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ARC Review – Who in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? by Rebecca Tinker

Title: Who in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?

Author: Rebecca Tinker

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: A skilled thief on a mysterious mission, Carmen Sandiego is endlessly pursued by ACME and Interpol. But the woman in the red fedora is always one step ahead! In this novelization, based on the Netflix animated series, Carmen shares her own backstory for the first time ever. Now, it’s time to find out…. Who in the world is Carmen Sandiego.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Growing up, I was a huge Carmen Sandiego fan. I loved the cartoon, the game show, the education games, everything with her name on it, I was a fan. I was so excited when Netflix announced that they would be creating a new storyline for the iconic thief and that Gina Rodriguez would be the lead.

This book is an origin story of sorts. It looks at Carmen’s background to how she got into becoming a thief, and her relationship with “Player.” There’s not really much to this story, though it was a quick romp to say the least. I liked how the relationship between Carmen and Player was portrayed, I loved how action-packed this story was as well!

There’s not much too this book, and since I haven’t watched the Netflix series yet, I’d be curious how the book and show work together. I think if you’re a young reader, Carmen is a fun role model to have, especially as a feminist icon. However, if you’re looking for something deep, this book is not it. If you want a fun, fluffy, romp, then give it a try!

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ARC Review – We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Title: We Set the Dark on Fire

Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children, but both are promised a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class. Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her bright future depends upon no one discovering her darkest secret—that her pedigree is a lie. Her parents sacrificed everything to obtain forged identification papers so Dani could rise above her station. Now that her marriage to an important politico’s son is fast approaching, she must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society, where famine and poverty rule supreme.

On her graduation night, Dani seems to be in the clear, despite the surprises that unfold. But nothing prepares her for all the difficult choices she must make, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or to give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy We Set the Dark on Fire. I love books with feminist angles and I love unique world building, which this book has in spades. However, there were things about it that definitely kept it from being a favourite.

I want to talk first about the aspects that I liked. First was the setting and particularly the Medio School and it’s weird cult-like behaviour. I loved reading the bits from the handbook and I loved the sinister feeling that came anytime Mejia wrote about this organization and how the females in it were oppressed. There was such a good level of creep factor here that definitely gave me Handmaid’s Tale vibes. I also loved the fast, hard, feminist angle this book has, as there is this amazing build towards uprising that I think just works in the story so so so well.

I think the hardest part for me with this book was the writing. I found that while the world was very interesting and colourful, not seeing it through Dani’s eyes was difficult for me. I think the third person narration just didn’t work for me at all, and I think for a lot of the more difficult or high pressure moments in the story, the third person perspective removed a lot of the agency for me. I would have loved to have a sense of Dani’s feelings, her discomfort, and her drive to survive this weird dystopian world.

I wasn’t also entirely sold right away on the forbidden romance, especially because I struggled with the character in question. I generally don’t mind a hate-to-love relationship but again parts of it just didn’t work for me. It made me happy because I’m all for these types of stories being told and I think there is a lot of value in them, and towards the end of the book, I found myself setting into the romance and it grew on me.

We Set the Dark on Fire is an interesting debut where I found myself loving the world-building and the creep factor, but the characters fell short for me. I wish I liked these characters more because I found myself not really connecting with any of them, even in their times of distress. I think those looking for an interesting and different kind of dystopian story, will definitely enjoy this one.

ARC Review – Ruby in the Sky by Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

Title: Ruby in the Sky

Author: Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: When Ruby Moon Hayes, twelve, and her mother move to tiny Fortin, Vermont, Ruby is surprised to make friends at school and in the neighborhood, where a reclusive lady hides a huge secret.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Holy cow, this book is a punch in the feelings. Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo’s debut novel Ruby in the Sky is an amazing achievement in middle grade, as its a story that has so many layers in it, and each is done flawlessly.

This is the story of Ruby, a young girl who has had it rough and struggles to now find her voice. Her father is out of the picture, her mother has moved her to a new city in hopes for them to have a better life, until a situation at her job forces her into the court system. On top of being at a new school, Ruby is immediately ostracized by the female students in her class for being “weird” and she makes a wonderful friendship with a new Syrian immigrant named, Ahmed. On top of making friends with the town “Bird Lady,” Ruby’s journey of self-discovery is truly something special to read about.

Ruby in the Sky is one of those books where I was engaged from the first page. Ruby is a difficult character in that she doesn’t allow herself to truly be known by the reader. She provides bits of information as the story goes on, building to a larger picture. She has amazing growth in this story, something that had such a spark when I read this book. I loved her friendship with Ahmed, and when it fell on hard times, I was rooting for both of them to find each other again.

I loved this book so much. I cried, it left me thinking about the kinds of challenges that children face, and the way in which we as adults may not be as empathetic as we should. Ruby is a wonderful heroine and her story is one I know I won’t forget for a very long time.

Fave of the Month – January!

I haven’t done Fave of the Month since Molly was a regular here on the blog. I miss her recommendations, but I know I can just bug her if I want those. My goal with bringing this feature back was to share a book I read that wasn’t an ARC that I read in the month and adored the hell out of, and what you all to check out. Let’s see what January’s pick is!

Pulp by Robin Talley (Published November 13th 2018 by Harlequin Teen)

GoodReads Link

This was my first Robin Talley book and also the first book I finished in 2019. What I loved about Pulp is that it’s a dual-layered story, one taking place in present day and the other during the 1950’s. This book is a wonderful exploration of lesbian pulp fiction, as well as just how the rights of the LGBT community have changed since 1950. I loved reading both perspectives and felt instant connections to Abby and Janet. This chunk book has a lot of humour, as well as a lot of depth as well. This is very much a character focused story sprinkled with tons of research in it. I look forward to checking out a few other books by Robin Talley now, and I am so glad I grabbed Pulp and gave it a shot.

ARC Review – The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe

Title:  The Field Guide to the North American Teenager

Author: Ben Philippe

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Norris finds himself cataloging everyone he meets: the Cheerleaders, the Jocks, the Loners, and even the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Making a ton of friends has never been a priority for him, and this way he can at least amuse himself until it’s time to go back to Canada, where he belongs.

Yet, against all odds, those labels soon become actual people to Norris. Be it loner Liam, who makes it his mission to befriend Norris, or Madison the beta cheerleader, who is so nice that it has to be a trap. Not to mention Aarti the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who might, in fact, be a real love interest in the making. He even starts playing actual hockey with these Texans.

But the night of the prom, Norris screws everything up royally. As he tries to pick up the pieces, he realizes it might be time to stop hiding behind his snarky opinions and start living his life—along with the people who have found their way into his heart.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager was not on my radar until it ended up on my doorstep thanks to Harper Collins Canada. This delightfully honest and quirky debut tells the story of a young black French-Canadian, who is forced to transplant to Austin, Texas. Recognizing that Texas doesn’t appreciate the important things in life, i.e. hockey, Norris is forced to figure out how he, a Canadian, must fit in with the “American Teenager.”

This book is hilarious! I found myself laughing out loud on numerous occasions because Norris is just such a funny character. I loved him so much, and I love how he was constantly being called out on being a bit of a drama queen (mainly by his friends back home). Norris is one of those protagonists who is so intelligent and funny, but lacks confidence in himself to not create drama around him. It’s a character trait I found myself weirdly connecting with. Norris is one of those characters who grows so much from start to finish that even with his emo exterior, you’re still rooting for him to get his head out of his butt.

I also want to praise the side characters in this story, my favourite being Judith, Norris’ mom. She does an absolutely amazing and hilarious thing at the beginning of this story that even now I still think about and laugh at. Eric, Norris’ friend from Montreal, also had me in stitches any time he and Norris were having IMs back and forth. I loved Maddie and her honesty, and like Norris, I think grows wonderfully in this story. Even Aarti , who I had a bit of a hard time with throughout the story, grew on me. The cast of characters in this story are funny and flawed, making them feel very believable as teenagers.

I loved my time with The Field Guide to the North American Teenager. It was such a funny, honest little romp that made me laugh and smile during my time reading it. Ben Phillippe writes with such charm and sensitivity, making moments of both darkness and light in this novel feel so raw and truthful. This is a wonderful debut novel that I hope many readers will pick up and enjoy!

ARC Review – Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America edited by Ibi Zoboi

Title: Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America

Editor:   K.E. Ormsbee

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Black is…sisters navigating their relationship at summer camp in Portland, Oregon, as written by Renée Watson.

Black is…three friends walking back from the community pool talking about nothing and everything, in a story by Jason Reynolds.

Black is…Nic Stone’s high-class beauty dating a boy her momma would never approve of.

Black is…two girls kissing in Justina Ireland’s story set in Maryland.

Black is urban and rural, wealthy and poor, mixed race, immigrants, and more—because there are countless ways to be Black enough. 

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Anthologies are always hard to review. As a reader some author’s styles or stories will gel better with you than others, and that is totally the case with Black Enough. This is a wonderful collection by a group of talented black authors, each of them with unique perspectives to share on what it means to be “black enough.”

I have to say some of my favourite stories were “Oreo” by Brandy Colbert (I felt for the heroine in this one, oreo seems like a bit of a cruel term to use, especially for liking musicals!), “Half a Moon” by Renee Watson was a fantastic family oriented story, and “Kissing Sarah Smart”by Justina Ireland was a fantastic look at a young black lesbian learning what it means to capture her sexuality. I also adored “Ingredients” by Jason Reynolds, but I am a sucker for his character banter, and this one had me in stitches because the friendship between the boys was just hilarious and true to life.

And this is why anthologies are hard to rate. There are stories in this book I enjoyed, but didn’t find as memorable. Despite them not being memorable for me, it doesn’t make the collection itself any less valuable, and I know there are going to be so many young black readers who are going to be able to identify with the stories that are represented strongly in this collection. I look forward to sharing this book with the teens in library because I feel like it has so much to teach about race, racism, and what it means to feel marginalized. There is so much truth and value here that I fee like young readers are going to be able to identify issues in these stories and relate.

Black Enough is a great collection of stories by a group of amazing authors, and I think if you can get your hands on it, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani & Viviana Mazza

Title: Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree

Author:  Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani & Viviana Mazza

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: On April 14, 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls. Some managed to escape. Many are still missing. A new pair of shoes, a university degree, a husband—these are the things that a girl dreams of in a Nigerian village. A girl who works hard in school and to help her family. A girl with a future as bright as live coals in the dark. And with a government scholarship right around the corner, everyone—her mother, her five brothers, her best friend, her teachers—can see that these dreams aren’t too far out of reach. Even if the voices on Papa’s radio tell more fearful news than tales to tell by moonlight.

But the girl’s dreams turn to nightmares when her village is attacked by Boko Haram, a terrorist group, in the middle of the night. Kidnapped, she is taken with other girls and women into the forest where she is forced to follow her captors’ radical beliefs and watch as her best friend slowly accepts everything she’s been told. Still, the girl defends her existence. As impossible as escape may seem, her life—her future—is hers to fight for.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree is a difficult book to discuss. It’s the story of young women who were kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014. Our narrator, a young girl, tells the story of what life was life before the kidnapping, and what life became after she was forced to become a “wife.”

This book starts out very hopeful; the girl discusses her family, her desire to get an education and how she is supported by her father to do so, and then the kidnappings happen. Reading about the girls who were forced to become Boko Haram’s wives was terrible, uncomfortable and felt all too real.

This was an event I admit I didn’t really follow when it was in the news, but one I feel like I have a better understanding of having read this book. There’s many discussions in this book from cult mentality to rape culture, and it makes you feel a lot of anger for the women who had their lives completely stripped from them.

What’s crazy about this book is that it’s addictive. The writing is engaging, it’s disturbing, but there is shreds of hope that the girl and reader cling to. It’s frightening to think how current this event was and how aspects of this cult mentality to still exist within our world. I feel for those that suffered in this period. Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree is a powerful look at those who survived Boko Haram, and a what it means to be a survivor.