Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Updates and such

So long my friends! So long without updates and hellos! I've been unforgivably neglectful, writing endless blog posts in my head while going to sleep at night but never finding the time to sit down and type them out. I imagine you can guess some of the reasons, but here's a visual on two of them:

Sybil you have met before, but lo! How she has grown into a little human!
One who enjoys gardening, long walks on the beach at low tide and hot wheels.
Then there's the newbie around here: Violet.
Possibly the sweetest, most easy going baby on planet earth.
Sure, cover me in flowers Sybil. It's totally cool, I'll just chill here and watch the clouds drift by.

Life is busy and chaotic with two munchkins and four cats, but oddly I seem to be getting way more sleep and maintaining my sanity much better, this time around. We've hit textbook toddlerhood and it's both wonderful and alcohol inducing, so that part is challenging, but our new hood on the other side of the country goes a long way to making everything easier.

B.C. is fantastic. It's been full blown spring since end of February, and we've already spent several long days at the beach! THE BEACH, can you believe it? Neither can I, but I have the photos to prove it, so it must be true.

As far as reading goes, I've been enjoying catching up on my TBR piles and re-reading old favourites. Currently I'm knee deep in the Scorpio Races and relishing how a good book is always good, even when your reading habits are not what they used to be and your attention span is short.  Mmmmmm, flesh eating horses!!

Anyhoots, I have been slowly and sluggishly trying to make updates to the blog, and once again investigating moving it over to wordpress. I make no promises, but I am once again feeling compelled instead of obligated to blog and that is always a good sign.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Caretakers Guide to Fablehaven- Blog Tour

From Goodreads:
This guidebook to the Fablehaven magical preserve is filled with everything a new Caretaker might need to know in order to survive. There are entries detailing important information about artifacts large and small, a complete bestiary of creatures (from fairies to trolls to satyrs), a guide to identifying demons, dragons, and wizards as well as valuable insights into the other magical preserves.

Immerse yourself into the secret knowledge that has been handed down through the generations by reading the updates and notes written in the margins by the former Caretakers of Fablehaven, including Grandpa Sorenson, Kendra, and Seth. Fully-illustrated, this unique encyclopedia has gathered the world of Fablehaven into one volume.

Scattered throughout the book are colorful fairies that also mark some of the characters, artifacts, and creatures that will be featured in the upcoming sequel series, Dragonwatch.

To say I'm excited to for Dragonwatch is an understatement, I was an enormous fan of the Fablehaven series and I CANNOT wait to see where Mull takes us next. In the meantime however, I was offered this lovely chance to pre-read The Caretakers Guide to Fablehaven and I was tickled to have the chance to revisit the books in this fun, illustrated, companion piece.  Unfortunately due to technical issues with my e-arc I was unable to read much of it, and couldn't see the illustrations. Alas! I'll just have to wait, like everyone else, for the October 13th release date. Good thing it's too soon!

In the meantime let me direct you to my older reviews of the other books in the series, so you can share the love while we wait, or get inspired to try something new if you haven't already partaken in the awesomeness.

And don't forget to pick up your copy of The Caretakers Guide on October 13th!

Friday, April 10, 2015

That time we decided to move to the opposite side of the country

You know, the warmer one?
Yes, well, we did. Decide that is, the moving part is still a handful of weeks away still *cringe*.

It has been a crazy, and often hospitalization heavy, couple of years for the hubby and I, and the upshot is we've decided that life is easier dealt with (especially when life includes an almost 2 year old), when family members live closer than 10 hours away from you. Alas, our families are both spread across the entirety of Canada and quite a bit of the USA, so it was hard to pick. However, BC has the largest group (my dad, his wife, her sister and my grandparents), and it is also lovely and warm there. Tough decision, right? Especially after living through the coldest February in recorded history in Toronto.

The hubsters and I are both born and raised westerners who wended our ways out to Toronto in our twenties, so I suppose it's not surprising it seems like an easy choice to head back. Life is a little more laid back, the area we're headed to (Tswassen/Ladner) has large yards and cheaper rents, and we're both looking forward to a less humid summer and a warmer winter. But I would be lying if I said there weren't things I would miss about Toronto.

Oddly enough, besides the lovely friends and acquaintances I've met over the years, the number one thing this city has that Vancouver is lacking is a heavy book culture with loads of bookish events. Having the publishers converged in this city does a lot for our bookish events and I'll miss being in the hub of that. Though I realize, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver combine to make some pretty awesome events as well, so there is that to look forward to.

I will greatly miss the gathering with my Toronto Book Blog peeps. I will not say that I will miss them, because the internet will always keep me connected to them in a way that will be, by and large, no different than usual. Which is so incredibly awesome.

In the meantime, consider my silence as the sound of boxes and boxes of books being packed. Yegads! The books! We will be hitting the road at the end of May, and so I will most likely be pretty silent until mid-June. Hopefully I will quickly and firmly become part of the Vancouver Book Blogging scene and I will have much to post about by July. Until then, feel free to send me all your *best of* for Vancouver and area, and introductions to anyone bookish, baby infested or young-ish and looking to befriend newcomers.

Also, you know, if you have a great job posting you'd like to send my way... no? Well I had to try.
Now back to the packing and life organizing!
(Good lord, this moving across the country thing was much simpler when I was 20)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Longbourn, Jo Baker- Review

From Goodreads:
If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them.
In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice,the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended. 

Much has been made about this book since it's original release, and it was always on the back of my need-to-read list, so the last time I was offered it by Random House I decided it was time to advance it to the front and finally make the time to read it. Granted that was ages ago, but you know, my to-be-read list is a lot like the DMV, sometimes the line takes ages, and sometimes you luck out and zip right through, there's no accounting for it.

It seems important to preface this review by coming clean and admitting that Pride and Prejudice is very near and dear to my heart. The BBC mini-series came out when I was in high school, and although I knew nothing about Jane Austen at the time, I loved a good period drama (oh the costumes!) and I watched the whole thing with baited breath. That valentines day my mom found an antique leather copy of both Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park and it became official, I was a Jane Austen devotee. I've been to plays about her life, read non-ficitional books about the time period she wrote in, about her letters, about the kinds of carriages people rode in, I designed a Jane Austen period dress for my then boyfriends high school graduation (I started with a vintage belt, and tea stained some very expensive silk in the bathtub to match. My mom had to leave the room, she couldn't watch.), clearly I'm smitten. I won't even go into the first year English angst I had when I realized that most university students do not appreciate Jane Austen. 

Anyhow, as a Downton Abbey fan as well, I loved the idea of a kind of mash up of sorts. Sadly I found Longbourn a very disappointing read.

It's hard to say exactly why Longbourn just didn't hit the mark for me. Although it followed through with a very similar Darcy/Elizabeth love story, and although Baker was very thorough in fleshing out the world of a servant in a smallish country manner, the overall effect was a bit bleak for me. Granted a servants life was in many ways, more bleak than that of a middle class woman, however I think this is where Austen's superior writing skills come into play. P & P is not just Elizabeth and Darcy's love story, it is not just a window into life in that time period. Pride and Prejudice has longevity and mass appeal because of it's mix of humour, longing, and sensibility. Elizabeth is appealing not just because she is the dark and lively sister of intelligence but because she is the voice of reason and calm in a household of many excitable women. When she has her moments of profound passion, be it negative or positive, with Darcy, it has impact, it reaches you.

Sarah is not an unlikeable character, but she gets carried away and does rash things. She gets drunk and runs through the dark to Mr. Bingley's house to kiss another servant. Which brings me to another big difference between Longbourn and P&P, Sarah's relationships always go past the point of propriety. Mention is made that it's no big deal as long as she doesn't end up pregnant, however this is deeply contrasted by Mrs. Hill who clearly shows us this is not the case. It is no surprise that much of the tension leaves the relationship as soon as that boundary is broken, but because of it being a period piece as well, it also undermines some of the believability. I don't doubt servants followed a code of conduct that was somewhat looser then their superiors, but the length Baker takes it to seems too far to me. It also changes the character of Sarah, who starts feeling more like Lydia than Elizabeth.

There is also a remarkable lack of humour in this book. To the point where Baker actively tries to change Mrs. Bennet from being a running joke to being someone who has been poorly used and very misunderstood. Although I can see the appeal in trying to add back story to the original (ie: Mrs. Hill and Mr. Bennet), it also changes the tone of the story significantly. With no comic relief to the servant's stories, they become very bleak indeed. Covered in aches, pains, chill blains and poorly mended clothing, worked half to death, all of them (every single character!) in unhappy relationships or hiding the relationships they are having or have had, there is absolutely no relief to the drudgery. 

Not a terrible read, but not at all what I expected, and certainly not one I would pitch to lovers of P & P or those looking for a similar read. 

Longbourn, by Jo Baker
Published by Vintage Canada, October 2013
My copy kindly provided by the publisher

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Shadow Scale, by Rachel Hartman- Review

From Goodreads:
The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself—for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways.

As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?

I have to start this review by admitting it was supposed to be posted a few days back, and due to some unforeseen family issues I got my dates muddled and missed it.  I'd say missed it completely, but sadly my place saver, which was blank except to say Shadow Scale Review, went up regardless. Suffice it to say, it was not a stark commentary on my thoughts on the book, which I loved, but just more hopeless semi-organised disorganization from which I seem to constantly be tangled in lately. What can I say? Obviously I need an assistant, though I believe they are called nannies when you have small children. Possibly a life coach...it is a rather large mess.

I've been following Hartman's tweets about the writing of this sequel with a level of enthusiasm  she probably would have found daunting if she'd known. Seraphina became one of my beloved favourites within the first couple of chapters and I've been incredibly excited to see where she was going to take the story next.  

It was both an unexpected and expected twist that the bulk of the book would be a journey away from Goredd, the castle and most of the characters who had become beloved to me. However, I loved seeing the world Hartman has created fleshed out, and the way this expands the readers understanding about the issues between humans and dragons gives added weight to the war. But I would be lying if I didn't admit I was spellbound by the journey to find the other half dragons of Seraphina's garden more than anything else (I know, anything else?? You ask. And yes, even Kiggs, and of course, Orma). To finally meet these beings in the flesh, to learn about their lives and struggles, it was in and of itself an  incredibly satisfying story.

Layered with politics, intrigue, a fascinating history and many levels of varying kinds of discrimination, Shadow Scale is not only a formidable sequel to Seraphina, it takes things one step further by dipping its toe into the waters of various sexual identities and alternate relationships. It's just a dip, but it was so neatly done, so without judgement or drama, it made it stand out to me as something somewhat extraordinary in the genre. Hardly surprising, as much of what Hartman has done with these two books has been extraordinary, but it makes me wonder why there can't be more of this in YA, or in Fantasy in general.

Just like Seraphina, Shadow Scale swept me away. Hartman managed to drag me out of my complex and distracting life, for minutes sometimes, and other times for hours. It was both a completely satisfying end to the story and a tease as to what might come next (Hartman told me at a luncheon that she's currently writing a new book about one of Seraphina's half siblings).  She may never be a wildly prolific author, and there are many that complain about the lag between books, but I can tell you she makes every minute you waited well worth it. To me, her books will always be like little library gems, and honestly, if you got those all the time they would hardly be as exciting.

Shadow Scale, by Rachel Hartman
Published by Random House March 10th, 2015
My copy kindly provided by the publisher

Friday, March 6, 2015

Bossypants, by Tina Fey- Review

From Goodreads:
Before Liz Lemon, before "Weekend Update," before "Sarah Palin," Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV.
She has seen both these dreams come true.
At last, Tina Fey's story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon—from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence.
Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we've all suspected: you're no one until someone calls you bossy.

This is one of those books I've had the best intentions, for no small amount of time, to read. I love Tina Fey, this was guaranteed to be funny. Turns out I am never going to be as crazy productive as she is (seriously, after reading this book I am greatly confused by not only how she hasn't died from sleep deprivation, but also how her marriage has survived), and I must admit the sheer volume of books I intend to read is outrageously ridiculous, especially at my current reading speed. Anyhoots, I've read it!!   And it only took 4 years to get too.

I was right, it was funny, thoroughly enjoyable, and surprisingly down to earth considering her wonderful lifetime of excellent timing, good luck and obvious talent. It took me till almost the halfway point in the book to find myself laughing out loud and trying to hold myself back from reading every second paragraph out loud, presumably because the start of the book is about her earlier days and thus somewhat less crazy, but also because the front end of the book has a bit more story and a tiny bit less antidote. Either way, by the time I hit the chapter "Amazing, Gorgeous, Not Like That." I was having trouble reading through the tears of mirth. I'd like that chapter to follow me around and give me a little joy burst on grouchy days, honest to god, can someone make that happen?

Mixed in with stories of SNL, 30 Rock and photo shoots are Fey's thoughts on Feminism, politics, beauty and other difficult topics. Her take on many of these things was surprisingly fresh, and always down to earth in an unexpected way:

My daughter has a reversible doll: Sleeping Beauty on one side and Snow White on the other. I would always set it on her bed with the Snow White side out and she would toddle up to it and flip the skirt over to Sleeping Beauty. I would flip it back and say "Snow White is so pretty." She would yell, "No!" and flip it back. I did this experiment so frequently and consistently that I should have applied for government funding. The result was always the same. When I asked her why she didn't like Snow White, she told me, "I don't like her hair." Not even three years old, she knew that yellow hair is king. And, let's admit it, yellow hair does have magic powers. You could put a blond wig on a hot-water heater and some dude would try to fuck it. Snow White is better looking. I hate to stir up trouble among princesses, but take away the hair and Sleeping Beauty is actually a little beat...
But I think the first real change in women's body image came when JLo turned it butt-style. That was the first time that having a large-scale situation in the back was part of mainstream American beauty. Girls wanted butts now. Men were free to admit that they had always enjoyed them. And then, what felt like moments later, boom- Beyonce brought the leg meat. A back porch and thick muscular legs were now widely admired. And from that day forward, women embraced their diversity and realized that all shapes and sizes are beautiful. Ah ha ha. No. I'm totally messing with you. All Beyonce and JLo have done is add to the laundry list of attributes women must have to qualify as beautiful. Now every girl is expected to have:
  • Caucasian blue eyes
  • full Spanish lips
  • a classic button nose
  • hairless Asian skin with a California tan
  • a Jamaican dance hall ass
  • long Swedish legs
  • small Japanese feet
  • the abs of a lesbian gym owner
  • the hips of a nine-year-old-boy
  • the arms of Michelle Obama
  • and doll tits
The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes. Everyone else is struggling.
Even the Yellowhairs who were once on top can now be found squatting to a Rihanna song in a class called Gary's Glutes Camp in an attempt to revers-engineer a butt. These are dark times. Back in my Wildwood days with Janet, you were either blessed with a beautiful body or not. And if you were not, you could just chill out and learn a trade. Now if you're not "hot," you are expected to work on it until you are. It's like when you renovate a house and you're legally required to leave just one of the original walls standing. If you don't have a good body, you'd better starve the body you have down to a neutral shape, then bolt on some breast implants, replace your teeth, dye your skin orange, inject your lips, sew on some hair , and call yourself the Playmate of the Year.
How do we survive this? How do we teach our daughters and our gay sons that they are good enough the way they are? We have to lead by example. Instead of try to fit an impossible ideal, I took a personal inventory of all my healthy body parts for which I am grateful:
  • Straight Greek eyebrows. They start at the hairline at my temple and, left unchecked, will grow straight across my face and onto yours.
  • A heart-shaped ass. Unfortunately, it's a right-side-up heart; the point is at the bottom.
  • Droopy brown eyes designed to confuse predators into thinking I'm just on the verge of sleep and they should come back tomorrow to eat me.
  • Permanently rounded shoulders from years of working at a computer
  • A rounded belly that is pushed out by my rounded posture no matter how many sit-ups I do. Which is mostly none.
  • A small high waist.
  • A wad of lower-back fat that never went away after I lost my "baby weight." One day in the next ten years, this back roll will meet up with my front pouch, forever obscuring my small high waist, and I will officially be my mother.
  • Wed-set knockers that aren't so big but can be hoisted up once or twice a year for parades.Good strong legs with big gym teacher calves that I got from walking pigeon -toed my whole life.
  • Wide German hips that look like somebody wrapped Pillsbury dough around a case of soda.
  • My father's feet. Flat. Bony. Pale. I don't know how he even gets around, because his feet are in my shoes....
 At the end of the day, I'm happy to have my father's feet and my mother's eyes with me at all times. If I ever go back to that beach in Wildwood, I want my daughter to be able to find me in the crowd by spotting my soda-case hips. I want her to be able to pick me out of a sea of  highlighted blond women with fake tans because I'm the one with the thick ponytail ad the greenish undertones in my skin....Also, full disclosure, I would trade my feet for almost any other set of feet out there.
This felt a little what I imagine being friends with Fey would be like. Silly stories over drinks, complaining about horrors of aging, while out for coffee and over the top gourmet donuts.  And on that note, I'm going to go re-read "Amazing, Gorgeous, Not Like That" while eating chocolate mini-eggs, ignoring my rounded belly that is pushed out by my rounded posture no mater how many sit-ups I do (which is totally none), and pretending Tina Fey and I are meeting for coffee later this afternoon to debate the merits of having a second child, because, I hear you Tina. I will yell my advice to you through a bathroom stall door anytime.

Bossypants, by Tina Fey
Published by Reagan Arthur Books,  January 1st, 2011

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman- Review repeat in honour of Shadow Scale's imminent release!

It is with great joy that I recently got the opportunity to read Seraphina's sequel, Shadow Scale. Not just because it's amazing, but also because it was the perfect opportunity to treat myself to a re-read of Seraphina.

And because Seraphina's gorgeous new paperback is now on shelves, and also because Shadow Scale comes out in just a handful of sleeps, what better time is it to either dive into this series for the first time, or treat yourself to the luxury of a re-read? I promise you, it is well worth it.

Just in case you don't trust the less prolific 2015 me, why don't you take a look at much more trust worthy, and prolific, 2012 me? Hmm?

From Goodreads:
Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

You know that feeling when a book blows your mind?  Where you're completely wrapped up in it from almost the first few words and you have issues putting it down until you're done?  Where everything is so vibrant and rich you're not reading your experiencing the story? The hubby commented once when we had 5 hour flight and I was about to start the last Harry Potter that I wouldn't be on the plane, I would be at Hogwarts so the 5 hour trip wouldn't bother me at all.  Its like that.  Anyhoots, Seraphina was that kind of read for me, and the amazing thing is (outside of that already amazing and rare accomplishment), this was a debut author guys. Yah, I know right? Impressive.

I'm not sure where to start, honestly I loved it all so much!  I suppose for starters I'll talk about the world she's built.  It's phenomenal in its subtleties, and impressive in it's scope.  Hartman hasn't just created a fantasy world with Dragons, she's developed cultures and prejudices, a whole world of whirling politics, segregation, intolerance and persecution.  The world is almost secondary to the society she's lushly filled it with.  And it's fascinating.
Undersecretary Eskar looked down her aquiline nose as if checking human features off a list.  Two arms: check.  Two legs: unconfirmed due to long houppelande.  Two eyes, bovine brown: check.  Hair the colour of strong tea, escaping its plait: check.  Breasts: not obviously. Tall, but within normal parameters.  Furious or embarrassed redness upon cheeks: check.
"Hmph," she said. "It's ot nearly as hideous as I always pictured it."
Orma, bless his shriveled dragon heart, corrected her. "She."
"Is it not infertile as a mule?"
My face grew so hot I half expected my hair to catch fire.
"She," said Orma firmly, as if he himself had not made the same mistake the first time. "All humans take a gender pronoun, irrespective of reproductive fitness."
"We take offence otherwise," I said through a brittle smile.
Eskar lost interest abruptly, releasing me from her gaze.
Which leads me to my next love about this story. The characters, my god what great characters!  Complex and layered, everyone of them had a surprising depth and were lovingly rendered.  No wishy washy fill in roles were played, no half baked side characters thrown in to move along the plot, everyone had a place and a history and everyone of them were absolutely absorbing.  At no point did the story wander off somewhere or with someone who wasn't incredibly interesting, no scene bored me, no conversation felt like the push compelling the story back into the interesting bits.  And funny! Did I mention how funny it was?  Seraphina's dry humour and her practical approach to even the craziest situation was so witty and refreshing, she was like no other heroine I can think of.  No super fighting/killing skills, no mad weaponry, she's just smart and no-nonsense.

There was something very compelling about how intelligent the story was.  No cop out love story (though of course there is a love story, it just doesn't own the narrative), no wild fight scenes, Seraphina is a clever political mystery.  The vocabulary matches the high caliber of the story telling and I even had to look up a word or two, which is a nice change of pace.  Hartman does not talk down to her audience which is so refreshing, so although it was complete fantasy I felt like somehow I was learning something.  Hopefully it was a higher level of vocabulary.  Honest to god, I read so much, but I could use a bump in my vocab.

I fell in love with this story plain and simple.  I loved the drama, the intrigue, I was torn by the prejudice and touched by how Seraphina and Orma struggled with their differences and yet loved each other all the same.  The love interest, Kiggs was charming and was one of the first love interests I've ever read who wasn't some gorgeous god of a man, Seraphina falls in love with his wit and personality and the reader does too.  I was paging through the book for this review and spent an hour re-reading passages sorely tempted to read it all over again.

Simply put, you have to read this impressive debut.  Needless to say I can't wait to see how this series spreads its wings going forward.

If you want a taste of what a wonderful treat you're in for, check out Hartmans short story prequel The Audition.  It's also totally delightful.

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman
Published by Random House, July 10, 2012
My copy kindly provided by the publisher
Buy Seraphina on Amazon