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ARC Review – Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

Title: Ramona Blue

Author: Julie Murphy

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever.

Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she’s fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family. Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I really loved Julie Murphy’s Side Effects May Very, despite it being such a polarizing novel. I have yet to read Dumplin’ (seriously, I need to get on that), and skipped my way to Ramona Blue, a book that had some polarizing conversations up until it’s release.

Truthfully, I found the novel very engaging throughout. Yes, this book, looks at Ramona’s sexuality, and yes it looks at the idea of how she doesn’t want to label herself entirely one way or another. But I think that is just a fraction of what this story is truly about. This story is about self-sacrifice for family, sisters in a bind, and importantly, Ramona trying to figure out who she wants to be and if she wants to stay in Eulogy for the rest of her life.

I think Julie Murphy does an amazing job walking the reader through Ramona’s journey. Ramona is a complicated character who is trying to figure out what is the right course of action regarding her family, as well as herself. I loved her as a character, and I constantly found myself empathizing with Ramona because I found her easy to connect with. I’ve done a lot of what she has in terms of putting others over myself, and like Ramona, there’s no regret. It’s interesting to watch Ramona’s complicated life grow and transform throughout the course of the story, and that made it all the more engaging.

I also loved Ramona’s friends and I thought they were wonderfully developed. I found Grace frustrating at times, but I also feel like I could understand where she was coming from when it came to her feelings for Ramona. Her feelings for Freddie in the story are conflicting, but I think it also shows how Ramona is growing, and I think there’s an interesting conversation presented in this book about labeling one’s self. There is no man saving Ramona in this story, or no man changing who she is — that’s not the discussion this book is presenting. The conversation that is apparent is about learning who you are and who you want to become. If I am being honest, the romance wasn’t a huge deal breaker for me like it was others — I liked it, but I adored the parts about Ramona’s self-discovery and her family life more.

Ramona Blue is a wonderful story about growing up in a situation where you are forced into adulthood at an early age. It’s about discovering oneself and trying to figure out who you want to be. There is is so much depth and complexity to this novel, and I think despite the controversy, people should read it before making a judgement call.

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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.

Five 2016 Middle Grade Novels that Deserve Your Attention

It’s been awhile since I’ve really focused on middle grade, even though it is my bread and butter. While I’ve posted a lot of reviews for middle grade titles, I will say that 2016 was an exceptionally solid year for this age group, with some absolutely fantastic titles that really stole my heart given what an emotionally draining year it’s been for me. Here’s five middle grade titles that came out in 2016 that you really should make some time for.

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The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

This is the miraculous tale of Roz, a robot who gets lost in the wildness and is forced to survive, despite the fact that she is a robot with no survival instincts. Trapped on a remote island, Roz must figure out how to survive given her own limitations. This novel is beautifully written, very descriptive, and Roz is such a wonderful heroine. Yes, she’s a robot, but she is a robot who I felt great sympathy towards throughout this novel, and I think Peter Brown does an amazing job capturing her limited emotions in a way that makes the reader really grow to love Roz.

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Pax by Sara Pennypacker

This book is a gut-punch of emotions. It’s the story of a boy who raises a fox kit and is forced by his father to set it back in the wild. Both the boy and the kit need one another, and it’s the story of how they are lost and then found. This book has left me an emotional mess at times, and I think it’s why I read it as slowly as I did. Coupled with Jon Klassen’s beautiful illustrations, Pax is one of those reads that you need to make sure you have a Kleenex box handy for.

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Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz

Finding Perfect is an amazing debut middle grade novel. Molly is a heroine that lovable and I think she is someone readers will also be able to relate to regardless of age. More importantly, I am glad this novel exists given that it does an amazing job depicting what life is like with OCD, let alone for a young girl who has suffered a lot of loss and disappointment in her life. However, despite all the sadness she faces, Molly’s kindness is admirable and her journey is wonderful, yet hard. This is definitely one of those middle grade novels that leaves you thinking once the story is long over.

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The Magnificent Mya Tibbs and the Spirit Week Showdown by Crystal Allen

This gem was a random surprise I received from an associate at Harper Collins Canada who found out my mother had died and wanted to send me a pick-me-up. Mya Tibbs is now one of my most recommended middle grade novels at the library I work at. Why? Because Crystal Allen’s amazing heroine teaches so much to her readers and does it with humour, kindness and a lot of sass. Mya is fun, and I keep hoping she’ll receive more books in her future. This book is amazing and it does a great job of showing how different people can be, and how we can work with each other’s differences to do unstoppable things.

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Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

Ben Hatke is one of my favourite writer’s and artist’s out there. He often has this amazing ability to tell a story and craft some very genuine characters on top of his amazing and well-defined artwork. This story is not only a retelling of Jack and the Beanstock, but it also discusses disability, friendship, and it takes the tale and spins it on its head. The only downer? The nasty cliffhanger which still has be going “I NEED BOOK TWO NAAAAAO.” This is an amazing graphic novel, and easily one of the best that came out in 2016.

Seriously, it was hard to narrow down a lot of the best 2016 middle grade reads, but I feel like these ones are all winners. Here’s hoping 2017 has some amazing and equally thoughtful middle grade reads. 🙂

ARC Review – Bright Smoke, Cold Fire (Untitled #1) by Rosamund Hodge

28448239Title: Bright Smoke, Cold Fire (Untitled #1)

Author: Rosamund Hodge

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: When the mysterious fog of the Ruining crept over the world, the living died and the dead rose. Only the walled city of Viyara was left untouched. The heirs of the city’s most powerful—and warring—families, Mahyanai Romeo and Juliet Catresou share a love deeper than duty, honor, even life itself. But the magic laid on Juliet at birth compels her to punish the enemies of her clan—and Romeo has just killed her cousin Tybalt. Which means he must die.

Paris Catresou has always wanted to serve his family by guarding Juliet. But when his ward tries to escape her fate, magic goes terribly wrong—killing her and leaving Paris bound to Romeo. If he wants to discover the truth of what happened, Paris must delve deep into the city, ally with his worst enemy . . . and perhaps turn against his own clan. Mahyanai Runajo just wants to protect her city—but she’s the only one who believes it’s in peril. In her desperate hunt for information, she accidentally pulls Juliet from the mouth of death—and finds herself bound to the bitter, angry girl. Runajo quickly discovers Juliet might be the one person who can help her recover the secret to saving Viyara.

Both pairs will find friendship where they least expect it. Both will find that Viyara holds more secrets and dangers than anyone ever expected. And outside the walls, death is waiting. . .

Huge thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review!

Molly’s Review:

I loved this book SO MUCH. I originally went into it with mixed feelings because I wasn’t a fan of the author’s debut, I decided not to read her second book, and I probably wouldn’t have read this one but it just sounded so unique. And I’m so glad that I gave it a shot.

This is a twist on Romeo & Juliet. It takes place in a fictional world where revenants (zombies) have taken over the world and the only people left are three clans that live inside of a city protected by magic walls. And the walls feed off of blood sacrifices. There’s a group of Sisters who tend the walls and one of our MCs, Runajo, is a novice. She’s feisty and has strong ideals about the world that they live in. She’s a member of the same clan as Romeo, who falls in love with Juliet, a member of another clan. Only Juliet isn’t just a girl, but she’s the sword of her clan. Her own purpose is to basically be their trained killer. And Paris is supposed to be her guardian.

Only everything goes horribly wrong.

This book is dark and beautiful. It’s romantic without any actual on page romance (Romeo and Juliet are actually separate for the entire book). It’s atmospheric and full of beautiful world building. I loved the Sisters of Thorn and their twisted rituals. I loved how vicious Juliet was, and how bumbling both Paris and Romeo were. I really loved the relationships and friendships that developed between the characters. The twists and turns and secrets kept me engaged and on my toes. I read most of this book in two sittings.

My only complaint is that the ending is a bit rushed, but thank god there’s a sequel. Because I need it after THAT cliffhanger.

If you’re a fan of Hodge or just a Romeo & Juliet fan, then this book is for you!

ARC Review – This Is My Brain on Boys by Sarah Strohmeyer

26115740Title: This Is My Brain on Boys

Author: Sarah Strohmeyer

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Addie Emerson doesn’t believe in love. Not for herself anyway. With one year left of high school, she’s more interested in snagging a full scholarship to Harvard than a full-time boyfriend. That doesn’t mean she’s oblivious to the ways of the heart. Or, rather, the head. Because after months of research, Addie has discovered how to make anyone fall in love. All you need is the secret formula. But will her discovery be enough to win the coveted Athenian Award and all its perks? (See above, full scholarship to Harvard.) Or will she be undone by Dexter, her backstabbing lab partner, who is determined to deep-six her experiments at their exclusive private school?

Those are the least of her problems now that she’s survived a death-defying flight with a mysterious, dark-haired boy, who has delicious chocolate-brown eyes and a few secrets of his own.

With an experiment to mastermind, an infatuated exchange student on her hands, and at least one great white shark (more on that later), can Addie’s prefrontal cortex outwit her heart? Or will she have to give in to her amygdala and find out, once and for all, if this thing called love is more than just her brain on drugs?

Huge thank you to Harper Collins for sending me an ARC of this for review!

River’s Review:

Now THIS is the type of Strohmeyer book I love! I was a HUGE fan of Smart Girls and was rather disappointed with a few of her other books… but this THIS book was up there with Smart Girls!

Addie Emerson is a Sheldon Cooper/ Sherlock Holmes style genius. She goes to a special school where she can excel in her own way. She’s over literal and very smart. This gets her into trouble socially. Thankfully she has a best friend who understands her and takes care of her, a lab partner who’s similar to her, and a few other people in her corner. On an airplane that almost crashes into Logan Airport she meets Kris and they have an immediate connection.

Later on Addie finds out that Kris was the cause of a lot of bullying and grief that she had to deal with the previous year. Her friends are against her being around him, but he can’t be avoided because as a part of his penance for his previous year’s sins he has to take part in Addie’s experiment about… if you can make people fall in love.

This book was SO funny. Addie is a riot and she’s not too over the top. I loved how her friends dealt with her like they KNOW that she’s weird but they love her for it. I enjoyed her relationship with Kris and while I THINK I know what happened at the end I was a little confused about it… and what Addie’s true feelings were.

Overall I’m really glad that I gave Strohmeyer another shot because damn I love books like this!

ARC Review – Take the Fall by Emily Hainsworth

15782557Title: Take the Fall

Author:  Emily Hainsworth

Rating:  ★★★

Synopsis: Fear grips the residents of Hidden Falls the night Sonia Feldman and her best friend, Gretchen Meyer, are attacked in the woods. Sonia was lucky to escape with her life, but Gretchen’s body is discovered at the bottom of a waterfall. Beautiful, popular, and seemingly untouchable, Gretchen can’t be gone. Even as Sonia struggles with guilt and confusion over having survived, the whole town is looking to her for information…could she have seen something that will lead the police to the killer?

At the top of the list of suspects is Gretchen’s ex-boyfriend—and Sonia’s longtime enemy—Marcus Perez. So when Marcus comes to Sonia for help clearing his name, she agrees, hoping to find evidence the police need to prove he’s the killer. But as Gretchen’s many secrets emerge and the suspects add up, Sonia feels less sure of Marcus’s involvement, and more afraid for herself. Could Marcus, the artist, the screwup, the boy she might be falling for have attacked her? Killed her best friend? And if it wasn’t him in the woods that night…who could it have been?

Huge thank you to Harper Collins for sending me a copy for review!

River’s Review:

When I started this book I could not put it down and I blew through the first 100 or so pages. It was so fast paces and everything was just clicking along I was really excited to see where this was going. Sonia was a great MC, there was a really nice mix of characters, and I liked the small town feeling. I was super invested in WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN.

And then things kinda slowed down. There were a few moments of AHA murder mystery, but a lot of it was just dealing with the loss of Gretchen and slowly figuring out that she wasn’t THAT great of a person (friend, sister, girl friend) after all. And this whole time I was fighting with myself over if Sonia was a reliable narrator or not. And I was pretty set on the idea that she was and that this was going to have some crazy twist and that we’d NEVER see WHO DUN IT coming and… I guessed it and I was right and I bumped it down to a 3 star rating because those kinds of twists are the lamest. And I don’t buy it. And just ugh.

Disappointed.