Monthly Archives: March 2015

ARC Review – Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

24377482Title: Black Dove, White Raven

Author: Elizabeth Wein

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Emilia and Teo’s lives changed in a fiery, terrifying instant when a bird strike brought down the plane their stunt pilot mothers were flying. Teo’s mother died immediately, but Em’s survived, determined to raise Teo according to his late mother’s wishes—in a place where he won’t be discriminated against because of the color of his skin. But in 1930s America, a white woman raising a black adoptive son alongside a white daughter is too often seen as a threat. Seeking a home where her children won’t be held back by ethnicity or gender, Rhoda brings Em and Teo to Ethiopia, and all three fall in love with the beautiful, peaceful country. But that peace is shattered by the threat of war with Italy, and teenage Em and Teo are drawn into the conflict. Will their devotion to their country, its culture and people, and each other be their downfall…or their salvation? 

Huge thank you to Disney-Hyperion and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I confess, if Elizabeth Wein writes a novel, I automatically read it. Her books have the right kind of challenge level, often tell empowering and very human stories of flight, survival, and finding strength. Reading an Elizabeth Wein book means having unique and strongly thought out interactions, but she gives the reader so much to ponder in the process.

Black Dove, White Raven is probably one of her more unique books. It’s not an easy read from a written stand point, or even a topical one for that matter. She attempts to make issues of racism the forfront, while also bending history somewhat to her will to make the story accessible and engaging. I adored the cast in this book, especially Teo, Delia and Rhoda. The mom’s in particular were so enthralling and strong — such amazing role models, yet their weaknesses are so open and tough. Those two in particular just kept me wanting to know more, wanting to keep turning the pages.

This book, admittedly, took me a long time to read. Stylistically its tough because it moves back and forth between a radio drama/film, to the actual main story. However, despite my slowness, I enjoyed the style once I understood its purpose and how it would affect the narrative on a whole. There’s not too many books quite like this one, where a lot of the central themes of friendship and bravery are displayed in more than one way to the reader. Plus, Wein writes amazing friendships, whether it’s Em and Teo or Delia and Rhoda, you care about their relationships and why they matter.

Reading Black Dove, White Raven was wonderful and challenging at the same time. The characters are beautifully fleshed out and feel so real. If I have any complaint, the writing style is by far the book’s biggest barrier, because it’s not the easier to engage with. However, if you stick with it, the read itself is insanely rewarding. I cared as to what was happening in this novel, and I look forward to the next historical journey Elizabeth Wein takes me on.

ARC Review – The Water and the Wild by K.E. Ormsbee

22675931Title: The Water and the Wild

Author: K.E Ormsbee

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: For as long as Lottie Fiske can remember, the only people who seem to care about her have been her best friend, Eliot, and the mysterious letter-writer who sends her birthday gifts. But now strange things and people are arriving on the island Lottie calls home, and Eliot’s getting sicker, with a disease the doctors have given up trying to cure. Lottie is helpless, useless, powerless.

And then a door opens in the apple tree.

Follow Lottie down through the apple roots to another world—a world of magic both treacherous and beautiful—in pursuit of the impossible: a cure for the incurable, a use for the useless, and protection against the pain of loss.

Huge thank you to Raincoast Books for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Admittedly, I had never heard of The Water and the Wild, but after reading the description, I knew it was my kind of book. Full of imagination and creativity, K.E Ormsbee’s debut is really quite delightful.

I think the main draw of The Water and the Wild is its rich storytelling. Ormsbee captures the reader’s imagination, painting vivid pictures of the world in which Lottie and her companions inhabit. The book is filled with lush description, charming characters, and a wonderfully simplistic narration. Even the dialog has great punch to it, never reading dryly — everything about The Water and the Wild is just such a refreshing ride compared to a lot of the middle grade fantasy out there.

I think Adelaide was my favourite character of all of them. She was just so sassy and blunt. Unafraid to speak her mind, though very rough around the edges. She was completely my kind of a girl! I also loved Lottie, whom I thought was a strong protagonist. She’s got quite the curious side, but she values love and friendship like no other. Every character in this book is wonderfully crafted and has their own motivations in this world. Each one is wild, difficult to tame, yet not always in tune to consequence. In a lot of ways that is what made them so striking and so different — they weren’t predictable in any way.

The Water and the Wild is a fantastic debut novel, and it’s one that offers so much adventure, creativity, and will spark the imagination of readers young and old. It’s a book that wants its readers to dig a bit deeper, but it’s full of life. I loved my time with this novel, and I am eager to see what K.E Ormsbee writes next.

ARC Review – Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

22465597Title: Vanishing Girls

Author:  Lauren Oliver

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before the accident that left Dara’s beautiful face scarred and the two sisters totally estranged. When Dara vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. But another girl, nine-year-old Madeline Snow, has vanished, too, and Nick becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances are linked. Now Nick has to find her sister, before it’s too late.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Lauren Oliver’s works seems to be really hit and miss with reviewers as of late. For me, I’ve always been a huge fan of her writing — there’s a quality to it that just sucks me in and keeps me turning the pages, wanting to know more. Vanishing Girls is a mystery and it keeps you guessing throughout.

Part of what I love about Vanishing Girls is the relationship between the sisters Nick and Dara. It’s a very screwed up relationship, one that was once strong and loving. Then everything is shattered and Nick is, in her own way, trying to understand and pick up the pieces. The best parts of this novel was going back and forth between the sisters and piece together what had happened between them. Oliver pulls no punches, she feeds you pieces at a time. The book weirdly reads like a blur, you are given information, parts vanish, and then it reappears in another way. I really enjoyed that aspect of the writing.

A lot of what makes Vanishing Girls such a gripping read is the fact that the reader is left to their own devices. Neither Nick nor Dara is a reliable narrator and sometimes you’ll find yourself wondering why certain information is being dropped. The book completely messes with you, and it’s haunting and suspenseful. Whenever I put the book down, I wanted to keep reading, keep guessing.

Weirdly, I was less interested in now Madeline Snow fit into the whole equation. I understood the parallels being used by Oliver, but those sections never kept me as well gripped the way Dara’s diary entries and sections did. I also like that Nick as a heroine is not entirely innocent in her behaviour, and she’s actually quite unlike-able. Yet, she and Dara have such a passionate and catastrophic relationship — they love each other and it’s completely apparent when you read it. When you see the tension between them, it’s like the reader is falling into a spiral, the same feeling Nick is feeling throughout.

Vanishing Girls is a tough book to describe, but it’s a wonderful and gripping read. It’s much better than Panic, and the suspense throughout will keep you guessing and engaged. It’s not my favourite book by Lauren Oliver, but I feel like if you love a good mystery that messes with your mind, Vanishing Girls likely won’t disappoint.

ARC Review – The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Romeo and Juliet by Ian Lendler & Zack Giallongo

23310817Title: The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Romeo and Juliet

Author:  Ian Lendler &  Zack Giallongo

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: The Stratford Zoo looks like a normal zoo . . . until the gates shut at night. That’s when the animals come out of their cages to stage elaborate performances of Shakespeare’s greatest works. They might not be the most accomplished thespians, but they’ve got what counts: heart. Also fangs, feathers, scales, and tails.

Ian Lendler’s hilarious tale of after-hours animal stagecraft is perfectly paired with the adorable, accessible artwork of Zack Giallongo (Broxo, Ewoks) in this side-splitting companion to their graphic novel The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth

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

Sam’s Review:

As a former ESL teacher and tutor, there was nothing more difficult than teaching someone Shakespeare. Trying to give someone an overview or understanding of why a story is the way it is is always a challenge. Thankfully, what I love about The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Romeo and Juliet is what it makes Shakespeare’s work accessible to young audiences, while removing the difficult language barrier some may find when reading his works.

The book is hilarious and really cheeky. If there’s one thing I can say I adored about it, it was having the little monkey’s commentary on every page — he is that kid who doesn’t like Shakespeare in the beginning and then by the end was completely hooked. The little monkey is a lot of us — Shakespeare is dull, old, boring! And yet there are ways to make it engaging and fun. I am always amazed with all the new kinds of ways that people go out of their way to make Shakespeare accessible, and this I think it’s truly one of the better ones — heck, I even loved the changes Lendler made to the ending, if only because when it comes to Romeo and Juliet — we were all thinking it (and no, I’m not spoiling the ending, it’s fabulous).

Admittedly, Romeo & Juliet is not one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, but I appreciate a lot of what Ian Lendler does to make the story more interesting and lively. The animals in the Stratford Zoo are just so much fun to read about, and it definitely makes me want to check out the Macbeth one that was done last year. This book is great for any parent or child who may want a more accessible approach to Shakespeare. Just don’t take this book as accurate, it’s not, but oddly I like it better than the real story.

ARC Review – The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith

22466277Title: The Alex Crow

Author: Andrew Smith

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Once again blending multiple story strands that transcend time and place, Grasshopper Jungle author Andrew Smith tells the story of 15-year-old Ariel, a refugee from the Middle East who is the sole survivor of an attack on his small village. Now living with an adoptive family in Sunday, West Virginia, Ariel’s story of his summer at a boys’ camp for tech detox is juxtaposed against those of a schizophrenic bomber and the diaries of a failed arctic expedition from the late nineteenth century. Oh, and there’s also a depressed bionic reincarnated crow. 

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review: 

I have a weird relationship with Andrew Smith. I struggled withGrasshopper Jungle, yet I flew through 100 Sideways Miles. Andrew Smith’s writing feels so unique and different in every book he writes, and the The Alex Crow is no exception in this.

The Alex Crow is a disturbing novel throughout. There are foreboding feelings, discomfort, and the book is so atmospheric. There’s three distinctive stories in this novel yet they way in which they start to blur together, mess with the reader’s mind — I have to give Smith credit, I found this book messed with me a few times. I had to reread sections just to make sure I understood what was happening, why it was happening. The book wants play with your conceptions of reality, and it does! It completely messes with you!

Furthermore, Smith has a way with descriptions, in that he has this power to make things sound so much more gross than it might actually be. I was reading this book while eating my lunch a lot of the time, and it makes your tummy curl. I don’t recommend that. There’s a lot of complex relationships in this this novel as well, especially between Ariel and Max. Ariel’s narration in some sections was so heartbreaking, especially whenever he goes into detail comparing his life as a refuge to being given a normal life by his adoptive family.

The Alex Crow is just weird, and when I finished it, I felt I still didn’t entirely know what had happened, even after the big reveal related to Ariel. The book will make you feel lost, confused, and yet once you begin to put the pieces together, there’s something really wonderful with this book. If you are not a fan of Grasshopper Jungle‘s style, this book may not appeal to you as much. I admit that even though I wasn’t huge onGrasshopper Jungle, I felt like The Alex Crow did a better job of drawing me in and then telling me, “By the way, find your own way through the story.” The Alex Crow is by no means an easy read, but it’s definitely rewarding in its challenge.

Book Riot’s 2015 Read Harder Challenge — Update #2

It’s time for another Book Riot’s Read Harder 2015 Challenge update. In February, This month I only read three books towards the challenge, so I’ve now completed 8/24 challenges. If you would like to read the January Round-up, click here. Let’s jump into this.

#11: Read a YA Novel


The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith

Not going to say too much about this one since there’s a review coming. It’s a mindf*ck in every sense of the word. However, it’s more in line with Grasshopper Jungle than say 100 Sideways Miles. This is not the Andrew Smith novel to start with if you are curious about his works, but this book is sad, weird, and all over the place. Those elements alone make for an interesting read experience.

#12: A Science Fiction Novel


LOOK! I wrote a REVIEW! Also, I thought this book was so so much better than Steelheart. Steelheart was one of the only Sanderson books I did not enjoy all that much. Thankfully, the sequel was a huge improvement.

#17: A Book of Poetry


Broetry by Brian McGackin

Poems written for the modern geek, and yet… the whole book felt gimmicky, contrived and not that enjoyable. I realize I am not a bro, but I felt like a lot of the poems were admittedly, trying a bit too hard to be “geeky, now wounded, now bro-ness, now geeky, repeat” which is fine if that is what you want, but admittedly I wanted a bit more from this than I got.

Let’s see what March entails. My goal for March is to read a lot more books from my own collection, though with the amount of ARCs I receive, March will be a month of attempting to find a balance. Wish me luck!

ARC Review – The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise by Matthew Crow

22456939Title: The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise

Author: Matthew Crow

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Francis Wootton’s first memory is of Kurt Cobain’s death, and there have been other hardships closer to home since then. At fifteen years old he already knows all about loss and rejection – and to top it all off he has a permanently broke big brother, a grandma with selective memory (and very selective social graces) and a mum who’s at best an acquired taste. Would-be poet, possible intellectual and definitely wasted in Tyne and Wear, Francis has grown used to figuring life out on his own.Lower Fifth is supposed to be his time, the start of an endless horizon towards whatever-comes-next. But when he is diagnosed with leukaemia that wide-open future suddenly narrows, and a whole new world of worry presents itself.There’s the horror of being held back a year at school, the threat of imminent baldness, having to locate his best shirt in case a visiting princess or pop-star fancies him for a photo-op . . . But he hadn’t reckoned on meeting Amber – fierce, tough, one-of-a-kind Amber – and finding a reason to tackle it all – the good, the bad and everything in between – head on.In Bloom is a bright, funny, painful and refreshing novel about wanting the very best from life, even when life shows you how very bad it can be. It is a novel about how to live.

Huge thank you to Simon Pulse Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review: 

Comparing The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise to John Green’sThe Fault in Our Stars would be doing the book a huge disservice. While both books focus on similar topics, offering an emotionally engaging reading experience, The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise is far more of a subtle reading, something that I graciously appreciated.

I first want to say how much I loved that music was a huge influence on this story. A lot of the artists mentioned throughout the novel provide an added layer to the story, especially if the reader is familiar with the songs. I found myself listening to Tracey Chapman and Nirvana over again, though I feel like these are artists that either young readers will know because of parents or pop culture, or sadly, won’t know at all. Still, I loved the choice of songs, and it was as though the novel was running its own soundtrack over top of the story being told.

Amber and Francis are great characters, even if they are reminiscent of characters you may have seen before. Amber is snarky, aggressive, and crazy, and to some she may seem a bit one dimensional. However, I think what I enjoyed about her characterization is she knows what her fate is going to be and she is attempting to live her life to the fullest before it ends — that being said, I wish their had been a bit more in her development beyond those character traits. I thought Francis was quite wonderful, and the reactions his family felt throughout the story were wonderful and realistic. Part of me wishes the book had been a bit longer simply because I wanted more from both Francis and Amber’s characters, but I also get how this book is portraying a whirlwind of a romance.

I feel like The Brilliant Light of Amber Sunrise is a good book, but it’s one that wants you to feel emotionally invested. Oddly, I didn’t feel sad read this book, nor did I feel like it played with my emotions. I enjoyed the way the book ended, and I felt like Crow gives a good enough reason as to why the book is the way it is, even from the start of the story. Admittedly, I wanted more from the story, even if it was just a bit more background information. This is a good book, and it certainly leaves the reader with a hopeful feeling.