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Monday, March 27, 2017

Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Published: March 28, 2017
Pages: 544
Source: For Review from Hachette Book Group Canada
Rating: 4.5 Stars

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around— and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he's been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever.
What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?
The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo's dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? and if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

In short: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor is a feast for the imagination.
In some ways Strange the Dreamer is similar to Laini Taylor's previous trilogy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone: there's an epic and bloody war between two races, with star-crossed lovers at its centre. But that's where the similarities end. Strange the Dreamer is as original as it gets in the world of high fantasy fiction. Of course, we could expect no less from the Queen of Imagination, Laini Taylor. Strange the Dreamer is indescribably, beautifully BIZARRE, in the best way possible.

The set-up of the premise of Strange the Dreamer is complex and slow going, and less persistent readers may lose interest. But the payoff of patience is worth it as the story gets truly underway. And once underway the story is, in short, unexpected. Just when you think you know exactly where the story is going, a turning point hits and you're sent spinning off in another direction, again and again, right up until the novel's very unexpected cliffhanger ending.

At the story's heart is affable librarian, Lazlo Strange. He is not the usual hero type, more like the friendly bookish wallflower type (and all the more likeable for it). The old tale of the orphan underdog who dreams and wants more out of life is given new legs by Laini Taylor's adept prose and development. A story with a premise so indescribably strange can really only be done justice by an author whose writing is as lyrical and dream-like as Laini Taylor's. And I eagerly await what she comes up with next in the sequel, The Muse of Nightmares!

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Waiting On Wednesday: Penguin Spring 2017 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 2017 Catalog:

Given to the Sea by Mindy McGinnis
Date: April 11, 2017
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Khosa is Given to the Sea, a girl born to be fed to the water, her flesh preventing a wave like the one that destroyed the Kingdom of Stille in days of old. But before she’s allowed to dance – an uncontrollable twitching of the limbs that will carry her to the shore in a frenzy – she must produce an heir. Yet the thought of human touch sends shudders down her spine that not even the sound of the tide can match.
Vincent is third in line to inherit his throne, royalty in a kingdom where the old linger and the young inherit only boredom. When Khosa arrives without an heir he knows his father will ensure she fulfills her duty, at whatever cost. Torn between protecting the throne he will someday fill, and the girl whose fate is tied to its very existence, Vincent’s loyalty is at odds with his heart.
Dara and Donil are the last of the Indiri, a native race whose dwindling magic grows weaker as the island country fades. Animals cease to bear young, creatures of the sea take to the land, and the Pietra – fierce fighters who destroyed the Indiri a generation before – are now marching from their stony shores for the twin’s adopted homeland, Stille.
Witt leads the Pietra, their army the only family he has ever known. The stone shores harbor a secret, a growing threat that will envelop the entire land – and he will conquer every speck of soil to ensure the survival of his people.
The tides are turning in Stille, where royals scheme, Pietrans march, and the rising sea calls for its Given.

I kind of don't know what to make of the premise of Given to the Sea... but I am undeniably intrigued by Khosa's strange affliction. I'll have to keep an eye out for early reviews to see how Given to the Sea is being received!

Alex & Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz
Date: April 11, 2017
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1777. Albany, New York.
As battle cries of the American Revolution echo in the distance, servants flutter about preparing for one of New York society’s biggest events: the Schuylers’ grand ball. Descended from two of the oldest and most distinguished bloodlines in New York, the Schuylers are proud to be one of their fledgling country’s founding families, and even prouder still of their three daughters—Angelica, with her razor-sharp wit; Peggy, with her dazzling looks; and Eliza, whose beauty and charm rival that of both her sisters, though she’d rather be aiding the colonists’ cause than dressing up for some silly ball.
Still, she can barely contain her excitement when she hears of the arrival of one Alexander Hamilton, a mysterious, rakish young colonel and General George Washington’s right-hand man. Though Alex has arrived as the bearer of bad news for the Schuylers, he can’t believe his luck—as an orphan, and a bastard one at that—to be in such esteemed company. And when Alex and Eliza meet that fateful night, so begins an epic love story that would forever change the course of American history.

Sadly, I have not yet had the fortune of witnessing the wildly popular musical Hamilton. However, I can't help but be curious about the upcoming Alex & Eliza, which is hoping no doubt to capitalize on Hamilton's popularity. Again, I'll be on the lookout for early reviews!

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh
Date: May 16, 2017
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The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor's favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family's standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.
Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she's quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she's ever known.

Beautiful cover + inspired by Mulan = GIMME!! And it helps that I've heard good things about Renee Ahdieh's prior series, The Wrath and the Dawn. So surely Flame in the Mist is bound to be amazing, right?!

How about you? Are you waiting on any of these Penguin Spring 2017 reads? Are there any upcoming books from the Penguin Spring 2017 Catalog that I didn't include here that you feel I should add to my list?

Monday, March 13, 2017

Muggle Monday: Prisoner of Azkaban 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 Prisoner of Azkaban was revealed:
And it is yet another gorgeous cover to add to the previous illustrated edition releases from artist Jim Kay (see: Philosopher's Stone Illustrated Edition and Chamber of Secrets Illustrated Edition). Each book has been coming out roughly one year apart (the latest will be out October 3, 2017), but I wonder if they can keep that trend going with the lengthier books in the latter half of the series. It would be a shame if they had to keep the illustrations to a minimum despite the longer lengths.

Here's a taste of the artwork we have to look forward to in the upcoming illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (click to embiggen):

The Knight Bus
Portrait of Snape (with a Niffler stuffed into a jar?!)

Sadly, I have yet to have the full experience when it comes to these illustrated editions. The prices for each book are steep! And it's hard to justify shelling out the cash willy-nilly when I already own the series. But positive acclaim from fans has convinced me that I must own and experience these for myself someday - just need to save up for them or wait until my birthday comes around.

For those who have read the illustrated editions of Philosopher's Stone/Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets, what did you think? Is the rest of the artwork as gorgeous as the little teases that Bloomsbury/Scholastic releases?

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Waiting On Wednesday: Random House Spring 2017 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 2017 Catalog:

Shadow Run by Adrianne Strickland and Michael Miller
Date: March 21, 2017
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Nev has just joined the crew of the starship Kaitan Heritage as the cargo loader. His captain, Qole, is the youngest-ever person to command her own ship, but she brooks no argument from her crew of orphans, fugitives, and con men. Nev can’t resist her, even if her ship is an antique.
As for Nev, he’s a prince, in hiding on the ship. He believes Qole holds the key to changing galactic civilization, and when her cooperation proves difficult to obtain, Nev resolves to get her to his home planet by any means necessary.
But before they know it, a rival royal family is after Qole too, and they’re more interested in stealing her abilities than in keeping her alive.
Nev’s mission to manipulate Qole becomes one to save her, and to survive, she’ll have to trust her would-be kidnapper. He may be royalty, but Qole is discovering a deep reservoir of power—and stars have mercy on whoever tries to hurt her ship or her crew.

The synopsis for Shadow Run reminds me a lot of the short-lived TV show Firefly, which I loved. So if Shadow Run is indeed along the same vein, I could see myself very much enjoying it!

Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves
Date: March 28, 2017
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Sixteen-year-old Anna Arden is barred from society by a defect of blood. Though her family is part of the Luminate, powerful users of magic, she is Barren, unable to perform the simplest spells. Anna would do anything to belong. But her fate takes another course when, after inadvertently breaking her sister’s debutante spell—an important chance for a highborn young woman to show her prowess with magic—Anna finds herself exiled to her family’s once powerful but now crumbling native Hungary.
Her life might well be over.
In Hungary, Anna discovers that nothing is quite as it seems. Not the people around her, from her aloof cousin Noémi to the fierce and handsome Romani Gábor. Not the society she’s known all her life, for discontent with the Luminate is sweeping the land. And not her lack of magic. Isolated from the only world she cares about, Anna still can’t seem to stop herself from breaking spells.
As rebellion spreads across the region, Anna’s unique ability becomes the catalyst everyone is seeking. In the company of nobles, revolutionaries, and Romanies, Anna must choose: deny her unique power and cling to the life she’s always wanted, or embrace her ability and change that world forever.

Blood Rose Rebellion sounds like the standard historical fantasy with court politics that I love. But instead of being set in a fictional world it is set in Hungary, which I find interesting. I haven't heard anything about Blood Rose Rebellion yet, so here's hoping it is well received!

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus
Date: May 30, 2017
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Pay close attention and you might solve this.
On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.
Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon's dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?
Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

Five students walk into detention, but only four come out alive... it's like a Breakfast Club murder mystery! I would be lying if I said I wasn't super curious about One of Us is Lying!

How about you? Are you waiting on any of these Random House Spring 2017 reads? Are there any upcoming books from the Random House Spring 2017 Catalog that I didn't include here that you feel I should add to my list?

Monday, March 6, 2017

Series Review: A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: 1999-2006
Pages: 3,436
Source: Borrowed
Rating: 4 Stars

Dear Reader, 
I'm sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant. It tells an unhappy tale about three very unlucky children. Even though they are charming and clever, the Baudelaire siblings lead lives filled with misery and woe. From the very first page of this book when the children are at the beach and receive terrible news, continuing on through the entire story, disaster lurks at their heels. One might say they are magnets for misfortune.
In this short book alone, the three youngsters encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune, and cold porridge for breakfast.
It is my sad duty to write down these unpleasant tales, but there is nothing stopping you from putting this book down at once and reading something happy, if you prefer that sort of thing.
With all due respect,
Lemony Snicket

Never has such a miserable tale of the depressing disasters that follow the lives of three unfortunate orphans been so charmingly absurd and enjoyable to read. Though the books are intended for an MG audience, the satirical humour spouted by narrator Lemony Snicket and more mature themes of moral complexity in the later books can be appreciated by an older audience. The books are incredibly formulaic and repetitive (essentially the orphans are passed off to a new guardian each book, Count Olaf shows up in a new disguise and attempts to steal the Baudelaire fortune, and the orphans use their smarts and talents to get away from him), but the repetitiveness had a more familial and calming effect on me rather than boring me.

I read the series in its entirety via audiobook, narrated by inimitable Tim Curry (except for books 3-5 which are narrated by Lemony Snicket himself). And I can't think of two people more suited to the narration of the gothic tones combined with the general absurdity of the stories presented in A Series of Unfortunate Events. If you're looking to try out the series for yourself or want to do a reread but don't feel like you have the time to fit all 13 books into your reading lineup, I would highly recommend checking out the series on audio.

Finally, let's talk about the Netflix TV Show. I can't speak about the movie adaptation starring Jim Carrey that was released in 2004 as I never saw it, but I understand it was not at all well received. However, I have seen the first season of the Netflix adaptation, starring Neil Patrick Harris and covering the first four books, and I am happy to report that it is most excellently done. It took me a few episodes to get into the rhythm of the story and characters, but once it hits its stride the show captures the gothic tone and absurdist themes of the books perfectly and is pretty faithful. Once again, this is proof positive that having the original author of the books (Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler) handle the script of the movie/TV show is the best way of ensuring that the adaptation is a good one.

Author Links:

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Waiting On Wednesday: Macmillan Spring 2017 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 Macmillan Spring 2017 Catalog:

The Traitor's Kiss by Erin Beaty
Date: May 9, 2017
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An obstinate girl who will not be married.
A soldier desperate to prove himself.
A kingdom on the brink of war.
With a sharp tongue and an unruly temper, Sage Fowler is not what they’d call a lady―which is perfectly fine with her. Deemed unfit for marriage, Sage is apprenticed to a matchmaker and tasked with wrangling other young ladies to be married off for political alliances. She spies on the girls―and on the soldiers escorting them.
As the girls' military escort senses a political uprising, Sage is recruited by a handsome soldier to infiltrate the enemy ranks. The more she discovers as a spy, the less certain she becomes about whom to trust―and Sage becomes caught in a dangerous balancing act that will determine the fate of her kingdom.

Sage sounds like a girl after my own heart! I can't help but root for the tomboy in a period when it was considered improper to be unladylike. I haven't heard much about The Traitor's Kiss yet and so I eagerly await early (hopefully positive) reviews!

Roar by Cora Carmack
Date: June 13, 2017
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In a land ruled and shaped by violent magical storms, power lies with those who control them.
Aurora Pavan comes from one of the oldest Stormling families in existence. Long ago, the ungifted pledged fealty and service to her family in exchange for safe haven, and a kingdom was carved out from the wildlands and sustained by magic capable of repelling the world’s deadliest foes. As the sole heir of Pavan, Aurora’s been groomed to be the perfect queen. She’s intelligent and brave and honorable. But she’s yet to show any trace of the magic she’ll need to protect her people.
To keep her secret and save her crown, Aurora’s mother arranges for her to marry a dark and brooding Stormling prince from another kingdom. At first, the prince seems like the perfect solution to all her problems. He’ll guarantee her spot as the next queen and be the champion her people need to remain safe. But the more secrets Aurora uncovers about him, the more a future with him frightens her. When she dons a disguise and sneaks out of the palace one night to spy on him, she stumbles upon a black market dealing in the very thing she lacks—storm magic. And the people selling it? They’re not Stormlings. They’re storm hunters.
Legend says that her ancestors first gained their magic by facing a storm and stealing part of its essence. And when a handsome young storm hunter reveals he was born without magic, but possesses it now, Aurora realizes there’s a third option for her future besides ruin or marriage.
She might not have magic now, but she can steal it if she’s brave enough.
Challenge a tempest. Survive it. And you become its master.

Well now, that's a lengthy synopsis that tells you a whole lot about what Roar will be about - I don't know about you, but I often feel like the less revealed in synopses, the better. But anyways, I won't deny that I am mighty intrigued by the premise anyway. Bring on Roar!

How about you? Are you waiting on any of these Macmillan Spring 2017 reads? Are there any upcoming books from the Macmillan Spring 2017 Catalog that I didn't include here that you feel I should add to my list?