Thursday, 18 February 2016

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab 

Publishing Date: February 24, 2015 (HC) | January 19, 2016 (PB)
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Pages: 400 pages

The Premise from the Publisher: "STEP INTO A UNIVERSE OF DARING ADVENTURE, THRILLING POWER, AND MULTIPLE LONDONS. Kell is one of the last Travelers-magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes, connected by one magical city. There's Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad king-George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered-and where Kell was raised alongside Rhys Maresh, the rougish heir to a flourishing empire. White London-a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now. Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they'll never see. It's a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure. Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they'll first need to stay alive" (TDA). 

My overall review and thoughts: If you know me, you will know that I'm a MASSIVE Victoria Schwab fan. I've read every single one of her books and I just adore her as a human. She is one of my favorite writers ever. Funny thing though, I haven't written a formal review for any of her books on my blog. Why you might ask? I've always wanted to and planned to, but when I sit down to edit my reviews, it just ends up being "OMGZ THIS BOOK IS AMAZING. I LOVE IT SO MUCH" and no really coherent thoughts for a review. This book is no different, but in anticipation for the sequel's release next week, I decided to re-read this book recently. It is very rare that I will re-read a book only because I'm time poor and I have to really love a book to do that. So yes, here is my review FINALLY! I will try to not be so fangirlish and just simply say, I loved it because I loved it and actually talk about why you should go pick up a copy and read it already.

To begin with, I loved this book even more the second time around reading it. Not only does Victoria create such well-rounded characters, she builds wonderful worlds for these characters. I was instantly intrigued by Kell and I loved his relationship with Rhy so much! I just loved this idea of a "time traveler" travelling between different Londons (This reminded me so much of Victoria's other series, The Archived, and of course, my one true love, Doctor Who). Kell is such a fascinating character because it is clear that he cares for his "family" but he also "smuggles" things even when he knows he shouldn't. Also, after reading this book, I wanted a jacket just like Kell. Another character that I loved was Delilah Bard. She is all kinds of amazing and such a strong female character. She is brave and wants to see the world. I really found myself in the character of Delilah because she aspires to be more and wants more and she takes risks. I want to be more like Delilah!

But yes, besides the wonderful characters, this idea of "different" Londons was so amazing. Each London has a history and there is magic kind of "exists" between of all these worlds. I don't want to go on tangents and spoil the premise for you, but it involves some treachery, smuggling and moving between worlds. I will say however, similar to Victoria's other book, Vicious, she does create characters you feel super conflicted about. I'm talking about Holland here (!!!!!). On one hand, I want to hate him, but on the other hand, I quite like him. I love the ambiguity with certain characters and how the reader feels conflicted. No one is painted so black and white and I really appreciate that. Overall, I think if you are a fan of Victoria's regular work, you will enjoy this. This has got to be my favorite book by her yet! If you haven't heard of Victoria before.. first, what are you waiting for? and second, you will not be disappointed. She is a wonderful writer and every time I read one of her books, I walk away feeling super inspired :D So well done, Victoria!

My rating of the book:  (5/5 stars) 

Review: If I Had a Gryphon by Vikki Vansickle and Cale Atkinson

If I Had a Gryphon by Vikki Vansickle / Illustrated by: Cale Atkinson

Publishing Date: February 9, 2016
Publisher: Tundra Books
Pages: 32 pages
Children's Literature/Picture Book

The Premise from the Publisher: "Sam just got a hamster for a pet. But the hamster is kind of boring ... he just eats and sleeps and gets his shavings wet. Inspired by her book of mythological creatures, Sam longs for a more exciting pet. But she soon realizes that taking care of these magical beasts might not be as wonderful as she thought. Sasquatches are messy, unicorns are shy, gryphons scare the dogs at the dogpark, and having a fire extinguisher handy at all times makes dragons seem like an awful lot of work. In the end, Sam realizes that her hamster is a pretty sweet and safe pet ... or is he? If I Had a Gryphon is a raucous rhyming read-aloud about fantastical beasts in everyday situations--and the increasingly beleaguered heroine who has to deal with them" (Tundra Books). 

My overall thoughts and review: When I heard that Vikki (who I've worked with in the past) was coming out with a new book, I was instantly excited! The premise sounded amazing and after seeing the cover, I knew I was in for some beautiful artwork. Atkinson did an amazing job and I want to dress up as Sam now for halloween ;) I actually got to read this much earlier thanks to NetGalley, and when the physical copy arrived recently, I was blown away. This book is STUNNING. It is a hardcover with a dust-jacket and the insides are lined with this beautiful design of all the various creatures that Sam mentions throughout the book. For the premise of the book, I really enjoyed this adorable story that Vikki put together. Sam dreams of having a more "exciting" pet than her hamster and she thinks of scenarios with creatures such as, a Unicorn (this one was particularly my favorite - I want to prance through a field of posies! ;)), a hippogriff (my potter heart was happy at this mention), a phoenix (again, my potter heart was happy) and many others. After all of these scenarios, Sam comes to the realization that her hamster isn't so bad after all. It was a lovely story that takes not only Sam into a new magical and fantastical world, but also takes the reader as well. It also allows for the reader to appreciate "everyday and safe" pets. Sometimes I wish my dogs could go leaping through the skies, but at the end of the day, I'm pretty grateful for my dogs. I will admit, after reading this, my three dogs got a massive hug from me ;). Overall, I think that this is a lovely story that readers of all ages will enjoy and I highly recommend it! :) 

My rating of the book:  (5/5 stars) 

Disclaimer: An advanced reader's copy of this book was sent to me by Penguin Random House Canada for consideration/review. All opinions are my own. 

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Review: Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley

Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley

Publishing Date: January 5, 2016
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 352 pages
Young Adult Historical Fiction

The Premise (From the Publisher): "Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne. The Brontë siblings have always been inseparable. After all, nothing can bond four siblings quite like life in an isolated parsonage out on the moors. Their vivid imaginations lend them escape from their strict upbringing, actually transporting them into their created worlds: the glittering Verdopolis and the romantic and melancholy Gondal. But at what price? As Branwell begins to descend into madness and the sisters feel their real lives slipping away, they must weigh the cost of their powerful imaginations, even as their characters-the brooding Rogue and dashing Duke of Zamorna-refuse to let them go. Gorgeously written and based on the Brontës’ own juvenilia, Worlds of Ink & Shadow brings to life one of history’s most celebrated literary families in a thrilling, suspenseful fantasy" (HCC). 

My overall thoughts and review: I first heard about this book at a preview event with HCCFrenzy. Lena was there herself speaking about the book and I was instantly intrigued! I'm a big fan of the Brontes, but I never really knew their "history" and I was curious to learn more. I think it is definitely a difficult task to take historical events or historical figures and make them accessible to the everyday reader. Especially to young adult readers, how can you make these historical events and historical figures interesting? What Coakley does is fuses together the lives of the Brontes in their childhood with a fantasy world created by imagination. Although Coakley's approach is entirely fictional, it is evident that a lot of research took place that went into this project. She was able to piece together events that happened to them and link them to events in the narrative and furthermore, the "characters" that were mentioned were created by the Brontes themselves (Rogue, Duke of Zamorna, and more). I loved how distinct each character's voice came through in the narrative. I will be biased and say that I enjoyed Charlotte's POV most. I loved that she put together this creative narrative is that founded primarily on "imagination" and reading this has definitely inspired my own writing and how I can push boundaries. If you are a fan of the Brontes, this is one read you should definitely check out! It reminded me Narnia at times as well with the moving into a different world.

My rating of the book:  (4/5 stars) 

Disclaimer: An advanced reader's copy of this book was sent to me by HCCFrenzy/HarperCollins Canada for consideration/review. All opinions are my own. 

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Review: The Widow by Fiona Barton

The Widow by Fiona Barton

Publishing Date: February 16, 2016
Publisher: Penguin Canada
Pages: 336 pages
Psychological Thriller

The Premise from the Publisher: "A loving husband or a heartless killer...she'd know, wouldn't she? There's a lot Jean hasn't said over the years about the crime her husband was suspected of committing. She was busy being the perfect wife, standing by her man while living with accusing glares and anonymous harassment. Now her husband is dead, and there's no reason to stay quiet. People want to hear her story. They want to know what it was like living with that man. She can tell them there were secrets. There always are in a marriage. The truth--that's all anyone wants. But the one lesson Jean has learned in the last few years is that she can make people believe anything. For the reporter who has secured the exclusive interview, this is the scoop of a lifetime. For the detective who has lived a half-life since he failed to get justice for the victim, it is a chance to get at the truth that has eluded him for so long. For Jean, it's a chance to defend herself, what she knew--and when. This is the tale of a missing child, narrated by the wife of the main suspect, the detective leading the hunt, and the journalist covering the case. It's a brilliantly ominous, psychologically acute portrait of a marriage in crisis--perfect for fans of The Silent Wife and The Girl on the Train" (Penguin Random House). 

My overall thoughts and review: When I got a package in the mail that had an arc of this book in an evidence bag with a pack of skittles, I was instantly intrigued. I'm a big fan of psychological thrillers and I tore into this book immediately! The narrative moves from past/present offering the reader a look into Jean's relationship with her husband and the dark secrets that take place in a marriage. The big case that the book surrounds is that of a missing child and how Jean's husband was associated with it. The text also deals with how she had to stand by his side during the time he was under the microscope and how interviewers and the media work in this situation. We get to see things from the Reporter's point of view which I really enjoyed and it offers something different that not a lot of books do, since they always focus on the negative side of the media. Ultimately, what this book tackles is marriage. What does it mean to be married? Do you stand by the side of your husband even if you have doubts? What limits must one go to? The text kept twisting and turning and keeping me on the edge of my seat and I was completely blown away with the outcome. I don't want to say too much to risk spoiling it, but like the premise from the publisher states, if you were a fan of The Girl on the Train and even Gone Girl, I think you will definitely enjoy this read! It focuses on marriage, interpersonal relationships, identity, abductions and what comes after for a "widow" like Jean. Also.. small tip, don't eat skittles or candy of any sort while reading :P

My rating of the book:  (4/5 stars) 

Now available for purchase at:
Chapters/IndigoKobo BooksAmazon and Book Depository (Free Worldwide Shipping)

Disclaimer: An advanced reader's copy of this book was sent to me by Penguin Canada for consideration/review. All opinions are my own. 

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Books, Be Mine: Valentine’s Day 2016

Hi everyone! I hope you are all having a wonderful Tuesday. This month is already flying by and can you believe that Valentine's Day is this weekend? It is actually one of my favorite holidays ever. I know it is a hallmark card holiday, but I just love "Love/Romance" reads, I love the pink and the red! I just love it all! So how are you all spending Valentine's this year? 

I thought I would share with you all, my lovely readers, an online event that promotes reading on Valentine's Day with the lovely folks at Simon & Schuster Canada! 
You can find all the details here: 
They are posting beautiful quotes from lovely books and they are even posting some printable valentines! They are too cute for words! 

So if you haven't decided "What" to read yet, let me suggest some of my favorite "Valentine's" reads: 

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han - review
P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han - review

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (It is a classic!)
Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami 

Let me know if you are going to spend valentine's with a book and if so, which book? Let me know in the comments! Happy reading and Happy Early Valentine's Day! xx 

Review: This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

This is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

Publishing Date: January 20, 2016
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Pages: 288 pages
Young Adult Contemporary

The Premise: I've taken the following premise from the publisher because it sets it up nicely without giving too much away:
"10:00 a.m. The principal of Opportunity, Alabama's high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve. 
10:02 a.m. The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class. 
10:03 The auditorium doors won't open. 
10:05 Someone starts shooting. 
Told from four perspectives over the span of 54 harrowing minutes, terrorreigns as one student's calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival" (Sourcebooks). 

My overall thoughts and review: When I was at a blogger preview, they mentioned this book and I wanted to read it immediately! I got an e-galley copy of it and I was able to finish it in one sitting. Some moments were quite hard for me to read because it tackles a school-shooting. I always find with stories like this, it either is from the perspective of the shooter or the victims and what Nijkamp offers young readers is the perspective from both and the many people who are involved but not directly (not in the auditorium while the shooting is occurring). The topic of school shootings in general make me a bit apprehensive and hesitant when it comes to deciding what to read, because it is so intense that I feel like I can't handle it. Some scenes in the book were particularly hard for me to read and I felt in some moments, I was in the situation, just wanting to get away. The book also incorporates how "social media" works during a situation like this, which most people don't mention so that was nice. The story was told from four perspectives and although I enjoyed that, some perspectives I felt weren't fully fleshed out. I wanted to know much more about certain characters, especially the shooter and I think this could've been developed, had there been additional chapters. Overall, I think the story was well-written, it is an important topic that needs to be in constant discussion, and I think most YA contemporary fans will enjoy this. It offers multiple perspectives so I think there is something for everyone in this book. I think fans of Ellen Hopkins and Andrew Smith will enjoy this read!

My rating of the book:  (4/5 stars) 

Now available for purchase at:
Chapters/IndigoKobo BooksAmazon and Book Depository (Free Worldwide Shipping)

Disclaimer: A digital galley of this book was sent to me by Raincoast Books Canada for consideration/review. All opinions are my own. 

Monday, 8 February 2016

Review: The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey

The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention and Energy by Chris Bailey

Publishing Date: January 5, 2016
Publisher: Random House Canada
Pages: 304

The Premise: I decided to copy the premise from the publisher here because it best explains the reason for the book and how this project was developed by Chris Bailey: (Taken from the Publisher) "A fresh, personal, and entertaining exploration of a topic that concerns all of us: how to be more productive at work and in every facet of our lives. Chris Bailey turned down lucrative job offers to pursue a lifelong dream—to spend a year performing a deep dive experiment into the pursuit of productivity, a subject he had been enamored with since he was a teenager. After obtaining his business degree, he created a blog to chronicle a year-long series of productivity experiments he conducted on himself, where he also continued his research and interviews with some of the world’s foremost experts, from Charles Duhigg to David Allen. Among the experiments that he tackled: Bailey went several weeks with getting by on little to no sleep; he cut out caffeine and sugar; he lived in total isolation for 10 days; he used his smartphone for just an hour a day for three months; he gained ten pounds of muscle mass; he stretched his work week to 90 hours; a late riser, he got up at 5:30 every morning for three months—all the while monitoring the impact of his experiments on the quality and quantity of his work. 
The Productivity Project—and the lessons Chris learned—are the result of that year-long journey. Among the counterintuitive insights Chris Bailey will teach you: 
·         slowing down to work more deliberately;
·         shrinking or eliminating the unimportant; 
·         the rule of three; 
·         striving for imperfection; 
·         scheduling less time for important tasks; 
·         the 20 second rule to distract yourself from the inevitable distractions; 
·         and the concept of productive procrastination.
In an eye-opening and thoroughly engaging read, Bailey offers a treasure trove of insights and over 25 best practices that will help you accomplish more" (RHC). 

My overall thoughts and review: When I first read the premise to this book, I was instantly intrigued. As a graduate student, I am always "time-poor" and it really still stands even when I try to manage my time the best that I can. I always use an agenda (on my phone and a handwritten one), I always try and set alarms, I always try to designate time to work and time not to work, but still, I always find myself panicking when Sunday arrives realizing I have so much to do and no time to do it. I also find myself feeling tired constantly, and sometimes, my schedule gets a bit messed up because I end up taking these mid-day naps. So to say that I needed help was an understatement. I'm so glad that I picked up Chris Bailey's book because he has shown many tips and tricks that I didn't think about before and have really improved my time in the past few weeks.

To begin with, Bailey begins every chapter with a "Takeaway" statement" what you will take away from the chapter and also an estimated reading time! I really appreciate this little section because in between downtime at work, I was able to see if I could read a chapter or two at my desk. Each chapter also includes a challenge at the end with an estimated time and goal. Those are super interesting and although, I was only able to complete a few so far, I'm finding myself wanting to incorporate it daily. I especially enjoyed the "Impact Challenge" which is great when working on research as a graduate student. Some other tips that I particularly enjoyed were things that "hog your time" and how to cut down on that. He also had great tips regarding caffeine, which I really needed to hear and learn to incorporate since I'm a caffeine addict. Lastly, Bailey approaches the concept of "mindfulness" in a really easy and accessible way. I've read so many mindfulness books in the past year and my therapist even encourages mindfulness practice, but time to time, I find myself still struggling with it. I really liked how Bailey defined it: "Mindfulness is simply the art of deliberately doing on thing at a time" (201) and I think that line really encompasses the whole book. Becoming more aware of our actions and how we are doing it to make sure that we are making the most of our time effectively. I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking to kickstart their schedule and find more effective ways to be productive! It is such a great read and I'm sure it will be one I return to time and time again.

My rating of the book:  (5/5 stars) 

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from Penguin Random House Canada for consideration/review. All opinions are my own.