Review: The Glass Sentence

The Glass Sentence
The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This is a perfectly good middle-grade adventure story. I think my issue with it was that, ultimately, I’m a little too old to be the good target audience for it — the same thing happened with the Percy Jackson series, so I think this speaks more to my own tastes than it does to the book itself. Had I been, perhaps, 10 or 11 years old, I might have enjoyed this more than I did.

But if you want something that’s quick and easy, this is a good book to go to, and I’m sure the rest of the trilogy will be the same.

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Review: Every Heart a Doorway

Every Heart a Doorway
Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“What about, like, Narnia?” asked Christopher. “Those kids went through all sorts of different doors, and they always wound up back with the big talking lion.”
“That’s because Narnia was a Christian allegory pretending to be a fantasy series, you asshole,” said one of the other boys.

While there is certainly some interesting discourse on sexuality — especially asexuality, which I much appreciate — the actual plot and story of this novel is only okay. I mean, yeah, it’s fine, but I’m not falling over myself about it.

It’s the dilemma of interesting things are being said, but I don’t give too much of a damn about what’s happening: I don’t really care about the characters, don’t care about the place, and don’t particularly care about the murders that occur within the book. This book actually made murder seem dull! I don’t know how, but it did. Perhaps it’s the brevity of the novel and its noticeably perfunctory ending. Perhaps it’s the inconsistency with which the author manages to hold my attention and interest throughout the narrative. Perhaps it’s just me, and I am left feeling that I needed more.

Overall: I feel something almost like apathy towards this novel, but it gets 4 stars for some clever writing and zingers.

“You found freedom, if only for a moment, and when you lost it, you came here, hoping it could be found again.”

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Review: And I Darken

And I Darken
And I Darken by Kiersten White

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

*A huge thank you to Random House Children’s for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via Netgalley for the purposes of review*

This is not a fast book, but if you stick with it, you may find it rewarding.

I went into this book completely blind: I knew nothing about it, had heard nothing about it, and didn’t have any set bar of expectations for it. Which is probably why, at first, I wasn’t really sure I was going to like it. I read the blurb and immediately feared I was going to get a love triangle and a poor treatment of the narrative gimmick: What if Dracula was a girl?

Except, yes, this book has a love triangle…but it’s not quite what you’d expect.
And, yes, it does ask the question: What if Dracula was a girl? Once again, it’s not quite what you’d expect.

And I Darken takes a distinctly historical-fiction approach to its story, investigating Vlad Dragwlya’s children, Lada and Radu. Lada is a half-wild, fiercely-violent young girl (and later young woman) who believes in solving things with bloodshed first, (maybe) talk second. Her gentler younger brother, Radu, is the exact opposite: he is a softhearted crybaby who eventually sees the value in using quiet words in order to manipulate people to achieve his ends. Two sides of the same coin — given that this is to be a series, I wonder if the ultimate idealogical showdown will be that of a conqueror versus a ruler.

Lana is terrifying, and fit to be the conqueror of this potential ideological smackdown; she is likely to become our Vlad the Impaler because, while she certainly matured over the course of the novel, there’s no denying that she is a woman defined by her wrath. Radu, however, could be the ruler, or at the very least, the advisor to a ruler. He knows the value of slipping into people’s lives without shedding blood, and also the power of quiet manipulation. I think he’s set to be the an advisor-type character to our third major player: Mehmed. The son of the sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and the childhood friend of both Lada and Radu, Mehmed was one of the weakest parts of the novel. It was not so much a question of whether or not I could like him, but more whether or not i could find him interesting. In contrast to the Dragwlya siblings, Mehmed fell a little flat. Again, given this is a series, I sense he’ll become a more fully-defined character, especially given the ending of this novel.

The love triangle, while present, was not horrible. They can be done well, and while I wish it were not present at all within this novel, I can swallow it because it only threatened to derail only one of the characters in near-perpetual and inescapable angst. That grew tiresome after a while, and hence I wish the love triangle had been omitted — however, again, it was on the whole done tastefully and well.

Because this is a series, the good first third of this novel moves at a glacial pace, and I was starting to grow dismayed as to how little was actually happening. It gets better, but I should warn you’ll have to slog through the first bit. But I will say that it is absolutely 100% worth it when you get to the ending. The narrative promises set in the beginning are delivered upon and it’s not only action-packed, but also provides some much-needed and crucial character moments and developments, especially for Lada. (If you haven’t guessed, Lada is my favourite character and the true “breakout star” of this story.)

Would I read the sequels? Yes. I want to see what White does with Lada’s story. I want to see the historical aspects weave their way through this fictitious presentation. And I think those who read this, will want those things too.

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Review: A Court of Mist and Fury

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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


An improvement over A Court of Thorns and Roses, without question, A Court of Mist and Fury embraces the myth of Hades and Persephone, leaving Beauty & the Beast behind in the dust.

This is a much longer book, with more intrigue and politics than its predecessor as we weave our way through the fae courts and their High Lords. What’s best, however, are some of the questions of consent that were certainly raised within ACOTAR get addressed (sometimes even corrected) in ACOMAF. Thank you. It’s not perfect, but it’s so much better. There’s a lot to love and plenty to critique…if you felt like it.

If I felt like being brutal and purely objective, I could critique the living day lights out of this book and tell you all the things that make it problematic or unworthy of such a high rating. But, kind of like I said in my review of Cassandra Clare’s Lady Midnight: I’ve drunk the cool-aid of Maas’ writing so just gimme more. All day, e’rry day.

Though I will say this: I’m astounded this is still being shelved in Young Adult within the bookstore because…guys it goes from zero to graphic smut in like 0.68 seconds. (I’m exaggerating the speed, but not the graphic-nature of it.) Seriously, this is NSFW in any respect and I can’t help but think the audience for this book is anybody who can get into an R-rated film without a parent — i.e. 18+ years. I, personally, don’t have a problem with it, and was actually pleased to see that, once again, Maas has written a sexually-active heroine who takes multiple partners throughout the course of her series-long narrative. Yes, this means many ships are born and die over the course of many books, but I think it works here in this series.

I feel like this series is my guilty pleasure: one of those things I objectively see for the flawed creature that it is, but I enjoy reading all the same.

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Confectionary Fandemonium

As you may well be aware, Game of Thrones, HBO’s television adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, returned to television for its sixth season on April 24th in what can probably be accurately described as one of the biggest television events of the year. People gather for viewing parties, some set their DVR, and others, like my flatmate, Whitney, and I, carve out our 9PM EST hour as “Unavailable for Consultation.” It is a church-like ritual, in which our butts are placed upon a couch and our eyeballs glued to the Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 9.29.39 PM.pngtelevision set.

Except, this year, we added cupcakes to the mix.

The trend of “artisanal cupcakes” is popularly linked to “the moment Carrie Bradshaw and co stepped into the 1950s-styled Magnolia Bakery in Manhattan and ordered a cupcake in Sex and the City in 2000.” And while it has certainly quieted in recent years, unique and sometimes downright peculiar cupcake combinations remain popular. In the Fan District of Richmond, VA, there is a pink-painted building that houses Carytown Cupcakes. Specializing in “creatively-inspired cupcakes made with all-natural ingredients,” this confectioner opened its doors in 2009, and features 16+ flavours per day with at least 2 vegan and 2 gluten-free offerings daily. They accomplish this by having at least 9-10 “classic cupcakes” and then (usually) 6 specially-themed cupcakes.

As you’ve probably guessed, their special theme through May 1st was Game of Thrones. What amazed me was not that somebody would decide to make cupcakes inspired by various Thrones characters and foods — after all, there are plenty of cookbooks on the topic — no, it was the creativity with which they concocted these confections.

IMG_0301GREYSCALE: …an Earl Grey tea cake, topped with almond buttercream, dipped in toasted almonds. It’s almost hilarious that someone would create a cake based on this deadly Westerosi disease. Described as rendering flesh stiff and dead, greyscale leaves its victims’ skin racked and flaking, mottled black and grey and stone-like to the touch. Hence the decoration upon this cupcake, and likely the inspiration to utilize a cake made with Earl Grey tea.

For those of you not entirely familiar with tea, Earl Grey is a black tea blend that has the distinct flavour profile of oil from the rind of bergamot orange, which can best be described as a citrus cocktail: orange and lemon, with notes of grapefruit and lime. Strong as a liquid, yet when baked into this cake, it was subtle to the point of being nearly obliterated from my palate by the almond buttercream. I love almond, don’t get me wrong, but almond extract is surprisingly strong — pair that with the toasted almonds and it’s just too much for the tea to handle.

Overall, the cupcake was subtle and light, rather like whatever shreds of humanity remain within the victims of greyscale as the disease rots their brain — but when eaten with the almond buttercream and toasted almond topping, the tea flavour disappeared almost entirely. Thus are greyscale victims consumed by their disease.

*Rating = two thumbs up

IMG_0332MOTHER OF DRAGONS: …a spicy chocolate cupcake with spicy chocolate buttercream, topped with 3 “aged” dragon’s eggs. It actually took my flatmate and I something like three stops into Carytown Cupcake in order to find this particular confection — yeah, it was that popular. And, honestly, who’d be surprised? Danaerys Targaryen is one of the most prominent major players from the television show, and one that inspires endless amounts of creative work, including, obviously, cupcakes.

The spicy chocolate cake was a dark chocolate — as opposed to milk or white —  with hints of cinnamon to complement the chili that come through at a warmth that sparked on the tongue with just enough heat to add flavour, but not overwhelm the richness of the chocolate. Essentially, it was a Mexican Chocolate Cake, but in cupcake form. Full disclosure: I’m not a huge chocolate hound — but the addition of cinnamon and chili to this cake had me head over heels. That little bit of heat evoked the fire of Drogo’s funeral pyre, into which Daenerys walks almost Dido-style in order to reanimate the three dragon’s eggs she had received as a gift from Illyrio Mopatis. This cake featured them as well, though they were little more than milk chocolate eggs in a speckled candy shell.

This cupcake caught a specific flash in time from the series, the moment that really “birthed” Dany, for lack of a better term, as we know her and have watched her grow through the seasons.

*Rating: two thumbs up

IMG_0306.jpgPIGEON PIE: …a vegan vanilla cupcake with graham cracker crust, filled with mixed berry pie, decorated with brown sugar buttercream to resemble a crust and topped with a pigeon-shaped “pie-crust” pastry garnish. Okay, yeah, I know what you’re probably thinking: there’s no way in seven hells that this vegan cupcake is any good. Well, I’ve got to tell you, I’d happily have this thing served at my own wedding. Pigeon pie appears rather infamously within Thrones as traditional wedding food fare — for the nobility, at least. It also, interestingly enough, is a savoury dish, filled with meats and spices.

Putting it down a sweet route produces something just as tasty, but different. The “vanilla” cupcake gets air quotes around the vanilla because I didn’t quite taste it inside the cake. I think this is due to the graham cracker base, which provided a delicious, buttery flavour that actually made me think of homemade pie crust. This is likely due to the sugar-honey mixture that is used to sweeten the flour and bran base for any graham cracker. Because this was a vegan cake, it did not possess the light, fluffy quality that most people associate with a traditional cupcake; this was a little heavier, though no less delicious, especially when stuffed with blueberries and raspberries.

I couldn’t help but think of the colour Joffrey turned when he was choking on the poison that killed him — the very reason his wedding became known as the “Purple Wedding” — and whether or not that’s what the bakers were going for. The mini pigeon pie on top of the cupcake didn’t hurt either 😉

*Rating: two thumbs up

IMG_0307WHITE WALKER: …gluten-free mint cupcake with fresh mint buttercream topped with chunks of blue “ice” rock candy.  Without question one of the strangest and most creative cupcakes. Dyeing something blue and relating it to the Wall is an obvious way to go, but Carytown Cupcakes did something a little different with the integration of mint into their cupcakes. And not mint extract, but fresh mint. It may sound a hair snooty to say there is a difference but, well, there is.

I, personally, have found that fresh mint requires less added sweetener to it than its extract, and Carytown Cupcakes made a smart move in pairing the herb with vanilla. If I had to guess, they did this for both the cake and the dyed frosting. The best part of this decision is that the entire cupcake was not nearly as sweet as it could have been, and when you’ve got rock candy — basically chunks of hard sugar — on top, you run the risk of the cupcake being cloyingly sweet.

Instead, there is just a nice rush of mint, which reminds one of the icy air of the North and that, indeed, “Winter is Coming.” It’s certainly a cupcake that some may not enjoy — my flatmate didn’t — but I was, oddly enough, a fan.

*Rating: one thumb up (Mad), one thumb down (Whitney)

IMG_0309JON SNOW: …a chocolate espresso cake, stuffed with a dark cherry kirshwasser filling, topped with whipped cream icing, garnished with chocolate shavings and sweet snow. Ah, yes, the cake about which we should, arguably, know nothing. Oddly enough, this cake wonderfully summed up the differences between mine and my flatmate’s differing reactions to Jon Snow.

She loves Jon Snow; I am apathetic towards him. She loved this cupcake; I liked it, but didn’t love it.  Chocolate espresso is one of my favourite flavours, so I was particularly excited for this cake, but I do think it could have benefited from more espresso in the actual cake batter, as the chocolate, deliciously dark as it was, overpowered the espresso component. But, ultimately, my issue with the cake was that I don’t much care for cherry filling, even if you soak it in alcohol, as this cake did with the kirshwasser (“cherry water”): a cherry-based fruit brandy. Even if I did like cherry filling, I would have told you that this flavour overwhelmed the chocolate espresso cake.

In the end, my flatmate loved it and wanted more. I shrugged at it, and wasn’t all that sorry to see it go. Maybe I just know nothing.

*Rating: one thumb down (Mad), one thumb up (Whitney)

IMG_0303.jpgRED WEDDING: …a red raspberry cake, filled with raspberry compote, topped with vanilla buttercream, garnished with black swords and blood splatter. Like the White Walker, Carytown Cupcake could have easily phoned in this cupcake. Red velvet, boom. I mean, honestly, doesn’t that seem the obvious choice? I can’t help but give some kudos to the baker for choosing to try something different to create this treat.

A fruit-infused or flavoured cake is not something that I eat often, mainly because the flavours are usually artificial and the cake comes out cloyingly sweet. In this case, the fact that actual fruits and their juices were used made the cake almost tart, though tempered by the vanilla extract that was likely a part of the cake batter. However, when we come to the buttercream, I sense a misstep: it’s too sweet. A cream cheese frosting, less sugary and complimentary to the tartness of the cake might have been best for the flavour profile.

However in terms of evoking the Red Wedding, it certainly achieves the feeling that something is a little off — not quite right, as it were. I suppose the buttercream is the “Rains of Castermere” of this wedding cake. At least they left me some swords.

At least they left me some swords.

*Rating: two thumbs down

Review: Devil and the Bluebird

Devil and the Bluebird
Devil and the Bluebird by Jennifer Mason-Black

My rating: 0 of 5 stars


**Thank you to ABRAMS Kids and Amulet Books for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley for the purposes of review**

Did I ever mention I love stories with Faustian deals? Well, I love stories with Faustian deals. And here we have a YA novel that not only opens with our protagonist literally making a deal with a crossroads demon, but perfectly executes an introspective tale about the many winding journeys we take in life.

Let’s start with the opening, because it was the entire reason I picked up this novel, especially given that it’s the “hook,” as it were, that’s used on the dust-jacket to tempt a potential reader. And, oh yes, it works wonderfully. First off: the crossroads demon is a woman. I love that, because it really, for me, enhanced the kind of LITTLE MERMAID-esque vibes that I was getting from the details of the deal Blue had to make with said demon. Also, it probably doesn’t hurt that I was imagining the female crossroads demons from SUPERNATURAL, and that’s always a good thing.

Not only that, but the demon has Blue perform “Man of Constant Sorrow” in one of the greatest moments of literary irony I’ve ever seen at a YA-book’s outset. I mean, guys, this the opening sequence! I’m already getting this much, and I hadn’t even gotten past chapter one. And music is a theme which continues on throughout the novel. After Blue gives up her voice as part of the deal with the devil, she learns to use her guitar as a means of speaking and I cannot stress enough how much I absolutely loved this idea. As a musician, I know all too well what it means to use music as a way to speak, and Mason-Black captures it so beautifully that I could have sworn I heard the music of the novel while reading it. (Speaking on that point: soundtrack, maybe? That would be nice!)

As Blue is searching for her sister, Cass, this novel is, at its surface, a road-trip story. Blue travels through the Northeast on this quest, meeting a wide spectrum of colourful characters along the way. And I do mean a wide spectrum: through Blue’s journey, we see the best and worst of humanity and everything in between, and we see how Blue deals with all the unexpected challenges that crop up throughout her quest. This is, after all, a deal with a devil, and so this journey was never going to be as “easy” as it seemed. And, yes, easy gets quotes around it because, in truth, the task seemed hard enough to begin with, throw in the loss of Blue’s voice, and I’m already looking at this search in terms of Herculean levels of difficulty.

But, as with any good road trip, it’s about the internal journey of the wanderer; it’s about what happens with Blue. Here is a girl who has lived in the shadow of the her mother’s legacy and who, in searching for her missing sister, is actually searching for herself. She’s trying to find not only where she belongs, but what kind of person she is when divorced from that musical legacy. And this book is wonderful in emphasizing not only unconventional families, but the families we make by choice. The ones who we let into our weird little orbits and make a part of our own souls, whether it be by chance or by necessity.

A lyrical piece of magical realism, easily and eclectically smashing together contemporary fiction with fantasy, this novel was an absolute delight. I’ve never read something quite like it, and I look forward to whatever Mason-Black has for me next.

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Review: The Invisible Library

The Invisible Library
The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**Thank you to the Berkley Publishing Group for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley for the purposes of review**

I’ll be honest, I was a little hesitant about this book at first. The premise sounded fun, but I’ve been burned by books dealing with libraries before. Needless to say, I was very pleased that I found the front half of this book so engaging — I say the front half very specifically because by the end, this book lost a bit of its charm and began to feel a little stale.

The multidimensional setting is fantastic. I love the idea of the Invisible Library existing outside of space and time, as it brings in the multiple, parallel universes idea in seamlessly right from the get-go. Multiple realties can be hard to juggle, but Cogman does it very well, especially when each universe has varying degrees of magical and/or technological development. The only downside is, ironically enough, the Librarians themselves — or, more specifically, the role of the Librarians.

So the Librarians exist in order to acquire specific works of fiction that can then be housed in the Library; the rarer and more scarce the volume in question, the more valuable it is to the Library. This begs the question: why do they collect these books? Why do they keep them from the rest of the world instead of, perhaps, sharing this wealth of knowledge with the various dimensions? Well, if you were to ask our protagonist, Irene, it’s because the Librarians only care about books, implying that people are merely an afterthought. People are irrelevant, books are all. Look, I love books as much as the next guy, but I was astounded by this answer. It’s so incredibly selfish and borderline callous, that I thought I had misread it. Really? All you care about is books?

Without people, those books do not exist. To so easily eliminate any empathy or sympathy for other humans was astounding and, I won’t deny, chipped away at my initial like of Irene.

Due to its need for world building, the front half is invariably more interesting than the back half, which suffers from some tropes that I, personally, find rather annoying. First off: the emotional pitch of the novel hits a point and then simply coasts there, something which I found frustrating given the seemingly endless possibilities available to Cogman given that she’s written a world with a plethora of parallel universes. I’m assuming that will be part of the set-up for this series: to explore the various universes.

But it wasn’t just the plot that hit an emotional stasis, the characters did as well. The more time I spent with Irene, the less I cared about what happened to her — and given that she seems to get in trouble with just about every paranormal creature under the sun, that’s pretty impressive. But what I find more disconcerting is that every character that meets Irene develops feelings for her, or immediately respects her nearly-unconditionally, or just wants her on their team. This is one of my least favourite narrative tricks, and to see it so predominantly flaunted within this novel was a disappointment, compounded upon the fact that the only other two female (secondary) characters had to be either brainwashed to agree with Irene or were just downright unpleasant. It’s okay to have more than one “likable” female character, and it’s okay for your protagonist to not be desired by every single person she meets.

On the whole, there’s a lot of promise in this book, but the back half doesn’t quite deliver enough to have me want to continue the series. I know plenty of people who will disagree with me and love this novel, so I think, ultimately, it just boils down to the idea that this novel is just not quite my cup of tea.

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