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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

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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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Blog Tour – Speed of Life by J.M Kelly (Review & Excerpt)

Speed of Life is a book that came in my grab bag during one of Raincoast’s #TeenReadFeed events. The moment I pulled it out of the bag and read the back I had a feeling that this was a Sam!Book. I love tough contemporary novels and I love books that look at family dynamics. This novel in particular focuses on two twins, poverty, a baby, and big dreams. I loved Crystal and Amber’s story, and since reading the book, have recommended it for purchase at my library that I work at. It’s such a beautiful story that I think so many teens and adults would easily be able to read and gravitate towards.

If you haven’t checked Speed of Life out, you’re missing out. Especially if you love contemporary YA, you need to check this book out. Check out my review below if you don’t believe me, then read the excerpt provided by Raincoast to see if it might be up your alley.

But seriously, GO READ THIS BOOK.

And as always, huge thank you to Raincoast for having me on this blog tour and supplying me with a copy of this book. They are book angels.


28114594Title: Speed of Life

Author: J.M Kelly

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Twins Crystal and Amber have the same goal: to be the first in their family to graduate high school and make something of their lives. When one gets pregnant during their junior year, they promise to raise the baby together. It’s not easy, but between their after-school jobs, they’re scraping by.

Crystal’s grades catch the attention of the new guidance counselor, who tells her about a college that offers a degree in automotive restoration, perfect for the car buff she is. When she secretly applies—and gets in—new opportunities threaten their once-certain plans, and Crystal must make a choice: follow her dreams or stay behind and honor the promise she made to her sister.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

It upsets me how much this book isn’t being talked about. This is one of those contemporary gems that has no buzz behind it, and it’s just such a genuine and thoughtful read. Speed of Life is about two twin sisters who share everything, are dirt poor, and are looking to get out of their backwater town and make real lives for themselves and the child that one of them has had out of wedlock. While this doesn’t sound like the most original plot line, there is something so engaging about the way in which Kelly shares this story.

What I loved about this novel is Crystal’s narrative. She’s very thoughtful, has a huge sense of pride in herself and her abilities as a mechanic, and she wants to be able to rescue herself, her sister, and the baby they are raising from the poverty that they face. I love the way the author establishes the sister’s relationship to both each other and their friends and family. The writing and looking at the world through Crystal’s eyes are just so vivid. She has aspirations, she has goals, and she hopes that Amber will share those goals with her. When the fall out in the story occurs, it just really broke my heart into several pieces because I just connected so deeply with the sisters conflict, despite not having experienced it personally.

I think the author does such a great job of sucking the reader into the story and making the reader connect with the girls and connect with their story. I think what I also loved about Speed of Life is that there is such a larger mystery going on with who is Natalie’s parents, why are the girls caring for her, and I think Kelly does an amazing job keeping the reader looking for these answers.

I wish more folks would read this wonderful novel, especially those who love contemporary. Speed of Life is raw, heartfelt, and it asks the reader to open themselves up to a situation that is just so emotionally exhausting. I hope when this novel releases that more readers consider checking this one out. Everything about it just left me emotionally drained in the best kind of way.


An Excerpt from Speed of Life

Raincoast was kind enough to send an excerpt from the novel. I think the bit that they sent over will give you a good indication of what one can expect from this novel, and especially the kind of character our narrator, Crystal, is.

~*~

I’m pretty sure our school’s new guidance counselor’s got a college degree in perky with a minor in enthusiasm. Even her green sweater is bright and cheerful, like spring grass. Except so soft looking, I kind of want to pet it.

“So,” Ms. Spellerman says. “Miss Robbins, isn’t it?”

I want to say, “No, actually, it’s Crystal. I’m eighteen, not thirty.” But I nod instead. In the middle of our sophomore year we got a new principal, and he decided that as a matter of respect, all teachers and staff would refer to the students by their last names prefaced with Mr. or Miss. You can imagine how much more respect is flying around now. It obviously never occurred to anyone in charge that last names like Cochran and Dykster are so much easier to make fun of than Robert or Ashley. But whatever.

Ms. Spellerman holds out her hand to me. “Nice to meet you.” She’s got long fingers and perfectly pink nails. When we shake, all I feel are skin-covered bones.

She shuffles through some papers for a while, the huge diamond on her engagement ring catching the fluorescent light and hypnotizing me. I wonder if we’re ever going to get to the reason I’m here. I’ve made it through three years of high school without seeing a guidance counselor, so I can’t imagine why they called me in when I’m almost done. As far as I know, I’m doing fine in my classes. I’m even doing okay in Amber’s classes. Not that anyone knows about that.

I hide a yawn behind my hand — I’m super tired and missing the little nap I usually take in English. Ms. Spellerman holds up a sheet of paper and squints at it. Then she slips on a pair of square pink-framed glasses and smiles. “Don’t look so worried, Miss Robbins. I just want to talk to you about your college plans.”

Is she kidding me?

“Now that I’ve joined forces with Mr. Akerman, we’re not so short on guidance counselors,” she explains. “So I’m working my way through a list of those of you who haven’t previously requested an advisor.”

Maybe not asking was a clue that we didn’t want one. I don’t say anything, though. I don’t think she expects me to.

“Now,” she says, “you might be wondering how your name came up so early in the school year. Well, I’ll tell you a little secret.” She leans in across her desk and practically whispers, “I started at the end of the alphabet instead of the beginning!”

I wonder if I’m supposed to clap or something.

“So,” she continues, “what are your plans for college? Where are you going to apply? What’s your dream school?”

“Umm . . . I don’t have one?”

“No dream school? Well, that’s understandable. There are so many choices! Do you think you want to stay in Oregon, or go somewhere out of state — get away from it all, that sort of thing?”

Is this where I tell her I’m not going to college?

“You must’ve thought about it,” she says when I sit there speechless.

“Umm . . . not really.”

“Not at all?”

“I’m not going to college,” I finally admit.

Her eyebrows shoot up. “What? Why not?”

I’m thinking I was wrong about her minor being enthusiasm. It must’ve been stupidity. Does she think she’s somehow landed at a private school? Or maybe one of Portland’s fancy high schools? This is Sacajawea High, and half the kids can’t even spell the name of it by the time they graduate. If they graduate. College is not part of the plan here.

I try to keep it simple for Ms. Spellerman. “I’m gonna . . .you know . . . get a job.”


A huge thank you to Raincoast for providing me with this opportunity to share more about Speed of Life, as well as J.M Kelly for her beautiful words and fantastic novel. If you are curious to learn more about J.M Kelly’s debut, why not check out the other stops on the blog tour! 🙂

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Blog Tour – Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter (Review and Q&A)

Raincoast has once again invited me to participate in one of their fantastic blog tours. Let me tell you guys — Vassa in the Night is a real weird, quirky, gem of a book, and I have to say that I really enjoyed my time reading it. If you don’t mind your fantasy novels being a bit unpredictable and a little crazy, then you need this book in your life.

As always, huge thank you to Raincoast for arranging the blog tour, sending me a copy of the book and being all round amazing people. Also huge thank you to Sarah Porter for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer my Q&A question!


22065080Title: Vassa in the Night

Author: Sarah Porter

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling out again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair. . . .

Sam’s Review:

Vassa in the Night is one of those books that sets a very distinctive tone for its readers right off the bat: in a world where dark magic encompasses Brooklyn, lives Vassa, a young woman who ends up on a quest for light bulbs, and ends up on an extraordinary journey to find home. In a lot of ways, many of us have read a story like Vassa in the Night before, but this book shines in a way that really captured my attention through start to finish.

First off, the world-building in this book is delightfully and vibrant. Porter does an amazing job illustrating Vassa’s world, the people who inhabit it, and provides so much vivid imagery of what surrounds Vassa in her adventures. Furthermore, the book has such fantastic characters who are wonderful to grow alongside with in the story. My personal favourite character was Erg, but I am a sucker for creepy talking dolls (in that they generally give me nightmares every time). But serious, Erg is funny, cheeky, and she gets some of the best lines in the whole story. She makes for a great companion to Vassa in the story, and I loved their relationship. I also adored Vassa as a character and thought she got a lot of great growth in the story, and she’s simply lovable, flaws and all.

I think the only thing I struggled with in terms of this novel was the ending. I felt the ending wrapped up everything a bit too conveniently, and found the ending didn’t have as strong a finish as I would have liked. However, I do love where the ending was going, the way it built up, and the way it was written. I think Sarah Porter has really wonderful ideas, and I do think her writing does a fantastic job reflecting a lot of where she wants her stories to go.

I loved my time with Vassa in the Night, and I am sad that my time with these characters and this world is over. While I don’t hope for a sequel, this is one of those books that I feel can be easily recommended for lovers of fantasy and retellings. I wish I had been more familiar with the story this was retelling, but I also loved how much I loved going into this story completely blind as well. Definitely check out Vassa in the Night, as it’s one of those standalone fantasy adventures that feels like a wonderful journey. Plus it’s weird and delightful, and crazy. Read this book.


Q&A With Sarah Porter!

sarahp

Q: When you wrote Vassa in the Night, what were some of the aspects from the original tale that you intended to keep so that they would be recognizable to readers who loved the original story it’s based off of?

SP: Hi Sam, quite a few elements of the original story are in VASSA, though in altered ways.
Vassilissa is sent to the Baba Yaga’s hut to get fire, after her stepsisters
deliberately extinguish all the fire in the house; Vassa is sent to BY’s for light
bulbs. In “Vassilissa the Beautiful,” Night is a man all in black on a black horse;
in VASSA, Night rides a black motorcycle. A Baba Yaga’s hut is always surrounded by
human skulls on stakes, with one left empty, just for you; BY’s has severed human heads
encircling the parking lot. The animate hands are also in the original version, though
they don’t really have their own emotions and intentions the way that Dexter and
Sinister do. Vassilissa and Vassa are both given impossible tasks to do, and both are
helped by their magic dolls. So that’s quite a bit!

Some things in VASSA that don’t have a source in Russian folklore include the swans,
Picnic and Pangolin, the faerie party in Babs’s apartment, and a father who was turned
into a dog.

The Water of Life and the Water of Death became the Professor Pepper’s sodas; those
come from a different Russian fairytale, “Ivan, the Glowing Bird, and the Gray Wolf.”
Ivan’s brothers murder and dismember him out of envy, and the Gray Wolf uses the magic
waters to bring him back.


As always, huge huge love to Raincoast for allowing me to participate in this blog tour, and an equally large thank you to Sarah Porter for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer a question about her latest novel, Vassa in the Night. If you have any interest in retellings, particularly ones that don’t get reimagined very often, make sure you check out this book, which released on September 20th!

And while you are at it, please check out the other tour stops as they will also have snippets of the story, as well as more questions answered by Sarah!

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Blog Tour – Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova (Review and Q&A)

Labyrinth Lost is a book that wasn’t on my radar until I had gone to the #TeensReadFeed event hosted by Raincoast back in May. The book was in my goodie bag, and though it had been mentioned at previous events, the release date kept getting pushed back. I have friends who love Zoraida Cordova’s novels, but I admit I wasn’t too familiar with her work.

Labyrinth Lost is a joy. It’s sassy, it’s adventurous, and it gives you a sense of appreciation for otherly worlds and other people’s culture. Once again I am super grateful to Raincoast for inviting me on this blog tour, and a huge, huge thank you to Zoraida Cordova for taking time out of her busy schedule to do some Q&A.


27969081Title: Labyrinth Lost

Author: Zoraida Cordova

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I generally am not big on paranormal YA, like, at all. I was hesitant then that I would enjoy Labyrinth Lost, and you know what? It was a pleasant surprise for all the right reasons. It didn’t have the usual trope-yness of YA paranormal, and I think because a lot of this novel is rooted in Latin culture, that was what gave it a lot of appeal that made me fall in love with it.

I have never read any paranormal that is rooted in Latin-American culture. I am Canadian so my knowledge of Latin-American culture is fairly flimsy at best. However, I LOVE to read about other cultures and learn new things I never knew about. And this book is such a fun, fun read. The characters are very well developed, the story is fast-paced and quick witted, and I never felt bored reading Labyrinth Lost. There was always just so much happening, and my goodness when the action was on, it wad turned way up.

I think what I loved about this novel the most was how well developed the world of both Brooklyn and Los Lagos was. Cordova breaths so much life and makes both places so vivid, and watching Alex go between both places made the novel all that more interesting. She faces so many struggles because of powers she never wanted and is forced to embrace something she was fearful of. Forbidden power and family history play such a large, playful role in this story, and I found myself just turning the pages, needing to know what was going to happen next… and then the book ends on a cliffhanger — not cool Zoraida Cordova! (Except it is, because I adored this book).

But seriously, the cast of characters in this story is love: Alex is wonderful, she’s strong, and her head-space is just an interesting place to be in. I also loved Rishi and thought she was great as well. Nova took awhile to grow on me, and frankly it wasn’t until the end when I finally realized that he wasn’t too bad of a character.

I love books like Labyrinth Lost that drop you into a story and then offers so much more than meets the eye. This novel offers a fantastic adventure, with a fun cast of characters. I am very grateful that books like this exist where I can enjoy cultures that I am unfamiliar with and make them super accessible. I am excited and scared to read book two when it releases!


Q&A With Zoraida Cordova!

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Q: One of my favourite aspects of Labyrinth Lost was being allowed to learn more about
Latin culture and how you used it to create a paranormal experience for Alex. Are there
any Latin stories or myths that you love and would perhaps want to transform into a story?

ZC: There’s one story of La Llorona that used to scare me as a kid. It isn’t uniquely
Ecuadorian. There are lots of Latin American countries that have a similar story. It’s
about a weeping woman who steals children who are bad. I used to want to write a story
about her, but I don’t think I’d do it justice. There is a book called Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe McCall that does this wonderfully. Maybe one day!


Huge thank you to Raincoast for allowing me this chance to participate in the blog tour, and huge thank you to Zoraida for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer my question! Want to see where the blog tour is heading next? Check out all the tour stops and don’t forget to check out Labyrinth Lost, which released on September 6, 2016. 🙂

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Blog Tour – How it Ends by Catherine Lo (Review and Q&A)

I am always thrilled when Raincoast invites me to participate in a blog tour. They have yet to send a book I haven’t liked when it comes to doing these kinds of promotions. Plus, I am always 100% on board when they tell me it’s to promote Canadian talent. We have amazing YA writers, and I think Cathrine Lo is one to watch. Seriously though, let me tell you all about How It Ends.

How it Ends is one of the best examples I have ever come across in terms of protraying a realistic break up between best friends. It’s raw, thoughtful, and it definitely left me quite reflective of my friendship back when I was in high school, and in a lot of ways, I wish this book had been around for me during that time.

I hope after reading my review you’ll give this stunning and intelligent book a chance. It left me with a lot of thinking after I finished it.


22608764Title: How It Ends

Author: Catherine Lo

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: There are two sides to every story.

It’s friends-at-first-sight for Jessie and Annie, proving the old adage that opposites attract. Shy, anxious Jessie would give anything to have Annie’s beauty and confidence. And Annie thinks Jessie has the perfect life, with her close-knit family and killer grades. They’re BFFs…until suddenly they’re not.

Told through alternating points of view, How It Ends is a wildly fast but deeply moving read about a friendship in crisis. Set against a tumultuous sophomore year of bullying, boys and backstabbing, the novel shows what can happen when friends choose assumptions and fear over each other.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I admit, I’ve been coveting this book since last year’s #TeensReadFeed event hosted by Raincoast. The premise seemed so simplistic and yet so appealing at the same time. This is the tale of two girls befriending each other in tenth grade, at what seems to be the perfect moment in time. The reader gets to watch their relationship organically grow and transform. We see how these two friends grow together, as well as fall a part.

I was completely captivated by this novel right from the get go. It’s a novel that gradually builds and builds, as we watch Jessie and Annie work through high school. I found myself nodding along with the feelings of both characters, as I’ve been in both their shoes in different situations. I remember wading through high school the way Jessie did, living with anxiety and worrying how I would be seen and accepted by others, and it was something that carried with me well into my first few years of university.

When you suffer from anxiety of any kind, you do in fact see the world so differently compared to others that it is often seen as a “paranoia” meanwhile, that isn’t entirely the case. Lo examines Jessie’s social anxieties with such a fine tooth comb, and to the point where even when Jessie is at her worst, she is still someone who is redeemable and someone we as the reader can sympathize with. I’ve also been in Annie’s shoes — the person who is attempting to take care of someone else and is trying to understand their ways and behavior but never feeling like you entirely get it.

Annie is strong, sassy, and she wants to see the good in everyone, whereas Jessie can’t because the fear of being hurt is just too strong with her. Both share similarities in that they both have walls that are hard to break down, and watching how there friendship develops and breaks down is what makes this book so interesting. When we start to see how their relationship falls apart it is just so heartbreaking, and I found myself just wanting to shake both of them and say that things can be mended, they can be repaired.

This book is such a raw experience, full of open wounds that need mending. It is such a realistic look of friendships and how we value people in a lot of ways, and when things are not okay, how that value is quickly taken away.How it Ends is a beautiful examination of how beautiful, complicated and messy friendships can be.


Q&A with Cathetrine Lo!

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Those lovely ladies at Raincoast gave me the chance to ask Catherine a question of my choice. Here’s my question and her wonderful response.

Q: The friendship portrayed in How It Ends is both raw as it is believable. Why did you
choose to write a novel that focused squarely on the complexities of friendship?

A: In my role as a teacher, I see a lot of young people struggling with friendship issues,
and it reminds me of the same difficulties I had as a teen. In some ways, I wrote How It
Ends for my students, but in others, I think I wrote it because it was the book that the
teen me needed to read when I was in high school. Back then, there were a lot of books
that addressed romantic breakups, but not as many that dealt with the rocky patches we
all go through in our friendships. I wanted to explore the complexities of female
friendship, and show just how intense and important these relationships are.


As always, huge thank you to Raincoast for their support and kindness. They are such a delight to work with! Also big thank you to Catherine Lo for taking time out of her busy schedule to respond to my question! How It Ends released on June 7th, and is current avaliable at your favourite local book retailer. Please make sure you check out the other stops on the tour to find out their thoughts on How it Ends!

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Blog Tour – Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz & Kat Helgeson (Review and Q&A)

Gena/Finn is one of those books where if you grew up loving a fandom so hard with your friends, you’ll appreciate it from head to toe. When I learned about its existence during the #TeensRead event hosted by Raincoast, I knew I had to get my paws on this book. If I’m being honest, this book brought up a lot of great memories and was everything I hoped it would be.

Huge thanks for Raincoast, as well as the authors, for letting me in on this blog tour, and into their worlds. Even if it’s only a little bit.


19254725Title: Gena/Finn

Author: Hannah Moskowitz & Kat Helgeson

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Gena (short for Genevieve) and Finn (short for Stephanie) have little in common. Book-smart Gena is preparing to leave her posh boarding school for college; down-to-earth Finn is a twenty-something struggling to make ends meet in the big city. Gena’s romantic life is a series of reluctant one-night-stands; Finn is making a go of it with long-term boyfriend Charlie. But they share a passion for Up Below, a buddy cop TV show with a cult fan following. Gena is a darling of the fangirl scene, keeping a popular blog and writing fan fiction. Finn’s online life is a secret, even from Charlie. The pair spark an unlikely online friendship that deepens quickly (so quickly it scares them both), and as their individual “real” lives begin to fall apart, they increasingly seek shelter online, and with each other.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:
Gena/Finn is a book that brought up a lot for memories for me. The majority of my university years were spent with people loving and worshiping fandoms. From cheesy Canadian televisions shows such as The Collector to the fantastically aged video game series Suikoden, the majority of the friends that I have came from being a part of a fandom.

This book is told in a mixed media format: chat logs, e-mails, text logs, blog posts, litter the pages this book from beginning to end. It’s actually perfect given how this story is being told. Gena is a young girl who has a secret identity, while Finn is a twenty-five year old recent college grad who is trying to find where she fits into the world. She has the perfect boyfriend, but he doesn’t seem as interested in her fannish life.

The story of Gena/Finn hit so close to home as I was reading it. It reminded me of my university days where I would spend hours looking through message boards (we didn’t have tumblr when I was growing up), I ran a successful Suikoden role-playing community over on Livejournal, and I even shared that love with my friends. We all felt as though we were sharing all our loves and passions, and that is totally reflected in both heroines, Gena and Finn.

When fandom and real life begin to collide and feelings become apart of the equation, this novel loses a bit of the fannish edge in favour of pushing the larger parts of the narrative forward, while still inserting fannish aspects when possible. It’s delightful, heartbreaking, emotional, and I found I could identify with both heroines a lot of the time. The only character I couldn’t identify with was Charlie, seeing as my husband has been a large influence in my life when it comes to fandoms as well. However, I could totally understand and even empathize with him and his personal feelings through the novel.

Fandom often gets such a tough rap and treated as something to be misunderstood. Gena/Finn remind us that fandom came bring people together in remarkable ways. There’s so much love and attention to detail in this novel, and I loved the positive memories that it reminded me of as I was reading it. This story just gave me all the feels, and it’s a book I plan on buying for all my fannish ladyfriends because dammit fandom friendships are rad.


Q&A with Hannah Moskowitz & Kat Helgeson!

As always, Raincoast has allowed all the blog tour participants to ask the authors a question or two in regards to their novel. Here’s what I asked to Hannah and Kat in regards to Gena/Finn!

What is your favourite fannish memory? What fandom do you feel defines a lot of your
personality?

KAT: Before Gena/Finn was a thing, Hannah and I used to write fanfiction together on
occasion. So there was this one night when we’d come up with a project we wanted to start
together. We were up all night hashing out the details – creating a place to host the
stories, making art, outlining what was going to happen. We had a few nights like that
when we were working on Gena/Finn, but I think working on this fanfiction project was the
first. It was the kind of epic all-nighter you can only have with your best friend.

HANNAH: My favorite fannish memory is when I met the stars of Degrassi on their mall
tour. I made them shirts with quotes their characters said on the show. I’m sure Drake
still wears his all the time. (Sam’s Note: We can only hope so, Hannah!)


And that’s a wrap for this blog tour! Huge thank you to both Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson for taking time out of their schedules to answer some questions, and an equally large thank you to Raincoast for allowing me the chance to participate on the tour. If you’d like to see where the Gena/Finn blog tour is heading to next, check out the tour schedule below. Remember: fandom is delightful, and some of the best folks you will ever meet, will be because you loved the same thing so damn hard. 🙂

blogtour

Blog Tour – Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn (Review and Q&A)

I read this book at the end of December, and it was a book that when I had completed it, it kept creeping into my thoughts. This book offers a lot of powerful and interesting messages that often get ignored. Raincoast has once again asked us to be a part of a blog tour, and River and I are here to give our thoughts on Firsts. This book definitely is one that will make you think, as it offers some insight into double standards.


23480844Title: Firsts

Author: Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Rating: ★★★★ / ★★★

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Mercedes Ayres has an open-door policy when it comes to her bedroom, but only if the guy fulfills a specific criteria: he has to be a virgin. Mercedes lets the boys get their awkward, fumbling first times over with, and all she asks in return is that they give their girlfriends the perfect first time- the kind Mercedes never had herself.

Keeping what goes on in her bedroom a secret has been easy- so far. Her absentee mother isn’t home nearly enough to know about Mercedes’ extracurricular activities, and her uber-religious best friend, Angela, won’t even say the word “sex” until she gets married. But Mercedes doesn’t bank on Angela’s boyfriend finding out about her services and wanting a turn- or on Zach, who likes her for who she is instead of what she can do in bed.

Huge thank you to Raincoast / St. Martin’s Griffin for these ARCs!

Sam’s Review (4 Stars):

Back when I went to the #TeensRead event in September, this book was discussed in quite amount of detail about it being “more than meets the eye.” Since I’ve finished it, it’s still a book that replays in my mind because the topics that it discusses are really important, and it’s hard to ignore why they need to be brought into the forefront.

This is a book about double standards, particularly when it comes to sex. It’s about boys who enlist in a young woman to help them be better in bed so that they can give their girlfriends the best first time ever. They are cheaters, and if cheating a topic that makes you uncomfortable (as it does me), then this book is going to be a rough ride (no pun intended) for you as a reader. When Mercedes is found out to have been offering such services, she is the one who takes the blame, not the guys. Why? Because women always suffer in the double standard when it comes to sex, and that means they have to be the one to suffer the consequences and the fallout because a lot of these men can’t man up into doing the right thing.

I loved Mercy’s voice, and that’s really what has stayed with me. On one hand, she knows that she is sexual empowered and desires to be in control of her sexual encounters (especially when you learn why this is the case). I loved her refreshing honesty when it came to sex, and her tips to a lot of the men were wonderfully valid. Her voice was something I couldn’t get out of my head, especially when people find out what her services entailed. I felt for her, I did. Especially when she wants to protect her friendship with Angela, someone who loves her as is. Mercy loses nearly everything in this story, and yet she knows she can’t hide from the voices attacking her, or the blackmail that threatens her. She’s stronger than she gives herself credit for throughout the story, and I loved her friendship with Faye and Zach, because with them, she has extra support and strength, even if it wasn’t easy to obtain.

I also loved the double-standard presented between Mercedes and Kim, especially considering how absent of a parent Kim is, and her desire to be young the way her daughter is. It’s horrifically problematic, but I loved the way in which both characters attempt a face-off and somewhat come together on their own terms.

I think the hardest part of this book for me was that it feels older in tone than what is actually on the page. I totally get that sex is a thing that keeps happening younger and younger, but Mercedes read at times like an experienced belle, wise beyond her years. It was a bit strange at first, but it grew on me.

This book offers so many powerful moments that are both awful, sad, compelling, and it’s compulsively readable. Even if you find the content hard to stomach, it’s one of those books that is so well-written that it keeps you wanting to understand more and more about the double-standards and how Mercedes will carry on. I felt for her, and I think that’s why I loved this book as much as I did.

River’s Review (3 Stars):

I knew going into this book I was probably going to have some issues with it. It sounded way too NA for me (and I really dislike most NA). And I honestly think that this would have been a much stronger book with an older cast of characters.

But, you say, why can’t a teen have an active sex life?! That’s… not why I feel like these characters should have been older. I feel like they should have been older because Mercedes read as older than she was. And yes, she had issues and an absent mom who wanted to be twenty and not an actual mom and blah blah blah but for real, this girl had way too much confidence when it came to sex. And we find out that when she starts this “First time” service she’s not even that experienced herself! So where does all of this knowledge and confidence come from? That’s what I didn’t feel was very real. She was dressing up in sexy nighties and “teaching” these guys but… who taught her? Cuz nobody really did.

And sadly a lot of the WOOHOO GIRL POWER was lost on me because I spent so much time screaming BUT HOW. I DID like that she was so sexual empowered! I did like that she was confident with her body! I did like that she took care of herself! There was a very strong message about girls and sex in this book, one that books like The DUFF (another book that was a low rating for me because the MC just didn’t work for me) are also participating in.

I do think that this message is important. I do think that the double standards should be addressed. I see so many people saying BUT HOW COULD SHE CHEAT WITH ALL THOSE BOYS. Guess what. SHE didn’t cheat… THEY did. Mercedes was single THE ENTIRE TIME SHE WAS SLEEPING WITH THOSE BOYS. THEY were the ones in relationships. And who takes the brunt of it when everything falls apart? The female.

I can see why people love this book and I agree with a lot of the good stuff being said. But I really think that a college background would have worked better for me. (Unless I’m showing my age and 95% of teens are losing it in high school? :old lady voice: When I was in school… yeah.)


Q&A With Laurie Elizabeth Flynn!

98167541. Firsts was all about “first times.” Why was this such an important topic for you
to explore?

There are so many firsts in a teen’s life, and the first time having sex is one of
them. I wanted to explore the expectations surrounding sex and the loss of virginity for
both teen girls and teen boys. There is so much pressure on both sides—boys are
expected to be born ready, and girls are expected to wait for the right person, who
probably takes the form of a long-term boyfriend. Society hammers standards into sex and
paints a picture of how it “should” be in our heads. But the truth is, there are so
many ways a first time can go. It’s rarely ever perfect. For some, it’s romantic and
memorable. For others, it’s awkward and clumsy. Some people want to wait. Others want
to get it over with. Some talk with their friends and others keep it to themselves. It
was important to me to show several different first times and express that it’s not the
same for everyone.

2. What makes Firsts a unique novel in the YA spectrum? What do you think makes it an
important read for young adults?

I think Firsts is unique because it’s told from an unlikely perspective—not only a
girl having sex with multiple partners, but a girl sleeping with other people’s
boyfriends. She’s a girl who might seem easy to hate, but I wanted to show all of her
dimensions. I wanted to show who she really is and tell her story. This is important for
young adults because teens make mistakes. Adults make mistakes. We all make decisions,
and they’re not always the right ones. I think it’s necessary that we can find flawed
characters between the pages of books. I made a lot of mistakes growing up, and seeing
myself reflected in book characters always made me feel better, even though they were
fictional and my problems were real.


We hope you enjoyed our reviews and the Q&A with Laurie. We wish Laurie tons of success with Firsts! Craving more content about Laurie’s debut? Make sure to check out the other stops on this blog tour! And once again huge thank you to Laurie and Raincoast for all their help and insight, as we love doing this!

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