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ARC Review – Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir by Robin Ha

Title: Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir

Author: Robin Ha

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: So when a vacation to visit friends in Huntsville, Alabama, unexpectedly becomes a permanent relocation—following her mother’s announcement that she’s getting married—Robin is devastated. Overnight, her life changes. She is dropped into a new school where she doesn’t understand the language and struggles to keep up. She is completely cut off from her friends at home and has no access to her beloved comics. At home, she doesn’t fit in with her new stepfamily. And worst of all, she is furious with the one person she is closest to—her mother.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

What a fantastic and heartfelt memoir! I loved Robin Ha’s Cook Korean! earlier this year, but I also thought it was such a novel concept — a graphic novel cook book. Almost American Girl, however, looks at Ha’s immigration to America, her feelings of displacement and loneliness, and how she and her mother attempt to find their place in a foreign land.

Ha’s story begins in Seoul, South Korea, when she and her mother decide that life would be better if they moved to America. With Ha’s father out of the picture, Robin and her mother decide it’s time to explore new paths. Robin, however, isn’t happy with the move to Alabama, feeling like an outsider, with only her comics to keep her company. The story moves swiftly though Robin’s feelings of displacement and loneliness, but it also looks at how she handles her family who have been living in America for a long time, and how different their lives are. This book bursts with so many different emotions all boiling over at once, so it’s easy to sympathize with Robin and her mother throughout.

I want to share that while the ARC was mainly in black and white, there were some full colour pages in the book as well. Ha’s art and colour use is breathtaking and intricate, and she does an amazing job of pouring her story through her artwork. There is so many beautifully drawn scenes that evoke so much emotion in this story, that I think a variety of readers and art lovers will gravitate towards this book.

Almost American Girl was an emotional read that offers a lot of hope to readers on how to overcome change and displacement. It’s asks readers to put themselves into Robin’s shoes and understand the difficulties that she feels. This book wears it’s heart on it’s sleeve and it’s so deeply personal, that I think many readers will find solace in Robin’s story and connect with it on a variety of different levels.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Crier’s War (Crier’s War #1) by Nina Varela

Title: Crier’s War (Crier’s War #1)

Author: Nina Varela

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.

Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.

Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.

Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I heard about Crier’s War when I went to Harper Collins Canada’s Fall Frenzy event. Some buzz words the book had were adventure, politics, revenge, and a lesbian romance. I love all those things in my fantasy novels, so I knew I needed to get my hands on this book, and lo and behold it was in my grab bag.

I enjoyed Crier’s War. It’s not the most ground breaking fantasy novel, there’s a lot that has been done before, and yet I devoured the story and found myself entertained by the characters. Crier was difficult at first for me because she’s an android “playmate” essentially, meaning she doesn’t have much will of her own. That type of character is always a hard one for me to enjoy because I like my leads in fantasy to have energy and motive, but I will say Crier grew on me throughout the story. When she starts to realize she is defective and begins to understand human agency, there’s a wonderful shift and growth in her character that is VERY rewarding. Ayla on the other hand, has very one-dimensional goals (aka. revenge, revenge, and REVENGE) and while she is energetic and a go-getter, she takes a lot of time for development and I still didn’t feel like she grew enough for me to connect with.

The romance in this novel is adorable and cheesy. It’s definitely the kind of romance that steams from hate-to-love, and it’s not necessary the most well-developed at times, but I totally bought into it. It’s corny and charming, and I think that can be a great thing in a story that is a bit too serious and dark, which Crier’s War has in spades.

The writing through is solid, there’s definitely some beautiful passages, and I think the world building is very interesting throughout. I think Crier’s War succeeds in being a plot-heavy story, but not necessarily a character driven one. There’s definitely some fantastic character driven moments (Crier’s awakening being fantastically portrayed), but I don’t feel it’s entirely equal throughout the story.

I had fun reading Crier’s War and I am definitely intrigued to see where Varela goes with the sequel given how the book ended. I look forward to seeing Ayla and Crier grow some more, and I think there’s a lot of great ideas in this book. It was such an enjoyable read and easily something I can recommend to those who want a book that is just an easy, plot-driven fantasy novel.

ARC Review – The Night Country (The Hazel Wood #2) by Melissa Albert

Title: The Night Country (The Hazel Wood #2)

Author: Melissa Albert

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: In The Night Country, Alice Proserpine dives back into a menacing, mesmerizing world of dark fairy tales and hidden doors. Follow her and Ellery Finch as they learn The Hazel Wood was just the beginning, and that worlds die not with a whimper, but a bang.

With Finch’s help, Alice escaped the Hinterland and her reclusive grandmother’s dark legacy. Now she and the rest of the dregs of the fairy tale world have washed up in New York City, where Alice is trying to make a new, unmagical life. But something is stalking the Hinterland’s survivors―and she suspects their deaths may have a darker purpose. Meanwhile, in the winking out world of the Hinterland, Finch seeks his own adventure, and―if he can find it―a way back home…

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have to say, I was surprised to see a sequel to The Hazel Wood. Perhaps it’s because I felt the first book wrapped up everything so well, so I was skeptical going into The Night Country. Turns out I was wrong about the need for a sequel — so very wrong in fact.

Melissa Albert knows how to weave a story. Whether you enjoyed The Hazel Wood or not, I think there is something to be said about writing that has the ability to make you feel discomfort. One element I loved from The Hazel Wood that is very present in this sequel, is how sinister the world feelings, the disjointedness of how everything is collapsing in on itself, and Albert’s ability to make the reader feel uncomfortable and lost.

Alice is still as frustrating as ever, but I think it’s why she is a good protagonist for stories that feature disjointed world-building. She questions things, she is curious, she is angry, and most of all, she has a will to change things for better or worse. The new characters in the book are fairly fascinating as well, and how they play into the world’s transformation feels very original and something out of video game.

There is so much I can’t talk about with this being a sequel, but I feel like if you enjoyed the first book, this one starts immediately after the first book, so rereading or quickly checking a summary is a good plan before hopping into this book. The twist and turns in this sequel are fantastic, the world building is top notch, and there is just so much mystery and intrigue to keep the reader pushing forward. I really enjoyed this sequel, and I’m happy it exists in the world.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Lintang and the Pirate Queen (Lintang #1) by Tamara Moss

Title: Lintang and the Pirate Queen (Lintang #1)

Author: Tamara Moss

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Lintang is an island girl who longs for daring and danger. When she meets the feared pirate Captain Shafira and her all-female crew, Lintang is determined to join them. Secrets within secrets, life-or-death battles with spectacular monsters, and hair’s breadth escapes keep readers turning the pages of a story populated by women of color who are fighters, adventurers, and leaders. 

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review: 

Lintang and the Pirate Queen is a wonderful fantasy romp starring a young and adventurous heroine who dreams of escaping her day-to-day life in hopes of sailing the high seas and battling mystical creatures. Sporting fantastic characters, a vivid world, and gripping storytelling, this middle grade fantasy is the complete package for even reader’s who may be reluctant.

Lintang is such a fantastic heroine who is flawed, but spunky. She has a lot of energy, she’s resourceful, and she’s a fun character to follow around because she has just the right amount of innocence. Bayani, her best friend, is kind and quiet and his storyline is truly something special. All the characters in this story have strong will, they make mistakes (and learn from them). The writing is rich in adventure and whimsy, that its the kind of fantasy where you are whisked away and the world is eye-catching and visible.

Moss weaves a wonderful tale of hope, adventure, friendship, and trust. I think readers will fall in love with the cast of characters, and I look forward to sharing this wonderful book with a variety of readers. I also hope that the sequels come to North America because I couldn’t put this book down!

ARC Review – The Deep & Dark Blue by Niki Smith

Title: The Deep & Dark Blue

Author: Niki Smith

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: After a terrible political coup usurps their noble house, Hawke and Grayson flee to stay alive and assume new identities, Hanna and Grayce. Desperation and chance lead them to the Communion of Blue, an order of magical women who spin the threads of reality to their will.

As the twins learn more about the Communion, and themselves, they begin to hatch a plan to avenge their family and retake their royal home.While Hawke wants to return to his old life, Grayce struggles to keep the threads of her new life from unraveling, and realizes she wants to stay in the one place that will allow her to finally live as a girl.

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

Sam’s Review:

The Deep & Dark Blue is a graphic novel that tells the story of Hawke and Grayson, who have to flee a politic coup. In order to survive, the two take on the identities of Hanna and Grayce. while seeking shelter, they come across the Communion of Blue, an order of magical women who have the ability to manipulate reality and bend its will. With the help of the Communion of Blue, the twins begin to hatch a plan to save their family’s name and and reclaim their royal heritage.

I loved this story. Hanna and Gracye are wonderful and well fleshed out. Their desire to protect their family home, while working through their personal identities, makes for fantastic storytelling. Given the coup that has destroyed their family and forced them apart, it’s easy to empathize with Hanna and Gracye. There is also a story about transition in The Deep & Dark Blue that is both simple, but effectively portrayed. I truly loved Gracye’s character so much.

While the ARC was in black and white, I am excited to see what the finished product looks like. I think those who love Faith Erin Hick’s stories will easily find The Deep & Dark Blue to be right up their alley. This is a fantastic story about family, identity, and what it means to survive in a time of oppression.

ARC Review – Just Breathe by Cammie McGovern

Title: Just Breathe

Author: Cammie McGovern

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: David Sheinman is the popular president of his senior class, battling cystic fibrosis.

Jamie Turner is a quiet sophomore, struggling with depression.

The pair soon realizes that they can be their true selves with each other, and their unlikely friendship develops into something so much more. But neither Jamie nor David can bring themselves to reveal the secrets that weigh most heavily on their hearts—and their time for honesty may be running out.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I love me a Cammie McGovern novel. Often her books know how to hit the right notes with me in terms of how emotional her books often are, and how often my heartstrings are tug at. This particular book focuses on chronic illness, specially Cystic fibrosis (or CF), I always feel a bit weary when reading these stories if only because I worry the accuracy and how connected I am even as someone who doesn’t suffer from one. One of my dearest friends has CF, so I don’t know how accurate this book is, but in terms of storytelling, I was attached to David and Jamie’s story.

I am not a romance reader, but what I do like in McGovern’s books is that she always does a good job of making a relationship feel organic to the story. David and Jamie are friends, they bond over each other’s lives and their desires to get better, and then a romance occurs and it doesn’t feel forced or awkward the way other YA books love to do these sick-kids-in-love-stories. David has CF and Jamie has depression and they are essentially just trying to build each other up.

What I equally like, however, is that McGovern does a great job of showing how difficult it is to have a positive attitude towards chronic illness, as well as the up-and-downs that the characters are facing while coping with their situations. I also want to point out that the reactions that adult characters have in this story feels very spot on. There’s one scene in particular that illustrates how parents also have to come to terms with chronic illness and the struggles of trying to do what is best for their child, but also what it means to be in a survivor’s mentality (something I’ve had first hand experience with).

While this is not my favourite Cammie McGovern book (that still goes to Just My Luck, I think this story shows that she puts a lot of thought and care into her stories. She knows how to add the emotional punch when needed, and I appreciate that she’s unapologic about the challenges of the situations that her protagonists are facing. While I wish Jamie’s depression was addressed a bit more, I still cared for her just as much as I did David.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! + Reading Goals for 2020

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Apologies for the hiatus — life was just getting crazy and I wasn’t feeling the best given the holidays always make me feel sad since my parents died. I know things will get easier as time heals all wounds, but admittedly, I’m still not there yet. What you will see on the blog will be a lot of “Late to the Party” ARC reviews for the next little bit and some more content regarding decluttering and mindfulness. I do want to try and get back into blogging and being a bit more consistent, but I am also not going to beat myself up for content since I am also human and need time to recharge and plan.

What I am excited for? It’s a new year, which means new reads. I read 300+ books in 2019, and started a full-time library gig in the process. I don’t think I will be able to read 300+ books again in 2020, but I will share some of my simple goals for the new year.

  • Read 200 books (I think this sounds more doable for me! I may also fail, we will see. If not, Goodreads can yell at me)
  • Continue to read what I own and try to bring in less “owned” books (this was going okay in 2019, but I think I can do better)
  • Request less ARCs and only request what I am excited to read.
  • Continue to purge/sell/donate/repurpose books I’ve read and do not want anymore. (This will require me to do more unhauls of the TBR and read shelves, but also doable)

And I think four goals is good enough. I am also going to make a list in my bulletjournal of books I own and would like to get to and see how it goes. I didn’t do as well as I wanted in 2019 on that challenge, but I still want to try and see how it goes.

What are some of your goals for 2020 and what do you hope to accomplish in the new year?