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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Waiting On Wednesday: Penguin Summer 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 Summer 2016 Catalog:

Thornghost by Tone Almjhell
Date: August 16, 2016
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Something strange is happening to the woods and water around Niklas Summerhill’s home: Animals are dying, Niklas’s grandmother doesn’t seem like herself, and his uncle is suddenly lost in grief over his sister, Niklas’s mother, who died seven years ago. When Niklas discovers an ancient key, he and his talking lynx companion, Secret, leave home behind to travel to a different realm. But this realm, populated by animals, is in danger as well: A tribe of evil trolls is wreaking havoc, a mysterious enemy called the Sparrow King is bringing his wrath down upon the animals, and the Rosa Toraquata, the root that connects this realm to Niklas’s own, has developed a dark twist that is infecting the land. Can Niklas and Secret save the animal realm—and their own?

I am always SUCH a sucker for any story featuring an animal companion. So when I heard about Thornghost, a story about a boy with a talking lynx companion?? YES PLEASE!!

Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi
Date: August 30, 2016
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There are only three things that matter to twelve-year-old Alice Alexis Queensmeadow: Mother, who wouldn’t miss her; magic and color, which seem to elude her; and Father, who always loved her. The day Father disappears from Ferenwood he takes nothing but a ruler with him. But it’s been almost three years since then, and Alice is determined to find him. She loves her father even more than she loves adventure, and she’s about to embark on one to find the other.
But bringing Father home is no small matter. In order to find him she’ll have to travel through the mythical, dangerous land of Furthermore, where down can be up, paper is alive, and left can be both right and very, very wrong. Her only companion is a boy named Oliver whose own magical ability is based in lies and deceit—and with a liar by her side in land where nothing is as it seems, it will take all of Alice's wits (and every limb she's got) to find Father and return home to Ferenwood in one piece. On her quest to find Father Alice must first find herself—and hold fast to the magic of love in the face of loss.

So, the Shatter Me Trilogy didn't really work for me because of all the love triangle melodrama, but I think Tahereh Mafi does have quite a talent for writing. So I'm curious about her fantasy MG debut, Furthermore, which I hope is considerably less focused on the romance aspect.

The Reader by Traci Chee
Date: September 13, 2016
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Sefia knows what it means to survive. After her father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book—a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed—and punish the people responsible.

I think we can all appreciate a story about a marvellous book that saves the day! Throw in some assassins and pirates and we can be sure The Reader will be an intriguing read!

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

Monday, April 25, 2016

Muggle Monday: Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike #3) Review

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, I'm reviewing Career of Evil, the third book in J.K. Rowling's adult mystery series, written under her pseudonym Robert Galbraith:

Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Published: October 20, 2015
Pages: 497
Source: Gifted
Rating: 5 Stars

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg.
Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.
With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them…

In short: Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) is yet another expertly plotted and impressive mystery to add to the superb Cormoran Strike Series.
Even during the crazy busyness of teaching a university course and preparing for my thesis defense, I still made a point to pick up Career of Evil, the third in the Cormoran Strike mystery series by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) last October when it was released. And all these months later, I still remember the details of the story. This illustrates both the enthusiasm I have for this series as well as how talented J.K. Rowling is at crafting intricately plotted mysteries that stick with you long after the tale has ended.

In this third instalment, the mystery is brought closer to home and made personal, raising the stakes significantly. Whereas in the previous two instalments, the whodunit murderer could have been any number of people, in Career of Evil Cormoran Strike is able to narrow down the list of suspects to three people from his past. At which point you might be thinking (as I was) that you could certainly easily figure out the identity of the murderer with only three possibilities. Wrong! J.K. Rowling keeps you guessing the entirety of the novel, throwing out red herrings left and right to easily fool readers into accusing each suspect in turn, always second guessing yourself.

But as impressive as these mysteries are, my favourite part still remains the lead characters, Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott. These two play off each other so well and make the perfect investigative team. In a book that features some truly despicable and vile people, Cormoran and Robin's genuine compassion and earnestness shine through all the brighter. I really cannot wait to see where their story takes us next. And thankfully J.K. Rowling is showing no signs of slowing down with this series - so here's to many more superb Cormoran Strike mysteries to come!

Previously, my review of The Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm.

Other Reviews:
The Broke and the Bookish
Shooting Stars Mag

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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Series Review: The Raven Cycle (#1-3) by Maggie Stiefvater

Publisher: Scholastic
Published: 2012-2014
Pages: 1,246
Source: Gifted
Rating: 5 Stars

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them--until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her.
His name is Gansey, a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.
But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can't entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little.
For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She doesn't believe in true love, and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she's not so sure anymore.

In short: The Raven Cycle proves once again that Maggie Stiefvater ranks up there with the most masterful storytellers and visionaries.
Finally. Finally! My reading of The Raven Cycle has been a long time coming. From the moment I learned about The Raven Boys, I knew it was a "me" book that I would love to death. But I also knew that my feelings about books can be heavily influenced by my current mood and because I had been a wee bit stressed the past few years, I put off reading it. Cut to years later, my schooling is done, and I have now finally read the first three books in The Raven Cycle - just in time for the finale, The Raven King! And the series was every bit as special as I was hoping it would be.

Having said that, I'm honestly having a hard time phrasing my thoughts in a way that would truly do the series justice. How would I even describe the premise?? It's hard because a) it's unlike anything I have ever read before and so it's hard to draw comparisons and b) The Raven Cycle is definitely a series best appreciated if you go into it knowing as little as possible. But suffice it to say, the conclusions you should draw from this are that a) The Raven Cycle is a wholly original tale with no comparisons and b) Maggie Stiefvater always keeps it interesting with one intriguing and unexpected twist after another.

I think where the series really shines for me though is in the characters, each more carefully drawn and complexly unraveled than the next. While the plot is wildly imaginative and the prose correspondingly artistic, it is the characters that bridge the gap between magic and reality and elevate the series to a wonderfully memorable saga. The Raven Cycle proves once again that Maggie Stiefvater ranks up there with the most masterful storytellers and visionaries.

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Monday, April 11, 2016

Muggle Monday: Fantastic Beasts Teaser Trailer Released

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.

Last night, in conjunction with the MTV Movie Awards, the teaser trailer for the upcoming movie adaptation of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them was released!:

Is it November yet?? I've been loving every little tidbit they've been revealing about the movie over the past few months. This time, we finally get confirmation that not only was Newt Scamander kicked out of Hogwarts for "endangering human life with a beast," but also Albus Dumbledore "argued strongly against [his] expulsion." (And so, Newt has much in common with Hagrid!) We also get glimpses of a few new fantastic beasts - an Augurey (a green-black Irish phoenix) and a Niffler (a treasure-hunting mole-like creature) - and a particularly fantastical magical trunk! I loved this teaser trailer - what did you think?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Series Review: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: 2011-2014
Pages: 1,220
Source: Borrowed
Rating: 2.5 Stars

Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days.
The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong colour. 

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war – and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now. 
Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.

In short: The cool X-Men-esque premise of the Shatter Me Series by Tahereh Mafi is unfortunately overshadowed by a ton of romance melodrama.
I think I may be too old for this. At least, that would explain why I had so little tolerance for all the melodramatic romance crap in this series. I had been so enthralled at the enticing premise of Shatter Me when I first heard of it in 2011 - girl who can't have physical contact with anyone without hurting them badly (basically Rogue from X-Men) - and I have wanted to read this series since then. Would I have had more tolerance for the love triangle histrionics had I read the series back when it first came out? Maybe, I'm not sure.

Of course, it didn't help matters that I was reading the Shatter Me Series at the same time as I was reading The Raven Cycle for the first time. The Raven Cycle has its fair share of romantic drama too, after all, but it's handled more subtly and it didn't annoy me nearly as much as the melodrama in Shatter Me. I would say it's because the romance drama in The Raven Cycle never consumes the entire story, unlike the romance drama in the Shatter Me Series. I mean, here we have this really cool X-Men-esque storyline set in a dystopian world ruled by a disturbing dictator - SO much promise - and still the overpowering storypoint somehow always turned to hashing out the conflicting petty feelings of the characters in the love triangle.

I probably would not have decided to continue on with the series past the first book had I not been listening to the trilogy via audio - I find it's always easier to commit to a series in audiobook form. Plus, there were enough tidbits of intrigue here and there to always keep me going - I do love a good superpower-inspired premise. I just wish the X-Men superhero aspect had been prioritized above all, with a minimum devoted towards an overdramatic love triangle.

And as for the writing: much ado has been made about the strikethroughs and people either seem to LOVE it or HATE it. For my part, I'm not sure I can make a decision as to what side of the fence I fall on because I feel like I missed a lot of the intended effect of it by listening to the books in audio instead of reading them. I would be inclined to come down on the side of liking the writing though, if only because it took risks and is unique and I appreciate that.

So in the end, I was left feeling pretty disappointed by my Shatter Me experience and more than a little annoyed by the romance melodrama. I think the series had a lot of potential and I can understand why it is well loved by readers that don't mind the love triangle as much. As for Tahereh Mafi's writing: I would like to try it again some time as I think I would like it in another - less romance-oriented - context.

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Monday, April 4, 2016

Muggle Monday: Chamber of Secrets Illustrated Edition

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.

This past week, the artwork for the cover of the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was revealed:

Gorgeous, no?? This illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets will feature 115 new colour images by A Monster Calls artist Jim Kay, retail for about $40, and will be available October 4, 2016.

Of course the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was released last year to positive acclaim by fans. Sadly though, I have yet to experience the book for myself! While I had initially planned to borrow the illustrated edition from my library at some point in lieu of shelling out the hefty amount of money to purchase the book, all the positive buzz for it made me convinced that I should be buying a copy for myself - I need to save up for it though.

Here's a little taste of what we have to look forward to in the upcoming illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (click to embiggen):

Portrait of Rubeus Hagrid and Hogwarts
Illustrations of a gnome, the Burrow, and mandrakes
Illustrated feature of the Phoenix

I'm curious if anyone reading this has experienced the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone yet - what did you think? And do you plan on purchasing this illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets?