Monday, 7 November 2016

Pink Parcel: November



Novembers Pink Parcel has been curated in conjunction with Look magazine.  This months box features the usual feminine hygiene products, some beauty treats, a cup of tea, something yummy and a complimentary copy of this months Look!

Pink Parcel is one of my must have subscription boxes.  With the amount the box contains it is amazing value for money.  It is such a relief not to worry about getting caught out when that time of the month rolls around and all the extra treats are an added bonus.  That being said this is the first month that I have been a little disappointed.  There seemed to be a little less than usual in this box and most were sample sizes, all the products were lovely but I just found it a little lacking and at some points a little repetitive.  But considering how long I have been getting this box it really is a credit to Pink Parcel that this is the only one I haven't adored.

This month not all subscribers received the same product, everyone was sent a selection from a long list which is probably where I think this box when wrong for me.  I would have preferred some of the other products that were available.

Lets have a look at what's in this months box.

Ombar, Strawberry Mylk - £1.99



Chocolate.  Normally you can't go wrong.  I imagine this is going to be the best part of this box for a lot of people but unfortunately I just don't like this brand.  It is 100% organic, contains only natural ingredients and is healthy which is all wonderful but I just don't really like the taste of it.  I will be giving this away.

Find out more at: ombar.co.uk

Drink me Chai, Spiced Chai Latte - One sachet

(£2.50 for 250g)


I am a big fan of Chai so I was happy to see this in my box.  I love to try new things but old favourites are always welcome.  There is nothing better than curling up on a cold winters day with a warm mug of Chai.  I always add water to this, (milk makes it a little too sweet for me) and normally drink it in the evenings.  It is 99% caffeine free to is perfect for an evening treat.

Find out more at drinkmechai.co.uk

Ren Glycolactic Radiance Renewal Mask - 15ml sample

(£32 for 50ml)



This pricey mask is a welcome edition this month.  I receive a lot of face masks but over the winter I use them very often so I am always happy to get one in my box.  For the price of this Ren mask I am expecting a lot.   I tried a little on the back of my hand. It is a light formula that goes on very smoothly.  It smells wonderful, very fruity and fresh and my skin definitely felt smoother after.

Find out more at renskincare.com

Mavala Nial Polish, Basel - Full sized - £4.95


This very small bottle of nail varnish packs a punch.  It goes on really nicely and is strongly pigmented so coverage is spot on.  You only need one or two coats and it dries with a nice shine.  It Is eco-friendly and free of chemicals which is a bonus.  I'm not wild about the colour only because I already have quite a few other bottles in this shade. 

Find out more at johnlewis.com

Aussie 3 minute miracle reconstructor conditioner - one sachet

(£4.99 for 250ml)


This is one of those samples that seem to pop up a little too often in subscription boxes.  I have lost count of the amount of times I have received one of these little sachets.  Don't get me wrong, I like this product.  I think it  works very well and is good value for money but I am just so, so bored of it.  I would be happy to see another conditioner or another Aussie product.  At this point it feels like this sample is something subscription boxes use as a filler when they can't find anything else.

Find out more at boots.com

Batiste dry shampoo, Tropical - 50ml sample

(£1.50 for 200ml)


This is another product that feels like a lazy choice.  Again I have received a million of these.  I use them and I like them but I'm bored of them.  This product works well and smells fantastic but I'm just not excited by it.  Also it is so cheap (only £1.50 for a big canister) that I would rather go out and buy it rather than receive this small sample.

Find out more at batistehair.co.uk

Ciate mini liquid velvet - sample 2ml

(£17 for 6.5ml)


Subscribers received either Diva or Pin up.  I received Diva.  I am much more excited about this product than I was a about the last two.  I know Ciate well but have only ever used their nail varnish.  This liquid lip colour is super matt and very pigmented.  I LOVE bright lip stick so this is perfect for me.  I have not worn it all day so cannot speak about its wear ability at the moment but at first glance I love this.

Find out more at ciatelondon.com

Balance me super toning body polish - 50ml sample

(£18 for 150ml)


I am always happy to receive Balance me products.  It is one of the few natural brands that really works for me.  This exfoliating body wash is creamy and thick with a good amount of walnut shell to get rid of all that nasty dead skin.  It also smells wonderful.  This is a pretty good sized sample so should last some time. 

Find out more at balanceme.co.uk

Other samples available this month:

Carnaby & Cross Gemmotherapy face mask
Nails inc polish in Whitehall
Secret hair mud mask, hair serum and shampoo
Carmex Moisturising Lip Balm in mint
Korres Bergamont Pear body milk
Eyeko Skinny Liquid Eyeliner

This months Pink Parcel also contains a Look Magazine subscription offer.  Three months subscription to the weekly magazine for £14.70





Friday, 8 July 2016

July 2016 Birchbox: Never Ending Summer




In this post I will be going through what I have received in this months box, what my expectations are and what everything was worth. These are my first impressions, later on in the month I will review the products in more detail once I have had a chance to use them.

This months box is in collaboration with style icon Millie Mackintosh.  The box contains an amazing three full sized products one being a limited edition lip pencil designed by Millie herself.

LOC x Millie Ultra-Gloss Lip Pencil in Bohemian Rose - Full sized Product - £9



Packed with hydrating ingredients that keep lips super-smooth (but never sticky), the paraben- and cruelty-free formula provides moisture, nourishment, and colour that lasts all day – plus the high-shine finish that you'd normally associate with your favourite gloss. Plus, it's exclusive-to-Birchbox

I have absolutely fallen in love with this lip pencil.  It goes on really easily and is a gorgeous colour.  What is great about it is how long it lasts.  I wore it to work yesterday and I only had to reapply once after eating lunch.  Other than that it lasted all day and didn't fade much at all.  I will definitely purchase more of these amazing pencils in the future.

John Frieda Frizz Ease Forever Smooth Anti-Frizz Primer - Full Sized Product - £9.99



An innovation in fighting frizz, this revolutionary formula works to realign the structure of your hair over time. Not only does the blend of coconut oil and glycerides fight frizz from the inside out (for noticeably smoother hair) but it improves manageability and protects against heat, too!

Birchbox subscribers were given the choice between this product and a seven day in shower shampoo treatment.  I chose this one because I struggle with frizzy hair and I thought this would help me more.  So far I have only used it once, it smells nice and my hair does seem a little tamer.  I only need to use one pump to cover my hair so this is definitely a great value product. Hopefully I will see more benefits as I continue to use it. 

Nails Inc Nail Varnish in Colville Mews - Small sample

(full sized - £15)



When we’re seeking that fresh-from-the-salon mani, but we don’t have the time (or funds!) to book an appointment this is one formula that we can rely on. Boasting the brand’s new expertly-designed brush, just one swipe of this richly saturated polish leaves behind a flawless coat of colour. Oh, and the shine has to be seen to be believed! Long-lasting and beautifully intense, we don’t think you’ll be stepping foot in the nail salon anytime soon.

I really like Nails inc nail varnish so I am always happy to see a bottle in one of my subscription boxes.  This is the first time I have received a small sample size.  I bought a load from Tkmaxx the other day for £3.99 each so I am surprised at the size.  The colour is quite nice, I have recently received a similar shade in another box so am building up a good range in this colour scheme.

Caudalie Polyphenol C15 Broad Spectrum SPF20 Anti-Wrinkle Protect Fluid - 15ml Sample

(full sized product 40ml - £29)



Whether you’re spending the day at the beach or running errands, this multitasking moisturiser has you covered, working both as an antioxidant-rich wrinkle treatment battling those first signs of ageing and a protectant against UVA and UVB rays. Polyphenol and vitamin C stimulate cell renewal while hyaluronic acid plumps to diminish fine lines and wrinkles. The citrus-scented cream leaves skin hydrated, smooth and safe from future damage.

I really like Caudalie and I have Birchbox to thank for introducing me to them.  This is the second Caudalie product I have received and I like this one even better than the first.  This thin cream leaves my skin feeling soft and smooth, it also smells fantastic! I am really pleased with this sample and will be sad when it is all gone.

Skin Republic Collagen Infusion Mask - 1 sheet - Full Sized - £4.50

(£19.95 for a pack of ten)



While a takeaway pizza and a binge on Netflix might help us to unwind after a long week, the laid-back approach doesn’t always work when it comes to our complexion. Until we discovered this sheet mask, that is! Infused with moisture-boosting collagen and elastin, as well as rejuvenating vitamin E, this revitalising mask uses soothing ingredients to transform tired, stressed-out skin. While you might be sitting back and relaxing, the powerful formula stimulates collagen production and boosts elasticity to leave skin soft, supple, and totally refreshed.

I really love sheet masks.  When I went to Japan last year I came home with loads of them so I was happy to see a new brand for me in my Birchbox.  The sheet was absolutely coated with thick serum, it was easy to use and went on easily.  It left my skin feeling refreshed and soft. I was really happy with the results. 

That's all for this months box. Come back later in the month for a more in-depth review of each product.

(all product descriptions taken from the Birchbox website)






Monday, 6 June 2016

June Birchbox: Paradise Found


Welcome to this month's Birchbox unboxing post!




In this post I will be going through what I have received in this months box, what my expectations are and what everything was worth. These are my first impressions, later on in the month I will review the products in more detail once I have had a chance to use them.

This months Birchbox is all about summer!! The Paradise Found box is all about getting ready for long days and warm nights. This month I received five samples and I am mostly pleased with all of them.

The box itself is gorgeous. There were two designs, I received the Palm tree box, the others were pineapples. For one month only the box isn't a box at all, instead it is a mini draw which is really handy for keeping things in.


Eyeko Fat Liquid Eyeliner - Full sized product - £12



Meet the new chubby eyeliner pen from Eyeko - proof that sometimes, bigger really is better. This easy-to-use liner lets you get a steady grip for even application. It delivers the same smudge-proof, budge-proof, rich colour that we adore - now in a thicker, bolder-than-ever line. Enriched with nourishing algae extract, this liner glides on smoothly for a high-impact look (without any fuss).
The whole box cost me £10 plus £2 p&p so I have got my moneys worth in the first item alone.

I am not really a eyeliner user so I fear this great sample might be slightly wasted on me. Black liners especially make me look a little weird, I have quite small eyes and eyeliner only highlights this. I normally use a lightly, bronze eye shadow pencil instead.
I tried this product on my hand. It went on very smoothly and dried quickly. It did smudge a little but all in all it seemed really good quality. I will try this eyeliner for a few days and see how it goes.

Percy & Reed, reassuringly firm session hold hairspray – 50ml sample

(full size 250ml, £12)




Spritzing on the right hairspray is the key to getting a polished look, whether your hair is in beachy waves, a trendy fishtail, or a perfectly placed topknot. Thankfully, Percy & Reed's ultra fine, humidity-resistant spray delivers seriously strong hold while letting you style and restyle your hair throughout the day - all without getting flaky or crunchy.

I use hairspray everyday so this is a great sample for me to receive. I have naturally frizzy/wavy hair that falls to my chin so I am happy to have anything to tame it. The spray is described as humidity – resistant which I really hope is true as humidity is my arch nemesis.

Also, the can is really, really pretty which shouldn't matter but somehow it does.


Huygens: Le Gommage Visage – 10ml sample

(Full size 50ml, £17.90)



Packed with skin-friendly ingredients like nourishing sesame oil and antioxidant-boosting green tea, this gentle face scrub from Huygens is perfect for all skin types. Rice powder particles work to purify and lift away dead skin cells without irritation, while the creamy formula leaves skin soft and hydrated. Effectively, its healthy skin in a jar!

This face scrub is very expensive so I am expecting a lot from it. The sample is pretty small but it is full to the very top. I use face scrub everyday so this will not go to waste. It smells really nice as well and is made from natural ingredients so it is good for the environment.  You can see from the picture how thick this looks so I am hoping it is a great scrub that cleans and moisturizes at the same time.
This looks really good I can't wait to try this one, I think it might be my favourite sample of the month!

Vita Liberata: Fabulous Self Tanning Gradual Lotion – 50ml sample

(full size 200ml, £15)



The problem: achieving a beachy bronze look without scorching our sensitive skin. The solution: this gradual self-tanning lotion, which develops a lasting sun-kissed look in mere hours. Unlike old-fashioned tanners, this unique formula is tint-free and scent-free thanks to Odour Remove™ technology. In addition to creating a gorgeous natural glow, this lotion hydrates, nourishes, and conditions your skin with certified organic ingredients — including shea butter and extracts from melon, ginkgo biloba leaf, and lychee. Believe it or not, this miracle worker is also free of parabens, sulphates, and phthalates.

Ok so self tanning is not really my thing. I have had some disasters and I tan quite easily so I don't really bother using tanning products. That being said I will give this a go, mostly because I hate wasting things. The product itself seems nice enough. It is a white cream that is completely odourless which is great as sometimes these types of product have a nasty smell to them.  I promise to try this and come back with a review.
 
Yes to: Blueberries Facial Wipes – 10 wipes

(full size 25 wipes, £6.99)


We all know fruit is good for us so make your skincare regime a little juicier with Yes To’s Age Refresh Brightening Towelettes. Formulated with blueberries, coconut, lemon peel and apple, they gently cleanse, remove make-up and moisturise in one easy wipe leaving skin clean and glowy.

This is another everyday product for me so I am happy to receive these. I have not heard of this brand before but they sound great. The wipes are 96% natural which I like and they smell incredible. It is really hard to find a face wipe that doesn't dry out your face so if these are good they are definitely something that I will buy.

That's all for this months box. Come back later in the month for a more in-depth review of each product.

(all product descriptions taken from the Birchbox website)




Friday, 12 February 2016

Book Review: The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward

 
In this heartrending and poignant novel, award-winning author Amanda Eyre Ward tells the story of Alice Conroe, a forty year old Texas barbecue owner who has the perfect life, except she and her husband long for a child. Unable to conceive, she’s trying desperately to adopt but her destiny is quickly altered by a young woman she’s never met.

Fearless thirteen-year-old Carla Trujilio is being raised by her grandmother in Honduras along with her four year old twin brothers. Her mother is sending money home from Texas where she’s trying to make a better life for her family, but she only has enough to bring one son to her. When Carla’s grandmother dies, Carla decides to take her fate into her own hands and embarks on a dangerous journey across the border with Junior, the twin left behind.

Two powerful journeys intersecting at a pivotal moment in time: Alice and Carla’s lives will be forever and profoundly changed. Heartbreaking, emotional, and arresting, this novel is about finding the courage to trail blaze your own path in life with faith, hope and love, no matter the struggle or the tragedy
.
  
 
The Same Sky is a deeply affecting novel about two people from very different backgrounds. I wasn't really sure what to expect from this book. When I was offered the chance to read it I accepted without knowing anything about it. The blurb didn't really give too much away so I got stuck in. The book is short and easy to get through, I got through the pages quickly even with the heavy subject matters the book tackles.

I really like what Amanda Eyre Ward has done with this book. The story is about Carla, a South American girl living in the slums desperate to join her mother in America. And Alice an American woman who has survived cancer but is unable to have the one thing she wants, a child. Ward was not scared to tackle tough subjects in this book. Poverty, addiction, rape, loss of a child and cancer are all a feature of this novel. It would have been easy for the writer to really focus on these things and fill this book full of angst but she didn't. I thought all of these horrible subject matters were treated with great respect.

I really liked Ward's writing, it was easy to read and packed full of emotion. I do think she could have gone a little deeper into the characters feelings at times. The story was well told but there were a few things that were not concluded like Alice and Jake's marital problems. I really liked how this book came together at the end, it was a nice conclusion to this book, however, I do think the ending was a little hasty, a bit more time could have been spent on it.

The character's were great they were both such strong females which were fantastic. Carla was a brilliant character her inner strength and determination were ferocious. She made tough decisions, often out of desperation but she owned everything. There was a sad air of acceptance about her like she knew not to expect more from her life which was so sad. It was the complete opposite of Alice, who refused to accept what life had thrown at her. Alice was the less likeable of the two there were times where she and her husband came across as a little petulant. I don't know if that is because they really were petulant or because the reader is forced to compare their life to Carla's, which was a lot more harrowing. That is not to say that Alice's problems are less heartbreaking. What I loved about both characters was their refusal to stop fighting, it was inspiring to read about two women with such inner strength.

The Same Sky is a well-rounded book with some great characters. It is not a perfect book but it is a short read that is well worth your time.

 

3 stars

Find out more

Goodreads
 
Published February 4th 2016 by Blackfriars
 
A free copy of this book was provided in exchange for an honest review.  Image courtesy of Goodreads.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Book Review: The 100 Society by Carla Spradbery

 
For sixth-form student Grace Becker, The 100 Society is more than just a game; it's an obsession. Having convinced her five friends at Clifton Academy to see it through to the end, Grace will stop at nothing to carry out the rules of the game: tagging 100 locations around the city. With each step closer to the 100-mark they get, the higher the stakes become. But when the group catches the attention of a menacing stalker - the Reaper - he seems intent on exposing their illegal game, tormenting Grace with anonymous threats and branding their dormitory doors with his ominous tag.

As the once tight-knit group slowly unravels, torn apart by doubt and the death of a student, they no longer know who to trust.

With time running out, Grace must unmask the Reaper before he destroys everything she cares about for ever...
 
I kinda feel like this book has been given a bit of a raw deal. I have read a lot of reviews for The 100 Society and I can't help but feel that maybe it has been a little misunderstood. Don't get me wrong I completely understand what a lot of the reviewers had to see. This book wasn't perfect and I didn't love it but I did like it a lot more than others. The beauty of not only books, but the arts in general is that each individual piece of work can mean different things to different people. For others this book didn't work, and that's fine. But I saw it a different way, I saw it as a homage to the horror movies of my teens. It reminded me of days gone by, it bought back happy memories and because of that I can't hate this book.

When I was a teen the slasher horror movie genre was at its peak. I remember nervously going over to friends house for sleep overs and watching movies like Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legends. We used to swoon over Skeet Ulrich, Ryan Philipe and Jared Leto and we used to pretend that watching these movies didn't scare us at all. Of course we were all terrified, I used to go home the next day exhausted after a sleepless night. A night spent believing that every small sound, every creek of a floor board or rustling of branches outside was a killer coming to get me. These movies were a part of me teen years and I love them. Sure, they had more plot holes than a sieve, dumb characters who could never make a smart decision and questionable messages about girls who have sex. But still I liked them.

The 100 Society reminded me so much of those movies. Just with less plot holes and a more teen friendly tone. Whilst I will admit that this book had its problems I still had a really good time reading it.

So, I will start with the things I liked. I thought the writing was pretty good. I enjoyed Carla Spradbery's world building, I found it easy to slip into the book. The plot was well thought out and well executed. Normally I am freakishly good at figuring out who the bad guy is in books and movies and although I did figure out who it was this time it took me a little longer than usual and the motivation of the killer only became clear to me at the end. I thought Spradbery did a good job of building the creepiness. The intensity built up through the book and came to a crashing end during the last quarter making it the strongest section of the book. Also, I want to thank Carla Spradbery for having the courage to terrify, maim and kill a majority of the characters in this book. To many time YA authors opt for something a little softer. There is none of that here.

All that being said it had the potential to be even darker and there were times when the story dragged a little bit. These tended to be the moments when the teen angst took over from the horror. Characters were another issue. Grace was ok, I neither loved nor hated her. She wasn't completely stupid but she wasn't bursting with personality either. Trick was my favourite character, he had a little more depth than the others who fell flat for me. I felt like I didn't know them enough to invest in them, which led me to not care enough when the bad stuff happened to them. What didn't help was the love triangle. It was important to the plot, so I didn't resent it being there but it felt underdeveloped.

The 100 Society has its problems and it is far from perfect but there were aspects of it that I really enjoyed and on the whole I liked it. I hope to read more from Carla Spradbery in the future.

3 stars

Find out more:

 
Published September 4th 2014 by Hodder Children's Books
 
A free copy of this book was provided in exchange for an honest review.  Image courtesy of Goodreads.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Book Review: Assassin's Heart by Sarah Ahiers

 
In the kingdom of Lovero, nine rival Families of assassins lawfully kill people for a price. As a highly skilled member of one of these powerful clans, seventeen-year-old Lea Saldana has always trusted in the strength of her Family. Until she awakens to find them murdered and her home in flames. The Da Vias, the Saldanas’ biggest enemy, must be responsible—and Lea should have seen it coming. But her secret relationship with the Da Vias’ son, Val, has clouded her otherwise killer instinct—and given the Da Vias more reason than ever to take her Family down.

Racked with guilt and shattered over Val’s probable betrayal, Lea sets out to even the score, with her heart set on retaliation and only one thought clear in her mind: make the Da Vias pay.

With shades of The Godfather and Romeo and Juliet, this richly imagined fantasy from debut author Sarah Ahiers is a story of love, lies, and the ultimate vengeance.
 
I am very conflicted about Assassin's Heart. I am giving it four stars but it could have easily been five, yet I nearly gave it a three.

There was a lot about this book I liked. It is the most original novel I have read in years. Sure, there are plenty of books out there about assassins, especially in the YA bracket, but I haven't come across one quite like this. I was blown away by Ahiers imagination. The creation of the cities, religion and culture of her fantasy world was quite simply outstanding. The story and writing were rich with originality. I honestly do not think I will come across another book to match it for some time.

Ahiers is a truly creative writer. Everything in this book had purpose, all the information given to the reader was important in some way. The story was built well, it was never boring and never rushed. On the whole it was a very well put together book.

The reason I nearly gave this book a three star rating was the main character Lea. I didn't like her. Truthfully, I think Lea is not a character you are supposed to like, not straight away anyway. She goes on a journey and she changes as the book goes on. You could really see the difference in her from the beginning of the book to the end. I have no problem with that, I like it when a character grows, the issue in this book is that the change takes too long. For at least 75% of this book I disliked Lea. That is just far too long.

For three quarters of the book Lea is borderline unbearable. Sure, she is a kick ass assassin and that is all kinds of cool, but she is also a snob who looks down on people who do not have as much as she does. She lacks personality, I kind of get it, something horrible has happened to her, she seeks revenge but her one track mind was an annoyance and it prevented the reader from getting to know her. If I had a pound for every time I read the words 'all that mattered was killing the Da Vias,' or some variation of that, I would be a lot better off than I am now. Honestly, she sounded like a broken record and it was too much. Her single mindedness also leads her to become selfish. She focuses on her goal so much that she loses sight of the cost that could come with achieving it. She doesn't care about the consequences of her actions and drags others into her plot without thinking of the risk it poses to their life's.

Luckily, as I said, she isn't like this the whole time. I loved her towards the end of this book. She was still kick ass but she lost the snobbishness, she started to see things differently, she started to care, she fell in love and it changed everything. I just wish the change had come a little sooner.

Les was a completely different story. I loved him from the beginning until the end. Sweet, loyal and kind he is the exact opposite of Lea. He was patient with her, he knew when to be soft and when to push back. He never belittled her, never thought he knew best. He just supported her, and learnt from her and she, in turn, learnt from him, even if she didn't want to.

The romance was wonderful. It was beautifully built and surprisingly adult. It felt real and it got under my skin in a way few YA romances have managed. There was no teen drama, no romantic angst. It was just two people slowly, without really realising it, falling in love. I adored it.

Assassin's Heart is not perfect but it came pretty close. Sarah Ahiers knows what she is doing, she is on my watch list and I will wait eagerly for her next book.

4 stars

Find out more

 
Assassin's Heart book one.  Published February 2nd 2016 by HarperTeen.
 
A free book was provided in exchange for an honest review.  Image courtesy of Goodreads.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Book Review: Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny by Wang Dulu and Justin Hill

 
Another life-altering quest, another struggle between honor and lust for power, another generation of warriors forging alliances and enmities. The adventure, romance, and artistry of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon continues in this novelized companion to the first ever Netflix debut film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny based on the novel by Wang Dulu.

Seventeen years after the legendary fighter Mubai dies protecting the world-conquering sword The Green Destiny, four great warriors are called together to guard the formidable weapon once more. The forces surrounding the sword irrevocably altered the life of Shulien, Mubai’s lover, but seventeen years later she is still honor-bound to defend the blade from the power-hungry warlord Hades Dai. The young fighters Wei-fang and Snow Vase, switched at birth, also have heritages and inheritances that inextricably link them to both each other and the fate of the sword. And Silent Wolf, Shulien’s former fiancĂ©, returns from presumed death to thwart Hades Dai—and rekindle an emotionally isolated Shulien’s feelings.

Jam-packed with all the hallmarks of an epic adventure—sacrifice, battles, betrayal, vengeance, redemption, and destiny—this saga also explores the deeper meaning of true heroism and virtue. As Wei-fang and Snow Vase search for identity and forge their places in the world of warriors and heroes, Shu-lien and Silent Wolf struggle to reconcile both the traditions and heartbreak of the past with a fragile hope for the future.
 
I was just a teenager when I first saw the movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.  I had never seen a film like it before and it captured my imagination and gave me a new found respect for foreign cinema.  It has been about sixteen years since Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon came out in British cinemas and now it is back in a big way with a new film called Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny coming out on Netflix in February.  Alongside the film release, we are also being treated to the book written by Wang Dulu and Booker Prize nominee Justin Hill.
 
I have never read a book like this one before.  It is strange to read something completely new which features characters I know well from somewhere else.  It was great to see what happened to some of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon's best loved and most iconic characters.  Both Shulien and Jiaolong are back in this sequel and there is also a host of brand new characters as well. 
 
For the most part, I liked Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of destiny.  I wanted to love it but it didn't grip me as much as I would have liked.  I thought the storyline was good and I enjoyed how everything came together.  It was poetic in some places and epic in others, and it was all brought to vivid life with the writing. 
 
It is the writing that comes out on top.  Everything from the scenery to the epic battles is beautifully written.  Great care has been taken to set a tone for this book and stick with it all the way through. I found all the characters to be well-rounded and interesting.  Out of all the characters, it is Shulien who carried most of the emotional weight.  Much like her role in the movie, she is forced to shelve her own needs in order to carry out her duty.  The moments where she looks back at her life and what she has lost are the most poignant of the whole book.
 
However, there were times where this book managed to bore me.  It was not always an easy read and sometimes I found myself getting distracted.  There are just moments where this all felt a little slow and I wanted a little more character to the book.  I think it all comes down to taste, as a whole this book didn't always work for me but that is not through a lack of talent on the author's part.
 
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny is a beautifully constructed book with some stunning writing.  It just could have used a little more pace at times.

3 stars

Find out more

 
Expected publication: January 26th 2016 by Weinstein Books
 
A free copy of this book was provided in exchange for an honest review. Image courtesy of Goodreads.

 

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Book Review: Altered by Marnee Blake

 
When "normal" ends, survival begins...
The sickness came on suddenly and violently. When it was done, waitress Blue Michaels was different in a really strange way. And the entire town of Glory was dead...except for her.

Only that's not exactly true. A handful of people made it, including U.S. Army Specialist Seth Campbell, who was caught in the wrong town at the worst time. He's fierce and protective, and way too good-looking. As much as they need a leader—as much as Blue wants to trust him—there are too many questions and not enough time for answers. Now they are hunted. But what their pursuers don't know is each of them has strange new powers. And they'll use their "gifts" to survive...no matter who stands in their way.
 
I am a big fan of the Science Fiction genre so when I was offered the chance to read Marnee Blake's New Adult Sci-Fi book, Altered I jumped at the chance.  I dived straight in and things started out well.  A deadly virus sweeps through a small American town leaving the inhabitants dead.  Only a handful of people who catch the virus survive.  After hours of pain and suffering, they wake up to find that they are not only alive but have developed superhuman powers.  The first chapter brought all of this to life in a very cool and vivid way but it was not to last.  The more I got into this book the more my original excitement about it fizzled away.
 
I really wanted to like this one, I truly did, but, in the end, I didn't like it at all.  I had several fairly substantial problems with it.  Firstly, I couldn't shake the feeling that the author didn't really know what she wanted this book to be.  It jumps between action, Science Fiction, emotional drama and romance at a dizzying speed.  I do not believe that books should be put in one genre, sometimes blurred lines are good but there has to be some kind of flow and that was distinctly lacking in Altered.  This jumping around led to me feeling like there was no substance to either the characters or the plot.  There are a fair few characters in this book and I felt like I knew none of them.  They felt more like shadowy stereotypes than real fleshy characters.  There was no personality, no individuality and nothing for me to relate to in any of them.
 
I wasn't particularly fond of the writing either.  It is fine to have unrealistic aspects of your book, it is Science Fiction after all, but for it to work the creator has to be able to sell it.  They have to find a way to make their audience suspend belief.  Marnee Blake couldn't do that for me. The descriptions of the powers and the action sequences did not work at all.  I found them awkward and at times bizarre.
 
There were some good ideas here and I do admire Marnee Black for taking a massive swing at it, but something was lost in translation and it fell short of my expectations.

2 star

Find out more:

 
Published December 28th 2015 by Entangled: Embrace.
 
A free copy of this book was provided in exchange for an honest review.  Image courtesy of Goodreads.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Book Review: The Becoming by Jeanne C. Stein

 
My name is Anna Strong. I am a vampire. How I became one is the reason for this story. I tell it all the way it happened. It may not be what you expect.

She's a bounty hunter--tough, beautiful, and trained for the unexpected. Until the night she's attacked and left closer to death than she can imagine. She awakens to an indoctrination into a dark new world where vampires walk among us. But this time, a tight grip on a .38 won't stop what she's hunting for.

Existing between the worlds of the living and the dead, Anna is torn by her love for two very different men. Max, a DEA agent, all too human, and vulnerable. And Avery, a Night Watcher who's joined Anna in pursuit of the rogue vampire who changed her life that terrifying night. Now, as her two worlds collide, fate plunges Anna into the ultimate battle between good and evil where survival is not just for the living...
 
I have recently started to read the Elemental Assassin series by Jennifer Estep. So far I love the series and it has managed to re-kindle my interest in Urban Fantasy. I decided to get The Becoming hoping that I would enjoy it as much as the Elemental Assassin books, but unfortunately it was not to be and I ended up not liking this one at all.

From the beginning it was clear that I was going to have multiple problems with this one. I didn't like the style of the writing, present tense never really works for me. So from the word go I struggled to feel comfortable reading this one.

Next came the whole rape/not rape thing which was a huge issue for me. Anna is beaten and raped by a vampire but because he bites her her body responds to him. Throughout the rest of the book the idea that she was raped is forgotten, instead the writer and the characters insist she was a willing participant. No, no, no. He beat he so bad she nearly died and he forced himself upon her against her wishes. That is rape.

Things don't get better from there. Anna has a boyfriend called Max who she seems to forget about when Avery comes along. She cheats on Max. A lot. There are a few moments where she feels a bit guilty about it but she makes herself feel better by having sex with Avery again. All of her excuses are frankly bullshit.

Anna isn't a great character at all. I think I am suppose to find her cool and edgy but I actually think she is a bit of a dick. She has zero personality and is also pretty dumb so she really doesn't have much going for her. Anna is so stupid that she cannot figure out who the bad guy is even when she is practically told.

The Becoming really was not for me. I didn't find it well written, appealing or interesting. I have the next book in the series. I really hope it is an improvement on this one.

2 Stars

Find out more:

 
Anna Strong Chronicles book 1, Published November 28th 2006 by Ace.
 
Image courtesy of Goodreads.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Book Review: Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan


When Apple's mother returns after eleven years away, Apple feels whole again. But just like the stormy Christmas Eve when she left, her mother's homecoming is bittersweet. It's only when Apple meets someone more lost than she is that she begins to see things as they really are.

A story about sad endings.
A story about happy beginnings.
A story to make you realise who is special.
 
Sarah Crossan is an author I know quite well, I've read her Breathe series and I even met her once but Apple and Rain is the first contemporary book of hers that I have read. I don't really know what I was expecting from this, the description sounded painful and I got the impression that this book would be a hard read. The two books in the Breathe series were not much help in determining what to expect from Apple and Rain. They are dystopia books full of rich world building, they could not be more different than Apple and Rain. In the end Apple and Rain turned out to be nothing like I expected and I found it quite different from other books I have read. It was realistic, touching and took me by surprise with its intelligence.

The writing in Apple and Rain is great, the main character Apple is quite young, only 13, and Crossan managed to find her voice with little effort. There was nothing over the top about this book, no dramatics, no heavy descriptions. Instead it focused on the emotions of a child as she went through some difficult times.

The storyline itself was heart breaking, I really felt for both Apple and Rain. This is a book about family and friendship, it is a coming of age story about sisters who are both lost. Mostly I think this is a book about growing up and how painful that process can be. I loved what Crossan did with the poetry theme that ran through the book, how Apple was inspired by a good teacher and a growing love of literature. I feel like a lot of thought was put into this book, it was lean and emotional without ever going to far.

The characters were good, they were all layered and full of personality. I didn't love nor hate any of them. I am not sure if that was the author's intention but I felt like it worked well. All of the characters are very real, they all have good and bad things about them. Each one at some point annoyed me and endeared themselves to me. Every character plays their part but it is the relationship between Apple and Rain that had all the impact in this book. This was a beautiful relationship full of ups and downs between very lost sisters. Crossan treated every aspect of not only this relationship but all the other issues in the book with utmost respect.

Although I didn't fall in love with this book, (to be honest it is not my kind of thing) I would still recommend it to young adult and adult readers. Sarah Crossan seriously impressed me with this novel and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.

4 stars

Find out more:

 
Published 2015 by Bloomsbury Publishing.
 
A free copy of this book was provided in exchange for an honest review.  Image courtesy of Goodreads.






Monday, 11 January 2016

Book Review: Home Sweet Home by Candis Terry


Army Ranger Lieutenant Aiden Marshall fought in some of the most hellish corners on earth and survived. Those closest to him, did not. When he returns home to Sweet, Texas, he believes he's broken and has lost everything—including his soul. The only fair thing he can do to the woman who's patiently waited for him to come home is tell her to move on with her life—without him.

Sassy waitress Paige Walker has no intention of walking away from the man of her dreams. He gave his all for his country and served with honor. Now it's time to pull him from the darkness and give him hope. With a heap of love, the help of the entire town, and a tail-wagging companion, Paige makes sure her hero knows there's no place like home sweet home.
 
I have a soft spot for military romances. I tend to enjoy them more than other romance sub-genres so I was really looking forward to reading this novella. This is not the first time I've come across Candis Terry's work. A few years back I read Anything but Sweet, a full length novel by the author which I adored.

I liked Anything but Sweet because of it's strong characters and Terry's sound writing and I ended up liking Home Sweet Home for exactly the same reasons.

I really like Candis Terry's style of writing. Home Sweet Home was easy to read but was not lacking in description or world building. It never felt rushed which is a rarity for a novella. Candis Terry structured the story perfectly giving the reader a full story without cramming to much into the short 144 pages.

In terms of story Home Sweet Home is nothing new. It is about a Army Ranger struggling to come to terms with all he has seen and dealt with at war, and the woman he left behind. Candis Terry manages to keep this from being repetitive with her writing and characters.

Aiden and Paige are enjoyable to read. Aiden is damaged, hurt and very unsure of what he wants. He is a realy sweet guy with a heart of gold. Frankly he never stood a chance going up against Paige. Out of the two she has the most personality. This is a woman who knows what she wants and sets about getting it. She is fiery, open and patient with Aiden who is very much the softer of the two.

Together they are great, the chemistry between the two sizzles away. Sometimes books where the two main characters are already in a relationship with each other or have a history fall a little flat for me but Terry handles the romance well. This is a story about two people who are very much in love finding their way back to one another after war pulled them apart.

Home Sweet Home is a short, touching and sweet novella. I really enjoyed it and will definitely be reading more from Candis Terry in the future.

3 stars

Find out more:

 
Sweet, Texas book 0.5.  Published May 19th 2015 by Avon Impulse.  A free copy of this book was provided in exchange for an honest review.  Image courtesy of Goodreads.