Days of Blood and Starlight

Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor
on November 6th 2012
Genres: fantasy, young adult
Pages: 517
Goodreads

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a world free of bloodshed and war.

This is not that world.

Art student and monster's apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought. She knows who she is—and what she is. But with this knowledge comes another truth she would give anything to undo: She loved the enemy and he betrayed her, and a world suffered for it.

In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Karou must decide how far she'll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, secrets and impossible choices, Days of Blood & Starlight finds Karou and Akiva on opposing sides as an age-old war stirs back to life.

While Karou and her allies build a monstrous army in a land of dust and starlight, Akiva wages a different sort of battle: a battle for redemption. For hope.

But can any hope be salvaged from the ashes of their broken dream?

As the middle book in a trilogy, Days of Blood and Starlight wasn’t half bad. The plot was a little slow, but that’s because it’s creating a slow build up to the third and final book.

My only real issue with this entire book was Karou.

Oh, uh, spoilers.

I understand that Karou has just basically lost everything and everyone that she loves. I get that. Betrayal is extra devastating. But she gets so…caught up?…in her grief that she stops being Karou. I don’t know if that’s me being uncompassionate, but come on. She’s a smart girl and she closes her eyes to some OBVIOUS shit. Mostly regarding the White Wolf. It aggravated me a lot that I just had to sit by and watch stupid Karou make stupid mistakes while her stupid heart was broken.

I felt intensely sorry for Akiva, even though he’s the one that messed up and got people into this mess. I just..ugh, I don’t know. I feel like he screws things up, tries to apologize, but no one gives a shit that he’s made a mistake. Look, just because the guy’s an angel doesn’t mean he doesn’t mess up.

Days of Blood and Starlight is where I really started to connect with the characters, which was fantastic. Karou I still had issues with, but Zuzana and Mik I absolutely LOVED. I would take Zuze as a best friend any day of the week. I can understand why Karou doesn’t let her in immediately to the Fantastic World of Beasts, but I feel bad that Zuze has to basically fight her to be let in.

Gaining more insight into Akiva and his siblings was fantastic. They become more human (ironic) than in Daughter, where I felt they were just out to kill everyone. Although, this book still has a lot of killing. But it makes you realize how senseless violence is, and how tiring it can be.

On the plus side, there was no insta-love, so that was an improvement for me. We get a darker, grittier, emotional feelz between the characters. Which is an improvement, but still not my favourite. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again. A lot of relationships in books could be solved with some simple communication. It would save everyone so much heartache.

One StarOne StarOne StarHalf a Star

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor
on September 27th 2011
Genres: fantasy, young adult
Pages: 422
Goodreads

Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands", she speaks many languages - not all of them human - and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

A little backstory about this series before I start my review. I’ve owned the entire trilogy since Daughter of Smoke and Bone came out in 2011. That’s 7 years these guys sat on my shelf. I originally bought them 1) for the covers, 2) I love things set in Prague, and 3) the plot seemed really intriguing.

I read Daughter about a year after it came out. I was not a fan. I loved the setting, the characters were fun, the plot was okay, but it didn’t do anything for me. Which is shown by the fact that it took me 5-6 years to continue the series even though they sat on my shelf the entire time.

This could get a bit spoilery from here on out, FYI.

Although Karou was fun, I had issues with her personality. I can understand parts of it, she just comes across as whiny. This didn’t get any better in my opinion.

Akiva was cute but he didn’t really do anything for me. His personality seemed very empty.

The main issue I had was the insta-love. The backstory behind that slowly gets explained, but I just couldn’t get on board with it. It seemed very fake to me. I can’t even explain why.

I loved the atmosphere and the universe Laini Taylor created, though, and I think that is what drew me back to this series. In order to continue with them, I had to go back and read Daughter since I legit could not remember a single thing that happened in it. This time around I understood things a bit better, and although I still wasn’t 100% on board with the insta-love, I made it through all right. The rest of the story mattered more to me this time.

I definitely liked it better this time and I’m glad I did a reread. There’s a lot of things I glossed over the first time, which is likely me being an impatient reader. But Laini Taylor is a fantastic writer, which I appreciated more this read. I liked it enough to finish the series, so stay tuned for those reviews!

One StarOne StarOne Star

Resilience

Resilience: Navigating Life, Loss, and the Road to Success by Lisa Lisson
Published by ECW Press on October 17th 2017
Genres: memoir
Pages: 240
Goodreads

Lisa Lisson’s life seemed perfect: she had married her high school sweetheart, applied her marketing degree to a position at FedEx Express Canada, and risen to become a vice president (and would ultimately become president) of the company. One night, after putting their four children to bed, her husband, Patrick, marvelled that their lives seemed perfectly happy.

Just a few hours later, everything changed.

One moment Lisa was sleeping beside Patrick, and the next, she was kneeling on the floor beside his unconscious body frantically administering CPR. Patrick had had a massive heart attack and was in a coma, and the doctors were blunt: there was no hope. But for the next two years, Lisa stood by his side and awaited a miracle, while continuing to balance life as a high-powered executive and mother of four.

Part leadership guide, part memoir of loss, and part personal empowerment primer on how to achieve your goals no matter what the universe throws at you, Resilience is an inspirational story about how to rise to the top in a man’s world, triumph over adversity, lead a fulfilling life, and live each day with purpose and gratitude.

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. Pinky swear!

First off, Lisa Lisson, I applaud you. You are a strong, fierce, independent woman and I am sorry you’ve had to go through the things you have, although I have a feeling you’re the type to tell me it’s alright because you learned from it. I’m applauding you anyway.

Lisa really knows how to pull heart strings. The book starts off with a punch to the gut and it just continues from there. I found myself immediately drawn into the story and the issues Lisa was facing. You could almost feel the panic and sheer distraught coming off the page. Although I felt bad because I knew these were actual events that had happened to someone, I was hooked and wanted to keep reading.

Alternating with these heartbreaking chapters were chapters about Lisa’s rise to the top of FedEx. They begin with her telling us why she chose to work at FedEx and then detailed her climb up the corporate ladder. These chapters were less exciting for me but they were short enough that it didn’t bother me too much. The most insightful part of these chapters were learning that even if you’re a bigwig, you still get anxious when you’re in the process of getting promoted to bigger wig. These chapters just lacked a little bit for me. Maybe I wish there’d been more solid advice here, but I don’t think that’s what this book was trying to achieve.

The biggest downside to Resilience for me was the repetitiveness. I found that, especially near the end, a lot of thoughts and explanations of her career were repeated. It didn’t take away from the story too much, but it happened enough that I started looking forward to the book being over. Besides that little hitch, I was a little sad when the book finished.

I won’t lie, it was also pretty cool to read a book that takes place in Ontario, since that doesn’t happen very much with what I read!

The one piece of advice that I will be taking away from this is creating a list of goals as a leader for your department, with input from your employees. It seems like such a simple concept but I’d never thought of it before!

One StarOne StarOne Star

The Man in The High Castle

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Published by Penguin on September 6th 2001
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 249
Goodreads

It's America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some 20 years earlier the United States lost a war, and is now occupied jointly by Nazi Germany and Japan.

I’m not even really sure how to sum up my feelings about this book.

I sort of understood what was going on, but at the same time I had no idea. Normally this would make me dislike a book, but I think that was the point of The Man in the High Castle.

I love that there was really no hero, no big lead up to some final climax (not really), and no big love story. You’re legit just reading a book about what could have happened if the Allies had lost, and Germany and Japan had split up the States like a little cake. Or are you.

The choppy sentences were a bit hard to deal with sometimes, but I understood that Dick was trying to get across just how much Japanese influence there would be in America if they’d won.

I liked the idea of a book within a book as well. It tied all of the characters together in a more solid way, and it made it almost seem like there was an awakening happening. Like you knew people were reading this book and realizing how different the world could have been if the Allies had won. Which was kind of funny to read as someone from the universe where the Allies won.

It was slightly scary to read, but made me very grateful for what I have today because of the sacrifices that others made before me. The ending also sort of made me distrust my own universe, but I don’t want to get into it. The ending was the most confusing part.

Have you read Philip K Dick? This was my first foray into his work and I will definitely be reading more.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

The Happiness Project

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd on April 16th 2012
Genres: memoir
Pages: 336
Goodreads

Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. "The days are long, but the years are short," she realized. "Time is passing, and I'm not focusing enough on the things that really matter." In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project.

Rubin didn't have the option to uproot herself, nor did she really want to; instead she focused on improving her life as it was. Each month she tackled a new set of resolutions: give proofs of love, ask for help, find more fun, keep a gratitude notebook, forget about results. She immersed herself in principles set forth by all manner of experts, from Epicurus to Thoreau to Oprah to Martin Seligman to the Dalai Lama to see what worked for her—and what didn't.

Her conclusions are sometimes surprising—she finds that money can buy happiness, when spent wisely; that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that "treating" yourself can make you feel worse; that venting bad feelings doesn't relieve them; that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference—and they range from the practical to the profound.

The Happiness Project is the last book I read in 2017. A friend lent it to me at the beginning of the year and it just sat on my shelf, but that friend and I got into a discussion around Christmas about the book and I decided to pick it up. After reading the first chapter, I challenged myself to read it before midnight on New Year’s Eve. Challenge accepted, me! I finished it at about 8pm that night.

I don’t entirely know what I expected going into The Happiness Project. I’d heard bunches about it, and I knew the general premise, but I didn’t know if any of it would be relatable. I consider myself a fairly happy person. The idea that someone spent an entire year of their life dedicated to making themselves happier just felt, weird?, to me.

The thing about The Happiness Project is that it’s completely relatable while also giving us examples of how each of the resolutions affected Gretchen’s life. So we had the theory behind things and then the proof of how they can work (or not). What made it even more relatable to me was the inclusion of people’s responses from her blog. For almost every resolution, Gretchen posted the question on her blog and included the answers in her book. It was interesting to see how different people interpreted her resolutions or made up their own that related.

There were a couple of things that I took away instantly from the book and started incorporating into my life immediately. I have no idea why they resonated with me so much, but they’ve definitely made small improvements to my happiness.

1. If it takes less than a minute to do, do it right now instead of putting it off.

2. Happiness comes from within, not without.

3. Pursue a passion and forget about the results.

4. Be aware of how your attitude/happiness affects others.

Even if you aren’t looking at improving your happiness, I think you should read this book. I guarantee you that you’ll take something away from it without even trying. I did! Plus, Gretchen’s writing is superb, hilarious, and flowing. It made it enjoyable to read while also teaching me something.

All in all, this was a great way to end 2017 and I’m 100% sure it’s going to help shape my 2018 into a better year.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

2018 Resolutions

Happy 2018, y’all!

I rang 2018 in curled up in bed, with my cat, finishing up a book, and thinking about how I want this year to go. As everyone is likely doing, I’ve made some resolutions. But because I ended 2017 reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, my resolutions for this year are a little different. (Review coming soon on the book. Spoiler: Go get it, it’ll change your outlook.)

These aren’t all necessarily book related, but some of them cover both books and my life in general. And as Gretchen says, the difference between resolutions and goals is that these aren’t an end destination. Resolutions are things I’m looking at incorporating into my life. So, here goes.

  1. Forgive myself more. This one applies to both books and life. In 2017, I read about a third of what I did in 2016 and I felt terrible about it to begin with. But I realized it’s not a race and the only one putting pressure on myself is me. So, I’d like to work on forgiving myself for things that I shouldn’t be harping on myself for in the first place.
  2. Read what I want. In both 2016 and 2017 I found the vast network that is booktube and fell down a nice little rabbit hole. I started to buy books that I never would have picked up just by myself. This has been both a good and a bad thing. I’ve read some amazing books that I otherwise would have never found, but it also means that I got caught up in reading what other people thought were good books and not necessarily what thought I’d like to read.
  3. Cull often. This plays off #2. I’ve got a ton of books on my shelves that I’m likely never going to read because I bought them in that booktube whirlwind. Why keep them? Someone else can enjoy them. This is also a little more broad. Why keep clothes I don’t wear? Cull those. Activities I spend time on that I don’t really like? Take them out of the calendar. People I don’t really want to spend time with? Well, maybe don’t cull them out completely. But I’ll make more time for the people that I truly care about. (Is there a way to word that without sounding like a bitch?)
  4. Stop making excuses. Ohhhh boy, this will be a hard one. I’ve always been one of those people who makes excuses not to do something because I’m too lazy to do it. Example: I should go to the gym today, but I went Monday, so I can skip today and I’ll just go next week. No, no Mackenzie. You do the things you said you’d do now. The only person losing out is me when I make these excuses.
  5. Live in my passions. Funny enough, this is also a part of #4. If you asked my two top passions, I’d answer in a heartbeat: reading and writing. If you asked me how often I do both of these activities, I’d stutter out a soft “uhhh” followed by an excuse. If these are the things I love doing, why am I not doing them more often? Fear of failure is one of my biggest excuses for not writing more. But who cares? I can write without a book ever seeing the light of day and I’d still love writing a book. Or having a book written, I doubt any writer really loves the torture that is the process of writing a book. My excuse for not reading as much as I like is either because I’m too tired to put forth the mental energy, or because I’ve gotten caught up in reading a book I’m not really that interested in. This is something I’d desperately like to change. There’s too many books out there that I want to read, I shouldn’t be wasting my time on books that I’m only half interested in.
  6. Be happy. This is another tidbit I took away from The Happiness Project. Happiness is not something that is found without, you carry it within. For the most part, I am happy. I’m one of those weird cheery people that is usually always smiling. But there’s always room for growth, and there’s always room for more happiness. I’d like to find more within myself.

So, there are my 6 resolutions for this year. Tell me if you made any resolutions for 2018!

-M

Weirdo

Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth
Published by House of Anansi Press (Canada) on September 30th 2013
Genres: mystery
Pages: 408
Goodreads

Corinne Woodrow was fifteen when she was convicted of the ritualistic murder of her classmate in a quaint seaside town. It was 1984, a year when teenagers ran wild, dressed in black, stayed out all night, and listened to music that terrified their parents. Rumours of Satanism surrounded Corinne and she was locked up indefinitely, a chilling reminder to the parents of Ernemouth to keep a watchful eye on their children.

Twenty years later, private investigator Sean Ward — whose promising career as a detective with the Metropolitan Police was cut short by a teenager with a gun — reopens the case after new forensic evidence suggests that Corinne didn’t act alone. His investigation uncovers a town full of secrets, and a community that has always looked after its own.

I wanted Weirdo sooooo bad when I first saw it on Chapters. That cover, that synopsis. I had to have it!

(A bit of backstory: I have a slightly unhealthy obsession with anything murder related. The psychology of different people, especially criminals, hits all of my interest buttons.)

It’s October and I figured it was the perfect time to pick this darling up. Sadly, I was not as thrilled by it as I thought I was going to be.

The story itself is pretty interesting. The two different timelines (in the 80s leading up to the murder and in the 2000s when it’s being re-investigated) are interesting and insightful, but I think they make the book longer than it needs to be. You get to know the main people that were involved in the murder, while also kind of sort of learning about Sean Ward and his investigation into the murder. But there’s so much backstory with both that it I just felt like I was learning about people and completely forgot it had to do with a murder half the time.

Maybe I was just expecting something else, as I don’t really read much mystery, but it didn’t feel very mysterious to me. The plot-ish twist at the ending got a “huh, alright” from me, but that’s about it. And the ending after that felt super rushed. It’s like you received this nugget of information and the characters went “well, that’s that” and went home for the night. The entire build-up of the book is figuring out if Corinne did the murder herself and I feel like it wasn’t treated as the climax it should have been.

I guess overall I was just meh with the entire thing. I read it, though, so there’s that.

One StarOne StarOne Star

The Bees

The Bees by Laline Paull
Published by HarperCollins Canada on May 6th 2014
Genres: fantasy
Pages: 344
Goodreads

Born into the lowest class of an ancient hierarchical society, Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, an Untouchable, whose labour is at her ancient orchard hive's command. As part of the collective, she is taught to accept, obey and serve. Altruism is the highest virtue, and worship of her beloved Queen, the only religion. Her society is governed by the priestess class, questions are forbidden and all thoughts belong to the Hive Mind.But Flora is not like other bees. Her curiosity is a dangerous flaw, especially once she is exposed to the mysteries of the Queen's Library. But her courage and strength are assets, and Flora finds herself promoted up the social echelons. From sanitation to feeding the newborns in the royal nursery to becoming an elite forager, Flora revels in service to her hive.

When Flora breaks the most sacred law of all-daring to challenge the Queen's fertility-enemies abound, from the fearsome fertility police who enforce the strict social hierarchy to the high priestesses who are jealously wed to power. Her deepest instinct to serve and sacrifice is now overshadowed by an even deeper desire, a fierce maternal love that will bring her into conflict with her conscience, her heart and her society, and lead her to commit unthinkable deeds . . .

In the beginning, I really liked The Bees. It was interesting, seemingly unique, and I wanted to know where it was going. I held on for about as long as I could.

First, I don’t know WHY but for some reason I didn’t think this was actually about bees. Pretty dense of me since it’s literally in the title and the entire cover is bees. But I figured it was a nickname for whatever faction Flora was from. Nope. She’s a bee. Which I actually thought was pretty cool. When’s the last time you read about a bee?! I like that aspects of Flora were slightly human (feelings, thoughts, etc) but she still had a somewhat bee-sque mentality. It worked for me!

The setting was wonderful, and the way Paull writes is superb. It didn’t feel like a hive at all for me. It was some robust, living, richly exotic world that I found myself wanting to visit. I loooved it.

What fell flat for me was the story. The beginning of it was great. Exploring the hive with Flora was tense and exciting. But about half way through the book I kind of knew what was going to happen and it made me care less about reading it. I think if the entire thing had been shorter, I would have been able to hold on. But 200-ish pages of a story I’ve already guessed isn’t fun.

So, unfortunately, I DNF’d this half way through. It was wonderful though, and I’m sure many people will enjoy it! I did sneak to the end to figure out what happened, so it’s not like I didn’t care. Tehehe.

The Conjoined

The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee
Published by ECW on September 13th 2016
Genres: mystery
Goodreads

On a sunny May morning, social worker Jessica Campbell sorts through her mother’s belongings after her recent funeral. In the basement, she makes a shocking discovery — two dead girls curled into the bottom of her mother’s chest freezers. She remembers a pair of foster children who lived with the family in 1988: Casey and Jamie Cheng — troubled, beautiful, and wild teenaged sisters from Vancouver’s Chinatown. After six weeks, they disappeared; social workers, police officers, and Jessica herself assumed they had run away.

As Jessica learns more about Casey, Jamie, and their troubled immigrant Chinese parents, she also unearths dark stories about Donna, whom she had always thought of as the perfect mother. The complicated truths she uncovers force her to take stock of own life.

Moving between present and past, this riveting novel unflinchingly examines the myth of social heroism and traces the often-hidden fractures that divide our diverse cities.

I read The Conjoined last year, as I was so kindly given a review copy from ECW Press (thanks guys!). Unfortunately, since I was silly enough to let my hosting lapse, that review is no longer up. Why past Mackenzie, why?! Luckily for me I really loved this book and still have my notes.

Going into The Conjoined, I assumed it was going to be some sort of psychological thriller. You know from the synopsis that Jessica finds two bodies in her mom’s freezer when she’s sorting through her mom’s belongings after her funeral. You read that and you’re like but why?! That’s certainly something I wanted to know! I’d be curious as hell if I found evidence to what I can only assume is my mother murdering two people.

The thing is, this book is more than just a thriller. It’s a heart-wrencher. It’s less so about figuring out who did it, and more about finding out what lead up to Casey and Jamie ending up in that freezer. It’s quite a sad story. The atmosphere surrounding these two kids is HEAVY. I wanted to reach through the pages and fix their lives, to tell the people surrounding them what was going on and save them the fate they end up with. I so badly didn’t want them to end up the way they did, but I was absolutely powerless to stop it. And that just made it worse.

Although we shift between different timelines, stories, and characters, it’s all done with ease. Not once did I forget who was who, or what I’d read about them previously. Jen did a wonderful job of weaving everything together, and I never once got bored.

I didn’t get the ending I wanted, but I’m okay with that. I think it was better that way.

Thanks again ECW Press! You’ve published a great book.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Tastes Are Changing

A very wise woman (hi Grandma!) recently had a discussion with me regarding my last post about being in a reading slump, and brought up a very good point.

It’s very possible that the reason I’m in a slump is because my tastes are changing. And if I’m trying to read the same old thing while simultaneously growing away from those topics, it makes sense that they no longer resonate with me!

See, very wise.

This brought up a question for me, though. What do you do when the books/genre you used to rely on so heavily no longer feel comfortable to you? How do you go about finding your new comfort zone?

I honestly have no idea yet, as I’m just starting this journey. But it’s a good question to ask. I’m finding myself more and more drawn to immersive literature – things that I can lose myself in.

I’m less and less attracted to YA. I’m starting to find it very surface deep and I just can’t connect to it in the same way. I want rich characters, thorough plots, heightened emotions. I don’t need everything to be happy at the end. Reality is messy and I’m okay with my fiction being messy as well. (I’m not bashing on YA as a whole, just what I’ve been drawn to in the past.)

So, if you’ve got any recommendations on some good books to check out, leave them below. And if you’ve gone through similar growing pains, let me know!

-M