Monthly Archives: February 2015

ARC Review – Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

22501055Title: Under a Painted Sky

Author: Stacey Lee

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

Sam’s Review:

G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers and Netgalley for this ARC!

Westerns really don’t get the love they probably should. In Stacey Lee’s Under a Painted Sky we meet Samantha and Annamae, two young woman, who share one of the most beautiful friendships I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about. These two tough girls embody what it means to have perseverance, and to fight for yourself.

The writing in this book is absolutely stunning, and you really do feel like you’re transported into the old west. The images that Lee paints are wonderfully descriptive and have their own personality, which I quite enjoyed. There’s something about travelling a tough and lonesome road, and yet Samantha and Annamae make you feel so welcome despite the problems they are essentially escaping from.

If there is anything I could highly praise about this book, it’s the friendship between the girls. You get this strong sense of companionship and trust between the two girls — that they would do anything for each other, that they genuinely care what the other thinks. You don’t see a lot of friendships like this in YA, and in a lot of cases, the friendships in YA do tend to feel tacked on or very superficial. That truly isn’t the care here because Lee gives you damn good reasons to love these girls and enjoy their adventure.

The romance was the only thing that I liked, but didn’t love. West and Sam were cute, but he was a bit too hokey for me. That being said, I thought Lee did a good job here as well, because it wasn’t an instant connection, the two actually had some chemistry, which I appreciate so much.

This is a western, and it’s an unloved genre that needs a resurgence. This book reminded me how much I love the genre and how much I appreciate diverse women being friends with each other. We need more of that in YA, and we need it to be as genuine as it is portrayed here.

 

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#PROJECTTBR READ-A-THON + What’s Up With Sam & River

While I’ve been insanely busy these last few weeks (you’ll notice new reviews by River and I but not a lot of non-review content), but I think I’m going to squeeze this one in because it sounds fun and casual. I owe you all a wrap up from OLA, as well as a few other featured posts I’ve been wanting to tackle (I have a list!). SIT DOWN! SHUT UP! READ THIS! is on a bit of a hiatus, but don’t worry, we will be back with a full vengeance as soon as life settles down somewhat on both our ends. (Curse you, beautiful, awesome, busy library school!). Anywho! A read-a-thon! I thought it’d be fun to tackle another one of these and it just so happens on is occuring from Feburary 16th to the 22nd, and is being hosted by Benjaminoftomes. You can check out his announcement video below! My goal for #PROJECTTBR is to just read as much as I can that week. It’ll be tricky considering I have an assignment and a test that week, but then I’m on field placement again (yaaaay!) so, why not? If I succeed, awesome, if I don’t, it’s okay too. Here are the five challenges he’s set up for the week, and this will be a good time to may be knock out a few physical books from my TBR, and I will list which books I will be reading next to the challenge. You’ll see a wrap up post on the Monday when it’s all over. 🙂 1) Read a Book Under 250 pages. — Into the Fire by Amanda Usen (which will also knock out a BookRiot Read Harder Challenge!) 2) Read a book over 500 pages. — How to Win At High School by Owen Matthews 3) Read a book with green on the cover. Mosquitoland by David Arnold 4) Read an Underrated Novel. The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise by Matthew Crow 5) Read a sequel to a book you’ve been wanting to read for awhile. Codex Born by Jim C. Hines (Book 2 of Magic Ex Libris series) And this is my goal for #ProjectTBR! Hopefully I can read all of these. Lemme know what you think of my choices in the comments!

ARC Review – Little Peach by Peggy Kern

22573856Title: Little Peach

Author: Peggy Kern

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: When Michelle runs away from her drug-addicted mother, she has just enough money to make it to New York City, where she hopes to move in with a friend. But once she arrives at the bustling Port Authority, she is confronted with the terrifying truth: she is alone and out of options.

Then she meets Devon, a good-looking, well-dressed guy who emerges from the crowd armed with a kind smile, a place for her to stay, and eyes that seem to understand exactly how she feels.

But Devon is not what he seems to be, and soon Michelle finds herself engulfed in the world of child prostitution where he becomes her “Daddy” and she his “Little Peach.” It is a world of impossible choices, where the line between love and abuse, captor and savior, is blurred beyond recognition.

Huge thank you to Balzer & Bray and Edelweiss for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Books like Little Peach are painful to read. They are painful because there’s a truth that is often ignored in our world, particularly when it comes to the idea of under-aged prostitution. It’s a thing that exists, and the world attempts to brush this problem under the rug and refuse to acknowledge that it is exists. If anything, it’s likely because people see prostitution as a taboo topic — one that exists but we aren’t forced to acknowledge.

Little Peach is about women who need their story to be told. Peach’s story, how she’s brought into the ring, her friendships and guidance, it’s an unfamiliar world, and one that is difficult in some ways to look away from. It will make you nervous, feel disturbed, and yet there’s this desire to understand that world and know more.

I felt so sad reading this book, and my connection to Kat, Peach and Baby was quite strong throughout. You get a sense of survival and companionship between the girls — they want to protect each other. The men in this story made me so angry, but I feel like there’s some truth in their portrayal throughout the story. Devon just frustrated me, angered me, yet he twists their worlds by behaving as though he’s a saviour and it’s creepy to be honest.

The only issue I had with Little Peach was the writing style, which admittedly felt so blurry and disjointed at times. I recognize how intentional it was, but for me it didn’t always work and I found myself asking more questions than I had answers for! Otherwise, I thought the book was fantastic, and definitely one of the more darker YA reads I’ve encountered in my travels. If you have a weak stomach or don’t handle tough subjects well, this book might not be for you, but if you can, Peach’s world is one you might never forget.

ARC Review – The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

22040598Title: The Sculptor

Author: Scott McCloud

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: David Smith is giving his life for his art—literally. Thanks to a deal with Death, the young sculptor gets his childhood wish: to sculpt anything he can imagine with his bare hands. But now that he only has 200 days to live, deciding what to create is harder than he thought, and discovering the love of his life at the 11th hour isn’t making it any easier!

This is a story of desire taken to the edge of reason and beyond; of the frantic, clumsy dance steps of young love; and a gorgeous, street-level portrait of the world’s greatest city. It’s about the small, warm, human moments of everyday life…and the great surging forces that lie just under the surface. Scott McCloud wrote the book on how comics work; now he vaults into great fiction with a breathtaking, funny, and unforgettable new work.

Huge thank you to First Second for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I admit, I’ve never actually read any of Scott McCloud’s works. It was my husband, however, who encouraged me to make the request and see what the fuss behind his work really is. It was a good kind of fuss, because I adored The Sculptor. Faustian in tone and narrative, The Sculptor is an emotional tale about wanting to be accepted by others, but also accepting yourself.

David is not the most likeable of characters, but honestly, it works in his favour. David has such strong ambitions, but he wants others to see what he feels he has in himself. After constant rejections in the artwork and facing his own identity crisis, he makes a deal with death — to be given the power to sculpt anything, but the cost is his life. David’s struggles and hardships are so beautifully depicted in this story, and his aggression and heartache made me really feel for him. Admittedly he’s a bit full of himself and quite self-absorbed, but he wants people to see his potential, and I think it’s something a lot of people can relate to.

And, then there was Meg. Admittedly, Meg’s aggressive behaviour was a bit of a turn-off at the beginning, and I found myself outright disliking her treatment of others. As the story goes on, however, you get just as into Meg’s head as you do David’s. They have quite a few similarities and yet, they are a wonderful, if slightly destructive couple. Once I understood where Meg was coming from, the connection became so much more apparent and I grew to love her part of the story as much as I did David’s.

The artwork in this graphic novel is stunning by the way. There’s so much detail, and every panel is just intense with emotion, not just from the characters, but even from the way McCloud depicts New York. New York at times feels like its own character, and I liked that aspect a fair bit. Plus the last few pages of the graphic novel? Insanely gorgeous. I don’t want to spoil why this is the case, but when you get to read it for yourself — you’ll understand.

I totally understand why Scott McCloud is a household name in comics. After readingThe Sculptor, I get why he is universally loved and highly acclaimed. Scott McCloud knows how to get into the mind of his characters and tell an enriching tale that makes you care about his characters, regardless of how dislikeable they may start out as. The Sculptor is an easy recommendation for those who love emotionally charged storytelling coupled and adore beautiful artwork to accompany it.

Book Riot’s 2015 Read Harder Challenge — Update #1

As some of you know, I am participating in the Book Riot’s 2015 Read Harder Challenge this year. There are twenty-four challenges that must be completed before the end of 2015! I thought I’d share with you my progress at the end of every month until I’ve completed the challenge. In January, I managed to complete 5/24 challenges (you can check out my shelf for the challenge here.)

I’m going to go a bit more in-depth on my thoughts for a lot of these, unless there’s an upcoming review, then I’m just going to be a jerk and tell you to wait for the review. 😉 Shall we see what I’ve tackled? I think we shall.

Note: I realize my number is off, but I’m going by what I’ve written in my journal as opposed to the lack of numbering on their website. Hopefully it doesn’t confuse anyone.

#14: A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade

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Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

There is a reason why this novel won the National Book Award last year. It’s a memoir of Jacqueline Woodson’s life, growing up during political times of strife and taking charge of her identity as a child. I devoured this book, and the verse in it is beautiful, thoughtful and very powerful. One of my favourite sections is how Jacqueline talks about not being able to write a cursive ‘q’ so she goes by Jackie to the teacher, only to be so upset with herself. I connected in a lot of ways to this story, and I appreciate a lot of what the author puts out to her readers. Definitely going to check out more of her books now!

#16: Listen to an audiobook.

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War Horse (War Horse #1)
by Michael Morpurgo, John Keating

This book was simply okay for me. I really enjoyed the movie adaptation, but the novel itself is incredibly dry. You can tell the narrator is trying his best to make the story such more engaging than it actually is. I do think the narrator is really great, I just wish I had a bigger connection with the story, but it never actually came. It’s a shame too, because I am a huge sucker for horse stories.

#22: A Book Written this Year (2015)

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My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

I am going to cheat on this one: here’s my full review. The short version: loved it, new favourite, this one will hurt your heart. Awesome debut YA novel.

#23: Read a Graphic Novel

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El Deafo by Cece Bell

I loveloveloved El Deafo. It’s one of those graphic novels that teaches a lesson, but does it in such a fabulous and positive way. I adored it and if you want more of my thoughts, check out what I said about it in my Ten Comics & Graphic Novels You Should Check Out where I go into the book in a lot more detail. This one I can say, I easily recommend.

#24: A Self-improvement Book 

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The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Lexicon of Life Hacks for the Modern Lady Geek by Sam Maggs

I feel like folks are going to call foul on this one being a ‘self-help book,’ but I think it really fits in the non-traditional sense. It prepares fangirls for the depths of the Internet, conventions, how to spread the fangirl love, and how to generally be awesome to others. Our official review is not up yet (it will be soon) where I go into more depth about why I loved this book and why I think Sam Maggs hits a lot of great points that people might not consider when it comes to the word ‘fangirl’. Plus, she’s an all around cool gal, and I do love chatting with her, so I might be a touch bias here. 🙂

And that’s how my January shaped up. Hopefully I am as productive in February (who knows!). For those curious about my #HolidayMadnessChallenge results back in December… I failed at posting those, I won’t be, I didn’t complete the challenge, and I am super sad about it still. However! HOWEVER! I WILL defeat the Read Harder Challenge! Wish me luck!

ARC Review – My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

18336965Title: My Heart and Other Black Holes

Author: Jasmine Warga

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. With a mother who can barely look at her without wincing, classmates who whisper behind her back, and a father whose violent crime rocked her small town, Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness.

There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But once she discovers a website with a section called Suicide Partners, Aysel’s convinced she’s found her solution: a teen boy with the username FrozenRobot (aka Roman) who’s haunted by a family tragedy is looking for a partner.

Even though Aysel and Roman have nothing in common, they slowly start to fill in each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Ultimately, she must choose between wanting to die or trying to convince Roman to live so they can discover the potential of their energy together. Except that Roman may not be so easy to convince.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Between this and All the Bright Places, I’m not sure which made me ugly cry more. My Heart and Other Black Holes is such a brutally honest and very truthful read. A lot of people told me they read it in one sitting, but I… couldn’t do that. This was a rough read for me in so many ways, perhaps because it hit a bit too close of comfort in some case, or that when I was Aysel’s age, I got a lot of where she was coming from. I literally could only read bits at a time, not because the book was bad, but more because it’s very realistic and the issues Warga discusses are something that aren’t meant to be easily devoured.

Warga’s debut is a tough read, and an ever tougher book to swallow. She shies away from nothing in this story, and looks at a very real situation. This book is incredibly dark, yet if offers so many little glimpses of hope. Aysel’s story in regards to her relationship with her father and Roman’s relationship with Maddie, the way in which the characters question their self-worth — it’s horrific and heartbreaking.

I admit, towards the end I found myself unable to stop the tears from coming because I felt like I understood them. I understood. their suffering, their need for help, and the way in which both Aysel and Roman strangely feed, yet rebuild each other. There’s so much going on in this novel, and everything about it is tightly written, nothing feeling forced or out of place.

It’s difficult for me to explain why I think people should read My Heart and Other Black Holes. It’s on a tough topic, it will depress the crap out of you, and yet the silver lining really is worth getting to. This seems to be the year where suicide novels are becoming much more predominate, and with good reason. I loved this novel, and I feel like if you can make it through it, difficult subject matter, beautiful prose and all, there’s a lot to adore with what’s inside.