Author Archives: samcmar

Late to the Party ARC Review – Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith

Title: Don’t Read the Comments

Author: Eric Smith

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Divya Sharma is a queen. Or she is when she’s playing Reclaim the Sun, the year’s hottest online game. Divya—better known as popular streaming gamer D1V—regularly leads her #AngstArmada on quests through the game’s vast and gorgeous virtual universe. But for Divya, this is more than just a game. Out in the real world, she’s trading her rising-star status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mom pay the rent.

Gaming is basically Aaron Jericho’s entire life. Much to his mother’s frustration, Aaron has zero interest in becoming a doctor like her, and spends his free time writing games for a local developer. At least he can escape into Reclaim the Sun—and with a trillion worlds to explore, disappearing should be easy. But to his surprise, he somehow ends up on the same remote planet as celebrity gamer D1V.

At home, Divya and Aaron grapple with their problems alone, but in the game, they have each other to face infinite new worlds…and the growing legion of trolls populating them. Soon the virtual harassment seeps into reality when a group called the Vox Populi begin launching real-world doxxing campaigns, threatening Aaron’s dreams and Divya’s actual life. The online trolls think they can drive her out of the game, but everything and everyone Divya cares about is on the line…

And she isn’t going down without a fight.

Huge thank you to the Dewey Divas for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I loved Don’t Read the Comments. As a person who has worked on and off in the gaming industry for over ten years, these are words you often have to remind yourself of, especially if you’re a woman with an opinion. Eric Smith’s book does a great job tackling issues women in particular often face such as harassment, doxing, and stalking, all which appear in this novel.

We follow two protagonists in this story: Divya, a popular streamer with a huge fanbase who has been receiving threatening messages about being in the wrong “space.” Then we have Aaron, a young man who wants to break into the industry by writing the next great RPG. Aaron starts to take an interest in Div when he realizes that she loves a lot of the same games he does, and soon he gets drawn into the drama of the Vox Popli, who are out to make Div and her fans disappear from the game’s sphere.

This novel is delightful! It does so much right in terms of understanding games and gaming culture, while also the pitfalls faced by women who are breaking into the hobby. Div receives so many threats, she and her friends are stalked, but Div is a great heroine for this story because she is one that builds upwards. She learns from her mistakes and constantly is willing to fight back for those she loves and cares about. Aaron is adorable, sensitive and kind, but he has to learn the hard way about being a knight-in-shining armor, in a female space where it’s not acceptable. Aaron befriends Div and her friends, and he starts to learn a lot about himself and what he wants from his life, versus what his parents want, which is for him to go into the medical field.

This book is chock with great writing, and even better banter. All the characters really jump off the page and there’s something truly fun about feeling gaming culture through the lens of someone else. My only complaint with this book is that Smith pieces a lot of very old gaming references, which I don’t know how many teens of today might necessarily know. Like I adored Remember Me, but it’s now a fifteen year old game that was met with mediocre reviews. Still, I applaud Smith for referencing games he’s clearly very passionate about, and who knows, maybe people will check some of those older gems out after reading this book!

Don’t Read the Comments is a love-letter to gamers and gamer culture, while also being a fun contemporary story about friendship. Part of me hopes that Smith revisits these characters at some point, because I’d love to have more stories featuring them!

Late to the Party ARC Review – Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore

Title: Blanca & Roja

Author: Anna-Marie McLemore

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: The del Cisne girls have never just been sisters; they’re also rivals, Blanca as obedient and graceful as Roja is vicious and manipulative. They know that, because of a generations-old spell, their family is bound to a bevy of swans deep in the woods. They know that, one day, the swans will pull them into a dangerous game that will leave one of them a girl, and trap the other in the body of a swan.

But when two local boys become drawn into the game, the swans’ spell intertwines with the strange and unpredictable magic lacing the woods, and all four of their fates depend on facing truths that could either save or destroy them. Blanca & Roja is the captivating story of sisters, friendship, love, hatred, and the price we pay to protect our hearts.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Can I just say how much I love Anna-Marie McLemore’s books? They are such a whirlwind of magic, curiosity, and discomfort. At least, that is definitely what reading Blanca & Roja was like. This story is a dark fairy tale about two sisters, swans, and familial expectations. There are four protagonists, each who get wrapped up into this weird, wild story about sisters, and how they all must face what demons posses them in order to feel a sense of freedom.

I read this book in a day as I was trapped in my car while waiting for my sick dog to be checked out at the vet. I was completely engrossed in the story from the first page, and totally loved the twists and turns of who the “liar” was between Blanca and Roja. In the end, I was more a Roja fan in that her anger and frustrations felt so real and something I could in a way, identify with. There is an amazing discussion in this book about being non-binary and gender-fluid, and they are done in a way that for those who are unfamiliar can understand it well.

Anna-Marie McLemore is one of those writers where they have an amazing grasp of the written language. Their books are beautifully written and they truly transport readers into worlds that are not familiar, but feel familiar, which is always a challenge when writing magical realism. I am sad it took me so long to finally read this book, and I cannot wait to read the other two books I have by them that are sitting on my shelf. If you want something dark, twisted, that will keep you guessing, then read Blanca & Roja as it will not disappoint.

 

Late to the Party ARC Review – A Bird on Water Street by Elizabeth O Dulemba

Title: A Bird on Water Street

Author: Elizabeth O Dulemba

Rating: ★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Living in Coppertown is like living on the moon. Everything is bare-there are no trees, no birds, no signs of nature at all. And while Jack loves his town, he hates the dangerous mines that have ruined the land with years of pollution. When the miners go on strike and the mines are forced to close, Jack’s life-long wish comes true: the land has the chance to heal.

But not everyone in town is happy about the change. Without the mines, Jack’s dad is out of work and the family might have to leave Coppertown. Just when new life begins to creep back into town, Jack might lose his friends, his home, and everything he’s ever known.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

A Bird on Water Street was a quick read, but that might be all it has going for it. I was interested in reading it because it’s a book about unions, lack of equality, and has a strong environmental theme running through it.

Here’s the thing: the bits about climate change and the political elements of this book were great, I will not take that away from the book. However, the writing style is flat, and while I read this book quickly, I wasn’t in love with or interested in a lot of what was happening. Jack, the protagonist in this story learns so much so quickly, yet he doesn’t feel like a real kid in the story for me. When he feels like a kid in the story, it’s very wooden and he lacks a lot of personality. If I am being honest, I barely remember Jack having much of a personality in this story.

I feel bad being harsh regarding A Bird on Water Street, but it’s one of those middle grade books that for me is one that teacher’s and schools will love, but I don’t actually know how many middle grade kids would actually pick this book up. I think it has a lot of valuable messages, but don’t come to this book looking for a character you can connect with, because Jack is simply not that.

What I Have Read While Social Distancing – Part 1

Hi! Have you been social distancing during the pandemic? I have been! As someone with a compromised immune system, the pandemic has been rough on me. I am a super social individual, I love my job, and I miss contact with people. However, given the times we are in, I have been reminding myself of a few key factors:

  1. I am doing the right thing.
  2. This is out of my control.
  3. If I stay home, I keep others safe and myself safe.

With COVID-19 and being trapped at home, I’ve gotten back in writing, which has been a huge game changer for me in terms of dealing with my mental health and this pandemic. I’ve been reading a fair bit, gaming, socializing through various channels and it is keeping me sane somewhat. I thought I’d share through photos the books I’ve read while social distancing (minus poor Educated, which I’ve loaned to friend who is also social distancing). Educated, since I don’t physically have it with me — I adored and it’s worth all the hype it has gotten.

Here’s the books I read from March 17th to April 5th.

Fun stats time!

Longest book: Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson (1243 pages)

Shortest Book: The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip (137 pages)

Book I Gave 5 Stars to: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds

Tell me about what you’ve been reading while social distancing? I’d love to know in the comments!

ARC Review – Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds

Title: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You

Author: Jason Reynolds

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: The construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, to create dynamics that separate and silence. This remarkable reimagining of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning reveals the history of racist ideas in America, and inspires hope for an antiracist future. It takes you on a race journey from then to now, shows you why we feel how we feel, and why the poison of racism lingers. It also proves that while racist ideas have always been easy to fabricate and distribute, they can also be discredited.

Through a gripping, fast-paced, and energizing narrative written by beloved award-winner Jason Reynolds, this book shines a light on the many insidious forms of racist ideas–and on ways readers can identify and stamp out racist thoughts in their daily lives.

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

Sam’s Review:

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You is not a history book, through it explores history as a means to explain it’s thesis. Jason Reynolds remixes Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped to explain why issues of racism still exist, why we need to be better allies, and why systemically issues of race exist in the first place.

I want to stress what an important and value read this book is. I am not American, so having American historical context for a lot of the content in this book actually helped me understand the larger issues faced by POC in America. Reynolds goal with Stamped is to get readers to understand why racism still exists, how even certain ideas can be racist, and what we can do to combat specific kinds of racist thinking and turn it on itself head. It even offers meaningful ways to stamped out racism from conversations with friends and family, which for someone like me who is white — I found it helpful. I am privileged in so many ways, so I appreciated that this book basically told me to check that at the door and listen up.

Stamped is a fantastic work of non-fiction that will offer readers into fantastic insight regarding racism and its deep rooted history in America. Even with that American lens, I feel like readers from any country, of any background, can gain wisdom from this book. I look forward to checking out Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped, just to see how it compares!

ARC Review – The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

Title: The City We Became

Author: N.K. Jemisin

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Every city has a soul. Some are as ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York City? She’s got five.

But every city also has a dark side. A roiling, ancient evil stirs beneath the earth, threatening to destroy the city and her five protectors unless they can come together and stop it once and for all.

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

Sam’s Review:

This is my first N.K Jemisin novel. I had read short stories by the author and a lot of her essay work, but this was the first book I physical grabbed and decided to take the plunge with. The City We Became is a fascinating, superhero-esque story, full of so many New Yorkers, some just trying to live their lives, and others who are fulfilling a larger purpose.

This book is brilliant, smart, disturbing, crazy, and might be one of the best love letter’s to NYC imaginable. So much of this story asks the reader to use their imagination, to suspend as much disbelief as possible, and focus on a large scale battle between the major neighborhoods, each with their own desire for power. The city’s five protectors can’t agree with one another, and there’s a big bad coming to destroy New York and swallow it whole.

I LOVED this book. It was so weird and intense throughout, and I loved how every NYC neighborhood had a distinctive personality and character that I am sure feels true to life. The way in which characters come together to fight this apocalyptic event has note of humour, and a great amount of terror. The City We Became has such a great premise, a fantastic ensemble cast, and will keep you turning pages long into the night.

ARC Review – The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert

Title: The Only Black Girls in Town

Author: Brandy Colbert

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Beach-loving surfer Alberta has been the only black girl in town for years. Alberta’s best friend, Laramie, is the closest thing she has to a sister, but there are some things even Laramie can’t understand. When the bed and breakfast across the street finds new owners, Alberta is ecstatic to learn the family is black-and they have a 12-year-old daughter just like her.

Alberta is positive she and the new girl, Edie, will be fast friends. But while Alberta loves being a California girl, Edie misses her native Brooklyn and finds it hard to adapt to small-town living.

When the girls discover a box of old journals in Edie’s attic, they team up to figure out exactly who’s behind them and why they got left behind. Soon they discover shocking and painful secrets of the past and learn that nothing is quite what it seems. 

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

Sam’s Review:

Want to read a wonderful book with great characters and a good mystery? The Only Black Girls in Town is Brandy Colbert’s middle grade debut, and my goodness was it a chef’s kiss of a story.

Albert and her family for the longest time, were the only black family in town. Her best friend, Laramie, though wonderful, cannot necessarily understand everything that Alberta goes through in terms of how differently at times she is treated by others. When Alberta learns that a new black girl has moved to town, she is elated. While Alberta is hoping that she and the new girl, Edie, will be fast friends, she starts to learn that Edie is struggling with being homesick for Brooklyn, New York. When the girls begin to explore Edie’s new home, they find old journals sharing painful secrets of someone’s life who was left behind.

I loved this book! I loved the distinct voices between Alberta and Edie. I love how genuine both girls are with each other and how they don’t shame others for not necessarily knowing what it’s like to be black — in fact this story has the characters doing a great job of educating others! The best parts of the story were the girls reading the journals that had been left behind and having the desire to find out who they in fact belonged to. There’s a really good mystery there, and I loved the end results of the story because the payoff was very good.

This is a great middle grade debut that offers a lot to younger readers. It’s a great story about being different and yet having your differences be complimented and wanted. I love how so many elements, such as Alberta having two dads, is very normalized in the story, and I loved and wanted to hug Edie when she felt homesick. Definitely check out this book if you love a good contemporary story!