Author Archives: samcmar

ARC August Week 2 Update

Wow! We are wrapping up Week 2! While I only read two ARCs in the first week from my list, I read two ARCs this week! One on this list and one that wasn’t. Oops! Still I am super pleased with myself. Here’s how the challenge is going:

  • Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore (Release Date: October 3rd)
  • Thornhill by Pam Smy (Release Date: August 29th)
  • Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (Release Date: September 19th)
  • Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills (Release Date: December 26th)
  • Invictus by Ryan Graudin (Release Date: September 26th)
  • These Things I’ve Done by Rebecca Phillips (Release Date: August 1st)
  • Lost Boys by Darcey Rosenblatt (Release Date: August 22nd)
  • That Inevitable Victoria Thing by E.K Johnston (Release Date: October 3rd)
  • Berserker by Emmy Laybourne (Release Date: October 10th)
  • Top Ten by Katie Cotugno (Release Date: October 3rd)

ARCs Read:

Lost Boys by Darcey Rosenblatt – You can check out my review that has already gone live for my thoughts on this one! ★★★★

The Winnowing by Vikki VanSickle – Also shared a review for this one earlier in the week. Here’s my thoughts! ★★★★

Other things I read this week:

Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 1 by Mizuho Kusanagi – A friend of mine recommended this manga to me. Fushigi Yuugi is her favourite manga ever and she said this had some interesting similarities. Since reading this, I’ve been seeing this manga pop up on my Goodreads feed a lot lately, so it’s definitely got some popularity behind it. Volume One ends on an interesting note, so I definitely think I need to investigate this one further. ★★★★

Who Is AC? by Hope Larson – This graphic novel is an odd duck. It’s clearly inspired by Sailor Moon and it has a lot of ideas though none of them particularly go anywhere or seem to gel in a way where the story feels cohesive. The art is really great, there’s a lot of diversity, but I wish the story itself had been much more solid in the end. ★★ 1/2

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul – I devoured this book in an day. A lot of these essays are very in-your-face offering perspectives about being a woman of colour, the racism the author felt growing up and even now, and her desire to find change. Many of the essays were funny, sometimes she’s punch just hard enough at the reader to make them stop and think. I also loved reading about growing up in an Indian family and her father reminded me at times of my own (who was short, fat, bald and Italian. Not even close to Indian). This book hurts at times, but with good reason. ★★★★★

Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart – This is a beautiful middle grade book about a boy and his horse. Wasn’t sure if I was going to like this one with the slow start, but then halfway through I devoured it, bawled like a little baby and just loved it. ★★★★

Spider-Gwen, Vol. 3: Long-Distance by Jason Latour et al. – Not really enjoying this whole alternative world Spider-Gwen. It’s getting kinda weird, and just less and less appealing. Matt Murdock in this setting is dreadful, and I don’t like how Cindy is handled either. ★★

Green Lanterns, Volume 1: Rage Planet by Sam Humphries  et al. — Not bad, not great. I really don’t know much about the Green Lantern-verse and it’s characters and truthfully this didn’t do much for me. I really liked Jessica as a character though!

Tally:

Number of ARCs on the list read: 3/10

Number of ARCs Read: 4

Number of Non-ARCs Read: 10

ARC Review – The Winnowing by Vikki VanSickle

Title: The Winnowing

Author: Vikki VanSickle

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Marivic Stone lives in a small world, and that’s fine with her. Home is with her beloved grandfather in a small town that just happens to be famous for a medical discovery that saved humankind — though not without significant repercussions. Marivic loves her best friend, Saren, and the two of them promise to stick together, through thick and thin, and especially through the uncertain winnowing procedure, a now inevitable — but dangerous — part of adolescence.

But when tragedy separates the two friends, Marivic is thrust into a world of conspiracy, rebellion and revolution. For the first time in her life, Marivic is forced to think and act big. If she is going to right a decade of wrongs, she will need to trust her own frightening new abilities, even when it means turning her back on everything, and everyone, she’s known and loved. A gripping exploration of growing up, love and loss, The Winnowing is a page-turning adventure that will have readers rooting for their new hero, Marivic Stone, as they unravel the horror and intrigue of a world at once familiar but with a chilling strangeness lurking beneath the everyday. 

Huge thank you to Scholastic Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I want to preface this review by saying a couple of truths: I am a wuss who is easily spooked. I love things that can’t entirely be explained.The Winnowing is such a departure from VanSickle’s previous, more contemporary novels. This is her foray into science fiction, and her love letter to the strange and whimsy.

I will not lie, I was hesitant to read this book even after talking with Vikki at a conference we were both attending. I love her contemporary middle grade novels, I read If I Had a Gyphon during my storytimes, but this book was different. Vastly different. Thankfully, I had prepared myself for this book by watching Stranger Things earlier this year andThe Winnowing is an interesting middle grade novel to say the least.

This is a book about a world where children can be born with powers. If unwinnowed, these powers can manifest into something much more dangerous. To be winnowed is a rite of adolescent passage, it’s an attempt at normalizing. The problem is that the world Marivic and Saren live in, is one that is anything but. Marivic in particular also holds the key to a larger mystery in the story in regards to her family, the town of Darby and the school her mother worked at which was obliterated. The blurb on the back of the book gives you just enough information, but it’s definitely a book that is good going blind into.

What I loved about this book is how unexpected some of the twists and turns were. Some were a little obvious, but I found myself buying into so much of what was happening to these characters,
I was so invested in the atmosphere of the story — it is creepy and uncomfortable. Marivic and her friends felt very believable, their flaws felt real, and I truly felt for them on this journey. My favourite character in the story was Gumps, Marivic’s grandfather. He’s everything I love in a curmudgeon-y old man. A grump who is secretly loving and a little overprotective.

With the circumstances that occur in this novel, you see incredible growth in these characters. Every single one of them. The children in this story are all forced to grow up very quickly given the situation regarding the world and the process of the winnowing. In a lot of ways, these kids are robbed of their childhood and that was so heartbreaking. Marivic in particular shoulders a lot of burden in this story and she’s forced in a lot of ways to think and act more mature than someone normally her age. This is written very well because you can see she’s wrestling with both her circumstances and her actual age and what kids her age should be doing.

There’s a lot of weird and strange in The Winnowing. It’s the kind of book for people who love the X-Files, Stranger Things, Are You Afraid of the Dark?. While two of the references I’ve mention date me, I think they are accurate to what one can expect when reading this book. It’s weird, mysterious, atmospheric and wondrous. I love seeing authors jump out of their comfort zones with genre, because sometimes an experiment can blossom into something extraordinary.

ARC Review – Lost Boys by Darcey Rosenblatt

Title: Lost Boys

Author: Darcey Rosenblatt

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Based on historical events, this unforgettable and inspiring tale for middle-grade readers is about a young boy torn from the only life he’s ever known and held captive as a prisoner of war.

In 1982, twelve-year-old Reza has no interest in joining Iran’s war effort against Iraq. But in the wake of a tragedy and at his mother’s urging, he decides to enlist, assured by the authorities that he will achieve paradise should he die in service to his country.

War does not bring the glory the boys of Iran have been promised, and Reza soon finds himself held in a prisoner-of-war camp in Iraq, where the guards not only threaten violence—they act upon it. Will Reza make it out alive? And if he does, will he even have a home to return to?

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Lost Boys is both a beautiful people of historical fiction. While this book is classified as middle grade fiction, it actually reads much older in some aspects of the story, but regardless of that it’s a very heartbreaking and beautiful story about friendship in Iran during 1982. According to the author’s note, parts of the story where based on an account by her neighbour who had been growing up in Iran.

Reza is a wonderful protagonist who is both kind as he is curious. You learn about Reza’s love of Western music which he got from his Uncle. You learn his love of modern music and the kinds of songs that were present in the 1980s. In some regards this makes Reza seem a little older than he actually is, but I found him to constantly be endearing throughout the story. His friendship with Ebi and Miles are both unique aspects in the story as Ebi at the tender age of twelve believes young boys need to die for their nation, while Miles an Irish aid worker tries to instill a different perspective…

…And it works well in this story. In this story you see Reza feeling torn between the love of his family and country, but also struggling with his feelings towards the political environment in Iran. Characters like Ebi break your heart because they are the product of propaganda, the belief that every man must die for his nation. There’s an idealism in this notion, but the story shows how many of the children are completely robbed of childhoods.

Lost Boys is a very thoughtful read, and Rosenblatt is a beautiful writer. I appreciated much of the leg work that went into this novel, and if you haven’t read the Author’s Note it is worth checking out just to get some extra context to where the author was coming from with the story. This book will leave you sad yet very hopeful in the end.

ARC August Week 1 Update

So I thought I thought I’d do updates every Friday I’d share an update of how far I’ve progressed in my #ARCAugust challenge. Here’s what I’ve knocked out so far from my list of ten.

  • Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore (Release Date: October 3rd)
  • Thornhill by Pam Smy (Release Date: August 29th)
  • Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu (Release Date: September 19th)
  • Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills (Release Date: December 26th)
  • Invictus by Ryan Graudin (Release Date: September 26th)
  • These Things I’ve Done by Rebecca Phillips (Release Date: August 1st)
  • Lost Boys by Darcey Rosenblatt (Release Date: August 22nd)
  • That Inevitable Victoria Thing by E.K Johnston (Release Date: October 3rd)
  • Berserker by Emmy Laybourne (Release Date: October 10th)
  • Top Ten by Katie Cotugno (Release Date: October 3rd)

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu: I LOVED Moxie and it’s easily in my top three for favourite books so far this year. I will have a review up closer to the release date, but you all know my insane obsession with Jennifer Mathieu’s books and this one is just amazing and needs to be read in every school across the world. ★★★★★

These Things I’ve Done by Rebecca Phillips: A review for this one went live already! Please go enjoy that review to get all of my thoughts! ★★★ 1/2

Other things I read this week:

Nobody Cries At Bingo by Dawn Dumont – Had to read this for work, and it’s a funny read with some very heartbreaking moments. Dumont talks about rez life in Canada, particularly growing up in the prairies. She talks about her family and their rituals, This book made me laugh, made me sad, left me thinking. Not every story won me over in the collection and the last story was kind of a big let down. The title story however? Amazing, amazing, amazing. It’s an interesting and eye-opening book about Canadian culture and its connection to First Nations people. ★★★ 1/2

Ghost by Jason Reynolds – I LOVED THE CRAP OUT OF THIS BOOK. A lot of my friends on Goodreads were reading this book and I kept seeing it come up. Walking the stacks at my work I grabbed it and started to read the first chapter and knew I had to take it home with me to be read and loved. This is my first Jason Reynolds book and it for sure won’t be last. I loved this story about a boy who is trying to find the reason he “runs,” and I love the friendship between him and his track mates Lu, Sunny and Patina. I also cannot wait for the next book in this series! ★★★★★

Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick – I really enjoyed this book! There are some moments that feel a bit problematic, but I weirdly also appreciated Kendrick’s honesty. With her Daria-style sense of humor it is funny how easy it is to feel like you know who Anna Kendrick is. Plus her regard for sweatpants and hibernation? Can we be friends? Seriously. Also I ENCOURAGE folks to listen to this on audiobook because having her narrate the book gives such a nice added layer of entertainment and humour. This is seriously the best way to go! ★★★★

The Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second Chances by Ellen Cooney – This was a surprise of a read! This book is about second-chances at a better life, and more specially about rescue dogs who are looking for a forever home but have perhaps done things in the past that make them “unwanted.” This book broke my heart! I own two dogs and I couldn’t be without either of them in my life, but this book reminds us that like people, dogs deserve to be loved and needed. They need to the right person to give them the compassion they need. You learn so much about the dogs in this story, their personalities and it makes me wish I could just adopt all the homeless dogs out there. ★★★★

Tally:

Number of ARCs on the list read: 2/10

Number of ARCs Read: 2

Number of Non-ARCs Read: 4

 

ARC Review – Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Title: Little & Lion

Author: Brandy Colbert

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.

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

Sam’s Review:

I didn’t know what I was getting into when I started Little & Lion. The synopsis gave me some indication that this book was going to be about sexuality and mental illness, but I wasn’t anticipating the intensity that Colbert puts into this story. I haven’t read Pointe yet, but I had only heard amazing things about Brandy Colbert’s characters and her writing.

Little & Lion was slow going for me. Not because it was a bad story, but because it is an emotionally exhausting and rewarding story. Little’s narrative is very heartbreaking, sometimes tough to read. She cares a lot for Lionel, especially when it comes to how his mental illness has transformed him. You see bits and pieces of his character’s evolution and at times it feels hard to read.

I also loved the way Colbert explored Little’s sexuality and being bisexual. I think showing her conflicting romantic feelings was done in a very sensitive way, and it was easy to emphasize with Little’s emotions throughout the story. Between iris, Rafela, and Emil, you see three different kinds of romantic feelings throughout the story, and Little’s connection to each person hints at a bigger picture in regards to her understanding her bisexuality. I felt like I knew each of her love interests very well when I was reading this story.

I liked Saul as a character as well, and I think he gets some great development with Little in terms of helping her understanding her sexuality, her connection to Judaism, and her family life. He doesn’t make things easy, somewhat overreacts, but does it entirely out of love. Family as a theme in this story is just spectacularly done here, and you see the emotionally drain that Lionel does put on his family. This isn’t shyed away from, which I appreciated so much.

This book is emotional, it’s intense, it’s thoughtful, and it leaves you thinking long after the story is over. Little & Lionhas a lot to offer for those who lover tougher contemporary YA. It only has solidified that I need to get off my butt and check out Pointe.

ARC Review – These Things I’ve Done by Rebecca Phillips

Title: These Things I’ve Done

Author: Rebecca Phillips

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Before: Dara and Aubrey have been inseparable since they became best friends in sixth grade. However, as they begin their sophomore year of high school, cracks in their friendship begin to form, testing the bond they always thought was unbreakable.

After: It’s been fifteen months since the accident that killed Aubrey, and not a day goes by that Dara isn’t racked with guilt over her role in her best friend’s death. Dara thought nothing could be worse than confronting the memories of Aubrey that relentlessly haunt her, but she soon realizes it isn’t half as difficult as seeing Ethan, Aubrey’s brother, every day. Not just because he’s a walking reminder of what she did, but because the more her feelings for him change, the more she knows she’s betraying her best friend one final time.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I’ve had a copy of These Things I’ve Done since February, and I had constant hesitation to pick this book up. Books that deal with both guilt and grief are sometimes a topic that I need to be emotionally in the right frame of mind for, and this book based on the blurb told me I was going to have all the feels.

I did have feels, they just seemed to happen in the last hundred pages of the book.

This is a slow burn and one where the writing style really took me a bit to get into. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in the slightest, but I know writing style can always be a tricky thing, especially if you feel turned off at the beginning. Dara is a character that for the most part I struggled to connect with. I could empathize with her a lot, but I never felt a huge connection between her and I while I was reading the book, which is very important to me as a reader. I also weirdly could have done without the romance part of this book because I found myself unable to entirely buy into it. I think other readers will adore it, but I found it a little too obvious and frankly, really dull. It’s like Dara and Ethan couldn’t decide if they had or didn’t have chemistry, if that makes sense.

That being said, the subject matters this book tackles are utterly heartbreaking and that’s what I was there for, and I think Phillips delivers on that. Dara’s grief, her pain, and her guilt all translate so well in this story, and when she talked about life without Audrey, those were the parts of the book I lived for. When the book was in the sophomore year sections when Audrey was alive, I enjoyed it somewhat, but it was the living without sections that I found I was really glued to. I wanted to know what Dara did and why she felt the intense pain she did. I wanted to know the full extent of her damage, and I think the build to that is something the author did extremely well. I think she captured so much in Dara’s feelings that even though I had moments of disconnect with her, I somewhat understood why.

really loved many aspects of this book and it’s one I’ll be happy to recommend to the teens I work with at the library. I think Rebecca Phillips captures the spirit of teenage grief in a really well understood way, and I think it will definitely resonate with a lot of other readers. While I wasn’t in love with this book the way I thought I would be, I still am super glad I read it and didn’t DNF it like I originally was going to with that rocky start.

An Adventure in Port Union

Hi everyone! I realize I’ve been fairly quiet on this blog lately. A lot of it has to do with my personal life and how busy I’ve been. I’ve been working on purging parts of my life in different ways, and I’m trying to work on dealing with my grief by doing different things that make me happy. Today, I went on an adventure to a beautiful waterfront park near where I live and my best friend and I took my dog for a long hike, seeing beautiful landscapes. I thought I’d share some photos from that wonderful experience.

During our walk we saw a “Ghost Bicycle.” I thought this was gorgeous looking, so I snapped this photo. I do wonder what the real story behind this is though.

Different shots along the park path of Lake Ontario on the East side.

Dakota having some fun swimming in Lake Ontario. She looks SO HAPPY. She is best dog after all.

Some important words of wisdom.

My little dirty girl.

And we had an amazing walk. Dakota was pooped and have a huge nap (except when she thought something was happening in the car, then she’d shoot up to look). This was such a calm and great experience for me. We walked nearly 10,000 steps and it was just so good to be next to the lake, staring out at the water and realizing how important these little moments truly are.