Right before going to NYC for BEA/BookCon, I got to be at Penguin Teen Social event at Penguin Random House Canada HQ - effectively, kicking off my bookish 2 weeks. I was trying to write and upload this post before I left, but there was just too much happening!
I love going to book events in Canada as I get to see lots of bookish friends and bloggers! Not to mention get my hands on the newest releases. And this event was not an exception.
I have always been open about the fact that I adore Susan Dennard’s Witchlands series. I own all of her books in US hardbacks, but since I want to share the love for this amazing young adult fantasy series with other fans, and maybe make a couple of fans more in the process, I decided to host an international giveaway for the first two of her books!
Looking back at 2018, I realized that there were not that many books that stood out for me. And those that did are split between various genres. So, I decided to make a series of blog posts about all of my top favourite books that I read in 2018, divided into categories.
Of course, I am starting with Young Adult SFF books as it is my most read genre at the moment.
Like many of us, at the end of each year, I scramble, trying to finish and wrap up what seems to be like a million things. I need to make lists of things to do before the end and of things to do in a new year. I need to summarize my year and think of the best and worst books I read, movies I watched, places I went, etc.
It is all about making lists and running around, constantly overcome by the feeling of the time speeding up to the light speed.
I was lucky to meet Kiersten White at BookCon this year. It was the first time I lined up for her autograph session as I knew I wanted to get an ARC of “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein”.
As Kiersten was signing my copy of the book, I asked her why she had decided to pick up Frankenstein story for retelling. Kiersten was honest and said that it was the idea of her publisher. (Seems like every publisher is trying to milk the YA retellings crazy for as long as possible.)
I was very excited to read “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” as I love “Frankenstein” by Danny Boyle, the National Theatre production of 2011, in which Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternated the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. As Halloween is approaching, NT Live will be doing encore screenings once again, so I recommend you check out their website, as this production is fantastic! I have seen both versions more than once and even mentioned the play to Kiersten.
I have been following Alexandra Bracken on Instagram for not so long, but I love her InstaStories in which she talks about writing process and deadlines. I have been meaning to pick up one of her books - I even recently purchased a new paperback copy of ‘The Darkest Minds” intending to read it before seeing the movie (both of which I am still yet to do).
But I was the most interested in picking up “The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding”, and since I am a bit on a middle-grade streak, it seemed to be the perfect time.
I even purchased my own copy without knowing if I am going to enjoy it or not. I got it from Amazon and started reading it immediately, and I am so happy I did.
I requested a copy of “Kens” by Raziel Reid from Penguin Random House after reading the description. It sounded like a very curious book, and I am grateful to the publisher for providing me with a free copy for review.
I came across “The Magic Misfits” as I was browsing the newest releases at my favourite Indigo store. I was thrilled to find out that Neil Patrick Harris wrote a book! The cover looked so adorable that I couldn’t wait to read it. Since I occasionally struggle with middle-grade books, I went to my favourite option - that is an audiobook.
“The Magic Misfits” has a gorgeous cover! And for once, I can’t decide whether I like US or UK edition better!
From beloved award-winning actor, Neil Patrick Harris comes the magical first book in a new series with plenty of tricks up its sleeve.
When street magician Carter runs away, he never expects to find friends and magic in a sleepy New England town. But like any good trick, things change instantly as greedy B.B. Bosso, and his crew of crooked carnies arrive to steal anything and everything they can get their sticky fingers on.
After a fateful encounter with the local purveyor of illusion, Dante Vernon, Carter teams up with five other like-minded kids. Together, using both teamwork and magic, they'll set out to save the town of Mineral Wells from Bosso's villainous clutches. These six Magic Misfits will soon discover adventure, friendship, and their own self-worth in this delightful new series.
“The Magic Misfits” is read by Neil Patrick Harris himself and it was a treat to my ears. I should not have expected anything less than a stellar performance from him, but I was still thrilled. He has a perfect voice range and goes from low and grumbly to high pitched. Neil also performs all the songs in the story, and that was just an added bonus! The audiobook is only 4 hours long, so I went through it fairly quickly.
My admiration for Neil’s performance, I was a bit bored by the plot. It is a cute story about an almost orphaned runaway boy who finds his place in the world and his new family. Everything from Carter’s backstory (which really reminded me of Oliver Twist for some reason) to the magic shop and carnival, to the group of unpopular kids - it all has been done before.
What has not been done before is this amount of diversity in a middle-grade book, and that representation is not the focus of the main story and nobody is given grief or bullied for whatever they represent. And that is a big deal! We have characters of colour, disabled characters, foster and adoptive families, as well as LGBTQ+ representation. In one middle-grade novel. I mean, c’mon! This book has to be a bestseller at least for that!
Sadly, I had issues with the plot, especially the very ending. The conflict seemed to have been resolved as if by magic (which it was, in a way). The book has filler chapters in which the author addresses the readers directly, breaking the fourth wall (which is my least favourite device as it keeps taking me out of the story), and provides instructions to future magicians on how to do tricks. It is a lovely concept and will, undoubtedly, appeal to the younger audience, but for me, it was all more of a nuisance. Overall, it felt as if the book was targeted at the younger side of the middle-grade scale. I mean, sometimes the author even explained certain words to the listeners! It felt as if it was not a recording but a real person reading the story, which is excellent, but I am obviously too old for that kind of narration.
It is hard to rate the book without taking into account the brilliant performance by Neil. So, I am going to give the book a half-star more for the narration and representation, although the plot left more to be desired. It was a cute story, but not a very original one.
However, since “The Magic Misfits” is only the first book in the series (a quartet?), I have hopes that the plot will improve with the sequel, and I definitely plan to continue reading the series.
Protect their community or protect their discovery?
For eighth graders Chace, Harley, Will, and Cherise, that’s a life-changing question after they find a dragon’s egg while hunting for thundereggs on the beach. Toss in summer jobs, family struggles, and a National Security Agent, and their summer vacation just became complicated. Can they find a solution that won’t leave their hearts broken or their community in flames?
I have been sent an eARC of "An Unexpected Adventure" for review, but I have not read it yet. It looks like a very promising middle-grade novel, quoted to be a mashup of "E.T. meets How to Train Your Dragon". HTTYD is one of my favourite animated movies, and I can not wait to read this book!
Even as a young girl, Kandi J Wyatt, had a knack for words. She loved to read them, even if it was on a shampoo bottle! By high school, Kandi had learned to put words together on paper to create stories for those she loved. Nowadays, she writes for her kids, whether that's her own five or the hundreds of students she's been lucky to teach. When Kandi's not spinning words to create stories, she's using them to teach students about Spanish, life, and leadership.
Six years ago, when I moved to Toronto, one of my dreams was to go to Toronto International Film Festival. Since I arrived in late summer of 2012 and was starting school, it was too late for me to get tickets for any galas, but I still managed to see one movie.
It was “Laurence Anyways” by a French Canadian director Xavier Dolan. The movie screening was very low-key compared to my later experiences at TIFF, but nevertheless, I found it very exciting. The screening was at Scotiabank Theatre, but we still got to meet with the director and the cast. To watch the movie and then have a chance to be at the Q&As with the cast inspired me so much. I couldn’t wait for 2013.
During the summer of 2013, I purchased TIFF membership, and I did not regret it to this day. There was an orientation for new members, which I went to and even wrote a post on Tumblr about it. I am going to insert a part of my blog post here:
Today was the orientation tour for new members at Bell Lightbox, and of course, I went there. There was a pretty big group of people (bigger than I expected), and we were split into two smaller groups. First, we had a tour around the building and were told about the architecture of the building - the concept of light and shadow and boxes within boxes. I have been to Lightbox before - both times during the festival, this and last year. I was only on the second floor and inside cinema 2. Today we had a tour, and we were able to go inside halls 1 and 5. We also went inside the Bell Blue Room which is for TIFF members only.
The best thing about membership is that you can come over to the Lounge (on the second floor - Luma restaurant/bar) or to the Bell Blue Room (which is open only on Thur-Fri afternoons and all throughout Sat-Sun). You can just hang out there. Have a snack. They also conduct workshops, screenings, exhibitions. Some things (like special exhibitions or TV shows season finale/premiere screenings) are free, others are available at a discounted price. (They also used to organize the Oscar ceremony screening in the members’ lounge for a couple of years. It was a lot of fun!)
They also have a Book club, and film discussions. They also have a film reference library, and you can watch any title there on the spot for free.*
I went a bit crazy with TIFF in 2013-2015. I watched a lot of movies in those years, some of them I rushed, others I was lucky to get tickets for in advance.
With years, TIFF membership benefits and the process of obtaining tickets for TIFF have changed. This is the information that I got from TIFF website as of today in regards of festival benefits.
At the Toronto International Film Festival:
Exclusive ticket package pre-sale
Exclusive advance-package ticket selection
Exclusive individual ticket pre-sale
No service fees on exchanges via your TIFF Account Manager
Priority service through the Box Office
If you are reading this during the festival, it is already too late to get any festival packages. For those, you have to sign up for TIFF newsletter and watch your email months ahead. However, if you plan to buy individual tickets, getting a TIFF membership would still be beneficial as it gives you priority at the box office.
Naturally, you can purchase tickets online or over the phone, but if you have vouchers, you need to exchange them for movie tickets. The lines at the festival are unbelievable!
If you have a ticket for a movie, arrive about 1 hour before the screening as there will be a line for ticket holders and everyone would be admitted about 10 mins before the screening. The seating is usually not assigned, and once all ticket holders are inside, the volunteers would count empty seats and let in the rush line.
Rush Line is a great way to get tickets for screenings that are sold out. There are usually at least 10% of seats are being saved for that purpose. Sometimes extra tickets might be released on the day of the screening. Checking the TIFF website every day of the festival is a great tip!
If you want to rush a ticket, then arrive 3-4 hours before screen time. Bring a chair, an umbrella, snacks and a book, and make friends with people around you. I have experience standing for 5-6 hours in rush lines, in the sun or under the rain, reading books, talking to people, taking breaks to run to a nearby Starbucks or Tim Hortons, and cheering every time the line moves one foot ahead.
It is hard to describe the feel of the festival. You need to experience it on your own. See mobs of fans crowd every entrance and exit waiting for Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp. Watch a fan ask Benedict Cumberbatch a very inappropriate question. You get so used to being around people who talk about festival movies and discuss spotted celebs almost 24/7 that later being outside of that orange bubble feels less real.
Unfortunately, I missed a year or two of the festival due to being away on vacation, but every time when I had an opportunity, I would see at least a couple of movies.
Would having a TIFF membership help you get the best out of the festival? In my opinion, yes. It definitely helped me get early access to tickets packages and priority in Ticket Office. Not to mention discounts in some local restaurants. Members’ Lounge is pretty cool too, although it is usually not available during festival days.
I was provided with an e-ARC copy of “Keeper of the Bees” by Entangled Teen in exchange for a free and honest review. I requested to read this novel because I read and reviewed “Black Birds of the Gallows” last year and was interested in the sequel.
You do not have to read “Black Birds of the Gallows” to read “Keeper of the Bees”, however, some things regarding the world building are explained there in much more detail.
I have mentioned it more than once in my blogs that I have a love/hate relationship with Neil Gaiman’s works. There are some that I absolutely love, and there are some that I do not like at all. I can’t think of any other writer that would evoke such different emotions in me, as a reader. I do love the fact that Neil is such a versatile writer that he writes across genres and across ages. I read his fiction novels for adults and kids, graphic novels and picture books.
And then came “Norse Mythology”. I was seeing “Norse Mythology” everywhere and kept thinking that it would be a cool book to read, however, I couldn’t justify paying the full price for it, so I got a copy from my library.
Introducing an instant classic—master storyteller Neil Gaiman presents a dazzling version of the great Norse myths.
Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales. In Norse Mythology, Gaiman fashions primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds; delves into the exploits of the deities, dwarves, and giants; and culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and the rebirth of a new time and people. Gaiman stays true to the myths while vividly reincarnating Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, the son of giants, a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator. From Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerges the gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to dupe others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.
I had a course in mythology as part of my Bachelor degree, and I studied ancient Greek, Roman and, of course, Norse mythology. Naturally, I forgot many things, since it’s been years, and I always wanted to re-read those myths but never had an opportunity. It came in the form of the book by Neil Gaiman.
It is hard to review something that Neil was merely re-writing plot-wise, but his writing style is undeniable in the book. There is a lyrical flow of words and some dry humour mixed into it. The myths are split into stories or chapters, if you will, and go from the very beginning - the world creation - to the end.
If you have never read Norse myths before, but you love Marvel movies about Thor and Loki, you might be in for a surprise. Thor is less noble, Odin is more cruel, Loki is more frustrating (if it is even possible), and there is so much violence and gore, you might think those myths should have been made into horror movies.
Naturally, there is very little of actual Norse mythology in Marvel movies. But if you are interested in learning about it, Neil’s book is a perfect choice. “Norse Mythology” is not dry and lecturing, but a magical, easy read. Or as easy as a book can be if we have gods and giants killing each other on every other page. But you know - it is old mythology!
I thoroughly enjoyed “Norse Mythology”. It was nice to be immersed into the world of Asgard once again. It was a well-written book, however, since it is somewhat fictional and somewhat mythology, I liked it but did not love it. It has a gorgeous cover, though, both in hardback and paperback.
Nevertheless, I do recommend “Norse Mythology” to all myths and Neil Gaiman fans.
I came across “All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages” - which I will be calling “All Out” in my review for the sake of simplicity - at the beginning of this year. It is a collection of short stories by an ensemble of young adult authors. All of the stories have queer teen characters, as it is evident in the title, and the stories themselves vary in genres and settings.
Take a journey through time and genres and discover a past where queer figures live, love and shape the world around them. Seventeen of the best young adult authors across the queer spectrum have come together to create a collection of beautifully written diverse historical fiction for teens.
From a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood set in war-torn 1870s Mexico featuring a transgender soldier, to two girls falling in love while mourning the death of Kurt Cobain, forbidden love in a sixteenth-century Spanish convent or an asexual girl discovering her identity amid the 1970s roller-disco scene, All Out tells a diverse range of stories across cultures, time periods and identities, shedding light on an area of history often ignored or forgotten.
I was extremely excited to get my hands on “All Out”. I admit that I was hesitant to buy my own copy, although I was tempted to, as the book was proudly (pun intended) displayed as a Pride Month pick at Indigo stores. I was cautious, as I had not read the books by all of the authors, so I was not sure if I am going to enjoy all of the stories.
As I expected I enjoyed some stories more and some stories less, so I will go through the list with my ratings for each one of them.
“Roja” by Anna-Marie McLemore
Rating: 4 stars Notes: It seems like there is going to be a full novel, “Blanca & Roja”, about the same characters, and I am very excited! It is coming out in October!
“The Sweet Trade” by Natalie C. Parker
Rating: 3 stars Notes: We have a girl who wants to sail away and another one who runs away as well. Not sure the ending worked plus I was not really feeling the characters. It was my first time reading anything by this author and I was slightly disappointed. (I read “Seafire” after I read "All Out".)
“And They Don’t Kiss At The End” by Nilah Magruder
Rating: 4 stars Notes: Excellent writing and description of asexuality. I enjoyed it, but the skating rink and contemporary YA feel are just not my thing.
“Burnt Umber” by Mackenzi Lee
Rating: 5 stars Notes: Loved every bit of this story. Excellent descriptions and characterizations. A painter’s studio in Amsterdam was an unusual setting. It was my first time reading a story by this author, and I can not wait to read more of her books!
“The Dresser & The Chambermaid” by Robin Talley
Rating: 2 stars Notes: I did not like anything about this story. I couldn’t get behind the characters and their actions. Everything seemed a bit too exaggerated and boring.
“New Year” by Malinda Lo
Rating: 3 stars Notes: I liked the background of the story and Chinese New Year traditions and the discussions of immigrants life but I am not a huge fan of Malinda’s writing style, and there wasn’t much of a plot either.
“Molly’s Lips” by Dahlia Adler
Rating: 4 stars Notes: Once again, I am not a fan of contemporary YA, however, all of the grange music and Kurt Cobain references were on point, so this story is getting an extra star for that.
“The Coven” by Kate Scelsa
Rating: 3 stars Notes: I expected this story to be more engaging than it was. It was confusing at times, and not much was happening. It was okay.
“Every Shade of Red” by Elliot Wake
Rating: 5 stars Notes: A transgender Robin Hood retelling? Holy crap! Yes! Give me a whole book like that!! Excellent writing and now I am dying for the author to write more! (I know that there are books by this author written several years ago under a different name, but they are not exactly what I would read as they are NA romance novels.)
“Willows” by Scott Tracey
Rating: 5 stars Notes: I loved the dreamy quality of the writing style. The ending was intense! Now, I want a sequel! It was my first time reading a story by this author, and I can not wait to read more of his books!
“The Girl With The Blue Lantern” by Tess Sharpe
Rating: 3 stars Notes: I liked the premise of the story, and it was relatively well written, but there was not much of a plot, to be honest.
“The Secret Life of A Teenage Boy” by Alex Sanchez
Rating: 4 stars Notes: I was not entirely on board with the plot of this story. But I liked the descriptions and how well developed all characters were. Will be definitely reading more by this author!
“Walking After Midnight” by Kody Keplinger
Rating: 3 stars Notes: It was a bit too Hollywood like and sugary for me, but the descriptions were well done. I was just not a fan of either characters or plot.
“The End of The World As We Know It” by Sara Farizan
Rating: 4 stars Notes: I am not a fan of contemporaries or love stories set on New Year’s Eve, but I loved the references to historical events (e.g., the mention of the mass shooting) and I think more stories should talk about such things.
“Three Witches” by Tessa Gratton
Rating: 3 stars Notes: I liked the setting of the story, but I did not like the characters, and the only thing that worked for me was the ending. The rest was just dull.
“The Inferno & The Butterfly” by Shaun David Hutchinson
Rating: 5 stars Notes: A story about two apprentices serving two rivalling magicians was adorable. I loved the plot and the characters, and I wanted more! It was the first story by this author that I read, and I can’t wait to check out his books!
“Healing Rosa” by Tehlor Kay Mejia
Rating: 4 stars Notes: I liked the writing style in this story, although there was not much of a plot, to be honest.
Even though I was not in love with all of the stories in “All Out”, I enjoyed most of them, and some of them were so good that I can not wait to get my hands on those authors’ books! I consider it to be time very well spent. I am not sure I would want to re-read any of the stories (except for, maybe, stories by Mackenzie Lee and Elliot Wake). Therefore I am giving this book only 4 stars.
I wish we had more anthologies like "All Out", as it is an excellent opportunity to give LGBTQ+ authors more exposure and for readers to discover new favourites.
One of my main goals for BookCon 2018 was to meet one of my all-time favourite authors, Victoria Schwab. Sadly, I missed out on the opportunity to get my copy of new US Vicious signed by Victoria, but after standing in the line for an hour on the second day of the convention - I got an advanced reader’s copy of “City of Ghosts”. I was over the moon!
As a matter of fact, I have several vlogs on my YT channel from the BookCon this year.
I wanted to start “City of Ghosts” as soon as possible but didn’t want to rush into it either. So, I decided to pick “City of Ghosts” for #ARCAugust challenge.
Cassidy Blake's parents are The Inspectres, a (somewhat inept) ghost-hunting team. But Cass herself can REALLY see ghosts. In fact, her best friend, Jacob, just happens to be one.
When The Inspectres head to ultra-haunted Edinburgh, Scotland, for their new TV show, Cass—and Jacob—come along. In Scotland, Cass is surrounded by ghosts, not all of them friendly. Then she meets Lara, a girl who can also see the dead. But Lara tells Cassidy that as an In-betweener, their job is to send ghosts permanently beyond the Veil. Cass isn't sure about her new mission, but she does know the sinister Red Raven haunting the city doesn't belong in her world. Cassidy's powers will draw her into an epic fight that stretches through the worlds of the living and the dead, in order to save herself.
I could not wait to read “City of Ghosts”! I was very excited! I was, however, trying to be very mindful of the fact that not only I am reading an ARC, but it is also middle grade, so I can’t expect the same depth of world building and character development from “City of Ghost” as from some other Victoria’s books.
I was right. “City of Ghosts” is precisely what Victoria multiple times said, it was. It is the book that she wrote for her 12-year-old self. It is spooky and wonderful, and I kept thinking of Cassidy as Victoria in that age. It is a lovingly crafted narration set in Edinburgh, which is a special city for Victoria, and her current place of residence.
“City of Ghosts” is a fun read full of adorable characters and unexpected adventures. I adored this book. However, no matter how much it pains me to say this about Victoria’s work - this is not the best story she has written.
In her Instagram Stories, Victoria said that she saw some early readers complain that “City of Ghosts” is too simple or the plot is not layered enough, and she explained saying that middle-grade books do not have the same complexity as young adult or adult books because they simply can’t be. That is the whole point of the genre. I wholeheartedly agree.
I felt that “City of Ghosts” was written perfectly aligned with the target audience. It has just the right combination of fun and thrill that is so attractive to the younger audience. I did, however, expect more originality of the plot than there was. Even the title surprised me, as there are dozens of novels with the same title out there.
“City of Ghosts” has haunted places, travelling beyond the Veil and ghost friends. While reading this novel, I kept having a deja vu feeling. Some of the elements reminded me of Fantastic Five by Enid Blyton, some of Susan Cooper’s books (perhaps, due to the setting). Which resulted in me lowering the overall rating of the book.
The writing in the novel is excellent and very typical of Victoria’s style, even though the ARC I got started “uncorrected proof” on the cover. I was impressed by the lack of obvious mistakes. I did pre-order the final copy and received it the day after I finished the book. I am tempted to re-read it again. “City of Ghosts” is supposed to be a duology, so I can not wait to see what other adventure Cassidy and Jacob would get sucked into next.
I heard of “Seafire” months ago, and the plot of a new Young Adult fantasy book with all female pirates appealed to me greatly. I was dying to get my hands on it early and jumped on the opportunity to ask the publisher for the ARC. (Meaning, I begged. More than once.) I was so excited to receive it in the mail from Penguin Random House Canada and immediately put it on my ARC August TBR.
After her family is killed by corrupt warlord Aric Athair and his bloodthirsty army of Bullets, Caledonia Styx is left to chart her own course on the dangerous and deadly seas. She captains her ship, the Mors Navis, with a crew of girls and women just like her, whose lives have been turned upside down by Aric and his men. The crew has one mission: stay alive, and take down Aric's armed and armoured fleet.
But when Caledonia's best friend and second-in-command just barely survives an attack thanks to the help from a Bullet looking to defect, Caledonia finds herself questioning whether or not to let him join their crew. Is this boy the key to taking down Aric Athair once and for all…or will he threaten everything the women of the Mors Navis have worked for?
Before I got to “Seafire”, I read a short story “The Sweet Trade” by Natalie C. Parker in the anthology “All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages” (edited by Saundra Mitchell). It did not click in my head immediately that I was reading the story by the same author, whose book I was anticipating so much (yes, I am that bad with names), but once I did, I felt a surge of uneasy. Because “The Sweet Trade” was not one of my favourite stories. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t even be able to recall its plot now.
That did not make me very happy. I am a demanding reader, and I expect short fiction to be of the same quality as novels.
Nevertheless, I started “Seafire”.
Let me start by saying that I liked the world and the idea behind the book and ultimately gave the book 3.5 stars, which is not a bad rating. But I was very underwhelmed.
My biggest problem with “Seafire” came from the prologue. The prologue should not have been written. It gave us the background to the novel, explained why the characters were who they were, etc. The whole prologue was just a huge chunk of exposition. Instead, it would have been better to weave in that information into the plot through flashbacks - even that device would have been better. The readers would have been left to guess why Caledonia Styx was the way she was and why she hated Bullets so much.
Instead, everything was laid out in front of us in the prologue. More so, Caledonia is not that young in the prologue to make a mistake that big. If someone kept telling you all your life that those people were not to be trusted, would you have trusted one of them after five minutes of meeting them?
I don’t think so.
The prologue of “Seafire” annoyed me so much, I was getting stressed, thinking that the book would be like that as well. Thankfully it was not.
I do not think that Pisces would have been as trusting as we were led to believe in the book. Her insistence to trust someone who saved her life was valid but a bit too exaggerated. I even was confused by the timeline between she was off the ship and then back on it as it felt as if it was minutes but obviously could not have been. That was a weird timeline.
Certain parts of the book are really well developed. For example, everything that has to do with the navigation and running the ship was described in much detail and fabulous to read. There were certain things though, like running water in showers on board of the ship that seemed a bit too out of place, when everything else was just bunk beds and wooden furniture. (Well, I get that the author wanted to keep her girls clean, but it stuck out to me.)
The world building was intriguing, but very few things were explained. I went into the book thinking that it was a piracy age book, a colonist era, so to say. But there were mentions of the old world, and some of the technology was apparently inherited from a different time period, so the book should be classified as more of a dystopian adventure book, rather than fantasy. There were no fantasy elements in it, no magic, no supernatural abilities. Can’t say I was too let down by the lack of those, but “Seafire” turned out to be not what I had expected.
My second pet peeve with the book - besides the unfortunate prologue - was the love plotline. “Seafire” is full of teen girls, who live and fight side by side. Some of the same sex relationships were implied, but almost nothing stated outright. I was entirely sure that Caledonia was in love with her best friend and was in the relationship with her until another person came into the picture. The way the author kept throwing Caledonia together with another person felt as if she was trying to create a love triangle on purpose. But since nothing that Caledonia did or said reflected her true feelings - except for her eternal guilt for what had happened - it was really frustrating.
Do not get me wrong - I did like other characters and other pairings, but I assumed that the book written by a queer author would have more queer relationships in it. Big, visible, spelt out relationships, and not just a hint here or there. I think there was only one same-sex kiss in the book, but even that was not between lovers. I know that it can be argued that “Seafire” is not about sexuality or coming out - and I agree with that and would love to have any book in any genre with characters who just naturally happen to be in love, regardless of gender or sexuality, and not a coming of age story in a contemporary setting - but when you have the plot where all prerequisites of it exist, but the book still goes like “Nah, they are just BFFs who have been through a lot”, that is a tad upsetting.
I do want to stress that I adored the concept of “Seafire”, and all the action in the book. I was there for epic sea battles, and we got them. I did have some problems with the execution, but the way the book left off, I am very excited about the sequel. I want more books like “Seafire”. I am just sad that it did not fully live up to my expectations.
Overall, “Seafire” was a fun read, and I am very grateful to Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with an ARC.
A month ago I was approached to do a review of a new planner line created by Workman Publishing and Pipsticks. I was given an option to choose one of three themed packages, and my choice was “for the Dreamer…”. This set was quoted to be perfect for the creative spirit.
I was intrigued. I love stationery and planners. I am proud to admit that at any given time I use at least two, sometimes three, planners. I have also tried different planner systems: Happy Planner, Filofax, Erin Condren, Bullet Journal, etc. I was excited to try out something new, especially since I was promised tons of stickers. And anyone who knows me knows that I collect stickers like there is no tomorrow.
I did an unboxing video on my YouTube channel, in which I open the package and I give my first impressions of Pipsticks+Workman planner. In the package that was sent to me, I received a planner, a notekeeper, and a sticker book.
*Please note that all photos in the review were edited and the colours you see might be slightly different from a real-life product. However, the pen test photos were left as.
My first impression was relatively positive: everything was bright and cute. The sticker book does have a lot of stickers. Moreso, stickers can also be found in the planner (it has sheets with seasonal stickers) and even the notebook (which is called the notekeeper).
However, once I started using them, I found out that some of those stickers are very thin, can’t be repositioned without ripping paper - but some can be, you only have to be very careful - and many are very similar. Indeed, the set has over 800 stickers, but many of them are repetitive. For example, there are 3 sheets with different food stickers, but not enough word stickers for events.
There is, however, a whole community of Pipsticks stickers lovers on Instagram and there is a subscription to Pipsticks Printables Library, where you can get lots of lists, meal planners, goal trackers, and more. I did not explore this option at the time of the review, but it is something to keep in mind for those who are into printables!
I like the notebook. It is called “a creativity pad for dreamers”, and it has 2 pages with stickers, but other pages are just notepaper with lots of different designs. I think it will be cool to use those pages for writing letters and notes to people.
The Pipsticks+Workman planner itself is bright and colourful. It has a sturdy cover, but the coil is not very flexible, and the cover gets stuck a bit at times. The planner opens up with a small pocket.
There are a card and sticky tab notes/flags inside. Then there are 6 pages of seasonal stickers, the calendar view for 2019 and 2020 (which makes my crazy planner soul very happy), the list of all holidays (including Canadian ones, yay!), the goals tab, and then 17 months of monthly and weekly spreads, and at the very end - a couple of notes pages. There is also a pocket at the back.
The planner has 2 elastics: one, the gold one, to keep the planner closed and the other, the pink one, to mark the page. I have never had a planner like that with an elastic as a bookmark.
I found the layout of weekly spreads a bit confusing. It is horizontal, but each day is also split into 3 vertical boxes. I initially thought that they are supposed to divide the day into morning/afternoon/evening, like in an Erin Condren vertical planner, but one box per day has “YAY” written in it, which I found a bit random. Not sure what I am supposed to write in there. Plus, as you can see in my pictures, some of the stickers did not fit the boxes, so I am not sure why the days were split into 3 sections anyway.
There is also a quiz question on each spread. I find that cute. The bottom of the page, though, has a wide strip with days of the week and stars on the side. It seems like it is supposed to be a space for a weekly to-do list, but I found it awkward to use.
I like monthly spreads way more. The spreads are clean, simple, and the boxes for each day are big enough for my handwriting. Each month has a little creative challenge in the corner, which I am not really liking for some reason, but some might find interesting.
My biggest concern, once I unboxed the Pipsticks+Workman planner, was the paper. It felt really thin, and I worried that it wouldn’t hold against my pens. I used one of the note pages to do a pen test. And I was a bit surprised by the result.
You can see in the pictures that even though there is a bit of bleed through (especially, with the Tombow calligraphy pen and alcohol based markers), but not so much with other pens. You can see the ink and outline still, but that is because I tend to press on paper really hard.
Overall, I liked the idea behind the Pipsticks+Workman Planner. My biggest problem is with weekly spreads, however, as I struggle to figure out how to use those 3 sections. I do not always use morning/afternoon/evening to plan my day. The stickers are adorable and good quality, but I have seen similar stickers at Michaels stores, so the designs aren’t very original.
If I had to give the rating to the planner, I would say it is somewhere around 3.5 stars out of 5. I liked it, but some things are not well suitable for me as a planner. Since it is a 17-month planner, I will try to use it till the end of 2018 to see if I will get used to it or if I will have to get another planner for 2019.
Thank you so much to the publisher for providing me with a free copy of the planner for review.
If you read my review of “Caraval” last year, you probably can guess that I had a lot of reservations about “Legendary”. I felt let down by “Caraval” so much that I even considered not picking up the sequel. But since I am a glutton for punishment, I did request a physical copy of “Legendary” from the library. I must say, Stephanie Garber’s books have stunning covers, both US and UK editions.
I thought that I could get through “Legendary” but quickly realized that I didn’t care much to read the physical copy and got myself an audiobook instead.
A heart to protect. A debt to repay. A game to win.
After being swept up in the magical world of Caraval, Donatella Dragna has finally escaped her father and saved her sister Scarlett from a disastrous arranged marriage. The girls should be celebrating, but Tella isn’t yet free. She made a desperate bargain with a mysterious criminal, and what Tella owes him no one has ever been able to deliver: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.
The only chance of uncovering Legend’s identity is to win Caraval, so Tella throws herself into the legendary competition once more—and into the path of the murderous heir to the throne, a doomed love story, and a web of secrets…including her sister's. Caraval has always demanded bravery, cunning, and sacrifice. But now the game is asking for more. If Tella can’t fulfill her bargain and deliver Legend’s name, she’ll lose everything she cares about—maybe even her life. But if she wins, Legend and Caraval will be destroyed forever.
Welcome, welcome to Caraval...the games have only just begun.
Whatever I said about the writing and plot holes in “Caraval”, sadly, still applies for “Legendary”. The characters seem to be two-dimensional, flat, their traits exaggerated beyond measure. The writing only follows the same route: the book is full of beautiful but completely useless in their abundance similes and metaphors like, “and her dress was made out of blue silk and midnight stars” (not an exact quote, but you get the meaning). It would have felt more magical and profound if not for the complete lack of world building and character development. Using pretty words won’t help the lack of plot.
“Caraval” was told from Scarlet's point of view. Her main objective in the first book was to find her missing sister Donatella. She does find her, but the ending has a twist that left a sour taste in my mouth. I felt that Donatella had betrayed her sister, and there was nothing that could redeem her in my eyes, even though Scarlet, naturally, forgives her sister. (I had a problem with it also because Scarlet should have had PTSD after everything that happened, but her feelings and mental state after events in “Caraval” were not addressed.)
Donatella was portrayed as spoiled, uncontrollable, impulsive, and greedy. Yes, Scarlet still loved her and forgave her, but that was how Donatella was depicted in the book. And I hated her.
In “Legendary” though, Donatella is portrayed as impulsive, yes, but also very determined to save and protect her sister in any way possible. Her character voice in the second book changed so much that I couldn’t believe my eyes. Donatella is fierce and unbending but also very gullible, which really goes against her character who reminds us again and again that “she does not kiss the same boys twice”. I found that annoying as her character seemed to be inconsistent with what she was in the first book - at least, this is how it felt to me.
Throughout “Legendary”, Donatella is being almost thrown at one of the villains of the story by the author. She constantly says that she should not trust him and that she is disgusted by what he did, etc., but she is still attracted to him. I found that too unrealistic, as that character went beyond the mere trope of “a bad boy”. He was written as a real villain, who would even force himself on Donatella (there were at least one or two kisses that she did not consent for), and somehow she also found that exciting. I think that Stephanie Garber was trying very hard to create some sort of a love triangle, but it felt forced and unattractive to me.
The author tried to include some red herrings in the narrative, but it was done in such a blunt way that it was just ridiculous. For almost two-thirds of the book, Donatella kept saying that she couldn't believe that THIS could be true. And lo and behold, it turns out to be true. What a twist!
The only thing that “Legendary” made me happy about was Dante. I love his character, and we get to see more of him in this book, which was exciting. My favourite moment in the book was: “And, oh glory, he was shirtless. So very shirtless.”
(I keep hoping to see at least some LGBTQ+ representation in Caraval trilogy, but alas. My headcanon is that Dante is bisexual or polysexual - that would have been very cool.)
Scarlet was barely present in the book, and the way Donatella sees her is also skewed, in my opinion, from what she truly is as a character. At some point, Donatella even starts to doubt her sister. And, once again, big surprise - she shouldn’t have!
I think that overall Stephanie’s writing did improve from book one. “Legendary” is heavy on romance and not so heavy on fantasy and magic, which is a big let down once again. I love Rebecca’s narration - it was the only thing to keep me from giving up on his book. I will most probably pick up the last book in the trilogy in audio as well. I have no idea where the plot would go in book 3, as there is barely any plot, to begin with. I guess we need to get our happy ending for everyone so there will be more romance. Oh boy.
I requested “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” for review from Penguin Random House Canada. I never read anything by this author, and I was interested in exploring more of Canadian literature.
When neurosurgeon Jake Breaker operates, he knows he's handling more than a patient's delicate brain tissue--he's altering their seat of consciousness, their golden vault of memory. And memory, Jake knows well, can be a tricky thing.
When growing up in 1980s Niagara Falls, a.k.a. Cataract City--a seedy but magical, slightly haunted place--one of Jake's closest confidantes was his uncle Calvin, a sweet but eccentric misfit enamored of occult artefacts and outlandish conspiracy theories. The summer Jake turned twelve, Calvin invited him to join the "Saturday Night Ghost Club"--a seemingly light-hearted project to investigate some of Cataract City's more macabre urban myths. Over the course of that life-altering summer, Jake not only fell in love and began to imagine his future, he slowly, painfully came to realize that his uncle's preoccupation with chilling legends sprang from something buried so deep in his past that Calvin himself was unaware of it.
I rarely pick up books the moment I receive them, but something about “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” pulled me to it. I went into the book almost blind, knowing only that it was set in the 80s, in Niagara Falls Ontario, and that the author was Canadian.
I remember reading the first page of “The Saturday Night Ghost Club”, and then another one, and another one. Twenty pages into the book and I already knew that I was going to love it. Fifty pages in - I knew that I was going to give this book a high rating. Halfway into the book - I was requesting more books by Craig Davidson from the library.
“The Saturday Night Ghost Club” is a literary novel, but it blends scientific facts with memoir like reminiscences of the main protagonist’s, Jake, in such an effortless way, that at times, I had to remind myself that there is no real neurosurgeon by the name of Jake Breaker working at St. Michael’s Hospital, right across the street from me.
Craig Davidson’s writing feels effortless, lightweight, even when he talks about haunting memories, prescription pills, and brain tumours. “The Saturday Night Ghost Club”, however, is not all about science. It is, in fact, a heartfelt and nostalgic recounter of childhood memories. Jake, the neurosurgeon, exists in the periphery of the book, popping in only to make a reference to something that would make sense only at the very end of the book. Most of the time, it is Jake, the twelve-year-old boy, who is the main protagonist of the story.
Even though I love literary fiction, I often struggle with contemporary or historical fiction, when I feel that I have no connection with places or events. With “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” I had no problems fully emerging myself into the story. Every location and every memory felt tangible, covered in cobwebs and dust, but still vivid.
I loved everything about the story and the plot. I did, however, guess where it was heading when I was about one third into the book, but it did not diminish the pleasure of reading it. There is something to be said about small towns that manage to both to make you nostalgic and send a chill down your spine. There were, definitely, moments in “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” when I felt disturbed by the turn of events, but mostly it was a rather fun read.
I can’t say whom I liked more in “The Saturday Night Ghost Club”. I loved Jack; I liked his friend Billy, his sister Dove; I liked his uncle Cal. I even liked that video store owner Lex. I did not like him at first, but later he grew on me. There are a lot of relationships in this book that seem easy at the first glimpse, but as the plot develops, you learn that everyone carries secrets, sometimes not even their own.
The ending of “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” was exactly like I expected it to be: heartfelt, bittersweet, and very real. I wish it could have been less real so that I could pretend that it is a happy ending. In a way, it was a happy ending. But at the same time, it was not. What made it so heartbreaking for me was not even what actually happened, but how everyone came together to deal with it.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” is a masterfully crafted novel with enough twists and thrown in scientific facts about brains to keep you on your toes till the very last page. I can not wait to read more works by Craig Davidson. “The Saturday Night Ghost Club” is going to be one of my favourite reads of 2018.