Spoiler-Free Book Review: “We Rule the Night” by Claire Eliza Bartlett

I was drawn to We Rule the Night for its gorgeous cover. I recently went through a spree of buying paper books and this hardback had been sitting on my shelf for a couple of weeks. This novel got me through some long train journeys.

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“Seventeen-year-old Revna is a factory worker, manufacturing war machines for the Union of the North. When she’s caught using illegal magic, she fears being branded a traitor and imprisoned. Meanwhile, on the front lines, Linné defied her father, a Union general, and disguised herself as a boy to join the army.

They’re both offered a reprieve from punishment if they use their magic in a special women’s military flight unit and undertake terrifying, deadly missions under cover of darkness.

Revna and Linné can hardly stand to be in the same cockpit, but if they can’t fly together, and if they can’t find a way to fly well, the enemy’s superior firepower will destroy them–if they don’t destroy each other first.”

Inspired by Soviet women who bombed the Nazis in World War II, We Rule the Night focuses on a group of women, namely, two characters called Revna and Linné. Revna is in the army to get her family back to regular-class citizens; her father was sent to prison for stealing factory scrap to make her prosthetic legs. Linné is the opposite – she’s desperate to fight for the Union, so much so that three years prior, she disguised herself as a boy to join the men’s regiment.

Linné is a tough girl, but she doesn’t have the Mary-Sue stereotypes that many ‘tough girl’ characters do. She comes off as brash and harsh but it’s because she can never think of the right things to say. Flying terrifies her. Revna, who just wants to protect her family, hates how everyone seems to think she’s fragile and needs help because of her disability. Her use of Weave magic enables her to fly, and she loves being in the plane.

I enjoyed this book very much. The prose was smooth, the action scenes explosive and exciting. Revna and Linné fought hard for the Union, their own goals the same but their motivations very different.

We didn’t see much of the Union apart from the army base and Tammen, Revna’s home city, and didn’t find out much about their enemy in the war, the Elda. Perhaps there are more books coming, or maybe it was left to the reader’s imagination. A reason for the war itself was never explained (or if it was, it wasn’t memorable) and I was left curious to know more about the Skarov, the intelligence officers everyone seemed to be afraid of.

That being said, too much of an info dump would have given the story unnecessary fluff. Though I was left wanting to know more, I was very satisfied with Revna and Linné’s story and how they fought to survive against impossible odds.

We Rule the Night is a dystopian fantasy, containing magic and technology, though the general vibe has you feeling like it’s set in the ’40s – rations, factories, and wooden planes for war. I loved this; it was an original world packed with living metal that responded to emotion, unique kinds of magic, and a country fighting for its freedom.

This exciting page-turner gets four stars!

4stars

Get We Rule the Night on Amazon US
Get We Rule the Night on Amazon UK

How Reading Can Help With Anxiety

When I was a child, I had anxiety pretty badly. I’m the type of person who worries about absolutely everything, and even as a little girl I always worried about things that could happen, or might happen, and what to do if they happened.

In Year 3, we were shown a video about fire safety. After that, for months (or maybe it was years), I’d wake up in the middle of the night, smelling and seeing imaginary smoke, and had to check the entire house for fire before I could go back to sleep.

Even now, I get night terrors.

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I used to get stomach pains, too, and eventually, my mother took me to the hospital to see if there was something wrong physically. Whenever I had a panic attack, sometimes coupled with hallucinations, she and Clarky, her best friend, would say to me in this sing-song way, “dooooooon’t panic.” Anxiety, or whatever it was, was never considered or diagnosed, so I never took any medication for it.

I’ve no idea if I have anxiety now, but I still worry about e v e r y t h i n g.

I also read a lot as a kid. I was extremely shy, so I didn’t go to friends’ houses that much, instead mostly playing video games and watching TV with my brother or reading. I read a lot of books as a kid (though looking back, I wish I’d read more). Now, I try to read as much as I can, purchasing paperbacks and hardbacks rather than ebooks. Now the stress of adult life can get to all of us, and I find the only thing that keeps it at bay is reading.

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It takes around an hour to get to work by train, and I often take a book to read during the commute. Getting into a good story helps push the worries of work, money, and health to the background. Video games and movies can’t do this as easily because they don’t require as much concentration, and it’s easy for your mind to wander. But few things make me happier than finding a great story to read on the train.

Even when I arrive at my station and I have to put the book away, I’m still thinking about the story, what’ll happen next, and enjoying the afterglow of reading in general. It makes my own worries feel smaller, reminding me that there’s a world out there beyond my own worry bubble.

If you or someone you know has anxiety, encourage them to read! In a generation of smartphones, Netflix, and social media, it’s not easy to crack open a book. But I can promise that diving into a novel you love will help, even if it’s just a little bit.

Horse Riding in Tokyo

I never thought it was possible to ride a horse in Japan. Maybe in the countryside, for way more expensive than in the UK, like camping.

But it turns out there are a few horse riding schools in and around Tokyo, and not for such a bad price, either. We visited Tokyo Club Crane (乗馬クラブクレイン東京) which is located in Machida.

We got a special campaign price – 2,500 yen for half an hour, which is pretty reasonable considering some other schools cost tens of thousands. We arrived to get a free helmet and boot rental from some very kind staff.

After we were all set up, it was time to meet the horses!

Most of the horses there are veteran racers. My 27 year old boy was a dressage horse and loved being scratched. Ken’s was a younger 14 and used to be a racer. He loved being petted, too.

We didn’t do much more than walk and trot in a circle, but since it’s been over a decade since I last rode, it was more than enough. The staff commented that I rode well, so it’s good to know my childhood lessons paid off.

After our lesson, the staff showed us around the stables, where each horse had its age, name, blood type, parents, and country of origin. Mine was from Australia, so the staff joked that he could speak English. He was a cheeky one; he kept wanting to stop and sleep in the warm weather.

If you’re interested in trying horse riding, Crane is a great place to get started. It’s not ideal for experts because you can’t really go anywhere outside the school without a license, and the fastest we could go was a short trot. However, it’s a fun day out.

Access

To reach the school, get the Odakyu Line to Tsurukawa Station. Then get the number 21 bus to Wakogakuen Bus Stop. It’s a five-minute walk from there.

Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Origin” by Dan Brown

My mother let me borrow her paperback of Origin recently. Dan Brown is a well-known American author known for his thriller novels, including Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code. I hadn’t actually read Dan Brown before, so I dived into this fascinating story.

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“Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to attend the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever”. The evening’s host is his friend and former student, Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old tech magnate whose dazzling inventions and audacious predictions have made him a controversial figure around the world. This evening is to be no exception: he claims he will reveal an astonishing scientific breakthrough to challenge the fundamentals of human existence.

But Langdon and several hundred other guests are left reeling when the meticulously orchestrated evening is blown apart before Kirsch’s precious discovery can be revealed. With his life under threat, Langdon is forced into a desperate bid to escape, along with the museum’s director, Ambra Vidal. Together they flee to Barcelona on a perilous quest to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret.

In order to evade a tormented enemy who is one step ahead of them at every turn, Langdon and Vidal must navigate labyrinthine passageways of hidden history and ancient religion. On a trail marked only by enigmatic symbols and elusive modern art, Langdon and Vidal uncover the clues that will bring them face-to-face with a world-shaking truth that has remained buried – until now.”

Dan Brown’s prose is wonderful, which comes from a lot of experience in writing. I haven’t read many books recently that weren’t debuts, and it makes a difference to see a master at work. Every sentence sang.

Origin isn’t of a genre I usually go for, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I was eager to learn this secret Edmond Kirsch was planning to unveil, joining Robert Langdon in his exploration of the museum, his meeting with Winston, and the building anticipation to Kirsch’s big reveal.

Origin has been praised for the extensive research Brown undertook, and the organizations and buildings described in the story are all real places; he describes them with detail; no doubt he visited most (perhaps all) of them for the story and it gave the book a very realistic edge.

The story was full of action and many twists, some of which I didn’t guess, and some of which I saw coming. I liked Ambra Vidal very much; she was intelligent and strong, yet vulnerable. Arguably, she was a typical action heroine, but I enjoyed how she interacted with Robert and how she felt about him.

There’s no doubt that this is a wonderfully crafted novel. Personally, though I found the descriptions of the real cathedrals, museums, and other buildings impressive, it was sometimes a little overkill and interrupted the story. I also saw one of the major plot twists coming from near the beginning of the book. That being said, I liked Origin very much, so I’m giving it four stars out of five.

4stars

Get Origin on Amazon US
Get Origin on Amazon UK

Spoiler-Free Book Review: “Girls With Sharp Sticks” by Suzanne Young

This book caught my eye after coming across a blog post that was raving about it. Since I’ve mainly been reading fantasy and horror for the past few years, this looked like a fascinating change. Set in the near future and full of mystery and intrigue, I devoured the hardback in three days.

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Some of the prettiest flowers have the sharpest thorns.

The Girls of Innovations Academy are beautiful and well-behaved—it says so on their report cards. Under the watchful gaze of their Guardian, they receive a well-rounded education that promises to make them better. Obedient girls, free from arrogance or defiance. Free from troublesome opinions or individual interests.

But the girls’ carefully controlled existence may not be quite as it appears. As Mena and her friends uncover the dark secrets of what’s actually happening there—and who they really are—the girls of Innovations Academy will learn to fight back.

Bringing the trademark plot twists and high-octane drama that made The Program a bestselling and award-winning series, Suzanne Young launches a new series that confronts some of today’s most pressing ethical questions.”

Philomena, called Mena by her friends, is a student at Innovations Academy, along with many other beautiful young girls like herself. However, instead of learning about science, maths, or world history, they are taught instead how to be “perfect” – manners, sophistication, politeness, self-control, and physical beauty. It was like 17th-century values were being ingrained into a modern school. It was really… weird.

Everything about this “private school” had me on edge. The teachers were sort of nice, but also incredibly controlling. The students took “vitamins” at night. Any whisper of doubt or rebelliousness was instantly “remedied.”

I liked Mena very much. She is down-to-earth, clever, and loves her classmates like they’re her sisters. She isn’t bitchy or over-the-top sassy like we see in some female characters.

Each page I turned only brought more questions. What is this “therapy” they go under when they’re disobedient? Why would their parents send them to such a strange academy? What is their intended purpose once they graduate? Why do Mena’s parents neglect to visit her? Who are they, really?

I didn’t guess the final twist, which was great and made everything fit into place. Though plenty is left to the imagination, I was deeply satisfied with the explanations shown to us in the exciting last third of the book. That’s not to say the first part was boring; I was hooked from the first chapter, and instantly loved it.

Girls With Sharp Sticks is a must-read for those who love suspense. There are feminist themes for those who are into that. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the present tense narrative, which I’m not a fan of, but I quickly got used to it (as with the Divergent trilogy) and it didn’t take away from the story.

I give Girls With Sharp Sticks five stars out of five!

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Get Girls With Sharp Sticks on Amazon US
Get Girls With Sharp Sticks on Amazon UK

Amuse Bar in Musashi Kosugi: Beer, Karaoke, and Retro Games

Japan is a country that loves to drink and isn’t short of bars and izakayas. Though there are many interesting themed bars in the big cities as well as the traditional hole-in-the-wall establishments offering beer and sake, there are also some rather unique places only known to locals.

Amuse Bar in Musashi Kosugi is run by a man named Takeshi Hasegawa, who loves beer almost as much as his customers. His bar is underground and lit with fairy lights and half a dozen televisions! It’s no surprise that he’s a huge fan of TV shows and anime.

Where most izakayas and bars have these paper menus displaying dishes and prices, Takeshi has written the names of faithful patrons. The number written below their name is the number of times they visited in one year!

He had the bar filled with cool vintage stuff like this fruit machine and a Super Famicon (SNES).

I played Kirby for the first time!

After some beer and some ginger highballs (where he let us draw the whisky ourselves!) it was time for karaoke.

Some ladies joined us and sang their fair share as well.

This bar was a lot of fun and I plan on visiting again very soon! Maybe I’ll have my name on the wall one day.

Another thing that makes Amuse Bar so unique is that Takeshi is OK with you taking food and drink along with you, as long as you don’t mind paying. A customer will usually pay around 3,000 yen, which is pretty reasonable considering the free snacks and flow of drinks on offer, as well as karaoke and games.

How to Get There/Opening Hours

Amuse Bar is just a few minutes’ walk from Musashi-Kosugi Station, which is on the Nambu line, Toyoko line, Meguro line, and Shonan Shinjuku line and just 15 minutes from Shibuya and 20 minutes from Shinjuku.

It’s open from 18:00-5:00 Monday to Saturday. It’s closed on Sundays, though this may differ when it comes to national holidays (as a rule, if a Monday is a national holiday, establishments in Japan instead take their days off on the Monday instead). If you’re not sure, you can call Amuse Bar at 044-422-7627.

Come sing, drink, and play games at Amuse Bar!

Spoiler-Free Book Review: “The Queen’s Resistance” by Rebecca Ross

The Queen’s Rising, American writer Rebecca Ross’s debut novel, was one of my favourite fantasy reads of all time. I was enchanted by the world, Ross’s gorgeous atmospheric writing style, and the story of Brienna, a heroine who wasn’t over-the-top feisty and quirky, but believable and likable.

Ross didn’t originally plan to write a sequel, as she described in her Instagram post:

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Today, my second book comes out, and I honestly can’t even believe it! 😭✨ THE QUEEN’S RESISTANCE almost didn’t happen, and what I mean by that is it was originally supposed to be a companion novel to TQR, not a sequel. A companion novel which would focus on a new heroine in the world, because I believed I had finished Brienna’s story. * * In 2016, I wrote a companion novel. Hated it. Scrapped it. Wrote another companion novel. Still wasn’t satisfied with it. I was beginning to panic, because it was about time for me to deliver something to my editor, and I had no idea what my second book needed to be. The companion books were lacking something, and I didn’t know what that *something* was. All the same, I wasn’t going to publish a book I was not 100% in love with. * * In February of 2017, I was sitting on my back deck, throwing the frisbee to my dog. I had a journal open on my lap, and I was trying to brainstorm. And out of the blue, Brienna returned to me and quietly said, “Continue my story. And Cartier? He has a lot left to tell, too.” * * I did exactly as she said: I started to write this book by hand, reuniting with Brienna. And I knew she was right: her story was not finished, & this book was as much Cartier’s as it was hers. * * The words began to flow. This story caught fire—I had been seeking that spark, which my companion novels lacked. And this book poured out of me in 24 days. * * It was a magical, emotional, cathartic experience. And I knew that my second book was meant to be this—a continuation. A book where I could dig deeper and build upon the first. * * THE QUEEN’S RESISTANCE marks the end of the series. It is bittersweet, but I think you will understand why this is the end when you reach the final page. Which I bawled like a baby when I wrote it. * * Thank you all for your love & excitement & support! Thank you for purchasing, requesting, recommending & reviewing my books. I cannot tell you how grateful I am, and how much it means to me. * * I hope you enjoy this little story of mine. It is a book I poured my heart into. And I know my name is on the cover, but this book doesn’t just belong to me anymore. It belongs to you. 🧡✨

A post shared by Rebecca Ross 🌙 (@beccajross) on

TL;DR: she eventually decided to write a sequel that she liked. It carries on immediately from The Queen’s Rising, so of course, be sure to have read that one first.

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“Brienna is a mistress of knowledge and is beginning to settle into her role as the daughter of the once disgraced lord, Davin MacQuinn. Though she’d just survived a revolution that will return a queen to the throne, she faces yet another challenge: acceptance by the MacQuinns.

But as Queen Isolde Kavanagh’s closest confidant, she’ll have to balance serving her father’s House as well as her country.

Then there’s Aodhan Morgan, formerly known as Cartier Évariste, who is adjusting to the stark contrast between his pre-rebellion life in Valenia and his current one as lord of a fallen House. As he attempts to restore the Morgane name, he let his mind wander—what if he doesn’t have to raise his House alone? What if Brienna could stand by his side?

But Brienna and Cartier must put their feelings aside, as there are more vital tasks at hand—the Lannons’ trial, forging alliances, and ensuring that no one halts the queen’s coronation. Resistance is rumbling among the old regime’s supporters, who are desperate to find a weakness in the rebels’ forces.

And what makes one more vulnerable than love?”

Much like the first novel, it took a while for the action to begin. I really enjoyed this in TQR as I loved exploring Magnolia House, Brienna’s life studying the passion of knowledge, and the culture of the world around her. In Resistance, it took a while for me to get into the story. Brienna and Cartier are in Maevana preparing for Queen Isolde’s coronation, and various problems crop up, building in seriousness until things get dangerous about two thirds in.

That being said, the story is filled with many enjoyable twists and turns, many of which I did not see coming. As many readers do, I made guesses as to what was coming, and though I was right about a certain character, there were many other things that surprised me. Predictability can kill a story, and Ross did an excellent job of keeping me on my toes.

Much like Allegiant by Veronica Roth, the chapters switch between Brienna and Cartier’s perspectives. Unlike in Allegiant, however, Ross did a great job of distinguishing their voices so it was easy to follow whose eyes I was seeing the world through. It was a joy to get inside Cartier’s head, to understand how he felt and thought and what many emotions he held back. I thought I could guess the reason for this style of writing, but I was happily proven wrong.

The Queen’s Resistance was much, much darker than the first book. We see much more of the effects of King Lannon’s tyrannical rule and much of the action was much darker than the first. In a way, this symbolises how much Brienna grows throughout the stories; when we first meet her, she’s a pretty innocent seventeen-year-old with not much to worry about except getting her passion cloak; in Maevana, she witnesses brutality, torture, and cruelty. No more details here without reading it yourself!

Ross kept her poetic writing style that caused me to fall so hard for her first novel. Though I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first, this is still an excellent book. I love Brienna; she’s strong without falling into the stereotype of the “witty tomboy” we often see in modern books. I also enjoyed seeing the tougher side of Cartier’s character. I give The Queen’s Resistance four stars out of five.

4stars

Get The Queen’s Resistance on Amazon US
Get The Queen’s Resistance on Amazon UK

@HomeCafe Maid Café in Akihabara, Tokyo

Akihabara is the place to go for “nerd stuff”: anime, comics, figurines, electronics, and video games. I took my brothers there today and we decided to get lunch in a maid café.

There are several maid cafés in Akihabara. We chose @homecafe as it’s highly rated and close to Super Potato, a retro gaming store.

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Rules of Visiting @HomeCafe

  1. No pictures (except of food and drinks).
  2. Credit cards accepted.
  3. Don’t touch the maids or ask them for any personal information.
  4. All guests have to order at least one item from the menu.
  5. There is an additional fee as well as food and drink of 700 yen per adult, and discounts for seniors and students.

Upon arriving, we were greeted with a happy “welcome home, masters and princess!” Maids are there to make you happy and give you what you need. All the maids, dressed up in cute outfits, had smiles on their faces and were very kind.

Our server, Aqua, said some cute, quirky stuff like she was from Aqualand in the deep ocean and that she had eaten magic food that made her 17 years old forever.

We ordered the Food Combo, which included one food item from the menu, one soft drink, and a picture with the maids. We all ordered the omelette rice, where the maids draw a picture of your choice on top in ketchup. I got Princess Peach and she did a pretty good job!

The boys got milkshakes and I got a mocha latte where I could also choose the picture on top in caramel sauce. I requested Wario.

We even managed to catch a cute show where the maids sung and danced on stage. Because why not, right?

Here’s me with Aqua. She was awfully sweet and she definitely had the biggest smile out of all the maids in @homecafe.

Kawaii as heck.

A maid cafe is always a fun experience; just expect to plonk down around 3,000 yen for your meal and experience. It’s an experience you should try while in a Japanese city.

Spoiler-Free Book Review: “My Mum Tracy Beaker” by Jacqueline Wilson

Jacqueline Wilson was one of my favourite authors when I was a child. Most British kids who like reading have at least heard of her. I’ve written about her top ten books, though she’s now written over one hundred. Her stories are mostly about little girls in the working class dealing with real-life issues such as bullying, poverty, abuse, and family issues.

When I was small, my aunt bought me a set of some of Wilson’s best titles, such as The Story of Tracy Beaker, The Bed and Breakfast Star, Bad Girls, Buried Alive!, The Suitcase Kid, and Double Act. I read those books dozens of times all the way through my childhood and teens, and even got a couple of them as ebooks for a reread.

I bought Wave Me Goodbye last year and it was cool to see that Wilson’s writing style hasn’t changed much. I came across My Mum Tracy Beaker and immediately bought it; I liked the first three Beaker books and it was cool to see that the little girl I grew up reading about was now grown up with a child of her own.

91KcVczAr6L“Tracy has returned, hand in hand with her daughter Jess, she’s ready to make her childhood dreams come true. 

Jess and Tracy Beaker are the perfect team. They do everything together. Jess thinks Tracy is the best mum ever, even when she shouts at her teachers!

Tracy has made the perfect home for Jess, leaving The Dumping Ground far behind her. Yes, their flat’s a bit mouldy. It’s only just big enough for two. And the Duke Estate is a bit scary. 
But it’s their happy home. 

Until Sean Godfrey, Tracy’s rich boyfriend, whisks them away to his mansion, life of fast cars and celebrity stardom. Will Jess’s brilliant mum turn into a new person altogether? And will Tracy realise that her childhood dream might not be what she needs after all?”

Despite having modern references such as selfies, Instagram, the internet, and cell phones, it was diving into this 400-page paperback still held the nostalgia of the ’90s with references to things like The Magic Faraway Tree (an old book by Enid Blyton, another childhood favourite) and The Wizard of Oz.

Tracy Beaker is still fierce and short-tempered, but she’s also a wonderfully sweet mother to Jess (from whose view we see this story). She always takes her daughter’s feelings into account, takes her seriously, and does her best to take care of her. Though Tracy has many problems from her difficult childhood, she’s extremely loyal and independent. She makes a big fuss of people’s birthdays, no doubt because she always had “half a birthday” in the Dumping Ground, the home she grew up in.

Jess is much shyer and is reminiscent of some of Wilson’s other books: she likes reading, she’s shy, gets bullied, and doesn’t have many friends. A sympathetic character like this is a Wilson trope.

We see characters from the first three books. Cam is there, of course, still with a wonderful relationship with Tracy, whom she refers to as her mother and says she loves her, showing how grateful she is the woman fostered her. There are other familiar faces, too, but no spoilers here!

A neat little easter egg is when Jess read two books; though they aren’t named, they’re described enough where I could understand they were Hetty Feather and Lola Rose, the latter of which is my favourite book by this author.

The story was pretty good, though it could have been shorter. Tracy can’t let go of her childhood dream; those who read The Story of Tracy Beaker might know she always dreamed of being rich and living in an enormous mansion with posh furniture. Jess, however, is happy with their little flat and it being just the two of them. I enjoyed this book, but I don’t think it’s Wilson’s best. Then again, it’s aimed at children so maybe I’ve just grown too big for it!

If you read this book, I’d recommend reading the first three books so you can spot the references. I give My Mum Tracy Beaker three stars out of five.

3stars

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3 Weird KitKat Flavours

Japan is famous for distributing a bunch of different flavours of KitKat. There may be hundreds out there, changing with the seasons, the most popular, such as green tea, enduring at sweet shops and airports. They even release a sakura flavour for cherry blossom season.

I’ve got a soft spot for Kit Kats because back before Nestlé bought them, the producer was called Rowntrees and based in York, the city where I went to university.

Here are three crazy flavours of KitKat I recently tried.

1. Roasted Green Tea

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Roasted green tea is yummy; I love getting lattes from the convenience store. The KitKat tasted almost the same, containing much of the same ingredients and a pleasant tea-like aftertaste.

2. Wasabi

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Wasabi is spicy Japanese horseradish served with sushi. I don’t like wasabi at all, but someone at work gave me this so I gave it a try. It’s actually not bad, though the wasabi and chocolate flavour together is a little strange. It has a spicy aftertaste but it’s not as strong as the real thing. Oddly, it kind of reminded me of mint.

3. Grape

You can get a lot of grape-flavoured goodies here. Fruit and chocolate is always good together, and this pink treat was tasty, though honestly, tasted quite artificial.

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I’ll be adding to this list when I come across new Kit Kat flavours. What kinds have you tried?