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Sunday, April 26, 2015

My Life in April: RENT, Mockingbirds, and a Trip Hiatus

This end-of-the-month recap post is a bit early this month, but I have a reason for that (read below).

April was a much quieter month for me than March. After a tiring and stressful month on the picket lines, it was surprising how things went completely back to normal right away after the strike ended. It was like it had never happened! I spent most of April relaxing (due to the previous month's stress and also from sickness) and catching up on work. I did make time for one out-and-about activity this month though and it was to see a small-time production at the Lower Ossington Theatre of my all-time favourite musical, RENT:

Admittedly, when I sat down in my seat and opened up my program to check out the cast, I was disappointed. I have seen a few Broadway productions of RENT in my time and they had all featured a very diverse cast. So when I opened my program and saw that this cast was entirely white, I was a peeved and a little sceptical... Thankfully, I found myself swallowing my words when the entire cast turned out to be really fantastically talented - acting- and singing-wise - and really embodied their characters' ESSENCE, even if they did not necessarily LOOK like them. RENT is largely about poor bohemians living with AIDS in the 1980s - the actors can really make it or break it when it comes to capturing the acute poignancy of the show's message. I am happy(?) to report that the actors had me in tears in the final moments of the show! So well done!!

Blog Posts in April:

Muggle Monday: Harry Potter Fully Illustrated Edition Cover Reveal
Ratings by Publisher
Review: Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas - 5 Stars
Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - 4 Stars
My Life in March: STRIKE!!!! ... and Disney's Frozen on Ice

Best Book Read in April:

I know I wasn't the only one that was shocked when it was announced that a sequel of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee that was assumed lost, was found and would be released this summer 2015, 55 years after Lee's first and only book was released. I first read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school a decade ago and it was one of the few mandatory school reads that I actually truly appreciated. I knew it was time for a reread if I was going to prepare myself for the sequel, To Set a Watchman. It was just as meaningful and stirring as I remembered it! I know a lot of people are sceptical or else are downright dreading this sequel, as if it might take away from the much lauded classic, but I don't share that opinion. I am still very excited to read the sequel and I can't imagine that it will taint my view of To Kill a Mockingbird even if it ends up being not as good (which, let's face it, is very likely as the original is pretty much untouchable at this point). I'm curious about what has happened to our beloved characters in the years since To Kill a Mockingbird has taken place!

And finally, I must announce a two-week hiatus I will be taking from blogging: tomorrow I'm getting on a plane and heading to Europe! It was my quick trip to Berlin last November (as well as the reading of Just One Day by Gayle Forman) that really spurred on a bout of travel lust in me. I haven't gone away on a vacation for years because of a lack of time and money, but finally I just knew I was going to need to PRIORITIZE it if I wanted to make it happen. So I made the time and I budgeted out the money for a 2 week trip to the UK and France with my boyfriend. I want to see ALL of Europe (and indeed, many parts of the world), but I thought I would start there as I don't want to be too rushed with only 14 days (including travel time) with all the things I want to see. I'M EXCITED. And I'll be pretty absent from the blog and the internet for these next two weeks. I will have to talk to you all and share when I get back!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Publisher: Random House
Published: January 1, 2012
Pages: 415
Source: Borrowed
Rating: 4 Stars

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne's fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick's clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn't doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife's head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media--as well as Amy's fiercely doting parents--the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he's definitely bitter--but is he really a killer?
As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn't do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

In short: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is the paragon of WTF-ery.
All I really knew going into Gone Girl was that it was a hit book turned into a hit movie and that there was a shocking twist. This was enough to pique my interest even though I don't normally do adult fiction. But even though I knew going into it to expect a surprising twist, I'm not sure I ever fully grasped how much of a WTF moment it was. Like, I thought I sort of knew where the story was going and I was totally hanging on to Gillian Flynn's every word for the first half and then - TWIST. What-The-Actual-F*ck.

I was super blown away the way everything unravels both pre- and post-twist. Gillian Flynn really seems like a master of deceit and manipulation and I will definitely be checking out other books from her sometime. Gone Girl was almost a 5 Star read from me based on the overall WTF-ery of the plot, but I did have two issues:

First, I did not like any of the characters. Now, that's not to say that the characterization was bad because Gillian Flynn actually did a phenomenal job with that, I think. But I didn't like any of them personally. I found that there was no one to "root for" and surprisingly it is important for me to have at least one person that I can connect with to completely love a book.

Second, THAT ENDING. Another WTF. Part of me respects the route that Gillian Flynn takes with this ending, but I am also someone that craves closure, and I REALLY needed to see justice doled out. But again, Gillian Flynn goes for the realistic angle here and you can't help but appreciate that.

So yes, I think people who don't NEED to have likeable characters and closure in books would/will love Gone Girl. People who do need these things will either be driven insane by the craziness that is this book or enjoy it for the wild ride - PROBABLY BOTH, like me. Highly recommended for all lovers of sh!t that is B-A-N-A-N-A-S.

Other Reviews:
My Precious
Novel Sounds
Xpresso Reads

Author Links:

Monday, April 20, 2015

Ratings by Publisher

Not sure if anyone else will have an interest in this, but recently I was curious (and clearly procrastinating on writing my thesis) about what my average rating per publisher would be. In my mind, I have my favourite publishers that are always coming out with books that I WANT NEED - but if I was to calculate the average of the ratings I've given books by these publishers, would they end up with a higher overall rating than the other publishers? Surprisingly, no. The publisher that I was expecting to be my highest average rated publisher was actually my least well rated publisher overall. And the publisher that had the highest overall rating was a pleasant surprise because I wasn't expecting it to rank so high. Anyways, I thought I would share the results of my findings in case anyone else was interested:

Note: My focus here is on the major publishing houses because I had a greater sample size to work with. For a lot of the smaller independent publishing houses, I had only read a few books from each of them and so I was unable to perform thorough analyses. If you're interested though, out of the smaller publishing houses, Candlewick Press came out on top with a solid 5 out of 5 average rating - all down to my love of Patrick Ness.


Overall Average Rating: 4.13

Penguin is part of Penguin Random House now, but most of my ratings on this blog are from the time when Penguin and Random House were separate entities so I will be treating them as separate here as well. When separated from Random House, Penguin has my overall highest rating! I was a little surprised by this, but pleasantly so. When looking at my highest rated books from Penguin over the years, most of them are contemporary, which is even more surprising considering I wouldn't consider that my favourite genre at all. Then again, Stephanie Perkins, John Green, and Gayle Forman are all based out of Penguin and I've loved all of their books so far, so maybe it's not so surprising after all.

Hachette Book Group
Overall Average Rating: 4.09

Hachette Book Group was my second overall highest rated publisher. This makes sense to me as I know that some of my most favourite books have come from them over the years. Namely, the Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy by Laini Taylor and Queen Jo's three adult books The Casual Vacancy, The Cuckoo's Calling, and The Silkworm.

Overall Average Rating: 4.05

Macmillan has a pretty high overall rating and of course it would, being the home of The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer and The Grisha by Leigh Bardugo - definite faves!!

Random House

Overall Average Rating: 3.83

When separated from Penguin, Random House has a relatively low overall rating. Then again, Random House has also published two of my most heartbreakingly favourite books of all time: The Road by Cormac McCarthy and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, so they're still in my good books.

Simon & Schuster

Overall Average Rating: 3.81

Simon & Schuster Publishers is the second least overall rated publisher. It's too bad because once upon a time, I used to think this publisher was the bees knees, until I hit a string of duds from them which has made me a bit more wary of them. Simon & Schuster is the publisher of one of my all-time favourite series, the amazingly well written The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey. Without the inclusion of this series, my overall rating for Simon & Schuster would be quite a bit lower.


Overall Average Rating: 3.80

HarperCollins Publishers was my lowest overall rated publisher. Definitely a shocker because I swear HarperCollins books are always the ones that I get MOST excited about. I often have a hard time narrowing down my top choices when I do my quarterly HarperCollins Waiting on Wednesday Catalogue feature. Maybe it's BECAUSE my HarperCollins TBR is always the biggest and I read the most from them that I end up with a few more duds, whereas I am more selective when it comes to the other publishers? I don't know.

I would be interested to hear what you think about this! Have you ever broken down your average ratings by publisher before? Which publisher would you expect to come out on top? I was surprised with my results!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Review: Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2) by Sarah J. Maas

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Published: August 27, 2013
Pages: 418
Source: Gifted
Rating: 5 Stars

From the throne of glass rules a king with a fist of iron and a soul as black as pitch. Assassin Celaena Sardothien won a brutal contest to become his Champion. Yet Celaena is far from loyal to the crown. She hides her secret vigilantly; she knows that the man she serves is bent on evil.
Keeping up the deadly charade becomes increasingly difficult when Celaena realizes she is not the only one seeking justice. As she tries to untangle the mysteries buried deep within the glass castle, her closest relationships suffer. It seems no one is above questioning her allegiances—not the Crown Prince Dorian; not Chaol, the Captain of the Guard; not even her best friend, Nehemia, a foreign princess with a rebel heart.
Then one terrible night, the secrets they have all been keeping lead to an unspeakable tragedy. As Celaena's world shatters, she will be forced to give up the very thing most precious to her and decide once and for all where her true loyalties lie...and whom she is ultimately willing to fight for.

In short: I loved Crown of Midnight to pieces. And it just about destroyed me...
I'm not sure there's much point to me writing a review for a book that has seen many MANY reviews already, especially when my thoughts don't differ from the consensus in the slightest and besides - other people can write much more eloquently than I could dream to anyways. But I guess, For The Record, just so that I remember this and everyone else knows this: I LOVED this book to PIECES. And it just about destroyed me...

I mean, of course I loved Throne of Glass when I first read it years ago, and then when I read the prequel novellas, I truly grew to love Celaena and this world that Sarah J. Maas has created. But then there was Crown of Midnight. And Crown of Midnight has all the fantastic elements of the first novels, but just takes everything to a WHOLE new level. There was more intensity, more action, more character development, more mythology, more of EVERYTHING.

And more emotions. I can't recall the last time a book brought me on such a rollercoaster of feelings. I alternated between feeling utterly ELATED to feeling wretchedly HEARTSICK in what was seemingly the space of a few pages. Scene after scene just flew by and though I was super busy at the time, my head and heart were fully consumed in the pages of Crown of Midnight even when I wasn't reading it.

It's kind of insane that I waited so long to read this considering I was pretty much chomping at the bit to read it when it was first released a few years ago. I am so glad to have finally read it now though. And this way, I still have Heir of Fire to enjoy (and I will be getting to that one SOON!) and then not too long to wait until Queen of Shadows!! Yup, I am SUPER stoked this!!

Previously, my reviews of The Assassin's Blade and Throne of Glass.

Other Reviews:
Lunar Rainbows
Small Review
YA Book Queen

Author Links:

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Muggle Monday: Harry Potter Fully Illustrated Edition Cover Reveal

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.

A few weeks ago, Bloomsbury and Scholastic revealed the cover of the upcoming fully illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, to be released October 6, 2015:

Bloomsbury (UK)
Scholastic (US)

Ah, so lovely! And I think people might be more fond of these more traditional images of Harry Potter compared to the quirky character profiles that were previously released. I can't decide if I like the title treatment of the US version better because it really pops off the cover or the more subtle title of the UK version more which allows you to see the funky steam engine of the Hogwarts Express. Both are pretty great! For some reason, the Scholastic edition is listed as $27.99 (USD) while the Bloomsbury edition is considerably more - £27.00 (GBP)! I have no idea why there would be such a discrepancy in price, but if I do end up saving my pennies to buy this edition, then it seems like the US Edition is the way to go.

In addition to the cover reveal and the previously released character portraits, another sneak peak into this illustrated edition by Jim Kay was released depicting some key wizarding localities:

I just love how delightfully whimsical Jim Kay's illustrations are! And I adore all the little details and quirks he's put into the world to really bring it to life. I've been pretty impressed with what I've seen so far regarding this new fully illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by the very talented Jim Kay. I'm thinking I will either need to save up to get a copy for myself or else ask Santa for it for Christmas. How about you - are you digging these new images and would you consider buying this edition when it comes out?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

My Life in March: STRIKE!!!! ... and Disney's Frozen on Ice

Oh, hi there. Long time no see! I haven't blogged since my last monthly recap and it's because I have been really freaking busy.

My life in March was consumed by one big thing: a strike. I am a graduate student at the University of Toronto and at the end of February, members in my union voted down the tentative agreement that was presented by the university administration for our new contract, and thus the strike began. The strike ended a full month later at the end of March.

Graduate students do the majority of teaching and marking at the University of Toronto, as well as most of the research that gives the university its prestige and ranks it as one of the best universities in the world. And yet we are given a funding package of only $15,000 a year ($8,000 below the poverty line) to live on in the second most expensive city in Canada. We also pay more money in tuition than a full-time undergrad who takes 40 courses (I've only taken 1 course in my time here).

And so I went on strike for the month of March. I spent 4 hours on the picket line every morning, and the rest of my day was spent trying to keep up with the 8 hours of research that I would normally put into my day to complete my thesis. Any remaining time left to my day was devoted to vegging out instead of blogging, you understand.

If you yourself have ever been on strike or know of anyone who has been on strike, then you are likely well aware of how stressful it is. Tensions run HIGH. People get ANGRY. I tried to not let myself get too caught up in the intense emotions, but it was hard not to. I've always been a very sensitive person and though I tried not to take things too personally, I couldn't help ending up HURT most days. There were countless numbers of people who called us lazy and selfish and greedy. There were numerous undergrads who threatened to run us over with their cars if we got in their way. There were a few service vehicles who almost DID run us over on the picket line. There were innumerable people who went out of their way to give us the finger and yell insults at us. It all really took a toll on me. The entire month of March was both physically and emotionally exhausting for me.

But it's over now! We have agreed to binding arbitration (in which an unbiased third party will decide what deal we get) so hopefully that works out for us. And to celebrate, I was gifted a huge box from my employer filled with 300 assignments to mark within a week. Yay?

So this is far from a "I'm back!" post for me. I have a lot of work to catch up on now that the strike is over, and to top it off I'm quite sick at the moment. So please bear with me - it will likely be a while until a return to my regular posting schedule (she says as though she ever HAD a regular posting schedule...).

And now for something completely different: part way through March, I had tickets to go see Disney's Frozen on Ice! LOL. Random, I know.

I tried my best not to dwell on the strike while I was there and I had a great time. And I got to eat Olaf's BRAAAIINNNNSSS!! Heehee.

Best Book Read in March:

OMG definitely a highlight of my month was finally reading this beauty!! If only I hadn't been so busy this month, I think I wouldn't have been able to put this down! It was so exciting and took me on a CRAZY roller coaster of emotions. I think I love Celaena more than EVER! I plan to get to Heir of Fire hopefully soon-ish!

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