Monthly Archives: September 2014

ARC Review – Sparkers by Eleanor Glewwe

18762479Title:  Sparkers

Author: Eleanor Glewwe

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Marah Levi is a promising violinist who excels at school and can read more languages than most librarians. Even so, she has little hope of a bright future: she is a sparker, a member of the oppressed lower class in a society run by magicians.

Then a mysterious disease hits the city of Ashara, turning its victims’ eyes dark before ultimately killing them. As Marah watches those whom she loves most fall ill, she finds an unlikely friend in Azariah, a wealthy magician boy. Together they pursue a cure in secret, but more people are dying every day, and time is running out. Then Marah and Azariah make a shocking discovery that turns inside-out everything they thought they knew about magic and about Ashara, their home. 

Set in an imaginative world rich with language, lore, and music, this gripping adventure plunges the reader into the heart of a magical government where sparks of dissent may be even more deadly than the dark eyes.

Huge thank you to Razorbill Canada/Viking Juvenile for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I knew zero about Sparkers going into it other than it was a middle grade fantasy adventure. However, having finished it, I feel like that is only a partial description. This book is incredibly dark for a middle grade read and it takes some very unexpected turns — some that work incredibly well, and some that feel a touch awkward given the movement of the narrative.

First off, I loved that this story dealt with social justice issues and racism and made them such approachable topics for a middle grade audience. The moral choices and issues presented are very complex and rich without being overcomplicated or preachy. It helps, of course, that the novel is supported by a (mostly) excellent cast of characters.

Marah in particular, is vibrant, full of life and is someone with the desire to help others before herself. Although she’s selfless, her fatal flaw is that she’s very naive as well. She’s a heroine I think a lot of readers regardless of age will appreciate simply because of the traits she possesses and how Glewwe weaves them into the story. Furthermore, I was surprised with the amount of death that occurs in the book, something that often feels uncommon in middle grade, and the deaths that did occur were very well done.

This book did take me awhile to get into, if only because it’s a very slow burn and it needs to build its world and give just enough detail for the reader to be able to visualize it. However, sometimes I felt there was too little in terms of detail and I didn’t always feel like I could visualize the world Glewwe was painting. The book also pulled a here’s a villain in the last forty pages or so who is super evil and POOF! he’s gone, which I did not like. It felt rushed and simply anti-climatic, even though the twist surrounding said character was pretty solid. I think after the twist I was just expecting more than I got, making the ending feel a little cop outtish for me.

I think Sparkers is still a great debut middle grade novel and I think middle graders who love and dig fantasy will definitely find something to enjoy here. There’s simplicity in the writing and the story is easy to follow. I really loved the social issues in this book and I think they were the strongest aspect of the story, along with the characters, and those two reasons alone do make Sparkers a worthwhile book to check out.

SIT DOWN! SHUT UP! READ THIS! – September Edition Reviewed

For September’s SIT DOWN! SHUT UP! READ THIS! River and I caved and decided we would finally sit down and read Dangerous Boys by Abigail Haas (aka Abby McDonald). If you aren’t familiar with that name and you love YA, than GET familiar with it. She’s famous for writing Dangerous Girls, which is easily one of the most fucked up (pardon my French) books I’ve ever read (and I read thanks to River because it was my Christmas gift from her last year). There was something about Dangerous Girls that really just kept you on the edge of your seat and kept you guessing. Well, turns out the book didn’t sell very, forcing the author to self-publish the devilish sequel in North America (though UK fan, Simon and Shuster UK picked it up so you are cool!). If you want to read more on that check out Abby’s post here.

That being said, regardless of our thoughts on the sequel (which we both enjoyed but not as much as the first), we really, sincerely hope you support Abigail Haas’ books. They are something different in YA that you just don’t see and they really, really need to be read by more people.

River & Sam’s Pick:

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Dangerous by by Abigail Haas

River’s Thoughts: Whew, I flew through that! While it was no Dangerous Girls (a book I read a year ago and STILL think about… need to re-read it ASAP), I did like this a lot. It started off a bit slow and didn’t really start having the same atmospheric feeling that Dangerous Girls had until Oliver showed up. Once he was in the picture though, things really began to happen. The ending was twisted, and I don’t mean to keep comparing it to Dangerous Girls, but it wasn’t as gut-punching-shocking-jfc as Dangerous Girls’ was. So I guess I had really high hopes for this being just as WTF as Dangerous Girls, but in reality i should have separated myself from it a bit more and read it with some distance from Dangerous Girls. Oh well. Still really good and if you liked Dangerous Girls then you MUST get this and read it and support Abigail Haas.

Sam’s Thoughts: I definitely enjoyed this sequel, though not as much as the first book. They definitely are very different beasts and it’s hard not to want to compare them considering they both have very different stories and twists in them. That being said, this book starts out painfully slow and doesn’t provide a lot of give right away. I definitely struggled with the characters this time around until Oliver showed up — can’t say I liked him or Ethan (I get they were polar opposites but they felt so much more one dimensional compared to Chloe), but it does get dark and uncomfortable, especially in the latter half of the novel. I wasn’t sure about Chloe at first, but towards the end of the novel, she grew on me and I understood her “enough” mentality that part of me even sympathized with her (not entirely though). It’s a good sequel, but the twist in this one just seemed to fall a touch too flat for me when you compare it to the original. Still, check it out because there is some really good stuff here, but Dangerous Girls wins hands down between the two for me.

Read Dangerous Boys? Have some thoughts to share? Let us know in the comments!

An Evening With Lauren Oliver (Author of Rooms & the Delirium Trilogy)

talkingYesterday, I had the chance to meet Lauren Oliver, who famous for her YA novels Panic, the Delirium Trilogy, Before I Fall, but did you all know she put an adult novel recently? Well, interestingly, Lauren had an amazing talk with the fans about the labels of publishing and how bogus they somewhat are.

Lauren stated that many authors don’t just outright say “this is an adult novel or this is a teen novel.” Sometimes the idea of audience is there, but the reality is that until you have a finished product, you don’t really know who the book might actual be for! And this is ultimately how Rooms came into existence. It was interesting to listen to Lauren Oliver discuss her writing practices, but more importantly how ideas can be salvaged and transformed, even if you may not entirely know where the story is taking you. It’s about feeling your way around the voices and seeing what kind of a story they are leading you towards, and it’s interesting how true that sounds for most.signing

She also read from Rooms and she’s a fantastic reader. One aspect I loved about Lauren reading the novel is that she had a distinct way in which the characters would sound, and it made me all the more eager to start reading the book (which happened, it became the new bus book because I finished Except the Dying by Maureen Jennings). I loved learning about the process in which Rooms took its form, and just from the sixty pages I’ve read, I can see how challenging of book this must have been to write given the setting, characters, circumstances, and the constriction of the house itself within the story. It’s very much alive and a character within the story. Every room in the house has its own distinct personality and traits, and it’s something I appreciate as someone who loves descriptive writing. Mind you, Lauren Oliver should write an eight hundred page book describing trees and I would probably read it.

samlaurenLauren Oliver is also a lovely and vibrant person to chat with. She was discussing all her own going projects and she was very personable with her fans. I told her about how Liesl & Po has destroyed me (the inscription in that book is much more personal) and how I felt so connected to those characters and that world. Since Kiki was with me, we also discussed what it means to be a book pusher. BOOK PUSHER!

Honestly, Lauren Oliver was such a fun author to meet and I know if she ever ends up visiting Toronto again, I will totally be there with bells on (Okay, not literally unless someone holds me to it). Seriously though, if she’s in your neck of the woods and you love her work, she is an awesome speaker worth seeing!

signed

omg she signed mah book. (Not pictured: Liesl & Po because that is back on the favourites shelf)

River’s Quickie Reviews #3

21842884Title: The Iron Trial by Holly Black & Cassandra Clare (September 9th, 2014 by Scholastic)

Synopsis: From two bestselling superstars, a dazzling and magical middle-grade collaboration centering on the students of the Magisterium, an academy for those with a propensity toward magic. In this first book, a new student comes to the Magisterium against his will — is it because he is destined to be a powerful magician, or is the truth more twisted than that? It’s a journey that will thrill you, surprise you, and make you wonder about the clear-cut distinction usually made between good and evil.

River’s Review: Okay guys, I was nervous about this one. I love both Black and Clare, but this just SCREAMED Harry Potter.

Well, guess what. It’s not. Aside from a few similarities (magic, two boys & a girl becoming a BFF trio at magic school, and an evil enemy) there really isn’t TOO much Harry Potter-ness in this. And I loved that.

Another concern of mine was that it was going to try too hard to be the Anit-Harry Potter. And it did NOT do THAT either. So bonus points.

This book is instead a nice addition to a wonderful genre of MG books that have magic and magicians and mages and wizards and magical stuff whathaveyou and magic school. There are some plucky characters, some interesting takes on magic and magic school, and a nice twist on the ‘chosen one’ story.

I’m excited to see where these are going. Will they be THE NEXT BIG THING? Probably not. But they sure are fun to read and I’m loving two of my favorite writers doing this together. 4/5 Stars.


20877295Title: In a Handful of Dust by Mindy McGinnis (September 23rd 2014 by Katherine Tegen)

Synopsis: Lucy’s life by the pond has always been full. She has water and friends, laughter and the love of her adoptive mother, Lynn, who has made sure that Lucy’s childhood was very different from her own. Yet it seems Lucy’s future is settled already—a house, a man, children, and a water source—and anything beyond their life by the pond is beyond reach.

When disease burns through their community, the once life-saving water of the pond might be the source of what’s killing them now. Rumors of desalinization plants in California have lingered in Lynn’s mind, and the prospect of a “normal” life for Lucy sets the two of them on an epic journey west to face new dangers: hunger, mountains, deserts, betrayal, and the perils of a world so vast that Lucy fears she could be lost forever, only to disappear in a handful of dust.

River’s Review: This book was just as good as the first one. Full of heartbreak and raw emotion, there were times when I had to hold back the tears and I was cursing McGinnis for being so evil.

In this book Lucy is forced to leave the pond where she grew up because she might be a carrier for Polio. Her friend, Carter, is forced to leave as well. At first I thought this was going to be a story about the two of them being exiled and their trip to California. I expected hardship and romance but hahaha yeah right. Lynn, from the previous book, actually goes with Lucy, Carter a small blip in their wake. And I’m SO GLAD that it was Lynn and Lucy. I really liked Lynn from the first book, and was grateful that she didn’t just make a small appearance, but was a central character again.

Their trip across the USA is not difficult, it is impossible. And they make it. There are a few times that you think they wont, and they meet some horrible people and see some truly horrible things (Las Vegas, omfg). They do meet some good people here and there (Fletcher was the best!), but nothing is sugar coated and McGinnes does not soften anything for you.

If you liked the first book then you’ll love this one. 5/5 Stars.

Huge thank you to Katherine Tegen Books, Scholastic, Netgalley and Edelweiss for these ARCs!

Word on the Street, Toronto – 2014

This year I was FINALLY able to make it out to Toronto’s Word on the Street, an event that happens in five different cities across Canada and supports Canadian literature and literacy. Considering the downpour that occurred before the day started, I was so pleased that the sun came out and everyone was able to go out and simply enjoy the event.

circusThe first event I hit up was for Rachelle Delaney’s The Circus Dogs of Prague, which I reviewed on the blog back in April and was quite delighted by. What they had for children was a dog trainer who did tricks! And let me tell you — the kids loved it. There was even a little circus tent and an obstacle course, and finally after the show the children were allowed to make friends with the dog. It was pretty awesome and very clever.

I also had the chance to meet Rachelle Delaney, who is the author of The Circus Dogs of Prague and The Metro Dogs of Moscow (which I got signed and sadly, haven’t read yet!) . Let’s put it this way, I got a ton of new books I cannot wait to read that I really need to make the time for.

katemilyFrom there I made my way to Emily Pohl Weary and Kat Kruger’s readings at the This is Not Shakespeare Tent. Emily read from Not Your Ordinary Wolf Girl (which I reviewed last year and LOVED) and Kat from her book, The Night Has Fangs. Werewolves were the topic and both women discussed how to create convincing werewolves characters that are not the stereotypical hunk macho men (or women) we see in YA currently. It was an awesome panel and Emily called me out because she saw I had a copy of A Girl Like Sugar in my hands, which was one of the first books she ever wrote and published. It’s a very important novel to me, one that is well loved and well worn, and it was such a pleasure to finally meet her and chat with her. I had Kat sign her book for me and we discussed lots of Haruki Murakami (<3) and I’m really looking forward to giving it a go.

lesleyAfter tons of wandering about, I made my way to Gail Gallant, Lucy Leiderman, and Lesley Livingston’s readings, each of them reading bits from their novels. The three of them were fantastic speakers and great readers too. I may have also bulldozed my way to get an ARC of Transcendent, since there were only four of them up for grabs. Needless to say, I’m not sure I’m ready for Mason and Fennrys’ adventure to be over quite yet (I fear lots of ugly sobs). There was definitely lots of paranormal discussions afoot during this panel and a lot of the discussion was really excellent.

After that, it was time for Megan Crewe to read from her new novel (that isn’t even releasing until October!), Earth & Sky. The excerpt she selected has me absolutely pumped the read the novel, as it’s got lots of time and space travel, really solid characters (by the sounds of it) and she was just a fantastic reader. There were also an ARC giveaway as well, but I’m naughty and I already had one, which I then got signed after the reading. I also finally met the wonderful, Vikki VanSickle, who is my book angel and ARC drug dealer (she knows I love her). It was so awesome to finally chat in person, and we got into a long discussion about how awesome the Baby-sitters Club is. IT’S STILL AWESOME (and no one be hatin’ on Mary Anne around me!). It’s amazing how some franchises still hold up and can be read by other generations, and that one still is quite beloved.

Finally, I went to my last signing of the day, which was to see Lesley Livingston (she told me she saw me bolt for the ARC earlier in the day. I am such a fangirl), Lonathan Llyr, and Steve Burley. I also go see them when I’m at an event and they signed my ARC of Wiggins Weird, Book 2! Which is not out, but yes, I will be reviewing it. I was SO THRILLED to see so many children with copies of How To Curse In Hieroglyphics in their hands. It was definitely my favourite middle grade read of last year, so hopefully the sequel stacks up (and it will because Artie is the best.)

And that was my day at Word on the Street! There were so many amazing vendors and street food, and it’s amazing how this event grows every year. Even though it was my first one, it certainly will not be my last by any stretch of the imagination. It’s always a pleasure to talk to those who write some of your favourite books and get some insight into what goes in the process. Hopefully Word on the Street 2015 will be just as awesome!

samemily

Me with Emily Pohl Weary! (and Sugar)

samrachelleRachelle Delaney! (Tail wags~!)

sammegan

Megan Crewe!

samvikkiVikki Van Sickle, Book Angel and fellow BSC member.

And that’s my wrap-up! I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it. Let me know in the comments what some of your favourite author meeting experiences were! I’d love to hear about them! (Did you see River finally met Rainbow Rowell? SHE DID!)

ARC Review – The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

18885674Title: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place

Author: Julie Berry

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: There’s a murderer on the loose—but that doesn’t stop the girls of St. Etheldreda’s from attempting to hide the death of their headmistress in this rollicking farce.

The students of St. Etheldreda’s School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home—unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong.

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is a smart, hilarious Victorian romp, full of outrageous plot twists, mistaken identities, and mysterious happenings.

Huge thank you to Roaring Brook Press and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I enjoyed The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, but unfortunately not as much as I thought I would. There is a crazy amount going on in this book all at once, with so many characters to follow, that for a middle grade novel, I found it surprisingly overwhelming at times to read. The positives to this book are that it sends a strong message of friendship, girls communicating with one another without aggression or jealousy, and that being sassy has its perks.

The negatives, however? Well, I admit, the writing style in this book irked me a great deal. It’s very dry, often lacking the same kind of punch the characters actual have. I often found it overly descriptive, yet because there’s so many characters, it’s really hard to get to know them without remembering that each girl has a “character trait” attached to her name and it’s a core part of who she is, but I needed more to attach myself to them, and I just struggled a lot of the time because the writing and I just didn’t get along. The overly Victorian style just didn’t work for me — the writing just felt so stilted and samey.

However, this book is immensely creative, quirky and I feel like it does have a lot to offer. The mystery elements in the story are really well done, very humourous, and it definitely keeps you asking questions throughout. However, getting tot he end of the story and realizing what everything was? I’m not sure whether it was genius or just awkward.

I wish I hadn’t had such a hard time reading this book because I feel like the premise itself is wonderful but the execution was just lacking for me. This was really a case of ‘its not you, its me’ and I wish it wasn’t that way because I feel like it had everything going to be a favourite middle grade pick for the year, and my expectations just fell too short of what I actual got. It’s not a horrible book by any means, in fact, with the right reader who appreciates Victorian style storytelling will likely appreciate this more than I did. There’s certainly a likeable story here.

Though I will admit, that cover is amazing.

Book Ban Check-in #2

It’s been two weeks since my last update! And well, I’ve read quite a bit (shocking, I know). I may have bought two books during the ban (but I bought them with gift cards! That doesn’t count!) and I’ve already owed my husband $10 to his Extra Life fund. If I buy more, and let’s face it, I have a few more opportunities where this could happen, he could end up with more money. 😛 There’s still lots of time to Donate if you’re interested. Remember! All the proceeds go to help children in need get their treatments. Any who, on with the books!

Bx7kOLrIAAAkBh0Here’s the physical books I read, but I also read quite a bit more than this through ebooks (ARCs in particularly!). I’m going to link the reviews for some of them, so if your curious you can read a more in depth thought process. So let’s chat a bit shall we?

Physical Books Read:

Bronze Bods by A.A Agurrie – So I liked this book! However, it reminded me at times of being too much like the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, which I adore. I think the characters and the world was really great, and the addition of the fae characters was an interesting touch, but as a mystery story it did fall flat for me. I still definitely think I’m going to grab the second book from the library, I just wish this book had felt more distinctive for me. I think it’s a ball of fun and the writing is fantastic, I just hate that it had felt like something I had read before and had seen done better. I will admit, I did have a huge girl crush on Ritsuko. She’s a babe. 3.5/5  Stars.

Black Canary/Zatanna: Bloodspell by Paul Dini, Joe Quinones – I thought this was an insanely fun cross-over comic, especially because Zatanna is either written so poorly or because people simply forget her existence. I also couldn’t pass this comic up because it was written by Paul Dini and he does some of my favourite portrayals in the Batman universe. Also Black Canary is pretty hilarious in this book! 4/5 Stars.

Falling Up by Shel Silverstein – Early this year I’ve been revisiting Shel Silverstein’s works to see if they still hold up. I never owned any of his books as a child and now I own them all thanks to family and friends. This one I thought was so pretty and even a touch creepy at times. There is something so beautiful strange about his work and this one I recommend highly. 5/5 Stars.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson – Review!

Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer by Katie Alender – I thought this book would be entertaining and humorous and it just wasn’t fun to read at all. I also finished it because it was the only book I had on me for my bus ride and I found myself just unamused and annoyed. Everything is too easy in this book and I thought the whole serial killer thing would be better woven in and it just wasn’t. 1/5 Stars.

Hold Still by Nina LaCour – OMGNEWFAVOURITEBOOK. I sobbed like a big baby through this book. It’s smart, it’s sensitive, and just wonderfully thought provoking. I am buying this book for every person I know because it just resonated with me from start to finish. 5/5 Stars.

E-books Read:

The Swallow: A Ghost Story by Charis Cotter – Review

Firebug  by Lish McBride – Review!!

Number of books bought on the ban: 2

Number of (owned) books read on the ban: 10


I admit, I feel bad that the blog has MOSTLY been reviews, but the reality is that River and I have been insanely busy. HOWEVER! There is a giveaway planned (coming soonish) and we will definitely have some event wrap ups for you guys based on some bookish events we’ve gone to recently, and I hope to have a few other kinds of posts (perhaps a Waiting on Wednesday, a Book Chat, or may be even Top Ten Tuesday) in the future too. Since River and I are starting new steps in our lives we’re trying to also get our blogging back in order too. I hope you’ll all stick with us and we’ll do our best to perhaps vary the content a bit more. Hope you guys are at least getting new recommendations out of the reviews! 🙂

And there will be another Book Ban Update in another two weeks! Let’s see if I can do it.