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May 25, 2016

Review: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Title: A Court of Mist and Fury
Author: Sarah J Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication Date: May 3rd, 2016
Genre(s): New Adult, High Fantasy, Retelling
Source: Borrowed
Pages: 640
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Feyre survived Amarantha's clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can't forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin's people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

With more than a million copies sold of her beloved Throne of Glass series, Sarah J. Maas's masterful storytelling brings this second book in her seductive and action-packed series to new heights.

Fair warning, this review has all the spoilers because I tried super hard to write one without discussing SPOILER and SPOILER and how SPOILER DID SPOILER and…you can see how that turned out.

I'm so conflicted and tumultous. It’s been three days since I finished ACOMAF but I realised today my chaotic, weird feelings about this book aren’t dying anytime soon. WHAT WAS THAT BOOK EVEN. I am feeling WAY too many things right now and I want to explore each one of them in greater detail.

I gave ACOTAR 4 stars when I first read it, 3 stars when I wrote my review, and it sagged very much in my opinion even after that. At the time I started ACOMAF, I fully expected to hate it as much as I hated ACOTAR and only read on because I thought Sarah would surprise me...which she did.

In ACOTAR, Tamlin was an asshole. The minute he denied Feyre her cake, I had my defenses up. But his spinelessness in the last third of the book was really what sealed the deal for me, and I wondered how any of what Tamlin did could even remotely be construed as romantic. Some part of me wonders if Sarah J Maas allowed this Feyre-Tamlin mess to go on for as long as it did to fully allow the readers to appreciate (in retrospect) what a tangled, tragic, abusive mess that was. Some twisted parts of me revels in the way Tamlin wasn’t painted as Bad Guy Number 1 from the beginning. Hell, he was the hero in this BatB retelling, what could he ever do wrong. But as Maas continued to distance herself from the fairy tale that loosely inspired ACOTAR in ACOMAF, it became very apparent that Tamlin was anything but Feyre’s saviour.

There are very obvious parallels to Feyre’s relationship with Rhysand, who thank god gets wayyy more face time than Tamlin. I am not going to lie, Sarah J Maas does unresolved tension and banter like no one else and I’d be flat out lying if that wasn’t a huge reason why I kept reading because I had to see that tension resolved goddammit. But now that I’ve, um calmed down, I’m just going to say it: the romance wasn’t….ideal. I appreciate Maas fleshing out Tamlin's assholery and effectively showing his possessive alpha male territorial crap for what it was exactly. It was a nuanced, subtle thing, and I love that so much of the book was devoted to exploring that. I even concede that there needed to be this level of emphasis on romance for this to be fully realized. There are so many Rhys/Tamlin parallels and many painful scenes where Feyre realizes how broken her relationship with Tamlin was, that drives this concept completely home, and I'm very glad that a book about Fae, the genre oft used to romanticize obviously pretty unbalanced and/or borderline abusive relationships depicts this.

BUT. The Rhys/Feyre romance was still not ideal. Not telling Feyre about her bond, SO NOT COOL BRO. Making her read stuff like "Rhys is the best lover you've ever had" or "Rhysand is the most delightful High Lord" was creepy and not even remotely funny let alone romantic to me. Besides this, there was some freaky S Meyer shit going down there which I was 100% not on board with? Why is “mating” a thing? Why is the idea of one perfect mate touted again and again in fae stories? Elain becoming fae and then Lucien proclaiming her to be his mate? Whyyyyyy? I am so upset that is a thing that happened and will likely be a large plot point in book 3, we need to stop romanticizing this crap like 10 years ago? Also we get it, Rhys and Feyre are madly in love but why does the stupid mating bond have to make them compulsively bang each other? Why this trope didn't just die with Breaking Dawn is beyond me. Dont? You? Realize? That 324 sex scenes? Makes it get real old? Real fast?

I know it sounds like I hated a lot of the book, but honestly I’m surprised the book didn’t explode in my hands, so chock-full of clich├ęs that it was. Pointless secrets used as plot devices, convenient “festivals” for the mushy conversations and almost-make out scenes, weird monster names, this book literally had it all.

The pacing of this book was pretty meh too. This book should have been two books. We were robbed of so much action and intrigue and mystery solving for character development (which I'm not saying isn't important), but the book was a LOT of conversations and recovery and backstory-telling and then like ONE page of action, rinse, repeat. As much as I enjoyed the character development, thr half baked action seriously affected my liking of the book. A lot of the actiony parts were either too "easy" or rushed and details were left out and that made me very grumpy. I’d have loved to see how Az dealt with the mortal queens, I’d have liked some more struggle with the mortal queens or the Bone Carver, I’d have liked to watch Amren work with the book. I’m all for books that are more about character growth than action (Heir of Fire), but if you’re going to do the action, I need it whole-assed, not half-assed.

But okay, okay, okay, I didn’t hate the book, really. I did enjoy myself for some parts of it. Sarah J Maas does world building, prose, and banter like literally no one else that I know and watching her expand her universe beyond the Spring Court into Velaris, Adriatia, and the Summer Court was so much fun. The world in ACOMAF becomes much more layered and complex and the backstory that she dedicated, especially to the secondary characters was incredibly layered and rich in detail.

That squad kept me together through this book and I will be you anything, Maas wrote those scenes to scenes of Bellamy and co. in the rover, ha. Morrigan is possibly my favorite character of the book. We get to see more of Nesta! Prickly, steely, strong, wonderful Nesta will have a decidedly larger role to play in book 3 and I’m suppper excited to watch her come into her own. Amren is like….Manon’s soul sister. There is no other way to put it. She is cold and vicious, but there’s a lot of sorrow in her actions and character that I bet Maas is keeping from us for good reason. Secondary characters, best characters, basically. I suppose I should also mention Rhys. I was very surprised with the turn his character took this book. I knew he was probably intended as Feyre’s love interest but his internal growth and change was a lot of fun to watch. I wish this book was written in third person though, because I feel like I really only know him through Feyre’s eyes. I hope we get a Rhys POV next book.

The book ended with the biggest of cliffhangers and everything was a mess including us, as Sarah dropped the mic and walked away and I’m just wondering what I will do without my Illyrian warriors and Nesta until freaking 2017. If you hated ACOTAR or dnf’d it (and then read this sort of spoilery review, ha), I definitely encourage you to power through that crap to ACOMAF.

I cannot wait to see how my squad kills it in book 3.

May 14, 2016

Review: Dear Thing by Julie Cohen

Dear Thing
Title: Dear Thing
Author: Julie Cohen
Publisher: Raincoast Canada
Publication date: March 29, 2016
Genre(s): Adult contemporary 
Source: Publisher
Pages: 432

After years of watching her best friends Ben and Claire try for a baby, Romily has offered to give them the one thing that they want most.

Romily expects it will be easy to be a surrogate. She's already a single mother, and she has no desire for any more children. But Romily isn't prepared for the overwhelming feelings that have taken hold of her and which threaten to ruin her friendship with Ben and Claire-and even destroy their marriage.

Now there are three friends, two mothers and only one baby, and an impossible decision to make...

Dear Thing was a recipe for drama and I was very excited to start reading it. My only concern was that there would be cheating involved which is something I can't stomach in my books but I needn't have worried. Romily and Ben have been best friends for years.. Ben is married to Claire while Romily has a seven year old kid, and is in love with Ben. Yikes indeed. What's even more messy is that Romily offered to be the surrogate for the couple because Claire can't get pregnant. Recipe for drama? check. 

The general story sounded very interesting however the execution was a bit lacking for me. The story dragged on and it felt that the story could be congested in 200 pages or so. I felt several times the plot was dragging and I would skim through paragraphs of descriptions on repeated thought processes. However the plot was very heartfelt, and it really showed the struggle of both Claire, who viewed herself as a failure for not being able to get pregnant, and Romily, who seems to get into this surrogacy for all the wrong reasons. I feel the slow developing friendship between both women was very important and gave us insight on how each viewed the other and also the prejudices accompanying that judgement and how they were able to finally understand each other. 

This is definitely not a romance book. It is more about relationships.. between friends, strangers, long lost fathers, misunderstood people, mothers, and daughters. I liked that all the characters were flawed and also they also tried their best to become better versions of themselves. Humans are messy, and this book shows us that in a very realistic way (even if the suggestion of surrogacy by Romily was highly unrealistic). I would recommend it to adult fiction fans who like a little drama and realistic plot lines in their stories. 

April 29, 2016

Review: Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Title: Eligible
Author: Curtis Littenfeld 
Publisher: Random House Canada
Publication date: April 19, 2016
Genre(s): Adult contemporary 
Source: Publisher
Pages: 512
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This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray.

Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.

Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . . And yet, first impressions can be deceiving. Wonderfully tender and hilariously funny, Eligible both honors and updates Austen’s beloved tale. Tackling gender, class, courtship, and family, Sittenfeld reaffirms herself as one of the most dazzling authors writing today.
I was very excited to read Eligible because I love anything Pride & Prejudice related. Knowing that this is a retelling, one that is anticipated by many of my reader friends, had me pick it up as soon as I received it in the mail. I have to say that I was hooked immediately, however, this is a 500+ page book... and halfway through the book... the momentum seemed to have fizzled? so while I truly loved the first half of the book, the second half somewhat disappointed. 

What I liked about Eligible is that the author tried to make this story as much hers as it is Jane Austen's. I have abandoned many P&P retellings because it seemed just that... the story being retold.. with not much personal input from the author. However, Curtis was able to do that. For one, Liz and Jane are both 38 and 40 years old. Many times I would try to remember which part of this plot it is in relation to the original, which showed me how the author owned this retelling. 

Unfortunately halfway through the novel... I felt I was back to reading a parody of P&P... I felt (personally) that the author lost sight and tried to make it as unique as possible to the point that some scenes felt contrived? or made to be too different from the original to the point that the decisions and paths made didn't make much sense.. however the author has to follow the direction of the original work. A very thin space is between being too much like a P&P retelling, and being too different to not make it look like one. Some decisions some characters made were not in character but they had to be made to stick to the storyline. It was a tad disappointing. 

I liked Liz however she was very easily pushed around by her family. She paid for things, listened to her annoying mother complain even though it is her mother's fault they are in that exact situation.. let her younger sisters talk crap about her to her face..... that was very grating on my nerves. However I got she was trying to be the mature one here. Lastly, the romance... I wasn't a fan of? it wasn't developed well... seemed out of the blue how they both liked each other... I was waiting for that signature P&P tension between Liz and Darcy but I didn't see it. 

I know I had complaints about the book.. but I truly did enjoy it. If I had to rate it, I would give the first half 4 stars while the second half 2 stars. I would recommend it to fans of P&P retellings if any that i've said doesn't bother you too much.. I know it didn't bother me all that much since I was able to finish the book by the end. 

April 25, 2016

Three Scoops of Summer: The Last Boy and Girl in the World's author, Siobhan Vivian, guest post

Yes, summer is finally here! (at least in some parts of the world), and with it comes the Three Scoops of Summer blog tour hosted by Simon & Schuster Canada! In this tour, many canadian bloggers will be bringing you author written pieces, reviews, and fun posts for: The Last Boy and Girl in the World by Siobhan Vivian, The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson, and The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder!

Today, the tour will kick off with a written piece by Siobhan Vivian, the author of The Last Boy and Girl in the World here at Maji Bookshelf!

The Last Boy and Girl in the World
Title: The Last Boy and Girl in the World
Author: Siobhan Vivian
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Canada
Publication date: April 26, 2016
Genre(s): YA (Contemporary)
Pages: 432

What if your town was sliding underwater and everyone was ordered to pack up and leave? How would you and your friends spend your last days together?

While the adults plan for the future, box up their possessions, and find new places to live, Keeley Hewitt and her friends decide to go out with a bang. There are parties in abandoned houses. Canoe races down Main Street. The goal is to make the most of every minute they still have together.

And for Keeley, that means taking one last shot at the boy she’s loved forever.

There’s a weird sort of bravery that comes from knowing there’s nothing left to lose. You might do things you normally wouldn’t. Or say things you shouldn’t. The reward almost always outweighs the risk. Almost.

It’s the end of Aberdeen, but the beginning of Keeley’s first love story. It just might not turn out the way she thought. Because it’s not always clear what’s worth fighting for and what you should let become a memory.

The Top 5 Things Siobhan Would Do If Her City Were Sinking

Here’s what I’d do if Pittsburgh were about to disappear under water, like the town of Aberdeen in my new book, THE LAST BOY AND GIRL IN THE WORLD.

I’d have to hit up my favorite restaurants for the last time. First stop would be iced coffee and a doughnut from the best local coffee shop, Tazza D’oro. For lunch, I’d chow down on a veggie burger (with grilled pineapple, avocado and jalapenos) from Burgatory. For dinner, I’d get thai fried chicken from Noodlehead. And dessert would have to be homemade ice cream from Millie’s.

I’d probably max out my phone memory snapping pics. When it comes to documenting a place, I don’t think you should worry about getting the perfect staged picture. It’s quantity over quality. Like, I don’t want to just remember the house I live in. I want to remember all the houses on the block, plus the way the stop sign is a little bit dented from someone shooting a BB gun.

Photos aside, I’d want some sort of tangible memorabilia to take with me. Something that, long after Pittsburgh was gone, would prove that it was once was a thriving city. Maybe a street sign? Or a beautiful map?

If Pittsburgh were flooded, I’m sure I’d want to do something super crazy. Maybe I’d explore an empty building or museum. Or take a canoe and paddle it somewhere surreal, like the middle of a football field.  

There’s nothing worse than getting robbed of the chance to tell someone how you really feel about them before they’re gone. I have a few friends in Pittsburgh mean the world to me, and I’d want to make sure they knew it before they left. It’s the perfect setting for a heart-on-your-sleeve, no-holding-back, here’s-everything-I-never-told-you conversation.

The inverse of that, of course, is coming clean about someone you don’t like. I have a neighbor who is a horrible, horrible man. I have to play polite with him, since we live next door to each other. But! If Pittsburgh were suddenly being evacuated, I would definitely go knock on his door and tell him exactly what I think about him!

April 16, 2016

Review: OCDaniel by Wesley King

Title: OCDaniel
Author: Wesley King
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: April 12th, 2016
Genre(s): Mental health, Middle grade, Childrens, Contemporary
Source: Publisher
Pages: 304
Add to Goodreads | Chapters | Amazon CA | B&N

From the author of Incredible Space Raiders from Space! comes a brand-new coming-of-age story about a boy whose life revolves around hiding his obsessive compulsive disorder—until he gets a mysterious note that changes everything.

Daniel is the back-up punter for the Erie Hills Elephants. Which really means he’s the water boy. He spends football practice perfectly arranging water cups—and hoping no one notices. Actually, he spends most of his time hoping no one notices his strange habits—he calls them Zaps: avoiding writing the number four, for example, or flipping a light switch on and off dozens of times over. He hopes no one notices that he’s crazy, especially his best friend Max, and Raya, the prettiest girl in school. His life gets weirder when another girl at school, who is unkindly nicknamed Psycho Sara, notices him for the first time. She doesn’t just notice him: she seems to peer through him.

Then Daniel gets a note: “I need your help,” it says, signed, Fellow Star child—whatever that means. And suddenly Daniel, a total no one at school, is swept up in a mystery that might change everything for him.

With great voice and grand adventure, this book is about feeling different and finding those who understand.

This is a book about OCD.

I want to establish this, because although the plot of the book had many other things going on with it, that is what the focus of the book was for me, and what I learnt about this condition was my primary takeaway.

I think the beauty of the book lay in how Daniel’s condition was woven into his life along with the problems and experiences that come with the middle school life. Will his best friend remain his best friend in high school? Will the prettiest girl in his class fall for him? Will his father be proud of him for his effort in the football team? Will he be angry if he quits? I say “woven”, because I was able to point out how his experiences were significantly altered by his OCD. That’s what I loved about the book--his OCD was a very real, very significant aspect of his life that wasn’t portrayed as insulated from the rest of his experiences.

I have, of course, heard the stories and experiences of people with OCD. But this book made me feel on an entirely new level, the desperation and fright, the helplessness and and compulsiveness that is associated with this disorder. My heart broke for Daniel’s confusion at his behaviour and the way he struggled to make sense of it. He soon develops a strong camaraderie with the resident crazy of his school, Sara, who seems to be the only person that is comfortable with his OCD.

When he realizes that Sara is just as normal as him, he is understandably jarred. Here was someone what everyone proclaimed weird and crazy, but all he saw was her strength and understanding, and how normal she turned out to be. That was a huge step in his character growth, because it taught him that people with mental health conditions are no different than those without. They are people, and they deserve as much love, care, and attention as the next person. They are not broken. They are not crazy. This acceptance was what eventually led to him coming to terms with his own OCD.

A lot of this book involves Daniel silently suffering alone with this disorder, initially because he doesn’t understand it, eventually because he’s ashamed of it, and later, because he feels like no one will understand. Daniel’s inability to understand it was because his parents or teachers never made him aware that such disorders exist. The shame he felt because of his disorder was because he wasn’t aware that other people have had similar experiences, and that he wasn’t alone. His feeling that no one would understand was because mental health was never discussed mental health openly and freely in his social circles. OCDaniel made me realize me all that, and more.

Middle grade needs more books like this. I’d love for this to be required reading for middle school kids. Kids learn about conditions like this too late, if at all. I highly recommend this book for an enlightening, touching, and eye-opening read about a young boy’s confusion, shame, denial, and eventual acceptance about his mental health.