Magic by C.M. Waggoner – Review

Cover- Unnatural Magic

Published: November 5, 2019

Publisher: Ace Books

Series: Standalone

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 400 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

A “brilliant and terrifically fun”* debut novel brings an enchanting new voice to fantasy.

Onna can write the parameters of a spell faster than any of the young men in her village school. But despite her incredible abilities, she’s denied a place at the nation’s premier arcane academy. Undaunted, she sails to the bustling city-state of Hexos, hoping to find a place at a university where they don’t think there’s anything untoward about providing a woman with a magical education. But as soon as Onna arrives, she’s drawn into the mysterious murder of four trolls.

Tsira is a troll who never quite fit into her clan, despite being the leader’s daughter. She decides to strike out on her own and look for work in a human city, but on her way she stumbles upon the body of a half-dead human soldier in the snow. As she slowly nurses him back to health, an unlikely bond forms between them, one that is tested when an unknown mage makes an attempt on Tsira’s life. Soon, unbeknownst to each other, Onna and Tsira both begin devoting their considerable talents to finding out who is targeting trolls, before their homeland is torn apart…


Unnatural Magic was an unusual book that caught my eye with that lovely cover and the promise of a mystery. Honestly, I just can’t help myself with a little fantasy whodunnit – I ALWAYS request them. The mystery part of this was pretty good and the characters were certainly not your run-of-the-mill fantasy gals.

Onna Gebowa is a brilliant girl in what is still largely a male dominated area of study. In order to pursue her dreams of attending university and practicing magic, she sails off to Hexos. In short order she gets involved in the investigation of troll murders that have been happening around the city. Tsira is a troll who’s nearly been murdered several times and is determined to find out who is behind the crimes as well, as they’ve hit a little closer to home than is comfortable. Definite understatement there. Tsira is also quite a tough one, but her softer side shows through as she cares for Jeckran after she discovers him dying in the snow. 

Both character POVs were equally interesting, though Tsira’s may edge out for the win. She and Jeckran got into much more interesting situations that Onna. I mean, Tsira was literally fighting six human men at a time for some cash and Jeckran just runs around shooting people (not literally). Absolutely fascinating! Theirs was the more action-packed while Onna’s POV dealt more with people and the society of Hexos. The world building is not particularly in depth, but it feels as if the whole world could be expanded so easily focusing on different characters in different cities. It feels lived in. 

Overall, this was an unusual book that I don’t think will jive with everyone. It was interesting and has remarkably capable female characters that didn’t feel like a parody of Strong Female Character. I liked it. I liked the magic, the world, the weirdness of the troll societies, the hints at secret troll magic. I didn’t love it, but I was left thinking about it for days after finishing it. I wouldn’t hesitate to read another book from C.M. Waggoner and would love to see this world expanded upon!

Currently Reading: 1/13/20

Cover- The True Bastards

The True Bastards by Jonathan French

I enjoyed the first book in this series, but not quite as much as everyone else seemed to, which is part of the reason I’m only just now reading this despite having had an ebook for MONTHS. Thus far it’s interesting and I like getting things from Fetching’s perspective. Fingers crossed that it ends up being a good one!

 

 

Cover- Protect the Prince

Protect the Prince by Jennifer Estep

I couldn’t wait to read this after finishing up (and just recently reviewing) Kill the Queen. Perfect time to catch up so I can read the third book when it’s released in a few months.

 

Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep – Review

Cover- Kill the Queen

Published: October 2, 2018

Publisher: HarperVoyager

Series: Crown of Shards #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 443 (Paperback)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

Synopsis:

Gladiator meets Game of Thrones: a royal woman becomes a skilled warrior to destroy her murderous cousin, avenge her family, and save her kingdom in this first entry in a dazzling fantasy epic from the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Elemental Assassin series—an enthralling tale that combines magic, murder, intrigue, adventure, and a hint of romance

In a realm where one’s magical power determines one’s worth, Lady Everleigh’s lack of obvious ability relegates her to the shadows of the royal court of Bellona, a kingdom steeped in gladiator tradition. Seventeenth in line for the throne, Evie is nothing more than a ceremonial fixture, overlooked and mostly forgotten.

But dark forces are at work inside the palace. When her cousin Vasilia, the crown princess, assassinates her mother the queen and takes the throne by force, Evie is also attacked, along with the rest of the royal family. Luckily for Evie, her secret immunity to magic helps her escape the massacre.

Forced into hiding to survive, she falls in with a gladiator troupe. Though they use their talents to entertain and amuse the masses, the gladiators are actually highly trained warriors skilled in the art of war, especially Lucas Sullivan, a powerful magier with secrets of his own. Uncertain of her future—or if she even has one—Evie begins training with the troupe until she can decide her next move.

But as the bloodthirsty Vasilia exerts her power, pushing Bellona to the brink of war, Evie’s fate becomes clear: she must become a fearsome gladiator herself . . . and kill the queen.


I’ve had this book on my radar for awhile now and finally picked up the audiobook, which by the way, is great. From the start I knew this was going to be interesting – I liked the voice of the main character and the food descriptions were so inspiring that I decided to make one of the recipes (post soon to follow)!

Everleigh is an orphan from the Winter branch of the royal family and has been living in the palace since her parents were killed fifteen years ago. She’s been spurned by the eldest princess and mostly stays in the kitchens or with the royal jeweler where she’s learning the trade. She also has very little magic, which isn’t a mark in her favor – an enhanced sense of smell doesn’t sound that useful upon first consideration. It really is though.  She can smell emotions and detect poison which is handy when Princess Vasilia decides to murder the entire royal family using poison. Everleigh escapes and joins up with a gladiator troupe while keeping her identity secret. She learns to fight and plans to use her hard won skills to kill Vasilia and take revenge for herself and the rest of those murdered at her hand.

I thought the plot was pretty cool and definitely enjoyed the characters. There’s a touch of blooming romance with the handsome Lucas Sullivan, mage enforcer of the troupe. He’s tall dark and handsome as one might expect. The other members of the troupe are interesting (and important to the plot) in their own right – Serilda is the leader and former Queensguard as is Cho who can morph into a red dragon. Paloma can morph into a fearsome ogre and ends up being quite likable after a rocky start. 

All in all, this was a pleasing, entertaining read. I’ve already picked up the sequel so when the third book is released I’ll be caught up! Some of the dialogue was a bit silly and Everleigh spent a lot of time pointing out that she’s the new Evie and doesn’t take crap (or wisdom) from anyone. I could mostly ignore this because the story was such a page turner.

Waiting on Wednesday: Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme originally hosted on Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. This is a great way to share upcoming released you’re excited about!


Cover- Girl Serpent Thorn

I was scrolling somewhat aimlessly through a Goodreads list and came across this lovely – it has a REALLY high review average which is what lead me to click on it. Girl, Serpent Thorn has that freakishly trendy snake n flowers theme that so many fantasy books are featuring at the moment, but the synopsis is pretty cool. A girl is poisonous to the touch and she’s got a demon in the dungeon. And the best part is, she might actually make use of her threatening condition to gain some power of her own. This will be released May 12, 2020.

Master of Sorrows by Justin Call – Review

Cover- Master of Sorrows

Published: February 25, 2020

Publisher: Blackstone Publishing

Series: The Silent Gods #1

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 577 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 3.0/5.0

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: (Blackstone Publishing)

The Academy of Chaenbalu has stood against magic for centuries.

Hidden from the world, acting from the shadows, it trains its students to detect and retrieve magic artifacts, which it jealously guards from the misuse of others. Because magic is dangerous: something that heals can also harm, and a power that aids one person may destroy another.

Of the academy’s many students, only the most skilled can become Avatars–warrior thieves, capable of infiltrating the most heavily guarded vaults–and only the most determined can be trusted to resist the lure of magic.

More than anything, Annev de Breth wants to become one of them.


I’ve been wanting to get my hands on this book since like, February 2019 because what could be cooler than a book where a boy could either destroy the world or be a hero? The synopsis (from Gollancz) is absolutely enough to make any fantasy nerd want to check this out, but it ended up not being as much of a hit as I hoped. In fact, the synopsis above is much more in line with how exciting this book is.

Annev de Breth is in training to become an Avatar of Judgement, so that he may go out in the world and acquire magical artifacts and secret them away. The village of Chaenbalu is hidden in a forest, protected by a glamour so that no outsiders may find it and all of the boys and girls in training at the academy were stolen away as babes. Except Annev, who was born in the village but was missing a hand and was to be killed along with his parents. He was saved by Sodar, who pulled some trickery and passed him off as an extra babe stolen from the city and gave him a magical prosthetic that functions as a real limb. If anyone were to find out, he would be killed and proclaimed an agent of the dark god Keos. 

Much of the book centers around Annev trying to pass this test or otherwise be relegated to simple servitude and lose his chance to marry Myjun, a lovely girl training to be a witwoman (the female counterpart to Avatars). He deals with bullying, friends who weigh him down, and secrets kept by Sodar. I found most of the book to be pretty slow-paced and kind of uninteresting. I just didn’t really connect with Annev and despite the fact that I LOVE school settings this just didn’t click with me. Things started to pick up towards the second half of the book, but by then I wasn’t really invested in the story or characters. Whether or not I read future installments will depend entirely on reviews or my inability to show restraint and not request it. 

This was not a terrible read, but my expectations were high and my lackluster feelings towards the first half of the book stood out even more because of it. The second half had much more action, some cool magic, and finally some BLOODY ANSWERS. Considering the fact that Annev might destroy the world he sure was average most of the time. I desperately wanted him to manifest some dark magic, but he was thoroughly unremarkable until the last little bit. WHYYYYY.