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Sunday, June 29, 2014

My Life in June: World Pride, Toronto Zoo, and The Night Before Our Stars

I absolutely CANNOT believe 2014 is already half over!! Where has the time gone?? I would like some of it back now, please. I feel like I've been busy, busy, busy, and yet haven't accomplished very much so far this year thesis-wise. Entertainment-wise, however, I'm doing fine - check out my June:

Just this past weekend, I was able to attend my first ever Toronto Pride Parade:
This year is an extra special one for Toronto Pride because Toronto played host to World Pride this year, which meant an entire week of festivities. I was only able to make it out to the parade, but I'm happy I even managed that considering how intensely hot it is outside and how crazy the crowds were. As always, LGBT Pride parades never fail to make me smile and appreciate just how many people out there are good-hearted, open-minded folk who embrace and support those who are of a different sexual orientation from their own. It made for a great day!

Earlier this month, I was FINALLY able to make time to visit the world-renown Toronto Zoo:
I spent an entire day there and STILL only saw about half of the entire zoo! Another visit to see the rest of the park is already in the works because I seriously LOVED every minute of it. How cool would it be to be a zookeeper there??

My favourite animals were the apes - the gorillas and the orangutan I saw. I don't know how anyone can meet our closest living relatives, the Great Apes, and NOT feel an instant connection to them.

They're also very intelligent animals. Check out the video I took of this clever orangutan washing the glass of her enclosure with her left hand and squeegee-ing it with her right hand:

And finally, this month I was also lucky enough to be able to attend the advanced screening event of The Fault In Our Stars movie, entitled The Night Before Our Stars:
And so I saw The Fault In Our Stars in a theatre full of squealing teenage girls. In retrospect, this was not such a great idea. Of course it was SO great to see such enthusiasm for a great book by such young people, but for me, it kind of took away from the viewing experience. The girls all squealed and cheered every single time that Augustus Waters appeared on screen so that I could not hear his dialogue and they all bawled LOUDLY at the end of the movie in a fashion that I found quite distracting. So what did I think of the movie? Well, I really don't know. I really feel like I need a second viewing of the movie all on my own so that I can FEEL my own feelings and not get distracted by raucous squeals and loud honks. I have the general impression that I liked it and thought it was well acted, but that's it. I will rent it on DVD and make up my mind about what I think of it then!

Blog Posts in June:

Top Ten Books I've Read So Far In 2014
Top Ten Books On My Summer TBR (Help Me Prioritize!) - As always, you guys DELIVERED when I asked for help on which books to prioritize for my summer reading and I can't thank you enough! Funnily enough, the results were fairly even across the board, which makes me excited because I KNOW I have some good reading ahead of me! If you're curious, Crown of Midnight and Eleanor & Park tied for first place with 39% of the vote, Graceling came in second with 36%, and The Raven Boys and The Giver tied for third with 32% of the vote. No worries though, I do absolutely plan on reading all ten of the books on the list, I just wanted to know which ones should be made a priority for right now!
Top Ten Unique and Beautiful Uses of Typography
Review: Raging Star (Dust Lands #3) by Moira Young - 4 Stars
Review: Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne - 3 Stars
Series Review: Caster Chronicles by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl - 4 Stars
The Great John Green Read of 2014
My Life in May: Moira Young, Period Dramas, and the Great John Green Read of 2014

Best Book Read in June:
The audiobook of Anne of Green Gables was offered up for free last week on SYNC Audiobooks and I didn't think much of it as I downloaded it to my phone to listen to as I get ready in the mornings. But then. OHMIGAWD IT WAS INSTA-LOVE (yes, it DOES exist in some instances!)!! Okay, first of all it must be said that I feel a bit ashamed at the fact that I, as a Canadian, had never read this classic Canadian novel. I have no excuses. And second, I want ever so much to be bosom friends with Anne Shirley!! Words cannot express how much I love that girl and her imagination and her earnestness. I can only hope that she would think me a kindred spirit in turn. This audiobook, as narrated by Colleen Winton, just filled me with so much JOY (and in the end... heartbreak) that it instantly became an all-time favourite of mine. I do wish Anne of Green Gables had been introduced to me in my childhood, but I am happy to have it in my life as an adult at any rate. Also: it has convinced me that I absolutely MUST see Prince Edward Island in my lifetime!!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Series Review: Caster Chronicles by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Published: 2009-2012
Pages: 2,038
Source: Bought/Borrowed
Rating: 4 Stars

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she's struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.
Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town's oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.
In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.

In short: Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl make an excellent team and have written a great series with the Caster Chronicles.
I have been doing my best to finish up all the series that I have on the go at the moment because at some point I realized that I had started and never finished a frightful number of series. I will often enjoy the first book in a series and will have every intention of seeing the series through, but then somehow I never get around to it. It's likely that I'll end up dropping a few of the series that just didn't "wow" me with the first book, but in the case of the Caster Chronicles, I knew I wanted to see it through to the end.

I absolutely adored Beautiful Creatures when I read it in late 2010, back when I was a newbie blogger. I do think my tastes have changed since then though and if I had read Beautiful Creatures now, as I did with the other three books in the series, I can't imagine I would be quite as enamoured with it as I have since fallen a bit out of love with paranormal YA. But it was with some amount of relief that I found that my tastes haven't changed hugely and I was able to delve back into the little world of Gatlin and the big world of the Casters, no problem.

Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl demonstrate with ease their adeptness in writing great characters and in setting the broody Gothic atmosphere of Gatlin. I am just in awe of their skills, particularly because I can't comprehend how anyone could share the authoring of a single POV book with someone else and still have such smooth passages and transitions that you would never think it wasn't written by one person only. My understanding is that they each write their own passages and then trade and edit each other's work as they go. They must work quite well together!

I am happy to report that I enjoyed the rest of the series after Beautiful Creatures, even if I was perhaps not as engaged in the story as I once was. The pacing can be a bit slow at times, but more patient readers will appreciate the attention to detail in the descriptions. The town of Gatlin is as much a character as it is the setting for the series and I absolutely love that about these books. I have also grown quite fond of the characters - particularly the side characters, whom are numerous and yet as richly developed and animated as Ethan and Lena, and whom also provide much needed moments of levity among the dark undertones of the series.

So it is with satisfaction that I can officially cross off a series from my lengthy series-to-be-finished list! And I'm all the more satisfied because this series is one that had a good conclusion, as well as an elaborate and well thought out journey on the route there. I may have fallen a bit out of love with the Caster Chronicles since I read Beautiful Creatures so long ago and I may not have been as engaged with the story as I once was, but I am happy that each subsequent book was a solid read and that I enjoyed them. I am so impressed with the work that Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl do together that I would gladly read more from them again!

Author Links:
Kami Garcia Website
Kami Garcia Twitter
Kami Garcia Goodreads
Margaret Stohl Website
Margaret Stohl Twitter
Margaret Stohl Goodreads

Monday, June 23, 2014

Top Ten Unique and Beautiful Uses of Typography

This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) is Top Ten Book Cover Trends I Like, and while there are a few trends that I could have featured, in the end I decided I would focus on my #1 favourite cover trend: books in which the title is featured prominently with interesting typography.

I love love LOVE it when the cover designer creates an entirely unique font to use for the book's title and makes sure that it is the absolute focus of the cover. Not only does it bring attention to the title of the novel, but if done well, the unique typography can give you an idea of what the book will be about by setting the tone.

The following are 10 of my favourite examples of unique and beautiful uses of typography. I decided to feature covers that the readers of this blog would likely not have come across to keep it interesting, but there are of course a ton of YA covers with gorgeous typography that I love, as well. Enjoy! And let me know which one is your favourite!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Review: Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Published: July 8, 2014
Pages: 368
Source: For Review from Hachette Book Group Canada
Rating: 3 Stars

Growing up on Forge’s streets has taught Kyra how to stretch a coin. And when that’s not enough, her uncanny ability to scale walls and bypass guards helps her take what she needs.
But when the leader of the Assassins Guild offers Kyra a lucrative job, she hesitates. She knows how to get by on her own, and she’s not sure she wants to play by his rules. But he’s persistent—and darkly attractive—and Kyra can’t quite resist his pull.
Tristam of Brancel is a young Palace knight on a mission. After his best friend is brutally murdered by Demon Riders, a clan of vicious warriors who ride bloodthirsty wildcats, Tristam vows to take them down. But as his investigation deepens, he finds his efforts thwarted by a talented thief, one who sneaks past Palace defenses with uncanny ease.
When a fateful raid throws Kyra and Tristam together, the two enemies realize that their best chance at survival—and vengeance—might be to join forces. And as their loyalties are tested to the breaking point, they learn a startling secret about Kyra’s past that threatens to reshape both their lives.

In short: Midnight Thief by Livia Blackburne is an intriguing plot-driven story, but it was lacking a bit too much in characterization and complexity to make it a stand-out read.
Thieves, assassins, barbarians, and wildcats. Midnight Thief soared to the top of my most-anticipated-reads-of-2014 list as soon as I heard of it. I felt sure that, with so many elements included that I love in the books I read these days, I was bound to like Midnight Thief no matter what. And I did like it. Mostly. I definitely had a positive response to the plot, which I felt moved quickly and kept me intrigued. Language was simple, which, combined with the fast pacing, enabled me to speed through the book quickly. I especially liked the reveal of the "startling secret" that is mentioned in the blurb as it made for a very interesting twist and certainly makes me curious to see where the story will go from there. But I did take issue with a few things.

The blurb for Midnight Thief is perhaps a bit misleading. Here I was, excited to read a high fantasy about a girl who joins the Assassin's Guild and develops into one of those badass female assassins I love so much, but no. Midnight Thief tells the story of a girl, Kyra, who joins the Assassin's Guild and then sorely regrets it when she is asked to actually assassinate someone. Hey, I can definitely appreciate a girl with morals. But what on earth was she thinking was going to happen by joining an Assassin's Guild?? This is a girl who quails just at watching a person getting beat up, so this was not a bright move on her part. I don't mean to be so hard on the girl as she was very sweet, but it was hard not to compare her to Celaena and Ismae and of course she was found wanting BIG TIME.

The writing in Midnight Thief wasn't my favourite. As I mentioned earlier, the language, sentence structure, and description is kept simple, which definitely has the advantage of making for a speedy read. But I am a visual reader. I like DETAILS. Most especially when it comes to characters. As it is, I failed to form an emotional connection with most of the characters in Midnight Thief. Description is kept so minimal that I don't even have a good feel for what most of the characters are supposed to look like. I adore little insertions of descriptive words here and there to help bring characters and story to life, and I was sorry to find that Livia Blackburne's writing was lacking in this area.

I hope I'm not being too hard on Midnight Thief in this review because I did like it overall. It was interesting and quick and it's the kind of book that puts you at ease because it's so effortless and uncomplicated, which can be nice. But I don't think that readers who prefer character-driven stories to plot-driven ones will take to Midnight Thief. Ditto to romance lovers because the romance aspect in Midnight Thief was pretty lacklustre, as well. I'm still very intrigued about the twist introduced in this book though, so I'll be curious to hear what people make of the sequel when it is released.

Other Reviews:
Planet Print

Author Links:

Monday, June 16, 2014

Top Ten Books On My Summer TBR (Help Me Prioritize!)

I set up a poll just like this exactly a year ago today so that I could get people's input on what I should be prioritizing in my reading schedule last summer and the response was great! Since that poll, I've read 6 out of 10 of the books on my initial list, which isn't amazing I realize, but I'm pleased with that proportion just the same. So I'm doing it again and asking for your help! The above ten books are the ones I would hope to read this summer (sequels that I've been putting off, books that are being made into movies, and books that I've been meaning to read for FOREVER), but I likely won't be able to get to all of them, unfortunately. This is where you come in. Please help me prioritize! Any reasonings for your choices can be left in the comments. Thank you!!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Review: Raging Star (Dust Lands #3) by Moira Young

Publisher: Random House Canada
Published: May 13, 2014
Pages: 448
Source: Bought
Rating: 4 Stars

Saba is ready to seize her destiny and defeat DeMalo and the Tonton...until she meets him and he confounds all her expectations with his seductive vision of a healed earth, a New Eden. DeMalo wants Saba to join him, in life and work, to create and build a healthy, stable, sustainable world…for the chosen few. The few who can pay.
Jack’s choice is clear: to fight DeMalo and try to stop New Eden. Still uncertain, her connection with DeMalo a secret, Saba commits herself to the fight. Joined by her brother, Lugh, anxious for the land in New Eden, Saba leads an inexperienced guerilla band against the powerfully charismatic DeMalo, in command of his settlers and the Tonton militia. What chance do they have? Saba must act. And be willing to pay the price.

This review is spoiler-free

In short: Though Raging Star gets off to a bit of a slow start, the thrilling and emotionally-intense finale makes up for it and ensures a satisfying ending worthy of the Dust Lands Trilogy.
This is it. The end has come for one of my favourite series and it's always sad to say goodbye. I first fell in love with Moira Young's characteristic writing style and her incredibly flawed but fierce protagonist, Saba, in Blood Red Road. It left such a huge impression on me at the time and consumed my thoughts so completely that I knew immediately that it would forever be considered part of my all-time favourites. So yes, it's sad to say goodbye. But it's all the more gratifying when the author delivers a satisfying ending worthy of the series. And I am so relieved and pleased to say that, YES, Raging Star delivered on the intense finale I had been hoping for and the sense of closure that I had been craving.

But before we get to the ending of Raging Star, I must that the first three quarters of the book were much less engrossing. Oh, Moira Young's eclectic writing style was still there in all its glory, bringing the characters and story to life in a way that few authors can, but the whole beginning was missing that intensity and absorbing quality that the previous books had and that I would expect to see in abundance in the last book of a trilogy. There was a lot of TALK of action, but little in the way of it, which was a disappointing because I KNOW that Moira Young knows how to write some thrilling, heart-pounding action scenes.

We do finally get that thrilling and emotionally-intense showdown at the end that every great finale NEEDS to be satisfying though, and it mostly made up for the slow pacing at the beginning. In fact, I would even say that the last quarter or so of Raging Star will go down as one of the MOST memorable series finales for me! There is a twist so shocking and so astoundingly disquieting that it felt a bit like a punch in the gut. It does not make for a rosy ending, but this series couldn't ever have come equipped with a happily ever after ending. All I know is I loved it for what it was and I appreciated it and was impressed by it, which seems to happen rarely with me and endings.

So yes, while Raging Star did get off to a bit of a disappointing start, the ending made up for it and I am SO pleased that Moira Young did right by her characters and the story that I have felt so passionately about since I read Blood Red Road a few years ago and just knew that this was the book for me. It's sad to say goodbye, especially to my favourite flawed protagonist, Saba, who has come SO far and grown SO much over the course of the trilogy under Moira Young's expert characterization, and of course to her faithful pet crow, Nero. I really cannot wait to see what Moira Young writes next!

Previously, my reviews of Blood Red Road and Rebel Heart.

Author Link:

Monday, June 9, 2014

Top Ten Books I've Read So Far In 2014

The Assassin's Blade (Throne of Glass #0.1-0.5) by Sarah J. Maas
Most series novellas I have read just seem inessential and underdeveloped. But Sarah J. Maas breaks the mould with The Assassin's Blade. Now THIS is how novellas should be done. Each of the prequel Throne of Glass novellas are not only significant to the overall series story, but they are also each as strong as an actual full-length novel. Sarah J. Maas excels as a storyteller: tension-ridden romances, no-holds-barred action scenes, gut-wrenching heartbreak and feels. This woman is a genius!

Scarlet and Cress (Lunar Chronicles #2 and #3) by Marissa Meyer
I was a bit late to the party with this series, but now I'm all caught up and ready for Winter! THIS SERIES, GUYS. As with Cinder, Scarlet and Cress were both compulsively readable, thrilling, and altogether awesome. I don't know how Marissa Meyer does it, because you would think the multi-layered storyline and numerous POVs would feel convoluted, and yet it never does. It's like each instalment has more and more to offer than the one before it and that is impressive indeed!

Night of Cake and Puppets and Dreams of Gods and Monsters (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #2.5 and #3) by Laini Taylor
Oh, Laini. I bow down to you. Laini Taylor took the finale of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy to a whole new, unexpected, and brilliant level in Dreams of Gods and Monsters. And though I was left wanting so much MORE (I need a spinoff!) after the close of Dreams of Gods and Monsters, I was also pleased that I got the sense of closure that I craved for this series ending. Also, shout out to the Zuzanna/Mik novella Night of Cake and Puppets, which was simply WONDERFUL!

The Books of John Green
And finally, in the month of May I read all five of John Green's novels for the first time, back-to-back, in chronological publication order, in what I have dubbed, The Great John Green Read of 2014. It was a fantastic experience and I can honestly say that all of John Green's novels were memorable and meaningful to me in their own way. John Green has a way of writing profoundly thoughtful books that make you THINK and stay with you long after the book has ended. Loved this experience!

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Great John Green Read of 2014

Some background: I've been a fan of the vlogbrothers since 2007 (a nerdfighter, if you will), and yet somehow in all that time I have never read any of John Green's books. I don't think I even have a good reason why not. It's true that I am not a massive fan of contemporary, but I have been known to read it and enjoy it from time to time, so that's not it. I guess I just... never got around to it. But finally FINALLY I was able to make the time in my reading schedule. And I knew I wanted to read them back-to-back, in chronological order, to get the full John Green Experience. Thus became what I have dubbed, The Great John Green Read of 2014.

I read all five of John Green's novels (Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, Will Grayson, Will Grayson [with David Levithan], and The Fault in Our Stars) in a two week period (I have not read the short story that he wrote for the anthology, Let It Snow; maybe another time). First thoughts? I loved them all!! Was there any doubt? Maybe a little bit because as I mentioned earlier, contemporary isn't my strong suit. But I really and truly did enjoy his books and the experience of reading them back-to-back on the whole. They were all very memorable and meaningful in their own way.

None of his novels stand out in my mind as head over heels better than the others. I had been sort of expecting John Green's writing to get better and better with each book, but I thought his writing was strong since the beginning and I thought all five novels were pretty on par with each other. If pressed, I would probably say The Fault in Our Stars was my favourite though. I adored many of John Green's characters and many will endure in my memory, but I would say Hazel and Augustus were my favourites of the lot (with maybe the exception of Tiny Cooper from Will Grayson, Will Grayson) and so that is why The Fault in Our Stars edges out the rest.

Besides his characters, the other main strength of John Green's novels has got to be their thoughtfulness, as illuminated by some truly brilliant quotes and passages. It's not very often that I read books that make me THINK like these novels did. Actually, I really cannot think of the last time I read a book that was so thought-provoking. A book that had me stuck in my head for hours, pondering profoundly these truths that were laid out so prudently. Normally, I read to escape. But in this experience I learned the value in reading for meditation. It was enlightening and I liked it.

I guess the only slight issue that I had with John Green's writing is that the characters weren't always believably adolescent. Real life teenagers do not talk like they do in John Green's books. The vast majority of adults don't talk like that either, for that matter. But I guess if you're going to be writing a novel in which the characters contemplate the meaning of life and have existential crises and whatnot, then you're going to need to have some pretty intellectual and enlightened characters. So I can let it slide mostly.

Overall, The Great John Green Read of 2014 was a complete success and my only regret is that it was over too quickly and who knows when we'll get the next novel from John Green. Though I have always claimed to be a fan of John Green, I feel like I can now say that I am a legit fan of his books, his writing, his characters, and his thoughtfulness. I'm also super stoked to see The Fault in Our Stars movie, which I am cautiously hopeful will be a good adaptation! So I'm curious: how many of John Green's books have you read and which is your favourite?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

My Life in May: Moira Young, Period Dramas, and the Great John Green Read of 2014

Another month come and gone before I knew it. May was good to me because even though I was busy with school, I still found time to squeeze in some good TV, good reading, and an author signing.

This month I had the pleasure of meeting one of my faves and fellow Canadian, Moira Young:
She was soooo lovely! I bombarded her with questions about Nero and Tracker (Saba's pet crow and wolfdog from the Dust Lands Trilogy) when it was my turn to talk to her and she provided thorough answers to everything I asked. What's more, she actually knew how to pronounce my name (Eilidh)! If you're keeping count (I know I am), that makes Moira Young the third author I have met who knew how to pronounce my Scottish Gaelic name (the other two were Beth Revis and Elizabeth Wein). I am very impressed by this because it is extremely rare that people I meet know how to pronounce my name and yet so far, a high proportion of the authors I have met have known immediately! Authors know their stuff is all I'm saying.

In the wake of finishing Downton Abbey last year, I have been on the lookout for other period dramas to become obsessed with and boy did I ever find some in May!
Mr Selfridge, The Bletchley Circle, Call the Midwife
Mr Selfridge tells the story of the real life founder of Selfridge's department store in London in the early 1900s. This is the guy who, from what I understand, basically revolutionized the retail industry. Ambur recommended it to me as a means of satisfying my Downton Abbey withdrawal and I can't thank her enough because of course I loved it!

The Bletchley Circle follows four British women who used to be codebreakers during WWII. Together, they solve mysteries in a most ingenious manner! So not only does The Bletchley Circle satiate my period drama obsession, but my love of mysteries, as well!

Call the Midwife is set in London's poor East End in the 1950s in which many, many babies were being born and midwives were desperately needed. I first heard about Call the Midwife from Sara and have been wanting to watch it ever since. I haven't quite finished up the available episodes yet, but I'm loving every minute of it so far!

And because it felt like such a momentous event for me, I must make mention of the Great John Green Read of 2014:
I have been a fan of John Green and the vlogbrothers since 2007 and yet I hadn't quite ever gotten around to reading John's books. What can I say? Contemporary just isn't my forte. But with the imminent release of The Fault in Our Stars movie, I knew I needed to finally read the book and I knew I wanted to read John's books in chronological order. Thus what I have dubbed the Great John Green Read of 2014 was born. I'll talk more about what I thought about the experience soon in a separate post, but I am definitely happy to have finally read them and I definitely enjoyed these reads! I guess this means that I can now call myself a legit John Green fan.

Blog Posts in May:

My Life in April: Ripley's Aquarium, Easter Eggs, and Meeting Laini Taylor
Waiting On Wednesday: Penguin Summer 2014 Catalog
Waiting On Wednesday: Simon & Schuster Summer 2014 Catalog
Top Ten Most Beautiful and Unique Bookshelves (AKA Bookshelf Porn)
Review: Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor - 4.5 Stars
Review: Rebel Heart by Moira Young - 4 Stars
Review: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card - 2 Stars
In Which I Read Non-Fiction For The First Time And Find Out That It Can Actually Be Really Good - I received so many great non-fiction recommendations from you guys on this post! Bookish friends are THE BEST! THANK YOU.

Best Book Read in May:
You know, it's difficult for me to say which of John Green's books was my favourite as I thought they were all pretty on par with each other, but I think The Fault in Our Stars narrowly beats out his other books in my mind. Now here's the thing: I did NOT cry while reading this book like everyone else did and that fact kind of made me feel like a terrible person. But I swear I really did love it and I was very sad and on the VERGE of crying. So don't hate me, okay? I'm really looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation, which releases June 6.