I got an Illumicrate subscription!

Has it been ages since I wrote a blog? It feels like its been ages… The beauty of drafts!
Anyway, hows it going? You all good? Cool.

So, anyone who follows my adventures on YouTube may already know that I love watching subscription box unboxings and not any kind of subscription box unboxing, but bookish subscription box unboxings. I suspect you also already know that there are a lot of subscription boxes out there for all sorts of things and I was determined, having watched enough of them, that I wanted a slice of that pie. So, I started looking into different boxes and settled on buying myself a Fairyloot box, as they’re based in the UK and do one off boxes, as well as subscriptions, for my birthday to test it out.

You can take a look at that here. You know, if you want.

After a month or so had passed, I started getting the itch again and went back to my subscription box research and discovered Illumicrates, which are also based in the UK and are quarterly rather than monthly. The main reason why I was umming and ahhing about the boxes in the first place was the price, but the notion of only paying the £30 they cost a few times a year, rather than every month was a big draw, so I brought myself a subscription, because treat yourself and oh my god, it was the best box ever.

Now, I’m not putting Fairyloot down at all, I enjoyed that box too, but the Illumicrate was a whole other level!

Check it out below

This box arrived literally the day after I received notice it had been shipped (unlike the previous box, which arrived a week after) and because it wasn’t themed, there was a range of interesting items, all of which are amazing! I’m very excited to receive my next box in February! If anyone else is a subscriber of a box or has any other ideas for me to try out, please let me know!

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Here We Are Now

Here We Are Now – Jasmine Warga

After absolutely loving My Heart and Other Black Holes I jumped at the chance to read Jasmine Warga’s next book and this didn’t disappoint!

Despite sending him letters ever since she was thirteen, Taliah Abdallat never thought she’d ever really meet Julian Oliver. But one day, while her mother is out of the country, the famed rock star from Staring Into the Abyss shows up on her doorstep. This makes sense – kinda – because Julian Oliver is Taliah’s father, even though her mother would never admit it to her.
Julian asks if Taliah if she will drop everything and go with him to his hometown of Oak Falls, Indiana, to meet his father – her grandfather – who is nearing the end of his life. Taliah, torn between betraying her mother’s trust and meeting the family she has never known, goes.
With her best friend Harlow by her side, Taliah embarks on a three-day journey to find out everything about her ‘father’ and her family. But Julian isn’t the father Taliah always hoped for, and revelations about her mother’s past are seriously shaking her foundation. Through all these new experiences, Taliah will have to find new ways to be true to herself, honoring her past and her future.

Essentially this book is two separate threads of the same story, we have Taliah’s story of finally meeting the absent rock star father, of going on a trip with him to meet the family she has never known where we see her insecurities and anxieties play out in this situation. Alongside that, we get the backstory, the tale of her parents, how they met, how they came together and how they ended up where they are now, we learned the story alongside Taliah which made me feel like I could really get immersed in the story. Also, much like her first book, which beautifully tackled the subject of depression, this book realistically portrays Taliah’s anxieties and insecurities in a relatable and understandable way and her friendship with Harlow had me nodding along and going SAME every time she examined it further.

This doesn’t have quite the same emotional impact as My Heart, but is still a story that tugs on the heart strings. The book essentially ends, just as Taliah’s story is beginning, creating a wonderful tableau for the rest of her life. There is an argument that this is a bit style over substance, but you really don’t mind when the characters are as interesting as Tal and her family. Also, you’ve got to love a story with a diverse cast, Tal is biracial, having a Jordanian mother and white American father, her best friend Harlow is a lesbian. There were a lot of references to things like Hamilton which I wasn’t sure if I liked, like, I love Hamilton and I love a good reference, but also having it mentioned several times made me feel a bit… odd.

Overall though, this was just very cute and a bit fluffy and on these cold wintery nights, that’s all you want.

The Year they Burned the Books

The Year they burned the books – Nancy Garden

It has been far too long since I’ve read a book by Nancy Garden, I read Annie on my Mind about a million years ago and although it was a little dated, I did enjoy it and am a little ashamed its taken me this long to pick up another of her books. As this book from the nineties is being re released I grabbed a copy from Netgalley!

When Wilson High Telegraph editor Jamie Crawford writes an opinion piece in support of the new sex-ed curriculum, which includes making condoms available to high school students, she has no idea that a huge controversy is brewing. Lisa Buel, a school board member, is trying to get rid of the health program, which she considers morally flawed, from its textbooks to its recommendations for outside reading. The newspaper staff find themselves in the center of the storm, and things are complicated by the fact that Jamie is in the process of coming to terms with being gay, and her best friend, Terry, also gay, has fallen in love with a boy whose parents are anti-homosexual. As Jamie’s and Terry’s sexual orientation becomes more obvious to other studetns, it looks as if the paper they’re fighting to keep alive and honest is going to be taken away from them. Nancy Garden has depicted a contemporary battleground in a novel that probes deep into issues of censorship, prejudice, and ethics.

I am sad to say that there are still people who have to live in this kind of community, where their education and their rights are diminished every day by fundamentalists, so even though this is a rerelease of an older book and feels a little dated in places, this is still a little bit too fresh in terms of the rampant homophobia that Terry and Jamie experience throughout the book.

What we have here is the perfect starter novel for anyone looking for YA LGBTQA+ fiction, Nancy Garden presents such interesting characters in these books. Jamie, our main character, is an intelligent high school student who decides to start running her own paper alongside the school paper to try and keep the town informed on the news she isn’t allowed to report on due to the censorship imposed by an extreme church group. The book deals with her struggles, not only with her sexuality, but with the issues of truth and opinion and the difficult line between the two, as well as the ideas of community and what brings people together and tears them apart. All tropes that Nancy Garden does so well.

Though this isn’t necessarily ground breaking or diverse, especially when surrounded by books released more recently, The Year They Burned the Books is still sadly relevant and is a story that needs to be told.

Also, that cover is vewy nice.

Great Bookish Bake off – Ginger, apple and maple syrup cake

The cakes I bake and the books I read while baking them. 

Ginger, apple and maple syrup cake. Its pretty amazing.

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I was going to make this for my birthday, because my birthday fell over rosh hashanah and who doesn’t want to apples dipped in honey? Well… apart from the fact that I don’t like honey. So I used maple syrup. And then I decided to make a cake. Only I didn’t have any ingredients, so I made it over the first weekend in October, because that’s another perfect reason to eat apples and spices. This cake is sticky, warm and comforting and completely vegan. Yaaas.

You will need:
A Betty Crocker Ginger Cake Mix
2 pink lady apples
Cinnamon
Ginger
Maple Syrup
Sugar
300ml Lemonade
Butter
Icing Sugar
Two round cake tins
A frying pan
A book. I went with The Wrath and the Dawn.

Yes, I know this is a box mix, but honestly, when you give up dairy and then realise you can make a pretty spectacular cake with only two ingredients, it makes finding egg replacers a bit pointless.
Pour your cake mix into a mixing bowl and add your lemonade, give it a good mix, folding it all in together and then separate into cake tins and cook for 30 minutes. While that’s cooking you can do a bit of reading, I was working my away through the Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, which is a retelling of 1,001 Nights… I’m not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, the writing style is incredible, but I have a few problems with the story itself… Anyone else read it? What did you think?

When the cake is done, put those aside and get your apples. Cut these into squares and put into a frying pan, add spices, sugar and maple syrup and fry stirring continuously until the apples are soft and covered in the sticky, spicy concoction. Spoon the apples onto one of the cakes and then put the second on top, making sure to save some apples for decoration. I won’t tell you how to make icing cos I’m sure you already know, but if you’re abstaining from dairy like myself, you can use lactose free butter, it works in much the same way.
Spread over the top of the cake and add the remaining apples for decoration and voila, a warming, spicey autumnal cake for you to enjoy GBBO with!

Yuki means happiness

Yuki Means Happiness – Alison Jean Lester

Have I ever mentioned how much I love Japan before?
Well… I love Japan. I’ve never been there but I find the whole culture and history of Japan fascinating, I think its because it is so far removed from what life is like in the UK and the fact that they’re so good at making manga and anime and sweets. Also mochi. The food of the Gods. Anyway, because I love Japan so much, I love reading books set there, which is, combined with the cover, why I chose to request this when it was available for review, so thank you Bookbridgr for sending me a copy!

Diana is young and uneasy in a new relationship when she leaves America and moves halfway around the world to Tokyo seeking adventure. In Japan she takes a job as a nanny to two-year-old Yuki Yoshimura and sets about adapting to a routine of English practice, ballet and swimming lessons, and Japanese cooking.
But as Diana becomes increasingly attached to Yuki she also becomes aware that everything in the Yoshimura household isn’t as it first seemed. Before long, she must ask herself if she is brave enough to put everything on the line for the child under her care, confronting her own demons at every step of the way. 
Yuki Means Happiness is a rich and powerfully illuminating portrait of the intense relationship between a young woman and her small charge, as well as one woman’s journey to discover her true self.

So this is the story of Diana, who after spending time qualifying to be a nurse and falling into a relationship with Porter is offered a job in Japan as a nanny for a baby she helped care for at the time of her birth and as she has no idea who she is or what she’s doing with her life and is terrified of the intimacy that a relationship entails, she moves to Japan. What follows is a journey of self discovery alongside a beautiful friendship with the three year old in her care. There is also a bit of family drama and a hint of child abuse to help keep up the tension.

When I started reading this I wasn’t sure how I was going to get on with it, the narration was very odd, but it was concise and I think it summed up Diana’s character really well. It also created a beautiful picture of Japan and gave a real insight into the culture, and even though we are aware that the situation is an unusual one, I felt like I learned a lot about the setting, I want to read as many things about Japan as possible – send me recs!

Also, can we talk about that cover? The cover is beautiful!

Everything We Keep and Everything We Left Behind

Everything We Keep and Everything We Left Behind – Kerry Lonsdale.

You might have noticed that pretty much everything I’ve been posting recently is reviews, that’s because I’ve had a backlog of ARCS building up and I’m finally getting around to reading them all, so I figured as these two are part of the same series, I’d do them at the same time! As Everything We Left Behind was scheduled for release, the publisher was kind enough to send me both books so I could catch up.

Sous chef Aimee Tierney has the perfect recipe for the perfect life: marry her childhood sweetheart, raise a family, and buy out her parents’ restaurant. But when her fiancé, James Donato, vanishes in a boating accident, her well-baked future is swept out to sea. Instead of walking down the aisle on their wedding day, Aimee is at James’s funeral—a funeral that leaves her more unsettled than at peace.
As Aimee struggles to reconstruct her life, she delves deeper into James’s disappearance. What she uncovers is an ocean of secrets that make her question everything about the life they built together. And just below the surface is a truth that may set Aimee free…or shatter her forever.
 

So, Everything We Keep begins at James’ funeral, on what should have been Aimee’s wedding day and the book then follows the next year of her life as she tries to pick up the pieces and move on. She makes new friends, starts a new career, but she can’t seem to shake James, told through a series of flashbacks to her and James’ lives together and the present, we learn about his dysfunctional family and eventually that she was right to have questions about his disappearance.
Though this book has a few twists and turns and enough intriguing moments to keep you interested, there does seem to be a a lot of big subjects being thrown around in an almost flippant manner. One character is assumed to have disassociated fugue, yet there isn’t much gravity given to what comes across to me as being a big deal.
It’s much more of a character driven book than plot driven, with the story being second fiddle to Aimee and her supporting cast. Its a very long winded, winding story about Aimee trying to rebuild her life and get over James. There isn’t much drama, but sometimes, it’s nice to read something that meanders and lets you have time to process.

The second book picks up precisely where the first one left off, and this one follows more of Carlos’ story and ties up some loose ends involving various characters and mysteries from the first book it also features a lot of flash backs to fill in the blanks and we learn a lot more about what happened to James. I would leave the blurb here, but spoilers! This is a ‘true sequel’ you literally can’t read this without having read the first book.

This was told in much the same way and again dealt with large subjects without much gravity. Again this was character driven and they plodded along nicely. Everything We Left Behind alternates between Carlos and James, telling the whole story through flashbacks and present day. Like the first book, there is a lot of dramatic events unfolding without much actual drama or urgency.

If you’re a fan of soap operas, you’ll love these books. There are gripping stories, but some of the moments veer on the outlandish and wouldn’t be out of place in Eastenders. (Has the whole split personality thought I was dead but I’m not thing been done on there before? I think it has!) I think these two books would be perfect holiday companions, they’re the sort of thing you could lose yourself in whilst being sat by a pool or beach.

I would say that I would rather there were a bit of a cover redesign, they’re both fine covers, but they don’t match the story all that well, particularly the first one. The two girls aren’t even the same!

Vivian Versus America

Vivian Versus America – Katie Coyle

I finally FINALLY got around to reading the second Vivian Apple book! I say finally because I read the first one two years ago! I did review it, which you can read here but if you don’t have time for that, here is a brief recap: Vivian is a normal every day teen living a normal every day teen life in America who’s parents join the Church of America and get a bit too into it, Vivian remains a non believer up until the rapture is predicted and 3,000 Church of America supporters disappear, seemingly off to the promised land. Vivian and her best friend, Harp, go on an adventure to find out what happened to everyone, meet a cute boy along the way and discover the terrible truth of the rapture.
So, what happens to her next?

The predicted Rapture by Pastor Frick’s Church of America has come and gone, and three thousand Believers are now missing or dead. Seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple and her best friend, Harpreet, are revolutionaries, determined to expose the Church’s diabolical power grab…and to locate Viv’s missing heartthrob, Peter Ivey.

Oh – I should have said, this is also known as Vivian Apple needs a miracle. Just so you know.

This book picks up exactly where we left off with Vivian and Harp having escaped the Church of America and being separated from Peter, the pair of them join a militia group and the adventure begins yet again.

I find books about religion fascinating, there is something about the exploration of how people become believers, how they find solace in something that isn’t tangible, something I think Katie Coyle does really well with this duology is that they aren’t preachy or anti religion any more than they are pro atheism or pro religion. Though it does call out toxic fundamentalism and charlatans, there is nothing about these books that shames those with faith.
Honestly, the best things about these books are the characters, Vivian and Harp are brilliant and I love them and honestly, if you were going to be left behind after a rapture, these are the two you’d want to be stuck with. I think I preferred the first book but only because it was such an interesting premise and this one, though not unnecessary, didn’t need to be as long as it was and didn’t add anything new to the idea. Was still an enjoyable read and I kind of wish I’d read them both one after the other, that might have worked better! Next time, I won’t leave two years between sequels!