Tag Archives: bloomsbury

ARC Review – Breakout by Kate Messner

Title: Breakout

Author: Kate Messner

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Nora Tucker is looking forward to summer vacation in Wolf Creek–two months of swimming, popsicles, and brushing up on her journalism skills for the school paper. But when two inmates break out of the town’s maximum security prison, everything changes. Doors are locked, helicopters fly over the woods, and police patrol the school grounds. Worst of all, everyone is on edge, and fear brings out the worst in some people Nora has known her whole life. Even if the inmates are caught, she worries that home might never feel the same.

Told in letters, poems, text messages, news stories, and comics–a series of documents Nora collects for the Wolf Creek Community Time Capsule Project–Breakout is a thrilling story that will leave readers thinking about who’s really welcome in the places we call home.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Breakout wasn’t what I thought it would be for a middle grade novel. It is a mixed media novel filled with comics, letters, text messages, and documents that are collected. It’s also based on a jail breakout that occurred in 2015 and the grinding halt it put a town into.

This book took me awhile to read. The first half moved so quickly, to the point where I was pretty swept up in the story. Then I hit the middle and the book came to this weird, grinding halt for me. I mixed media style wasn’t engaging me anymore and if I am being honest, the main fault of this book is that it’s actually a bit too long for it’s own good, and I feel like parts of it could have easily been edited down.

That being said, I loved the social activism in this book. Nora, Elidee, and Lizzie, are very engaged young adults who are trying to understand fear mongering, depression, discomfort, and alienation. The Wolf Creek Community is shocked to its core when two inmates break out of the nearby prison. Nora, Elidee and Lizzie talk about how the adults project onto them, while also writing to a future generation who may not realize what this situation has done to the community.

What I like about Kate Messner’s novels is that they always have an element of excitement to them. They are engaging, exciting, and they have such a consistent flow for readers. This book has all that, but it’s interesting seeing the level of discomfort in the story, and that felt new here. I will also point out, I love the recommendations that Messner put into the back of the book and I definitely want to check out all the books on those lists that I haven’t read yet.

While I didn’t enjoy Breakout as much as The Exact Location of Home, I still think this is going to be a great middle grade novel for readers who love stories that are different. I think this book will kindle the interest of middle graders who are interested in social activism and understanding justice. I think it will spark great conversation as well, and I look forward to recommending it to many of my middle grade readers at the library!

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Late to the Party ARC Review – The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner

Title: The Exact Location of Home

Author:  Kate Messner

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Kirby “Zig” Zigonski lives for the world of simple circuits, light bulbs, buzzers, and motors. Electronics are, after all, much more predictable than most people–especially his father, who he hasn’t seen in over a year. When his dad’s latest visit is canceled with no explanation and his mom seems to be hiding something, Zig turns to his best friend Gianna and a new gizmo–a garage sale GPS unit–for help. Convinced that his dad is leaving clues around town to explain his absence, Zig sets out to find him. Following one clue after another, logging mile after mile, Zig soon discovers that people aren’t always what they seem . . . and sometimes, there’s more than one set of coordinates for home.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

What a delightful and heartwarming read! I have never read any of Kate Messner’s books, but I have only heard good things from sources I trust. With it being Fall, I was itching to read some middle grade and this one caught my eye in the pile of ARCs I had.

This book is about Kirby, a boy who loves circuits and creating. He’s intelligent, a little awkward, and he’s trying to see if he can both help his mother out because their finances isn’t so hot, and also find his father. What’s intriguing about the novel and Kirby’s desire to find his father, is that Kirby falls in love with geocaching, and uses all of his father’s clues to locate where he has gone. What’s fun about the novel is that Messner makes the reader feel like they are helping Kirby along the way in terms of finding his father through the puzzles and clues.

I also loved the friendship between Kirby and Gianna. Gianna really forces Kirby out of his shell throughout the story and she is such a supportive and kind best friend. It’s wonderful to see friendships between boys and girls in a story that is completely platonic. I also loved Kirby’s relationship with his mother and his desire to try and help her any way he could. He’s a great hero to follow.

The Exact Location of Home is a wonderful, heartfelt romp that balances humour with raw emotion. I can’t wait to check out other books by Kate Messner now, because this one made me a fan!

ARC Review – The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth Eulberg

28260589Title: The Great Shelby Holmes

Author: Elizabeth Eulberg

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Shelby Holmes is not your average sixth grader. She’s nine years old, barely four feet tall, and the best detective her Harlem neighborhood has ever seen—always using logic and a bit of pluck (which yes, some might call “bossiness”) to solve the toughest crimes.

When eleven-year-old John Watson moves downstairs, Shelby finds something that’s eluded her up till now: a friend. Easy-going John isn’t sure of what to make of Shelby, but he soon finds himself her most-trusted (read: only) partner in a dog-napping case that’ll take both their talents to crack.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

What a refreshing surprise The Great Shelby Holmes was! This is one of the best homages I’ve encountered when it comes toSherlock Holmes, and making his work accessible to younger audiences is even better! Plus it’s written by Elizabeth Eulberg? I believe we have a winner.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when The Great Shelby Holmescame through my mail box. I love a good mystery, and I also loved that this mystery focused on dogs. I am a sucker for dog stories too! I also think it’s wonderful that Eulberg decided to have Watson be a young black boy who had recently moved to Harlem, and I found his voice to be utterly delightful. I think this story does a great job of capturing the personalities of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson and transferring them into the souls of two eleven year old kids.

I also loved the way that Watson constantly debated between being a part of the mystery and trying to make friends. While the dognapping in the book is the main mystery, there’s a larger mystery looming in regards to Shelby’s character not actually having friends and Watson trying to make friends being the new kid in town. This larger aspect of the book was completely well thought out and done, and I loved how Shelby and Watson’s relationship is so organic from the start. I think Eulberg also did a great job with the main mystery as well, and for middle graders in particular, she offers some good twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. And the dog show at the end of the story? Easily the most hilarious part.

I absolutely loved Shelby and Watson’s first adventure, and I can only hope Elizabeth Eulberg writes more for this and turns it into a series. It’s just such a joy to read, and I loved the characters and the mystery that can in this book. If you love middle grade mystery, you need to check this little gem out.

And can I say that I loved that Shelby’s English Bulldog was named “Sir Arthur”? As an English Bulldog owner that gave me way too much joy.

ARC Review – A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano

20499923Title: A Curious Tale of the In-Between

Author: Lauren DeStefano

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Pram Bellamy is special—she can talk to ghosts. She doesn’t have too many friends amongst the living, but that’s all right. She has her books, she has her aunts, and she has her best friend, the ghostly Felix.

Then Pram meets Clarence, a boy from school who has also lost a parent and is looking for answers. Together they arrive at the door of the mysterious Lady Savant, who promises to help. But this spiritualist knows the true nature of Pram’s power, and what she has planned is more terrifying than any ghost.

Huge thank you to Bloomsbury Kids for sending me an advanced copy of this book!

River’s Review:

When I found out that DeStefano was writing a middle grade novel I was a little apprehensive. I’m a huge fan of her prose and was worried that things might be a little… lacking in that department since she was writing for a younger crowd. But this book did not disappoint. I was actually quite surprised at how dark it was from the first page!

This is a story about a girl named Pram who can see ghosts. She can speak with them and even touch them. She makes friends with the ghosts around her, and there are a lot since she lives with her Aunts in their elderly care home. Pram is considered to be an unusual girl, but she is well loved and well cared for. Her mother died before Pram was born (she died with Pram still, uh, inside her) and Pram misses her mother and unknown father very much. What little she does know about the two makes her wish to know more.

Pram is sent to school where she meets a boy and they become fast friends. I was actually surprised at the slight romantic undertones of their friendship. I mean, I remember being in Elementary school and having ‘boyfriends’, but this isn’t something I’ve seen in the few middle grade books I’ve read before. I liked that this showed Pram’s maturity (because she was a very mature young girl).

Pram’s new friend, Clarence, lost his mother too, but he can still remember her and he misses her very much. He’s convinced that his mother’s ghost is haunting their house and Pram confesses that she can speak with ghosts. Clarence is actually quite believing and he drags her off to meet a woman who can commune with the spirits, a Lady Savant. Lady Savant can sense that there’s something special about Pram and bespells her, forcing Pram to come back to her, where she then whisks Pram away to suck away her powers for herself.

I love how reading DeStefano’s books is like being in a fever dream. Quiet often her characters aren’t always lucid and they do things both in reality and outside of it. There’s a beautiful sense of what is real and what should be make believe juxtaposed against each other with themes of friendship, depression, love, and family mixed together. I loved all of Pram’s relationships, especially her friendship with Felix the ghost. And I loved how Pram pieced together her own mysterious past as well as the driving force behind Lady Savant’s ambitions.

As much as I would love for this to be a stand alone, it appears there might be more to come? And I am okay with that.

Summer Contemporary Fling – The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord

22429350Title:  The Start of Me and You

Author: Emery Lord

Rating:  ★★★★ 1/2 / ★★★★★

Synopsis: Brimming with heartfelt relationships and authentic high-school dynamics, The Start of Me and You proves that it’s never too late for second chances.

It’s been a year since it happened—when Paige Hancock’s first boyfriend died in an accident. After shutting out the world for two years, Paige is finally ready for a second chance at high school . . . and she has a plan. First: Get her old crush, Ryan Chase, to date her—the perfect way to convince everyone she’s back to normal. Next: Join a club—simple, it’s high school after all. But when Ryan’s sweet, nerdy cousin, Max, moves to town and recruits Paige for the Quiz Bowl team (of all things!) her perfect plan is thrown for a serious loop. Will Paige be able to face her fears and finally open herself up to the life she was meant to live?

Huge thank you to Bloomsbury and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This was my first Emery Lord book. I admit, I was afraid to tackle it given the high praise of Open Road Summer (which I own, but haven’t read yet). I was nervous to go into this considering how much a lot of my blogger friends love her books, but I’m glad I read this. The Start of Me and You, though it has a rocky start, ends on a satisfying note.

First off, I want to talk about Paige. I love the way she was written because unlike a lot of young adult novels, she felt and acted her age. Lord does this amazing job of making her voice and mannerisms so authenticate that when Paige behaves a certain way, it feels believable or right in the context of the situation. She’s nerdy, shy, a little reserved, and yet she wants to grow and become a stronger individual. She has aspirations for herself and her self-esteem, and she’s easy to cheer for because you see she wears her imperfections on her sleeve.

Paige faces the tragedy of her boyfriend dying in an accident, and she struggles to open her heart again. Enter Max, who by far might be one of the first YA love interests in awhile that I can say I rooted for. Max is darling, he’s hilarious, and capitalizes on his social awkwardness. In way, it makes him charming, darling and just plain funny. He has a lot of heart and like Paige struggles to put himself out there, but where he differs is that he’s more willing to make mistakes, get hurt, and learn from it. Lord provides both Paige and Max with a lot of depth, and what we have is a relationship that develops in a beautiful, organic way. There’s no insta-love, but you get this shy and awkward interaction between the two that feels very realistic.

Lord also does an amazing job of writing friendships. In a way it reminds me of reading a Robin Benway novel, where the protagonist has well developed friends who feel like real people and can be counted on. I thought Tessa and Kayleigh were adorable and I loved how much they cared for Paige and wanted her to grow as well. Heck, I even liked the way Paige’s family was portrayed, especially the relationship she has with her grandmother. I thought that was richly described and wonderfully touching. Not a lot of people can say they are super close to their grandparents, but Paige’s relationship with hers felt very strong, which is why I think it hurt all the more.

Like I said from the beginning, this is my first Emery Lord book and it definitely won’t be my last. I really enjoyed the level of depth that Lord carved into the relationships within the narrative and how everything felt neatly woven together. The book does have a difficult start and it might not capture the reader if you aren’t in the right mood to read a book like this. The Start of Me and You will tug at your heart-strings, and give you a story full of wonderful relationships and realistic characters.

River’s Review:

Last year I read Open Road Summer and was not impressed with it. I almost didn’t pick this book up, but I did. And I read half the first chapter and put it down. I wasn’t going to read it. Then I won a copy and Sammy added it to our Summer Contemporary Fling list sooooo I picked it back up.

And this book broke me. It was SO good (so much better than ORS in my opinion) and I just devoured it. I loved the friendships, I loved Paige’s voice, I LOOOOVED Max, and I love the family aspect too.

In this book Paige struggled with being The Girl Who’s Boyfriend Died. Two months into dating Aaron he dies in an accident and Paige is just left… floating in the wind. She’s torn between the fact that she wasn’t REALLY a huge part of his life (or his her) and how much she feels she should be grieving especially in comparison with his life long friends and family. Paige is terrified of drowning (how he died) and she struggles with PTSD as well. I thought this was interesting because Paige has this awful position of people feeling sorry for her and then herself questioning how much she should allow herself to feel sorry for herself. And she constantly asks herself if it’s okay to be happy. So she decides that this next year will be the year she gets back out there and she makes a plan (she’s a super realist and planner) to make the next year great.

And part of the plan is to date her super crush, Ryan Chase. Ryan used to be the golden boy but his longtime girlfriend breaks up with him over the summer and he basically falls down the social scale. Ryan is a cool guy tho, and he’s best friends with his cousin, Max. Paige randomly gets on Ryan’s radar and she befriend’s Max with the slight (but not like FULL) intention of getting closer to Ryan. Slowly Ryan and Max get pulled into Paige’s circle of friends and they all become really close. I LOVED this dynamic so much. I loved the girlfriend friendships and I loved the guy friend relationships. Each girl in the group has her own personality and while I enjoyed them, there were times I couldn’t keep them all totally straight. But other than that, the group was just so dynamic and I loved them.

Paige also has this amazing relationship with her grandmother and omg, that was such a bittersweet thing for me. I was SUPER close to my grandmother and when she died of cancer it was DEVASTATING for me. Paige’s grandma doesn’t have cancer, but she does have Alzheimer and lives in an assisted living center… much like my living grandmother at the moment. So that just made me cry like a million times and made this book so much personal for me.

I really loved Max and I loved his relationship with Paige. It was very much the perfect contemporary romance and I loved the growth of their friendship, the tension as they became something more, and the issues they faced with each other. It was just so emotional.

There were just SO many things in this book that really hit a lot of the right notes for me. I loved the family dynamic and how it was different but that the parents were present, I loved the sibling relationship and how it was there in the background. I loved the little side friendship that Tessa and Max had. I loved that Ryan and Paige became actual real friends. I loved that Paige and her friends seemed like actual real teens. And I even loved the down to earth teacher that pushed them and seemed like a real person.

This book was SO good and now I can’t wait for Lord’s next book!

Late to the Party ARC Review – A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

16096824Title:  A Court of Thorns and Roses

Author: Sarah J. Maas

Rating:  ★★★

Synopsis: When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

Huge thank you to Indigo Teen for sending me this ARC as part of a giveaway!

Sam’s Review:

This is probably going to be an unpopular opinion, but I thought this book was all right. Frankly, I had been putting it off since it released because the hype levels were just absolutely insane and I had a hunch that this book might have not been for me. Let’s just say, while I found this book engrossing, it was also kind of ridiculous as well.

Truthfully, I had a hard time with the romance in this book. It just read as melodrama, which I’m fine with actually. The amount of angst, tug and pull between Feyre and Tamlin was like popping candy. However, that rape-that-wasn’t-a-rape is something that did very much upset me, and I honestly wish fantasy authors would stop including that in a book to give their female protagonists agency. It’s just not acceptable and there are so many other ways to do that than resorting to rape.

Furthermore, I don’t like the men in this novel. With the except of Rhys, I found Lucian and Tamlin read in such a one-dimensional way. I couldn’t get over how many times the author used the word “growl” or “snarl” to describe Tamlin, especially when for a Beauty & the Beast retelling he is described as a super hot fae man. THAT’S NOT A BEAST. He’s just a grumpy fae man who SNARLS A LOT. I mean I guess hot guys can be ‘beasts’ but I just had such a hard time buying it in the story because Feyre was just so in love but tormented by him.

Oddly, I found I liked the female cast a bit more. I wanted to know more about Nesta and I liked what we learned about Feyre’s story and her life before becoming captive. In a lot of ways I wish there had been more backstory because those were the parts over the romance that I enjoyed. I actually thought the ending was pretty solid too. I appreciate that Feyre was comfortable with herself — she never seemed insecure, and she has quite a bit of sexual prowess which I think helped her personality in the story. I don’t think she’s a Katniss wannabe that some people peg her for, but I think she has just enough layers to counteract how much of a caricature her love interest is.

But here’s the thing about this book I WILL agree with: it’s candy, the kind of candy that you can just keep turning the pages and be completely glued to the story. You want to know why the story is ridiculous, you want to see if the characters are going to grow and mature (short answer: they don’t), and here’s the even bigger revelation: I can totally see the appeal of why people love this book, even if I disagree. It’s easy to get swept up in the melodrama and the sexual tension because there’s so much of it. Hell, I have to admit it happened on occasion to me when reading the story.

Admittedly, I am super sure I am going to read book two. Even though I found this book to be a ball of melodrama and candy page-turning, I enjoyed my time with it and I found it to be a great escape from reality. It wasn’t even mindless, it was just so easy to be invested in the drama that these characters face, even if at times it was rather silly. While I am not sold yet on Sarah J. Maas as a writer, I am interested to see how much melodrama gets ramped up in book two.

ARC Review – Inked by Eric Smith

22511892Title: Inked

Author: Eric Smith

Rating: ★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Tattoos once were an act of rebellion. Now they decide your destiny the moment the magical Ink settles under your skin. And in a world where Ink controls your fate, Caenum can’t escape soon enough. He is ready to run from his family, and his best friend Dreya, and the home he has known, just to have a chance at a choice.

But when he upsets the very Scribe scheduled to give him his Ink on his eighteenth birthday, he unwittingly sets in motion a series of events that sends the corrupt, magic-fearing government, The Citadel, after him and those he loves.

Now Caenum, Dreya, and their reluctant companion Kenzi must find their way to the Sanctuary, a secret town where those with the gift of magic are safe. Along the way, they learn the truth behind Ink, its dark origins, and why they are the only ones who can stop the Citadel.

Huge thank you to Bloomsbury and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I am insanely torn on Inked by Eric Smith. I really enjoyed his non-fiction work, The Geek’s Guide to Dating, but this book took me so long to get through. When you read the blurb it has such a dynamic blurb, and yet when you read the book, it just doesn’t live up to the expectations that it boasts.

To be honest, Inked‘s premise was so promising and yet, I never felt entirely captured by it. I didn’t connect or care about the characters or Caenum’s overall cause. I feel like his rebellion came across more like a hissy fit and I suppose that is a valid response, but I just didn’t care. I didn’t care that he didn’t want to do it. I never got the sense from the book that the tattoos were evil or bad, so I didn’t feel like I cared about what Caenum’s deal was. The pacing was also weird, as I found I’d zoom through some bits, and struggle to turn pages the next. It felt all over the place.

I admit, the writing is decent (though there’s a few awkward sentences that made my eyebrow go up), but these characters just didn’t make me connect. I felt like I was trying too hard to like these characters, and the characters weren’t trying at all. There’s some moral issues that also become prevalent in the story, but it just resolves itself when it could have been a good opportunity for character growth. I think that’s ultimately what bugged me with the cast of this novel — there’s no growth. There’s no movement or change within them that gives you a sense that they are learning or understanding the world around them. I mean the world building is iffy at best, but more growth from the cast really would have benefited in the long run for this narrative.

At the end of the day, I wanted more, and I didn’t get it. The story felt flimsy a lot of the time, like it didn’t have a solid leg to stand on. That being said, when the action was on, it was actually pretty great and I found myself speeding through the novel. I think the ideas are really great, but the execution left a lot to be desired in some cases. I think there were just more misses in this book than hits, which is such a shame because I REALLY wanted to love this one.