The Compelling Conclusion: Review of A Series of Unfortunate Events Season 3 (Netflix Series)

I’ve been very impressed with the Netflix adaptation of A Series of Unfortunate Events since it debuted two years ago, so I was looking forward to seeing the newest season, covering the last 4 books. Every time I re-read this series, I tend to find myself getting a little bored toward the end. I have the habit of trying to read all 13 books back-to-back, so it’s not surprising that I start to get a little worn out toward the end. I was a bit apprehensive going into this new season because most of my favourite books in the series had already been covered. The Slippery Slope and The Grim Grotto have never been my favourites, but I was really looking forward to The Penultimate Peril, which I’ve always found one of the best. I was so glad to see that this season kept up the quality of the previous two, and ended very strongly!

Plot

Toward the end of the book series, the Baudelaire orphans have become more self-sufficient, breaking away from the pattern of moving from guardian to guardian and instead needing to fend for themselves and take care of each other. It brings up so many interesting moral dilemmas for them, as they try to decide how to survive and escape, without compromising their ideals. Season 3 picks up right where the previous season leaves off, with Violet and Klaus plummeting down a mountain behind Olaf’s car and Sunny in the villain’s clutches. Although this season included two books that tend not to grip me very well, I found the episodes very compelling and I loved the way the stories translated to the screen.

Like the previous seasons, Season 3 generally stuck pretty closely to the original source material, but there were a few key changes. In The Grim Grotto, for instance, the Netflix series excludes the Captain Widdershins character entirely, and instead delegates most of his role to Fiona. I’m usually put off when adaptations make such major changes to a story, but in this case I think it actually worked quite well. I honestly didn’t remember too much about Captain Widdershins as a character, so his absence wasn’t too noticeable. I also loved how the episodes gave a bit more background to Count Olaf’s past, and what led him toward the life of villainy that he has chosen.

Not unexpectedly, my favourite episodes of the season were both parts of The Penultimate Peril, which is one of my favourite books in the series. I thought this pair of episodes did an amazing job of bringing to life the bizarre Hotel Denouement, and bringing in all the previous characters who the Baudelaires had encountered. I thought these episodes did a brilliant job of showing the moral complexities of the characters, raising the questions of whether noble people might sometimes act in ways that seem villainous. A recurring line that kept coming up seemed to be “But what choice do we have?” when the children were met with the difficult decision of whether to do something they felt was wrong. I was also especially impressed with The End, another book in the series that I’ve always felt a bit underwhelming. I thought the adaptation did a fantastic job of bringing that part of the story to life in a way that I never felt with the book, even if it was quite condensed into one episode instead of the usual two, with elements of The Beatrice Letters also mixed in.

Casting

Every season, one of the main highlights for me has been the brilliant casting decisions. This season was no exception, although there seemed to be fewer brand new characters overall. I was slightly disappointed not to recognize any familiar faces among the new characters. Of course it is not necessary to have actors who I was already familiar with in order to enjoy the show, but it was always a lot of fun to recognize someone (ie. Mindy Sterling from the Austin Powers movies as a Village Elder in The Vile Village). Of course, I realized afterwards that a few of the actors were actually very well-known from other TV series, so I think it just goes to show my own complete lack of awareness of current TV. The main addition as of this season was Allison Williams (best known for her role on Girls) as Kit Snicket, who made a brief appearance toward the end of Season 2 but became a much more prominent character this time. Kit Snicket was a very interesting characters, and I think my favourite part was seeing her attempts to interact with the infuriating Mr. Poe. I also especially loved Max Greenfield (from New Girl) as the Denouement brothers in The Penultimate Peril. 

The series also introduces new villains, Richard E. Grant as the “Man with a beard but no hair” and Beth Grant as the “Woman with hair but no beard,” Count Olaf’s mentors who take a great liking to Esme instead. These two are characters that I had completely forgotten about from the books, but I thought these actors did a great job of bringing them to life. Kassius Nelson, as Fiona Widdershins, did a fine job with her role as well, although I wouldn’t call her the most memorable character. I’m not sure if that has to do with the actress herself, or with the relatively small role Fiona has in the overall series. Peter McNicol as Ishmael in the final episode also did a great job of balancing both sides of the enigmatic character. I also have to give a special mention to Dylan Kingwell, who plays both Quigley and Duncan Quagmire. After Season 2, I’d commented that I was a bit underwhelmed by the children playing the Quagmires. While I still think the characters could have had a bit stronger of a presence on-screen, I thought Dylan did a great job as Quigley.

Aside from the new faces, I thought the returning actors especially shined in this season. It was great to see Sunny Baudelaire, played by the adorable Presley Smith, have such an expanded role in these episodes, following the same pattern that happened in the books. It’s still very odd to see a child so young become such a talented chef, but somehow the show made it work. Malina Wiessman (Violet Baudelaire) and Louis Hynes (Klaus Baudelaire) have continued to grow with their roles, and I loved the way they portrayed the characters. In this season more than any other, Neil Patrick Harris truly embodied the role of Count Olaf, to the point where I completely forgot that he was an actor at all. I think nothing brought that home to me more than The Grim Grotto, where he and Esme started to use their ridiculous villainous laughs. Lucy Punch as Esme Squalor and Kitana Turnbull as the obnoxious Carmelita Spats were both still brilliant, and fit their roles perfectly. The casting alone was enough of a reason to watch the series.

Setting/Visuals

As the series progressed, the settings and locations that the children end up in become more and more ambitious. This season alone, the children ventured to the top of a snowy mountain, underwater in a submarine, a gigantic hotel organized like a library, and a remote island. I thought the show did an amazing job of capturing all of these locations, and I was especially impressed by the hotel. One of things I especially loved about this series is how it has the perfect blend of humour and the macabre, which is no surprise given that it was produced by Barry Sonnenfeld, who is also responsible for the Addams Family movies in the 90s. I’ve always thought this series had a similar overall feel to these movies, and it is the perfect fit for story.

Once again, the show also really impressed with the costumes, which play such an essential role. A big part of this series hinges on the ability of the characters to disguise themselves and go undercover to find the information that they need, or to get away. This season was no exception, with all the costumes working well to bring the characters and their schemes to life. I also loved the visual gags of the show, especially the ridiculous “blind justice” of The Penultimate Peril.  I thought the visuals did a great job of bringing the series to life and capturing the tone, and they were just as strong right up until the end.

Overall Impressions (10 point scale)

Plot – 9.5
Casting – 9
Setting/Visuals – 9.5

Overall – 9.5/10

 

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Top 5 Wednesdays: Hyped New Releases You Are Not Excited For

I have absolutely no idea how this happened, but I somehow managed to mix up this week’s prompt and last week’s, despite having a schedule written out. I decided to just flip the order anyway, so at least I’ve covered both topics at some point. There are so many new releases out this year, and there are quite a few that I’m very excited for. The advantage of doing this prompt a week late is that it gave me the chance to see what books other people were choosing, because I was having a hard time thinking of which books were most hyped, aside from a few obvious big ones (ie. King of Scars). Unfortunately for me, many of the books that others seemed to be choosing are books that are pretty high on my list. I’m generally up to a year behind when it comes to new releases, so there’s a good chance that I won’t get to all the new releases I’m interested in. The books that I’ve listed here are books that I would like to read eventually, but they are pretty low on my list, and very unlikely to be read any time soon. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I’m not excited for them, but I definitely haven’t bought into the hype around them either.

Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and is now hosted by Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes. The official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.

1) The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

39863498I feel like I should get the obvious one out of the way first, since I’ve literally been hearing about this book everywhere in the past couple of weeks. I’ve been meaning to read Roshani Chokshi’s Star-Touched Queen duology for quite a while, and still haven’t picked it up (nor it is on my list for this year, as of right now). I initially had little interest in this book because I saw the title, and somehow assumed that it was a book about werewolves. When I finally looked at the synopsis properly to see what all the hype was about, I realized that I was completely wrong. This book is actually a historical fantasy, set in France in 1889, focusing on a treasure hunter and wealthy hotelier named Severin Montagnet-Alarie, who is sought out by a powerful secret society called The Order of Babel to find an ancient artifact. I’ve seen quite a few comparisons to Six of Crows, which I loved, but also comparisons to The Da Vinci Code, which I have no interest in. I also haven’t read anything by this author yet to know whether I like her writing style. I’m interested in reading it at some point, but I’m nowhere near as excited about it as everyone else.

2) Again, But Better by Christine Riccio

41147279When I added this book to my TBR, I didn’t realize that Christine Riccio was a popular Youtuber, and up until about 5 minutes ago when I finally decided to look her up, I could have sworn I’d never seen any of her videos. It turns out that I have, but she is not really someone that I follow or watch very often. I’ve seen a ton of hype around this book recently, a lot of which seems to stem from her Youtube popularity, and while I would like to read it eventually, it’s pretty low on my list as of right now. This book is about a girl named Shane who feels like she has been “doing college wrong” and decides to take a semester abroad in London to get the chance to start over. I like the whole concept of this book of a person challenging herself to get outside her comfort zone and try something brand new, but it is not something that I’m particularly drawn to trying right now. I think I would be a lot more excited about this if I was a fan of Christine’s channel. In general, I find the whole trend of Youtube stars writing their own books a bit questionable. I’m sure many of them are great writers, but I’m always a bit skeptical. To be fair, I don’t think I’ve read any books by Youtubers yet, so I really can’t judge.

3) I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver

39678923I think of all the books listed here, this is the one that I’m most interested in reading, but I’m still not sure if I will get to it this year. I’ve seen a ton of hype around it lately, and interestingly enough, a lot of it seems to be around the cover art. I personally am not a huge fan of the cover art style, at least not the way it looks on Goodreads. It might look better on the physical book, but so far it doesn’t really draw me in much. I’m not a huge fan of people on book covers in general though, so that’s my own bias. This book is about a person named Ben De Backer who has come out to their parents as nonbinary, causing them to be thrown out of the house and forced to move in with their estranged sister and her husband. Ben struggles with anxiety and is trying to keep a low profile at school and just get through their senior year, which becomes complicated when Ben becomes friends with Nathan, and their feelings for each other begin to change. I have only read one or two books about characters who are nonbinary, so it is something I would definitely be interested in reading more about. I also generally like YA contemporary, especially when there is something a little unique about it, but this one just feels very low on my list. It’s becoming one of those books that is starting to put me off with all of its hype, rather than motivate me to read it.

4) Heroine by Mindy McGinnis

30254032I have only read one book, The Female of the Species, by Mindy McGinnis so far, and although I liked it, I definitely didn’t love it as much as everyone else seemed to. It was a very interesting concept, but I couldn’t quite connect with it. Her upcoming release, Heroine, is about a star softball player named Mickey, who lives in a small town where there is an opioid epidemic, and whose college dreams are ruined when she gets into a car accident that shatters her hip and the arm of her best friend Carolina, who is the softball team’s pitcher. Mickey soon finds herself taking medication for the pain, but when her prescription runs out, she looks for other ways to get the drugs which help her cope with not just the pain, but also the pressures of her life. I rarely, if ever, pick up a book that focuses primarily on drugs or drug addiction, but I have at least some interest in this one because I did like Mindy McGinnis’s previous book. To be honest, I think I added it to my TBR more to remind myself to decide whether I really wanted to try it, but it does seem at least somewhat interesting. It’s very low on my priority list right now, but I’m interested to see the reviews when the book is finally released.

5) Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal

39926661This is the only book on this list that is not on my TBR (yet), but I’ve been debating whether I want to add it. I’m not actually sure how hyped it is, but I have seen it on Goodreads quite a few times already. This book is a modern-day retelling of Pride & Prejudice, set in Pakistan. It is about a woman named Alys Binat who has sworn she will never get married, and who tries to inspire the girls that she teaches to dream of more than just becoming a wife. When Alys and her family are invited to one of the biggest weddings in their town, her mother sets out to match up Alys and her sisters with eligible men. Alys accidentally overhears the snobby Valentine Darsee’s rude comments about her, and as they wait to see if her older sister will get a marriage proposal, Alys’s feelings for Darsee start to change. I will start by saying that Pride & Prejudice is one of my all-time favourite books. I also generally love retellings of classics because I think they are a great way to be familiar with the storylines in an updated setting. Unfortunately, I’m really on the fence about this one because it seems like a straightforward copy of the original, right down to the names of some of the characters. When I read a retelling, I look for something a bit unique or different about it to set it apart from the original. Aside from the setting of this one, I’m not really seeing much different, so it doesn’t interest me very much at this point.

 

 

 

Top 10 Tuesdays: New-To-Me Authors I Read in 2018

When I looked back at the books that I read through 2018, I was a bit surprised to realize just how many of them were by authors that I had read before. I think a big part of that was my commitment to finishing off series that I had in progress, with a list of 12 series that I wanted to complete. Just over half on the books that I read were by new-to-me authors, which seems like a surprisingly low percentage overall. I actually don’t think I’ve ever counted how many new-to-me authors I discovered through previous years challenges, so it might be interesting to go back and take a look. Luckily for me, I enjoyed the vast majority of the books that I read last year, so it wasn’t too hard to choose ten new authors that I was most excited to discover, and many of those have already made it into my plans for 2019. I’m counting an author as new-to-me if I had never read anything by them before, even if I had heard their names, and I’m generally counting them as one of the best of the year if it’s someone I’m interested in reading more from soon.

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

There were many great new authors that I discovered last year, but I think these ten would have to be my favourites (in no particular order), and with the book I read by each one listed beside them:

  1. Taylor Jenkins Reid (The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo)
  2. Fredrik Backman (Beartown)
  3. Leigh Bardugo (The Grisha Trilogy, Six of Crows)
  4. Gail Honeyman (Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine)
  5. Clare Mackintosh (I Let You Go)
  6. Christina Lauren (Autoboyography)
  7. Akemi Dawn Bowman (Starfish)
  8. Corrie Wang (The Takedown)
  9. Connie Willis (Crosstalk)
  10. Nicola Moriarty (Those Other Women)

My Reading Patterns

I feel like all I’ve been talking about lately when it comes to my reading is balance, and trying to prioritize better. I think that’s a direct result of how I felt toward the end of 2018, where I thought I’d done a very poor job of planning. Even going into this year, I’ve already been feeling a bit behind although not in terms of my actual reading. I usually have an almost-complete plan in place of all my challenges and the books I’m intending to read by mid-December, with the books I need from the library put on hold by the start of the new year. I started this year with my plan still feeling a bit up-in-the-air, and without any books placed on hold until the year had already started. I think the biggest hint to myself that I was behind is that I didn’t post my plans for the year to my Goodreads group until January 11! I usually have those up by mid-December too.

For the sake of my own curiosity last year, I decided to keep track of how many books I had read per month over the past three years of doing reading challenges. Technically, I started doing challenges in 2015, but I only participated in one challenge that year which consisted of 52 books, so I didn’t think it would really be comparable. I’m pretty terrible with Excel, so it took me quite a while to figure out how to even make the chart (and turn it into a graph) in the first place. The number of books I read per month each year are as follows:

2016 2017 2018
January 9 12 14
February 11 9 13
March 10 11 14
April 9 12 14
May 8 16 13
June 12 13 14
July 10 13 13
August 16 12 17
September 17 12 13
October 14 16 13
November 14 16 19
December 12 16 19

From this, I noticed some patterns to my reading, which I think will help me a bit with my goal of balancing and prioritizing better this year. I should mention that I don’t use monthly TBR lists because I find they put too much pressure on me. To be fair, the only time I really tried it was last year when I was already quite behind, and I found having the list just made me feel more pressured and more behind, but it might be worth exploring the option again.

The First Quarter

Something I’ve found very helpful over the past few years was making a conscious effort to get rid of some of the books/challenge prompts that I’m least excited for very early on in the year. I usually spend a good part of January and February knocking out some of these prompts. The thinking behind this is if I push off reading the books that I’m not excited for, I’m going to keep procrastinating on them until close to the end of the year, when I would have lost all motivation for them at all. The downside to this is that I sometimes find my first month or two a bit underwhelming, which usually leads to a burst in March of trying to read some of my most anticipated books to make up for it.

I find January and February also tend to be on the lower end in terms of the number of books read, which I think is because it’s a bit of a transitional phase from the previous year. I often end the year feeling a tiny bit burnt out, and slow down a bit at the start of the new year. I think it’s also a bit of a psychological thing of thinking that I have the whole year ahead, so I have time to slow down a bit. I also tend to feel like I read a bit less in February, which I think is just because the month itself is a few days shorter than any other. I usually read a book in 2-3 days, so having 2 less days in the month naturally means at least one less book.

The Second Quarter

When I saw that I had only read 8 or 9 books in April and May 2016, I was a bit surprised! Looking back, I figured out that it was because the books I’d been reading were, on average, quite long or slower-paced and honestly most of them were books that I did not enjoy as much. It picked back up in the following years during those months because I was reading more graphic novels and books that I found more motivating in general. I also have a major work event in early April, and often two toward the end of May, which both affect my reading time. There are also the holidays in April where I have guests over for at least two evenings, which again means less time to read despite having a few days off work.

In June, my reading tends to pick back up again because all of my major work events are over, so I have more time to myself. Looking back on the books I read during these months over the past three years, I find that although there are a few of my most anticipated and favourite books of the year are scattered through these months, this quarter still tends to be quite underwhelming on average. I think I’ve gotten better about making sure I have some of the books I’m most interested in during the second quarter, and it is something that I’d definitely like to continue in the interest of balance.

The Third Quarter

The third quarter tends to fairly consistently be one of my best. In July, I have two weeks of staff training, and usually take two weeks off work. I always assume I’m going to get a lot of reading done while on vacation, but I never end up reading nearly as much as I plan. I’m also responsible for a biweekly newsletter at work, which takes up one day every other weekend for most of the year. I always take a break from the newsletter over July and August, when most of the participants in my program are away at camp, so that opens up several hours on the weekend that otherwise would have been spent working.

In September, my workplace is often closed for several days. I work for a religious organization, and we have multiple holidays through September/October that require the place to be closed. It is also generally the point in the year where I realize that I haven’t read too many of the books that I was excited about, and really start to make an effort to read those. So not only do I have more time to read, but I’m also reading books that are much more motivating and therefore easier to move through quickly.

The Fourth Quarter

This is the quarter that I tend to characterize as “crunch time,” where I pay extra attention to how many books I have remaining and actively plan how to finish everything on time. In 2016, my reading numbers dropped off by December because I managed to finish all of my challenges early. One was finished in November, and another halfway through December. The remaining two were finished by the last week of December, and I had a couple of days to spare. In 2017, I managed to divide my remaining books equally, and finished everything with one day to spare. In 2018, it was the first year I had ever failed to finish my challenges completely, and I was frustrated to find that I had way too many books remaining on my highest priority challenges. Even though I finished 19 books in both November and December, it was not quite enough to finish off all challenges!

By this quarter, there are often a few books that I’ve been putting off for the majority of the year, so I might end up switching them out, usually for something a bit shorter. Like many people, I also tend to read a bunch of Halloween-themed books or thrillers during October. I like to purposely save a few highly anticipated books for this quarter to keep my motivation up, but I also find it helps to avoid too many very long books because it gets discouraging to feel like I’m spending too long on any book when I have so many left to read.

Overall Trends

Each year so far, I’ve increased the overall number of books that I’ve read. I went from 145 books in 2016 up to 176 in 2018. Looking back at my lists of books from each year, I also think I’ve become much better about choosing books that I think I’m going to enjoy. I know a lot of people complain that reading challenges sometimes make them feel like they can’t read what they want, if those books don’t fit any prompts. I’ve been pretty good about fitting the books I really wanted into my challenges, and each year, I’ve been enjoying the books that I’ve been reading more. I’m hoping that this year I can keep going with choosing books that interest me and that I’m likely to enjoy!

Top 5 Wednesdays: Most Disappointing Books I Read in 2018

I often find that the there is a huge difference between my worst books of the year and my most disappointing books. The ones that disappoint me most are often books that I still end up really enjoying, but nowhere near as much as I expect. After doing reading challenges for several years now, I’ve become pretty good at assessing which books I’m going to enjoy. There are always a few that I think I’ll like much more than I actually do, and some that end up really surprising me. When I look back at my books from last year, I realized that most of the handful of books that I rated only three stars were books that I didn’t really expect to like very much anyway, so I wouldn’t really consider them disappointing. Instead, there were another handful of books that I thought would be easy 5 star reads, but I ended up a bit disappointed.

Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and is now hosted by Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes. The official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.

1) 36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You by Vicki Grant

36 Questions That Changed My Mind About YouThis was the only book comes from the 3-star list. I wasn’t really expecting this one to be a 5-star read to begin with, but I thought it would be easily at least a 4. Unfortunately, I was completely disappointed by this one. It is about two teenagers, Hildy and Paul, who are randomly assigned as partners as part of a psychological study where they must ask each other 36 questions from a prearranged list to get to know each other, and the questions must be answered honestly. The purpose of the study is to see whether these questions can facilitate a relationship between two complete strangers. I absolutely loved the concept of this book. I have a psychology degree myself, and I remember reading about this kind of study, possibly even this exact one, as part of my classes. I was very disappointed to find that I did not like anything about the story aside from the basic premise. For some reason, I kept forgetting that the characters were only 18, even though it was clearly mentioned at the beginning. I kept assuming they were much older (early to mid-20s, possibly) and then wondering why they seemed so immature. I also found it annoying that the characters kept dropping vague hints about topics that they were unwilling to talk about. Although it was understandable given that they were strangers, by the time the details were revealed, I’d lost complete interest in the characters. I also could not buy into the relationship that developed between Paul and Hildy at all, since they had so little chemistry and seemed like a terrible fit for each other. This was definitely my most disappointing read of the year since I expected to love it based on the premise alone.

2) The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

1282954Big Little Lies is one of my favourite books, and I’ve been making my way through all of Liane Moriarty’s others over the past few years. I’ve really enjoyed all of them, but I was a bit apprehensive about this one because it was one of her earlier books and I find most authors change quite a bit over time. This one is about a woman named Sophie who inherits a house from her ex-boyfriend’s deceased aunt, which is also the site of a decades-long mystery about a baby whose parents have gone missing. While I liked the general storyline, I found that I just couldn’t get into this one at all. There were a lot of characters to keep track of, and since most of them were related to each other, I would have loved if there was some kind of family tree included to help keep all the names straight. I usually don’t have too much problem keeping track of characters, but I was constantly lost with this one and found that really frustrating. I liked the mystery and the explanation toward the end of what actually happened, but I found the process of reading this one frustrating because I was often bored or completely confused. Even though I ended up giving it a 4 because of the storyline and the few character arcs that I liked, I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I hoped.

3) Almost Like Being in Love by Steve Kluger

Almost Like Being in LoveTo be honest, I can’t even remember why I had such high expectations for this book, but I was convinced it would be an easy 5-star read. It was about two young men, Travis and Craig, who fall in love during their last year of high school but split up. After 20 years apart, Travis realizes that he still has feelings for Craig and decides to search for him, only to learn that Craig has been in a serious relationship for the past decade. I think what drew me to this book is that it was told in the format of letters, journal entries, etc. which is a style I tend to really enjoy. I really liked the characters in this book, especially how the author didn’t make Craig’s new partner into the automatic villain like many books do with this kind of storyline.  In general, I really liked the way both relationships were treated, and thought they were both very realistic. However, I was a bit disappointed that this book didn’t draw me in nearly as much as I expected. I found the format a bit confusing in places, which made a few parts of the story a bit hard to follow. It definitely wasn’t a bad book, but I expected it to be 5 stars, and it didn’t quite make it there.

4) The List by Patricia Forde

31409131 I think this may be my most disappointing of all my 4-star reads because I had such high expectations for it. In a way, I think it was my own fault that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought because I read it in a month where I’d somehow ended up with multiple back-to-back YA fantasy books, and this one just didn’t stand out from the crowd. This book is about a wordsmith’s apprentice named Letta who lives in a world where people are only allowed to speak List, a language consisting of just 500 words. When Letta’s master disappears, she meets a stranger who shows her that there is more going on with List than she realizes, especially as more and more words are starting to get cut out. I thought the setting and the concept were both fascinating, but the story felt very underdeveloped a bit scattered without enough attention given to parts that I thought were most interesting. I found the first half very engaging, but the story lost my interest toward the end because Letta wasn’t the most compelling main character. I’m tempted to revisit this book at some point in the (distant) future and give it another chance because I still think it’s something I could enjoy, if I wasn’t reading too many other similar books around the same time. As it was though, I found myself underwhelmed.

5) Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

25164304This one was another huge disappointment after I’d heard so many great things about it, especially from CeCe at ProblemsOfaBookNerd, which is one of my favourite Youtube channels to get recommendations from. It is about a princess named Denna who is betrothed to marry a prince in order to secure an alliance between their lands, but she falls in love with the prince’s sister instead. I absolutely loved the concept of this story, but I didn’t like the way it was executed because the world-building was on the weak side. That’s not usually something that bothers me too much, and it is another one I may want to revisit in the future since I also read it in that month where I was feeling a little burnt out on too many similar books. I wanted more background about the different kingdoms, and especially about people’s attitudes toward magic. I can generally just accept that things are the way they are in a book as long as there is even a minimal explanation given, but I didn’t feel like this book even had that. I liked the relationship that developed between Denna and Mare, the prince’s sister, and although they were both interesting, I found the side characters sadly underdeveloped. This book frustrated me because it was just good when it could have been amazing!

 

Top 10 Tuesdays: Most Anticipated Books for the First Half of the Year

I made a Top 5 Wednesday post very recently about my most anticipated books for the first half of the year, which included 5 of the books that are highest priority for me to read. At least three out of those five are already on my list to read this year, and I’m hoping to be able to squeeze in the other two as well. I thought at the time that there weren’t too many books that I was super excited for, even though there were many that I wanted to read, but looking through my TBR today completely changed my mind. I have several pages full of new releases for this year already on my Goodreads list, and I’m very excited to read many of them soon! I’m not sure how many of these will actually end up being read within this year, but I hope to include a few more of them. I’m listing them here in chronological order, according to the date currently listed on Goodreads, but there is always the possibility that the release dates could change.

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

1) In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire (January 8)

38244358I have only read the first book in the Wayward Children series so far, but it is on my list for top priority series to catch up on within the year. I’m generally not a huge fan of novellas because I find that they end way too quickly, and I prefer more room for the characters and story to be developed, but this series started out so strongly that I just have to continue it. To be honest, I don’t know much about what any of the books in the series after Every Heart a Doorway are about or which characters they follow, but I loved the first one so much that I wanted to find out what happened next. I’ve actually heard that this one is a prequel to the rest of the series, so I don’t need to have read any of the others, but my intent is to read the series in the order that they were published. I assume it will be some time before I can get this one from the library, but it is one that I am definitely planning on reading before the end of 2019.

2) 99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne (January 29)

36300625I won’t spend too much time on this one because it is one that I feel like I’ve mentioned a lot recently, but it was definitely at the top of my list as soon as I saw that it was being released. I was very disappointed when Sally Thorne’s expected second book, The Comfort Zone, was indefinitely shelved, but I’m glad we’re getting this one soon. The Hating Game was a surprise favourite when I read it, especially because it is a kind of book that I very rarely read (and even more rarely actually love). I was immediately drawn into the story and the characters, and I’m hoping that this one will even somewhat come close to it. I’m doing my best not to build too much hype for myself around this one because I don’t want to set myself up to be disappointed if it is not quite as good. This book is about a woman who is in love with her twin brother’s best friend, but thinks he is off limits because of that friendship. It sounds like it will be a lot of fun to read, and I’m excited to try it.

3) The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan (January 29)

36362234This is kind of a funny one because it’s not necessarily a book that immediately comes to mind when I think of books that I’m anticipating, but every time I see it on my TBR, it reminds me that I really want to read it. This book is about a 17-year-old Muslim girl named Rukhsana who is struggling to live up to her parents’ expectations, and can’t wait to leave home to pursue her dream of becoming an engineer after she graduates. When her parents catch her kissing another girl, they decide to send her back to Bangladesh, where she is thrown into all the traditions of her culture, including arranged marriage, with only her grandmother’s old diary to help her gain some perspective. I feel like there hasn’t been a ton of buzz around this book yet, but it sounds like a very interesting story. I’m hoping to see some more reviews for this one after it is released, but it’s definitely caught my attention.

4) The Winter Sister by Megan Collins (February 5)

40381942I came across this book a couple of months ago while looking for more thrillers to add to my TBR, and it was one of the ones that stood out to me the most. It is about a woman named Sylvie whose sister Persephone was killed 16 years ago in an unsolved case. Sylvie has always blamed her sister’s boyfriend at the time for the death, and is forced to deal with him again when she returns home to care for her estranged mother who has cancer, and attends the cancer center where Persephone’s ex now works as a nurse. I seem to read a lot of books that have to do with family secrets and characters working to discover what really happened, so this one seems right up my alley. The early reviews for this one so far have already been quite strong, which is promising especially because this book is the author’s debut. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to squeeze this one in this year, but it seems like a very intriguing story.

5) You Asked for Perfect by Laura Silverman (March 5)

33299465This book caught my attention because of the focus on academic pressure, which is a topic that I don’t see enough in books aside from the typical “I’m stressed about getting into college” storyline. It is about a high school senior named Ariel Stone who should be the perfect college applicant, until he fails a Calculus quiz and feels the pressure to preserver his place at the top of the class. As his grades continue to drop, he hires Amir to tutor him, and soon develops feelings for him, even though a relationship would be one commitment too many with the amount of pressure he is already facing. I’ve only read one other book that deals with a high-achieving protagonist who faces a lot of academic pressure (mostly self-imposed, in that case), and that book (Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia) quickly became one of my favourites because of the way it handled the topic. It is a topic that I would love to see more often in books, so I’m excited to give this one a try.

6) Quarantine: A Love Story by Katie Cicatelli-Kuc (March 26)

39983526This book caught my attention immediately because of the cover art, and the unique concept. It is about a boy named Oliver who is volunteering over Spring Break in the Dominican Republic, but all he wants to do is get back home to the girl who might become his girlfriend. At the same time, Flora just wants to get out of the Dominican Republic, where she spent a miserable trip visiting her dad and new stepmom. In their rush to get home, Flora somehow manages to land the two of them in quarantine together for 30 days, and when feelings develop for each other, they need to figure out if it can be real love or just the effect of being in close contact alone for so long. I generally enjoy YA contemporary romances, but I always prefer stories that have some kind of unique or different angle to them, and this one definitely delivers. It sounds like it will be such a fun story to read and I’m very interested in seeing how the characters interact given their unusual situation.

7) This Train is Being Held by Ismee Amiel Williams (April 9)

41074675I found this book while browsing late last year for new and upcoming releases, and for some reason the cover really drew my interest. It is about a private school student named Isabelle who meets a Dominican-American boy name Alex on the train, and the two of them meet repeatedly on the subway over the next three years, where they form a strong bond. There still isn’t very much information available about this one since it is quite a while until the release date, but it sounds like it could be a really cute story. I think I’ve read a few books that have this kind of “chance encounters” trope, and it’s something that I tend to enjoy. As I mentioned above, I’m all for YA books that have something a little different about them, and this one seems a little more unique. I’m looking forward to finding out more about it as the release date gets closer. The only thing that slightly concerns me about this one is that I’ve already seen it compared to Jenny Han and Sarah Dessen, and while I like both authors, I find their books tend to be aimed toward a bit younger of an audience, which often makes it harder for me to relate to the characters. I’m hoping that won’t be the case here since it seems like such a great premise.

8) The Bride Test by Helen Hoang (May 7)

39338454I haven’t even read The Kiss Quotient yet, and I’m already highly anticipating this follow-up. The Kiss Quotient is at the top of my list for this year, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to fit this one into my plan too. This book is about a man named Khai Diep who has autism, and whose mother decides to visit Vietnam to find him a wife. When Esme is given the chance to come to America to meet a potential husband, she jumps at the chance to go and meet Khai, but soon becomes convinced that he will never return her affection, even as she grows to love him. I didn’t even realize until just now that this book was about a character with autism, and that only makes me anticipate this book even more. I work in a day program with adults with autism and other disabilities, so I’m always interested in seeing autism representation in books. This one sounds like it may be a little along the lines of The Rosie Project, which I really loved, and I can’t wait to give this one a try.

9) Love from A to Z by S.K. Ali (May 7)

40148146This is another book by an author that I haven’t even read yet. I intended to read Saints and Misfits last year, but ended up running out of time. I will be reading it before the end of this month, and I’m hoping to love it because this book sounds really great too! This book is about a girl named Zayneb who is the only Muslim student in her class, and decides to go to her aunt’s house in Qatar after getting suspended for confronting her teacher. Zayneb decides to take her time a way to try being a “nicer” version of herself. While there, she crosses paths with a boy named Adam, who was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, although he is trying to keep this a secret from his grieving father while keeping the memory of his mother alive for his younger sister.  I love how this book seems to have a couple of layers to it beyond the typical YA romance, which seems to be a lot more common with books published recently. I was very excited to read Saints and Misfits, and disappointed that I didn’t get to it in time last year, so I’m hoping to love it enough that this one will still be so highly anticipated.

10) With the Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevdeo (May 7) and If It Makes You Happy by Claire Kann (June 4)

4115426840851643I’m grouping these two together because they have a couple of themes in common. I have not read anything by Elizabeth Acevedo yet, but The Poet X is high on my priority list for this year. I read Claire Kann’s debut Let’s Talk About Love last year and I really enjoyed it, although I didn’t quite love it as much as I expected. Both of these books focus on teenage girls who have a strong interest in cooking, and who have a strong relationship with their grandmothers. In With the Fire On High, the main character Emoni is a teenage mother who lives with her grandmother, and dreams of working as a chef when she graduates. In If It Makes You Happy, Winnie is a high school graduate working at her grandmother’s diner. Winnie is fat and is tired of everyone trying to give her weight loss advice, and she wants to enter a televised cooking competition to save money to make sure her grandmother’s diner can stay open, even though her grandmother does not want her to participate. I doubt I’ll be getting to either of these this year, but they both sound like great stories and I’d love to eventually give them a chance.

 

 

 

Stacking the Shelves (#14)

I originally thought I wouldn’t have room for a Stacking the Shelves post for December, given all the end of year wrap-ups/new year goals that dominate this time of year. I’m glad I found room to do one anyway, since Stacking the Shelves are one of my favourite kinds of posts to make! December was another month where I didn’t add too many books to my TBR, probably because I was so focused on trying to get my challenges done on time that I spent less time overall on Goodreads. I still ended the month with about 70 new books added, although to be fair, many of those are upcoming releases from authors I like that don’t have much more than a title just yet. It was actually tough to find books to mention here that have enough detail available about them that I could actually discuss them properly. As of the beginning of 2019, my TBR had about 2580 books on it in total! I’m hoping to make  a bit of a dent in it with this year’s challenges, but I’m sure I’ll be adding many more books to it in the process.

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme all about the books we are adding to our shelves each week. It is hosted by TyngaReviewsand ReadingReality

1) The Rosie Result by Graeme Simsion

41018628This was actually one of the last books that I added to my TBR in December, but I wanted to mention it first because it caught me completely by surprise! I had no idea a new book in The Rosie Project series was coming out, and I immediately went and added it to both my TBR and my plans for this year. The Rosie Project is one of my all-time favourite books, and I really enjoyed the sequel as well (although I have to agree with most reviewers that it wasn’t quite as good). This book, set a decade after the end of the The Rosie Effect, follows Don, Rosie, and their son Hudson as they move back to Australia, after spending the past decade in New York. Don Tillman is such a fascinating character to read about, and I love seeing how he tries to learn to manage being a good husband and parent. I have no idea why I hadn’t seen this book anywhere on lists of upcoming releases for the year, but it has jumped straight to the top of my priority list. I’d love to re-read the first two as well, but I already have a ton of books planned for this year so I doubt I could squeeze them in on top. This book is due out the first week of February, and I can’t wait!

2) Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian

Like a Love StoryIf I remember correctly, I found this one on a list of upcoming YA releases for 2019. This book is not due out until early June, so I’m not sure I’ll get to it this year, but it sounds really interesting. It is set in New York in 1989, and follows three teenagers during the AIDS crisis. One of the main characters, Reza, is an Iranian boy who knows that he is gay, but the only thing he knows about gay men is the media’s images of them dying of AIDS. The second main character, Judy, idolizes her uncle who is a gay man with AIDS who is an activist involved with ACT UP. The third, Art, is the school’s only openly gay student who rebels against his conservative parents by documenting the AIDS crisis through photos. When Reza and Art start to grow closer, Reza has to find a way out of his relationship with Judy without breaking her heart and losing her friendship. This sounds like such a fascinating YA book and a little different from most of the others that are currently out there. I’m very interested to see how the author brings these characters to life. I think the only story I’ve ever read or seen that is set during the AIDS crisis was Rent, so I’m also interested in seeing that aspect.

3) Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan

35843729I found this book on the same list of upcoming YA releases, and I was immediately drawn to it by the adorable cover art. This book is about a teenage girl named Lou Parker who is working at a theme park over the summer as a giant dancing hot dog, alongside her crush who already has a girlfriend, and her best friend who Lou wants to set up with the perfect girl. At the same time, the teens discover that the theme park might be closing forever at the end of the summer, and Lou decides she wants to make sure it can stay open. This book won’t be out until the end of April, but it sounds so cute! It does seem like the kind of book I’d have to be in the right mood to try, but the majority of the early reviews I’ve seen for it have been great. It seems like a nice and fluffy read and I’m looking forward to giving it a chance. This is actually the second book I’ve seen in the past couple of years set at a theme park which has really caught my attention (the other being The Truth About Happily Ever After, which I also haven’t read yet). I wonder if this is some kind of new trendy setting, since it seems a bit unusual. I’ve never worked in a theme park nor would I want to, but it somehow seems like a very interesting setting to read about.

4) Hope and Other Punchlines by Julie Buxbaum

36584899I have a few of Julie Buxbaum’s books on my TBR already, so her name caught my attention when it came up on the list of upcoming releases for this year. This book is about a teenage girl named Abbi, who became famous as a child when she was photographed on September 11, wearing a birthday crown and holding a balloon as the World Trade Centre collapsed behind her. Now 17, Abbi is excited to spend the summer as a camp counsellor where no one would have heard of the “Baby Hope” photo, until she meets Noah Stern, another teen whose life was changed that day. Noah believes that meeting “Baby Hope” is fate, and he has his own mission involving the famous photo. I’m always up for a YA book that has a unique premise, and this is a topic that I have not seen addressed too much, at least not in YA fiction. It sounds like a very interesting story and I’d love to see how the author tackles such a difficult topic.

5) One Day in December by Josie Silver

38255337I added this one to my TBR mostly because I was seeing this book absolutely everywhere, and decided that I want to see what all the hype is about. It is about a woman named Laurie who is convinced love at first sight is impossible, until she sees a man through her bus window and feels a connection to him, just before her bus drives away. Laurie spends the next year searching everywhere for him, but can’t find him anywhere until the Christmas party the next year, where her best friend Sarah introduces him as her new boyfriend. To be honest, what put me off this book initially was the mention of the word “Christmas” in the synopsis, since I assumed it would be a typical cheesy holiday romance, which I’m not really a fan of. Once I actually looked at the synopsis in more detail though, it started to sound more interesting. The book follows Laurie and Jack as they cross paths over 10 years, and I’m interested to see how the author manages to extend their story for so long. It sounds like it could be a fun book to read. This book was also a pick from Reese Witherspoon’s book club, and although I don’t really follow her as a celebrity, she’s picked some great books.

6) Verity by Colleen Hoover

41957126I should probably start by saying that I have not read anything by Colleen Hoover yet, although I have several of her books on my TBR. This book is her most recent release, that just came out in December 2018. It follows a woman named Lowen, who is hired by the husband of bestselling author Verity Crawford to complete the book that his injured wife is unable to finish. While at the Crawford home to find Verity’s notes, Lowen discovers an unfinished autobiography that Verity never intended anyone to read, with contents that would devastate her husband if he ever saw them. Lowen decides to keep it hidden for Jeremy’s sake, but as her own feelings for him intensify, she starts to realize that the manuscript might change his devotion to his wife. This book seems so different from every other Colleen Hoover book I have on my TBR, and seems by far the most interesting to me. I’m a little nervous to try it because it seems so far off her usual kind of book. I’m all for authors branching out and trying something new, but it’s always a bit risky. I’m definitely willing to give it a chance, although I’m not sure if it should be the first Colleen Hoover book I should try.

7) The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory

42455873To be honest, I was a little disappointed with The Wedding Date when I read it last year. Don’t get me wrong, I still really enjoyed it — but I expected it to be an immediate 5 star read based on all the hype around it, and I ended up giving it 4 stars. I loved the premise and I liked the characters, but I found the story got a little repetitive at times. That hasn’t stopped me from wanting to read the rest of Jasmine Guillory’s books though! I already have The Proposal down for a challenge prompt this year, and I’m interested in eventually trying The Wedding Party too. This book follows Maddie and Theo, who can’t stop thinking about each other after spending one night together, but neither want to admit that they want to continue seeing each other. When they are both chosen to be part of Alexa’s wedding party, they decide to keep sneaking around together just until the wedding is over, and soon find themselves regretting the imminent end of their secret relationship. This sounds like another fun story to read, and I’m definitely interested in giving it a chance.

8) The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda

42190273Megan Miranda is one of those authors whose books always interest me, but I never get around to actually reading them. I have about 5 of her books on my TBR even though I’ve never read anything she has written. This book is her upcoming release due out in May, which is set in a small town called Littleport, which is a vacation spot for wealthy people as well as a small harbour community for the locals. The story focuses on two friends, Sadie and Avery, who are best friends for a decade until Sadie is found dead. Although her death is ruled a suicide, Avery can’t help but feel that there are some in the community who blame her, and she is intent on clearing her own name. Since this book is still so far off, there is not too much else known about it just yet, but it sounds like another very interesting thriller. I really hope I end up liking Megan Miranda’s writing style at this point since I have so many of her books on my TBR, and the stories all sounds really intriguing.

9) Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman

37569327I must have spent my limited time browsing Goodreads in December almost exclusively on new releases, since that seems to be the vast majority of what I added to my TBR. This book is out in early February, and it caught my attention because of the premise. It is about a woman named Daphne who throws out an old annotated high school yearbook that she got from her mother, a teacher who attended every class reunion and wrote down notes and observations about her former students after each one, many of which were unkind. When Daphne moves to a small apartment, she throws out the yearbook, only to have it picked out of her recycling bin by a neighbour who is also a documentary filmmaker, and who is very interested by the book and the commentary written in it, and wants to discuss it all with Daphne. This sounds like such a fun book to read, and I always tend to enjoy books that involve characters who are a bit unusual, as Daphne’s neighbour seems to be. I forgot I had this book on my TBR at all, but seeing it has sparked my interest all over again.

10) All the Lonely People by David Owen

All the Lonely PeopleI was first drawn to this book by the title, which reminded me of a line from Eleanor Rigby. As soon as I saw this book has a focus on social media, I knew it would be something that would interest me. This book is about a girl named Kat, who becomes the target of a trolling campaign leaving her feeling like she has no choice but to shut down all her social media. People have always told Kat that her online personality is not her true self, but she doesn’t know who she is without that side of her, and as she disappears online, her physical self starts to disappear and be forgotten by others as well. Wesley, one of the people responsible for trolling her, believes Kat brought it on herself but soon starts to realize how different it is to see his victim in real life, instead of just hiding behind a screen, and his remorse leads him to try and stop Kat from disappearing altogether. Although I tend to prefer stories that are a bit more realistic than the character actually disappearing like this, I think it is such a fascinating concept and I’m very interested to see how it works. I love that the author is trying to tackle the idea of how trolling someone online has real-world effects, since that is something that I think we are only now starting to really understand. I’m very interested in giving this one a try.

11) The Next to Die by Sophie Hannah

40222458I have a couple of other Sophie Hannah books on my TBR, including one that I added just a couple of months ago, although I haven’t read anything she’s written yet. This book is her most recent release, due out in February, which centers on the police investigation for a psychopath they call “Billy Dead Mates” because he targets pairs of best friends, killing them one by one, with each victim first given a small white book. Police are at a loss for what the white book means, and a woman decides to come forward with information that adds another layer to this already difficult case. Kim Tribbeck, a stand-up comedian, has one of the white books, given to her by a stranger during a gig the previous year, but Kim has no friends and therefore does not fit the killer’s usual pattern. This sounds like exactly the kind of thriller that I tend to enjoy, and I would love to try at least one of Sophie Hannah’s books sometime soon. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to squeeze it into my plans for this year, but it definitely sounds very interesting.

12) Stone Mothers by Erin Kelly

39863413I recently bought a copy of He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly, with the intent of reading it sometime this year, so when I saw her latest release on Goodreads, it also caught my attention. This book is due out at the end of April, and it focuses on a woman named Marianne, who fled from home when she was 17, leaving behind her family, her boyfriend, and the body they buried. Thirty years later, she is forced to return home due to her mother’s illness, and her ex, who never forgave her for leaving, is threatening to expose the truth about what happened when they were teenagers. Marianne is desperate to prevent her husband and daughter from finding out what happened, but she may not know the whole story herself either. I notice that many of the reviews have mentioned that this book also involves an old and creepy asylum, which is something I tend to find fascinating. This sounds like exactly the kind of book I tend to love.