Tag Archives: book reviews

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head (The Curiosity House #1) by Lauren Oliver & H.G. Chester

Title: The Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head (The Curiosity House #1)

Author: Lauren Oliver & H.G. Chester

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: The book is about, among other things: the strongest boy in the world, a talking cockatoo, a faulty mind reader, a beautiful bearded lady and a nervous magician, an old museum, and a shrunken head.

Blessed with extraordinary abilities, orphans Philippa, Sam, and Thomas have grown up happily in Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders. Philippa is a powerful mentalist, Sam is the world’s strongest boy, and Thomas can squeeze himself into a space no bigger than a bread box. The children live happily with museum owner Mr. Dumfrey, alongside other misfits. But when a fourth child, Max, a knife-thrower, joins the group, it sets off an unforgettable chain of events.

When the museum’s Amazonian shrunken head is stolen, the four are determined to get it back. But their search leads them to a series of murders and an explosive secret about their pasts.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I recognize this book has been out for two years already, but I always feel obligated that when I get an ARC from a publisher, even if I haven’t read it right away that I always give it a review. I LOVE Lauren Oliver’s middle grade books, and I would argue that those are her better works over her YA offerings. The Spindlers was imaginative, Lisel & Po has remained a favourite to this day, and then there is The Curiosity House series, which is unique to say the least.

What I enjoyed about The Shrunken Head is that it has this old timey vibe to it, from how the murder mystery elements are set up, to even the whimsical side of the narrative. It also builds of the old circus tropes from a bearded lady, to mind readers, and even a talking bird. There’s a lot of weird and whimsy in this book, and I will argue that that is what makes it so engaging. The Shrunken Head takes so many crazy twists and turns for a middle grade story that it easily keeps the reader engaged.

I will say that the kids took awhile to grow on me. I feel like they just weren’t as fleshed out compared to characters in Oliver’s other novels. This isn’t a bad thing, but it did damper my enjoyment at times because I found it so hard to connect to the children. On the opposite end, I loved how ridiculous the adults were in this story. They were extreme and utterly crazy.

While I wasn’t in love with this first installment to the The Curiosity House series, I still want to read the rest of them. I feel like this series has the potential to grow into something that is truly special, and I look forward to reading on and seeing what the next adventure has in store.

ARC Reviews – A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom

28575699Title: A Tragic Kind of Wonderful

Author: Eric Lindstrom

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: For sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to keep everyone at arm’s length. And when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to come out and upend her shaky equilibrium.

As the walls of Mel’s compartmentalized world crumble, she fears the worst–that her friends will abandon her if they learn the truth about what she’s been hiding. Can Mel bring herself to risk everything to find out?

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I had a weird relation with this book as I was reading it. In fact, for such a short book I had put it down for six days without reading it because something within its contents gave me a reason to. I won’t lie to readers, Mel is a challenging heroine — she’s very distant from the reader, sometimes to the point where you never feel like she’s going to be open enough either. I hit a point with her where I was frustrated and it caused me to put the book down.

After some internal monologue and a few days away from the book, I picked it up again, determined I needed to see it to the end given I have this habit that I don’t like to give up on people or ficitional characters apparently. I am happy I saw her story to the end.

Lindstrom’s writing has a very simplistic quality to it that makes it very engaging. Mel is so into her own mind, thoughts and feelings that she doesn’t see beyond the world. She’s so focused on the death of Nolan, the guilt and anxiety that is present within her and its to the point where everyone she’s ever loved has been pushed far, far away from her. I can relate to that. Sometimes it’s on purpose, other times its just done unconsciously. My frustrations with Mel came from seeing myself in her and I think it’s why a part of me avoided this book for the while that I did.

Mel’s illness is rough, but her reactions and responses are so realistic, right down to the friends she keeps. I really liked the way Lindstrom handled the teenage drama in this book because the responses didn’t feel melodramatic, but rather on point. People do blow situations out of proportion, some people do try to be an alpha in a friendship, some people will try to take all the attention for themselves — all these reactions felt right in place with the story. I felt so angry with a lot of the characters in this book because none of them every stopped to look at the bigger pictures, which again shows a lot of strength in the story being told here.

There are parts of this book that I think will make readers uneasy at times, but I do think A Tragic Kind of Wonderful offers some wonderfully realistic characters trying to seek light in dark places. It is for those who wish to understand those with mental illness, and what Mel feels throughout the story sheds a lot of light on the stigma of mental illness, even if she s a character can feel really infuriating at the same time. If you like deep contemporary YA, this is definitely worth checking out.

ARC Review – Blood For Blood (Wolf By Wolf, #2) by Ryan Graudin

26864835Title: Blood For Blood (Wolf By Wolf, #2)

Author: Ryan Graudin

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: For the resistance in 1950s Germany, the war may be over, but the fight has just begun.

Death camp survivor Yael, who has the power to skinshift, is on the run: the world has just seen her shoot and kill Hitler. But the truth of what happened is far more complicated, and its consequences are deadly. Yael and her unlikely comrades dive into enemy territory to try to turn the tide against the New Order, and there is no alternative but to see their mission through to the end, whatever the cost.

But dark secrets reveal dark truths, and one question hangs over them all: how far can you go for the ones you love?

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

One of my favourite reads from last year was Wolf By Wolf. It just married everything I love in a story together: awesome action, great characters, a well developed and (in this case) researched story. I am also a sucker for alternative history stories, which was another reason why Wolf By Wolf won me over. I have been anticipating the sequel, Blood for Blood since I finished the first book, and I actually managed to hold off reading this until now.

And then I tore right through it. Much like Wolf By Wolf, Blood for Blood had the exact same addictive qualities. Yael is still an amazing heroine, and her thirst for revenge and vengeance for her people is much more violent in this book. The stakes also feel much higher, and there’s such an aggressiveness in Yael, Mariam and Luka’s cause. Even the scope of this story feels so much larger and terrifying, and at times I felt so afraid for these characters, but I also loved that even though they were in frightening situations, they managed to keep their eyes on the proverbial prize.

I also loved that we finally got to learn more about Yael and Mariam’s origins, as well as about skinshifting, and all the experimentation. Graudin has this real knack for giving the right amount of dealt without providing information overload, something which I feel like in the hands of an unskilled writer, would pose a major problem.

I cried, I cheered, I yelled, I threw my arms up reading this book. It took so many fantastic twists and turns and kept me on the edge of my seat. Whenever I had to put Blood for Blood down to go back to work, I was always waiting and thinking about what was potentially going to happen next and if the tables would be turned. There is a lot of real surprise in this book, and I am sad that this duology is over. I felt exhausted by the end, and yet I felt that this ending was just so satisfying and dynamic, ending the only way it could have. I STILL LOVED IT. This book is a wonderful conclusion, if you haven’t read Wolf By Wolf, get on that ASAP.

ARC Review – Diplomatic Immunity by Brodi Ashton

Title:  Diplomatic Immunity
Author: Brodi Ashton
Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Aspiring reporter Piper Baird decides to write a scathing exposé on the overprivileged students at an elite Washington, DC, school, only for her life to change when she begins to fall for the story’s main subject, in this new realistic contemporary romance from Brodi Ashton, the author of the Everneath trilogy.

Raucous parties, privileged attitudes, underage drinking, and diplomatic immunity…it’s all part of student life on Embassy Row.

Piper Baird has always dreamed of becoming a journalist. So when she scores a scholarship to exclusive Chiswick Academy in Washington, DC, she knows it’s her big opportunity. Chiswick offers the country’s most competitive prize for teen journalists—the Bennington scholarship—and winning will ensure her acceptance to one of the best schools in the country.

Piper isn’t at Chiswick for two days before she witnesses the intense competition in the journalism program—and the extreme privilege of the young and wealthy elite who attend her school. And Piper knows access to these untouchable students just might give her the edge she’ll need to blow the lid off life at the school in a scathing and unforgettable exposé worthy of the Bennington.

The key to the whole story lies with Rafael Amador, the son of the Spanish ambassador—and the boy at the center of the most explosive secrets and scandals on Embassy Row. Rafael is big trouble—and when he drops into her bedroom window one night, asking for help, it’s Piper’s chance to get the full scoop. But as they spend time together, Piper discovers that despite his dark streak, Rafael is smart, kind, funny, and gorgeous—and she might have real feelings for him. How can she break the story of a lifetime if it could destroy the boy she just might love? 

Molly’s Review – 

Huge thank you to HarperTeen for an advance copy of this book!

I really loved this book! I went into it with high hopes and they were met! This is my first book by Brodi Ashton and wow, her writing is so fun! I breezed right through this book, and was totally engaged from start to finish.

Our MC, Piper, is a journalist. She’s a big neurotic and will do anything for a story… and college tuition. So she gets it into her head that if she can get into this super competitive Ivy league high school in Washington D.C. that she’ll win a prestigious scholarship that will get her into Columbia. She manages to get into the school and is shocked by the way that the privileged elite that attend the school act, and what they can get away with. Especially those with diplomatic immunity.

On Piper’s first day of school she makes a fool out of herself in front of the son of the Spanish diplomat. Raf is charming and a bit of a bad boy. Piper sees her in with the DI crowd (diplomatic immunity kids) and starts to put together an expose on the shit that they get away with. She knows that this story will get her the scholarship that will get her into Columbia. Only she doesn’t really plan on falling for Raf but… she does. And then lines start to blur…

I really loved the voice of this book. Piper was so relateable because she’s not perfect. She lies and uses and she loves and cares so deeply. Her brother is on the spectrum and the way that she interacts with him is perfect and I just loved her whole family, money troubles and all. I also loved that Raf’s brother was also on the spectrum and that they had something really intimate to bond over. That they could get each other on this different level. And that it made Piper all the more human when she starts to delve away from her path of “getting the story”.

The writing in this book was so effortless. I love it when I fall into a book and just read and don’t feel like I’m putting in any effort. Sure some books I love to really dig into and have to think about, but there are times when I just need something smooth. This was perfect. It had just enough drama, enough heart and humor that it kept me engaged and I flew through it.

Really enjoyed this one! Don’t miss out!

ARC Review – Girls Like Me by Lola St.Vil

28114572Title: Girls Like Me

Author: Lola St.Vil

Rating: ★★

Synopsis: Fifteen-year-old Shay Summers is trying to cope with the death of her father, being overweight, and threats from a girl bully in school. When she falls in love with Blake, a mysterious boy online, insecure Shay doesn’t want to tell him who she is. But with the help of her two best friends, as well as an assist by Kermit and Miss Piggy, ultimately Shay and Blake’s love prevails. 

 

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!
Sam’s Review:

Girls Like Me was a book I came out coveting from the #TeendsReadFeed event hosted by Raincoast. With its adorable cover and its interesting pitch, I thought this would book would be a grand slam for me. I love books about underdogs, about people don’t necessary fit into the molds of society, who want be loved, but there was a lot about this book that simply didn’t work for me.

First off, I really didn’t understand why this novel was written in verse. I like to think when a novel is written in verse that it’s attempting to highlight something specific by using the style to explore whatever it is they are attempting to show. In this novel, I found I just never connected with the use of verse. It was there but it didn’t evoke any real meaning or feeling for me. Also the sections that were written entirely in text message? Those were simply painful to read, and while I am sure teens likely do text that way, I had moments where it was hard to decipher what some of the short hands even meant.

The other thing is that I wanted to love Shay and I wanted to root for her, but the book was missing something there as well. All we know is that she’s bullied and she fat, but neither of these aspects are really explore because this is all we are really told about her character. We don’t actually know much about why she is bullied (although in truth, it is high school and sometimes bullies bully for the sake of it), but it just felt like something more was needed to make me connect to her on that emotional level, which I just felt like I never got reading this book. Being emotionally connected to characters is important to me, and I felt like Shay was very distant and very closed despite this being her personal thoughts.

The other thing I wish this book had pushed harder and started to before it fizzled off was looking at being “body positive.” It was there, then it kinda disappeared and I felt like the messages that the author was trying to convey started to get lost and over showed by Shay’s romantic feelings, which is totally fine, except that I don’t feel like I really got to know the guy she was falling for.

While I felt horrible for the way Shay was treated in the novel and the names she was called, I feel like this book was missing the spark for me to cheer for her when she does fight back. This isn’t a bad book at all, and I do think there will be readers out there who will connect emotionally to Shay’s story, I just wish I had been one of them.

Well done books set in Japan

 

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For the past month all I’ve done is cook Japanese food, read books set in Japan, and miss things like Japanese convenience stores, dependable trains, and being able to walk around a night feeling safe. Then a facebook memory popped up and reminded me that I moved back to the USA two years ago. Huh. No wonder I’ve been devouring Japanese stuff left and right.

It’s weird. After moving back both my husband and I were almost rejecting everything Japanese that we could. We didn’t eat Japanese food, listen to Japanese music, or watch anything Japan related. Then we slowly started to get home sick and binged on everything Japan. I think we’ve found a nice balance now. We love our home in Boston, we love MIT, but we also really love to shop at the Asian supermarket and order sushi to eat while watching anime.

As many of you know I love to read books set in Japan, but I have a lot of trouble with what’s out there. A lot of popular things are written by white authors that only experienced Japan for a short time in a very limited perspective. There is a huge difference between living in Japan for many years vs. visiting vs. studying abroad vs. teaching English for a year. I’m not going to belittle anyone’s experiences, but you CANNOT claim authority on something that you haven’t fully experienced. And this is where I have a lot of issue with some of the books I read. Whenever I find out a book is set in Japan (at least in the YA scope) I HAVE to find out what the author’s experience is. While I do think that it’s okay for author’s to write outside of their experiences, I also think that if they chose to do so, they need to get their work vetted by those who HAVE lived those experiences.

So I want to talk about some of the books that I’ve read recently that I’ve found to be spot on with accuracy.

25898828The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw — Five stars

I just finished this book and I ADORED it. The Last Cherry Blossom is a middle grade book set in Japan during WWII around the time of the atomic bomb. This book is based on the author’s mother’s experiences in WWII Japan and during the dropping of the atom bomb. It’s well written and based on true events!

27414389A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith — Four stars

I did go into this book with a little hesitance. The author visited Japan but (as far as I know) has never lived there for any period of time. I was a little worried but she did a lot of research and seems to have gotten her work vetted by those with experience in Japan. I did have a few Japanese word usage issues and a couple of authenticity qualms, but overall it was well done and didn’t get anything glaringly WRONG. This is a story that takes place in modern Japan and historical Japan. It’s also a ghost story. I really loved how the author did use her experiences from her visit to Japan to really get a lot of the details right.

25688977The Monster on the Road is Me by J.P. Romney — Five stars

I LOVED this book. The author taught English with the JET program and lived in a small village in the Japanese countryside. I love that he had such a different experience than most English teachers who work in or near larger cities. This book is 100% Japanese in the fact that there are no non-Japanese characters. It’s based on Japanese folklore and has a lot of Japanese words used in the text (a little too much at times I thought). The parts that take place in the classroom and school are something only those who have actually worked in Japanese high schools would be able to really tell us about. I had no issues with any of the accuracy in this book and LOVED that there wasn’t any “white savior” nonsense going on.

26138370Seven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse — Five Stars

When I first heard about this book I was worried that it was going to be written by another white girl who studied abroad for a little or taught English in Tokyo for a year. But after connecting with the author we got super nostalgic about our lives in Japan and I got REALLY excited to see what this book was about. It’s a love letter to Tokyo, to Japan, and to her life there. I’ve seen a few reviews saying how they wished there was more Japanese culture in this book and that Japan was only used as a backdrop and that a lot more could have been done. I disagree. This book isn’t about a girl going and exploring and learning about Japan. This is the story of a girl who’s lived there for a long time. She’s already integrated. She also very much lives the life of an expat; she goes to an English speaking school, she has a lot of English speaking friends, and she lives in Tokyo… where you don’t have to speak Japanese to survive. She’s also a teen who has a mother that takes care of the more critical aspects of living in Japan. This is instead the story of a girl who lives in that circle (I knew A LOT of people who lived in expat circles) who has to say goodbye to a country and culture that she loves. There is a TON of Japan and Japanese culture in this book and I loved how none of it was really forced or taught or explained from a superior stance. I hate it when I read books about a character moving to Japan and then the author goes on and on about the culture in a totally unnatural way that is basically showing off how much they know. This book doesn’t do that, and I loved it.

30521682Year of the Talking Dog by Patrick Sherriff — Five Stars

This book is the second book in the Hana Walker series. I LOVED the first book and was so excited that I got to beta read the second book. I have since re-read the published version and damn, it was so good. The Hana Walker Mysteries series is about a half Japanese half British girl who gets sucked into solving mysteries that deal with the yakuza and in this one, a North Korean spy. I know the author personally and he’s lived in Japan for quite some time. He also has children who are half Japanese half British and I love that he’s representing his daughters in his work. Someday they’ll read his novels and see themselves in them and that’s just amazing to me. These books make me miss Japan SO much.

So there we go. Do you  know of any books that are set in Japan that you think I should check out? I have a list on my goodreads account and I am ALWAYS looking for books to add to it!

 

ARC Review – This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

23299512Title: This Savage Song

Author:  Victoria Schwab

Rating:  ★★★★ / ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: The city of Verity has been overrun with monsters, born from the worst of human evil. In North Verity, the Corsai and the Malchai run free. Under the rule of Callum Harker, the monsters kill any human who has not paid for protection. In the South, Henry Flynn hunts the monsters who cross the border into his territory, aided by the most dangerous and darkest monsters of them all—the Sunai, dark creatures who use music to steal their victim’s souls.

As one of only three Sunai in existence, August Flynn has always wanted to play a bigger role in the war between the north and the south. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate Harker, daughter of the leader of North Verity, August jumps on it.
When Kate discovers August’s secret, the pair find themselves running for their lives and battling monsters from both sides of the wall. As the city dissolves into chaos, it’s up to them to foster a peace between monsters and humans.

Huge thank you to Greenwillow Books / Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Molly’s Review:

TBH this is a low 4 stars. Not quite 3.5. Idk. I liked this but at the same time I felt like I’d already experienced this story and these characters somewhere else. The closest I can get is that it’s a mix of two Japanese anime; D.Gray Man & Tokyo Ghoul. But even then I feel like I’m missing another title or movie that I’ve already seen.

The characters are cliche but enjoyable. There’s not a lot going on for the first half of the book. If you want solid explanations on the HOW and WHY you aren’t really going to get it. If you’re okay with vague ideas then you’ll be set.

This is also a super quick read despite the length (big font and short lines on the page). It is compelling, but didn’t live up to the OMG hype for me. It also didn’t disappoint but that might be because, for me, Schwab isn’t an OMG FAV, but just another author who’s work I enjoy.

Sam’s Review:
I adore Victoria Scwab’s books. They are often very imaginative and easy to get sucked into when it comes to story and characters. Here’s the thing, I LOVED This Savage Song but read it reminded me a lot of watching anime. It’s an exciting, crazy read, but it feels like something I have, admittedly, encountered before.

This Savage Song explores a world that is divided by humans and monsters. Both struggle to exist together, and this also gives us our two protagonists: Kate and August, one human and one monster, and their common goals. This idea of humans and monsters co-existing is nothing new, but I actually loved our heroes and thought they were a lot of fun to follow around, even if they were a touch cliche. Part of the issue with this book is that the world does take a long time to develop, and there’s a lot of vagueness. Sometimes I don’t mind that, but in this case, having a lot of the world be more fleshed out would have been a bit more of a benefit.

Despite the the vagueness, which sometimes made me feel a bit lost, this book was compulsively readable and it was like reading candy. I kept turning the pages, wanting to read and know more, and when I didn’t get more, I still didn’t seem to mind because I was just so glued to trying to understand anything and everything that was going on. I do hope some of the vaguer aspects of the world gets explored in the sequel, because I WANT TO KNOW MORE. The ending worked so well for me, and around the two hundred page mark, I was really glued to trying to figure out the story.

I do think there’s a lot of action and fun with This Savage Song, but for me it wasn’t perfect. In fact, it was far from perfect because even though I was so glued to the pages, there was a lot of cliches and vagueness that just felt there and needed a bit more explaination. The characters are fun, cheeky, and that ending does have me sold to see where things go. Plys the lack of romance in this novel worked insanely well to its advantage and will say that watching Kate and August’s friendship blossom was an absolute delight. I still wanted more about the monsters, more about the world, more about the Harkers.

If you are a die-hard Victoria Schwab fan, I still think you will find merit here, but it’s not a book I would recommend as a starting point. It did, inevitably leave me wanting more information, and I think if more had been explained, this would have been a slam dunk for me.