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ARC Review – Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman

30375777Title: Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined

Author: Danielle Younge-Ullman

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Then: Ingrid traveled all over Europe with her opera star mother, Margot-Sophia. Life was beautiful and bright, and every day soared with music. Now: Ingrid is on a summertime wilderness survival trek for at-risk teens: addicts, runaways, and her. She’s fighting to survive crushing humiliations, physical challenges that push her to her limits, and mind games that threaten to break her. Then: When the curtain fell on Margot-Sophia’s singing career, they buried the past and settled into a small, painfully normal life. But Ingrid longed to let the music soar again. She wanted it so much that, for a while, nothing else mattered. Now: Ingrid is never going to make it through this summer if she can’t figure out why she’s here, what happened to Margot-Sophia, and why the music really stopped.”

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

When I received Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined in the mail, the synopsis had me instantly intrigued. This is a story about family, self-discovery, and how people can transform after a difficult event. Readers will spend a lot of this time wondering who Ingrid is writing to, what has actually happened to her mother, and why she is on this crazy wilderness retreat.

I absolutely loved this book. I found Younge-Ullman’s writing so beautiful and very gripping. Ingrid’s voice is crass, it’s raw, and I found myself always wanting to know more about her and her situation. I absolutely loved her relationship with her “father” and I loved that he wanted to accept Ingrid and her mother, flaws and all. There’s not a lot of people out there who are willing to go that extra mile when joining a family. Having these flashback sequences were so beneficial in telling this story, because when you go back to the bits with Ingrid in the wilderness, you begin to see all the cracks in her facade.

I also loved Ingrid’s adventures in the Canadian wilderness. As a young woman who spent the majority of her life traveling around the world with her opera singer mother, it’s intriguing to see Ingrid’s responses to nature, particularly right at the beginning of the book when all her supplies are taken from her and disposed. I feel like I would have had the same traumatic reaction. Furthermore, I love her transformation during the excursion, because she goes from being pampered and disgruntled to someone with intense drive and purpose. I also loved Ingrid’s letters as well and I found them to be a wonderful touch in the story.

Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined is a story that grows on you. Ingrid is an amazing protagonist and she’s accompanied by such an amazing cast of support characters. I found myself compulsively reading, needing to know what happened between Ingrid and her mother, and the payoff was worth it. Emotional and raw, this book will continue to resonate with you long after it’s been completed.

ARC Review – The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

32075671Title: The Hate U Give

Author: Angie Thomas

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Finishing The Hate U Give left me quite emotional. It left me thoughtful. It left me angry. Throughout the novel I found myself so angry and emotional for Starr and her family. I felt so much sadness and empathy for Khalil. I hate that this is a reality in a lot of ways. We are living in a culture of assumption, and Angie Thomas showcases in a lot of ways how evil this really can be. Khalil is unarmed and killed by a police officer. He never has the chance to give his side of the story and it kills me inside that this keeps happening.

Starr’s is a beautifully written heroine for this story. Thomas does an amazing job of developing her so organically throughout the story, as we see her transform from someone who was unable to speak up, to someone who becomes so strong willed and full of conviction. I really loved her relationship with Chris, her boyfriend, as I thought that the way in which Thomas handles their differences was done quite impeccably (and their love of the Fresh Prince was hilarious and awesome). I also like how Thomas showcases how friends can fallout due to a lack of understanding. Not going to lie, but there were numerous times where I just wanted to scream at Hallie for her ignorance. Hallie made me angry, but it’s because she felt so realistic. Her ignorance made me scream.

I also loved Starr’s relationship with her siblings and I thought that was wonderfully organic in the story. I also loved how close she was with her extended family members (I really loved Uncle Carlos), and I loved how she portrays Garden Heights. In a lot of ways, where Starr lives feels like it’s own character as she gives you this portrait of such a run-down, yet well loved neighborhood that yes, has it’s share of crime, but it also has such a wonderfully devoted community (and this is shown beautifully in the book’s ending). Starr has so many people she wants to protect, but more importantly she is wrestling with her own personal demons because she is fighting to figure out what the best course of action is. Khalil is not the first person she watched die, and yet she fights to figure out what she can do to make a larger difference.

We need more stories like this. More stories that show how love can fight corruption. There’s a reason why groups like Black Lives Matter HAVE TO EXIST, and it’s situations like Khalil’s where we have to fight even harder because it’s inexcusable. I loved towards the end of the novel when they are protesting and sharing “A hairbrush is not a gun!” because it shows how people make assumptions and in the end people get hurt or worse, killed because we assume and react.

I loved The Hate U Give. I loved the story, I loved the characters, I felt for these people, which shows how good a book this truly is. Not only is it an emotional debut, but it will leave you thoughtful and angry at the world and how it’s changing for the worse. We need to change it for the better, we need to be stronger, and I can only wish that more of us were like Starr. I was glued from page one, and when I wasn’t reading The Hate U Give, I was still constantly thinking about it. This book is powerful, and I can only hope that many readers will love it as strongly as I have.

ARC Review – The Season of You & Me by Robin Constantine

26116514Title:  The Season of You & Me

Author:  Robin Constantine

Rating: ★

Synopsis: Cassidy Emmerich is determined to make this summer—the last before her boyfriend heads off to college—unforgettable. What she doesn’t count on is her boyfriend breaking up with her. Now, instead of being poolside with him, Cass is over a hundred miles away, spending the summer with her estranged father and his family at their bed-and-breakfast at the Jersey Shore and working as the newest counselor at Camp Manatee.

Bryan Lakewood is sick of nevers. You’ll never walk. You’ll never surf. You’ll never slow dance with your date at prom. One miscalculated step and Bryan’s life changed forever—now he’s paralyzed and needs to use a wheelchair. This is the first summer he’s back at his former position at Camp Manatee and ready to reclaim some of his independence, in spite of those who question if he’s up for the job.

Cass is expecting two months dealing with heartbreak.
Bryan is expecting a summer of tough adjustments.
Neither of them is expecting to fall in love.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I think I learned something from reading The Season of You & Me — I really am not good with pure YA romances. Which is hilarious given I love authors like Morgan Matson and Heather Demetrios, who do write great contemporary novels with romance in them. This is my second time trying Robin Constantine, and I am also coming to terms with the fact that her books are simply not for me.

I really don’t care for her characters are at all. They often feel very dull, uninspired, and they are often missing personality. I struggled with Cassidy because I found she felt like a blank slate, like there was nothing to her that made her special in any way. Then there is Bryan, who I was more excited to read about since he has a disability, and even he felt vapid at times. I think he was a far better written character than Cassidy, but I still found myself unable to really connect with him. I think what might have also done me in was Constantine’s constant quip with Bryan having #wheelchairperks, and this joke gets over used to the point where it feels like it’s perpetuating his disability. I didn’t like that. Once or twice I could handle, but nearly every Bryan chapter makes that comment.

And this leads me to a larger issue with this book — she could have done so much more with this romance. It feels too instalovey, and there’s no real exploration of Bryan’s disability, which I feel like is such a missed opportunity. I also just really despised a lot of characters in this book — they felt very one-dimensional, mostly catty without good reason, and I just found them so painful.

Really, this is my own fault. I kept hoping, and hoping that this book would get better, and that perhaps there would be more to the story. I don’t mind romance, but I do want to see some real conflict, and I felt like this book was clearly lacking in that department. I thought perhaps the writing would have matured a bit more, but the voices in this book felt so phony, and degrading even at times. There is easily better YA romances out there, and The Season of You & Me is easily worth a skip. There is better.

ARC Review – The Valiant (The Valiant #1) by Lesley Livingston

30320008Title: The Valiant (The Valiant #1)

Author: Lesley Livingston

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: The youngest daughter of a proud Celtic king, Fallon has always lived in the shadow of her older sister Sorcha’s legendary reputation as a warrior. But when Fallon was a young child, the armies of Julius Caesar invaded the island of Britain and her beloved older sister was killed in battle.

On the eve of her seventeenth birthday, Fallon is excited to follow in her sister’s footsteps and earn her rightful place in her father’s royal war band. But she never gets the chance. Instead, Fallon is captured by a band of ruthless brigands who sell her to an exclusive training school for female gladiators—and its most influential patron is none other than Julius Caesar himself. In a cruel twist of fate, Fallon’s worst enemy, the man who destroyed her family, might be her only hope of survival.

Now, Fallon must overcome vicious rivalries, chilling threats and the dangerous attention of Caesar himself to survive the deadly fights that take place both in and out of the arena—and claim her place in history among the Valiant.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I am so excited that this is becoming a series, because daaaaaaaaamn The Valiant is a fun read. I’ve read nearly every book Lesley Livingston has written, but I swear she continues to up her game with each new book she writes. This book is about badass lady gladiators, and that alone makes me pretty amazing, let me tell you.

I adored Fallon as a heroine, and I thought she was just amazing. She’s strong, she has conviction, she demands the best of herself. She has such a strong will, making her someone I think that a lot of women can relate to or aspire to. I loved the politics in Livingston’s version of the Roman Empire, and I think the book shows that a lot of research was done for the sake of historical accuracy. The world that Fallon lives in feels so hopeless, filled with hardship and terror. It makes the reader feel as though they are a part of Fallon’s world.

Also some of the twists and turns in this book? They were so awesome. They didn’t feel predictable, they didn’t feel out of place, and these moments really showed how great of a storyteller Livingston is. I just found myself so connected to Fallon and her world. I really also found myself disliking a lot of the male characters in the novel, because they were just dreadful human beings. Though, I did like the romance in this story, even if it felt a bit conventional at times. Can I also say I loved Nyx? Because I kinda loved her even if she was kind of malicious. She also just screamed badass woman with intense raw power.

The sisterhood, the glory, the area, the characters, the history — The Valiant really feels like a complete package. There is just so much action and suspense topped with excellent characterization. I seriously cannot wait for the arrival of book two given how this novel ended, and I can only image how much more fierce of a world of Rome will be. Seriously, if you love history and awesome ladies, pick up The Valiant ASAP.

ARC Review – Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno

28926581Title: Everything All at Once

Author: Katrina Leno

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Lottie Reeves has always struggled with anxiety, and when her beloved Aunt Helen dies, Lottie begins to fear that her own unexpected death might be waiting around every corner.

Aunt Helen wasn’t a typical aunt. She was the author of the best–selling Alvin Hatter series, about siblings who discover the elixir of immortality. Her writing inspired a generation of readers.

In her will, she leaves one last writing project—just for Lottie. It’s a series of letters, each containing mysterious instructions designed to push Lottie out of her comfort zone. Soon, Lottie’s trying some writing of her own, leaping off cliffs, and even falling for a boy she’s only just met. Then the letters reveal an extraordinary secret about the inspiration for the Alvin Hatter series. Lottie finds herself faced with an impossible choice, one that will force her to confront her greatest fear once and for all.

Molly’s Review:

I HAVE SO MANY EMOTIONS RIGHT NOW.

This book was so amazing and hit me so close to home. Much like Lottie, I was close to my grandmother the same way she was with her aunt. All of her emotions and grief I felt deeply while reading this and there were parts that really gut punched me at the most random times.

This book made me cry. I rarely cry over books and I choked up quite a few times and kinda lost it at the end. SO MANY EMOTIONS.

The characters were all so wonderful. I really love the way that Katrina Leno writes siblings and best friends. I also loved the parents in this book A LOT. Abe was my favorite & I wish that I had a brother like him.

The whole Alvin Hatter book series was fucking perfection. To be honest I am NOT a fan of the “book within a book” type of books (I loved Fangirl but hated the Simon parts and won’t read Carry On. There have also been other books that I have skipped or dropped because of the book within a book parts) but it worked SO WELL in this book. The sections that were from the Alvin books actually made me yearn for a Harry Potter reread. But the best thing about the Alvin books is that they AREN’T Harry Potter specifically. They are Narnia, they are Percy Jackson, they are A Wrinkle in Time, they are The Golden Compass. Alvin Hatter is the stand in for your favorite childhood books paying homage to them all. And that is what I loved so much about them. (Yes Aunt Helen is totally the JKR of this world).

This book is surprising too and if you’re a close reader you’ll be able to figure out the magic. I was SO PLEASED with the ending and with the clues and with Aunt Helen’s big secret. I was so happy with the choices Lottie made too.

There is also A TON of diversity in this book that is reflective of the world around us. I really love how naturally Katrina writes diverse characters without it feeling like she just forced them in for diversity’s sake. It feels very REAL and authentic.

I feel like this book was meant for me. I am so honored that Katrina let me read it so early. This book was made up of so many things that I love (letters in a book! Amazing friendships, quite romance, hilarious conversations, musings about time and the universe, magic, Conor Oberst).

Lastly, if you are a book lover or a writer, this book will be something that you can really understand and just really connect with. So please check it out this coming July!

Blog Tour – Caraval by Stephanie Garber (Review & Excerpt)

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Welcome to the world of Caraval, I am your hostess with the mostess, Sam, and I will be the guide to all things Caraval on this stop of the blog tour.

Charmed to meet you all, I’m sure.

I want to introduce you all to the amazing world of Caraval.  Stephanie Garber has crafted a beautiful, mysterious, and terrifying world with this novel. It will move you, captivate you, and make you want to dig a little deeper. How far are you willing to go to save someone you love? It’s an important question, here, after all. Get ready to enter a world of intrigue.


27883214Title: Caraval

Author: Stephanie Garber

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

THIS DAMN BOOK. I swear I spent so much of it guessing what was going on, who was who and what the bigger mystery was. I just, it left me exhilarated and exhausted at the same. There was just something so addictive with this book where when I put it down I was angry and upset (usually because I’d have to go back to work), and there would be times where I didn’t want to pick up the book because I felt like Garber was going to present me with my worst fears realized.

Needless to say, you want this book. I recognize the hype is big on this one, but trust me, this book is an experience that will leave you constantly guess what is real, what is magic, and what is everything in between. There were so many times where I was so genuinely surprised by the outcome of events, and other times where I guessed the outcome correctly but was still freaking out about what was happening. I had feelings, and my feelings left me an utterly wrecked mess.

And I loved every second of that.

It’s also important to point out that you want to go into this book blind. I find the synopsis doesn’t give a lot of information and that really is for the best when following Scarlett’s journey. What I also love is how Garber instills the reader with a sense of melancholy, dread, fear, panic, and she ties this back to Scarlett, the game and her circumstances in such a way where you feel for her in the story. Sometimes she does frustrating things, but it is always with the best intentions. The writing and story filled with me those emotions, and I spent a lot of time concerned for Scarlett’s safety in the game of Caraval.

I also came out of this book madly in love with Legend. He is horrific mastermind in all of this, and I love that even though he’s not a huge character in this story, his presence and what people know about him is largely important and I loved the sense of discomfort that Garber fused into his character and what we learn about him throughout. I also loved the ending and his correspondence that is constantly a large part of this story. He kept me guessing as much as the main plot.

The hype on this book is legit in every way, and it’s definitely earned it. This story offers so much intrigue and mystery, and I found myself constantly thinking about it as I was reading it and when I finished it. This book will leave you emotionally charged and drained at the same time (in other words, the sign of a great book). Definitely put Caraval on your radar, and get invested. This is definitely one of the most entertaining fantasy novels I’ve read in a long while, and I seriously cannot wait based on that ending so see where the sequel is going to go.

Legend. ❤ ❤ ❤


Huge thank you once again to the amazing crew at Raincoast for allowing me the chance to participate in this blog tour. Make sure to check out every stop on the Caraval blog tour, as you can read a different excerpt at every tour location.

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Blog Tour – The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life by Kwame Alexander, (Review & Excerpt)

Kwame Alexander, though not a new name for middle grade, is a new name for me. I had the pleasure of reading his short story in the collection Flying Lessons & Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh, and his was easily my favourite. Kwame Alexander has an amazing way with words, and I found his hero in that particular story be so honest and funny, it made me want to explore more of his work.

Raincoast approached me to share a review of The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life, which is a book of mixed media. In it contains Kwame’s beautiful words alongside Thai Neave’s stunning photography. Please enjoy my review, an excerpt, and some wonderfully wise words from Kwame Alexander.

Huge love to Raincoast again for allowing me to participate in this blog tour. Your friendship and kindness is always appreciated.


31193387Title: The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life

Author: Kwame Alexander

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: You gotta know the rules to play the game. Ball is life. Take it to the hoop. Soar. What can we imagine for our lives? What if we were the star players, moving and grooving through the game of life? What if we had our own rules of the game to help us get what we want, what we aspire to, what will enrich our lives?  Illustrated with photographs by Thai Neave, The Playbook is intended to provide inspiration on the court of life. Each rule contains wisdom from inspiring athletes and role models such as Nelson Mandela, Serena Williams, LeBron James, Carli Lloyd, Steph Curry and Michelle Obama. Kwame Alexander also provides his own poetic and uplifting words, as he shares stories of overcoming obstacles and winning games in this motivational and inspirational book just right for graduates of any age and anyone needing a little encouragement.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I am very new to Kwame Alexander’s work, and I am not going to deny that. When I was asked to help promote The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot and Score in This Game Called Life, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to be getting into. I admit, I’m not the biggest sports fan, which was my first worry, but I actually loved the way in which sports were used in this beautiful piece of non-fiction.

imageFirst off, I adore the writing in this book. Kwame Alexander is a true poet, and I think there is a wonderful simplicity in his poetry that allows for a lot of extra thinking in terms of multiple meanings. I also love that his poems are inspirational, confident and will inspire confidence in others. This book is filled with passion, kindness, and strength. I also loved the way the inspirational quotes were woven into the text, featuring the likes of Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippin. I think the quick anecdotes about different athletes and their rise to fame framing each section of the book was also fantastic, as learning about Lebron James and the William sisters was very interesting.

Second, I want to praise the use of photography in this book. I think that Thai Neave’s photographs do a stunning job of complimenting the poems and adding support to the text. I love photography and some of the images in this book are just so beautiful, and the way in which they match the text is often quite spot on. When Alexander is writing about the key feelings for the playbook of life such as passion, motivation, determination, etc, the photographs do an amazing job reflecting these emotions and the poem that is written to coincide it. While the writing in this book is stellar, just flipping through it for the breath-taking photographs is equally worth your time.

After reading The Playbook, I am very much a newfound Kwame Alexander fan, and I cannot wait to read more of his books. I love how even though this is considered middle grade there is so much wisdom in these pages for anyone or any age group. I think this book would be helpful for parents, teachers, librarians as well, as I feel like they can use this book to help teach some of these “rules” that Alexander shares with his readers. There is so much beauty in these pages, and even if you aren’t a sports fan, the metaphors that are present are completely universal. If you are looking for some inspiration or need some confidence, then check out The Playbook because it will give you with hard truths and a pick-me-up that you didn’t realize you needed.


About the Author

kwame

Kwame Alexander is a poet, educator, and New York Times Bestselling author of 21 books, including THE CROSSOVER, which received the 2015 John Newbery Medal for the Most Distinguished Contribution to American literature for Children, the Coretta Scott King Author Award Honor, The NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, and the Passaic Poetry Prize. Kwame writes for children of all ages. His other works include SURF’S UP, a picture book; BOOKED, a middle grade novel; and He Said She Said, a YA novel.


A huge thank you to Raincoast for providing me with this opportunity to share more about The Playbook, as well as Kwame Alexander for writing this wonderful book. If you are curious to learn more about The Playbook, make sure to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

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