OwlCrate Unboxing – June 2020

As predicted, the June OwlCrate finally graced my doorstep this week. Hooray! At least that gave me plenty of time to sample all of its contents before writing up this review.

For those of you who haven’t seen any of my previous posts, OwlCrate is a monthly subscription service for fans of Young Adult novels. The boxes are usually dispatched around the 20th of each month and contain 3-5 items which are carefully selected to match a theme. Each box is also guaranteed to contain one brand new hardback, which is usually autographed and with an exclusive cover. Each box costs around £38 to ship to the United Kingdom and, so far, I do feel that they have all been great value for money.

OwlCrate guarantees that you will receive each box so long as your subscription remains active. I would strongly recommend thinking very carefully before you cancel, as the service is very popular and boxes tend to sell out quickly. I made this mistake last summer and it took me a few months to get back on the list again…

Anyhow, the theme this month is “All the World’s a Stage”. Be warned – there are a lot of photos and major spoilers for the box’s contents beyond this point…

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The Vanishing Trick

The Vanishing Trick was written by Jenni Spangler and first published in 2020. It is a fantasy story set in Victorian England, focusing on three young children who are cursed by a cruel and mysterious woman. The novel stands alone, so you do not have to read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

When Leander first encounters Madame Pinchbeck, he thinks that it might be an opportunity to make a bit of money. He has been living hand-to-mouth ever since his mother died, and the strange woman seems oddly eager to buy his locket. What Leander does not realise is that Madame Pinchbeck possesses a sinister power. She has the ability to transform any lidded object into a cabinet – and bind a child to that cabinet forever.

Through this trade, Leander gains the power to travel in and out of his locket at will but it comes at a terrible price. He is forced to remain close to Madame Pinchbeck at all times. If he wanders too far away – or anything if anything was to happen to her – he would fade away into nothing. Along with two other trapped children – Charlotte and Felix – Leander is put to work for his new master. Madame Pinchbeck is a spirit medium and her peculiar magic is perfect for tricking people into believing that their deceased loved ones have returned.

However, it is not long before the children notice that Pinchbeck is starting to weaken. The strain of having three cabinets is too much for her to take and it won’t be long before she is forced choose which children she wishes to keep. Leander and his new friends realise that they must find a way to break her spell before one of them is forced to vanish forever…

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The Summer of Middle Grade 2020

Hi everyone! I hope that you’re keeping safe and well!

As I’m taking part in Camp NaNoWriMo over this month, I found myself hankering to read something a little lighter. Due to this, it’s the perfect time to announce this year’s Summer of Middle Grade event! As I had a great time reviewing a selection of great summer reads for young readers last year, I thought it would be fun to do the same again!

Here is what to look forward to over the next few weeks. There will probably be another Owlcrate unboxing as well, if my June box turns up promptly!

The Vanishing Trick by Jenni Spangler

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L.D. Lapinski

The Highland Falcon Thief by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman

The Impossible Boy by Ben Brooks

School for Nobodies by Susie Bower

Uki and the Outcasts by Kieran Larwood

Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels here:

Twilight | New Moon | Eclipse | Breaking Dawn | The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner

Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined was written by Stephenie Meyer and first published in 2015. It is a special edition of Twilight that was published for the 10th Anniversary of the original book, retelling the story while flipping the genders of a majority of the cast. While the novel stands alone, you would probably appreciate it more if you are already familiar with the main series – Twilight (2005), New Moon (2006), Eclipse (2007), Breaking Dawn (2008) and The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner (2009).

As Beaufort Swan’s mother sets off travelling with her new husband, he has no choice but to move to Forks to stay with his father. At first, Beau isn’t too impressed with this change of scenery. Forks is wet and gloomy, and everyone else at school has know each other their whole lives. Even though Beau proves to be very popular with the girls, he soon finds that he is not interested in any of them. But that is before he notices Edythe Cullen.

Edythe is beautiful, mysterious and clearly wants to have nothing to do with him. Unfortunately, Beau is unable to get Edythe out of his mind. However, when Edythe saves Beau from being crushed by a car, he begins to realise that there is something different about her. As Beau grows closer to Edythe, he soon learns the truth. There is a reason why Edythe cannot stand to be close to him, and why she is mysteriously absent from school whenever they have a particularly sunny day.

As Beau and Edythe come to realise that their feelings for each other are more than just friendship, a new danger descends on Forks. When Beau becomes the target of a dangerous woman, Edythe and her family draw together to protect him. But will their combined strength be enough to defend Beau from such a powerful – and determined – foe…

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Point Horror 16-20

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels here:

1-5 | 6-10 | 11-15

It’s time to take another look at the Point Horror series. Hooray! In case this is the first of my posts that you have read, Point Horror was a young adult anthology series that was published between 1991 and 2014. As this is intended to be more of a retrospective look at the series, please do bear in mind that this post contains massive spoilers for the books in question.

In The Cheerleader (written by Caroline B. Cooney), Althea has always dreamed of being popular but no one in school seems to notice her. However, that is before she first encounters the vampire. The mysterious creature promises that it has the power to grant her deepest desires, but in return Althea has to provide it with a victim. While the vampire is true to his word, it’s not long before Althea realises that his hunger is endless. Does she have the strength to stop him, even if it means losing her newfound popularity?

In The Girlfriend (written by R.L. Stine), Scotty and Lora have always been a couple yet, when Lora is out of town, this doesn’t stop Scotty from going out on a date with Shannon. Scotty justifies this slip by rationalising that nothing really happened, but now Shannon seems convinced that they are a couple. She won’t stop calling him, and turns violent when Scotty tries to turn her down gently. How can he find a way to make Shannon stop, and what will Scotty do if Lora finds out about his mistake?

In The Invitation (written by Diane Hoh), only the most popular kids are invited to the wild parties at Cass’s mansion. When Sarah and her friends all receive invitations, Sarah is sure that it’s some kind of mistake. After all, they barely know Cass. When they arrive at the party, they discover the horrible truth. They aren’t intended to be guests – they are to be some kind of sick party game for the other revellers. However, things quickly grow nasty as someone else uses Cass’s game as an excuse to target Sarah and her friends. Can Sarah free all of them before they fall victim to the killer’s cruel traps?

In The Snowman (written by R.L. Stine), Heather has undergone years of abuse at the hands of her cruel uncle. Not only does he control all of her money, but he is constantly trying to ruin all of her relationships. When Heather meets Snowman, she is immediately blown off her feet. He is attractive, charming and seems to be unfazed by her Uncle Jack. For a while, everything seems to be perfect, but then Heather sees Snowman for who he really is. How can she manage to break her ties with Snowman, when he has the power to ensure that she is implicated in a murder?

In Beach House (written by R.L. Stine), the beach was once the scene of a horrible spree of murders. It all began when Maria was supposedly devoured by sharks, but after that her friends were all targeted one by one by the evil Buddy. However, 40 years later, it all seems to be happening again. When Ashley’s friends, Lynn and Kip, both vanish, she realises that that something sinister is going on. But how does this connect to the mysterious, abandoned beach house?

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Amelia Fang and the Naughty Caticorns

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels here:

Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball | Amelia Fang and the Unicorn Lords | Amelia Fang and the Memory Thief | Amelia Fang and the Half-Moon Holiday | Amelia Fang and the Lost Yeti Treasures

Amelia Fang and the Naughty Caticorns was written by Laura Ellen Anderson and first published in 2020. It tells the continuing adventures of a young vampire, as she this time tries to prove that she is responsible enough to care for a new baby. The novel follows Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball (2017), Amelia Fang and the Unicorn Lords (2018), Amelia Fang and the Memory Thief (2018), Amelia Fang and the Half-Moon Holiday (2019) and Amelia Fang and the Lost Yeti Treasures (2019). Although the novels do stand alone fairly well, I would certainly recommend reading them in sequence to fully appreciate them.

Everyone in the Fang household is excited that Countess Frivoleeta will soon be having her second child. Amelia can’t wait to meet her little brother or sister and introduce her to everyone she cares about – especially Florence the Yeti, Grimaldi Reaperton, Prince Tangine and Squashy, her pet pumpkin. Yet there is so much that still needs to be done around the house, and things have been made more complicated by the fact that they have agreed to look after three caticorns while the Countess’s sister is away.

When the baby makes an unexpected arrival, Amelia agrees to take responsibility over the caticorns so that her mother can rush to hospital. It shouldn’t be a problem for her. Gerrard, Butler and Mo are all so well-behaved and Amelia is keen to prove that she will be a responsible older sister. However, as soon as the adults leave, the caticorns prove to be more than a handful. Even with the help of her friends, Amelia soon finds that she is in over her head.

While Amelia was excited to take care of the adorable creatures, she suddenly begins to have her doubts. Why do they seem to hate her so much, and what will she do if the new baby feels the same? However, she knows that she’s got to get to the bottom of why the caticorns are behaving so badly. If she doesn’t, they will completely destroy the house before her parents get home!

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Crownbreaker

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels here:

Spellslinger | Shadowblack | Charmcaster | Soulbinder | Queenslayer

Crownbreaker was written by Sebastien de Castell and first published in 2019. It is the final part of the Spellslinger series, following Kellen and Reichis in their most dangerous adventure yet. As this novel follows on from where Spellslinger (2017), Shadowblack (2017), Charmcaster (2018), Soulbinder (2018) and Queenslayer (2019) left off, I would strongly recommend reading them in sequence in order to fully appreciate them.

Kellen has spent a year in the Daroman Court as Queen Ginevra’s Tutor of Cards, but has still found many ways to get into trouble. Even though his profession offers him a degree of protection, the Mage Lords of the Jan’Tep are still keen to see him dead. However, he is forced to return to his ancestral home after he makes a shocking discovery. His mother, Bene’maat, has been killed while on a secret mission to Berabesq.

Returning home for the funeral, Kellen is forced to confront his past and reconcile with the family members that permanently removed his magic. However, as he formally meets with both Ke’heops and Ginevra, he starts to realise that the political situation across Eldrasia is at a perilous turning point. In the capital of Berabesq, a figure has emerged who claims to be their God. This deity has begun to unify the warring factions of devouts, and it’s not long before he will have an army powerful enough to take over the other kingdoms.

As an unaligned outlaw, both Ke’heops and Ginevra believe that Kellen should be the one to infiltrate the city of Makhan Mebab and assassinate God. Kellen is understandably reluctant, especially as he knows that God is only a child and his actions will certainly put a price on his head. However, when it becomes clear that Ferius is suffering from the same affliction that killed his mother, he realises that his only chance to save her is potentially in this god’s hands…

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Incendiary

Incendiary was written by Zoraida Córdova and first published in 2020. It is a fantasy novel set in a world where a puritanical king has virtually hunted magic users to extinction. The novel forms the first part of a planned series, though at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

Most of Andalucía has fallen under the control of a tyrant. King Fernando of Puerto Leones has gradually expanded his empire to take over the surrounding kingdoms. Yet Memoria has been hit harder than most. The Moria were once formidable magic users, but Fernando’s Justices have largely wiped them out. From the ashes of Memoria has formed a rebel faction – the Whispers – who have dedicated themselves to protecting their surviving people and bringing an end to Fernando’s reign.

Renata Convida longs to be recognised by the Whispers, but it seems like they will always view her as a traitor. Not only is she a rare Robári – a memory thief – but she also was once the property of Justice Méndez. Although she was just a child at the time, her people have not forgotten the fact that she once sold them out to the Justices in exchange for sweets and favours, and are always quick to remind her of this fact.

When a mission goes wrong and Renata’s captain and love is taken prisoner by the enemy, she knows that she must do everything in her power to save him. Even if that means returning to the capital and Méndez’s care once again. Her goal is to have her revenge against the monarchy by killing the King’s heir – a bloodthirsty monster called Castian – and destroying a weapon that he has created which supposedly strips Moria of their powers. Yet, as she spends more time in the palace, she begins to uncover an unexpected mystery with the Prince at its centre. Just what is going on, and how are the Whispers connected?

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The Smoke Thieves

The Smoke Thieves was written by Sally Green and first published in 2018. It is a fantasy novel that is set in a world where three nations are on the brink of war. The novel is the first part of The Smoke Thieves Trilogy and is followed by The Demon World (2019). The final instalment of the series – The Burning Kingdoms – is due for release later this year.

Princess Catherine of Brigant is preparing for her marriage to Prince Tzsayn of Pitoria – a man that she has never met. The only good thing that she can see coming from this union is that she will be finally free of her warmongering father, King Aloysius. However, she cannot stand the thought of being separated from her beloved guard, Ambrosius. She knows that if her father ever discovered the true extent of her feelings towards Ambrosius, they would both be executed for treason. However, it is becoming harder and harder to hide her affection.

Meanwhile, in Pitoria, two survivors of the destruction of Abask are hunting for the illegitimate heir of Calidor. March and Holywell are determined to have their revenge against King Thelonius of Calidor and what better way to do so then to sell his only surviving son to King Aloysius? However, when March finally meets Edyon Foss he is shocked to find that he actually likes the young thief. Yet their journey grows more complicated as their paths cross with two demon hunters – Tash and Gravell – and Edyon steals a vial of their illegal demon smoke.

As Catherine, Ambrosius, March, Edyon and Tash’s destinies slowly entwine, a greater conspiracy in afoot. King Aloysius is training an army of boys and has purchased vast amounts of demon smoke. Catherine and her allies need to figure out what he is up to quickly, before the tyrant king finds a way to take over the whole world…

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Point Horror 11-15

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels here:

1-5 | 6-10

It’s time for another nostalgic look back at the Point Horror series. In case you’ve missed my last couple of reviews, Point Horror was a Young Adult horror anthology series that was published between 1991 and 2014. Please note that, as there seems to be some debate as to the publication order of these books, I am working my way through a list that I pulled off Wikipedia. Also, as this is a retrospective post, there will be massive spoilers for the books in question. You have been warned.

In The Boyfriend (written by R.L. Stine), Joanna has everything that she could possibly want: money, freedom and a loving boyfriend. However, Dex is poor and she knows that the wealthy Shep would be a better prospect for her. Yes, before she can break-up with Dex, he dies in a sudden accident. Joanna is sorry, but glad that this now frees her up to pursue Shep. That is, until Dex comes back from the dead…

In Teacher’s Pet (written by Ritchie Tankersley Cuisick), Kate loves writing and is overjoyed when she wins a place on a writer’s retreat. Finally, she will have the chance to learn from William Drewe – a horror master. However, she is disappointed when she arrives to find that William has gone missing and his handsome brother, Gideon, has taken over his classes. It’s not long before things start to get strange. As Kate slowly becomes Gideon’s favourite, it becomes clear that someone is jealous. Someone who is prepared to kill…

In Mother’s Helper (written by A. Bates), Becky is excited to start her job as a mother’s helper on a remote holiday island. Devon is a dream to look after and it’s not long before she takes a liking to local boy, Cleve. However, Becky also soon starts to release that something is not right. Why is Devon’s mother, Mrs Nelson, so worried about Becky spending time in town? And why does she not seem to know the first thing about looking after her own son?

In The Accident (written by Diane Hoh), Megan is shocked when three of her friends are injured in a car accident, but stranger still is the misty figure that appears in her mirror. Juliet claims to be the spirit of a girl who died 40 years before. She is desperate to experience life again for just one week and begs Megan to switch places with her. In return, Juliet promises to help Megan find out who caused the accident. But can Juliet be trusted, and will she be prepared to give Megan’s body back once the week is over?

In The Baby-Sitter II (written by R.L. Stine), Jenny is understandably traumatised by her past experiences as a baby-sitter, but is sure that the only way to conquer her fears is to get back out there. However, Eli is a very strange little boy. He has vicious mood swings and keeps tarantulas as pets. It’s not long after Jenny starts her new job that the phone calls start again, promising her that “Company’s Coming”. But Mr Hagen is dead, isn’t he?

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