Tag Archives: arc review

Late to the Party ARC Review – A World Below by Wesley King

Title: A World Below

Author: Wesley King

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: A class field trips turns into an underground quest for survival.

Mr. Baker’s eighth grade class thought they were in for a normal field trip to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. But when an earthquake hits, their field trip takes a terrifying turn. The students are plunged into an underground lake…and their teacher goes missing.

They have no choice but to try and make their way back above ground, even though no one can agree on the best course of action. The darkness brings out everyone’s true self. Supplies dwindle and tensions mount. Pretty and popular Silvia does everything she can to hide her panic attacks, even as she tries to step up and be a leader. But the longer she’s underground, the more frequent and debilitating they become. Meanwhile, Eric has always been a social no one, preferring to sit at the back of the class and spend evenings alone. Now, he finds himself separated from his class, totally by himself underground. That is, until he meets an unexpected stranger.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have heard a great deal from children I’ve talked to regarding how much they love Wesley King’s books. I can totally see why, too! A World Below was my first introduction to King’s works, and while I wasn’t in love with this book, I like it and I see the appeal as to why kids would enjoy it as well.

A World Below focuses on a teacher who takes his class to the Carlsbad Caverns. Our main protagonists, Eric and Silvia, are not entirely keen on this trip, and they worry Mr. Baker’s enthusiasm is not entirely warranted. They soon learn that their is a world below the caverns, after an earthquake separates the kids from their teacher. Shenanigans ensue, and we are given a story that is fast paced and full of adventure.

I want to stress that this is a very plot heavy middle grade novel, which sometimes I find a bit difficult because I am very drawn to more character driven stories. This book is not that, as it’s larger focus is definitely on the adventure regarding the kids trying to navigate their way through Carlsbad Caverns. If anything, reading this book reminded me a lot of the 80’s classic, The Goonies, which I don’t know if that was intentional or not, but that was what I was envisioning as I read the novel.

The kids felt a little too interchangeable for me, and I think that was where my struggle came with the novel. I wanted a bit more distinction in terms of personality, and I didn’t entirely feel that way. However, I think the maps and exploration aspects of the story were fabulous, and I think I would have adored this book growing up given it plays to a readers sense of wonder and desire to have answers regarding a situation. There’s also a playfulness in the writing that is utterly delightful as well!

I enjoyed my time with A World Below, but perhaps it wasn’t the best starting point for me regarding Wesley King’s works. I think this is going to be a novel that younger readers will absolutely gobble up and heighten their sense of exploration. Definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of The Goonies, though!

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ARC Review – Past Tense by Star Spider

Title: Past Tense

Author: Star Spider

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Julie Nolan is a pretty average girl with pretty average problems. She’s been in love with her best friend, Lorelei, ever since they met in grade three. Only Lorelei doesn’t know about it — she’s too busy trying to set Julie up with Henry, her ex, who Julie finds, in a word, vapid.

But life gets more complicated when Julie comes home to find her mother insisting that her heart is gone. Pretty soon it becomes clear: Julie’s mom believes that she has died.

How is Julie supposed to navigate her first year of high school now, while she’s making midnight trips to the graveyard to cover her mother with dirt, lay flowers and make up eulogies? And why is Henry the only person Julie feels comfortable turning to? If she wants to get through this, Julie’s going to have to find the strength she never knew she had, and to learn how to listen to both her mom’s heart and her own.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel when Past Tense showed up in my mailbox. It looked like a story that was going to play with my heartstrings, though I admit, it took me awhile to get into.

Our heroine Julie is in love with her bestfriend Lorelei, and her mother has a rare disease, where she insists that she is, in fact, has died. Notdying, has already died, how weird and different is that? I will say, that aspect of the story was what drew me to the book in the first place — the idea that someone believes they have already died… I admit, I wondered what that would be like to read about. Julie has it truly difficult given she is trying to understand her own sexuality, on top of now having to work with her mother to try and make her see, that she hasn’t died at all.

I will say, this book was slow going at first. Julie is a challenging character to connect with, although she did grow on me as the story went on. In a lot of ways, what I liked about the story is we are seeing Julie being forced into adulthood a lot quicker than she’d like, and this aspect is done well. You can see the cogs turning in her mind, trying to understand and cope with all her newfound feelings and anxiety, and I liked that about the book. I also liked how she grows throughout the story, especially when dealing with her mother.

That being said, I was a bit uncomfortable with the Lorelei plotline. Not so much in Julie’s interest, which I thought were great, but there were some decisions in how Lorelei’s story developed that made me cringe a bit. I like how Julie deals with this situation, but I feel like the way this situation was handle hit a few of my trigger points. I also just didn’t like her as a character, and I felt how she treated Julie and her feelings to just be manipulative, shallow and utter deplorable to say the least. I liked Henry, though much like Julie, he has a slow burn for growth, and in his situation, it actually works super well.

Overall, I did really enjoy Past Tense and I think it’s worth checking out. While I loved the aspects of sexuality identity and exploration, there are parts of this book that just didn’t work for me. There’s a lot of great messages in this book and many of the characters do see some excellent growth, it’s just a shame that other characters come across much more one dimensional than I’d like.

ARC Review – Here So Far Away by Hadley Dyer

Title: Here So Far Away

Author: Hadley Dyer

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Feisty and fearless George Warren (given name: Frances, but no one calls her that) has never let life get too serious. Now that she’s about to be a senior, her plans include partying with her tight-knit group of friends and then getting the heck out of town after graduation.

But instead of owning her last year of high school, a fight with her best friend puts her on the outs of their social circle.  If that weren’t bad enough, George’s family has been facing hard times since her father, a police sergeant, got injured and might not be able to return to work, which puts George’s college plans in jeopardy.

So when George meets Francis, an older guy who shares her name and her affinity for sarcastic banter, she’s thrown. If she lets herself, she’ll fall recklessly, hopelessly in love. But because of Francis’s age, she tells no one—and ends up losing almost everything, including herself.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I had the pleasure of meeting Hadley Dyer at the OLA Superconference earlier this year, and she was a joy to chat with. Her debut YA novel was something I could tell was close to her heart, and focused on some darker subject matters that for me as a contemporary fan, I easily gravitate towards. George (also known as Frances) is one of those heroines who goes through so much growing up in one story and what she deals with is something I feel like people may have a hard time accepting.

This book looks at an older male relationship at its core. George meets a man named Francis who shares her love of witty banter and sarcasm, but he’s nearly ten years older. For those who are uncomfortable by an older male relationship in a story, this likely might not be the book for you. I do want to stress though what an interesting and deep character Francis is given he knows that he shouldn’t be with such a younger woman, and to the point where you see it as something he struggles with. His relationship with George is one where you can see all the cogs in their brains turning, they know they shouldn’t, and it’s a point they debate frequently in the story. I was worried this would squick me out because normally I am not good with this aspect in a story, but here I appreciated that Francis wasn’t predatory in any way.

Frankly, I love both characters too. I think outside of the relationship aspect both George and Francis grow so much in this story, and there’s a genuineness in the way they are written. They learn from each other, you see that they want to be better people even for each other, but neither of them are necessary in a good emotional place to be in a proper relationship. I think Dyer writes this relationship in such a way where both characters are so well developed that they feel very realistic in their feelings and approaches towards each other.

I loved George. I saw myself in her, especially in that she uses self-deprecating humour and sarcasm as a means to hide her true self — someone who is isolated, afraid, and living with series doubts regarding her family situation (he father can no longer work), how she’ll pay for college, if she’s able to repair her friendships, and come to terms with whatever it is she has with Francis. You see a heroine who makes terrible choices, behaves in unlikable ways, and yet she’s someone we all know, and for me I can appreciate the layers that she has. I won’t lie and say I didn’t yell at the book with some of the decisions she made (I yelled a lot), but part of me knew that George is so smart and sharp and yet she knows the decisions she makes are bad and she’s okay with it.

This book was such a slow burn for me, but it’s one I grew to appreciate as I read on. I loved Dyer’s writing style and I found it so engaging. This is not the kind of book you can just whip through as there is so many little nuances within the story that I feel like on a second reading, I may enjoy even more.

ARC Review – Rebound (The Crossover 0.5) by Kwame Alexander

Title: For Every One

Author: Jason Reynolds

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Before Josh and Jordan Bell were streaking up and down the court, their father was learning his own moves. In this prequel to Newbery Medal winner The Crossover, Chuck Bell takes center stage, as readers get a glimpse of his childhood and how he became the jazz music worshipping, basketball star his sons look up to.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I loved The Crossover when I read it last year, and it was the second novel by Kwame Alexander that I’ve read. Rebound is a prequel novel that focuses on Charlie Bell, father to Josh and Jordan Bell. Charlie’s story looks at growing up, what it means to come from nothing but demanding to be someone.

I will say I really did enjoy this book, though it didn’t hook me the way Alexander’s other books have. While I loved some of the poems, others didn’t click as well with me. The other issue is I wasn’t often fond of Charlie or his decisions in the story, and I found him much more difficult to connect with compared to Josh. I still say though that I did love the themes that were present in Charlie’s story, and it was interesting to read his thoughts and feelings known how he was presented in The Crossover. There is still a sense of hope, to be a better person, to want to do better and be successful — all messages that anyone can relate to, and especially growing up in the 1980’s which this book takes place in, as the 1980’s ever an interesting period of self-discovery.

I do think if you loved The Crossover that Rebound is completely worth checking out. While I didn’t have the same emotional investment, I still loved seeing Charlie’s transformation even if I couldn’t connect with him the same way I did Josh. As always, I love reading Kwame Alexander’s books, especially about sports given he always makes me feel as a reader like I can accomplish anything with sports metaphors.

ARC Review – Sunny (Track #3) by Jason Reynolds

Title: Sunny (Track #3)

Author:  Jason Reynolds

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Ghost. Patina. Sunny. Lu. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds, with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics. They all have a lot of lose, but they all have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves. Sunny is the main character in this novel, the third of four books in Jason Reynold’s electrifying middle grade series.

Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

As many of you know, I am an insane Jason Reynolds fangirl. I started reading his books last year and since then have read everything he has published to date. When Simon & Schuster Canada sent me a package of Jason Reynolds books, I was rolling on the floor in utter delight. The Track series is one of my favourite middle grade reads and one I constantly recommend to parents who have reluctant readers in their lives.

In Sunny, our track team takes an interesting turn. Sunny finds track too easy and debates leaving his teammates behind to peruse his new passion — dance. Concerned about the feelings of his teammates but struggling with his own desires, Sunny fells somewhat broken as he writes in his diary. I think Sunny’s story is one we all go through just in various stages. A loss of passion for something you’ve done your whole life, letting others down for “selfish desire,” wanting to try to appease both sides, the reader truly gets a sense of Sunny’s struggle throughout.

I loved Sunny’s relationship with Aurelia, who helps him get into dance in the first place. You get to see what a good influence she is on him and she helps Sunny to see that while choices are hard, it’s what makes you the most happy. When you are a kid, that is really hard advice to take (even as an adult it’s hard advice to take). I loved Sunny though, and I kept wanting him to pursue his dreams.

The Track series is just so impeccably written and stories being told are easy to relate to. Ghost, Patty, Sunny and Lu are kids that are easy to connect with and you want to see them succeed no matter what. If you haven’t read this series, I urge you to check it out!

 

ARC Review – Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough

Title: Blood Water Paint

Author: Joy McCullough

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Her mother died when she was twelve, and suddenly Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father’s paint.

She chose paint.

By the time she was seventeen, Artemisia did more than grind pigment. She was one of Rome’s most talented painters, even if no one knew her name. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women, and in the aftermath of rape Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost.

Huge thank you to Miss Print’s ARC adoption for this review copy.

Molly’s Review:

This is probably going to be one of my top favorite books of 2018. I cannot describe how this book made me feel and I somehow have to for this review.

This book is horrifying.

This book is empowering.

This book is not shocking and shocking at the same time.

This book is timely and relevant and historical.

Blood Water Paint first got on my radar when I saw the cover and read the synopsis. I’m not usually into books written in verse, but wow, WOW, this book was beautifully written. I could have read pages and pages more. (for those of you who aren’t super into verse, there ARE sections that are written in traditional prose)

I think books about rape are important. Growing up I lived in a place that perpetuated rape culture and I was taught that women need to be responsible for not getting themselves raped. I was taught that girls ask for it, and that they cry rape after they do something they regret. I wish, oh how I wish, I had been exposed to books that taught otherwise. I wish that I had learned at a much earlier age that women are not to blame, that rape happens BECAUSE RAPISTS. And that is the end of it. So this book is important.

I also loved that I learned about a historical woman that I had never heard of before. I’ve really been into learning more about hidden ladies of the past recently, and this was such a nice addition to my shelf.

I so hope that McCullough writes more books like this.

Please read this book. Please sink into the beautiful writing, please feel all of the rage and sorrow and hope and fight that soak through these pages. Please see what a woman can do.

ARC Review – Vi by Kim Thúy

Title: Vi

Author: Kim Thúy

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: The youngest of four children and the only girl, Vi was given a name that meant “precious, tiny one,” destined to be cosseted and protected, the family’s little treasure.
Daughter of an enterprising mother and a wealthy and spoiled father who never had to grow up, the Vietnam war tears their family asunder. While Vi and many of her family members escape, her father stays behind, and her family must fend for themselves in Canada.
While her mother and brothers put down roots, life has different plans for Vi. As a young woman, she finds the world opening up to her. 

Huge thank you to Random House Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I adored Ru back when I read it. I found it to be such an emotional journey, and Kim Thuy’s prose is some of the most beautiful that I’ve read over the years. He latest book, Vi looks at the youngest daughter of three, and a family of refugees trying to make a new life in Canada. This book is as short as Ru, and while it hits similar notes, it doesn’t quite deliver for me in the same way.

Part of my issue with Vi is how much it jumps around in terms of location and time. I found myself reading this book slowly, flipping back through pages just to ensure I understood where Vi was and the timeframe. I loved learning about Vi’s family, and I love how Vi is swept away from life and her new surroundings. She sees so much of the world, witnessing many important historical events, and making even larger personal milestones. This book truly is about a journey, both as a refugee and the more personal one about making your mark in the world, especially when the world feels like it may be against you.

The writing in this book is gorgeous beyond belief and Shelia Fischman’s translation makes Thuy’s prose so beautiful and raw. I loved seeing the transformation of Vi and the evolution of the world around her, and I think the vignettes that we get in this story do a great job of giving the reader just enough information. That being said, this is not a book for those looking for a concrete story, as this book meanders through various moments in time.

Despite some of my issues with this book, Vi is a good read and it’s one I think worth going into blind. While it didn’t make the same impact on me that Ru did, I still find myself compelled in wanting to read the rest of Kim Thuy’s works, because I do find that learning about Vietnamese-Canadian relations to be an interesting topic. This book is definitely made for those who love being whisked away on a journey, and don’t mind winding paths along the way.