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ARC Review – The Explorers: The Door in the Alley (The Explorers #1) by Adrienne Kress

Title: The Explorers: The Door in the Alley (The Explorers #1)

Author: Adrienne Kress

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Featuring a mysterious society, a secretive past, and a pig in a teeny hat, “The Explorers: The Door in the Alley” is the first book in a new series for fans of “The Name of This Book Is a Secret” and “The Mysterious Benedict Society. “Knock once if you can find it but only members are allowed inside.   This is one of those stories that start with a pig in a teeny hat. It s not the one you re thinking about. (This story is way better than that one.) This pig-in-a-teeny-hat story starts when a very uninquisitive boy stumbles upon a very mysterious society. After that, there is danger and adventure; there are missing persons, hired thugs, a hidden box, a lost map, and famous explorers; and there is a girl looking for help that only uninquisitive boys can offer. “The Explorers: The Door in the Alley” is the first book in a series that is sure to hit young readers right in the funny bone.

Huge thank you to Penguin Ranadom House Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Ever read a book that made you laugh out loud because how quirky it was in nature? I find the best middle grade reads always offer a combination of humour, adventure, and cheeky characters. This is exactly what you will find in Adrienne Kress’ The Explorers: The Door in the Alley — a whimsical, hilarious romp with delightfully funny characters and adventure lurking in each and every chapter.

The Explorers focuses on Sebastien and Evie, two children from very different backgrounds being flung into what seems like an unexplained adventure. Seb is very logical, narrow and stiff, where as Evie is clever and no nonsense. These characters couldn’t be more different and yet the way they work together is something to applaud. I think younger readers will definitely be able to connect to the two protagonists. Also can we discuss the pig in the hat? I loved any time that darn pig showed up!

The writing in this book is chockful of humour and wit. Kress’ writing is sharp as it is funny, and the way in which she is able to describe many of Seb and Evie’s encounters is often very entertaining. The writing is fast, it pops along the pages, and its very upbeat… until the ending. I would argue the ending is the roughest part of this book, and admittedly it left me a tad cold (which is why I want more from this series!). It’s not a bad ending, but it did leave me feeling somewhat unsatisfied.

I am glad that this book is becoming a series, because I feel like these characters have the potential grow into household favourites. Kress is a talented writer with a lot to offer younger readers, and I won’t lie when I say it was so thrilling to be back in one of her worlds again after such a long hiatus. The Explorers is a delightful middle grade story that offers a lot to young readers. While parts of this book feel a bit cliche, I won’t deny how much fun I had reading this book, and I can only imagine how much fun this book will be once it’s in the hands of children everywhere.

ARC Review – Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

V23 new typeface tagline.inddTitle: Tell Me Three Things

Author:  Julie Buxbaum

Rating:  ★★★★★

Synopsis: What if the person you need the most is someone you’ve never met?  Everything about Jessie is wrong. At least, that’s what it feels like during her first week of junior year at her new ultra-intimidating prep school in Los Angeles. Just when she’s thinking about hightailing it back to Chicago, she gets an email from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN for short), offering to help her navigate the wilds of Wood Valley High School. Is it an elaborate hoax? Or can she rely on SN for some much-needed help?

It’s been barely two years since her mother’s death, and because her father eloped with a woman he met online, Jessie has been forced to move across the country to live with her stepmonster and her pretentious teenage son.

In a leap of faith—or an act of complete desperation—Jessie begins to rely on SN, and SN quickly becomes her lifeline and closest ally. Jessie can’t help wanting to meet SN in person. But are some mysteries better left unsolved?

Huge thank you to #firstinline for sending me a copy of this book!

River’s Review:

Omg you guys I LOVED THIS BOOK SO MUCH!!!! I’m a huge fan of contemporary YA and this was just so good I wish I could read it again. Jessie’s voice was so amazingly pitch perfect and she was so funny. This entire book was so true to tone too. It felt so real and just resonated with the part of me that was super awkward in high school and never felt like I fit in. Hell as an adult I still don’t feel like I fit in (and could TOTALLY relate to the father when he was talking about how he doesn’t feel like an adult, ugh, dude, I feel ya).

I loved how the relationship between Jessie and SN grew. I’ve had so many online friendships that have turned into IRL friendships that it’s just kinda weird (to me) when people DON’T have those kinds of relationships. Sure not everyone is going to find their soul mate, bff or partner online, but man, how do you NOT have at least a few friendships going on there????

I also could relate to how difficult and different it was for Jessie to “go home”. I’ve spent a lot of time away from my hometown and the first time I went back after having been gone for a full year, it was difficult. Very difficult. People change, move on, and they don’t even mean to all of the time. I loved that it wasn’t easy for either Jessie or Scarlet to just go back to the way things used to be.

The mystery of who SN was wasn’t really much of a mystery for me. I accidentally saw at the end of the book (that’s what I get for checking to see how many pages it was hahahaha) but none of the guys that she thought they could be seemed to fit the bill for me. So I was glad when it turned out to be who it was. And then to find out the reason why SN was doing what they were doing… it really seemed to fit.

Also, shout out to Theo. He was probably my favorite. I loved how he was such a diva and threw a tantrum and then later he came around and was all chill with his new sister. That’s the kind of friend I would want if I were in Jessie’s place.

If you’re a fan of contemporary YA with happy endings and high school drama, check this out. Jessie’s voice will suck you in and make you laugh and smile and you wont want to put this book down!

ARC Review – The Trouble with Destiny by Lauren Morrill

18982137Title: The Trouble With Destiny

Author:  Lauren Morrill

Rating:  ★★★

Synopsis: With her trusty baton and six insanely organized clipboards, drum major Liza Sanders is about to take Destiny by storm—the boat, that is. When Liza discovered that her beloved band was losing funding, she found Destiny, a luxury cruise ship complete with pools, midnight chocolate buffets, and a $25,000 spring break talent show prize.

Liza can’t imagine senior year without the band, and nothing will distract her from achieving victory. She’s therefore not interested when her old camp crush, Lenny, shows up on board, looking shockingly hipster-hot. And she’s especially not interested in Russ, the probably-as-dumb-as-he-is-cute prankster jock whose ex, Demi, happens be Liza’s ex–best friend and leader of the Athenas, a show choir that’s the band’s greatest competition.

But it’s not going to be smooth sailing. After the Destiny breaks down, all of Liza’s best-laid plans start to go awry. Liza likes to think of herself as an expert at almost everything, but when it comes to love, she’s about to find herself lost at sea.

Huge thank you to Delacorte and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I adored Lauren Morrill’s Being Sloane Jacobs. It was chock full of humour, showed fantastic relationships, and in all was a fun experience. I was so excited to get my hands on the Trouble With Destiny, and while it’s definitely not Being Sloane Jacobs, it was still a fun book to read.

I think what is important to note about the Trouble With Destiny is that you need to go into it understanding that it’s essentially a comedy. It’s Pitch Perfect meets Titanic, sprinkling some Breaker High into the mix. A lot of the antics that the band students face often come across as comedic or downright ridiculous, and I think understanding that going in makes for a much better reading experience. This isn’t a fluffy contemporary read, it’s kinda crazy, a bit silly, but you roll with it.

That being said, Liza drove me kinda crazy and I found her way too melodramatic at times. However, I adored her rivalry with Demi, because Demi is the kind of hilarious mean girl you want to read about — the one that gets their comeuppance in the form of the ultimate humiliation. Which really brings me to my issue with this novel — the characters don’t really feel like characters, but feel somewhat two-dimensional. You don’t get any sort of deep development from them.

Furthermore the romance was a love triangle, and a predictable one at that. But if I’m being frank, I don’t feel like the boys were well characterized beyond just their actions. I didn’t feel like Lenny or Russ were real people, nor did I feel like I entirely understood Liza’s complete interest in them.

But this book is pretty funny at times. The it’s so crazy-how-could-this-be-real kind of crazy, and sometimes I think you need that element in a story. Sometimes it’s great to read a book that tastes like candy and you can turn your brain off, which was how The Trouble With Destiny played out for me. It lacked a lot of the elements that I loved from Being Sloane Jacobs, such as strong, well defined characters, and a cute romance, but this book was just silly and I enjoyed it for that.

I think I may have gone into The Trouble With Destiny with some slightly higher expectations than I should have. In the end, I did enjoy the book despite it’s problems, and it still makes me want to continue to read Lauren Morrill’s stories because for what it’s worth, they are always at least fun in the end.

ARC Review – Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

18692431Title:  Everything, Everything

Author: Nicola Yoon

Rating:  ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly. Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

Huge than you to the publisher for letting me read an advanced copy of this book!

River’s Review:

So going into this book I’d heard both sides of the spectrum. It’s The Best Book Of This Year. It’s HORRIBLE. I knew there was a twist coming so I’m not sure if I figured it out on my own, or if I was looking for it… but I’m gonna go with a little bit of both.

Going into this book I had set my expectations really low because I’d had a few good book people say that it was terrible. I wanted to give it a shot (and I got it for review) and I’m pleased to say that I did enjoy it. This book is a VERY quick read. I have an eARC, and feel that a physical copy would have enhanced my reading experience due to the illustrations and sections written in email/chat/transcript.

Oddly enough I read this book directly after reading another Big Summer Book with a crazy format (Illumine) and I know that reading a physical book with a unique format is a lot better than reading an e-version. I found myself not caring enough about the illustrations or charts because I just couldn’t read them. And sometimes they felt a little juvenile. I did give Maddy a pass for some of it though because she’d lead quite a sheltered life.

This is a story about a girl who basically, lives in a bubble. She’s allergic to the outside world and anything could trigger a reaction so she’s confined to her home which is sealed off and the air is filtered in. Her only friend is her mother and a handful of internet people. (Which surprised me because I’m totally healthy and leave my house daily and have a TON of internet friends… I imagine that if I couldn’t leave my house on pain of death that I’d have A LOT more internet friends). We never see Maddy interact with any of these people, which idk, seemed odd. She spends her time reading, doing school work online, and playing games/watching movies with her mother.

Then a new family moves in next door and the two siblings try to befriend Maddy. Obviously they can’t meet, but the boy, Olly, is curious. He watches Maddy (in a non-creepy way) through his window and they communicate through gestures and funny antics. They eventually start to email and chat online and then Maddy convinces her nurse to let Olly inside. And they slowly begin to fall for each other.

This romance worked for me. It was subtle and gave me all the feels. I loved how Olly was curious and Maddy was protective and how they were both cautious by not. And when Maddy realizes that living in her bubble isn’t really living, she decides that she doesn’t care if her life is cut short, she just wants to spend time living, with Olly.

This is where the story started to fall apart for me. They suddenly take off to Hawaii and idk. It just struck me as odd. Like, sure it would sound good on paper, maybe something they’d scheme but not actually follow through with… but they actually do it and idk, I just never felt that either of them really had the guts to do it. And of course Maddy gets sick and then the inevitable heartbreak happens.

And then the twist. Which I had started to suspect. And I am very torn on that. The revel was emotional and sad and heartbreaking but at the same time I just wondered how it had kept on for so long.

And the mother. I thought that she was sweet and caring and really dedicated herself to Maddy. I was surprised that she never seemed to blame herself for her daughter’s suffering and then later on I wanted to hate her for the way she treated Maddy, but at the same time I wanted to understand and I guess if we could have seen a deeper side of the mother, a more broken side, a more screwed up side, maybe I could have taken things a little bit better and loved it a little bit more.

The writing in this is very quiet. Some people will enjoy the voice and the style, others will hate it. It’s not a style that I seek out, but when I do stumble upon it I find that it’s refreshing.

Overall I think I liked this more than I would have due to my low expectations and if I’d gone into it thinking it was going to be The Best I would have been disappointed.

Summer Contemporary Fling – Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella

23305614Title: Finding Audrey

Author: Sophie Kinsella

Rating:  ★★★★★

Synopsis: An anxiety disorder disrupts fourteen-year-old Audrey’s daily life. She has been making slow but steady progress with Dr. Sarah, but when Audrey meets Linus, her brother’s gaming teammate, she is energized. She connects with him. Audrey can talk through her fears with Linus in a way she’s never been able to do with anyone before. As their friendship deepens and her recovery gains momentum, a sweet romantic connection develops, one that helps not just Audrey but also her entire family.

Huge thank you to Delacorte Books for Young Readers/Doubleday Canada and Edelweiss for this ARC!

River’s Review:

THIS BOOK WAS SO CUTE! And quite hilarious. I was actually sitting there smiling and laughing out loud quite a few times! I read this in less than a day and actually finished it while my husband was sleeping (and had to keep my laughing inside, so hard!!!).

For some reason I thought this book took place in NYC and was about Audrey getting lost and having to overcome her anxiety while her brother searched for her. YEAH IDK WHERE THAT PLOT CAME FROM but I was quite surprised (and pleased!) that it took place in England! Thankfully I have enough British friends and have watched enough BBC that I didn’t have any trouble with some of the British English and culture things.

So I really loved the family in this book. I loved how over-the-top the mom was, how the dad was so clueless in such a sweet way, how Frank was so different than his mother thought, and how just down right ridiculous the little brother, Felix, was (he was also my favorite character. POCKET PAPER!)

I also really enjoyed the exploration of Audrey’s anxiety and how everyone handled it. I liked how her doctor was thoughtful and caring but tough at the same time. How it was referred to as an illness and the different perceptions that those around her had about what an anxiety illness is. I liked how Linus learned what to say and not say and how he was wrong and then right and helpful. How he learned and changed his perception. And I really liked that we never actually found out what happened at Audrey’s school. Because really, what triggered her illness doesn’t matter. It was not her fault and she had every right to keep that to herself.

As my co-blogger, who is a gamer, mentions in her review, the aspect of gaming in this book was well done. I’m not a gamer and I don’t really understand it the way that gamers do, but I’ve always been on the side that it is just a hobby and not your life and that it should be done in moderation. I don’t think gaming is bad, but I do think that Frank was in a little too deep. I think his mom was WAY too extreme but could also understand why she thought the way she did. I LOVED that every time she’d try to make Frank do something she didn’t think he could do he was brilliant at it. And that outside of her obsession with his “gaming addiction” she didn’t really know key things about him; like being on the cross-country team or getting A’s in his classes. I loved that she learned these things about him and that in the end gaming became a positive thing. But I also liked that Frank found outside interests that he also probably wouldn’t have if he’d stayed parked in front of the computer all the time.

Over all this book was just so well done and I think everyone should check it out! It very much a quick Summer Contemporary Fling!

Sam’s Review: 

I confess, I haven’t read a Sophie Kinsella book in years. I thought Shopaholic was cute for awhile, and some of her stand-alones were hit and miss with me. Then I read the synopsis for Finding Audrey, and I knew I needed to read this book. It focuses on an anxiety disorder, something I have a close relationship with being a recovering sufferer myself, and wow, Kinsella does an amazing job.

Finding Audrey is hilarious as it is touching. I found Audrey as a heroine to be quite loveable, sweet, struggling to come out of her shell. She was easy to empathize with, someone I could relate to in a lot of ways. She feels powerless over her anxiety, yet she wants to feel normal, and it’s something she must fight through every day. I loved the level of sensitivity that Kinsella puts forth in the story, she by no means makes anything easy for Audrey, from her overprotective, nutjobby mother, to her very-lost-all-the-time dad, to her attention hogging brother. Audrey has a lot to fight for in the story, and for ali the tougher moments in her life, it’s balanced by a great sense of humour.

I actually snortgiggled a few times through this book. Audrey’s mother is just completely insane, but we all know one like her. Frank was also a barrel of laughs with his sarcasm and “gaming addiction.” To be honest, I loved how Kinsella handled gaming, changing it from a negative to a positive. The documentary bits had some great moments as well, both charming and sweet. The ending had me in stitches, and I loved Audrey’s resolve by the end. There was something so bittersweet in how the story transforms considering the book is less than three hundred pages. I also have to comment on Linus — I actually really enjoyed him as a romantic interest, and I loved the level of patience he had for Audrey. That’s such a rare thing to find in a partner, especially when their loved one suffers from a mental illness.

I adored Finding Audrey. It was sweet, fluffy, and the way Kinsella handles Audrey’s illness was fantastically done. It felt genuine, not forced, which I feel is so important to make a story like this work. If you haven’t been reading Sophie Kinsella, this may be the one that might bring you back. I know it did for me.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

15704459Title: Firefight

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: They told David it was impossible–that even the Reckoners had never killed a High Epic. Yet, Steelheart–invincible, immortal, unconquerable–is dead. And he died by David’s hand.

Eliminating Steelheart was supposed to make life more simple. Instead, it only made David realize he has questions. Big ones. And there’s no one in Newcago who can give him the answers he needs.

Babylon Restored, the old borough of Manhattan, has possibilities, though. Ruled by the mysterious High Epic, Regalia, David is sure Babylon Restored will lead him to what he needs to find. And while entering another city oppressed by a High Epic despot is a gamble, David’s willing to risk it. Because killing Steelheart left a hole in David’s heart. A hole where his thirst for vengeance once lived. Somehow, he filled that hole with another Epic–Firefight. And he’s willing to go on a quest darker, and more dangerous even, than the fight against Steelheart to find her, and to get his answers.

Huge thank you to Random House Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have to admit something: I wasn’t huge on Steelheart. Parts of that novel felt so clumsy put together (especially considering how rad the opening was) and I had a hard time enjoying the cast and the world-building. Something felt off, and I couldn’t entirely put it on my finger what was rubbing me the wrong way.

Thankfully, Firefight actually worked for me this time around.

David finally stopped being a tool in this book. He finally became a protagonist I didn’t find myself wanting to smack around due to poor decisions. He still makes some precious decisions in this book, but I found him and the cast of this novel to be so much more well developed. Hell, I even loved the secondary cast. I loved Val and Mizzy, and I always enjoyed their back and forth, along with their treatment of David. I thought David’s self revelations in this story worked well to develop the plot and push his character further. I even loved Megan in this book! I loved how challenging her decisions were and how it wasn’t that simple for her. I also love that she shatters David’s visions of her and that’s she’s not as she appears.

The action and drama in this book work well too in Firefight. The world is crumbling around everyone and yet there’s a sense of determination instead of hopeless. The Reckoners are in rough shape, but by damn do they attempt to keep it together. I have to give the characters in this book credit considering the Epics they faced and encountered were pretty one-dimensional, but they were the scary kind of one-dimensional.

Oh and that ending? Actually pretty fantastic and it makes me sad how long I’m going to have to wait for Calamity to hit. In typical Sanderson fashion, this book ends with him getting ready to knock down the house of cards. Curse you, Brandon Sanderson!

River’s Quickie Reviews #6

22171558Title: Twisted Fate by Norah Olson (January 20th 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books)

Synopsis: When Alyson meets Graham Copeland, the new boy next door, she instantly feels like he’s a kindred spirit—shy and awkward like her, someone who has trouble making friends. It’s impossible to resist having a crush on him.

As usual, her sister, Sydney, sees things differently. In Sydney’s mind, Graham’s odd personality and secretive past scream psychopath, not sweetheart. Her gut is telling her to stay away from him, and to protect a love-struck Alyson from her own naïveté. But despite her instincts, Sydney is surprised to realize that a part of her is drawn to Graham, too.

And the more Sydney gets to know him, the more she realizes just how right—and wrong—she is about everything.

River’s Review: Well I’m not sure what to think about this. I liked it and it kept me engaged, but there were WAYYYYYY too many POVs (like, some only happened once in the book) and the ending just made no sense. I started to sense the ‘twist’ coming, but there are a lot of places in the book where I was like ‘does this even work?’

Also, nothing like We Were Liars.

Overall this was a pretty fast read that kept me guessing, horrified me quite a bit, and then had a sloppy ending that made me drop it a star. There’s a lot of negative reviews about this, and while I can see their merits, I don’t think it was an awful book. I really did like it up until the very end. 3/5 Stars.


20527903Title: Suspicion  by Alexandra Monir (December 9th 2014 by Delacorte Press)

Synopsis: Mysterious. Magnificent. Creepy. Welcome to Rockford Manor. “There’s something hidden in the Maze.” Seventeen-year-old Imogen has never forgotten the last words her father said to her seven years ago, before the blazing fire that consumed him, her mother, and the gardens of her family’s English country manor. Haunted by her parents’ deaths, Imogen moves to New York City with her new guardians. But when a letter arrives with the news of her cousin’s untimely death, revealing that Imogen is now the only heir left to run the estate, she returns to England and warily accepts her role as duchess.

All is not as it seems at Rockford, and Imogen quickly learns that dark secrets lurk behind the mansion’s aristocratic exterior, hinting that the spate of deaths in her family were no accident. And at the center of the mystery is Imogen herself–and Sebastian, the childhood friend she has secretly loved for years. Just what has Imogen walked into?

River’s Review: Well… this was boring. Or I was bored. I just couldn’t get into this book. It sounds gorgeous and it should be, but it’s super flat. Everyone is super stereotypical YA and Imogen is supposed to be this ‘teehee fish out of water look how cute it is she has NO CLUE about almost anything British despite spending half her childhood there and living in NYC’. I just don’t get how Imogen is so damn clueless about so many aspects of British culture. And whenever she makes some slip up it’s always like ‘aww, so cute, you silly American’.

I guess what I really didn’t like was the way things were set up. The first half of the book is the ‘before’ being a Duchess and then the second part is the ‘after’ becoming a Duchess part and the first half just didn’t really do much for me other than give us background and info. Which could have been done with like, a prologue or something so the majority of the story could have been focused on her actually being at Rockford and the paranormal stuff.

And good lord the paranormal stuff was boring. It wasn’t even in the book for most of it!

So I gave it a try but sadly just didn’t connect. 2/5 Stars.


 

Huge thank you to Netgalley, Edelweiss, Delacorte Press and Katherine Tegen Books for these ARCs!