Monthly Archives: April 2015

ARC Review – Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

21393526Title: Magonia

Author: Maria Dahvana Headley

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Aza Ray is drowning in thin air.  Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live. So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn’t think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found, by another. Magonia.

Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—and as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war is coming. Magonia and Earth are on the cusp of a reckoning. And in Aza’s hands lies the fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?

Huge thank you to HarperCollins and Edelweiss for this ARC!

River’s Review:

Wow, just wow. This book is so uniquely weird. If you don’t like weird books or unique writing styles, this wont be for you. But if you do, or you’re curious, try this. It’s amazing. It’s JUST weird and unique enough without falling into the “purple prose” category or the ‘wtf is going on” category.

Aza is a girl who is sick and tries her best to deal with it. She’s sassy and witty and dark. She knows that death could claim her at anytime and her family and her best friend deal with it the best they can. Her family is quirky, her best friend Jason is a mad genius, and Aza has no filter and knows no bounds. She lives her life and when it comes time she lets go.

And is taken up into the sky to a place called Magonia where birds transform into people (who have a lot of bird-like qualities) ships sail in the sky, whales make weather, and song can control all things.

The writing in this book is just the type that I love to read. It makes you work a little, makes you think a lot, and just flows. I know that a lot of people don’t like this and there ARE books that are similar that I’ve had a lot of trouble with (Grasshopper Jungle kept coming to mind while I read this, but that book was just TOO much for me, while this was just right). I loved how quirky everyone was and yet so normal. I loved how Jason was just a touch crazy at times. I loved how Aza was so manic about things.

The world building is exquisite. On the ground we learn about Aza’s disease and how it’s handled and then we’re slowly fed ideas about this place above the clouds and when we go there with Aza it’s just breathtaking how everything unfolds. How Aza came to be how she is, and how she plays into this larger issue that Magonia is having. How her mother, her biological mother, lost her and found her an is she really a good person?

This book does take a little work and it’s a slower read than most books. I took my time with it and I’m glad that I did. I highly recommend this!

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ARC Review – SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki

22752445Title: SuperMutant Magic Academy

Author: Jillian Tamaki

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: SuperMutant Magic Academy, which she has been serializing online for the past four years, paints a teenaged world filled with just as much ennui and uncertainty, but also with a sharp dose of humor and irreverence. Tamaki deftly plays superhero and high-school Hollywood tropes against what adolescence is really like: The SuperMutant Magic Academy is a prep school for mutants and witches, but their paranormal abilities take a backseat to everyday teen concerns.

Science experiments go awry, bake sales are upstaged, and the new kid at school is a cat who will determine the course of human destiny. In one strip, lizard-headed Trixie frets about her nonexistent modeling career; in another, the immortal Everlasting Boy tries to escape this mortal coil to no avail. Throughout it all, closeted Marsha obsesses about her unrequited crush, the cat-eared Wendy. Whether the magic is mundane or miraculous, Tamaki’s jokes are precise and devastating.

Huge thank you to Raincoast Books for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I’ve often found Jillian Tamaki’s works very hot or miss for my tastes. Admittedly, I had never read SuperMutant Magic Academy while it was a weekly webcomic, so I went into this pretty blind. I adored it! The humour and quirk in this graphic novel is just priceless, if sometimes wonderfully offensive, and it makes for some entertaining quotes along the way.

While the story really centres around a select few students at the academy, the one we get to know the most is Marsha — a lesbian who wants to come out to her best friend and doesn’t exactly succeed in this endeavour. She reminded me a lot of character Daria, sardonic but very perspective of the world around her. Marsha was fun to follow around, though the rest of the cast weren’t without their moments.

My favourite character hands down, and the one I had the most fun following was Frances. She reminded me of a crusty old lady who loves to smoke, be completely obnoxious and doesn’t really give a crap about what others think. As far as Frances is concerned, she has enough experiences that she’s perfectly content crafting art that only she understands, and aims to offend those who simply “don’t get it.” There’s a bit where’s she’s running around topless and is asked if it is some feminist crusade. Seriously, Frances — she kicks ass.

Although there isn’t much of a cohesive story until the very end, I absolutely loved this collection of comics, and even the additional narrative provided by Tamaki. It’s such a hilarious and wacky adventure, that I urge those who love a wick sense of humour and a little bit of vulgarity to check this out.

ARC Review – The Prom Goer’s Interstellar Excursion by Chris McCoy

21494581Title: The Prom Goer’s Interstellar Excursion

Author:  Chris McCopy

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Just a few days before prom, Bennett pulls off something he never imagined possible: his dream girl, Sophie, agrees to be his date. Moments afterward, however, he watches Sophie get abducted by aliens in the middle of the New Mexico desert.

Faced with a dateless prom (and likely kidnapping charges), Bennett does the only thing he can think of: he catches a ride into outer space with a band of extraterrestrial musicians to bring her back.

Huge thank you to Random House Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This book. This book will break your brain. With a title like The Prom Goer’s Interstellar Excursion there’s bound to be crazy, right? Absolutely. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into when I started reading this book, but it was a surprising amount of fun.

In fact, the book is downright insane. Bennett’s prom date is abducted by aliens, he also gets taken, he’s forced into a rock band, and it just goes from there. I mean, the characters live near Roswell, New Mexico, so everyone is insanely in some way in this story (loved the red neck who wanted to get abducted to the point where he’d just put himself out there, begging to be taken). Everyone is a little quirky, and rightful so given Roswell’s history. Bennett has no prospects in life, was lucky enough to get the girl of his dreams to go out with him and then those gosh darn aliens took her away.

And that’s just it. This book is crack, but it’s the kind of crack you have to be in the right mood for. This book runs on the appeal that you can throw your cares away and just accept Bennett’s reality for what it is. At times in the story it works really well, and other times it comes across a bit too easy (which sadly, is true of the ending). However, given the ending of the novel, I appreciated how McCoy ends the story, one which I won’t spoil, but I was pleasantly surprised by.

I don’t know why, but I loved the aliens and I thought they were a ton of fun. Call me strange, but I feel like hanging out with them would have been entertaining. That being said, I had a hard time with both Bennett and Sophie. I found Sophie a bit one dimensional at times, which made her hard to connect with, and Bennett was a bit too emo for my tastes. The story itself is insanely fun, but I struggled to make connections with the characters because the story was so extraordinary.

This book is unique, and if you love cracktastic books that will take you to a far off journey, this is a great one. However, it’s not some of those books that will reinvent wheel as it still features a lot of the YA tropes out there. Still, sometimes you just want a book that is cheeky and likeable, and The Prom Goes Interstellar Excursion fits the bill nicely.

ARC Review – Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby

17571215Title: The Things We Know By Heart

Author: Jessi Kirby

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: When Quinn Sullivan meets the recipient of her boyfriend’s donated heart, the two form an unexpected connection.

After Quinn loses her boyfriend, Trent, in an accident their junior year, she reaches out to the recipients of his donated organs in hopes of picking up the pieces of her now-unrecognizable life. She hears back from some of them, but the person who received Trent’s heart has remained silent. The essence of a person, she has always believed, is in the heart. If she finds Trent’s, then maybe she can have peace once and for all.

Risking everything in order to finally lay her memories to rest, Quinn goes outside the system to track down nineteen-year-old Colton Thomas—a guy whose life has been forever changed by this priceless gift. But what starts as an accidental run-in quickly develops into more, sparking an undeniable attraction. She doesn’t want to give in to it—especially since he has no idea how they’re connected—but their time together has made Quinn feel alive again. No matter how hard she’s falling for Colton, each beat of his heart reminds her of all she’s lost…and all that remains at stake.

Huge thank you to HarperTeen and Edelweiss for this ARC!

River’s Review:

Oh Jessi Kirby, how your books just worm into my heart and make me feel so warm. There is just something so perfect about her books, and they make me feel at home. I love her writing, I love her characters and I love the settings of her books.

When I first read the synopsis for this book I wasn’t too sure what to expect. I actually thought that a lot of the book was going to be about Quinn meeting the recipients of her boyfriend’s organs, but that was only a small part. This is largely a love story and a story about forgiving yourself, living life and moving forward. Quinn makes A LOT of mistakes but her heart is in the right place.

I loved the message about living your life and getting out there and doing what you love. I think that’s one of the best part of Jessi Kirby’s books… that they always leave me feeling inspired.

Now what am I going to do until she writes another book?!

If you love contemporary, Kirby’s prior books, or Sarah Dessen then you need to pick this up and read it ASAP!

ARC Review – Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke by Anne Blankman

22838220Title: Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke

Author:  Anne Blankman

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: The girl known as Gretchen Whitestone has a secret: She used to be part of Adolf Hitler’s inner circle. More than a year after she made an enemy of her old family friend and fled Munich, she lives with a kindly English family, posing as an ordinary German immigrant, and is preparing to graduate from high school. Her love, Daniel Cohen, is a reporter in town. For the first time in her life, Gretchen is content.

But then, Daniel gets a telegram that sends him back to Germany, and Gretchen’s world turns upside-down. And when she receives word that Daniel is wanted for murder, she has to face the danger she thought she’d escaped-and return to her homeland.

Gretchen must do everything she can to avoid capture and recognition, even though saving Daniel will mean consorting with her former friends, the Nazi elite. And as they work to clear Daniel’s name, Gretchen and Daniel discover a deadly conspiracy stretching from the slums of Berlin to the Reichstag itself. Can they dig up the explosive truth and get out in time-or will Hitler discover them first?

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

River’s Review:

I remember reading Prisoner of Night and Fog last year and LOVING it so I was REALLY excited to read this. And while it was good, I don’t feel that it was AS good as it’s predecessor.

Overall this book was wonderful. I loved the mix of fact and fiction, the little ‘fill in the gaps with my own story’ parts that the author did, and the writing. I loved Daniel and his swoony-ness, Gretchen and her badass-ness, and all of the characters in between (I LOVED Iron Fist Fredrick. A kind gangster. So awesome.)

My biggest issues were the pacing and repetition. I actually think that we could have done without the first 20% of the book. Yes I see that it’s setting up Gretchen’s new life so that when she has to leave it everything feels more devastating, but it’s obvious that she’s going to go to Germany anyway, so I think it would have been better if she’d just gone with Daniel from the start.

And then later on in the book things were very repetitive. Gretchen would often re-hash the same things about her and Daniel’s relationship, about the conspiracy about the fire, and about how if they solved things how it would affect Hitler. It got to be at times I would just say ‘I know!’ because… I did.

Thankfully the pacing got better in the second half and things really kicked into gear. The first half they traveled a lot and significant things were glossed over while other times it felt like insignificant things were given too much attention. I would have liked more time with Daniel’s family, for one. I would have liked less ‘omg we love each other but can’t be together because we want different things’ moping from Gretchen.

But damn, I love Gretchen and Daniel. They’re just so well done and they work so well together and I just love it. Probably one of my favorite YA couples.

The ending of this was really good and made me very happy. I don’t see another book coming and that’s fine, I think that this story is indeed finished. I LOVED the author’s note at the end, and read to the very, very last page.

ARC Review – Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

22504710Title: Castle Hangnail

Author: Ursula Vernon

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: When Molly shows up on Castle Hangnail’s doorstep to fill the vacancy for a wicked witch, the castle’s minions are understandably dubious. After all, she is twelve years old, barely five feet tall, and quite polite. (The minions are used to tall, demanding evil sorceresses with razor-sharp cheekbones.) But the castle desperately needs a master or else the Board of Magic will decommission it, leaving all the minions without the home they love. So when Molly assures them she is quite wicked indeed (So wicked! REALLY wicked!) and begins completing the tasks required by the Board of Magic for approval, everyone feels hopeful. Unfortunately, it turns out that Molly has quite a few secrets, including the biggest one of all: that she isn’t who she says she is.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review: 

I’ll be honest, Castle Hangnail was a situation where I may have judged a book by its cover. Honestly, it didn’t appeal to me, didn’t speak to me, until one day I felt possessed to pick it up and start reading.

I was hooked from the first page.

On my long commute home from test one of three during this week, I was happy that Castle Hangnail had kept me company through the traffic jam. Being trapped on a bus without a book is my worst nightmare, and having it allowed me to devour a large chunk of the book on the way home. Castle Hangnail is a very engrossing middle grade read with a lot of subtle humour and a cast of wonderfully out there characters. Molly is just so sweet, yet by the end of the book you understand why she’s the “wicked twin,” Majordomo just made me laugh because he has his own self conflict with master and servitude that is written SO CLEVERLY. It’s fun to watch him assert dominance and then all of a sudden backtrack because, wait, he’s a servant.

There’s just something addicting about the way in which Castle Hangnail is written. It’s vivid, animated, and even the artwork within the book is well paced and appropriate to the plot. When the book attempts to share tough issues with the readers, it’s easy stuff that anyone can relate to and it does it very matter-of-factly which I liked. If anything, the only downside of Castle Hangnail might have been how easy the resolve was, yet it worked for the story. I loved the ending itself, which I won’t spoil, but lets just say it made me laugh.

Castle Hangnail cast a spell on me, and I don’t regret reading it. This is one of those middle grade novels that may look a bit childish on the outside, but it’s a lot richer on the inside. Vernon balances humour and realistic issues while still writing a fun story on top of it. This is one of those middle grade reads that would especially be great around Halloween, though really it’s themes and ideas are so universal that anyone, at any time, can simply pick the book up and enjoy it.

ARC Review – The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver

21469095Title: The Secrets We Keep

Author:  Trisha Leaver

Rating: ★★ / ★

Synopsis:  Ella and Maddy Lawton are identical twins. Ella has spent her high school years living in popular Maddy’s shadows, but she has never been envious of Maddy. In fact, she’s chosen the quiet, safe confines of her sketchbook over the constant battle for attention that has defined Maddy’s world.

When—after a heated argument—Maddy and Ella get into a tragic accident that leaves her sister dead, Ella wakes up in the hospital surrounded by loved ones who believe she is Maddy. Feeling responsible for Maddy’s death and everyone’s grief, Ella makes a split-second decision to pretend to be Maddy. Soon, Ella realizes that Maddy’s life was full of secrets. Caught in a web of lies, Ella is faced with two options—confess her deception or live her sister’s life.

Huge thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers & Netgalley for this ARC!

River’s Review:

Man I wanted to like this book more than I did. I thought it was going to be mysterious and emotional and it just felt so flat to me. We all know that it’s about a twin who’s twin dies and how she takes over the twin’s life. That sounded twisty! It was not. There was no depth in this book. I never felt like anyone was really grieving (well, the mother because we’re told she is, but it didn’t really seem like it for quite a bit of the time). Ella-as-Maddy spends so much time trying to convince herself that nobody cares about Ella and everyone loves Maddy and how Maddy deserved to live and blah blah blah, it was just so annoying. I also didn’t like how Ella basically thought that her own twin sister would just… move on with life and not even act differently after her own twin DIES. Ugh, the whole ‘I must be Maddy’ thing just didn’t work ever for me.

I guess I really didn’t like how nobody gave Ella-as-Maddy any slack. The boyfriend is all ‘keep it together, why are you acting strange, you aren’t acting like yourself’… um HER TWIN SISTER JUST DIED. Jesus.

And then the whole ~Mystery of Maddy’s Life’~ was just not as mind blowing as I had expected it to be. We get a glimpse that something is going down and Ella has to try to figure it out, and she does, and it’s just… idk.

And the love interest. Never felt it. Ever.

Sigh. I really wanted so much more emotion from this.

Sam’s Review:

I have to admit something — I can’t remember the last time a book really made me legitimately angry while reading it, but here we are with The Secrets We Keep. It’s about twins! One twin dies! The other decides to take on her life because she was more popular and well liked! Chaos… doesn’t actually ensure, and that’s really the issue with this book. The plot hole is so large and flimsy that the book doesn’t have a foot to stand on.

First off, and this drove me nuts while reading the book — even though the twins are identical, every identical twin has a distinguishing feature that allows people to tell the difference, especially if you interact with them it’s often clearer who is who. It baffled me that everyone just rolled with it that Ella was Maddie. Even the parents! The parents who SHOULD have been able to see physical or key differences and nope, they got smacked with the stupid stick. Alex as a character was no better — for someone who was so in love with Maddie, he should have easily clued in just through Ella’s gestures that Ella was deceiving him.

I understand feeling guilt about an accident, and I understand that Ella was not popular and kind of hated by everyone, and taking Maddie’s identity meant that she could live her sister’s legacy in her honour, but let’s be realistic here — it felt so hollow. Ella talks about how easy it is, everyone blames it on “trauma” but I struggle to buy how easy all of this deception was. The novel makes it so simple in fact that it takes the last thirty pages for everyone to realize that she isn’t who she says she is, meanwhile it’s way too obvious considering her interactions with those who are in Maddie’s clique.

Furthermore, I don’t understand how the adults were just so accepting of it either. I mean, I am sorry but even if someone says their name, what medical professional wouldn’t check further to ensure that the truth was being told. I get that these mistakes are possible, but again every resolution in this book is just so simply wrapped in a bow and pushed aside. Even when Josh discovers the truth, instead of trying to get Ella to confess, he just scolds her and that’s kind of it and then when she finally accepts herself as Ella again, everyone in the story isn’t even MAD about it. They are just “Oh, okay.”

HOW IS THAT OKAY?

The level of disbelief suspension in this book was just too much. There’s nothing realistic about this novel and while this concept should have been interesting and better developed, The Secrets We Keep is perfectly okay with taking the easy road and making every conflict seem so little. While I felt for Ella in some ways, particularly where she admits at Maddie’s grave that she’s not doing a great job being her, I still found myself wanting to just toss the book because again, it’s simple. The ending left me completely infuriated, again because it’s so easy and simple, and no, it’s not. It’s never that easy.

For those who can suspense their disbelief and suspend it hard, perhaps you’ll like this book. The glaring inconsistencies and plot holes just left me baffled. This book treats the reader like they are stupid, but everything is written so obviously that I kept scratching my head as to how everyone was so oblivious to “Maddie’s new personality.” Unfortunately, I cannot recommendThe Secret We Keep, because for me, there was simply nothing redeeming about the book.