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Thursday, February 26, 2015

My Life in February: Poutineville, Valentine's Day, and The Casual Vacancy

February was a much quieter month for me than January... and I consider that a good thing. It was overall a very relaxing month spent indoors cozying up against the cold!

Earlier this month, I celebrated a friend's birthday at Poutineville, a gourmet poutine restaurant. Our party ordered a "Heart Attack," a 15-pound behemoth of poutine carried out by our waiter whilst wearing a lab coat:

OMG SO MUCH DELICIOUS POUTINE!! If you don't know, poutine is a Canadian dish that consists of french fries, gravy, and cheese curds. It usually comes in fast-food-quality form - that is to say, nothing TOO special. But this restaurant, Poutineville, specializes in various different poutine dishes and really augments the quality of them too. DELISH!! Our party easily polished off a Heart Attack and had to order another one for the table. I would definitely go back to Poutineville sometime to try out what other varieties of poutine they have to offer!

In February, I also "celebrated" Valentine's Day. That's in quotes because I've never personally felt the need to do anything particularly special pertaining to the holiday before.
The card I gave my boyfriend for Valentine's Day this year, hee hee (source)
So yes, nothing super special for Valentine's Day this year (or any other prior Valentine's Day), but I DID get to spend the day with my boyfriend's grandparents, whom I haven't had the chance to visit with in a long time. It was so lovely to visit with them for the day and eat good food! For me, the important thing about Valentine's Day is that you spend it with loved ones or share your love with them in some way. So I call this Valentine's Day a success!

And finally, I also took in the first two episodes of The Casual Vacancy, the BBC adaptation of the J.K. Rowling book with the same name:

When approaching book-to-movie/TV adaptations, I always try my darnedest not to get TOO caught up in the details of the book and everything the show is getting wrong. The important thing is that the overall tone and message are captured from the book. And I think this BBC adaptation accomplishes that. But. There are definitely a few changes that were made in the transition that niggle at me. For the most part, the changes that were made were necessary ones - things that wouldn't have translated well to the TV medium from the book. But I'm not quite sold on this adaptation to be honest. The Casual Vacancy, the book, moved me in SUCH powerfully meaningful ways. I have yet to experience the same depth of feeling from the TV show (though there is still one more episode to go, so fingers crossed!). In addition to which, in the book Jo's political views are on full display, and yet weaved in so expertly and subtly into the novel's storyline and themes. The TV Show on the other hand is definitely more on the nose. BUT enough nitpicking: this BBC adaptation of The Casual Vacancy really IS pretty dang good (some quibbles aside) and I'm enjoying it so far.

Blog Posts in February:

Waiting On Wednesday: Penguin Spring 2015 Catalog
Waiting On Wednesday: Random House Spring 2015 Catalog
Review: Just One Day and Just One Year by Gayle Forman - 5 Stars
Review: The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare - 2 Stars
Review: Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins - 5 Stars
Series Review: The Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan - 4 Stars
My Life in January: O.Noir, Potted Potter, and Dino Hunts
Also: I guest posted over at Random Ramblings' Show and Tell feature - three other bloggers and I showed off a special book in our lives and talked about why we loved it!

Best Book Read in February:

In preparation for the TV adaptation, I reread The Casual Vacancy (via audiobook) this month and was again reminded of what a masterpiece it is. Even though it's a completely different book from Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling's stamp is still clearly all over it - from the intricate characters, to the clever writing, to the insightful and politically-charged themes and messages. This book is EVERYTHING and it is BRILLIANT! I know, I KNOW I'm definitely in the minority with this one as most people were either bored to tears by it or outright hated it, but what can I say? I loved every minute of it! Definite all-time fave.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Series Review: The Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan

Publisher: Hyperion
Published: 2010-2014
Pages: 2,796
Source: Borrowed
Rating: 4 Stars

Synopsis for The Lost Hero:
Jason has a problem. He doesn’t remember anything before waking up in a bus full of kids on a field trip. Apparently he has a girlfriend named Piper and a best friend named Leo. They’re all students at a boarding school for “bad kids.” What did Jason do to end up here? And where is here, exactly?
Piper has a secret. Her father has been missing for three days, ever since she had that terrifying nightmare. Piper doesn’t understand her dream, or why her boyfriend suddenly doesn’t recognize her. When a freak storm hits, unleashing strange creatures and whisking her, Jason, and Leo away to someplace called Camp Half-Blood, she has a feeling she’s going to find out.
Leo has a way with tools. When he sees his cabin at Camp Half-Blood, filled with power tools and machine parts, he feels right at home. But there’s weird stuff, too—like the curse everyone keeps talking about. Weirdest of all, his bunkmates insist that each of them—including Leo—is related to a god.

In short: The Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan is an entertaining and creatively engaging series.
When I read Rick Riordan's first demigod series last year, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, my overall thoughts were that it was a very fun, easy series, but it read a bit too young for me personally. It's the kind of series that I am sure I would have LOVED as a tween, but as an adult in her late twenties, I tend to prefer series that challenge me a bit more, be it with more challenging language, or more nuanced plots and characters, or more emotional complexity, etc. 

Well, when I posted that review last year, there were a number of commenters urging me to read on, to read the next set of demigod adventures by Rick Riordan in which Percy and co. are older and the tone is maybe a bit more mature and relatable. I'm telling you book bloggers really do know what they're talking about because they were right - I DID end up liking The Heroes of Olympus more than Percy Jackson and the Olympians!

Percy Jackson and the Olympians was Percy's story whereas in The Heroes of Olympus, the spotlight is shared with six other main characters and we get to see their POVs in equal parts. Now it's not that I don't like Percy (I do!), but it was nice to get some new characters with different viewpoints and back stories. I wouldn't say I was blown away by the characterization and relationships because Rick Riordan's writing still definitely tends to err on the cliched side, but I was impressed at least with the diversity of characters.

These books are just entertaining. How could they not be when they involve teen demigod warriors with special powers who fight all manner of mythological monsters in a creatively engaging plot? Add to that Rick Riordan's knack for clever humour and we have a winner! As I said, I do prefer more nuanced characterization and less predictable plots than what we get in The Heroes of Olympus, but overall I had a fun time with this series and I'm glad I decided to read it!

Previously, my series review of Percy Jackson and the Olympians

Author Links:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Waiting On Wednesday: Random House Spring 2015 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 Random House Spring 2015 Catalog:

Denton Little's Deathdate by Lance Rubin
Date: April 14, 2015
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Denton Little's Deathdate takes place in a world exactly like our own except that everyone knows the day they will die. For 17-year-old Denton Little, that's tomorrow, the day of his senior prom.
Despite his early deathdate, Denton has always wanted to live a normal life, but his final days are filled with dramatic firsts. First hangover. First sex. First love triangle (as the first sex seems to have happened not with his adoring girlfriend, but with his best friend's hostile sister. Though he's not totally sure. See: first hangover.) His anxiety builds when he discovers a strange purple rash making its way up his body. Is this what will kill him? And then a strange man shows up at his funeral, claiming to have known Denton's long-deceased mother, and warning him to beware of suspicious government characters…. Suddenly Denton's life is filled with mysterious questions and precious little time to find the answers.

A world where you know the exact date you will die? Yikes. That is something that is definitely NOT on my need-to-know list. But still, I'm very much (morbidly) intrigued with this premise of Denton Little's Deathdate.

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey
Date: April 28, 2015
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Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she's ever known.
Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she's fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it's time to act.
Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it's how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.
But some jobs aren't as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.

Ooooh, this new fantasy sounds SO promising! I'm so very curious about this ancient magical race of people living below New York City and what this centuries-old war entails. I have high hopes for The Girl at Midnight!

5 To 1 by Holly Bodger
Date: May 12, 2015
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In the year 2054, after decades of gender selection, India now has a ratio of five boys for every girl, making women an incredibly valuable commodity. Tired of marrying off their daughters to the highest bidder and determined to finally make marriage fair, the women who form the country of Koyanagar have instituted a series of tests so that every boy has the chance to win a wife.

Sudasa, though, doesn't want to be a wife, and Kiran, a boy forced to compete in the test to become her husband, has other plans as well. As the tests advance, Sudasa and Kiran thwart each other at every turn until they slowly realize that they just might want the same thing.

So in love with this gorgeous cover!! But more importantly, I have not ever read a book with a premise like this one and to say that I am intrigued is a definite understatement. I'm looking forward to reading some early reviews to see what 5 To 1 is all about!

How about you? Are you waiting on any of these Random House Spring 2015 reads? Are there any upcoming books from the Random House Spring 2015 Catalog that I didn't include here that you feel I should add to my list?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Review: Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

Publisher: Dutton
Published: August 14, 2014
Pages: 339
Source: Bought
Rating: 5 Stars

From the glittering streets of Manhattan to the moonlit rooftops of Paris, falling in love is easy for hopeless dreamer Isla and introspective artist Josh. But as they begin their senior year in France, Isla and Josh are quickly forced to confront the heartbreaking reality that happily-ever-afters aren’t always forever.

Their romantic journey is skillfully intertwined with those of beloved couples Anna and Étienne and Lola and Cricket, whose paths are destined to collide in a sweeping finale certain to please fans old and new.

In short: Every emotion and feeling that was incited in me while reading Isla and the Happily Ever After was felt strongly and sincerely, and I LOVED it for that reason.
Ohhh the complete and overjoyed happiness this book brought me!! I mean, all of Stephanie Perkins' books have brought me happiness and swoons and squees and feels, but I think it's possible that Isla and the Happily Ever After tops them all (though it has been quite a while since I read Anna and the French Kiss so I might not be remembering correctly). Isla left me in a puddle of feels and happy tears when I finished it in the middle of the night and I loved every moment of it.

One of the things I love most about Stephanie's characters is there is at least one aspect in each of her leading ladies that you can identify with. But I think Isla is the girl that I relate to most. She's shy and has low self-esteem and she doesn't know what she wants to do with her life. She prefers to read about adventures than go on them. Josh is her opposite in many ways and yet they connected and played off each other perfectly. I LOVED them together.

Of course it's no surprise that Stephanie Perkins got the romance right. She proved as much in Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door. But I was reminded again - and more powerfully than ever - that Stephanie Perkins has a way of pinpointing and recreating the feelings and the ups and downs of first love like no other author that I can think of. The intense giddiness, the unwanted insecurities, the extreme elation, the bitter and unreasonable feelings of jealousy, etc. - every heightened emotion you go through when experiencing your first love is there (or at least the ones that I went through...). Stephanie Perkins handles first love beautifully and meticulously.

Every emotion and feeling that was incited in me while reading Isla and the Happily Ever After was felt strongly and sincerely, and I am totally CRAZY about this book for that reason. I am unbelievably bummed that this trilogy of Stephanie's has come to an end, but I am also unbelievably ecstatic that Isla and the Happily Ever After was everything I was hoping it would be and that we got to see Anna, St. Clair, Lola, and Cricket one last time (because I love them to death). I look forward to reading whatever Stephanie Perkins writes next!

Previously, my reviews of Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door.

Other Reviews:
A Girl, Books and Other Things
Pirate Penguin's Reads
Shooting Stars Mag

Author Links:

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Review: The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Publisher: Scholastic
Published: September 9, 2014
Pages: 299
Source: Borrowed
Rating: 2 Stars

Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial. 

Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail. 

All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him. 

So he tries his best to do his worst - and fails at failing. 

Now the Magisterium awaits him. It's a place that's both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future. 

The Iron Trial is just the beginning, for the biggest test is still to come . . .

In short: Unfortunately, The Iron Trial just smacked of unoriginality to me.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That's certainly true, and it may have been the thought process behind The Iron Trial, the first in a Middle Grade series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare with a storyline that is remarkably similar to that of Harry Potter. We've seen how successful the story of the young boy going to magic school - marked at birth for greatness by an evil dark overlord who wants to be immortal - has been with Harry Potter, so why not just repeat this exact same storyline and make a few changes along the way?

I probably don't need to tell you that I'm pretty crazy about Harry Potter and its premise and concept. It's everything to me. But do I need to see it repeated almost exactly in another book? No, there's no point to that. The Iron Trial just smacked of unoriginality to me. It was hard not to constantly be making comparisons to Harry Potter while reading it. And what's more, not only was it an HP doppelgänger, but it was not a particularly great one. When compared to Harry Potter - which as I mentioned, is impossible NOT to do - The Iron Trial is undoubtedly the weaker of the two.

Would I have liked The Iron Trial if I had read it in a world where Harry Potter didn't exist? Yes, absolutely, the premise and concepts in that case would have seemed wholly original. And I find I can always appreciate the work that Holly Black and Cassandra Clare put into the engaging personalities of their characters. I still don't think I would have LOVED it though because I still found The Iron Trial to be missing that extra special something in the end. Overall, I'm sorry to say I was pretty disappointed by the unoriginality of The Iron Trial and I will not be continuing with this series.

Other Reviews:
Books and Other Happy Ever Afters
My Precious
Xpresso Reads

Author Links:
Holly Black Website
Holly Black Twitter
Cassandra Clare Website
Cassandra Clare Twitter

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Review: Just One Day and Just One Year by Gayle Forman

Publisher: Penguin
Published: January 8/October 10, 2013
Pages: 369/336
Source: Borrowed
Rating: 5 Stars

When sheltered American good girl Allyson "LuLu" Healey first meets laid-back Dutch actor Willem De Ruiter at an underground performance of Twelfth Night in England, there’s an undeniable spark. After just one day together, that spark bursts into a flame, or so it seems to Allyson, until the following morning, when she wakes up after a whirlwind day in Paris to discover that Willem has left. Over the next year, Allyson embarks on a journey to come to terms with the narrow confines of her life, and through Shakespeare, travel, and a quest for her almost-true-love, to break free of those confines.

In short: Just One Day resonated SO deeply with me that my love for Gayle Forman has reached a whole new level.
I loved If I Stay and Where She Went by Gayle Forman. I wasn't BLOWN AWAY by them like some people are, but I really did love Gayle Forman's beautiful prose and expert handling of the emotionally intense subject matter. Now, Just One Day on the other hand - WOAH. Just One Day resonated SO deeply with me that at times it was like Gayle was plucking thoughts and feelings that I've had in my life right from my head and putting them down in words, albeit much more eloquently and meaningfully than I could ever manage to in my head. I never quite felt that way with If I Stay, as much as I did love it.

It wasn't immediate love when I first began Just One Day. Of course I fell right into Gayle Forman's effortless writing and genuine characters right away, but it wasn't until I was most of the way through the book that I realized where the story and character arcs were going and how much it meant to me that Gayle was taking the route much less traveled. I had thought Just One Day was going to be another book about a girl "finding herself" in Europe with the help of a cute boy. But in reality, that cute boy is MIA for the rest of the book after the beginning. And then the girl does something remarkable: she "finds herself" on her own/with help from some good friends and WITHOUT the help of the cute boy, and she realizes she's made of tougher stuff.

I wasn't as in love with Just One Year as I was with Just One Day just simply because Willem's story wasn't as relatable to me as Allyson's. But the final moment of Just One Year got me GOOD because I can never resist a good coming-full-circle ending and this one was just perfection. I was already appreciative of Gayle Forman's writing from If I Stay, but Just One Day has taken me to a whole new level of LOVE for this woman and her profoundly meaningful stories. Just so much love.

Other Reviews:
Artsy Musings of a Bibliophile
Reading In Winter
YA Book Queen

Author Links:

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Waiting On Wednesday: Penguin Spring 2015 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 Penguin Spring 2015 Catalog:

An Ember In The Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
Date: April 28, 2015
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LAIA is a Scholar living under the iron-fisted rule of the Martial Empire. When her brother is arrested for treason, Laia goes undercover as a slave at the empire’s greatest military academy in exchange for assistance from rebel Scholars who claim that they will help to save her brother from execution.
ELIAS is the academy’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias is considering deserting the military, but before he can, he’s ordered to participate in a ruthless contest to choose the next Martial emperor.
When Laia and Elias’s paths cross at the academy, they find that their destinies are more intertwined than either could have imagined and that their choices will change the future of the empire itself.

What's this, a new YA fantasy to sink my teeth into despite the plethora of other YA fantasies that I already have on-the-go currently? Sign me up! Heh, no really, I can never resist these kinds of reads. And An Ember in the Ashes sounds fantastic!

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
Date: May 5, 2015
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When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.
As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she's been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

Note: Bloomsbury titles are distributed by Penguin in Canada.

EEEEP ACOTAR!! NEW SARAH J. MAAS!! EVERYONE FREAK OUT!! Or that seems to be everyone's attitude over this one anyway, heh. Already the early reviews for A Court of Thorns and Roses have been pretty stellar, so I really can't wait to get my hands on a copy of my own!

The Wrath And The Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
Date: May 12, 2015
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Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi's wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.
She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.

Ooh, a One Thousand and One Nights retelling! And another one with a bunch of extremely positive early reviews. And that cover! SO curious about The Wrath and the Dawn and I'm really hoping it lives up to my expectations!

How about you? Are you waiting on any of these Penguin Spring 2015 reads? Are there any upcoming books from the Penguin Spring 2015 Catalog that I didn't include here that you feel I should add to my list?

Monday, February 2, 2015

My Life in January: O.Noir, Potted Potter, and Dino Hunts

January was a fun month! There were several exciting events that pertained to my boyfriend and I. First up: our 4 year anniversary.

We went to O.Noir for dinner, something that I had been curious about trying out for a while now. If you don't know, O.Noir is a restaurant in Toronto (and Montreal) in which you dine in pitch blackness. No jokes. Dining in the dark is meant to heighten your remaining senses so that you can savour your meal more than you would otherwise... well, I don't know about that. But what I do know is that the experience was just plain cool.
The servers are all blind and it's a good thing too, because they have the experience needed to guide you through the restaurant and through your meal. I really love the concept of this restaurant. It gives you a feel for what it must be like to be visually impaired and the challenges that come with that. And there's a role reversal here: usually it is the sighted that lead the blind, but here we were utterly dependent on the guidance of our blind - and very kind - server.

At some point during my meal, I must have left my fork on the plate of my starter, which was then taken away by my server. When my main dish was put down in front of me I realized I no longer had my fork, but was too embarrassed to call out to my server to ask for another one. So I ate my dinner by carefully scooping up the food from my plate with my knife. LOL! I also lost my napkin at some point during the meal, so it was a bit messy... But like I say, it was definitely a very cool and fun experience!

We also went to see Potted Potter, a semi-improvised parody of all seven Harry Potter books told in seventy minutes by only two actors. It was pretty fun! It was cool to be surrounded by fellow Potter fans who understood all the Potter-ish inside jokes. We played a live game of Quidditch in the audience and my team (Slytherin) won when our Seeker, a very enthusiastic and feisty young boy, full-on TACKLED the Snitch, ensuring our victory. Definitely check this show out if it comes to a city near you!

And finally, in January we celebrated the reveal of a new ceratopsian dinosaur at our place of work at the ROM. My boyfriend is a fossil preparator at the museum and he is also featured in a new TV series on the History Channel about palaeontology in Canada. All month long, there was a live feed running on the History Channel website in which you could tune in to watch my bf work on the fossils of this new species. I spent much of my month doing just that... avoiding my own work in the process, heh. Ah well, it was a once in a lifetime event and I am quite proud of my boyfriend for being so successful in his field!

Blog Posts in January:

Waiting On Wednesday: HarperCollins Spring 2015 Catalog
Review: Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger - 4 Stars
Review: Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier - 3 Stars
Review: Alistair Grim's Odditorium by Gregory Funaro - 3.5 Stars
Review: Catalyst (Insignia #3) by S.J. Kincaid - 4 Stars
Muggle Monday: New Images from the Fully Illustrated Edition of Harry Potter
2014 End of Year Book Survey
My 2014 Bookish Stats
Thoughts on on my 4 year blogoversary
November and December Recap: Berlin and the Holidays

Best Book Read in January:
Ermahgerd!! I finally read Isla and the Happily Ever After this month and obsessively read it over the course of a few days. SO MUCH LOVE!! It's been many years since I read Anna and the French Kiss so it may be hard to say, but I think Isla may be my favourite book of the trilogy! I just adored it and I'm sad that it's over, but I can't wait to read whatever Stephanie Perkins writes next!