Tag Archives: book review

ARC Review – Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America edited by Ibi Zoboi

Title: Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America

Editor:   K.E. Ormsbee

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Black is…sisters navigating their relationship at summer camp in Portland, Oregon, as written by Renée Watson.

Black is…three friends walking back from the community pool talking about nothing and everything, in a story by Jason Reynolds.

Black is…Nic Stone’s high-class beauty dating a boy her momma would never approve of.

Black is…two girls kissing in Justina Ireland’s story set in Maryland.

Black is urban and rural, wealthy and poor, mixed race, immigrants, and more—because there are countless ways to be Black enough. 

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Anthologies are always hard to review. As a reader some author’s styles or stories will gel better with you than others, and that is totally the case with Black Enough. This is a wonderful collection by a group of talented black authors, each of them with unique perspectives to share on what it means to be “black enough.”

I have to say some of my favourite stories were “Oreo” by Brandy Colbert (I felt for the heroine in this one, oreo seems like a bit of a cruel term to use, especially for liking musicals!), “Half a Moon” by Renee Watson was a fantastic family oriented story, and “Kissing Sarah Smart”by Justina Ireland was a fantastic look at a young black lesbian learning what it means to capture her sexuality. I also adored “Ingredients” by Jason Reynolds, but I am a sucker for his character banter, and this one had me in stitches because the friendship between the boys was just hilarious and true to life.

And this is why anthologies are hard to rate. There are stories in this book I enjoyed, but didn’t find as memorable. Despite them not being memorable for me, it doesn’t make the collection itself any less valuable, and I know there are going to be so many young black readers who are going to be able to identify with the stories that are represented strongly in this collection. I look forward to sharing this book with the teens in library because I feel like it has so much to teach about race, racism, and what it means to feel marginalized. There is so much truth and value here that I fee like young readers are going to be able to identify issues in these stories and relate.

Black Enough is a great collection of stories by a group of amazing authors, and I think if you can get your hands on it, it’s definitely worth checking out.

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Late to the Party ARC Review – Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani & Viviana Mazza

Title: Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree

Author:  Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani & Viviana Mazza

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: On April 14, 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls. Some managed to escape. Many are still missing. A new pair of shoes, a university degree, a husband—these are the things that a girl dreams of in a Nigerian village. A girl who works hard in school and to help her family. A girl with a future as bright as live coals in the dark. And with a government scholarship right around the corner, everyone—her mother, her five brothers, her best friend, her teachers—can see that these dreams aren’t too far out of reach. Even if the voices on Papa’s radio tell more fearful news than tales to tell by moonlight.

But the girl’s dreams turn to nightmares when her village is attacked by Boko Haram, a terrorist group, in the middle of the night. Kidnapped, she is taken with other girls and women into the forest where she is forced to follow her captors’ radical beliefs and watch as her best friend slowly accepts everything she’s been told. Still, the girl defends her existence. As impossible as escape may seem, her life—her future—is hers to fight for.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree is a difficult book to discuss. It’s the story of young women who were kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014. Our narrator, a young girl, tells the story of what life was life before the kidnapping, and what life became after she was forced to become a “wife.”

This book starts out very hopeful; the girl discusses her family, her desire to get an education and how she is supported by her father to do so, and then the kidnappings happen. Reading about the girls who were forced to become Boko Haram’s wives was terrible, uncomfortable and felt all too real.

This was an event I admit I didn’t really follow when it was in the news, but one I feel like I have a better understanding of having read this book. There’s many discussions in this book from cult mentality to rape culture, and it makes you feel a lot of anger for the women who had their lives completely stripped from them.

What’s crazy about this book is that it’s addictive. The writing is engaging, it’s disturbing, but there is shreds of hope that the girl and reader cling to. It’s frightening to think how current this event was and how aspects of this cult mentality to still exist within our world. I feel for those that suffered in this period. Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree is a powerful look at those who survived Boko Haram, and a what it means to be a survivor.

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air, #1) by Holly Black

Title: The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air, #1)

Author: Holly Black

Rating: ★★

Synopsis: Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

Huge thank you to Mando Media for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I used to be a huge Holly Black fan. I also loved how dark and sinister a lot of her stories felt. Then I read The Darker Part of the Forest and something happened — I found a book by her I didn’t enjoy. I thought this would be a one off experience, but The Cruel Prince didn’t capture me at all either.

I just never found myself clicking with the story of the characters. A lot of the issue with books featuring fae is that a lot of authors don’t go beyond the “Ohhhh fae are evil” or “Ohhhh fae are evil but their hearts can be changed.” Fae are awful, but providing depth beyond that seems to be challenging for a lot of authors. A lot of the fae folk in this story were just awful for the sake of awful and they never experienced any better development for the course of the story. Jude aggravated me a lot of the time and I just never found myself connecting with her, either.

I still love and appreciate how atmospheric a lot of Holly Black’s books are. I think what books like The Cruel Prince and The Darker Part of the Forest lack in strong characters, they make up with by having strong worlds that are bold and vivid. There is such a huge experience from Black’s writing that comes through her description, but this story just never grabbed me. Not even a little bit.

Oh and that romance? It made me cringe uncomfortabely the way A Court of Thorns and Roses did. I don’t understand how anyone can find that romance to be, y’know, a romance. Nope nope nope.

I admit, I am just so used to the quirks that come from the fae rep in Dresden Files and October Daye that my brain kept trying to push those versions of the fairy courts. I recognize this is an unfair comparison given those are 10-12 book series. I found at times The Cruel Prince was dragging feet and trying to play coy with me, saying “If you stick around to the end, all the good bits will happen,” and it just never got there for me.

I think if Holly Black goes back to novels like her Cursed Workers series, I’ll be back on the train, but if she keeps doing these uninspired fae books, I’m out for a bit. The hype train on this one may have been just a touch too high for me.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Salt by Hannah Moskowitz

Title: Salt

Author: Hannah Moskowitz

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Even though their parents disappeared during a hunt three months ago, seventeen-year-old Indi and his siblings, Beleza, Oscar, and Zulu, continue to roam the Mediterranean on their sailboat and hunt down monsters–but Indi yearns for a more settled life for his family, and he hopes that his parents’ journal with its tantalizing hints of a treasure, will provide them all with the means of escape from their nomadic and dangerous life before it is too late.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This was a fun read. There’s not a lot of pirate stories out there, let alone one with a more modernized twist to it. Salt takes a look at a group of siblings who have a strong desire for adventure, as they hit the high seas.

Salt has a fantastic ensemble cast. Each of the siblings has a distinctive voice, each with memorable quirks and personalities. I think the book captures the good aspects of a pirate novel — there’s plundering, adventure, and a desire for independence. I think what also makes this book interesting is that there’s definitely a sense of existential dread that looms over the characters as well. I think what I struggled with though, is that while the characters felt well developed, the story just plodded along and it didn’t feel like a lot happened. I suppose in a way I thought this would be a more plot intensive book, given that most pirate stories are. Perhaps that was the wrong assumption to go into with this book.

I generally have a mixed relationship to Hannah Moskowitz’s books. I either love them to the ends of the earth, or they are just pretty good. Generally, I find I love her contemporary books over her fantasy novels, and that it true of Salt. This book has fantastic characters, but if you’re looking for a plot intensive book, that isn’t what Salt is about. Sadly for me, as much as I loved the characters and found it to be a quick read, ultimately, it’s going to be a forgettable one as time passes.

Late to the Party ARC Review – The House in Poplar Wood by K.E. Ormsbee

Title: The House in Poplar Wood

Author:   K.E. Ormsbee

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: For as long as the Vickery twins can remember, they’ve only ever been able to leave the house together once a year, on Halloween. The rest of the year, Lee and his mother serve Memory, while Felix and his father assist Death. This is the Agreement.

But one Halloween, Gretchen Whipple smashes her way into their lives. Her bargain is simple: If the twins help her solve the murder of local girl Essie Hasting, she’ll help them break the Agreement. The more the three investigate, however, the more they realize that something’s gone terribly wrong in their town. Death is on the loose, and if history repeats itself, Essie’s might not be the last murder in Poplar Wood.

Simultaneously heartwarming and delightfully spooky, The House in Poplar Wood is the story about a boy’s desire to be free, a girl’s desire to make a difference, and a family’s desire to be together again.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I love a K.E. Ormsbee middle grade novel. Would you like to know why I love her books? Her middle grade novels always have a large mystery in need of unraveling, with wonderfully mysterious child characters who often adventure into the unknown and always come out stronger in the end.

Gretchen, Lee and Felix were so memorable. I do want to praise the disability representation in this book as Felix is blind in one eye and Lee is deaf in one ear. It’s done very well and these two characters are portrayed as though its a part of who they are and its very normalized. Felix and Lee are twins and they are intriguing at times because they were separated in a peculiar way that I do not want to spoil. In fact, that particular moment in the novel made me really feel for the boys!

Then there is Gretchen, who is strong-willed and not afraid of much… well, until a bit later in the story. She gets some interesting growth in the novel and while her behavior is not always likable, its makes sense in the process of the story. Actually, a lot of this book is a slow read, but it’s the engaging, mysterious kind of slow that keeps you interested, wanting to understand more and more about the world, the characters, and the murder of local girl, Essie Hasting, which is a huge part of Gretchen’s narrative.

This is very much a fall read, and one that I think will appeal to those who love the idea of a slow burn mystery. This is not a fast-paced middle grade read, but rather the kind of book that takes its time setting its atmosphere and tone, which are a large draw in this story. Ormsbee is a beautiful writer, and I love her worlds so much! If you like peculiar characters and an eerie but interesting world, check outHouse in Poplar Wood.

ARC Review – Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist by Sylvia Acevedo

Title: Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist

Author:  Sylvia Acevedo

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: A meningitis outbreak in their underprivileged neighborhood left Sylvia Acevedo’s family forever altered. As she struggled in the aftermath of loss, young Sylvia’s life transformed when she joined the Brownies. The Girl Scouts taught her how to take control of her world and nourished her love of numbers and science.   With new confidence, Sylvia navigated shifting cultural expectations at school and at home, forging her own trail to become one of the first Latinx to graduate with a master’s in engineering from Stanford University and going on to become a rocket scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This was an unexpected read that ended up on my door step. Someone who’s opinion I highly trust said it was a non-fiction book that I would likely adore. She was 100% right about that, as Path to the Stars explores the life of Sylvia Acevedo and her story of being a girl scout who loved science and wanted it to become a part of the Girl Scouts mandate.

I loved this book. I think Sylvia Acevedo’s story is one a lot of young women can easily relate to. She was lucky to have so much support from her loved ones, and trying to fit all the things that she loves into the world and giving it to those who may not have that opportunity, she wants to make that a reality for young girls everywhere. I loved learning about her traditional upbringing and I liked how this book covered her childhood right up to her first few years at college.

Having a background to her life and seeing what she has accomplished is so inspiring, and what I love is that this book teaches the value of moving from a lack of privilege, to a place of privilege, and being able to use it to give back to those who lack opportunities or are denied chances to be included because of family life and socio-economical issues. I think Path to the Stars is a thoughtful memoir that I hope any younger readers check out, and hopefully they will feel inspired by Acevedo’s life as much as I did reading this book.

 

ARC Review – On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

Title: On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

Author: Rachel Hartman

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Throughout the deepest reaches of space, a crew rebuilds beautiful and broken-down structures, painstakingly putting the past together. As Mia, the newest member, gets to know her team, the story flashes back to her pivotal year in boarding school, where she fell in love with a mysterious new student. When Mia grows close to her new friends, she reveals her true purpose for joining their ship—to track down her long-lost love.

An inventive world, a breathtaking love story, and stunning art come together in this new work by award-winning artist Tillie Walden.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I loved the heck out of Tillie Walden’s Spinning. When I heard that more of her comics were being published, I decided to keep my eye out for them. On a Sunbeam focuses on a female-female relationship that transcends to the deepest edge of the universe.

This book was beautiful. I loved Walden’s artwork and the colour choice of muted tones throughout the story. There’s a sense of loneliness, foreboding, and discomfort throughout On a Sunbeam, and that is reflected in the artwork through and through. What I loved about the story was the relationship between Mira and Grace. It felt very genuine and raw, right down to the moments where there was heartbreak. Mia is an interesting character in that she’s very strong and smart, but she’s not necessarily the most comfortable in her own skin. I found she was very easy to connect with.

There is also so much going on in this story. I think what I loved was how disjointed parts of it felt. Nothing entirely felt straight-forward and I found myself constantly questioning what was going on. Furthermore, there’s some interesting discussion regarding language usage, family dynamics, and even though this story takes place in outer space, space itself feels like it’s own character.

I loved reading On a Sunbeam, from its wonderful lady-driven romance, to its portrayal of family (and how family doesn’t have to be blood). I think Tillie Walden is a talented storyteller who gets readers attached to her characters and often lets the reader feel a strong connection to them. This story is dark, yet hopeful, and I think it will gel with readers who want stories that they feel they can be closely connected to.