Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Saturday, February 17, 2018

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Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman


Release Date: February 7th, 2017
Publisher: WW Norton Company
Type: Adult Mythology
Pages: 299

Summary: Introducing an instant classic—master storyteller Neil Gaiman presents a dazzling version of the great Norse myths.

Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales. In Norse Mythology, Gaiman fashions primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds; delves into the exploits of the deities, dwarves, and giants; and culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and the rebirth of a new time and people. Gaiman stays true to the myths while vividly reincarnating Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, the son of giants, a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator. From Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerges the gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to dupe others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.





My Review:
Like most I know my knowledge of Norse Mythology started and stopped with Marvel's limited representation. I wanted to know more, but wasn't sure where to begin. Then Neil Gaiman wrote this and TADA!

The novel is made up of short tales hat Neil Gaiman has beautifully rewritten so that they are more accessible to today's audience. They are also surprisingly funny. (I love that Thor admits that when something goes wrong he immediately blames Loki because it's faster!)

Like I said, my knowledge is solely based on Marvel comics and their cinematic universe so when upon reading I realized that a lot of what is known by most audiences is limited or changed from the original myths I can't say that I was all that surprised as that is what usually happens with popular adapations. Mostly the changes are about who is related to who and how. And of course it's 100% more in depth. This is literally the meaning of "the book is better." Neil Gaiman's tales make me want to delve deeper into the mythology and find out what else Marvel messed with. One constant is Loki (well he isn't actually known as Thor's brother) is still at the center of all the mischief.


If you are curious and like me don't know where to start you should definitely read this first just like I did. And if you have any recommendations as to which books I should read next to learn more about Norse Mythology, please let me know!


~Laura!

Review: The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

Saturday, February 10, 2018

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The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley 


Release Date: August 1st, 2017 
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA 
Type: Adult Fiction 
Pages: 336 

Summary: In 1859, ex-East India Company smuggler Merrick Tremayne is trapped at home in Cornwall after sustaining an injury that almost cost him his leg and something is wrong; a statue moves, his grandfather’s pines explode, and his brother accuses him of madness.

When the India Office recruits Merrick for an expedition to fetch quinine—essential for the treatment of malaria—from deep within Peru, he knows it’s a terrible idea. Nearly every able-bodied expeditionary who’s made the attempt has died, and he can barely walk. But Merrick is desperate to escape everything at home, so he sets off, against his better judgment, for a tiny mission colony on the edge of the Amazon where a salt line on the ground separates town from forest. Anyone who crosses is killed by something that watches from the trees, but somewhere beyond the salt are the quinine woods, and the way around is blocked.

Surrounded by local stories of lost time, cursed woods, and living rock, Merrick must separate truth from fairytale and find out what befell the last expeditions; why the villagers are forbidden to go into the forest; and what is happening to Raphael, the young priest who seems to have known Merrick’s grandfather, who visited Peru many decades before. The Bedlam Stacks is the story of a profound friendship that grows in a place that seems just this side of magical.


My Review:

While Natasha Pulley's first novel, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street will remain my favorite of her two books, The Bedlam Stacks is in a pretty close second. And just like my review of that book this review will also contain spoilers because it is hard to gush about this without them.

The Bedlam Stacks took me a little while to read because it is a slow paced book. This is not a bad thing. By taking her time with the plot Pulley makes sure that the reader is paying attention. As I went along with Merrick from his time at home in Cornwall to his time with Raphael in Peru and understood more and more of what was happening in the Bedlam Stacks the more I realized how well Pulley writes. Tiny clues, given slowly once understood make this book start reading faster and faster until I couldn’t go read quickly enough.

Like the characters of Watchmaker the characters of this novel are stand out. (SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD) And much like Mori the Watchmaker in her first novel Raphael is also a special kind of magical. (Mori, by the way, makes a small appearance in this book confirming that these books are in the same version of our world. One in which I would like to live in, honestly). This novel seamlessly blends historical fiction with the slight fantasy. Raphael is a bit of a mystery for most of the novel, but his unique magical talent makes him one of the most interesting characters I have ever read, just like Mori.

What I liked most about this novel is how Merrick interacts with the setting of Peru, the culture, and his own family's history there. Like I said earlier, this novel is a slow burn and it is as such because the novel is from Merrick's perspective and as he pieces it together so does the reader. As he learns more the more interesting the novel becomes. For me, I think another thing I liked is that Merrick is learning Spanish while in Peru. I, too, am learning the language and while the dialogue of this book is in English they are actually using Spanish some of the time. When they do Merrick points in out, whether the speaker is talking slowly or clearly enough for his skills. And when he brings it up I try to translate the sentences into Spanish, just to see if I can! (I mostly could get about half, which I felt was pretty good!)

I am not sure if this review has made much sense, but I hope it made you want to pick up Natasha Pulley's second novel (and her first actually. You can find my review for that one here)! 


 ~Laura!

On Penpals and Letter Writing!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

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In honor of the Month of Letters Challenge and International Correspondence Writing Month, I decided to write a post about penpaling!

I met my first penpal when I started this blog. She was a fellow book blogger and we hit it off right away. We only exchanged a couple letters but have remained friends on Facebook. I missed writing to her and to my best friends who have long since graduated from their far away colleges and have come back home. I missed writing to penpals, but didn't know who to write to!

Then NerdCon: Nerdfighteria happened last February. I joined a Facebook group of attendees and near the end of March, a woman posted there asking for penpals. Well, she got so many responses that the people who commented started to write each other and TADA! Suddenly, I had found my people! That led me to posting on Instagram a photo of my outgoing letters and I discovered a low-key sub-culture of snailmailers!

I have 10 penpals from around the States. I adore them all and they all amazing! 10 penpals is sometimes a lot for me to handle. Because no matter what I do I always get at least half of their replies during the same week! I feel forever behind in responding, but they never mind. I do have a system though. I reply to the letters in the order in which I receive them!

But how do I keep every one of those 10 people straight? Besides them all being different people with their own style and lives which makes it pretty easy, I also keep a notebook of everyone's favorites, their hobbies, birthdays, pet names, and things like that! Before I send out a letter I jot down the highlights of what I wrote to them so that when they reply back I remember what it was I even said in the first place.

But what do we write about? Everything! At the beginning it's introducing yourself and getting to know your new friend. I've been writing for almost a year now so a lot of my penpals are not so much penpals as they are friends that live in a different state. What do you talk to your friends about? Everything. We catch each other up on school and work and what we did that month or last weekend, what our pets did, our family, holidays, bad days, good days, everything! And the letters don't have to be long, they don't even have to be letters at all! During school some of my penpals may send a postcard every couple months just so I know they are just stuck in academic hell and will write whenever they can!

Why even write a letter? Because it's important to not let something die just because it isn't as "easy" anymore. Written correspondence was the only way for people to communicate for such a long time that letter writing was commonplace and incredibly important. History shows that the most remembered figures are remembered more clearly through the letters they wrote (and journals they kept, but journalling will be another post one day). Some of my favorite letter writers are Alexander Hamilton, Queen Victoria, and Vincent Van Gogh! Sitting down to spend an hour using your hand to write a letter also helps you relax and reflect on your day, week, or month (depending on how often you write back and forth). It helps you see what your life looks like from another perspective. My life can be boring to me but different and exciting to someone else. It's a chance to get to know other people and keep a lost art going!

Nowadays, writing letters is much less common and sometimes even confuses people. Like my big brother who was extremely confused as to why I was writing a 10 page long letter when I could have just texted. He didn't get the point at all. But this past Christmas I sent out cards that included a wax seal to close the envelope and several of my friends flipped out! I got so many texts about how cool the seals were and that they'd never seen one of those outside a Hogwarts letter. It also prompted a bunch of people to send their own Christmas cards back to me and on to their family and friends as well, thus spreading not just the holiday cheer but the love of posted mail, too!

 It's also really fun! Stamps and post marks are something I never thought would be so exciting, but they are! Seeing a letter in your mail box that is post marked from across the country and thinking about everything it must have seen on it's way to me is extraordinary! And don't get me started on stamps. Philately is COOL! Stationary and cards, rubber stamps and washi tapes are all things I did not care about but do now! But what's great about writing letters is that it doesn't have to cost much more than that 50 cent stamp because you can get envelopes in bulk and regular notebook paper is always pretty cheap. You can buy stamps at your local grocery or pharmacy usually! And just shove the letter in your mailbox and your postal carrier will take it with them when they deliver your mail! Easy peasy!

So in summary, all this to say: penpalling rocks! Writing letters, sending snail mail, buying stamps, postcards and stickers, and mail art is just cooler and longer lasting than sending a text. That's why I'm so excited to take part in my first Month of Letters Challenge where you write and send something in the mail every day the post runs!

Write more,
Text less,
~Laura!

Thoughts From Places: The Women March in Seneca Falls!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

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My Trip to Seneca Falls and the Finger Lakes


A week ago I went to Seneca Falls for the Women March! Seneca Falls is the birthplace of Women's Rights! In 1848, Seneca Falls held the First Women's Rights Convention! The Convention is famous for being the place the Declaration of Sentiments was presented by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. 170 years later 15,000 people marched for equality for all! While there were many solidarity marches throughout the world, including one in my hometown I thought that going to where it all started was extremely appropriate!

The March started at 10:30 am, but we got there a couple hours early to eat breakfast and get a good spot for the Rally. Seneca Falls is a small place and it's main street has a lot of cute shops. We had breakfast at a place called Wildflowers, which toted on its front windows that it was "Women owned and operated!" The line was out the door and everyone in it was a woman there to support the march!

The Rally was held in the Women'sRights National Historical Park, despite the Park's Center being closed due to the Government shut down. Habitat for Humanity donated generators so that the Rally would go on as originally they were going to get the electricity for the microphones and speakers. That kind of set the tone for the day. Not the shut down but the kindness of others.

All of the speakers at the Rally were phenomenal! There were professors and politicians and even the Bear Clan Mother. My favorites were Arlette Miller Smith and Lt. Governor of New York, Kathy Hochul. Miller Smith kicked off the Rally with a poem adaptation of "A Gathering of Women." She is a dynamic performer who captured her audience in the best possible way. She was such a powerful speaker. I taped her poem and I've watched it multiple times this week. It gives me strength (wanna watch it? Here's the link!). Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul was equally powerful when she talked about how New York is always ahead of its time. We were first to legalize gay marriage, first to give free college tuition for the middle class, first to legalize abortion, and first to hold a Women's Rights Convention, of course, which led us to be the first State East of the Mississippi River to grant full women's sufferage! Basically, not only to women rock so does New York!

My friends Mary, Anja, and I were near the front of the Rally and as such we were towards the back of the March. This was fine by me because on the way out of the park I got to see the front of the March and it put the entire thing in perspective. That and the fact that by the time we got to the end of the route most people had left. The March itself was a lot of fun. Hearing hundreds of people chant the same thing with all their hearts, seeing all of the amazing protest signs, and feeling all the love and support and hope in the air made me feel so much better.

After the March ran its route, those who could convened at the Communtiy Center to hear more amazing speakers talk about great topics such as disability, reproductive, LGBTQIA, and immigrant rights, pay equity, ending systemic Racisim and sexism, environmental justice, eradicating violence and sexual harrasment against women, and passage of the proposed ERA! That's what I loved about this March. It wasn't just women's issues but a lot of the issues facing Americans right now.

The Women March in Seneca Falls was a fantastic, uplifting experience that I'm so glad I got to go to. I believe the 15,000 of us that were there were a little bit a part of History. We took over Seneca Falls for a day to gain equality for all. I'm so thankful to the organizers, Seneca Falls and its citizens for welcoming us, and its police force for keeping us safe.

When in Rome, or in Seneca Falls we couldn't leave without seeing what there was to see. So we made our way down Fall St to the National Women's Hall of Fame! Our original plans saw us going to the National Park Center, but since it was closed due to the shut down it gave us an excuse to see the Hall (and a reason to go back, I always try to see the bright side)!

The Hall of Fame, which had free admission on the day of the March but is usually $4, was only a couple of rooms but it packed a powerful punch! So many plaques telling the amazing stories of so many inspiring women. Honestly, after the early morning start and the exhausting March it was a little hard to concentrate on those plaques. I'm sure that on another trip I would have been able to read more of them, but as it is I didn't read too many that I didnt know.

We went on, up then down Fall St, going into many of the shops, most of which had women working in them, including a small boutique, a shop called Women Made, and the visitor center! I picked up post cards and souvenir pennies, my staples in travel. Our last stop was to the Statue called "When [Susan B.] Anthony Met [Elizabeth Cady] Stanton" which depicts as you can probably tell the meeting of two great suffragettes being introduced to one another by Amelia Bloomer on May 12th, 1851! Seeing the most famous names in the Suffragist Movement was the perfect way to end our time in that birthplace of Women's Rights.

Seneca Falls is in the Finger Lakes district of New York State. This marks my first trip out that way. The Anthony-Stanton-Bloomer statue looks out over Van Cleef Lake and we also got to see northern bit of Seneca Lake when we went to Geneva for dinner! We got there at the perfect time and were able to catch the sunset! It was absolutely gorgeous!

If you ever get the chance, you won't regret going to the Finger Lakes and while you're there you should make a point of visiting Seneca Falls, even if there isn't a March going on!


~Laura!

Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

Friday, January 19, 2018

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TheWatchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley 


Release Date: July 2015 
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA 
Type: Adult Fiction 
Pages: 318 

Summary: 1883. Thaniel Steepleton returns home to his tiny London apartment to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the mysterious timepiece saves his life, drawing him away from a blast that destroys Scotland Yard. At last, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, a kind, lonely immigrant from Japan. Although Mori seems harmless, a chain of unexplainable events soon suggests he must be hiding something. When Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist, unwittingly interferes, Thaniel is torn between opposing loyalties.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is a sweeping, atmospheric narrative that takes the reader on an unexpected journey through Victorian London, Japan as its civil war crumbles long-standing traditions, and beyond. Blending historical events with dazzling flights of fancy, it opens doors to a strange and magical past.





My Review:

The summary above is vague because to tell the reader what makes this book special is a mild spoiler. That being said, be warned as I don't want to be vague when discussing how great this book is, so mild spoilers ahead.

This is one of those books that I felt a type of pressure to read because I just kept seeing it. At work, at the store, and online! I follow a few bookstagrammers on Instagram and this book kept popping up! I have a collection of photos saved to my account of book recommendations and when I went through this book was saved 3 different times. I'm telling you it was fate when I finally found it at the library!

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is set in Victorian London mostly and a few chapters in Japan. I love this time period and I love clockwork so right away I'm invested. The main characters are primarily Thaniel and Mori, both of whom I absolutely adore. Thaniel is a low key bloke just trying to do what's right and is intriguing in his manner of being. He works for the government as a telegraph clerk and suddenly one day his life is drastically altered because of a watch. A clock that Mori made.

Then there's Mori himself. (Here comes those minor spoilers!) Mori is a little bit magic. This book blends contemporary Victorian with fantasy seamlessly and it is beautiful. Mori can remember what's about to happen. He is sort of clairvoyant as he can see the moment one decides to do something and the possibilities that action opens up. This blew my mind. I've been thinking about it for days. Once his abilities are explained further thinking about it sent me down the rabbit hole. If one could see the various outcomes of what one only intends to do it must become maddeningly endless. And then there is Mori's work. He is the watchmaker on Filigree Street after all. His clockwork is years beyond its time and frankly even our time. Can you imagine a clockwork octopus set to random gears so it appears to think on its own? And moves like it's real?! I'm trying to and it doesn't seem logical without magic. Imagine having a pet octopus or bird that is clockwork? I wish that clockwork would make a come back. This book made me want to take apart my mom's cuckoo clock to see how it works (she would murder me dead twice over). Katsu, by the way, is the octopus and he's a scene stealer. I loved him so much.

The plot of The Watchman of Filigree Street is just as intriguing as its characters are. It's part fantasy, part thriller with some mystery and drama thrown in. There's bombs and fake marriages and domestic life and politics all rolled into one package. There was a bit about three quarters of the way in though where I wasn't sure if anything was actually happening. The plot slowed and I didn't really see how it could all wrap up together and then WHOA it started to go so fast that I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. Not a bad fast, just a fast paced mystery unraveling and you're trying to keep up with the revelations. You know what I mean?


There is nothing about this book that I would change. Natasha Pulley is a fantastic author who we are very lucky to have. I read on Goodreads that she is writing a sequel and I dearly hope that it's true because I am itching to read more about Thaniel and Mori. I can see this being an interesting series for many more books to come.


~Laura!

Thoughts From Places: Turtles All the Way Down Tour

Thursday, January 11, 2018

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My Trip to New York City's Nerdfighteria

In October I went to New York City for a couple days to go to the Turtles All the Way Down tour with Hank and John Green. I left on a Monday night at about 10:30pm (by Megabus which was late. It's always late because it comes from Toronto and it always gets stuck at the border.) I got into the city at about 8:30am or so and started the long walk to my Hostel from 27th to 88th. I could have taken the subway but I love walking the city as I never know what I'll find. I did take a break in Times Square to people watch and around 62nd where I went to Lincoln Plaza Cinema to see Loving Vincent that movie that is completely painted in the style of Van Gogh! That wasn't a spur of the moment thing though. I have been following it's progress since they announced the movie years ago. Originally it wasn't coming to Buffalo and I thought I'd never see it but it just so happens that it was still playing in New York so I couldn't not go see it! I love seeing movies by myself. The first time I did was last year when I went to see Alice Through the Looking Glass while backpacking.
I love NYC!

I went by myself, but I met a bunch of nerdfighter friends, old and new, for a gathering before the show. I belong to the New York Nerdfighter group on Facebook. I joined it years ago when I went to the NYC stop of the Tour Because Awesome! In line for the concert I met some awesome people! Some of whom I met up with at NerdCon and again here! It was like a mini reunion! Seamus set up a pre-show gathering that I went to, but was late for! By the time I got there they had already written a bunch of nerdfighter notes and were just about to put them in John's (and Maureen Johnson's) books! One of the coolest parts of this was that Lori Earl, Esther Earl's mom was there. I had forgotten my TSWGO bracelet and she noticed and gave me one!! Lori is the mom of Nerdfighteria and is the loveliest person.

A bunch of us got food and then went to Bryant Park for a couple hours to kill time before making our way over to the Town Hall. We all sat in a circle and just talked about all sorts of nerdy things. There was about 20 or so of us. What was great though was that halfway through this other group of people came behind us and just started juggling? It must have been an agreed upon spot to practice or something, but either way it was really cool. One of our group actually abandoned us and they taught him how to juggle. I love how spontaneous NYC is. The venue was only a couple blocks away and I met up with Marie (who had my ticket, she bought us front row because she is amazing!) out front near the tour bus! We actually got to meet Rosianna Halse Rojas before we went in!
John and Hank Green!

The show itself was great. It was like watching a Vlogbrothers video live. John came out first and read a selection from Turtles. And then Dr. Lawrence Turtleman came out and gave a powerpoint presentation on Monotypic Taxa as windows into Modern Phylogeny (aka Hank in a turtle costume wearing a suit jacket). They took questions from the audience in the form of a mock Dear Hank and John episode, wherein they both forgot the format of the podcast. Hank brought out his guitar and sang a few songs. John did a tribute to Amy Krouse Rosenthal in the form of “We are here because we are here because we are here” to the tune of Auld Lang Syne that we all sang together which was sad and moving. Hank came back out and they both sang the Anglerfish song (which by the way is my favorite Hank song), All Star (because of course) and the first verse and chorus of Sweet Caroline BUT we couldn’t sing the BAH BAH BAH or the SO GOOD. It was so hard. John was so excited by the silence in the part that he literally jumped up and down around the stage. It was like his entire life was completed. As an encore they came out and sang the Mountain Goats.

As if just seeing John and Hank the night before wasn't enough, I was also invited to be in the audience for John's segment on Good Morning America the next morning. My friend Seamus was contacted by the producer to have him and 20 or so “mega Nerdfighters” come and welcome John. Seamus invited me and Marie along with a bunch of others! I had to get up at 5am, I fought with the 86th street station turnstyle, but I did get to the studio. We waited in the VIP line and got our IDs checked (to make sure we were on the list, how cool?!), and got bracelets to wear. Once in we were led to the studio. We could see Times Square out the window. Basically, taping GMA was incredibly boring and kind of annoying. Commercials are forever long. There is this guy there who is supposedly a comedian that is in charge of keeping the audience under control or whatever. He “taught” us how to clap and how to smile and made fun of us. He was actually horrible. One of the serious segments was about that horrible Weinstein or whatever his name is and the comedian fellow literally said, “and remember big smiles.” We all looked at him like he was nuts and he said, “you know appropriate smiles though.” I was so mad that this man was telling me to smile during a segment about sexual assault that I told him to eff off.
The GMA Green Room!

He must hear that a lot though or I didn't say it loud enough because he still chose me to be one of the ten that went backstage to the green room to film a commercial spot with John. That was fun. I can officially say that I met him. I was the closest to where he was sitting (about 5 feet away from him) wearing my Pizza John shirt and he said “Thanks for wearing my torso on your face. Wait, no. You know what I mean!” and he looked around and saw all of us wearing DFTBA merch and was excited that we were all real nerdfighters. He asked me if I liked the book and I responded that since I got it last night from the event that I hadn't started yet. He was excited that all of us were at the show and asked if we liked the “Sweet Caroline” bit because he wasn't quite sure. I especially assured him that it was fantastic and that I loved how excited he got over silence and that it was surprisingly satisfying.

When the 10 of us who were picked came back to the main stage the cast of Goodbye, Christopher Robin was there! Domhall Gleeson, Bill Weasley himself, was there along with Margot Robbie, Kelly MacDonald, and Will Tiltson. The show gave everyone in the audience a ticket to Goodbye Christopher Robin's Director's screening of his film that night. Originally, I was going to try to see Aladdin on Broadway (well actually I tried to win the Hamilton lottery and of course did not get it), but I had already wanted to see the movie so I couldn't pass up a free ticket.

After the taping of GMA, some of us went to a diner on 9th Ave for breakfast. It was so nice to spend time with other nerdfighters. From there a few of us went to Central Park with the intention of reading some of Turtles, but it was such a nice day so we sat at the top of this GIANT rock in near the children's playground. We sat there for what seemed like several hours but was only a few. Because we had all gotten up so freakin' early time seemed to be moving way too slow because of those extra hours. Eventually, we went to a Starbucks and actually read for a few hours before we made our way to Paris Theatre to use our free tickets. Goodbye, Christopher Robin is an amazing movie and I highly recommend it! What was cool was that the Director was there and introduced the movie! It was an incredible experience, the whole 2 days in New York was just bananas.

I'm so thankful for John and Hank for creating such an awesome and welcoming community. Even though I'm not from NYC the nerdfighters there are so kind and invite me to events even though I can't always attend. 

Best Wishes and DFTBA,
~Laura!

Review: Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

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Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart


Release Date: September 5th, 2017
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Type: Young Adult Thriller
Pages: 264
Summary: Imogen is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook, and a cheat.
Jule is a fighter, a social chameleon, and an athlete.
An intense friendship. A disappearance. A murder, or maybe two.
A bad romance, or maybe three.
Blunt objects, disguises, blood, and chocolate. The American dream, superheroes, spies, and villains.
A girl who refuses to give people what they want from her.
A girl who refuses to be the person she once was.

My Review:

This review may not make a whole lot of sense because Genuine Fraud broke my brain. I don't know what I expected, but it was not this brilliant book. Not that I didn't think it would be fantastic as E Lockhart books are always, but somehow in my hype to read this I missed that it was a thriller.

Set the scene, me at Bookcon 2017 in NYC. One of the four authors I got a ticket to meet was none other than E. Lockhart and at her signing she gave away make up bags with the quote, “She became the kind of woman it would be a great mistake to underestimate” (I love this bag and I use it for art supplies and carry it everywhere) and from that I knew that this would be my kinda book! If there's something more than strong females that I love it's strong females who rock it! And I knew Jule would be a character after my own heart.

Me and E. Lockhart at BookCon 2017!
However, Jule is NOT WHAT I EXPECTED. She is wickedly talented and unfortunately I cannot say more than that because I can't spoil it for you. This book sucker punched me in the gut with the plot twists and turns. Every time I got to one of these points I had to stop reading and say to myself, “wait wait wait stop what did you just read. That did not just say that.” But it did! And I'd read even faster!

The genius in this book is that there are 2 ways to read it which I didn't realize until 3/4 of the way through. There's obviously the traditional way page 1 to page 264, the other way is numerically by chapter number which makes the book go chronologically. I recommend doing it this way AFTER you read front to back. Reading it the way Lockhart has it gives you the MAXIMUM effect of shock, reading it by chapter number after makes you realize how smart the book is!

I know that I haven't actually said much, but I hope it was enough to convince you to read this amazing, heart stopping novel! Earlier I mentioned meeting E. Lockhart at BookCon 2017. Genuine Fraud was one of the most sought after ARCs and the line to get one had at least a couple hundred in it! Meeting E. Lockhart was a great experience, she is incredibly kind and signed my copy of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks! 


~Laura!

Review: Black Bird of the Gallows by Meg Kassel

Monday, September 4, 2017

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Black Bird of the Gallows by Meg Kassel


Release Date: September 5th, 2017
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Genre: YA Contemporary Paranormal Fantasy
Pages: 300

Summary: A simple but forgotten truth: Where harbingers of death appear, the morgues will soon be full. Angie Dovage can tell there’s more to Reece Fernandez than just the tall, brooding athlete who has her classmates swooning, but she can’t imagine his presence signals a tragedy that will devastate her small town. When something supernatural tries to attack her, Angie is thrown into a battle between good and evil she never saw coming. Right in the center of it is Reece—and he’s not human. What's more, she knows something most don't. That the secrets her town holds could kill them all. But that’s only half as dangerous as falling in love with a harbinger of death.

Review: 
When I went to Book Con in June this was one of the titles I knew I had to try to get an ARC of. After waiting in line for seemingly ages I was successful! But not only did I receive a copy, I met the author and got it signed! Meg Kassel is so kind and enthusiastic about meeting her readers! I was also pleased to be the first fan to ever ask her for a photo! I started reading the book as soon as I got to the bus stop back to Buffalo! I sat in the rain under an umbrella for hours waiting for the night bus that would take me the 8 hours back and once the bus finally came I continued reading well into the night. I couldn't put it down!

Meg Kassel and I at Book Con in 2017

Black Bird of the Gallows was truly an original read and incredibly well researched! Kassel did an amazing job describing the mythology around death and its relationship to both crows and bees! The reason I was so keen to get my hands on Kassel's book was actually due to my fascination with crows! They are both the birds I see most often around my home and the birds I know most about. Crows are amazing birds. They are among the smartest, they recognize human faces, and remember when they have been wronged. I also happen to work closely with these birds in my day to day life as a wildlife rehabilitator and Kassel's crows were true to life (I mean, except for the paranormal aspects, of course). And then the enemy, the beekeepers. Not many people are familiar with the myths surrounding bees and I was beyond pleased and impressed that they were included. Bees and Crows! Could there be a better combination in a book about the harbingers of death? I think not!

This is not part of a series. No, it is a standalone book, which makes it rare in the world of trilogies and I find that it is better for it. Kassel was able to create an entire world within the confines of one book and not many can achieve that even half as well as she did. The plot is vivid and grand, with all the points one hopes to see from daily life to edge of your seat apocalyptic action! The novel is perfectly paced, thrilling, funny, romantic, and never dull. I felt at home in Angie's life, even with the battle between good and evil occurring.

Speaking of Angie, she is a wonderfully authentic character, with hopes and anxieties that every reader with recognize in themselves. As are the people who populate her life! There wasn't any character in the novel that didn't pop of the page. Her friends, family, even her enemies don't just fill up the pages, but have a purpose.


Black Bird of the Gallows is a fantastic read, one that I will be sure to re-read many times over! I can't wait to read more by Meg Kassel! I would like to thank both her and Entangled Publishing for an amazing Book Con experience!

~Laura!

Review: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

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The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh


Release Date: May 12th, 2015
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Type: YA Retelling
Pages: 388
Other Titles in the Series: The Rose and the Dagger (Book #2)

Summary: One Life to One Dawn. In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad's dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph's reign of terror once and for all.

Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last. But something she never expected begins to happen: Khalid is nothing like what she'd imagined him to be. This monster is a boy with a tormented heart. Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love. How is this possible? It's an unforgivable betrayal. Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid's life as retribution for the many lives he's stolen. Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?



My Review:

You would think that by now I wouldn't go into a book thinking that I won't like it. Authors know what they are doing and I should really just trust them. Okay, let me explain that. This is a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, where the reason behind brides being murdered every morning is a mystery. I hate the idea of people falling in love with “monsters,” despite knowing they should not. I went in with that feeling of knowing that they are going to fall in love, dreading the inevitable and yet Ahdieh wrote this retelling so beautifully that I couldn't not root for them! Shahrzad was not helpless, she was not unaware of what Khalid did. In fact, several times she hated herself and what she saw was her traitor heart. It was that awareness that drew me to the character of Shahrzad. Her strength, cunning, wit, and that awareness all make her one of the best characters I have ever read. I devoured this book. But there isn't just one reason why. It was compelling in a way I can't put my finger on, especially because of the whole “falling in love with those you know you shouldn't thing.” But Shahrzad's story, the one she tells Khalid to stay alive and her own story of how she came to tell that story are fascinating.

The point of view of The Wrath and the Dawn is not just of Shahrzad, but multiple perspectives. Readers get a glimpse into how Shahrzad's family and friends are dealing with her new position. How they are dealing with the “loss,” by taking matters into their own hands. Later into the novel we read Khalid's perspective and suddenly things start making sense. I kept turning the pages so that I could discover why. Why did the brides have to die at dawn? How is this being allowed? I needed to know, the suspense was strong enough to keep me up into the wee hours so that could find the answers.

There are subplots that add a richness to this novel that I adored. This is not just a romance. There is that suspense, the mystery that kept me turning pages. But there's also political intrigue and magic. Secrets run rampage and magic is slowly coming into play in ways that the readers don't quite understand yet and leave us begging for the next chapter, the next book.

The setting and language all felt time period appropriate and the research shone through! There was a moment when other leaders from around this world come to see the new Calipha of Khorasan and Shahrzad sees one riding in on a striped black and white animal that looks like a horse. A zebra, of course, but back then they were not widely known. It's little details like that, that people take for granted that she added and it created a depth. There was also a glossary of mostly Arabic terms in the back of the book. I loved the way Ahdieh effortlessly introduced phrases, words, suffixes, and terms of endearments into the story. Reading The Wrath and the Dawn was a much needed glimpse into a world I don't know much about and want to know more of.


I have expressed my wariness of the relationship that evolved in this book, but I did end up liking it. I liked the back and forth of it, even Shahrzad and Khalid were wary of their relationship. We watched them get to know each other while walking on eggshells. We got to watch their resolve towards one another breakdown. It was romantic in a way that wasn't focused on the trope of forbidden love and I was impressed by how Ahdieh handled it. I cannot wait to read the sequel, I want to, no, need to know what is next for Shahrzad and Khalid.

~Laura!

Book Hunting Adventures: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

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The story of how I found two editions of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll in his hometown, Oxford!



While in England for the first time in the fall of 2015 with my mom, we split up for a day. She stayed in London and I went off to Oxford, home of Lewis Carroll. 150 years earlier Carroll's Alice in Wonderland was published and while I hadn't gone to Oxford with the intent of purchasing not one but two more copies of the novel that is what happened. After seeing where the real Alice and the Mathematician who wrote for her and her sisters lived at Christ Church College, I went to Alice's Shop. It is not only a shop that sells only Alice merchandise, but is in fact the shop that Alice Liddell herself would buy candy in. It is also the model for John Tenniel's drawing of the “Old Sheep Shop” in Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. 
Alice's Shop and St. Philip's Book Shop next door.

He drew it as if it was in a mirror so it was all backwards. Being there felt like being in a strange world where I was in the looking glass myself, but one where Alice was still a book. Every where I looked in the small shop I saw Tenniel's art, everything you can think of was there including a small, blue paperback copy of Alice that was the 150th Anniversary edition. It was only £5 and it was light so I didn't think twice before buying it with some other souvenirs.

The story of buying Alice in Oxford should have ended there, if I had not followed a sign that said “books” down an arch covered alley and up a flight of small stairs next door to Alice's Shop. Honestly, that's how most of my adventures happen, accidentally following signs. St. Philip's Books was a lovely crowded shop. I noticed that English independent shops are different than ours here. It is hard for me to explain, but the workers seem to be in a constant state of cataloging the shop's collections at small tables overflowing with books. The atmosphere was studious and calm. Upon walking in the one of the first books I saw was a yellow cloth edition of Alice and Through the Looking Glass that had an illustration I did not recognize.

 From the 1930's, it was illustrated by J. Morton Sale. A slightly rare edition that they were only asking £10 for it, so what could I do but buy it? It still intrigues me to this day because of the illustrations because Alice appears more like a scantily clad teen than a seven year old! While paying for Alice I noticed a glass fronted cabinet that contained first edition Inkling books, including many of Tolkien's. The woman who was helping me saw my gaze and said “You're free to look through them, but I'm going to be honest you probably can not afford them. We've priced them properly and thus ridiculously high.” I was sorely tempted, but did not take up her offer. I had plans to see if I could find cheaper Tolkien works at another shop I had on my list!

Until next time,
keep hunting those books,
~Laura!

Review: A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

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A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn


 Release Date:  January 10th, 2017
 Publisher:  Berkley Books
 Type:  Adult Mystery
 Pages:  338
 Other Titles in the Series:  A Curious Beginning (VS #1)

Summary:  London, 1887 . . Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an invitation to visit the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women. There she meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Accused of the brutal murder of his artist mistress Artemisia, Ramsforth will face the hangman's noose in a week s time if Veronica cannot find the real killer.

But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems and unmasking her true identity is only the first of the many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural historian colleague Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer a ruthless villain who not only took Artemisia s life in cold blood but is happy to see Ramsforth hang for the crime.

From a Bohemian artists colony to a royal palace to a subterranean grotto with a decadent history, the investigation proves to be a very perilous undertaking indeed....


My Review:

This is a marvelous edition to a great series. In this book, Veronica and Stoker find themselves trapped in London instead of on an expedition. As is seemingly their new normal they find themselves involved in a mystery. This time they've been hired to clear an innocent man's name before he hangs for a crime some don't believe he committed.

Now that we know Veronica and Stoker, we are past initial first impressions and are learning more about them as they are learning about each other. Their friendship is getting stronger by the day, secrets are coming slowly out of the shadows, but they still bicker like the proverbial old married couple. We learn a little more about Stoker's past, we meet his family and see why he's the odd Templeton-Vane out, and get a glimpse as to what happened in Brazil. As for Veronica, we finally get a glimpse into how she hunts for butterflies, which I found fascinating. I hope that they get to go on an expedition soon so we can see more of their careers and passions on display. Throughout all, though Veronica remains a strong willed, steadfast, independent woman and still she is what draws me to this series.

Set in the heart of London from royal residences, art houses, and opium dens we meet a variety of new, unique characters. Lord Rosemorran and Lady Cordelia's great-aunt Wellingtonia, who is as eccentric as they come, as well as her hard of hearing friend, Cecil, a member of the Royal family, and a handful of artists who live where the victim resided. Lady Wellie was my favorite because like Veronica she speaks her mind. We also see old favorites such as those men from the Scotland Yard that keep popping up Sir Hugo and Mornaday.


The mystery was a fine one, with twists and turns, blackmail and threats. I, personally, wasn't quite sure who the murderer was. I liked how even when there is the one straight forward who-done-it mystery, Raybourn weaves in smaller ones as well. Everyone is connected, but what key factor that binds them is within itself a mystery. I cannot recommend this series enough.


~Laura!

Book Hunting Adventure: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by JK Rowling

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

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The story of how I found my first edition of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling at Henry Pordes on Charing Cross Road, London!


After successfully finding the third, fifth, and seventh books under Waterloo Bridge (read that adventure here) I only needed a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to complete my UK Childrens' Edition set. I was determined to find it later that day when we went to Charing Cross Road, even if I had to go into every single book shop, which is exactly what I did. I went into each shop and looked around. If their children's book section was not easily found I'd ask if they had copies of Harry Potter.

A quick photo of me on Cecil Ct!
Most didn't have any and those that did, none of them were HBP. In the third or fourth shop, Henry Pordes, I found a copy fairly quickly at the bottom of a pile. It was a nice shop with multiple rooms and high shelves. However, this shop wanted £20 for the first edition. Normally, I would fork that out no problem, but since I had just hours before bought two first editions and one early edition all for only £5 more I was leery to spend so much. I figured I would check out other shops and if I couldn't find a cheaper one I'd come back. I tried several more after that. I found one in a set of firsts that the owner wanted a few thousand quid for the set which obviously wasn't for me.

The last shop I went to was Marchpane, a shop devoted to children's books, down Cecil Ct. I was excited because I saw a copy in the window. I walked in and was immediately alarmed by the union jack covered Dalek that stood near the door. It set the tone of the room better than anything else could. It consisted of one tiny room packed with books. There was a man behind a desk that was on a risen platform. He was grunting at a couple who were asking the prices of some Alice in Wonderland books that lined his platform thing. He seemed so annoyed with them when he said they ranged from £5 to several thousand that I didn't ask any questions at first. I noticed their Harry Potter books were on the left wall behind a cart of other books. I became a contortionist to carefully extract them from their shelves to look at them. I was alarmed at the prices I saw on those covers. Several hundred pounds and they weren't even firsts!
The Dalek
By this time the couple had left and I asked Mr. Grumpypuss about the book in the window. He said he would gladly sell it to me for £800. My jaw hit the floor. I said back, “Wow, ok. I hope you sell it to some inexperience collector some day!” I planned to leave immediately, but plucked up the courage to ask to take a picture of the Dalek (who knew when I would see another terrifying alien again?).

Needless to say, once I left I told my mom to hang about in Cecil Ct. for a bit because I was going to run back to Henry Pordes and buy that extremely reasonable £20 copy of Half-Blood Prince and thus completed my UK Childrens Collection.

~Laura!