Wednesday, July 26, 2017

My Wand Experience at Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Harry Potter Month is hosted by Faith at Geeky Zoo Girl and Micheline at Lunar Rainbows Reviews. This awesome event runs all through July, and you can find more information about it here.

Even though I’ve lived in Florida for nearly half my life, I am ashamed to say that I had not been to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (let alone Universal) until last year. Boy, was it worth the wait! I can hardly put my amazement into cohesive phrases about what it feels like to actually step into the books. It was breathtaking to see that the abstract world I had grown up loving had become a physical place that was actually accessible to me. For any book lover, it was a dream come true. In those regards, the whole day is pretty much a happy blur to me that I really wished I remembered in greater detail. That being said, I will attempt to retell my wand experience.

If you’re not familiar with the park or its attractions, they have pretty much everything important that is mentioned in the books. You can actually go to Ollivander’s and they have this really cool interactive show where someone from the audience gets picked and they go through their wand ceremony. And by golly, I actually got picked! Now, before you all go: that lucky bastard, I have to admit that I am pretty much the unluckiest person ever when it comes to raffles, winning by chance, or any sort of fate induced contest. I was fully expecting some nice kid in the audience to get picked, but no, the lady picked me. And yes, I had the cliché awkward moment where I checked to see if she was pointing at the person behind me. So, that’s how I got suckered into buying a ridiculously expensive piece of plastic that I display quite proudly in my room.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Melissa's Comeback Post!

I have returned (as some of you might have guessed from our Harry Potter month announcement)! And by this point, I would not be surprised if no one remembers me. While I have written a handful of reviews and posts in the past couple of years, I have been unable to contribute regularly. Now that I have graduated college (woohoo!), I look forward to devoting some of my newfound free time to posting on a regular basis. I figured it was probably a good idea to reintroduce myself before I start posting so that you guys don’t think I’ve kidnapped Lee and sent her to Alaska to fight bears with her . . . bare hands. Bottom line: you’ll be seeing a lot more from me. Oh, and if anyone has any suggestions on what I should read, I would greatly appreciate it. It seems like an eternity since I’ve last read any YA books!

Monday, July 24, 2017

ARC Review: The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol

The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol
The Apprentice Witch
By James Nicol
Publisher:
Chicken House
Format: Print ARC
Source: Publisher
Publication Date: July 25, 2017

To Sum It Up: After failing her evaluation to become a full-fledged witch, Arianwyn Gribble remains an apprentice. She is assigned to the town of Lull to assist the residents there with any magical needs. Lull isn’t as quiet as its name implies, though, as something dark seems to be lurking in the surrounding Great Wood. Not only does it appear more and more likely that Arianwyn will ultimately have to face whatever is out there, even as an apprentice, but she’s also troubled by a mysterious glyph that makes her spells go awry.

Review: It’s quite difficult for me not to compare every middle grade magic book I read to a certain series that turned 20 this year about a certain boy wizard, especially when it comes to its appeal to readers of all ages. I try to keep my mind as open as possible, otherwise I probably wouldn’t be able to pick up books about witches, wizards, and the like again, and there’s just something irresistible about the possibility that magic exists.

Poor Arianwyn Gribble flunks her evaluation exam to be recognized as a fully qualified witch and is stuck at the apprentice level. Although she receives an assignment to help the town of Lull with tasks like dealing with unfriendly magical creatures, it’s not much of a consolation to Arianwyn, especially since her grandmother is a very prominent witch. Arianwyn is a very relatable heroine; she tries so hard to prove that she’s ready for the next step up in rank, but fate just keeps seeming to throw a wrench in her efforts. Readers will quickly find themselves cheering her on to succeed.

One of my favorite aspects of The Apprentice Witch was its magical creatures, even the pesky ones like snotlings. The vivid descriptions of the creatures were also one of the novel’s strong points; they were what truly made me feel like I’d been whisked away to another world.

Unfortunately, another area of the world-building was not quite on the same level. There’s mention of a war going on and Arianwyn’s father is off fighting in it, but the book doesn’t go into further detail about it. Lull is the novel’s focal point, and that’s fine, but I couldn’t help being curious about what was happening outside of the town.

Something else that became a bit distracting was the book’s quite liberal use of exclamation points in the dialogue. After a while, they lost some of their effectiveness because they kept popping up.

The book’s plot is fairly straightforward and doesn’t deviate much from its projected path. There is a certain charm, however, in watching Arianwyn gradually settle into her new life in Lull and into her new duties as its apprentice witch. Anyone who’s ever searched for a sense of belonging is sure to find a kindred spirit here in Arianwyn.

All in All: Younger readers will likely find Arianwyn’s adventures thrilling, but for me as an adult reader, they were missing a little something to make them as compelling as some other middle grade books have been.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Discussing Game of Thrones: Dragonstone

* Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen “Dragonstone.”

Sooooo, yeah—Game of Thrones returned last week, and this recap is . . . a week late. XD Unfortunately, I had to do some major adulting this past week, which prevented me from being able to sit down and rewatch the episode and write this recap until now. But hey—at least it's still posting before Episode 2, hahaha!

Walder Whaaaa???!!!

Season 7 opens with . . . Walder Frey???!!! The last time we saw him, he was bleeding out after Arya slit his throat. But here he is, addressing a bunch of male Freys? Ah, but watch all of those male Freys but Walder drink from their goblets. Hello—poison! Of course it was Arya, wearing Walder’s face!!! I absolutely LOVED her lines at the end of this scene, that the North remembers, and winter came for House Frey. Hell yeah, Arya!

Bran and Meera Arrive Late for the Reunion Party at the Wall

Cut to a creepy ass scene of the White Walkers on the move. Well, as fast as an army of the frosty undead can move. They have White Walker giants! I repeat: white. Walker. Giants!!!! It turns out that Bran was having a vision, and he and Meera have arrived at the Wall, at last, after how many seasons? Dolorous Edd is there to meet them, and he asks for some verification of Bran's identity. Bran replies that Edd was at the Fist of the First Men and Hardhome, and the Night King is coming for everyone. That's enough proof for Edd, and Meera and Bran are granted admittance.

Sibling Squabbling in Public is a No-No

In Winterfell's Great Hall, Jon is talking about dragonglass and how it needs to be mined to make weapons to fight the Night King and his army. Not only that, but everyone aged 10 to 16, male and female, will drill daily with weapons. Lord Glover balks at the idea, which prompts Lady Lyanna Mormont to once again stand up and get sassy. She informs Lord Glover that she isn't planning to knit by the fire while men fight for her. Jon goes on to say that the Wall has to be properly manned and looks to the Wildlings for help. Tormund says he’ll go to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. The next item on the agenda is what to do with the Karstark and Umber castles, which would be next in the path of the White Walkers. Sansa argues that the castles should be given to loyal Stark supporters, while Jon declares that he won't strip both families of their ancestral homes. Jon and Sansa start getting into it in front of everyone assembled, much to Littlefinger's delight. Jon puts his foot down and brings both Ned Umber and Alys Karstark forward to swear their loyalty to House Stark. Outside and away from everyone, Jon and Sansa continue quarreling, and a raven arrives for Jon, demanding his presence in King’s Landing to bend the knee. Sansa expresses her concern over the threat from Cersei, while Jon insists that the White Walkers are the more dangerous enemy.

Cersei’s New Hobby: Cartography

Jaime finds Cersei watching an artist draw a giant ass map on the ground. Neither sibling needs a giant ass map to figure out that they're surrounded by enemies, but Jaime seems to be more alarmed than his sister. Not only do they need allies, but the Lannister troops need to eat in order to fight. With House Tyrell and their food stores allied with Daenerys, feeding an army could pose a huge problem. Cersei, meanwhile, is more focused on creating a dynasty and seems to be in her own little world.

How to Rebuild a Fleet in No Time at All

So Cersei’s solution to finding allies is inviting Euron Greyjoy to King’s Landing. Brilliant! Viewers will remember that at the end of last season, Yara and Theon stole a good chunk of the Iron Fleet while their uncle was being crowned King of the Iron Islands. Euron ordered that new ships be built ASAP, and looking at the size of the fleet he rolls into King's Landing with, the Ironborn worked quadruple time to make things happen. Euron is hilariously arrogant in front of Cersei and Jaime and gets in several verbal jabs at Jaime. Euron offers Cersei the Iron Fleet in exchange for her hand in marriage. She immediately rejects it, telling Euron that he's untrustworthy. Undeterred, Euron vows not to return to King's Landing until he has a priceless gift for the Queen to her earn her trust. Tyrion's head? Sansa's head? Both heads?

A Very Gross Day in the Life at the Citadel

All I can say about the scenes of Sam at the Citadel is EWWWWWWWWWW. Like, EWWW to the nth degree. I didn’t mind watching Sam shelve books or serve meals, but I so did NOT need to see him cleaning chamber pots. Or assisting Grand Maester Slughorn with an autopsy. It looks as though all Sam has learned so far is that training to be a maester is pretty, well, shitty when you're first starting out, and despite his best efforts to persuade ol' Sluggy that he needs access to the restricted section of the Citadel's library, Sam has to resort to "borrowing" someone else's keys.

Tell Us What You Want, What You Really, Really Want, Littlefinger

Back at the Winterfell courtyard, Brienne is sparring with Pod, and she knocks him down. Tormund, who has zero subtlety when it comes to getting flirty with Brienne, says that Pod is a lucky man. XD As Sansa watches the sparring going on below, Littlefinger creeps up on her and makes his usual creepy comments. Sansa shows little patience for his bullshit and is spared from further annoyance by Brienne's arrival. After Littlefinger slithers off, Brienne asks Sansa why he's still around, and she replies that they need his men.

Not on Arya’s Kill List: Ed Sheeran

Arya comes across a group of Lannister soldiers, one of whom looks a lot like Ed Sheeran, LOL. The soldiers invite her to share their meager meal with them, and she accepts, although she takes note of where their weapons are. As they talk, she’s surprised at how ordinary, and maybe even human, they are— they’re just men missing their families back home. One asks why she’s headed to King’s Landing, and she replies she’s going to kill the queen. The soldiers break out into laughter, and she joins in, but of course she's 100% serious.

Umm . . . I Don’t Like the Looks of This Place

The Brotherhood Without Banners plus the Hound reach a very familiar-looking farmhouse to the Hound— during his travels with Arya, he'd robbed the farmer, who had a young daughter, telling Arya that the pair were going to starve to death anyway. The Hound tries to deter the others from camping there but fails. It turns out that the farmer took the lives of both his daughter and himself, presumably to avoid the very fate that the Hound had predicted. There's some very witty banter between the Hound, Beric, and Thoros; I really dig this group. The conversation becomes serious when the Hound questions why Beric has been brought back to life so many times; what is his purpose? That's a really good question, since Beric's story line in the books is quite different from where it seems headed here. Thoros asks the Hound to look into the flames, which naturally the latter is loath to do at first, but when he does, he sees the White Walkers. Later, Thoros finds the Hound outside digging graves for the farmer and his daughter and helps him.

Dragonstone = Dragonglass!

After all the shit he's had to deal with thus far (sorry, I can't help making these terrible jokes), Sam finds some extremely useful information in one of the books he nicked from the restricted section of the library, courtesy of the keys he also nicked. According to one tome, there's a mother lode of dragonglass beneath Dragonstone. Sam dispatches a raven to Jon with the news. Hello, Reason-for-Jon-to-Meet-Up-with-Daenerys! Speaking of Daenerys, Sam is back at work doing thankless jobs at the Citadel when a scary-looking hand shoots out from behind a closed door through the slot where food bowls are put. I'd know the mellifluous voice that belongs to that hand anywhere: it's Ser Jorah Mormont behind that door! Oh man, just going by the hand, his greyscale must be horrible. He asks Sam for news of the Dragon Queen, Daenerys Stormborn, which is the perfect segue to the final scenes of this episode.

Well, It’s About Damn Time!

After practically living her entire life in exile, Daenerys Targaryen has returned to Westeros! These scenes of her and her crew making landfall at Dragonstone are incredibly powerful and emotional, even more so for the lack of dialogue until the very end. We see her making her way up to the castle, and it's a really long path; flying one of the dragons up there would've been a lot faster, LOL, but a lot less dramatic. Stannis’s war map is still set up, abandoned, and that's when Daenerys utters the sole line of dialogue in the Dragonstone sequence: “Shall we begin?”

In the Next Episode

Yara proposes striking King's Landing now. Wait—is that a wolf in the preview? IS THAT YOU, NYMERIA???!!!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Review: The Sumage Solution by G.L. Carriger

The Sumage Solution by G.L. Carriger
The Sumage Solution (San Andreas Shifters #1)
By G.L. Carriger
Publisher:
Gail Carriger
Format: eARC
Source: Author
Publication Date: July 18, 2017

To Sum It Up: Max Barker is a sumage, only able to absorb then redirect the quintessence that other mages use to cast spells. He’s also stuck in a bureaucratic job that’s going nowhere until Bryan “Biff” Frederiksen arrives at the DURPS office. Biff is the Beta werewolf to his younger brother Alec’s Alpha, and he’s been tasked with getting the newly relocated pack officially registered. Max and Biff form an instant connection, but the past that Max tries so hard to bury beneath copious amounts of sarcasm may stand between them.

Review: Gail Carriger is a must-read author for me, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read The Sumage Solution. Writing as G.L. Carriger, the novel is a bit of a departure from the Victorian steampunk world of Carriger’s adult Parasol Protectorate and YA Finishing School series. The Sumage Solution is set in modern day San Francisco and is one smoking, scorching, smoldering paranormal romance. This might be the closest my Kindle Fire has ever come to, well, catching fire.

The Sumage Solution features a variety of paranormal beings, some of which, like kelpies, kitsune, and mermen, I haven’t read about as much as one of the book’s main supernatural species, werewolves. What I love about Carriger’s take on the paranormal is that you never feel like you’re reading yet another book about werewolves, vampires, ghosts, etc.; her characters are always unique and often endearingly quirky, and they completely draw you into their story and their world.

Anyone who loves snarktastic characters, which I do, will love Max, the titular sumage and one of the novel’s two protagonists. Not only is Max a smartass, but he also doesn’t know when to shut up, and the resulting sass is hilarious. Beneath all of the razor-sharp sarcasm, though, Max tries to distance himself as much as possible from a horrible childhood growing up with a cruel father in whose eyes Max was nothing but a failure. Lacking a steady, supportive presence for most of his life, Max starts to panic when instant chemistry with werewolf Bryan (nickname: Biff) begins turning into something more serious.

Biff is the Beta of a pack new to the San Francisco Bay Area, and his Beta instincts to calm and protect are exactly what Max needs. Biff is also a man/werewolf of few words, which works out perfectly for the relationship because Max is always running his mouth. While the romance definitely has some absolutely torrid moments, it’s also sweet; you’ll root for these two to be together and to overcome anything that drives them apart.

I really liked getting to know the pack a bit and the sense of brotherhood between them. The bond is especially strong between Biff and his actual brother Alec, the pack’s Alpha. Biff has always looked out for his younger brother, and it’s touching to see Alec do the same for Biff here. (For a bit more about Alec, you can check out Carriger’s short story Marine Biology.)

Overall, this was a sizzling start to the San Andreas Shifters series. Gail Carriger has created another cast of highly entertaining characters, and I look forward to more of their stories.

All in All: Gail Carriger continues to make the supernatural feel fresh with her new paranormal romance. And yes, there is tea involved!

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