ARC Review – Paths & Portals (Secret Coders #2) by Gene Luen Yang & Mike Holmes

25688979Title: Paths & Portals (Secret Coders #2)

Author:  Gene Luen Yang & Mike Holmes

Rating:  ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: There’s something lurking beneath the surface of Stately Academy—literally. In a secret underground classroom Hopper, Eni, and Josh discover that the campus was once home to the Bee School, an institute where teachers, students, and robots worked together to unravel the mysteries of coding. Hopper and her friends are eager to follow in this tradition and become top-rate coders. But why are Principal Dean and the rugby team suddenly so interested in their extracurricular activities?

From graphic novel superstar (and high school computer programming teacher) Gene Luen Yang comes the second volume of Secret Coders, a wildly entertaining new series that combines logic puzzles and basic programming instruction with a page-turning mystery plot!

Huge thank you to First Second and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I read the first installment of Secret Coders back in January and thought it was pretty cute. I’m not a fan of math, and I find programming to be both fascinating and terrifying at the same time. The first volume ends on quite the cliffhanger, but I’d argue the cliffhanger in Paths & Portals is much difficult to endure — I need to know what happens!

One aspect I loved about this second installment is how much more character development we get for Hopper, Eni, and Josh. They unfortunately get bullied by the school principal and rugby team due to their love of coding, programming and math. There’s a lot of mayhem and shenanigans in this second volume, and my goodness are they funny to boot. I also love the illustrations in Secret Coders, and I love the simplified approach to try and make coding and math a much more accessible and interesting subject matter. Still, while these comics are very fun and cute, it still feels a little heavy handed and dense at times, which I think could be a turn off for some readers.

Still, I’m eager to read the next installment of Secret Coders because I have to know what happens next. There’s definitely a ton of fun to be had here, even if you may not be a fan of math.

ARC Review – Mark of the Plague (The Blackthorn Key #2) by Kevin Sands

28954112Title: Mark of the Plague (The Blackthorn Key #2)

Author: Kevin Sands

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Christopher Rowe is back and there are more puzzles, riddles, and secrets to uncover in this follow-up to the Indie Next pickThe Blackthorn Key, which was called a “spectacular debut” byKirkus Reviews in a starred review.

The Black Death has returned to London, spreading disease and fear through town. A mysterious prophet predicts the city’s ultimate doom—until an unknown apothecary arrives with a cure that actually works. Christopher’s Blackthorn shop is chosen to prepare the remedy. But when an assassin threatens the apothecary’s life, Christopher and his faithful friend Tom are back to hunting down the truth, risking their lives to untangle the heart of a dark conspiracy.

And as the sickness strikes close to home, the stakes are higher than ever before…

Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!
Sam’s Review:

I LOVED The Blackthorn Key last year, and I still maintain that it is a million times better than Percy Jackson. Kevin Sands knows how to write a dark, twisted tale that still has a sense of wonderment and surprise, and Mark of the Plague definitely continues that trend.

There is so much action in this sequel, and I admit I got a little emotionally when the book frequently picked on Tom (he’s my favourite). There’s a larger mystery surrounding Christopher’s old master, Benedict, and with people becoming ill with a plague, it makes for a very emotionally charged adventure. What makes this a terrific follow up is that it borrows all the elements of what made the first book so great — putting the clues together to form the larger picture and uncover the larger mystery at hand. There was a lot of great twist and turns in the sequel that I thought were so perfectly timed, and it made for a fun and engaging read.

Plus the plague in this novel was so darn creepy, and I get that it’s based on a medevael plague, but geez, it’s nerve-wracking. There’s this huge sense of dread in the story about contracting this plague and Sands really puts the read through the wringer at times with what happens with some of these characters and this surrounding plague. No spoilers or anything, but I was pretty worried through a lot of this book in terms of a certain character’s fate.

This book is also much heftier in size compared to its predecessor, but it’s five hundread pages that read lightning fast. Frankly, I am thrilled that The Blackthorn Key has become a series. I think Kevin Sands just pours so much creativity into this series, and I love the way he gets his readers thinking about how to crack codes and read inbetween the lines. I also adore Christopher and Tom, and I thought Sally was a delight as well. There’s good, solid characterization here, and the adventure really makes it quite the thrill ride.

 

#ARCAugust Week 3 & 4 Wrap Up!

ARC-August-2015

#ARCAugust is hosted by the amazing Octavia & Shelly @ Read. Sleep. Repeat and if you aren’t participating — you should be. Let me talk to you guys about epic fail — the reason there was no week three update was because I had only read one book off my list. It was an amazing book, but one book wasn’t worth making an update post over. However, I have managed to knock more off my list coming into the final week. Let’s see what I have completed, shall we?

  • The Dog Who Dared to Dream by Hwang Sun-mi (September 6)
  • This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills (October 4)
  • The Infinity Year of Avalon James by Dana Middleton (October 11)
  • Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure by Ann M. Martin (September 6)
  • Girls Like Me by Lola St.Vil (October 4)
  • When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore (October 4)
  • Speed of Life by J.M Kelly (October 11)
  • Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova (September 6)
  • Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel (September 20)
  • The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog
    by Adam Gidwitz (September 27)
  • Blood For Blood by Ryan Graudin (November 1)
  • Afterward by Jennifer Mathiu (September 20)
  • Write This Down by Claudia Mills (September 27, ebook)
  • The Swan Riders by Erin Bow (September 20)
  • Mark of the Plague by Kevin Sands (September 6)

Total Read:11/16

I am SO CLOSE to finishing my list if you can believe it. I am currently in the middle of Girls Like Me (well, ten pages in), so I think I can manage getting these last four titles done. Who wants to take bets that I can do it?

My favourite of the two weeks? When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore. I have written a review for it, but to be honest I don’t think my review can even do the book justice in terms of what it entails as a novel. It’s beautiful, smart, sensitive, and I just hope everyone reads it.

With one week left to go, here’s hoping I can knock out these last four. Stay tuned to the blog over the next few months as all these books will have reviews on the blog. How is your #ARCAugust going? Have you read any of these? Let me know in the comments.

ARC Review – The Dog Who Dared to Dream by Sun-mi Hwang & Chi-Young Kim (Translator)

30651306Title: The Dog Who Dared to Dream

Author: Sun-mi Hwang & Chi-Young Kim (Translator)

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: This is the story of a dog named Scraggly. Born an outsider because of her distinctive appearance, she spends most of her days in the sun-filled yard of her owner’s house. Scraggly has dreams and aspirations just like the rest of us. But each winter, dark clouds descend and Scraggly is faced with challenges that she must overcome. Through the clouds and even beyond the gates of her owner’s yard lies the possibility of friendship, motherhood and happiness – they are for the taking if Scraggly can just hold on to them, bring them home and build the life she so desperately desires.

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I started reading The Dog Who Dared to Dream. I am a huge sucker for animal stories, but this one in particular read more like a folktale than the average story about a courageous dog.

Written in short vignettes, Sun-mi Hwang weaves a tale about a Scraggly dog, and we the reader watch her life past. We learn about the relationship she has with her owner, the first time she gives birth to puppies, and her slow descent into old age. This story is heartbreaking, sad, but at times filled me with hope. Scraggly is someone worth cheering for and she has a lot of conviction within her. I loved the way she is humanized in the story, and a lot of what happens to her, you feel for her.

I particularly loved when she had birth and then the owner threaten to sell the pups to pay for his roof — Scraggly felt so betrayed and the way this scene is written is just lovely, because it reminds you that dogs are very familiar with emotion. They always remember. Also can I just say the cat in this novel was kind of a jerk? I will say, I did like the resolve to that towards the end. Besides, the hen was much worse!

I really enjoyed this book and I think it does a great job illustrating the kinds of relationships animals have with their humans, and even other animals. Although the translation read a little stiff at times, I think there’s still a lot to enjoy here. Just prepare yourself or a lot of feelings. Seriously, I had feels.

#ARCAugust Week Two Wrap Up!

 ARC-August-2015

#ARCAugust is hosted by the amazing Octavia & Shelly @ Read. Sleep. Repeat and if you aren’t participating — you should be. Week 2 saw me completing only three more books for my challenge, though they were shorter reads, admittedly (and all of them were books releasing on September 6!). So far I can say happily that I’ve been enjoying the majority of what I’ve been reading. We will see if this trend continues.

  • The Dog Who Dared to Dream by Hwang Sun-mi (September 6)
  • This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills (October 4)
  • The Infinity Year of Avalon James by Dana Middleton (October 11)
  • Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure by Ann M. Martin (September 6)
  • Girls Like Me by Lola St.Vil (October 4)
  • When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore (October 4)
  • Speed of Life by J.M Kelly (October 11)
  • Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova (September 6)
  • Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel (September 20)
  • The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog
    by Adam Gidwitz (September 27)
  • Blood For Blood by Ryan Graudin (November 1)
  • Afterward by Jennifer Mathiu (September 20)
  • Write This Down by Claudia Mills (September 27, ebook)
  • The Swan Riders by Erin Bow (September 20)
  • Mark of the Plague by Kevin Sands (September 6)

Total Read: 7/16

Favourite Read This Week: Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure by Ann M. Martin. This book is adorbs. Seriously, adorbs.

And that is what I read this week. What did you accomplish this week for #ARCAugust? I’d love to know in the comments.

ARC Review – Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure by Ann M. Martin, Annie Parnell, & Ben Hatke

27414477Title: Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure

Author: Ann M. Martin, Annie Parnell, & Ben Hatke

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has gone away unexpectedly and left her niece, Missy Piggle-Wiggle, in charge of the Upside-Down House and the beloved animals who live there: Lester the pig, Wag the dog, and Penelope the parrot, among others. Families in town soon realize that like her great-aunt, Missy Piggle-Wiggle has inventive cures for all sorts of childhood (mis)behavior: The Whatever Cure and the Just-a-Minute Cure, for instance. What is a stressed out parent to do? Why, call Missy Piggle-Wiggle, of course!

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

After the #TeensReadFeed event hosted by Raincoast, this actually ended up being my most anticipated read from the event. I admit, I had never ever heard of the Miss Piggle-Wiggle series, I thought I’d be missing out on something having read this book. Thankfully, that is not the case.

This is the tale of Missy Piggle-Wiggle, who has taken over the Upside-Down House while her aunt Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has gone on a journey to find her husband. It is Missy’s job to help the people of Little Spring Valley with whatever problems they might be having, while also conjuring up cures to assist with their problems.

I thought this book was utterly delightful and very cheeky. Missy is a delightful heroine and Wag the dog was a great companion character. What is great about this book is that the focus is on how MIssy Piggle-Wiggle helps all the different children in Little Spring Valley with their ailments. My particular favourite was Samantha, especially given that her problem is that everything is “just one more minute”! I will say, I laughed at that pretty hard, but only because it’s my own namesake and every so often (and my husband can attest to it) I like to pull that same card out. I liked that each interaction with a different child felt self-contained, and there was always a touch of humour and heart to each situation.

Plus, Ben Hatke’s artwork (well, what was present in the ARC) was absolutely fantastic and I really cannot wait to see how the resent of the illusrations look when a finished copy arrives on shelves. His art does an amazing job complementing the story.

And really, there’s just a lot to love about Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure. It’s charming, funny, and it will make you grin like a fool as you’re reading it. These are my favourite kinds of middle grade novels, and with the cliffhanger of an event, I hope this becomes a new series, because I really want to see what other whacky adventures Missy gets herself into.

Well done books set in Japan

 

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For the past month all I’ve done is cook Japanese food, read books set in Japan, and miss things like Japanese convenience stores, dependable trains, and being able to walk around a night feeling safe. Then a facebook memory popped up and reminded me that I moved back to the USA two years ago. Huh. No wonder I’ve been devouring Japanese stuff left and right.

It’s weird. After moving back both my husband and I were almost rejecting everything Japanese that we could. We didn’t eat Japanese food, listen to Japanese music, or watch anything Japan related. Then we slowly started to get home sick and binged on everything Japan. I think we’ve found a nice balance now. We love our home in Boston, we love MIT, but we also really love to shop at the Asian supermarket and order sushi to eat while watching anime.

As many of you know I love to read books set in Japan, but I have a lot of trouble with what’s out there. A lot of popular things are written by white authors that only experienced Japan for a short time in a very limited perspective. There is a huge difference between living in Japan for many years vs. visiting vs. studying abroad vs. teaching English for a year. I’m not going to belittle anyone’s experiences, but you CANNOT claim authority on something that you haven’t fully experienced. And this is where I have a lot of issue with some of the books I read. Whenever I find out a book is set in Japan (at least in the YA scope) I HAVE to find out what the author’s experience is. While I do think that it’s okay for author’s to write outside of their experiences, I also think that if they chose to do so, they need to get their work vetted by those who HAVE lived those experiences.

So I want to talk about some of the books that I’ve read recently that I’ve found to be spot on with accuracy.

25898828The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw — Five stars

I just finished this book and I ADORED it. The Last Cherry Blossom is a middle grade book set in Japan during WWII around the time of the atomic bomb. This book is based on the author’s mother’s experiences in WWII Japan and during the dropping of the atom bomb. It’s well written and based on true events!

27414389A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith — Four stars

I did go into this book with a little hesitance. The author visited Japan but (as far as I know) has never lived there for any period of time. I was a little worried but she did a lot of research and seems to have gotten her work vetted by those with experience in Japan. I did have a few Japanese word usage issues and a couple of authenticity qualms, but overall it was well done and didn’t get anything glaringly WRONG. This is a story that takes place in modern Japan and historical Japan. It’s also a ghost story. I really loved how the author did use her experiences from her visit to Japan to really get a lot of the details right.

25688977The Monster on the Road is Me by J.P. Romney — Five stars

I LOVED this book. The author taught English with the JET program and lived in a small village in the Japanese countryside. I love that he had such a different experience than most English teachers who work in or near larger cities. This book is 100% Japanese in the fact that there are no non-Japanese characters. It’s based on Japanese folklore and has a lot of Japanese words used in the text (a little too much at times I thought). The parts that take place in the classroom and school are something only those who have actually worked in Japanese high schools would be able to really tell us about. I had no issues with any of the accuracy in this book and LOVED that there wasn’t any “white savior” nonsense going on.

26138370Seven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse — Five Stars

When I first heard about this book I was worried that it was going to be written by another white girl who studied abroad for a little or taught English in Tokyo for a year. But after connecting with the author we got super nostalgic about our lives in Japan and I got REALLY excited to see what this book was about. It’s a love letter to Tokyo, to Japan, and to her life there. I’ve seen a few reviews saying how they wished there was more Japanese culture in this book and that Japan was only used as a backdrop and that a lot more could have been done. I disagree. This book isn’t about a girl going and exploring and learning about Japan. This is the story of a girl who’s lived there for a long time. She’s already integrated. She also very much lives the life of an expat; she goes to an English speaking school, she has a lot of English speaking friends, and she lives in Tokyo… where you don’t have to speak Japanese to survive. She’s also a teen who has a mother that takes care of the more critical aspects of living in Japan. This is instead the story of a girl who lives in that circle (I knew A LOT of people who lived in expat circles) who has to say goodbye to a country and culture that she loves. There is a TON of Japan and Japanese culture in this book and I loved how none of it was really forced or taught or explained from a superior stance. I hate it when I read books about a character moving to Japan and then the author goes on and on about the culture in a totally unnatural way that is basically showing off how much they know. This book doesn’t do that, and I loved it.

30521682Year of the Talking Dog by Patrick Sherriff — Five Stars

This book is the second book in the Hana Walker series. I LOVED the first book and was so excited that I got to beta read the second book. I have since re-read the published version and damn, it was so good. The Hana Walker Mysteries series is about a half Japanese half British girl who gets sucked into solving mysteries that deal with the yakuza and in this one, a North Korean spy. I know the author personally and he’s lived in Japan for quite some time. He also has children who are half Japanese half British and I love that he’s representing his daughters in his work. Someday they’ll read his novels and see themselves in them and that’s just amazing to me. These books make me miss Japan SO much.

So there we go. Do you  know of any books that are set in Japan that you think I should check out? I have a list on my goodreads account and I am ALWAYS looking for books to add to it!