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Friday, July 18, 2014

Review: City of Heavenly Fire (The Mortal Instruments #6) by Cassandra Clare

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Published: May 27, 2014
Pages: 733
Source: Bought
Rating: 4 Stars


I am coming.

Darkness returns to the Shadowhunter world. As their society falls apart around them, Clary, Jace, Simon and their friends must band together to fight the greatest evil the Nephilim have ever faced: Clary’s own brother. Nothing in the world can defeat him — must they journey to another world to find the chance? Lives will be lost, love sacrificed, and the whole world changed in the sixth and last installment of the Mortal Instruments series!

This review is spoiler-free

In short: City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare does not pack the punch that the original Mortal Instruments trilogy finale had, but was still a good read overall.
I have been a fan of The Mortal Instruments series since its release in 2007 (and prior to that I was a big fan of Cassandra Clare's Harry Potter fanfiction). I recall thinking the story and world in the first instalment, City of Bones, was pretty derivative (take one part Harry Potter, another part Buffy the Vampire Slayer, add a smidgeon of Star Wars, and there you have City of Bones), but I instantly fell in love with the characters and the humour of the series and said features remain my favourite parts of Cassandra Clare's writing today.

I was perfectly happy with the ending of the original trilogy in City of Glass - it really was a fantastic finale - but when presented with an opportunity to read more from these beloved characters in the form of a new trilogy, a continuation of the series, I was keen. I loved the series, why wouldn't I be excited for more? Well, my attitude changed at some point when I realized that this second trilogy wasn't living up to my love for the original trilogy. I can be picky about series finales; a good series finale is one in which the final book raises the stakes, goes out with a BANG, and is the best instalment in the series. City of Glass gave me all that. So I needed City of Heavenly Fire to give me that and MORE.

And well, it came close. There was certainly action aplenty and of course there was the emotional pain and turmoil that Cassandra Clare is so well known for. I like how the story played out and where the characters ended up - in some cases in good positions and in some cases bad. It was a good finale, but the fact remains that the City of Heavenly Fire ending was just not as good as the original ending in City of Glass. I felt that certain issues were wrapped up too easily, some resolutions were resolved too conveniently. The final showdown seemed a bit abrupt, and thus anticlimactic. And as far as emotional feels, well, it came no where close to those of Clockwork Princess.

And as for these beloved characters of mine, what does it mean that my favourite scenes in City of Heavenly Fire were actually the ones involving characters from Clare's steampunk trilogy, The Infernal Devices, and the ones involving new characters from her upcoming new Shadowhunter trilogy, The Dark Artifices? Well, it indicates to me that as much as I love the Mortal Instruments gang, I am ready to move on. Their story has been played out and they deserve some rest now because Clare sure put them through a lot of crap over the years. It's time to say good-bye finally, and it's sad, but I'm ready for something new.

So while City of Heavenly Fire didn't pack as much of a punch as I needed from a finale for one of my oldest favourite series, it was still a good read overall. I definitely wouldn't say no to Mortal Instruments character cameos in Cassandra Clare's next Shadowhunter trilogy, but I'm satisfied with their ending in City of Heavenly Fire and I'm ready to move on. Bring on The Dark Artifices!

Previously, my reviews of City of Fallen Angels and City of Lost Souls.

Other Reviews:
Books in the Spotlight
Ex Libris
Nori's Closet

Author Links:

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Top Ten Favourite TV Shows

Books are my first love, but I have quite a few TV shows that I love, as well. The following is a list of my top ten favourite TV shows that I have watched so far. I'm always looking for a new favourite TV show though, so if you know of any that you think I might like, please let me know in the comments!

Every now and then, a show comes along that changes the way we view TV, that revolutionizes what TV used to be and makes it into something MORE. This was LOST. And I was HUGELY obsessed with it while it was on the air. You have never seen an introduction more epic than the Pilot for LOST, nor have you likely come across a show that had as many confounding mysteries, surprising twists and WTF moments. For the uninitiated, LOST is best watched back-to-back binge-style as the plot can get quite hard to follow if you watch it over a longer period of time.

2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Anyone else grow up watching Buffy and used to pretend you were a bad-ass vampire slayer of extreme strength and agility? No? Just me then. Oh, how I adore Buffy! Sure, some of the earlier seasons were pretty cheesy, but the characters were ALWAYS the best. Of special note is the Season 4 episode, "Hush", and the Season 6 Emmy-nominated all-musical episode, "Once More With Feeling". I could watch those episodes ad nauseam.

3. Breaking Bad
I binge watched the entire series of Breaking Bad earlier on this year and it was immediately apparent that yes, what people say is true: it really is one of the best TV shows ever. Breaking Bad has possibly the most incredible character arcs I've ever witnessed in a TV series. It is truly a remarkable story and I don't hesitate to recommend it to everyone I know.

4. Six Feet Under
I've never given much thought to death before - I generally avoid it as a rule - but Six Feet Under, centred around a family-run funeral home that begins each episode with a death, definitely got me thinking about mortality in a very profound and moving way. The characters are incredibly flawed, but I can't help but like them anyway. Six Feet Under also features the most perfect series ending to a TV show ever, so it's a MUST watch.

5. Skins
Skins is a bit like Degrassi in that it centres around a group of troubled teenage friends who all have their different issues to sort out. Except you know... compared to Degrassi, it's actually really well written and acted and is GOOD (ouch... sorry Degrassi). I can't say that I was able to identify with many of the characters on Skins because I had a very different adolescence than these teens, but I still can't help but have such fondness for them all. And PLEASE don't even think about watching the much inferior MTV US remake of the show! Stick with the original UK show!

6. Downton Abbey
I've made no secret of the fact that I LOVE period drama series and Downton Abbey was the one that started off that obsession! The show veers into soap opera territory from time to time, but on the whole, it's a fabulous show with fantastic sets, costumes, characters, and storylines. It's basically impossible not to become completely engaged in these characters' lives from the get-go.

7. Veronica Mars
While some may classify Veronica Mars as just your typical teenage drama, don't be fooled: Veronica Mars is film noir at its finest and appeals to teens and adults alike. This show was SUPER under-appreciated while it was on the air, leading to its premature demise, but thanks to a very successful Kickstarter campaign, it was risen again! Oh, but lets pretend Season 3 never happened.

8. Freaks and Geeks
You may recognize James Franco, Jason Segel, and Seth Rogen from the short-lived Freaks and Geeks. It aired for one season only, but produced some of the best and most realistic coming-of-age episodes in that time. You can't help but love these outcasts!

9. Game of Thrones
I have never watched a series more epic than Game of Thrones. Is there any other show like it that compares to its cast of thousands, its ambitious sets, its ruthless killing of main characters? I know not of one. Game of Thrones was definitely the impetus behind my newly re-found obsession with high fantasy and it's crazy how excited I get for each new episode.

10. Planet Earth
Planet Earth is without a doubt the most breathtaking and awe-inspiring nature shows of all time. Not into nature shows? Well, you'll be into this one, trust me. It is absolutely the most comprehensive and ambitious showcase of life on Earth out there and you WILL be blown away by it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Muggle Monday: 7 New Things We Learned From J.K. Rowling's New Article On Pottermore

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.

Did you know that the 2014 Quidditch World Cup had been going on in the Patagonian Desert in Argentina at the same time that the FIFA 2014 World Cup had been playing out in Brazil? Well, this past week, perennially bitchy journalist gossip columnist, Rita Skeeter, posted an article on Pottermore detailing the adult lives of past members of Dumbledore's Army as they met up for the Quidditch World Cup Final - Brazil vs. Bulgaria. You've all probably read it already, but I'm pretty excited about it so I thought I would post a summary of the major facts we learned from the article (as opposed to the gossip spouted by Rita). NOTE: obviously there are some major spoilers ahead if you have NOT finished the Harry Potter series!!:

7 New Things We Learned About Dumbledore's Army From Rita Skeeter's Article On Pottermore

1. Members of Dumbledore's Army are even MORE famous now. Not just Harry. Everyone from the old gang - Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Neville, and Luna - are apparently celebrities in the wizarding world.

2. Harry has a mysterious nasty cut on his right cheekbone. Presumably he got this as a result of his work as an Auror at the Ministry of Magic - and NOT as a result of a curse from Ginny, as Rita Skeeter implies - but it is not known exactly how he got it. Harry is also still sporting his trademark round glasses.

3. Ginny is working for the Daily Prophet and has been covering the 2014 Quidditch World Cup. Well, we knew this before Rita's article as she has been reporting the results of the tournament from Patagonia on Pottermore for the past few weeks now.

4. Ron quit his job as an Auror and has joined George in managing Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. I've always disliked the movie depiction of Ron as a clown with no useful skills to bring to the trio as book fans know that he is in fact essential, but I DO quite like this idea because it means George is now getting help and company in the wake of Fred's death.

5. Hermione is working her way through the ranks of the Ministry of Magic very quickly. No surprise that our girl became Deputy Head of the
Department of Magical Law Enforcement in a meteoric rise and is now poised to go ever higher in the Ministry. Will Minister for Magic be next?

6. Neville is a popular Herbology teacher at Hogwarts. His wife, Hannah Abbott, wants to take over Madam Pomfrey's old position as Matron of the Hospital Wing at Hogwarts. Rita seems to indicate that Neville and Hannah are alcoholics now, but we all know this is utter rubbish.

7. Luna has twin boys with her husband Rolf Scamander, grandson of Magizoologist Newt. You may recall that Newt Scamander will have his story told in the film adaptation of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, screenplay by J.K. Rowling. Unfortunately, the film will take place decades before the time of Harry Potter, so we will not see Luna and Rolf or any of the gang on screen then.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Review: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: July 8, 2014
Pages: 448
Source: For Review from HarperCollins
Rating: 4 Stars

On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.
Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust.
But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend…if she can survive.

In short: While there were a number of inconsistencies that kept The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen from being a perfect read, this debut novel delivered on what it promised to be: a high-stakes political fantasy.
When a book gets picked up by a major movie production company with a leading lady already cast months and months before it is set to be published, you can't help but take notice. And so it was no surprise that The Queen of the Tearling flew onto my radar immediately and sent me into a frenzy of excitement and high expectations. I NEEDED this book! I freaking LOVE high fantasy, especially when it comes with a medieval setting and court politics.

And thankfully, The Queen of the Tearling MOSTLY lived up to my high expectations. Of course, it was far from perfect and I had a number of issues with it... but it delivered on what it promised to be: a highly political court fantasy with a complex world. I can definitely see why Warner Brothers would snap this one up so quickly: The Queen of the Tearling is like Game of Thrones, but for a younger audience (although extreme violence and mention of sex is still found in plenty, so it's not a read for too young an audience).

The Queen of the Tearling has most of the typical elements that you would usually find in court fantasies, but one thing definitely stood out as unique: this novel is actually set in the FUTURE. There were even mentions of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings as being classics from a long ago past. This would mean that at some point in the future, society has actually regressed to a feudal kingdom system with little technology. This was a little weird and unfortunately no explanation was given as to how the world became like this, but I was definitely intrigued at this unique development.

My main criticism would be for The Queen of the Tearling's protagonist, Kelsea, whom I felt was kept at a distance. We are told many times in the text that Kelsea has a temper, likes to read, is honourable, and is very plain in her looks, but very little else of substance is indicated about her and so she failed to truly come to life in my eyes. She wasn't REAL to me. She grows up in an isolated environment with next to no knowledge of the history of the world or how the outside world works, and yet somehow she immediately rises to the position of perfect, wise, and experienced Queen, no problem. There were also a number of other inconsistencies in the plot that I wish had been smoothed over more thoroughly, as well.

Inconsistencies aside, I enjoyed The Queen of the Tearling overall. There were a ton of secondary characters that I found more interesting and compelling than Kelsea, so at least my desire for good characterization was assuaged a bit, and hopefully we'll see Kelsea come to life more in future instalments. Fans of romance may want to look elsewhere as there was none to be had here, ditto to fans of more fast-paced fantasies as The Queen of the Tearling is not one of them. But for fans of high-stakes epic fantasies and complex political turmoil, look no further as The Queen of the Tearling is the book for you.

Other Reviews:
Alison Can Read
Icey Books
More Than Just Magic
The Page Turner

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Top Ten Blogging Confessions (with Beauty and the Beast GIFs, just 'cause)

1. I can’t read a book in one sitting. I don’t understand how people can do this! I can't sit still for that long and I need breaks while reading.

2. I don’t write discussion posts because I’m convinced I have no opinions that are original and thus I have nothing to add.

3. I have only read a fraction of the books I own. Part of me feels shame over this, but part of me is EXCITED at the prospect.

4. For the life of me, I just CANNOT bring myself to DNF a book, no matter how much I'm not feeling it. I JUST CAN’T!

5. I feel a small amount of anxiety at the prospect of lending my beloved books out to family or friends because I know they won’t take as good care of them as I do.

6. I am jealous of bloggers who are eloquent writers and who can put into words thoroughly and beautifully exactly how they felt about a book.

7. For the life of me, I don't understand how anyone can call those rude, overly-confident, and possessive love interests their book boyfriends. Just no.

8. Sometimes I skim. As I say, I cannot bring myself to DNF books, so if I’m really not feeling my current read, I’ll skim it to the end.

9. When I finish a beloved book series, sometimes I feel like I’ve lost a part of myself.

10. I am someone who truly believes that being a reader makes you a better person. Reading encourages you to empathize with characters that may have had different life experiences than you have and gets you to see things from their point of view. And that’s always a good thing.