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Monday, February 29, 2016

February Recap: Blogilates, Sleepovers, and Graphic Novels

I hope everyone has had a good February! I had a pretty good month. Here's some of the things that took up my time these past few weeks:

First off, after a long time of sitting around with a hunched back, typing away at my thesis, I have finally started exercising again! Oh man, I wish I had never let my regular exercise schedule go because it is HARD to get back into the swing of things after taking such a long break off. Fortunately, thanks to Blogilates and Cassey Ho, I have been able to find my motivation again to work on my fitness.

I challenged myself this month to take the Blogilates Beginner's Challenge and I am supremely impressed with myself that I actually managed to keep it up all month long! It wasn't easy, but I am I am so happy I didn't give up. It's pretty exciting to be able to feel your body slowly becoming stronger over the weeks, and I find that I can now push myself harder and take fewer breaks than ever before. Blogilates was new to me in February, but I hope to keep it up in March and for a long time to come! 

Also this month, I found some casual employment! I've been unemployed since I finished my teaching contract at the University of Toronto last year, so I felt so lucky to be given some work in these hard economic times in Alberta. As part of my position, I am now hosting sleepovers for families at the local museum:

Yes, that's right, families are able to spend the night at the museum sleeping among the dinosaurs and also learning about palaeontology - dream come true much?! Well, MY dream come true anyway. And also, I'm essentially being paid to SLEEP for most of the time!! It doesn't get much better than that.

And finally, this month I was able to get a new library card for the town I'm living in and I immediately started requesting as many graphic novels as I have ever heard even the slightest amount of buzz over. And I think it's safe to say that I now have another new favourite way to enjoy reading.

It's strange to think that before now I had just never given graphic novels a go. I would see plenty of reviews from trusted bloggers and think they sounded interesting, but I just never got my butt in gear to make my reading of them happen. And now that I am reading them, I can't imagine that I'll ever grow tired of this medium of reading. I especially love to read graphic novels between bouts of reading normal novels as they make for a quick and entertaining break. The graphic novels pictured above are all ones I read in February and enjoyed - I'll have to write up some reviews for them to discuss them more in depth though.

P.S. If you can think of any graphic novels to recommend to me, I would LOVE to hear them! I'll try pretty much anything! Thanks guys :)

Posts in February:

Muggle Monday: News From A Celebration of Harry Potter
Muggle Monday: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to be Published
Waiting On Wednesday: Simon & Schuster Winter 2016 Catalog
Waiting On Wednesday: HarperCollins Spring 2016 Catalog
Waiting On Wednesday: Penguin Spring 2016 Catalog
Series Review: Uglies by Scott Westerfeld - 3.5 Stars
January Recap: Thesis Completion, Ice Castles, and True Crime Documentaries

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Series Review: Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Published: 2005-2007
Pages: 1,596
Source: Borrowed
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Synopsis for Book 1, Uglies:

Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can't wait. In just a few weeks she'll have the operation that will turn her from a repellent ugly into a stunning pretty. And as a pretty, she'll be catapulted into a high-tech paradise where her only job is to have fun.
But Tally's new friend Shay isn't sure she wants to become a pretty. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world-- and it isn't very pretty. The authorities offer Tally a choice: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. Tally's choice will change her world forever...

In short: It's a shame I didn't read the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld a decade ago when the dystopian story elements wouldn't have seemed so derivative.
It's unfortunate that I waited so long to read this series, long after the dystopian craze has come and gone. Uglies has all the story elements that you want in a dystopian read: an intriguing yet disturbing world, a heroine that is engaging and has a long character arc, and some valid social commentary. And it had all these elements in place and published even before The Hunger Games blew up. But reading the Uglies series on the other side of the dystopian craze really did it no favours, unfortunately.

What I am sure would have seemed like a wholly original premise and storyline to me had I read Uglies in 2006 seemed anything but original reading it now ten years later. Instead I was almost bored at times because we've seen these same sorts of elements before SO many times, and I would say we've seen them done BETTER at this point. And things that wouldn't have annoyed me about Uglies ten years ago - like all the futuristic slang speak - annoyed the heck out of me now.

This is not the fault of Uglies or of Scott Westerfeld, I realize. The fault lies purely with me for waiting so long to read what I am sure would have been a favourite of mine ten years ago. Though I was bored and annoyed at times with the repetition of the dystopian story elements, I can at least appreciate that the Uglies series set the trend before the curve began. And I am glad to finally be able to remove this series from my TBR list where it has been sitting for the past decade. But I think I may need a longer break before I delve into another dystopian again!

Author Links:

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Waiting On Wednesday: Penguin Spring 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 Penguin Spring 2016 Catalog:

Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke
Date: March 22, 2016
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Every story needs a hero.
Every story needs a villain.
Every story needs a secret.
Wink is the odd, mysterious neighbor girl, wild red hair and freckles. Poppy is the blond bully and the beautiful, manipulative high school queen bee. Midnight is the sweet, uncertain boy caught between them. Wink. Poppy. Midnight. Two girls. One boy. Three voices that burst onto the page in short, sharp, bewitching chapters, and spiral swiftly and inexorably toward something terrible or tricky or tremendous.
What really happened?
Someone knows.
Someone is lying.

Let's all just take a moment to admire this breathtaking cover. The illustrations and typography alone are enough to get me to read Wink Poppy Midnight. But it should be pointed out that the synopsis is plenty intriguing as well!

The Last Star (The 5th Wave #3) by Rick Yancey
Date: May 24, 2016
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We’re here, then we’re gone, and that was true before they came. That’s always been true. The Others didn’t invent death; they just perfected it. Gave death a face to put back in our face, because they knew that was the only way to crush us. It won’t end on any continent or ocean, no mountain or plain, jungle or desert. It will end where it began, where it had been from the beginning, on the battlefield of the last beating human heart.
Master storyteller Rick Yancey invokes triumph, loss, and unrelenting action as the fate of the planet is decided in the conclusion to this epic series.

I still need to catch up and read book 2, The Infinite Sea, in this series before the last book, The Last Star, comes out, but I can still remember how INTENSE The 5th Wave was. Rick Yancey is without a doubt one of my all-time favourite authors!

Lotus and Thorn by Sara Wilson Etienne
Date: June 14, 2016
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Ravaged by a plague known as Red Death, the planet Gabriel, a former colony of Earth, is a barren wasteland. Since being abandoned by Earth 500 years ago, resources are scarce and life is cheap. To stay alive, the survivors, the Citizens, scavenge the remains of a now dead city, trading for food with the resource-rich Curadores, the only other survivors on Gabriel. Every old computer, every piece of wire, every scrap of metal counts. To steal is the ultimate sin. So when tough-as-nails seventeen-year-old Leica is caught doing just that, she’s exiled and left to the mercy of Gabriel’s unforgiving desert for the rest of her life.
While in exile, Leica discovers a mysterious shuttle, which may not only lead her home, but even more impossible—reestablish contact with Earth. Then Red Death rears its head again, killing her entire work crew, leaving Leica all alone until a handsome Curador offers her refuge in the Dome—the only place on Gabriel untouched by Red Death, where a decadent and sultry life awaits. But there’s a catch: Leica can only enter the Dome as his concubine—his Kisaeng. When a rogue group of Citizens see their chance for revolution in Leica’s good fortune, she finds herself unraveling a deadly mystery with chilling answers to the true origin of Red Death and the reason Earth really abandoned them so long ago.

Oooh intriguing, no?? This synopsis hints at so many mysterious happenings that I can't help but want to read Lotus and Thorn right away!

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

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Waiting On Wednesday: HarperCollins Spring 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 HarperCollins Spring 2016 Catalog:

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
Date: June 7, 2016
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The city of Verity has been overrun with monsters, born from the worst of human evil. In North Verity, the Corsai and the Malchai run free. Under the rule of Callum Harker, the monsters kill any human who has not paid for protection. In the South, Henry Flynn hunts the monsters who cross the border into his territory, aided by the most dangerous and darkest monsters of them all—the Sunai, dark creatures who use music to steal their victim’s souls.
As one of only three Sunai in existence, August Flynn has always wanted to play a bigger role in the war between the north and the south. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate Harker, daughter of the leader of North Verity, August jumps on it.
When Kate discovers August’s secret, the pair find themselves running for their lives and battling monsters from both sides of the wall. As the city dissolves into chaos, it’s up to them to foster a peace between monsters and humans.

How does Victoria Schwab come up with all these unique fantastical worlds?! I swear her imagination knows no bounds. And as a reader, I feel lucky that I get to benefit from that. Very intrigued by This Savage Song!

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
Date: July 7, 2016
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For fans of The Princess Bride comes the comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey.
Lady Jane Grey, sixteen, is about to be married to a total stranger—and caught up in an insidious plot to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But that’s the least of Jane’s problems. She’s about to become Queen of England. Like that could go wrong.

Last year, I got to see a ton of graffiti inscribed into cell walls of the Tower of London on behalf of Lady Jane Grey, the Nine-Day Queen (she was executed when Queen (Bloody) Mary I came into power). So I'm definitely curious to see this take on her life. My Lady Jane has three authors - Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows - which I also find interesting: how on earth does the writing process work when there are three authors writing one point of view??

Ivory and Bone by Julie Eshbaugh
Date: June 14, 2016
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The only life seventeen-year-old Kol knows is hunting at the foot of the Great Ice with his brothers. But food is becoming scarce, and without another clan to align with, Kol, his family, and their entire group are facing an uncertain future.
Traveling from the south, Mya and her family arrive at Kol’s camp with a trail of hurt and loss behind them, and hope for a new beginning. When Kol meets Mya, her strength, independence, and beauty instantly captivate him, igniting a desire for much more than survival.
Then on a hunt, Kol makes a grave mistake that jeopardizes the relationship that he and Mya have only just started to build. Mya was guarded to begin with—and for good reason—but no apology or gesture is enough for her to forgive him. Soon after, another clan arrives on their shores. And when Mya spots Lo, a daughter of this new clan, her anger intensifies, adding to the already simmering tension between families. After befriending Lo, Kol learns of a dark history between Lo and Mya that is rooted in the tangle of their pasts.
When violence erupts, Kol is forced to choose between fighting alongside Mya or trusting Lo’s claims. And when things quickly turn deadly, it becomes clear that this was a war that one of them had been planning all along.

I've read a lot of historical fiction, but never PRE-historical fiction. It's kind of surprising actually, because I've long been fascinated in prehistory and the evolution of early humans. I'm definitely looking forward to Ivory and Bone!

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

Monday, February 15, 2016

Muggle Monday: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to be Published

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.

This week, we finally received confirmation that the stage production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts I & II, will indeed be published in print form so that fans around the world can enjoy it:

I know a lot of people were disappointed when the London stage production was announced because not everyone would be able to make the trip just for a night of theatre - I know I was a bit bummed, as well. But I always had faith that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child would be made available to everyone in some format; after all, exclusivity is so NOT Jo's thing.

So I know I wasn't the only one to let out a cry of joy when it was officially announced that us fans would be able to read the play's script on the holy day (July 31, 2016) from Scholastic and Little Brown UK. We've heard some tidbits in the past about what the trio are up to nowadays, but this new eighth story is bound to give us tons of new information about the state of the Wizarding World and Harry's children, as well. I AM EXCITED. To get more stories of our beloved characters from the creator herself? It's more than we ever could have hoped for.

Cursed Child London cast
Maybe the only slight disappointment I have now is I won't get to have the chance to see black actress Noma Dumezweni take on Hermione, and the rest of the original cast too. I can only hope that the play production will be filmed and released as a movie at some point (pretty please?). I have no complaints otherwise.

How about you? Are you as excited as I am to see more of Harry and the Wizarding World? Or would you rather have the story end when it did and not have any new information? I'd love to read your thoughts in the comments!

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??