Sunday, November 27, 2016

Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy by Cassandra Clare, Maureen Johnson, Sarah Rees Brennon and Robin Wasserman | Rating: ★★★★★ 

As a note, an e-galley of this novel was sent to me via Edelweiss by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not effect my opinions in any way.

There's no shortage of companion novels these days amongst the young adult book series which dominate the scene. In the case of Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, it had a lot to live up to--even in a side by side comparison with its previous companion novel, The Bane Chronicles. Nearly a decade has passed since Cassandra Clare's publication of the first of six novels in The Mortal Instruments series and with that milestone, the world has expanded to multiple series, two companion novels of short stories, one film and one television adaptation. And there's more to come in the future.

With no signs of stopping, Cassandra Clare enlisted some help once more to expand her Shadow world and reintroduces us to our favourite characters from all of her series. Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy primarily focuses on the events of fan-favourite, Simon Lewis, as he grapples with his newfound life as a Shadowhunter-to-be and struggles to regain his memories. Seeing Simon grow in his own short stories is a lot different from the growth--and loss--we saw in the original series run; it's bittersweet and promising, it's a new light on self discovery and armed with heartfelt prose and with humour.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Amateurs by Sara Shepard | Rating: ★★★★☆

Raise your hand if you're utterly addicted to anything that Sara Shepard writes! ME! That's me. I'm a self-proclaimed uber fan of Sara Shepard's work and probably always will be. She is one of the few authors that I've carried over from my teenage years (has it REALLY been ten years since PLL was first published?!) and still frequently return to. There's something so devilishly feel-good about her indulgent mysteries. From Pretty Little Liars to The Lying Game and everywhere in between, Shepard dominates her genre and has continued to show us her story telling skills.

The Amateurs is no different and may be her best release in recent years. Fans who found themselves disappointed in The Perfectionists will find their Queen of Stylish Suspense once more with this delightful young adult mystery that reminds us why she's been a bestselling author for so long. I think we all know by now that nothing is ever what it seems in Shepard's books and The Amateurs will slap you down with a huge plot twist, I promise you: your head will be spinning.

I love that the pace was really solid: quick but not too quick, the relationships were set up perfectly. And the typical Sara Shepard signature "I've got you now, don't I?" because, let's face it. It's Sara Shepard's world and we're just living in it. 

Kiss Cam by Kiara London | Rating: ★★☆☆☆ (2.5)

Kiara London's Kiss Cam is another case of the "I wanted to like this novel, but couldn't get fully into it" blues. You know the type: an interesting premise, a promise of fluffy fun and a whole lot of romantic goodness. In terms of a contemporary novel, it wasn't at all bad. Sadly, it wasn't my cup of tea and was nearly one of those books I couldn't keep up with or bring myself to continue.

So, what went wrong? I'm not entirely sure. I wouldn't go as far as too say that the novel wasn't good or that the writing failed it. I am sure there will be a lot of readers out there who appreciate it for what it was--but the way it played out, the way it was paced felt almost dull and dated for me and what could have been an intriguing read. Kiss Cam had a lot going on for it: the humor, for one, will quirk your lips upward. It's got a sense of itself down pretty well. I think that, perhaps, I am just in a slump and far out of the target age group--hell, we all have that. A book can be good and hold a lot of promise, but you just can't connect with it.

That's my issue with it. I couldn't connect with it.

And I'm not even sure if I could have connected with it in high school.

Nothing More by Anna Todd | Rating: ★★★☆☆

Let's just be upfront about it, shall we? I'm becoming more and more of a sucker for trashy romance novels. It's not that I love them, it's more or less that they are simply a good escape from life. Anna Todd has, in just under a few years, become something of a fan favourite due to her highly popular After series and its cult following.

You may remember After as something many tipped to be "the next Fifty Shades of Grey" which is equal parts compelling and offensive, depending on who you ask. Getting her start as an author of One Direction fanfiction, Todd has built herself a massive following and career that is only going up from here on out. Her novels are sloppy, messy, and campy--in with toxic, stormy relationships that will strike a chord with its target audience due to its explicit sex scenes and high stakes drama. In all ways, Anna Todd's novels are the typical trash scene of New Adult but that isn't a bad thing until readers begin to emulate it and decide they are "relationship goals" and all that jazz.

But, I've said my piece in the past and I'm not here to ridicule it in any way further. Nothing More, luckily, isn't all that like After in terms of its toxicity and romance. Todd, thankfully, takes a different formula with our characters we've come familiar with in the timeline. Fan favourites return, this time with Landon as our lead and his love life takes the main stage. Which is quite refreshing and gives us a glimpse into who he is outside of his platonic friendship with Tessa. I enjoyed seeing his point of view because it's a breath of fresh air and has a distinctly comical edge to it.

A Doubter's Almanac by Ethan Canin | Rating: ★★☆☆☆ (2.5)

"Are there not a thousand forms of sorrow? Is the sorrow of death the same as the sorrow of knowing the pain in a child's future? What about the melancholy of music? Is it the same as the melancholy of a summer dusk? Is the loss I was feeling for my father the same I would have felt for a man better-fit to the world, a man who might have thrown a baseball with me or taken me out in the mornings to fish? Both we call grief. I don't think we have words for our feelings any more than we have words for our thoughts."
As a note, a printed galley of this novel was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not effect my opinions in any way.  Originally posted a year ago. 

There are a lot of reasons why I loved and loathed A Doubter's Almanac. I loved it exclusively because the writing is beyond superb. I loathed it because it was full of something I'd read before and I didn't actually love the story. Which makes approximately no sense, I know. But here's the thing: Ethan Canin has a voice to be reckoned with in literature. No one's going to argue me on that one. He has a place in it and there's no doubt about it.

A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller | Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3.5)

A strange thing, words. Once they're said, it's hard to imagine they're untrue.

I wasn't sure what to expect when picking up A Mad, Wicked Folly. Like, at all. Speaking from experience it often feels overdone when it comes down to historical fiction in that era. And, I'll admit it, I was more-so intrigued by the cover art than its timeline. Save it, all the judgment, I've been punishing myself for choosing a book by its pretty cover for years and I have it covered. Despite this, the novel itself appealed to me because it seemed to be one of those cozy, indulgent books you'd pick up to escape the world and relax. A comfort read.

A Mad, Wicked Folly in a nutshell is exactly what I expected it to be. It was fast paced, enjoyable and full of life. But there were plenty of things wrong with it. I enjoyed it. I devoured it. I steadily indulged in it and its characters--but when I was done? I'm sorry say it wasn't something I would feel an itching desire to return to. I think there's a lot of fluffy goodness to be had in it and it's equal parts perfect for a day at the beach or a day by the fire--it's versatile.

In terms of historically accuracy, you can tell that Sharon Biggs Waller did her research and put forth a ton of effort in keeping it true to its timeline. There's just a general tone of realistic life in it that balanced with the fluffy, predictable bits quite well (without making up for it) and you have to give her that. She put forth a tone of vividness that really paints an elegant image of what Vicky is like and where the story could go.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee | Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

It's safe to say that most of are familiar with Lee's classic To Kill a Mockingbird--for years, it's been one of the most challenged books and is a frequent in high school curriculum. If you've never read it yourself, you almost absolutely know it from a distance and have formed your judgment on where it stands. I will say this much: I wasn't much of a reader when we studied this in English when I was growing up. But, much like the study around The Outsiders, I actually didn't completely hate studying it.

Which is--naturally--a huge deal for some students. That being said, originally promoted as a sequel to the novel above, Go Set a Watchman is actually a draft of what later became To Kill a Mockingbird. There's a definite palpable energy to it that feels like Harper Lee but doesn't quite reach it like so many of us had hoped. In turn, Go Set a Watchman is choppy and a lot of, well, unsavory pages. Many readers will have long ago remarked that, while it is well-written, the fact that it's a draft is blatantly obvious to anyone who picks it up.

It may be fascinating to have this been released, a relief for many, and I'm sure many have enjoyed it far more than me. But (but!) I can't help but to cringe at its publication as a general thing. There are many flaws in Go Set a Watchman that I'm sure you've already heard in the time since it was published--it's taken me ages to finish it because it was equal parts frustrating, out of character and boring--and one question remains: was this really necessary?