Monday, September 16, 2019

Studying Abroad in London: An Introduction


Surprise! I'm in London! I'm lucky enough to be spending the semester studying abroad at the University of Roehampton in London, UK. I've been so excited about this for over a year now and the time has finally arrived! I also figured I would do a weekly study abroad update not only to let my friends and family know what's up but to also give me something to look back on a few years from now. I'm thinking I'll be uploading Monday's or Tuesday's every week and covering the previous week's adventures and fun. This first post is definitely going to be a long one, so I'm just going to dive straight in!



Goals

I have a few goals for this semester abroad. Some of them are quite small but others are large goals that I really hope to accomplish while I'm here:

  • Become more independent 
  • Learn how to french braid my hair
  • Travel to at least three places outside of London (not including school trips)
  • Spend at least one day a week exploring London either by myself or with a friend
  • Succeed academically (of course)
 


Pre-Trip

Getting prepared for London was something months in the making. I sent in my first of many  rounds of applications all the way back in December. I won't bore you with all the application process but it was a long one. Most of the actual preparing for London was done over the summer in terms of buying things I'd need, saving money and figuring out financials, booking plane tickets, packing, etc. More than once in the last week before leaving I went to the store only to have to go back later because I forgot at least one thing.

I ending up packing everything the day before my flight all at once. It took a few hours getting everything organized and double-checking I had what I needed, but it was overall not a very stressful process. Until we weighed my suitcase, that is. I ended up being pretty over-limit and had to take out a lot, either putting the excess in various carry-on spots or deciding not to bring it. I think I did pretty good overall with packing considering I only brought a suitcase, a carry on, and a backpack when I usually bring 2 cars worth of stuff when I move in to my regular college.

I'd say the biggest preparation for study abroad actually came in taking pictures for my Instagram. I obviously couldn't bring very many books or props with me abroad, so to maintain my book-themed account I needed to have a huge stockpile of pictures before I left. I ended up taking over 50 pictures in 5 days, which is still only about half the number I needed for London. I was able to squeeze in some scarves and small props, though, so I'm sure I can find something to take a picture of while I'm here!

The hardest part about pre-London was saying goodbye. I've never been so far away from home by myself or for as long a time. Even going to college three hours away from home I still got to see my family pretty often. I spent over a week at my dad's before I left and it was a great time. I'll be honest--I cried in the car driving home. After getting through security at the airport, I sat down at my gate and shed a few tears after saying goodbye to my mom. 



Travel
September 10-11, 2019

The travel itself was probably the easiest it's ever been in my entire life. Usually when I travel, something always goes wrong at some point. However, this time around, it was great. My flights left on time with no delays (unheard of!) and then arrived early in their respective cities. I didn't even have a seat partner on my first one!

The second flight (Chicago to London) was really nice. My seat was really comfortable and there were so many movies and shows that I could watch. Not only that but I ended up getting a few hours of sleep which I'm usually unable to do!

We landed in London at about 5:30 AM. It was still dark when we landed and I saw a glimpse of all the city lights (and the London Eye!) from across the aisle but I didn't get a super clear view. Customs was a breeze--there was no line for me to get my Visa stamp and our baggage was out really quickly.

It took me a while to walk through Heathrow to get to the meet-up point, though. At least 25 minutes of walking--and that's without getting lost. I was actually there before the representatives from my college so I ended up having to wait a little bit for them to show up. By the time they showed up, we got a pretty good-sized group, and then our coach had arrived, it was about 9:30 already. I was definitely feeling tired but didn't let myself sleep on the bus or when I got to campus. 



Day 1
September 11, 2019

Once we got to campus it was pretty chill. We stood in line to get our room key and welcome packet and then there were people who showed us to our buildings. After that, we were just able to unpack and do whatever we wanted. I unpacked, changed clothes, and ended up taking an hour or so nap.

After that, I met up with a couple of girls from my floor and we went out to walk around campus. We ended up finding the "Secret Shop" a little ways off campus and it was a fun trip out there. I'd realized earlier that my outlet adaptor was for the general Europe but not the UK, so I ended up having to walk quite a bit in order to find one that worked. However, I ended up finding some for super cheap and got a couple to cover both outlets in my room!

When we were back at campus we met with some other flatmates in our kitchen and went to the Welcome Dinner together. I'd eaten pretty much nothing except Cheez-Its since getting off the plane so it tasted really good to me, though it wasn't anything special. We all stayed around and chatted for a bit on the lawn which was fun, before a group of us explored campus a bit more. It's strange because there's free outdoor washing machines? There's indoor ones that you can use but cost money, so I think I'm going to try and take my chances with snagging a free outdoor one.

I spent the rest of the night after getting back just finishing up putting pictures on the walls and organizing other random stuff. I was up pretty late, which was surprising, but I ended up being able to watch some Netflix while I was putting up pictures before catching some sleep.



Day 2
September 12, 2019

Waking up was hard. I didn't want to oversleep and not be able to get adjusted to the time schedules so I made myself get up even though I was still super tired and a little jet-lagged. We had orientation that morning and I ate Cheez-Its for breakfast since it was the only thing I had. There was a girl from my flat in my orientation group so we chatted quite a bit during the morning and the tour of campus. I've only been here for a little while but I'm getting to know the campus pretty well--though classes haven't started yet and I don't know where any academic buildings are.

Afterwards, we went to Asda (a store comparable to Walmart) to get some groceries and last minute necessities. I definitely needed to pick up a soft comfy blanket and snacks. It was surprising to find that, at least at Asda, groceries were pretty cheap and that junk food costs more than produce and healthy food. It's a bit of an extra incentive to buy healthier food, though, which is good. Let's just say that carrying bags of groceries on a packed bus across town, though, isn't as fun as it sounds.

When I got back I had to immediately head to a dinner put on by the Catering Team for students on the plan. There were only two other girls at the entire dinner so I ended up sitting with them and we talked for a couple hours. It was really fun and I had a great time meeting them! In fact, we ended up going out to a couple pubs after leaving dinner.

The first was called Tequila Mockingbird which was pretty cool, though it was so loud I couldn't really hear the others when we were talking. We left that one and went to The Toy Shop which was so freaking cool. It was, obviously, themed around toys and I loved the vibe of the place as well. After leaving that bar, we just ended up at Five Guys for some greasy food. I got a shake (amazing) and some fries that we took out to the bridge overlooking the Thames. I think that was the moment that it really hit that I was finally in London.



Day 3
September 13, 2019

This was another instance of being really tired when I woke up, though it was easier to wake up than the day before. I met up with the two friends from the night before and we, along with a couple others, went deeper into London to Notting Hill, which was so cool. Not only do I feel like I was getting a better understanding of the Tube system, but the area was super interesting.

We had lunch at this restaurant on a street corner that was so freaking cute. The food was pretty good, too. I tried cider for the first time and it's probably my drink of choice so far. After lunch we ventured deeper to Portobello Market.

This was one of the coolest streets I've been on. There were so many antique/thrift stores, pop-up stalls, cafes, and more. I could have easily spent hours exploring everything there--and we only made it a little over a mile down! I picked up some postcards at your typical tourist store but then ventured down to The Notting Hill Bookshop. It was such a cute quaint bookstore that I could have spent a long time in.

After that, we headed back to campus. I skyped some friends and family before accidentally falling asleep. I woke up a few hours later and just watched some Netflix and had some food before actually going to bed.



Day 4
September 14, 2019

So far, I'd have to say this was my favorite day! Our group from the previous day, plus a few more additions, went into London together. We walked about 15 minutes to the Tube station and then took a few different lines in to get to Westminster.

Of course we started with seeing Buckingham Palace. I'd love to go back someday, either by myself or with a friend, to take the 5~ hour tour that takes you through all of the different rooms and whatnot. The outside was really cool, of course, but we were there on a day where there was no changing of the guard. We had fun taking a lot of pictures in front of the palace, the Victoria memorial, Canada gates, and more!


We ventured a little bit aways to find food. We walked next to St. James park and I was actually able to see the London Eye above the trees as we were walking! It was a beautiful park and I can definitely see myself sitting against a tree just reading a book.

We ended up at this little wine and tapas restaurant that was in this little off-street that wasn't too busy. I wish I could remember the name of it, though I do remember the street it was on if I want to go again! The interior was so cool and the food was really good. It was yummy and a chance to try something new, which was fun.

After that, the group split with some going back to campus and others staying in Central London. I stayed with two other girls and we headed towards Piccadilly Circus. To get there, we had to pass through Trafalgar Square and I saw my first protest (over Brexit, of course). There were some speeches and a couple big signs and even some fire, but it wasn't anything scary. What was more cool, though, were all the chalk artists out there making this big huge murals just in the middle of the square. They were really pretty.

When we got to Piccadilly, there was a dance circle with this dude dancing for the crowds. He was pretty cool but the show was completely stolen by this toddler who walked out into the middle and started bouncing to the music. It was rather adorable.

We ended up getting gelato from this place that was rating #1 Gelato in London (according to Google Maps). It was so good. It was creamy and not too cold and sweet and amazing. I probably could have eaten an entire gallon jug and not even cared. After that, we went into a few of the bigger clothing stores like Hunter and Zara. It was definitely fun to just browse and see all the different styles in each store. I had to restrain myself from buying every single soft jacket, though.

We then found a Whole Foods! I wasn't going to get anything there but as I was browsing around I saw some familiar brands from the US and some food that just looked good in general, so I did get a few things. I ended up getting some amazing bread that I used to make loaded avocado toast for dinner.

After that, we began our journey back to campus. Just going down the escalator into Piccadilly station was an adventure in itself. The platform was so packed that we couldn't even squeeze into the first train that came by. We were able to get onto the next one, though we were standing the entire way. After we switched lines there were seats available until we needed to switch trains again and ended up standing the rest of the way. Luckily, the bus we needed to take back to campus was there when we got out of the station and we were able to sang seats on that one as well.

It was pretty late in the day by the time we got back so I ended up just relaxing and chilling in my room before going to bed early. 



Day 5
September 15, 2019

I woke up so refreshed from getting extra sleep. It was amazing. The sun comes in my room in the mornings and then disappears behind buildings around 11 or 12 in the day so it's always so bright and warm when I wake up. I went and made some more fancy avocado toast but it was move-in day for all local students so I kind of stayed out of everyone's way as best I could. I mostly relaxed that day. After walking 6-7 miles every day for five days straight, I was definitely in need of a day just for chilling. I caught up on some blog stuff, watched some Netflix, cleaned up and organized a bit, etc.

Later that afternoon, I went to a general orientation event where I got to meet some of my new flatmates before we went to the free pizza afterwards. We all headed to the movie on the lawn being put on (Avenger's Endgame) but I ended up getting cold and walked back with one of my flatmates. I decided to meal-prep some food and started making pasta. Another of my new flatmates was in the kitchen and we talked for quite a while before being joined by a few others.

A small group of us then decided to go to the Union Bar (the bar on campus) for drinks and to hang out. I bought my first drink ever and it was pretty yummy. I was able to meet a few more girls and we all sat and chatted for a bit which was fun. They started kicking people out about five minutes before close and as we were getting up to leave, a guy projectile vomited all over the floor. Hilarious and gross at the same time. When we got back, I stayed up a little bit later watching Netflix (probably too late, if I'm being honest) before I went to bed.



And there's the beginning of orientation and study abroad! It's interesting because we had a few days of international student orientation and now there's a full week of events and things for all students. Classes don't start for another week yet so there's still a lot of stuff to come!

I'm having a really good time so far. Everyone I've met has been really nice and I'm feeling good about where I'm at. My flat is really nice and my flatmates are all great. The location I'm at in London is wonderful and I can't wait to spend more time exploring!



Thanks for reading!
xoxo
Lauren



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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Book Review: "The Girl the Sea Gave Back" by Adrienne Young

Title: The Girl the Sea Gave Back
Author: Adrienne Young
Genre: YA Fantasy
Page Length: 336 pages
Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Date Started: September 6, 2019
Date Finished: September 6, 2019
Rating: 4 // 5 stars 
Sky in the Deep Review

*I was provided a free e-arc of this book in exchange for an honest review*

Adrienne Young has done it again. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can't wait to see what Adrienne does next since both of her books have been great for me. I will say, I think I liked Sky in the Deep better simply because it had some of my more favorite tropes in it, but Girl was also really good.

I found the abilities that our main character, Nova, had to be completely fascinating. She can't tell the future in concrete details, but she instead interprets runed stones. What's interesting is that those around her also try to take her interpretations and then spin them in a way that benefits them. I really enjoyed learning about how she can cast stones and how it affects her life in a country not her own.

I really loved getting to revisit Halvard. He was one of my favorite characters in Sky in the Deep and to see him grown and going on his own adventures was so much fun. Since Halvard is the younger sibling of the main characters in Sky, we also got to see them make some cameos! I'm really glad Adrienne didn't make their cameos take over the show, though, as it's not their book.

As usual, the story, fighting, characters, pacing, etc was all pretty well done. I myself liked how we got a lot of moral dilemma moments that didn't always have a happy answer to them. I enjoyed all the fight scenes. But my favorite scenes, by far, are the angsty character ones where they're down on their luck and have to get the strength to rise up and keep going.

Overall, I did enjoy this book though I think I preferred Sky in the Deep more. I cannot wait to see what Adrienne does next in her upcoming books!



Thanks for reading!
xoxo
Lauren



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Sunday, September 8, 2019

Book Review: "A Fallen Hero" by Sara A Noë

Title: A Fallen Hero
Author: Sara A. Noë
Series: "Chronicles of Avilésor: War of the Realms" #1
Genre: YA Paranormal Science-Fantasy
Page Length: 466 pages
Publication Date: August 7, 2018
Date Started: August 30, 2019
Date Finished: September 1, 2019
Rating: 4.5 // 5 stars
Goodreads

*I was sent a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts are my own*

Ok so I was pretty excited going into this book and, I'll admit, I did have some high expectations. Those expectations were met and surpassed. I really enjoyed this month and I am very invested in these characters, this story, and what's going to happen next. Honestly, when I first started reading this it reminded me a lot of Maximum Ride. While the two are different, I got a big nostalgic feeling reading this book because it reminded me of one of my favorite childhood reads. This definitely made me like it even more.

So first off, I think the main thing that was different for me about this book was the pacing of it all. We have a few action and fight scenes, but, for the most part, it's not very high-energy. Instead, throughout the entire book there's something going on that contributes to the high stakes. Whether it be running for their lives, hiding out in abandoned buildings and dumpster diving, or even just searching through a city. Instead of a few big plot points here and there, the entire story is made up of a lot of small scenes that add to the overall tension. Because, at the basic level of the story, it really is one where these characters are fighting to lay low and survive.

The world and magic system were also super interesting to me. The whole idea of a parallel world and ghosts and what they can do grabbed me from the first page. I also enjoyed seeing the POV's of characters in the other world, in the lab, etc because I was able to get a bigger picture of what all was going on which, in turn, helped me to understand everything a lot easier.

My absolute favorite thing, however, were the characters. I'm a sucker for found family stories and this one features a really strong found lab-family. These kids would do anything for each other, as is shown throughout the book, and I really can't wait to see more of them all in the next book.

Speaking of, I can't wait for the next one and the others in this series. After how this one ended, I'm interested in seeing how the author goes about the next book. I can see so many possibilities and I have so many questions.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it!



Thanks for reading!
xoxo
Lauren



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Friday, September 6, 2019

August 2019 Book Haul!


Hello all! It's that time of month again where I talk about all the books I got in the previous one. I honestly didn't expect this haul to be so big but I guess when you have a birthday, gift cards, and big paychecks you get a lot of books? I'm not going to be going into too much detail for each of these since I did get quite a few, but I'm excited about all of these!

Up first we have Brave by Jennifer L. Armentrout. I read the first book in this trilogy in July and knew I needed to binge the next two in August. I've already read this and absolutely loved it. It's my favorite book in the trilogy and Jennifer has further solidified herself as one of my favorite authors.

Then I picked up The Storm Runner by J.C. Cervantes. I am so interested in all of the Rick Riordan Presents books and I'm so excited to have this one on my shelf. It's a middle grade focusing around Mayan mythology and I can't wait to read it!

The next book I got was an advanced copy of Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger from a trade. This book sounds so cool and the author is one of the coolest people I follow on Twitter. I can't wait to read this one in September! 

Then I picked up The Diviners by Libba Bray from my local used bookstore. I knew when I saw the first edition hardcover for so cheap that I just had to pick it up. I'm super interested in this story and think I'm going to read it while I'm abroad via ebook. If I love it, I know I'll be glad to have this hardcover for my collection!

Up next I have the signed collector's editions of Twilight, New Moon, and Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer. I treated myself to these for my birthday and I'm so excited to add them to my collection. Not only are they gorgeous but I can't believe I have signed Twilight books! My fangirl heart is so happy. 

I also picked up a special edition of Twilight with red sprayed edges by Stephenie Meyer. I got the Eclipse one a few months ago and I'm so excited that there are more of them! I love the edges though I wish these were in better condition and actually matched the listings. 

Next up I got Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep. I've seen this book going around a lot lately and decided that it sounded super interesting. I ended up with a gift card and decided to use part of it to get this one. The sequel also released recently with the third book coming out in the spring and I can't wait to read them all!

Then I picked up Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. This was recommended by S.A. Chakraborty and sounds awesome. It's a historical fantasy about Mayan mythology and quests and other amazing things. I can't wait to read it, hopefully later this year!

I then picked up A Life of Shadows by Kristen Banet. I read this entire series via Kindle Unlimited and knew that I loved it when I finished it in just a few days. I loved it enough that I want to collect physical copies of all of them! I absolutely love these covers and the story inside is just awesome and I want them to have a place on my bookshelf.

When I finished A Wicked Trilogy I knew I needed to get my hands on The Prince by Jennifer L. Armentrout. I'm still holding out on reading it for a while, though, because I've heard the sequel ends on a cliffhanger and I don't want to have to wait too long for the final one.

Up next I was sent an advance copy of The (Other) F Word which is a collection of stories, essays, art, and more all edited by Angie Manfredi. I'm an ambassador for this upcoming release that celebrates the fat and fierce. This is something I wish I'd had when I was younger and struggling with body image issues so I'm glad that there's something like this coming out for growing teenagers and I'm so happy that I get to be part of it.

Then I picked up the new graphic novel release of Fence, Volume 3 by C.S. Pacat and illustrated by Johanna the Mad. I read the first two early in August and was so excited that the third was releasing soon after. I love these graphic novels and this one was a great addition to the series.

Then I picked up a few books at the Books-A-Million when I visited my dad. They have a bargain book section and recently started selling used books and I definitely took advantage of the great deals. The first book I got was Immortal Reign by Morgan Rhodes. This is the final book in the Falling Kingdoms series and I'm excited to have my series complete.

 Next I got Legend and Prodigy by Marie Lu. I've been wanting to read these for a long time and with a new book set in this world coming out I figured that now was as good a time as any to finally read the trilogy.

I also got The Gray Wolf Throne and The Crimson Crown by Cinda Williams Chima. I've been collecting this series in hardcover over the summer and I'm excited to finally have them all. I can now start in on binge-reading this series and then collecting the Shattered Realms series.

Then I picked up Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton. I've heard nothing but good things about this book and it sounds so good. I wasn't interested back when it first came out but now that I've matured in my reading tastes I am so excited to read it!

The last physical book I picked up was Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray which was also an amazing deal find. Now once I finish The Diviners I can go straight into this one. I can't wait to read these and I'm so excited to have the next in the series! 



I also got a few ebooks, which I'm only going to list here because this blog post has gone on for quite a long time. I got all of these on great deals and I can't wait to read them all! 
  1. Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff
  2. Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell
  3. A Curse so Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer
  4. Storm by Brigid Kemmerer
  5. Goddess Rising by Alisha Ashton
  6. The Darkest Star by Jennifer L. Armentrout
  7. The Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
  8. City of Ghosts by V.E. Schwab
  9. Stealing Their Harley by Amanda Perry & AJ Anders


Thanks for reading!
xoxo
Lauren



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Sunday, September 1, 2019

August 2019 Wrap-Up


It's that time of the month again...time for a wrap-up! I read a total of 16 books this month and I'm really happy with that number. I did originally want to read a few more but overall I'm very happy with what I read. There were a few new favorites I read this month and I also watched quite a few movies and TV shows on top of that. Let's just go ahead and dive straight in!



BOOKS READ
1. 
Title: Witchy
Author: Ariel Slamet-Ries
Rating: 3.5 // 5 stars
Goodreads Review

2. 
Title: Torn
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Rating: 4 // 5 stars
Review 
Torn (A Wicked Trilogy, #2)

3.
Title: The Adventures of Captain Underpants
Author: Dav Pilkey
Rating: 3 // 5 stars
The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
I can't believe all these years later this is still so funny to me. Half the time I was laughing at the stupidness of the book and half the time I was laughing at myself for finding everything so funny. I highly recommend revisiting all your childhood favs because this one did not disappoint!

4.
Title: Fence, Vol 1
Author: C.S. Pacat
Illustrator: Johanna the Mad
Rating: 4 // 5 stars
Series Review
Fence, Vol. 1 (Fence #1-4)

5.
Title: Fence, Vol 2
Author: C.S. Pacat
Illustrator: Johanna the Mad
Rating: 4 // 5 stars
Series Review
Fence, Vol. 2 by C.S. Pacat

6.
Title: Brave
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Rating: 4.5 // 5 stars
Review
Brave by Jennifer L. Armentrout

7.
Title: A Life of Shadows
Author:  Kristen Banet
Rating: 3.75 // 5 stars
Series Review
A Life Of Shadows (The Redemption Saga, #1)

8.
Title: A Heart of Shame
Author: Kristen Banet
Rating: 3.75 // 5 stars
Series Review
A Heart of Shame (The Redemption Saga, #2)

9.
Title: A Nature of Conflict
Author: Kristen Banet
Rating: 4 // 5 stars
Series Review
A Nature of Conflict (The Redemption Saga, #3)

10.
Title: An Echo of Darkness
Author: Kristen Banet
Rating: 4 // 5 stars
Series Review

11.
Title: A Night of Redemption
Author: Kristen Banet
Rating: 4 // 5 stars
Series Review

12.
Title: Fence, Vol 3
Author: C.S. Pacat
Illustrator: Johanna the Mad
Rating: 4.25 // 5 stars
Series Review

13.
Title: The Hockey Saint
Author: Howard Shapiro
Illustrator: Marica Inoue & Andres Mossa
Rating: 2 // 5 stars
The Hockey Saint (Forever Friends, #2)
This wasn't a bad graphic novel or anything I was just pretty underwhelmed. I was excited for it but after reading it, I didn't feel like anything really happened. I didn't feel connected to the characters, there wasn't really a story line, there wasn't much hockey at all, and I almost DNF-ed it. It wasn't terrible, it just wasn't for me.

14.
Title: Serpent & Dove
Author: Shelby Mahrin
Rating: 5 // 5 stars
Review

15.
Title: The Bone Houses
Author: Emily Lloyd-Jones
Rating: 4 // 5 stars
Review

16.
Title: The Player
Author: K. Bromberg
Rating: 3 // 5 stars
Ok so here's the thing...I didn't realize this was going to be a duology. And while I'm interested in knowing what happens after the cliffhanger at the end of this one, I'm not interested enough to pay four bucks when I spent a lot of this book skimming anyway. It was an enjoyable read--nothing memorable though. I think my favorite moments were the angsty moments full of emotion but those weren't there often. I don't know...there was something just missing from this for me. It was enjoyable for the most part but I did skim a lot and I think I'll just try to find a spoiler review of the second book to find out what happens next.



BLOG POSTS




Thanks for reading!
xoxo
Lauren



You can follow my bookstagram here. A brand new giveaway will be posted soon!

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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Book Review: "The Bone Houses" by Emily Lloyd-Jones

Title: The Bone Houses
Author: Emily Lloyd-Jones
Genre: YA Horror Fantasy
Page Length: 352 pages
Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Date Started: August 27, 2019
Date Finished: August 27, 2019
Rating: 4 // 5 stars

*I was sent a free advance copy of this book from Novl in exchange for an honest review*

Seventeen-year-old Aderyn ("Ryn") only cares about two things: her family, and her family's graveyard. And right now, both are in dire straits. Since the death of their parents, Ryn and her siblings have been scraping together a meager existence as gravediggers in the remote village of Colbren, which sits at the foot of a harsh and deadly mountain range that was once home to the fae. The problem with being a gravedigger in Colbren, though, is that the dead don't always stay dead.

The risen corpses are known as "bone houses," and legend says that they're the result of a decades-old curse. When Ellis, an apprentice mapmaker with a mysterious past, arrives in town, the bone houses attack with new ferocity. What is it about Ellis that draws them near? And more importantly, how can they be stopped for good?

Together, Ellis and Ryn embark on a journey that will take them deep into the heart of the mountains, where they will have to face both the curse and the long-hidden truths about themselves.

When I read the synopsis for The Bone Houses, I knew it was going to be different from books I normally read but I was excited nonetheless. It was a good different for sure. The horror slash fairy tale setting definitely sucked me in as I've never read anything quite like it. I'm not big on horror because I'm a huge scaredy-cat but I feel as if the fairy tale feeling helped temper some of the horror, which is nice because it means that more non-horror readers can pick this book up.

Even though this book was super unique, it also felt very comfortable to me. It had some of my favorite tropes in it such as a quest, strong sibling relationships, a badass main character, and a slow-burn romance. I thought all of those were done pretty well. It was really refreshing to see a close sibling group since a lot of books I've read recently have featured characters without any siblings at all. I'm also a sucker for a romantic sub-plot and I loved how this one was slow-burn and didn't take over the story at all.

The whole idea of the bone houses, how they began, what they can do, etc was so fascinating. We got bits of folklore sprinkled here and there about the fae, the forest, how the bone houses were created, and other stories that were really interesting to read. Upon finishing the book, I can definitely go back and look at how they were important with our storyline.

The writing was really nice. It was easy to fall into and understand while not being overbearing with details or heavy dialogue. I was able to read this book pretty quickly because the writing was simplistic and the story was engaging.

I think the one thing that kept me from rating this 5 stars was the fact I didn't connect with the characters more than the story needed. Yes, I cared about them and I want them to be happy, but it's not as if they're characters I'm thinking about every five seconds like with some books. I do think this is because a lot of my favorite characters are ones in series that I've had multiple books to spend with them and see their character growths. Because this is a shorter standalone, I didn't get that chance to feel as deeply. However, I still really liked the characters and I was very invested in their stories even if I wasn't in love with them.

Overall, I'm not quite sure what else to say. This was a standalone fantasy and I really liked how it ended. Even if there was a sequel I'm not quite sure what there would be to do next. I'm very content and happy with how things finished up. It was a great book that I can see a lot of people enjoying! This was a quick, heart-pounding read that I'm sure would be absolutely wonderful to read in October when we're all looking for those spooky books.



Thanks for reading!
xoxo
Lauren



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Monday, August 26, 2019

Book Review: "Serpent & Dove" by Shelby Mahurin

Title: Serpent & Dove
Author: Shelby Mahurin
Series: "Serpent & Dove" #1
Genre: YA Fantasy
Page Length: 528 pages
Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Date Started: August 24, 2019
Date Finished: August 25, 2019
Rating: 5 // 5 stars 
Goodreads

Bound as one to love, honor, or burn.

Two years ago, Louise le Blanc fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned.

Sworn to the Church as a Chasseur, Reid Diggory has lived his life by one principle: thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. His path was never meant to cross with Lou's, but a wicked stunt forces them into an impossible union—holy matrimony.

The war between witches and Church is an ancient one, and Lou's most dangerous enemies bring a fate worse than fire. Unable to ignore her growing feelings, yet powerless to change what she is, a choice must be made.

And love makes fools of us all.

Ok so this is probably my favorite book of 2019. Considering I've read almost 120 books so far this year, that's pretty high praise as it means this book has beaten out every single other one. I just...I loved it. That's as simply as I can describe my feelings for this book. I loved it.

I first heard about this book through bookstagram or BookTube? I can't remember which BUT I knew from the moment I heard about it that this was a book I was dying to read. Fate was kind to me and I ended up winning an advanced copy of this book in a giveaway! I literally was jumping up and down screaming because of how excited I was. As I was waiting for my copy to arrive and trying to find the time to read it over the summer, I started seeing all these reviews start trickling down. All of them were 5 stars. All of them talking about how great this book was. It made me that much more excited but also a bit apprehensive. I'll admit--the hype intimidated me. That's why I waited so long from when I got my copy to when I finally read it. I didn't want anything significantly influencing my reading experience. I can finally say that this book deserves all the hype and then some.

I think the first thing about this book that stands out the most is that I was hooked every. single. second. Even in some of my favorite books of all time, there have been moments I've skimmed over without reading too in depth or parts that I thought were a tad boring compared to everything else. Don't get me wrong, I still love those books, but Serpent & Dove man...I never had one of those moments while reading this. Obviously I was anticipating finishing it because I wanted to know what was going to happen, but I was also loving every second of the book. I would go back and reread different scenes right after I finished them just so I could experience it again. I was hooked from page one and couldn't stop thinking about this book the entire weekend I was reading it over.

The writing style was wonderful. Shelby managed to write a compelling fantasy with all these different magical and societal systems yet it wasn't difficult to read. I was able to just fall into the world from the first page. There's something so effortless and easy about the writing in this book that allowed me to sink fully into it. While the writing was amazing in itself, the world was wonderfully written too. Information came when it was relevant so that we weren't confused about a situation but we weren't overburdened with it too soon. The way the world was introduced seemed to make it that much more accessible. Additionally, the magic system is one that I am absolutely fascinated with. We got a lot of bits and pieces of it in this first book but I'm eager to see even more in the sequel. It will also be interesting to see how certain revelations at the end of this one impact the previously held beliefs.

The story itself was one that I was obsessed with from page one. We got a bunch of my favorite tropes: forbidden romance, enemies to friends to lovers, marriage of convenience, badass main characters who are only soft for each other, etc. When I read the synopsis for this book the first time I was so hopeful that these tropes would be done well and they definitely exceeded my expectations. Not only that, but as I said before, there wasn't a single moment I was bored or skimming to get through faster. Yes, I liked some scenes more than others but I'm confident in saying I loved every scene in this book. Each had a purpose and contributed to the overall storyline. I've already gone back and reread a few of my favorite angsty scenes because I'm a sucker for them. The pacing was also very well done. I thought the story progressed well and even though it was 500+ pages, I felt like I flew through it. I would have been happy if it had been even longer.

My absolute favorite part about this book, though, was the characters. From the first page I knew I was going to love Lou. Then came Reid. These two are complete opposites of each other and I loved both of them for different reasons. Lou is unapologetically herself and doesn't care whether or not it offends someone. Reid is always trying to do the right thing by his beliefs, but sometimes that doesn't always work out. Both are stubborn and some of my favorite moments came when they were bickering. I could go on and on about how much I love the two of them but for sake of keeping this already-long review a bit shorter, I'll refrain from saying more than that.

Of course, the side characters were also great. Coco and Ansel, specifically, are some of my favorite side characters I've ever read. I would love to read more about them--I'd honestly just love an entire collection of short stories or scenes of all the characters that either didn't make it into the final book or were just fun bonus shorts. Another thing I liked about all of the characters is that none of them are wholly black or white. Each has something they're striving towards that could be an admirable goal, but maybe the way they're going about it isn't necessarily the greatest. I loved that aspect of this book. Nothing is ever completely black or white.

Some other things I enjoyed about this book...
The steaminess. Of course, the way everyone was talking about it made me think that there was going to be a lot more of it, but what we did get I liked. I would love to see even more in the next book.

The twists and reveals. Oh lord was the last 100-150 pages just twist after turn after bombshell. But none of it seemed unrealistic. Looking back at the entire book, little foreshadowed bits here and there really do make those reveals seem realistic while still surprising.

The humor. Oh god the humor was the best. I already went back to reread a couple scenes and found things I had missed that made me die of laughter. Lou is just hilarious and I was laughing so much throughout this book.

Speaking of laughter, the last line of the book had me rolling on the floor (metaphorically, of course). I'm not going to say what it is but everything about that line was perfect. Not only was it hilarious but it also showed a lot of character growth from the first part of the book to the end. I just...I'm still dying over it.

Overall, I loved this book. It's my favorite read of 2019 so far and I just know that it's going to sit on my favorites list from now on. I absolutely cannot wait to get my hands on as many special editions as I can. I may even bring a copy with me abroad so that I can reread it before the year is over. I just...do yourself a favor and preorder a copy of this book!



Thanks for reading!
xoxo
Lauren



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Saturday, August 24, 2019

Graphic Novel Series Review: "Fence" by C.S. Pacat


Series Title: Fence
Author: C.S. Pacat
Illustrator: Johanna the Mad
Genre: Sports Romance 
Reading Order & Individual Ratings: 
  1. Fence, Vol 1 - 4 // 5 stars
  2. Fence, Vol 2 - 4 // 5 stars
  3. Fence, Vol 3 - 4.25 // 5 stars
Date Started Volume 1: August 11, 2019
Date Ended Volume 3: August 20, 2019
Overall Rating: 4 // 5 stars
Goodreads

Fence has quickly become one of my favorite comic series. I'm so glad that I found the first two volumes right before the release of the third because I didn't have to wait very long for what happened next. But now I have to wait for the next volume which doesn't even have a release date!! (Insert crying emoji here). Ok but seriously, I am so glad that I finally got to read these after seeing them around over the past year or so.

For starters, I just love what these graphic novels are about. I've never fenced before but I like how some basics of fencing are explained so that we're not left in the dark. Additionally, just getting to read about a whole new sport is fun.

The characters are great. I love our main characters and I just can't wait to see what happens with Nicholas and Seiji in the next volumes. Are they going to become friends? More than friends? Or stay roommates and teammates who barely tolerate each other? But I'm not just interested in them--the side characters are all very interesting. I enjoyed getting to see glimpses of their personalities, aspirations, families, and relationships. I definitely hope that these side characters get further explored in future volumes.

I think the thing I like most about these graphic novels are the pacing. Because I'm a fast reader anyway, I speed through graphic novels pretty quick. A lot typically happens in graphic novels--and while these do have a lot happening in them--they are paced a little slower which I very much enjoyed. It gave me more time to connect to the characters,

Lastly, I just love the art. It's simple, clean, and beautiful. Not to mention there are sometimes strips where the characters turn chibi-like and it's hilarious to see. I just love seeing how the artists brought all of the expressions and actions to life. We didn't just see characters standing around but you could look at a page and see how one was feeling about a certain situation.

Overall, these are definitely some of my favorite graphic novels and I can't wait to get my hands on copies of all of them since I borrowed them this time around. I cannot wait to see where volume 4 takes us and the Fence novelization coming next year!



Thanks for reading!
xoxo
Lauren



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Thursday, August 22, 2019

Series Review: "The Redemption Saga" by Kristen Banet


Series Title: The Redemption Saga
Author: Kristen Banet
Genre: Urban Fantasy Reverse Harem
Reading Order & Individual Ratings: 
  1. A Life of Shadows - 3.75 // 5 stars
  2. A Heart of Shame - 3.75 // 5 stars
  3. A Nature of Conflict - 4 // 5 stars
  4. An Echo of Darkness - 4 // 5 stars
  5. A Night of Redemption - 4 // 5 stars
Date Started Book 1: August 12, 2019
Date Ended Book 5: August 16, 2019
Overall Rating: 4 // 5 stars

Sawyer Matthews knows how to put one foot in front of the other, to keep moving while the nightmares haunt her, and her own failures taunt her. She's become a master at doing awful things with good intentions, terrible things for the sake of those who need her. She's long given up on being the hero, trying to find peace in no longer being the villain. 

When her past comes back and she finds herself caught by the International Magi Police Organization, she'll have to revisit her own personal hells and finally confront the very monster that made her what she is. The very monster that has already killed her once before. 

Will the “dead” Magi assassin Shadow finally come out of the dark to begin a fight for a redemption she doesn't believe she deserves? Or will her nightmares drag her back into the shadows that have defined her life? 



First Thoughts

I wasn't planning on reading this series so soon, but I knew that I wanted to give it a try when I got a free Kindle Unlimited trial. I had the first book downloaded to try and one night, at around 11:30 pm when I should have been going to bed, I started reading book 1. I ended up finishing it all that night at about 3 am. Thus began a binge of the entire series. I read all five books (and a short novella) in five days and I loved it. While I wish there were more books, I also just love how it all came together.

So, I'm going to start by saying that these books aren't literary masterpieces and they won't appeal to everyone in the same way they did to me. In fact, when I read the first one, I enjoyed it but I wasn't sure I loved it. Upon finishing it, I can now say that I love this series. Every time I look back on the books, I just want to reread and I get such a good feeling. I already want to reread them and it hasn't even been a week since I finished them for the first time.



The World

Let's start with the world. This series is set in our modern day world but with the addition of Magi (people who can use magic and have special abilities). Regular humans know about Magi and there's even an entire government, military, police force, and society dedicated to and run by Magi. We even get to see the Magi criminal underworld. I think that everything about the Magi community was fascinating, from their rules and laws to the social classes and more.

Not only that, but each Magi has a different set of between one and five abilities ranging from rare to common. Different combinations determine how strong a Magi is, what they could do for a career, etc. I absolutely loved seeing the different types of magic and how each worked. It was also fun to see the limits that each different Magi could hit as it all varied depending on the skillset. Seeing the magic in action was so fun because it really impacted how a fight could play out.

We weren't overwhelmed by world-building details, either. We learned details as we needed to rather than be told everything all at the beginning. Throughout the course of the series, we were continually learning new details about the world as issues around them arose.

As for the actual physical world, the characters went all over. The story wasn't all based in one location, but many different locations all over. I enjoyed the world traveling that went on, though I do wish we could have gotten some more details about the physical setting because I do love a good vivid setting in my head, but I also could just subconsciously fill in the blanks on what everything looked like.



Characters & Relationships

What really made me love this series wasn't the world, it wasn't the plot or action, it wasn't the magic...it was the characters. From the first page of the first book, I knew that I was going to love Sawyer as a main character.

Our main character, Sawyer, has five abilities (the most any Magi can have) and has such a unique mix of common and rare skills that she's considered one of the strongest Magi. She's an ex-assassin turned thief who now runs a gym where abused kids can learn self-defense. She's a badass, plain and simple. But she's also funny and caring and imperfect. Honestly I just loved her so much.

The five love interests were also wonderful. A lot of the time when I read reverse harem, the love interests all kind of blend together into carbon copies of each other. The personalities aren't too diverse and I can't tell one from another. That was not the case in this book. I could easily tell you about the backstories, differing personalities, and even some of the Magi abilities of the love interests: Zander, Jasper, Quinn, Vincent, and Elijah. In fact, it's also pretty easy for me to recall specific scenes that each character has with our main character, Sawyer.

I think it helped that we also got POV's from the love interests. The majority of the POVs were from Sawyer's perspective, but we also got the guys at different points. Being inside their heads really helped with connecting with them and also seeing situations in different ways.

Of course, one of my favorite parts of the characters and budding romance was the fact that it was pretty slow-burn. Each of the guys had a different timeline to how their relationship with Sawyer progressed. It took different characters different amounts of time to for it to form and I really liked that. I just loved the slow-burn as I'm a sucker for seeing relationships develop over the long run.

The last thing I wanted to talk about was the diversity in this series. I personally cannot attest to how well written it was as I'm not an own-voices reviewer, but there was a lot of diversity in our main six characters. Our main character is a POC (and she's not the only one0 and it wasn't just something that was mentioned once in her physical description and then never talked about again. Throughout the course of the series it was talked about and we saw how she was treated differently than she would have if she'd been a white character--like when they went to a backwoods Southern town and two of the characters endured racism and discrimination.

There's a lot of mental illness rep that's not just limited to our main character but also a few of the guys and other side characters. Additionally, there's bisexual rep, disability rep, anxiety rep, and even more that I'm sure I'm missing. I just really loved seeing all the different rep in this series because, as awesome as the reverse harem genre is, a lot of what I've read is very white and straight.

Like I said, the characters and relationships are what made this series great for me. I could go on for hours addressing each character individually but that would make for a super-long review. If you read the books, you'll see what I mean.



Story, Plot & Pacing

This series is definitely for mature readers. It's dark, can be graphic at times, and has mature scenes (I have trigger warnings listed at the end of this review for those who might need them). But while this series can get dark at times, there are plenty of light moments and when I look back on these books, I don't feel weighed down or uncomfortable. I thought that balance between the darker moments and the mundane, easy times was a good representation of how life can be.

Going off of the occasional dark moments, this series definitely explores just how dark and cruel people can be. We have some pretty messed up people doing bad things while others are trying to counteract those. There's the obvious things such as murder, torture/kidnapping, abuse etc but there's also corruption, racism, sexism, etc. But for every cruel or dark person, there were more coming back at them trying to change things and make the world a better place.

The plot was very multi-faceted, which I enjoyed. We had a lot of different plot lines all separate from each other yet connecting in different ways that brought their issues into the lives of the characters. I liked seeing a story where it wasn't a group of characters focused solely on a single goal but, rather, they're working towards a goal while also not letting it consume them.

The pacing over the course of the series was good. However, I noticed that for most of the books (not all), any action or issues mentioned in the description typically didn't start showing up or being dealt with until about a third to halfway in. Not to say I didn't enjoy the first parts of the books, but the pacing wasn't super consistent when looking at a single book. Now, taking a step back and looking at the series as a whole without chopping it into bits, it was pretty good. 



Final Thoughts

Overall, I've definitely found a new series to add to my favorites list. It's not perfect but it's fun, addicting, and I can lose myself in the pages of these books. I think it really solidified in book 4 when I was reading the last 50 pages or so and just screaming or on the verge of throwing the book across the room the whole time. Any book that can make me feel that way is one I know will be a long-time favorite. I'm already working on getting physical copies of all of the books, which only happens for books that I really love. I highly recommend this series!

Content and Trigger Warning including PTSD, Rape, Child and Domestic Abuse, & Suicide.



Thanks for reading!
xoxo
Lauren



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Friday, August 16, 2019

Book Review: "Brave" by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Brave by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Title: Brave 
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Series: "A Wicked Trilogy" #3
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Page Length: 362 pages
Publication Date: December 11, 2017
Date Started: August 11, 2019
Date Finished: August 12, 2019
Rating: 4.5 // 5 stars
Book 2 Review

I have to say, this was a great conclusion to this trilogy. I enjoyed pretty much every second of reading this book and it took me only two sittings to finish it. While I don't think it was perfect, because really no book is, I thought it came pretty close while still staying in the realm of a believable ending.

I loved how this book balanced internal character struggles with the big outward tensions going on. Yes, the world has the potential to be in danger, but also the main character is struggling. I liked that this wasn't one of those moments of a character going through something traumatic and then being fine two days later. Nope. In this book we can see the consequences of what happened and the start of a healing and recovery process. That felt so real to me.

I obviously loved the characters. Now that this is over I wish there were more books with our two main characters, though there's also so many side characters that I really want stories about. I know there's already some spin-off novellas following two side characters that I'm excited to read, but I also want two other characters specifically to get a storyline following them. Even if it's just them sitting around not doing anything other than drinking coffee and eating beignets. I just loved the characters--both good and bad. I thought they were well written and compelling and really made me that much more invested in the story.

I will say, Jennifer was able to completely shock me a few times. There were a few things I'd been accidentally spoiled for that I could see coming only because I knew they were, but other things completely blew me away. Looking back, though, they're believable and a natural turn for the story. But after expected betrayal after betrayal after incident in this trilogy, I'm happy to say Jennifer was able to shock me.

I love how this book wrapped things up nicely yet still left things open-ended for the spin-off novellas. Two of the three novellas have currently been released but I've heard they end in huge cliffhangers so I don't want to read them yet. Having this book wrapped up and with things mostly okay at this point in time is giving me the peace of mind to wait until the third novella's release date is closer before I dive into the first two.

Overall, I just loved this book. I thought it was a great ending and I already miss these characters. I would definitely read another book just about our two main characters doing mundane things. I have found another favorite series in Jennifer L. Armentrout and I can't wait to see what she does next.



Thanks for reading!
xoxo
Lauren



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