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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Waiting On Wednesday: Simon & Schuster Winter 2016 Catalog

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill of Breaking The Spine in which upcoming, eagerly anticipated releases are highlighted on the blog.

This week, I've chosen to feature a few picks from the Simon & Schuster Winter 2016 Catalog:

Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman
Date: February 9, 2016
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Blackbeard the pirate was known for striking fear in the hearts of the bravest of sailors. But once he was just a young man who dreamed of leaving his rigid life behind to chase adventure in faraway lands. Nothing could stop him—until he met the one girl who would change everything.
Edward "Teach" Drummond, son of one of Bristol's richest merchants, has just returned from a year-long journey on the high seas to find his life in shambles. Betrothed to a girl he doesn’t love and sick of the high society he was born into, Teach dreams only of returning to the vast ocean he’d begun to call home. There's just one problem: convincing his father to let him leave and never come back.
Following her parents' deaths, Anne Barrett is left penniless and soon to be homeless. Though she’s barely worked a day in her life, Anne is forced to take a job as a maid in the home of Master Drummond. Lonely days stretch into weeks, and Anne longs for escape. How will she ever realize her dream of sailing to CuraƧao—where her mother was born—when she's stuck in England?
From the moment Teach and Anne meet, they set the world ablaze. Drawn to each other, they’re trapped by society and their own circumstances. Faced with an impossible choice, they must decide to chase their dreams and go, or follow their hearts and stay.

Historical fiction of the notorious pirate Blackbeard as a young man? Sign me up. Though I do hope the romance here doesn't take over the novel, I am still curious about the story that Blackhearts intends to present.

Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare
Date: March 8, 2016
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Los Angeles. It’s been five years since the events of the Mortal Instruments when Nephilim stood poised on the brink of oblivion and Shadowhunter Emma Carstairs lost her parents. After the blood and violence she witnessed as a child, Emma has dedicated her life to to discovering exactly what it was that killed her parents and getting her revenge.
Raised in the Los Angeles Institute with the Blackthorn family, Emma is paired as a parabatai with her best friend, Julian Blackthorn. A series of murders in the city catch her attention — they seem to have the same characteristics as the deaths of her parents. Could the murderer be the same person? And her attention isn’t the only one caught: someone has been murdering Downworlders as well. The Fair Folk make a deal with the Institute: if the Blackthorns and Emma will investigate the killings, they’ll return Mark Blackthorn to his home. The catch: they have only two weeks to find the killers. Otherwise it’s open war between faeries and Nephilim.
The Shadowhunters of the Institute must race against time to catch the killers, even as they begin to suspect the involvement of those closest to them. At the same time, Emma is falling in love with the one person in the world she’s absolutely forbidden by Shadowhunter Law to love. Set against the glittering backdrop of present-day Los Angeles, Emma must learn to trust her head and her heart as she investigates a demonic plot that stretches from the warlock-run nightclubs of the Sunset Strip to the enchanted sea that pounds the beaches of Santa Monica.

I am getting a wee bit tired of seeing the same kind of stories and dramas told again and again in Cassandra Clare's Shadowhunters novels... BUT it must be said that Emma and Julian's chapters in City of Heavenly Fire (TMI #6) were my favourite parts of that book. So here's hoping Lady Midnight can incite some of the same excitement I used to have for Clare's books!

Shades of Darkness by A.R. Kahler
Date: March 8, 2016
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When Kaira Winters decided to go to Islington—a boarding school deep in the woods of Michigan—she thought she could finally get away from everything she has tried so hard to forget, including some things from her past that she refuses to believe ever actually happened.
Everything seemed great until the bodies of murdered students started appearing all over campus. The victims seem to have been killed in some sort of ritual sacrifice. And even worse, Kaira’s dreams are giving her clues to the killer’s identity.
Though she tries to resist, Kaira quickly realizes that she is the only one who can stop the violence, but to do so she must come to terms with her past. She’s going to have to listen to the voice that is buried deep within her…the one that claims to have unimaginable power…the one that claims to be an actual goddess.
But even if Kaira can harness the power within her, will it be enough to stop the darkness that has fallen over her school? And if it is strong enough, then what’s to stop the goddess from wreaking her own havoc once she’s released?

Boarding school + murder mystery + elements of magic? Count me in! Shades of Darkness is the kind of book that I can see myself really enjoying.

How about you? Are you waiting on any of these Simon & Schuster Winter 2016 reads? Are there any upcoming books from the Simon & Schuster Winter 2016 Catalog that I didn't include here that you feel I should add to my list?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Muggle Monday: News From A Celebration of Harry Potter

It's time for Muggle Monday, in which I highlight something from the Harry Potter world. 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.

My plan this week had been to post my review of the latest Cormoran Strike novel, Career of Evil. But then A Celebration of Harry Potter in Orlando had to go and reveal all sorts of new exciting news from the Wizarding World, so it seemed more pressing to talk about that instead:

New Fantastic Beasts Preview:

Oh man! This looks so awesome!! The teaser trailer was awesome too, but it's so cool to be getting some insight into the film's storyline, characters, sets, etc. I don't know, it may be too early for me to be getting so excited about a movie that we've seen so little of so far and won't be released until November of this year, but... I can't help it!

New Cursed Child Preview:

Okay, well this preview for the upcoming West End play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child might not be as exciting as the Fantastic Beasts preview because it has a lot less to show, but it's still an interesting behind the scenes look at the beautiful Palace Theatre where the play will be running starting this July. And maybe this preview means we will soon get to see pictures of the play's cast in action!

Pottermore is Updated:

Some people were dismayed when, a few months ago, Pottermore's read-along moments feature (with sorting and wand quizzes, and house cup tournaments) were taken down to be replaced with a simple news site. Though I admit I wasn't a fan of some of the more childish aspects of the original Pottermore, I was a bit bummed that they just up and took down everything that the site was based around. Well, the moments and house cup seem to be gone for good, but this weekend, Pottermore brought back the Sorting and Wand Selection quizzes, along with some new writings from J.K. Rowling.

Though I have been sorted before, I wanted to see if I would get the same result so I took the sorting quiz again. And - naturally - I was sorted into Hufflepuff again (Puff Pride!):

Pottermore House in 2011
Pottermore House in 2016

My wand, however... I have a new wand! I guess I must have answered the quiz questions slightly differently?

Pottermore Wand in 2011
Pottermore Wand in 2016

Anyone else get re-sorted and re-wanded on Pottermore this weekend? Let me know your results in the comments below - I'm curious if anyone had any changes like I did!

Maybe the most exciting piece of Pottermore news to come out of A Celebration of Harry Potter was new information from Jo about wizarding schools around the world:

According to Jo, there are eleven long-established wizarding schools in the world (though there are also plenty of smaller ones, apparently). In addition to the ones that we already know about (Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang), there is also Mahoutokoro (in Japan), Uagadou (in Africa), Castelobruxo (in Brazil), and Ilvermorny (in North America). Of course, that's only 7 out of the 11 supposed main wizarding schools in the world, so we're still waiting to hear more about that from Jo. But in the meantime, you can read a bit about each of the aforementioned magic schools here.

Exciting news, no? I know I have always wondered about international wizarding schools beyond Hogwarts for us non-UK folk. Now I only need to know one more thing: what the heck happened to my Ilvermorny letter??

Friday, January 29, 2016

January Recap: Thesis Completion, Ice Castles, and True Crime Documentaries

As I mentioned in my last life recap, I successfully defended my thesis in December. This month, I finally finished all of the required revisions on my manuscript, got it approved by my supervisor and my department, and now I'm... done. It feels a little surreal and a little anti-climactic, but I guess this means I am officially a Master of Science (whatever that entails). I'm pleased though and I'm very relieved it's over so I can move on to the next stage of my life!

Also in January, I got the opportunity to check out the Ice Castles in Edmonton when I went home to visit with my family. Words cannot express how ethereally beautiful this winter wonderland was. Nor could I do it justice in describing how it was made so here's a Buzzfeed article on it if you're curious.

An ice castle Elsa would be proud of

Also in January, I became mildly obsessed with a couple of true crime documentaries. I never had any interest in this kind of thing before, but ever since I listened to the podcast Serial last year about the inconsistencies surrounding a murder case in 1999, I've become equal parts fascinated and troubled by how our justice systems work, the issues with interrogation methods, the problems with relying on a jury's verdict, etc. Here are two other exceptionally well done true crime docs out there that I would recommend:

Okay well, everyone and their dog has seen Netflix's Making A Murderer by now, but I just want to reiterate how in depth and gripping it is, and also how heartbreaking and frustrating. HBO's The Jinx is equal parts gripping, as well as beautifully filmed, and the ending had me literally gaping in astonishment. In a way, these two true crime documentaries are opposites: in Making A Murderer, a poor and uneducated man is accused of a murder he did not commit and sent to prison unjustly; in The Jinx, a rich and well-educated man is accused of murders he did commit and weasels his way out of prison unjustly. Never has the distinction and benefit of having class and money when taking on the justice system been made more apparent than in these two documentaries...

Well, that's it for me - I hope everyone had a great January!

Posts in January

Life Update Again
My 2015 Bookish Stats
Stacking The Shelves: Holiday Edition
Muggle Monday: It's an exciting time to be a Harry Potter fan again
Waiting On Wednesday: HarperCollins Winter 2016 Catalog
Waiting On Wednesday: Penguin Winter 2016 Catalog
Waiting On Wednesday: Macmillan Winter 2016 Catalog
Review: The Martian by Andy Weir - 4 Stars

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Waiting On Wednesday: Macmillan Winter 2016 Catalog

Waiting On Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Jill of Breaking The Spine in which upcoming, eagerly anticipated releases are highlighted on the blog.

This week, I've chosen to feature a few picks from the Macmillan Winter 2016 Catalog:

Stars Above by Marissa Meyers
Date: February 2, 2016
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The enchantment continues....
The universe of the Lunar Chronicles holds stories—and secrets—that are wondrous, vicious, and romantic. How did Cinder first arrive in New Beijing? How did the brooding soldier Wolf transform from young man to killer? When did Princess Winter and the palace guard Jacin realize their destinies?
With nine stories—five of which have never before been published—and an exclusive never-before-seen excerpt from Marissa Meyer’s upcoming novel, Heartless, about the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, Stars Above is essential for fans of the bestselling and beloved Lunar Chronicles.

I'm excited to see a bound collection of nine extra stories from the Lunar Chronicles universe! There's something so much more special about having a physical collection of stories bound together with a beautiful matching cover to go along with the rest of the series, instead of a few stray e-novellas out there on the internet. And I'm looking forward to learning more about our favourite characters in Stars Above!

These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
Date: February 9, 2016
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Jane Austen meets X-­Men in this gripping and adventure-­filled paranormal romance set in Victorian London.
England, 1882. Evelyn is bored with society and its expectations. So when her beloved sister, Rose, mysteriously vanishes, she ignores her parents and travels to London to find her, accompanied by the dashing Mr. Kent. But they’re not the only ones looking for Rose. The reclusive, young gentleman Sebastian Braddock is also searching for her, claiming that both sisters have special healing powers. Evelyn is convinced that Sebastian must be mad, until she discovers that his strange tales of extraordinary people are true—and that her sister is in graver danger than she feared.

Okay, how can I resist the tagline "Jane Austen meets X-Men"?? What a wonderfully bizarre combination. It may just be a gimmick to get people interested in the book, but hey, it worked on me. I guess I'll wait to see how These Vicious Masks fares in reviews before picking it up, but I'm definitely intrigued!

Riders by Veronica Rossi
Date: February 16, 2016
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For eighteen-year-old Gideon Blake, nothing but death can keep him from achieving his goal of becoming a U.S. Army Ranger. As it turns out, it does.
Recovering from the accident that most definitely killed him, Gideon finds himself with strange new powers and a bizarre cuff he can't remove. His death has brought to life his real destiny. He has become War, one of the legendary four horsemen of the apocalypse.
Over the coming weeks, he and the other horsemen--Conquest, Famine, and Death--are brought together by a beautiful but frustratingly secretive girl to help save humanity from an ancient evil on the emergence.
They fail.
Now--bound, bloodied, and drugged--Gideon is interrogated by the authorities about his role in a battle that has become an international incident. If he stands any chance of saving his friends and the girl he's fallen for--not to mention all of humankind--he needs to convince the skeptical government officials the world is in imminent danger.
But will anyone believe him?

Woah, wait - the premise of Riders has the main character becoming one of the legendary four horsemen of the apocalypse?? Talk about wonderfully bizarre! I'm all for originality in books, plus I've heard great things about Veronica Rossi as an author, so I say bring on Riders!

How about you? Are you waiting on any of these Macmillan Winter 2016 reads? Are there any upcoming books from the Macmillan Winter 2016 Catalog that I didn't include here that you feel I should add to my list?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

Publisher: Crown
Published: February 11, 2014
Pages: 369
Source: Borrowed
Rating: 4 Stars

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.
After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars' surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive — and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive.
Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark's not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills — and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength – he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.
As he overcomes one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next, Mark begins to let himself believe he might make it off the planet alive – but Mars has plenty of surprises in store for him yet.

In short: The Martian by Andy Weir is a creative and thrillingly plotted science-driven story with a super likeable protagonist.
Science! Science science science. I'm excited because it's pretty rare that having an intelligence in science plays such a key part in popular fiction. And though I am no physicist or botanist, I found I could definitely appreciate the explanations and scientific process that Andy Weir presents in The Martian. I don't know how accurate it is (though I have read a few articles that poke holes in the science behind The Martian), but it was very clear that Andy Weir wasn't just bs-ing his way through the plot. There is clearly some serious thought and research put into it by this relativistic physics and orbital mechanics hobbyist-turned-author.

I do hope I'm not scaring anyone away from reading The Martian by the mention that key plot points depend so heavily on science, however; you don't have to be a fan of heavy sci fi to enjoy this read. The science explanations are relatively easy to follow and I think the major draw of the novel to general audiences is actually the quick-witted protagonist and the thrillingly-plotted action. As a reader, you will want Mark Watney to be successful in his plight to get off Mars because he's damned likeable and has the perfect sense of humour to keep him sane during his lengthy bout of solitude. And as a reader, the numerous surprises and thrills will keep you engaged from beginning to end.

My one qualm in The Martian is the writing. It's of the cut-and-dry, no-frills-attached variety, and though many readers won't have a problem with this, I for one prefer a little flair and poetry in my reading. It's for this reason that I feel like The Martian makes an even better movie than it does a book, as the action lends itself well to a Hollywood thriller and the prose works fine as a screenplay. I hope I haven't angered any of my book-loving friends with that statement! I still give all the credit in the world to Andy Weir for coming up with such a creative and thrilling read in the first place.

This might beg the question: is there any point in reading the book first before seeing the movie if I thought the movie was better anyway? And the answer is that I do still recommend reading the book first just so you can appreciate the creativity and research that Andy Weir put into The Martian. And if you're unsure about whether you will like all the science talk? I'd recommend audiobooking The Martian instead - I think you could still appreciate Weir's thought processes even if you just take in a glancing overview of the science.

Other Reviews:
Alison Can Read
Doing Dewey
Good Books and Good Wine

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