Author Archives: samcmar

Reading Goals for 2017 – An Update

I thought it was time to share where I am at with my reading life in 2017. We’re already near the end of October, with only two more months left in the year, That is crazy pants. At the beginning of 2017 I made a list of goals in my bullet journal regarding what I wanted to read and how I wanted to read this year. Let’s see where I am at with these challenges.

  1. Complete or Catch Up on 10 Book SeriesStatus: Ongoing. — 8/10 series have been caught up or completed. I really should be doing better with this, but I’ve been in this mood in 2017 where I am really liking a lot of stand-alone titles. I do have some worlds though that I do want to dip back into. Hopefully this challenge gets completed before January 2018.
  2. Read 10 Non-Fiction BooksStatus: Completed. — This was a goal I didn’t think I’d achieve at all, but I’ve finally found areas of non-fiction that I love reading about, and I’ve even gone so far as to read more than ten non-fiction titles this year. Go team Sam!
  3. Read 5 Books Over 500+ pages. Status: Completed. — This was another challenge that had the potential of not happening and did. I generally do not like 500+ page books usually because I often feel like there’s a lot of padding that comes with larger novels at times. At this point I can say I’ve read seven 500+ page reads!
  4. Book Riot 2017 Read Harder Challenge. Status: Ongoing. — Out of the twenty-four challenges, I have four challenges left and would love some recommendations for reads to complete them. I still need to complete: Read A Book Set in Central or South America; Read A Banned or Frequently Challenged Book in Your Country (I live in Canada); Read a Book in which a character of colour goes on a spiritual journey; and read an LGBTQ+ romance novel (this is the only one I have ideas for).
  5. 10 Books I Want to Read This Summer. Status: Ongoing(?) — I only read three books off this list, so it’s a bit of a failure. A part of me still wants to knock these books out. Here’s what’s on the list and I’d love to know if you have thoughts on any of them: Band of Mourning (Brandon Sanderson), A Face Like Glass (Frances Hardinge), The Lies We Tell Ourselves (Robin Talley), The Last Chinese Chef (Nicole Mones), Far Darkness Shows the Stars (Diane Peterfreud), This Monterous Thing (Mackenzi Lee), and The Hum & the Shiver (Alex Bledsoe)
  6. #ARCAugust Status: Nearly Complete! — I have exactly one title left on this list to complete which is Invictus by Ryan Graudin.

I have also completed my Goodreads Challenge which was to read 400 books. There is a lot of comics on that list and I used to feel guilty about putting them on there. Now? I don’t care and I think people should be able to count whatever they want since the goal ultimately is to just read. You can see my completed/ongoing list here.

Where are you at with your reading goals? Have you made any accomplishments? I’d love to know in the comments.

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Late to the Party ARC Review – Imagine by John Lennon & Jean Jullien (Illustrator)

Title: Imagine

Author:  John Lennon & Jean Jullien (Illustrator)

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Join one little pigeon as she sets out on a journey to spread a message of tolerance around the world. Featuring the lyrics of John Lennon’s iconic song and illustrations by the award-winning artist Jean Jullien, this poignant and timely picture book dares to imagine a world at peace. Imagine will be published in partnership with human rights organization, Amnesty International.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I don’t normally review picture books on my blog, despite reading a lot of them as part of my job at the library. That being said, I couldn’t resist checking out this beautiful picture book put to the lyrics of John Lennon’s Imagine.

There is a wonderful simplicity to the artwork, as you’re watching this pigeon explore the world around him, trying to unify people. Ultimately that was Lennon’s message on a whole, finding peace, loving others regardless of race, gender, colour, sexuality or creed. He believed that one day the world would be “one” and peace would defeat war. We need the hope that Imagine provides to remind us that people are not inherently evil.

I enjoyed Yoko Ono’s forward in the book and he discussion of John Lennon’s thought process when he crafted Imagine, and what he hoped from the world. She said that we need Imagine now more than ever because the world isn’t “one” and hope must triumph over despair. This picture book is a lovely addition to anyone’s picture book collection and worth the read with your loved ones.

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner

Title: The Exact Location of Home

Author:  Kate Messner

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Kirby “Zig” Zigonski lives for the world of simple circuits, light bulbs, buzzers, and motors. Electronics are, after all, much more predictable than most people–especially his father, who he hasn’t seen in over a year. When his dad’s latest visit is canceled with no explanation and his mom seems to be hiding something, Zig turns to his best friend Gianna and a new gizmo–a garage sale GPS unit–for help. Convinced that his dad is leaving clues around town to explain his absence, Zig sets out to find him. Following one clue after another, logging mile after mile, Zig soon discovers that people aren’t always what they seem . . . and sometimes, there’s more than one set of coordinates for home.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

What a delightful and heartwarming read! I have never read any of Kate Messner’s books, but I have only heard good things from sources I trust. With it being Fall, I was itching to read some middle grade and this one caught my eye in the pile of ARCs I had.

This book is about Kirby, a boy who loves circuits and creating. He’s intelligent, a little awkward, and he’s trying to see if he can both help his mother out because their finances isn’t so hot, and also find his father. What’s intriguing about the novel and Kirby’s desire to find his father, is that Kirby falls in love with geocaching, and uses all of his father’s clues to locate where he has gone. What’s fun about the novel is that Messner makes the reader feel like they are helping Kirby along the way in terms of finding his father through the puzzles and clues.

I also loved the friendship between Kirby and Gianna. Gianna really forces Kirby out of his shell throughout the story and she is such a supportive and kind best friend. It’s wonderful to see friendships between boys and girls in a story that is completely platonic. I also loved Kirby’s relationship with his mother and his desire to try and help her any way he could. He’s a great hero to follow.

The Exact Location of Home is a wonderful, heartfelt romp that balances humour with raw emotion. I can’t wait to check out other books by Kate Messner now, because this one made me a fan!

Late to the Party ARC Review – Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios

Title: Bad Romance

Author: Heather Demetrios

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Grace wants out. Out of her house, where her stepfather wields fear like a weapon and her mother makes her scrub imaginary dirt off the floors. Out of her California town, too small to contain her big city dreams. Out of her life, and into the role of Parisian artist, New York director—anything but scared and alone.

Enter Gavin: charming, talented, adored. Controlling. Dangerous. When Grace and Gavin fall in love, Grace is sure it’s too good to be true. She has no idea their relationship will become a prison she’s unable to escape. 

Deeply affecting and unflinchingly honest, this is a story about spiraling into darkness—and emerging into the light again.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I had to put off reading Bad Romance for awhile. It’s one of those books that looks at abusive relationships, why someone might stay, and ultimately why they need to choose themselves. Grace is a very difficult heroine because she is torn with choosing herself or enduring abuse because Gavin, her boyfriend, threatens to kill himself if she ever breaks up with him.

This book is very much a history of their relationship, written in a way where there’s quite a bit of second-person use. The way in which Grace describes her relationship is so heartbreaking, hard, and reading the moments of the psychological torment that she faces is rough. Like, it hurts, and I found myself wincing in pain. Not every action Grace does makes sense, but what I love is Demetrios shows how she’s working through it. I also love that she has such supportive friends who are trying to help her break the cycle.

This is also just such an amazing and well-written book. I felt so overwhelmed emotionally as I was reading this book that at times I had to simply close it because of what was happening. Being emotionally invested, even though I’ve never expected what Grace is going through… I empathized, a lot.

Bad Romance is a raw, rough, addictive book that will probably hit a lot of people’s triggers. It’s not an easy read, but it is a compelling one. Regardless of whether you’ve experience abuse or not, this is a book that will leave you emotionally raw by the end of it.

ARC Review – That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston

Title: That Inevitable Victorian Thing

Author: E.K. Johnston

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Set in a near-future world where the British Empire was preserved, not by the cost of blood and theft but by effort of repatriation and promises kept, That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a novel of love, duty, and the small moments that can change people and the world.

Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendant of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she’ll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire’s greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I feel like based on the Goodreads reviews that I am in the minority for this book. I really love E.K Johnston’s work and I think there is something interesting discussions that can be had with a book likeThat Inevitable Victorian Thing.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing is an interesting read. It focuses on the idea that colonialism didn’t have it’s chance to manifest in North America and Europe, and the idea that groups of people regardless of race or religion can live in harmony. While that concept is somewhat very unrealistic, the idealism behind it is quite wonderful in my opinion. I would love to live in a world where racism doesn’t exist, where people respect one another. Again, it’s not perfect given racism isn’t entirely abolished in the story and classism still exists, but you get a sense of hopefulness from the cast of characters that they want a better world.

I do want to stress that I think a lot of the Canadian content and Ontario pride in this story may go over the heads of non-Canadian readers, as Canada has some impressive rep in this story. As someone who lives in Ontario, I loved reading the maps and Johnston’s discussions of the province within the story, and it was fun to see name droppings for people, places and things that are indicative of Ontario. I recognize this is something not everyone is able to appreciate, but I enjoyed it a lot.

This Inevitable Victorian Thing is wonderfully diverse and I loved how well marginalized people are handled. I think Johnston put a lot of care into the world-building and characters, making the world feel like it could be believable. Margaret, Helena, and August are all characters who, despite their flaws, want to change the world for the better, and I appreciated their hopefulness throughout the narrative.

Personally, I loved That Inevitable Victorian Thing. Yes, it is a slow burn, and perhaps a bit too ideal, but I found myself loving the world and the characters. I loved the larger theme of hope, connection and respect that existed throughout the narrative, and the romance in the story is pretty darn darling all things considered. I think there are aspects that will be difficult for some reads to appreciate, but if you’ve enjoyed Johnston’s works in the past, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed by this book.

ARC Review – Berserker (Berserker #1) by Emmy Laybourne

Title: Berserker (Berserker #1)

Author: Emmy Laybourne

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Her brother Stieg swears their powers are a gift from the old gods, but Hanne Hemstad knows she is truly cursed. It’s not Stieg’s fault that their father is dead, their mother has left, and their brother Knut has been accused of a crime he didn’t commit.

No, the fault lies with Hanne and her inability to control her murderous “gift”–she is a Berserker. When someone she loves is threatened, she flies into a killing state. The siblings must leave Norway for the American frontier or risk being brought to justice.

Aided by a young cowboy who agrees to be their guide, Hanne and her siblings use their powers to survive the perilous trail, where blizzards, wild animals, and vicious bounty hunters await.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Emmy Laybourne writes some fast-paced novels, and her latest,Berserker is not exception. I’d even argue it’s her most unique book to date given it is a Western-meets-Norse Mythology-meets-Historical Fiction. It’s a cluster of so many genres, a mish-mash that is though very fun, doesn’t entirely work together as well as it could.

I’m all for a genre mash-up, but Westerns tend to be always a difficult genre to mash given it has very specific tropes that it follows. Weirdly, I loved the Western-y bits of this story, but mixing it with Norse Mythology is a bit of an odd choice given how rich Viking culture is. This book has so much in it and at times it can feel very overwhelming, and yet it is also such a compulsively readable book where you want to know what is going on. There’s so much action and insanity, it makes for an entertaining read. Laybourne is great at bringing fun and disaster to her stories and Berserker doesn’t disappoint in this regard.

While I loved the action, gore and just utter insanity of the story, I wish I had enjoyed the characters more. Henne is a fun character who is troubled by her powers of murder, but if I am being frank, a lot of the characters felt very interchangeable for me and didn’t feel too distinctive on their own. Mind you, I’ve always felt that as a writer, Laybourne’s characters are not always the starring attraction (unless we are talking Max from Monument 14 aka the best character), but it’s the worlds that she creates which are truly the draw.

Berserker is a book where I need to explain to readers going into it before hand to just “go with the flow.” It’s a fun, delightful romp, but it’s also messy in that it’s trying to do a lot at once creating sensory overload. I still think it’s a great read for those who love a fast-paced story full of crazy and murder. I definitely am still curious as to where the next book in the series is going to go as well.

Ten Comics & Graphic Novels, and Manga You Should Check Out! October 2017 Edition

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a round up of comics, graphic novels, and manga that I want to share with you all. Again, I’ve read some interesting and unique stuff. Any of these recommendations can be purchased in physical or ebook form, and also consider grabbing them from your local library! You can also Read the previous issue.

Without further ado! Let’s talk comics.

My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1 (My Brother’s Husband Omnibus #1)
by Gengoroh Tagame

This. manga. Holy crap. This is an emotional read that had me sobbing from the first couple pages. It focuses on a Japanese man and his daughter who find out that his twin brother married a Canadian man. It looks at issues surrounding homosexuality in Japan and Canada, and it’s just super sweet and emotional. I absolutely loved this one and it’s been a book I have been recommending constantly to anyone and everyone.

Lucky Penny
by Ananth Hirsh & Yuko Ota

Adorbs and totally for fans who love heroines that are always looking on the brighter side of life! This comic is delightfully funny, utterly charming, and Penny will just make you laugh. Seriously, this is just too funny. Seriously, Penny is plucky and down on her luck, but you will fall in love with her!

Spinning
by Tillie Walden

This is a beautiful illustrated graphic novel that focuses on figure skating and learning about your sexuality. Spinning is just absolutely stunning, beautifully written, and I can’t wait to see what Tillie Walden does next. You can read my full review here!

Motor Crush, Vol. 1 (Motor Crush #1-5)
by Brenden Fletcher et al.
OMMMMMMMMGGGG THIS SERIES. THIS SERIES. What if Mad Max met Death Race! With motorcycles! Motor Crush is cool as hell. There’s motorcycle trippy drugs, there’s beating up rival biker gangs, and Domino is just such a badass rad ladyboss who NO ONE should mess with. Also the art and colours in this graphic novel are just stellar. Check this one out!
The Beauty, Vol. 1 (The Beauty #1-6)
by Jeremy Haun et al.
What if beauty was a transmittable disease? That’s the premise of The Beauty. It’s weird, uncomfortable, and it leaves you thinking about vanity quite a bit. It’s also just SO DAMN CREEPY. Like ragdoll people creepy. If you like to be spooked, or you want something with a more intriguing but uncomfortable premise, this is worth reading.
Wonder Woman 77  Vol 1 
by Marc Andreyko
Okay, so while Greg Rucka and Gail Simone are king and queen of writing Wonder Woman, I want to give a shout out to Wonder Woman ’77 which looks at the Linda Carter years. I ADORED the cornball 70’s style storytelling and humour that comes with comic. There’s only two volumes, but the art is gorgeous, the stories are corny, and just total fun. Also looking forward to the cross-over comic that is out with Batman ’66.
The Backstagers, Vol. 1 (The Backstagers)
by James Tynion IV & Rian Sygh
Diverse, charming, and full of life, that is what The Backstagers is all about. This book is full of wonderful friendships, slice of life humour, and the characters are just completely lovable.  If you love inclusive comics and haven’t checked out The Backstagers, you are missing out on something wonderful. Sasha. ❤
Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 1 (Akatsuki no Yona #1)
by Mizuho Kusanagi
This series was pitched to me by a friend who loves Fushigi Yuugi. I read this while I was at a cottage and this is pretty spectacular. It’s about a princess who witnesses her father’s murder. This situation really causes her to change dramatically, and her situation is very sad. However, there’s more to this and all the characters are a lot of fun. I have only read the first volume, but I definitely need to read more of them (and perhaps request it at the library for purchase!)
Brobots series
by J. Torres & Sean K. Dove
This is an adorable kids comic series about three “Brobots” who have wacky adventures fighting kaiju monsters, while also enjoying every day activities like fishing. Very cute, simple, and definitely a fun read for children. Also there’s a little chubby bot, and he is the cute one.
Essex County 
by Jeff Lemire
I love Jeff Lemire, and that’s pretty evident on this blog given I am constantly recommending his works. Essex County looks at Lemire’s life through some unique characters and people. It’s won so many awards, and each of the three stories that exist are haunting, cold, and uncomfortable. A+ for comic lovers who love realistic or autobiographical works.
So that was ten more recommendations, which I hope you all check out. Let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of these or if you have recommendations. I always love finding new comics, graphic novels or manga. 🙂