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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Review: Catalyst (Insignia #3) by S.J. Kincaid

Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: October 28, 2014
Pages: 432
Source: For Review From Author
Rating: 4 Stars

Tom Raines and his friends are eager to return to the Pentagonal Spire to continue training for the elite Intrasolar Forces, but they soon discover troubling changes: strict new regulations and the revelation that the Spire is under new military control. What begins as an irritating adjustment soon reveals a dangerous shift in reality. Those now in control are aligned with corporate sponsors and their ruthless agendas. And when the military academy begins welcoming new cadets with suspicious neural processors, the first step in a plan with horrifying worldwide ramifications, Tom is desperate to stop it, even if that means keeping secrets from his closest allies.
Then a mysterious figure, the other ghost in the machine, begins fighting against the corporations, but with methods even Tom finds shocking. And when the enemy comes for Tom, how much can Tom endure in the battle to save himself? He must decide if he can still fight when the odds of success seem to be sliding from his grip.

This review is spoiler-free

In short: Catalyst by S.J. Kincaid is a fantastic finale to a very entertaining trilogy.
And so ends another much beloved series. I've been anticipating the ending to this high-action, high-stakes dystopian sci-fi for a while now - and thankfully this finale doesn't disappoint! The Insignia Trilogy follows gamer Tom Raines who, upon being recruited by the Pentagon and having a chip implanted in his head, can control fighter ships remotely in space as part of an intrasolar World War III. It's Ender's Game for a new generation and it's AWESOME.

Catalyst is the darkest book yet in this trilogy - the stakes are at their highest and the plot is at its most perilous. S.J. Kincaid takes risks and introduces twists and I have to applaud her for them as that's exactly what I want and NEED to see in a finale to a series like this. This series is also memorable to me because of the many moments of hilarity it induced while reading - and while Catalyst is the darkest and least playful of the trilogy, there was still some room for S.J. Kincaid's brilliant humour and I welcomed that.

As with Insignia and Vortex, I will say that the plot reaches almost ridiculous levels - complexity-wise and plausibility-wise - in Catalyst. The reliance on technologically-related plots sometimes goes over my head, while the political inferences are sometimes a bit on the nose. This series isn't about subtlety, it's about that entertainment factor and it definitely delivers on that. I will be sad to say goodbye to the greatest friends Tom, Vik, Wyatt, and Yuri, but I am pleased at least that Catalyst was a satisfying ending to an exciting series.

Previously, my reviews of Insignia and Vortex.

Other Reviews:
Good Books and Good Wine
Planet Print

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Review: Alistair Grim's Odditorium by Gregory Funaro

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Published: January 6, 2015
Pages: 432
Source: For Review From Publisher
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Grubb, age twelve (or thereabouts), has never known anything beyond his miserable existence as a chimney sweep, paid only in insults and abuse by his cruel master. All of that changes the day he stows away in the coach belonging to a mysterious guest at the inn that he is tasked with cleaning. Grubb emerges from Alistair Grim's trunk and into the wondrous world of the Odditorium. Fueled by a glowing blue energy that Grubb can only begin to understand, the Odditorium is home to countless enchanted objects and an eccentric crew that embraces Grubb as one of their own. There's no time for Grubb to settle into his new role as apprentice to the strange, secretive Mr. Grim. When the Odditorium comes under attack, Grubb is whisked off on a perilous adventure. Only he can prevent the Odditorium's magic from falling into evil hands—and his new family from suffering a terrible fate. Grubb knows he's no hero. He's just a chimney sweep. But armed with only his courage and wits, Grubb will confront the life-or-death battle he alone is destined to fight.

In short: Alistair Grim's Odditorium is the start of an inventive and eccentric new series that is perfect for younger readers.
You all know I love me a quirky Middle Grade read with a cute illustrated cover! I fall for them every time. And so when I was given the opportunity to read Alistair Grim's Odditorium and found out that it was about a poor orphan who gets carried off into a wondrous and strange new world, well I couldn't resist now, could I? It's like Harry Potter with steampunk elements! Well, sort of.

There were definitely some elements in Alistair Grim's Odditorium that were reminiscent of Harry Potter, which I loved. Namely the whimsy and eccentricity of the magical odditoria and the colourful cast of characters. Alistair Grim's Odditorium is no copycat though, thankfully. It was definitely very inventive on its own. This book is the first in an intended series and I'd be curious to see where the story goes from here, as the set-up in this first book leaves room for more adventures to come and some questions to be answered.

If I had one critique it would be that this is a book meant for younger readers. Well, but didn't you know that this was MG going into it?, you may ask. Yes, I did, but I am of the firm belief that the best MG reads can be appreciated and enjoyed by all age groups, not just their intended audience. I felt that the characters in Alistair Grim's Odditorium were definitely lacking in complexity and development and the plot was pretty predictable. BUT it was still a super cute read that I would definitely recommend to younger readers!

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Thoughts on my 4 year blogoversary

My 4 year blogoversary actually came and went back in November 2014. But well, I was a bit busy at the time. When I made up my post last week featuring some graphs of my reading stats in 2014, it struck me just how much I've changed as a reader in these four years. I thought I would take some time to reflect on what has changed in the four years since I've been blogging:

1. I've found a way to maximize my reading time. With every year of blogging that passes, I read 25 more books than the year prior (in 2011, I read 50 books; in 2012, I read 75 books; in 2013, I read 100 books; in 2014, I read 125 books). When I first started blogging in 2010, I couldn't IMAGINE reading 125 books in a year. But since then, I've learned to utilize audiobooks, make the most of my spare time, and also not to pressure myself to read when I don't want to or else I get burnt out. I'm reading WAY more than when I started and I'm also enjoying myself more!

2. I've figured out my reading tastes and have become more selective. Used to be, I saw a book that had even the tiniest interest to me or a book with a pretty cover and I just HAD to have it. I'd request books willy-nilly and then become massively overwhelmed. But in these four years, I've really learned what works for me and what doesn't reading-wise and have subsequently become more selective in my reading picks, pretty covers be damned! This has also resulted in me enjoying my reading time more, with a consequent increase in my average book ratings.

3. It's good to diversify my reading genres or else I WILL get burnt out. When I started blogging, I was reading almost exclusively fantasy and dystopian fiction. Nowadays, if I read too many of the same genre one after another, the stories all start to blur together for me. Got to introduce some contemporary and historical fiction into the mix to keep things fresh!

4. Non-fiction does not mean boring reading. This is actually something that I only discovered this past year. Ditto for contemporary fiction and classical fiction. I used to avoid these genres like the plague. Now they are some of my all-time favourites!

5. ARCs and egalleys aren't the be-all and end-all. Don't get me wrong, I still get PUMPED when I get accepted by a publisher and when I'm holding an ARC in my hands. It's an unpublished manuscript and it's exciting! But it's so easy to get caught in the trap of impulse-requesting and only ever reading new releases when there so many excellent old releases to get to. I've learned to keep my requesting down, and thus the pressure of review books, and ended up happier for it as well.

6. I do not have to own every book. Sure, it's awfully tempting when you see people take in these MASSIVE hauls every week and you feel so envious because you want all the pretties too! But when I think of all the books I bought on impulse and then never read years and years later, it makes me sad. Plus, I only have so much space so you got to bet I prioritize owning only the most SPECIAL of books in my heart. I donate the rest when I'm done reading (or even before if it's been sitting on my shelf unread for years). And my wallet DEFINITELY thanks me for keeping my book buying to a minimum!

7. I do not feel compelled to finish series if I'm not enamoured with the first book. I'm hopeless when it comes to DNFing in the MIDDLE of a book, but once I'm done that first book in the series and I wasn't feeling it? Dump it. I didn't used to think that way four years ago; I still felt compelled to follow series through to the end. But now I have WAY too many series on-the-go already, so I've learned to prioritize finishing only my absolute faves.

To sum up, I am a more confident and HAPPY reader than I've ever been! I definitely still experience slumps from time to time (who doesn't?), but I like my policy of reading WHAT I want, WHEN I want and I plan to stick to it as much as I can!

I also want to take the time to say thank you to the people who have made an impact on my blogging life these past four years (in an approximate chronological order in which I met them). Thank you to Small and Gina, who were my first followers and whom I still love to have bookish chats with to this day; thank you to Alison who was my first and really only longstanding follower through Follow Friday and made me feel not so alone in the blogging world; thank you to Sara who I found soon after that and, even though our reading tastes differ so much, is definitely one of my blog bffs; thank you to Zahida who I found as a newbie blogger and to this day is my #1 author signing buddy; thank you to Alex who posts cute things that always cheer me up and who is also the sweetest; thank you to Logan who is so nice and I wish she blogged more; thank you to Jenny who was intimidating at first because she was a big blogger and I was a newbie, but turns out she is the nicest, writes the best reviews, and is a super talented designer; thank you to Missie The Unread Reader who quit blogging a long time ago, but who I still think about from time to time and miss her presence and kindness; thank you to Melissa who hasn't blogged in a long while, but who's presence I always appreciate; thank you to Julie who also hasn't blogged in a while, but who I think is swell; thank you to Juju who is always so lovely, always; thank you to Lea who writes the savviest reviews and is always trustworthy; thank you to Lauren who I want as a real life friend because she throws the best parties and is the nicest; thank you to Elena for being an inspiration with great taste in music and desserts; thank you to Lauren who writes 5 Star reviews that make you want to drop everything to get that book; thank you to Christa and Andrea who left a party to come get me and didn't make me feel bad when I was a fool and got lost in Toronto; thank you to Giselle and Jenni for being spunky and inspiring; thank you to the Edmonton Book Bloggers for being so welcoming to such a shy, awkward girl; thank you to Kristilyn, the mother of the EBBs and the cutest boy; thank you to Ambur for always being so positive that it makes me want to be a better person; thank you to Cassie and Megan for giving me rides and for great conversation; thank you to Leanne for being so great to talk to; thank you to Mel for being the sweetest Disney princess I know; thank you to Jessica for being the kindest and always liking my posts; thank you to Sarika who is one of my Potter Pals and my longest distance blog friend; thank you to Sana who blows me away with her artistic creativity; thank you to Sam who stopped reviewing unexpectedly, which is so sad because damn, she's a fantastic writer and always spot-on; thank you to Meg for all the amazing awesome comments and fangirling; thank you to Amanda and Courtney who I started following only within the past few years, but who know their stuff and are always trustworthy reviewers; thank you to Micheline, my fellow Potter Fan Extraordinaire who I found only two years or so ago but who will be my book twin for life; thank you to Elle who is the smartest person her age that I know and also more mature than a lot of adults I know; thank you to Katie, my non-fiction guru; thank you to Lauren who always makes my day with her comments; thank you to Jen who's blog changes so often, but who I will always follow because she's awesome; thank you to Shelly for being outgoing and making me feel less awkward; thank you to Romi, one of my newest blogging friends who is also one of the sweetest and most thoughtful; thank you to AveryKatie, Christina, KateKaren, Hafsah, Amna, Rummanah, CarinaKristin, Natalie, Sandy, Bonnie, Emily, Brandi, Renu, Amber, Judith, Amara, Lauren, Sarah, Cialina, Nori, LizBecky, Sugar, Maja, Lulu, Janhvi, Stephanie, VarshaChloe, Cassi, KimCaaleros, Preethi, and Lola for all the comment love over the years. I am going to punch myself if I've forgotten to name someone here - please forgive me!

And thank you to anyone and everyone who has ever taken the time to read and/or comment on my blog. BEARHUGS FOR EVERYONE!

And finally, a giveaway:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, January 19, 2015

Muggle Monday: New Images from the Fully Illustrated Edition of Harry Potter

It's time for Muggle Monday, in which I highlight a significant piece of news from the Harry Potter franchise. This is somewhat inspired by the Mundane Monday posts by The Mundie Moms.

But let's be real as to why I made up this feature: I just want the opportunity to post something about Harry Potter.

So it's been less than half a year since we've had news about a new Harry Potter Edition being released... so now's a good time to introduce yet another one, yes? Well, the announcement of a fully illustrated edition of Harry Potter is actually old news, but just recently, Bloomsbury released brand new photos from this new edition illustrated by the very talented Jim Kay (also the illustrator of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness):






And if you've never read A Monster Calls before (okay, first of all you SHOULD), here are some samples of Jim Kay's work from that:

So yes, as you can probably tell, Jim Kay's illustrations tend to fall on the dark, creepy side. I really love how, in the portraits we've seen so far, the characters aren't movie-star-good-looking like in the movies, nor are they cutesy-looking like on the covers of previous editions of the series. They're not exactly how I imagined the characters to look like when I first read the books, but they're a damn sight closer to my imagination than the actors in the movies, I'll tell you what! Also, J.K. Rowling has approved these illustrations herself, so that's always good to hear. This edition will be released October 6, 2015 and already I'm pondering if this is something I should own. I mean, if I were rich you got to believe I would own ALL the editions. But realistically, as much as I would LOVE to own ALL the pretties, I really can't justify it when I already own a perfectly good - and much-loved - set of my own. Plus, this illustrated edition will cost the equivalent of £30!! Damnnn, why can't I be rich?? Ah, oh well. I will just have to borrow it from the library if they get a copy in. I'm SO curious to see what the rest of the illustrations will look like! How about you, what do you think of these illustrations?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Review: Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier

Publisher: Roc Hardcover
Published: November 4, 2014
Pages: 448
Source: For Review From Publisher
Rating: 3 Stars

In exchange for help escaping her long and wrongful imprisonment, embittered magical healer Blackthorn has vowed to set aside her bid for vengeance against the man who destroyed all that she once held dear. Followed by a former prison mate, a silent hulk of a man named Grim, she travels north to Dalriada. There she'll live on the fringe of a mysterious forest, duty bound for seven years to assist anyone who asks for her help.
Oran, crown prince of Dalriada, has waited anxiously for the arrival of his future bride, Lady Flidais. He knows her only from a portrait and sweetly poetic correspondence that have convinced him Flidais is his destined true love. But Oran discovers letters can lie. For although his intended exactly resembles her portrait, her brutality upon arrival proves she is nothing like the sensitive woman of the letters.
With the strategic marriage imminent, Oran sees no way out of his dilemma. Word has spread that Blackthorn possesses a remarkable gift for solving knotty problems, so the prince asks her for help. To save Oran from his treacherous nuptials, Blackthorn and Grim will need all their resources: courage, ingenuity, leaps of deduction, and more than a little magic.

In short: Dreamer's Pool showcases Juliet Marillier's talent for writing and characterization, but failed to truly blow me away.
I'm beginning to wonder whether perhaps Juliet Marillier's novels just aren't for me. I'm well aware of her stellar reputation among fantasy fans, but I've yet to read a novel of hers that has completely blown me away. I can absolutely recognize that she is a talented writer and I'm always impressed with her genuine characterizations. But I find that her plots tend to be a bit on the slow, quiet side. Nothing wrong with quiet plots - especially if the writing is beautiful - but I find it difficult getting truly invested her stories, enough to make me want to come back for the sequel.

Dreamer's Pool started out very strong, I thought. Enigmatic characters with unknown backgrounds, an intense prison break, a strong set-up that promised an intriguing story to come. But after the initial excitement in the beginning, I felt like the pacing took a drastic downturn. The story continues, the plot still unraveling, but progress is very slow and I felt impatient for something MORE to happen. However, like I mentioned, the writing is quite lovely and I grew fond of the characters pretty quickly despite their sometimes prickly natures. I think I just needed more ACTION.

So I'm wondering: if you're reading this and you are a fan of Juliet Marillier's, would you recommend I read more from her? Or do her books tend to fall along the same lines as Dreamer's Pool - beautifully written and excellent characterization, but slower reads? I know Daughter of the Forest is an all-time fave for many fantasy readers - do you think I would enjoy that one even if I wasn't totally into Dreamer's Pool? All feedback is appreciated, thanks!

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