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?


Election 2016: What Now?




So. That actually happened.

From the moment I awoke on election day, 2016, I was horrified and fearful of where we would be as a country the following day. I don't have to say it because, I think, a lot of Americans were feeling that way from the start. A lot of people around the world, if we're being honest.

Many scenarios crossed our thoughts during the hours in which polls are open nationwide. It’s a steady flow of anticipation that hops through timezones. We spend time contemplating where we could go from here, no matter the elected. It’s a sad reality that many feel we stand in the face of two evils, a two party system that feels dated or unfair. I think we all knew from the second we had our two party nominations, there would be outrage at either possible outcome. We've all been prepared for this for months.

My mind clouded with a series of heavy thoughts that included, but weren’t limited to, potential repercussions that come hand in hand with the night’s results. In such a tension filled race, there was hell to be paid by night's end.

It seemed disheartening even more so as the early hours progressed: outside, the weather accurately mirrored the general mood with dark clouds and a light shower. This was what my city looked like: gloomy, chilly and outright gray. I felt it right from the start. Election season was nearing its end and somehow, the skies foreshadowed what could very well be in such a short window of time. A weighted image of despair was following us as morning faded. Still, I held firm to hope and reminded myself to keep my head.

Because, at this point, that's all you can do.

Keep your head. 

Maybe if we say it enough, we'll manage. 


Faithful by Alice Hoffman | Rating: ★★★★☆

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

In true Alice Hoffman fashion, Faithful is one of the most buzzed about releases this year. If you're as big of a fan as I am, you'll know what to expect from Hoffman's words: an emotional roller coaster that will leave a world of thoughts at your fingertips. As poignant as it is warm, and breathtaking, Faithful paints the image of a life still learning and defining itself.

Filled with elegant, thoughtful, soul-filled prose, you find yourself sucked in from the very start. If you're reading Faithful and are yet to feel a deep settling love for the characters, you will. They worm their way into your thoughts and it provokes a great many emotions within readers of all ages. Faithful is not for the faint of heart--it focuses on life and its many complexities, it will tug on your heart strings and comes with more than a few of its fair share in trigger warnings. Please, look into the story a bit to get an understanding of what to look for: don't put yourself in any situation that could be triggering to you.


The Princess Saves Herself in this One by Amanda Lovelace | Rating: ★★★★★

The Princess Saves Herself in this One is a triumph in modern poetry and I'm not just saying this because I've followed Amanda for years on her Tumblr and admired her blog from afar. I'm saying this because it's the first thought that comes to mind when reading this. If ever there were a release this year worthy of hype, it's this one.

It came to me during a reading slump and brought me from it. Actually, I can't stress how important this collection is to me because reading it was something truly magical and didn't just pull me out of a reading slump.

(I regret not having purchased a physical copy of it but am privileged nonetheless in the fact that I was able to read it. And can't wait to get my hands on the newly revised edition that is to be published around my birthday.)

Ultimately, words can't do this one justice; much like my feelings toward Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur, there is this tone of honesty to it that feels beyond personal.  

Sometimes it's overwhelming in the best ways possible.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Day in the Life: October 3rd-November 6th, 2016



Long time no talk, huh? Getting free time keeps growing harder and harder. I suck! Actually, adulthood kind-of-sort-of sucks. Still without a laptop, so that's the main source of me not being as active as I'd like to be. I've also been out and about a lot more, and in a shitty turn: my beloved tree in the backyard lost a ton of limbs three weeks ago (it's an old tree--there was no storming or winds it just kind of fell) leading to the roof getting some serious damage. In between social life, reading and working, I've been running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to move my room around so they can fix the crack in my ceiling.

Read:

Re-Read: 

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur | Rating: ★★★★★

As a note, Social Book CO provided a copy of this novel for review purposes. This does not effect my opinions in any way. 

Where to begin, where to begin, where to begin? Oh, bother. I feel like I have to stress that Amanda's thoughts on this novel is the exact feeling I possessed upon finishing it: if you are to read only one collection of poetry in your entire life, make it Milk and Honey. Rupi Kaur captures the essence of life in such a breathtaking way, you literally feel it in each line of her prose. One of the first thoughts that comes to mind when looking back is that it's such an intimate look into her soul, you can't help but to pause and say wow.

Milk and Honey is a raw, honest-to-its-core journey of life. Kaur casts a spell on her readers with an ease that isn't often accomplished at any age. There are four parts to the collection and each part is better than the last. Just when you think her writing couldn't get anymore honest or captivating, it draws you back in and you quite frankly lose your breath. It reminds us why we read  and write poetry. It's a promise of what brilliance is to come. It's exactly the kind of poetry you'll feel connected to in an instant--be sure to keep tissues and tabs on hand, because there are so many standout moments in the collection that will require it.


Invitation Only by Kate Brian | Rating: ★★★★☆

Sequels can often be a bore but in the case of the second novel in the best-selling Private series by Kate Brian, it's even better than our introduction to Easton. Invitation Only picks up immediately where Private ended and toys with us as we grow more and more captivated to the now-luxurious everyday life of Reed Brennan. Just a bit of time she's spent at her new, ultra-exclusive boarding school, Reed has found herself as the newest member of the campus' most notorious housing department: Billings.

The Billings Girls are everything anyone has ever dreamed to be and certainly the most sought-after dorm throughout the entire school. They're the brightest and most beautiful female students and with her newfound position amongst their ranks, Reed's future seems brighter than ever. If you ignore her missing kind-of-boyfriend Thomas Pearson, the pressure of excellence and the probability of being hazed (what is she, their maid?) by her new dorm mates before officially becoming one of their own.

Just as Reed is finding her way around these speed bumps at her new school, it is obvious that things are just going to keep her on her toes. From the ever present affection from one of the senior boys, who insists on showering her with gifts, and with whom she has no real feelings for but her former roommate Constance does, to becoming Billings unofficial maid, to wondering where the hell Thomas is and if she should move on, to her currently roommate Natasha seemingly blackmailing her--threatening her entire future at Easton--it's obvious to say that Reed has a lot more on her plate than she'd ever expected.


The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins | Rating: ★★★★★

But then I think, this happens sometimes, doesn’t it? People you have a history with, they won’t let you go, and as hard as you might try, you can’t disentangle yourself, can’t set yourself free. Maybe after a while you just stop trying.

Let's start with one simple fact: this is one of my favourite mystery/thrillers from the last few years. I'm sure you've heard the buzz surrounding it, what-with it's big screen adaptation that came out this fall. A lot of people have been quick to call it out as literature's next Gone Girl. Which is equal parts fair and unfair: there are a great many similarities between the two novels but at the end of the day, it's its own story.

Paula Hawkins unleashed a deep, tangled up tale of mystery and intrigue with The Girl on the Train that won't be for everyone but it certainly was for me. I loved every minute on every page and couldn't help but to get lost in it. For the first time in years, I finished a novel only to reread it again that very week--I couldn't get enough of its inner workings and can honestly say that Hawkins is on the fast-track to being one of the next big authors in the literature world.

The Girl on the Train takes you by storm; weaving you into the minds of three women who all have at least a few things in common. Each voice is unique and full of life that you can't help but to love each of them in different ways. It is their flaws you love. It is their voice you love.


Grave Surprise (Graphic Novel) by Charlaine Harris & Royal McGraw | Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3.5)

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

It's no secret Charlaine Harris has been one of my favourite novelists for years. After the captivating Sookie Stackhouse series, and its adaptation on HBO, I find I'm always down for some new material by her. Although Grave Surprise isn't a new release exactly, the graphics featured in this newly republished version are. And boy, do they bring a certain level of fire to this already well-known series.

Really, it gives it a massive kick in the butt and draws in a new sort of excitement for the Harper Connelly series. I'm very fond of the way the mystery unfolds for our favourite psychic and it's a classic Harris release of thrilling edges we get cut on as readers. Sharp, fast paced and full of questions. I don't need to tell this to longtime fans but for those of you who have yet to give Charlaine Harris a chance: this is my call-out to you.

But let's focus more on the new additions to the story: illustrations.


Private by Kate Brian | Rating: ★★★★☆

Here were buildings of brick and stone, topped by shingled roofs and spires, tradition and pride oozing from every dated cornerstone. Here were ancient, weathered, arched doorways, thick wooden doors on iron hinges, cobblestone walks lined by neat beds of flowers. Here were pristine playing fields of bright green grass and gleaming white lines. Everything I saw was perfect. Nothing reminded me of home. 

With the arrival of autumn and the days to winter growing closer, I tend to get very nostalgic. I repeat: very nostalgic. Back in my early years of high school, I had been obsessed with books in the similar vein as Private--the idea of boarding school life, the juicy drama of Gossip Girl. I remember just wandering the shelves at Barnes & Noble with the lunch money I had saved up (instead of eating school lunch? Yes, please.) and there was this little end cap with the first book in a new series that was so obviously targeted at girls my age. When I read the summary of Kate Brian's latest, I was in it to win it or whatever it is they say.

When I picked up the book the next morning during study hall, instead of doing my French homework, I knew I was a total goner. I haven't really touched the entire series in years but the books have had their place of display on my bookshelf for years and they just felt so appealing. Picking up Private again after so many years felt like coming home--I missed Reed Brennan and her adventures at Easton with the Billings Girls. Kate Brian's writing is just a smooth, fluffy and fast paced as I remembered it.


The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford | Rating: ★★★★☆ 

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

The relationship between reader and novels set in historical time periods can be a tricky one to navigate. Often, you lose interest in the pages and wonder where they got there information. Moments that seem to fictional or too out of the general story path. Taking a reader to specific times and places is always a sticky matter but when it comes to incorporating much of the central plots, not a lot of authors can do so coherently.


The Woman on the Orient Express is not one of those published pieces and instead, is a refreshing turn to both its timeline and the familiar material inside its story. I remember looking at the description and thinking, oh, this could go so wrong. You have a 1920s setting and a fictional spin on Agatha Christie. Queen of mystery novels. That's what is going to make most readers do a double take of both good and bad varieties: we've got Agatha Christie as a character rather than an author.