Tag Archives: arc review

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.

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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!

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.

ARC Review – Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

Title: Wild Beauty

Author: Anna-Marie McLemore

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.

The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I LOVED When the Moon Was Ours, and it is a book I recommend so easily to teens who come into the library looks for magic realism or diverse reads. I have yet to read The Weight of Feathers, but I knew after my first Anna-Marie McLemore book that I would be sold on her for life. She’s an amazing writer who weaves such unique stories together while also featuring under-represented groups of people as the leads.

Wild Beauty and I actually didn’t connect right away. This book is slow, thoughtful, and it marches to the beat of its own drum. Apart of me as I was reading it felt like I didn’t entirely understand what was going or who the characters were becoming. However, the more I read, the more captivated I was by all the feelings I was having. This book just has such an ethereal quality to it — it’s like getting lost in something so beautiful, yet simple. There is so much mystery, intrigue, and I feel like I was being swept away.

And that’s really all I am going to say about Wild Beauty. While it has moments where it’s very slow, it’s a book that you need to keep going with it because it will grab you and when it does it doesn’t let go. The characters, the world, the writing, it’s so magical, and it’s an experience to say the least.

ARC Review – Top Ten by Katie Cotugno

Title: Top Ten

Author: Katie Cotugno

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Ryan McCullough and Gabby Hart are the unlikeliest of friends. Introverted, anxious Gabby would rather do literally anything than go to a party. Ryan is a star hockey player who can get any girl he wants—and does, frequently. But against all odds, they became not only friends, but each other’s favorite person. Now, as they face high school graduation, they can’t help but take a moment to reminisce and, in their signature tradition, make a top ten list—counting down the top ten moments of their friendship: 

10. Where to begin? Maybe the night we met.
9. Then there was our awkward phase.
8. When you were in love with me but never told me…
7. Those five months we stopped talking were the hardest of my life.
6. Through terrible fights…
5. And emotional makeups.
4. You were there for me when I got my heart broken.
3. …but at times, you were also the one breaking it.
2. Above all, you helped me make sense of the world.
1. Now, as we head off to college—how am I possibly going to live without you?

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I was super disappointed by Katie Cotugno’s 99 Days. It was one of those books I had high hopes for given how much I adored How to LoveTop Ten is closer to How to Love for me, as I found myself engrossed in it.

I can understand why other reviews DNF’ed this book — the style of going back and forth between Ryan and Gabby’s perspectives at different points of their lives can feel a bit jarring. Cotugno’s writing is beautiful, but the reader is just completely dropped into Gabby and Ryan’s friendship without build up. The timelines go back and forth, and it can feel a bit confusing. I, however, embraced what the author was trying to accomplish with the writing, and I loved the message she was going for.

Gabby and Ryan are awkward. They suffer from social anxiety. The are best friends, though Ryan is in love with Gabby, and Gabby has a crush on a girl. Gabby is learned to embrace her bisexuality, but she doesn’t want her relationship with Ryan to take a hit. All their messy feelings make so much sense and it’s easy to feel empathy for them. Cotugno provides us with two main characters who are messy, thoughtful, and you get the sense that there is so much that us unclear surrounding their friendship.

I even loved the sloppy, confused romance in this novel. You get the sense that there is so much emotion and inanity of teen angst and love. Top Ten is just such a unique experience for a contemporary novel, just in terms of how it is written. It’s not going to gel with every reader, but I found myself engaged from beginning to end, and I feel like regardless of my feelings on 99 Days, I’ll still read anything Katie Cotugno writes just for the experience alone.

ARC Review – Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Title: Wishtree

Author: Katherine Applegate

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood “wishtree”—people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. Along with her crow friend Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this “wishtree” watches over the neighborhood.

You might say Red has seen it all. Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experiences as a wishtree are more important than ever.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Katherine Applegate is a household name in middle grade fiction when it comes to writing emotionally charged stories that linger with you long after reading. Much like The One and Only Ivan, Wishtree is one of those stories that seems simple on the surface, but offers so much more below the surface.

This story is about a tree named Red, who is the neighbourhood ‘wishtree.’ They are a large part of the community, with people in the area pinning their wishes on them, hoping they would come true. Not only does Applegate give us the stories of all the neighbourhood residents, but we see this all through Red’s perspective, with our tree offering their opinion, sympathy and kindness.

I also want to point out how much I learned about trees when reading this book. I didn’t realize that trees are multigendered! I also loved learning about their growth as well. It seems appropriate that Red doesn’t have a gender construct given how all-knowing they are. I also liked Red’s friendship with Bongo the crow, and how they would watch the neighbours, trying to understand their wishes.

This is a book was difference and a community coming together. Given the fear of ‘others’ that exists in the world right now, this story shows multiculturalism in a way that shows difference, but how people <i>should</i> be better to one another. The families in this story all want what is best for themselves, but they also wish to help others. It’s a good message, and for those who love stories from a more unique perspective, look no further than Wishtree.