Tag Archives: Hachette Book Group Canada

ARC Review – Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

Title: Tyler Johnson Was Here

Author: Jay Coles

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: When Marvin Johnson’s twin, Tyler, goes to a party, Marvin decides to tag along to keep an eye on his brother. But what starts as harmless fun turns into a shooting, followed by a police raid.

The next day, Tyler has gone missing, and it’s up to Marvin to find him. But when Tyler is found dead, a video leaked online tells an even more chilling story: Tyler has been shot and killed by a police officer. Terrified as his mother unravels and mourning a brother who is now a hashtag, Marvin must learn what justice and freedom really mean.

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

Sam’s Review:

We need more books like Tyler Johnson Was Here, written by young voices. This fantastic debut explores police brutality, racism, prejudice, and the way in which people are labelled. This book is about a boy named Marvin, who loses his twin brother, and begins to start his own social media revolution. This story is powerful, it’s thoughtful, and it has me excited to see what Jay Coles is going to write in the future.

I do want to talk about the writing because I think I will be hit-or-miss with some reader. There are moments of beautiful passages and metaphors, but there’s also moments where the writing does feel a tad stilted and awkward. There were a few times where I had to reread sentences to ensure I knew what Marvin was getting at, though this only happened a few times. Regardless of how you view the language, the subject matter is fairly brutal and very eye-opening.

Marvin is a fantastic protagonist going through grief, and I found I could connect with him on that level. There are instances where he shuts down and he’ll mention how he feels empty or lonely, and I know it was something I could relate to. The loss of Tyler in this story shows how torn apart Marvin and his mother are, as through a large part of them was stolen by police violence. You get a sense throughout the story that people, specifically white people, need to smarten up and listen — and damn straight we do.

I will say, I wasn’t entirely super sold on the relationship between Marvin and Faith in the story. It felt too insta-lovey for me personally, but I will say that I did like Faith as a character a lot. I loved that she tried to be guidance for Marvin, offering him support and kindness. I loved G-Mo and Ivy, who I felt were developed just enough that you see their compassion and care for Marvin and his family. Hell, I even adored the passages we get from Marvin’s father in prison and some of the lessons and social commentary he makes about being black and living in a world where people peg you one way, and it’s all they can see.

I think Tyler Johnson Was Here is a powerful debut that tackles some rough subject matters, and does it in such a pro-active way. It doesn’t shy away from emotion, it’s brutally honest and unapologetic, and we need more stories like this. I feel like I still have so much to learn after reading this book.

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ARC Review – Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake

Title: Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World

Author: Ashley Herring Blake

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: When a tornado rips through town, twelve-year-old Ivy Aberdeen’s house is destroyed and her family of five is displaced. Ivy feels invisible and ignored in the aftermath of the storm–and what’s worse, her notebook filled with secret drawings of girls holding hands has gone missing.

Mysteriously, Ivy’s drawings begin to reappear in her locker with notes from someone telling her to open up about her identity. Ivy thinks–and hopes–that this someone might be her classmate, another girl for whom Ivy has begun to develop a crush. Will Ivy find the strength and courage to follow her true feelings?

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

Sam’s Review:

When I learned about the existence of Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, I was intrigued. Middle grade has always been fantastic at teaching diversity, particularly it’s shown vast growth on LGBTQIA+ subject matters. This novel focuses on a twelve-year-old girl whose family home is destroyed by a devastating tornado, and how she begins to find herself.

A lot of this book looks at Ivy’s notion of what it means to be a lesbian in a construct where children are constantly told that “girls like boys” and “boys like girls.” She wants to challenge this given she has strong feelings for her friend June, and the fact that she wants to be treated normally. What I loved about this story is that we feel for Ivy and we see her ups and downs in both her feelings and understanding of the world around her. She behaves like many kids do when they feel different — they try to combat the feelings themselves instead of reaching out, and that makes sense given she has to make herself vulnerable to people she might feel could harm her.

This novel is very raw and heartbreaking. It’s also super hopeful as well. Ivy’s family accepts her for who she is, which is kind of wonderful and it was great to see them being present in the story, which doesn’t happen enough in middle grade or YA. They love her, they try to understand what she is going through and the want to help her in any way they can. I loved that aspect in the story because we just don’t see enough of it anymore.

Having Ivy’s narrative being the core focus, she is a character I know many readers will love and relate with. Ivy’s letter to the world sort-to-speak is powerful, it’s passionate, and most of all, it’s authentic to her experience. We need more middle grade novels like this that can teach great lessons about hope, friendship, sexuality, and personal growth. I cannot wait to read more by Ashley Herring Blake, because she is a fantastic storyteller.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Into the Drowning Deep (Rolling in the Deep #1) by Mira Grant

Title:  Into the Drowning Deep (Rolling in the Deep #1)

Author: Mira Grant

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.

Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.

Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves. But the secrets of the deep come with a price.

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

Sam’s Review:

It feels so good to read a Mira Grant horror story again. I loved herNewsflesh series, and wasn’t as big on her Parasite trilogy. However, the idea of murderous mermaids and a killer ocean swallowing people whole? What a horror show.

Into the Drowning Deep is a captivating story about a voyage gone wrong, a mystery surrounding it, and how people’s lives become at risk when uncovering the secrets of the ocean. This book is uncomfortable to read at times, and you get a large sense of looming dread from the cast of characters. Grant’s writing is descriptive, and her monsters really have the ability to strike fear in a reader. I spent a lot of this novel hoping, begging, and pleading that my favourite characters wouldn’t be killed off, and hilariously, they all were.

What I also love about this story is it plays with the readers perception of others. It’s hard to know which characters are trust worthy because Grant does a great job tricking the reader. I also loved the ASL representation in this novel, as it was great to read about a character who was deaf and used sign language as a means to communicate. I equally loved the attention to detail that was placed on this character, as it shows that she was written with a lot of care. Oh, and the killer mermaids? They are real. They are subtle. They are scary.

Into the Drowning Deep was a fun, terrifying little horror show of a novel. I enjoyed how unpredictable it was and how Grant plays with the reader throughout the story. If you loved Newsflesh, but didn’t care as much for Parasite, try Into the Drowning Deep. It will make you want to avoid the ocean for awhile.

ARC Review – Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Title: Little & Lion

Author: Brandy Colbert

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.

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

Sam’s Review:

I didn’t know what I was getting into when I started Little & Lion. The synopsis gave me some indication that this book was going to be about sexuality and mental illness, but I wasn’t anticipating the intensity that Colbert puts into this story. I haven’t read Pointe yet, but I had only heard amazing things about Brandy Colbert’s characters and her writing.

Little & Lion was slow going for me. Not because it was a bad story, but because it is an emotionally exhausting and rewarding story. Little’s narrative is very heartbreaking, sometimes tough to read. She cares a lot for Lionel, especially when it comes to how his mental illness has transformed him. You see bits and pieces of his character’s evolution and at times it feels hard to read.

I also loved the way Colbert explored Little’s sexuality and being bisexual. I think showing her conflicting romantic feelings was done in a very sensitive way, and it was easy to emphasize with Little’s emotions throughout the story. Between iris, Rafela, and Emil, you see three different kinds of romantic feelings throughout the story, and Little’s connection to each person hints at a bigger picture in regards to her understanding her bisexuality. I felt like I knew each of her love interests very well when I was reading this story.

I liked Saul as a character as well, and I think he gets some great development with Little in terms of helping her understanding her sexuality, her connection to Judaism, and her family life. He doesn’t make things easy, somewhat overreacts, but does it entirely out of love. Family as a theme in this story is just spectacularly done here, and you see the emotionally drain that Lionel does put on his family. This isn’t shyed away from, which I appreciated so much.

This book is emotional, it’s intense, it’s thoughtful, and it leaves you thinking long after the story is over. Little & Lionhas a lot to offer for those who lover tougher contemporary YA. It only has solidified that I need to get off my butt and check out Pointe.

ARC Review – Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Title: Strange the Dreamer

Author: Laini Taylor

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Strange the Dreamer is the story of:

the aftermath of a war between gods and men
a mysterious city stripped of its name
a mythic hero with blood on his hands
a young librarian with a singular dream
a girl every bit as perilous as she is imperiled
alchemy and blood candy, nightmares and godspawn, moths and monsters, friendship and treachery, love and carnage.

Welcome to Weep.

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

Sam’s Review:

I want to preface this review by saying that Strange the Dreamer is a fairly difficult book to read. There are moments where you will feel lost, confused, and swept away. These issues will be problematic for some readers, as this is not an easy story to engage with in the slightest. This feels like such a departure from the Daughter of Smoke and Bone I trilogy, and that’s not a bad thing. While this book is a slow burn, I really enjoyed my time with it.

The issue with Strange the Dreamer is that to me it felt like more of an experience than a novel. Taylor’s prose is gorgeous, it leads you into a majestic world of The Weep, and it is such a rich realm ripe with exploration, darkness. Taylor does this fantastic job of blending dream and reality, making the reader feel as though at times they are in a dream-like state or inhabiting a nightmare. There is so much to this book that at times it feels overwhelming and I feel like in a lot of ways that is the experience Taylor is providing to the readers.

I think there is a beautiful world in this book, but I admit, I wish I liked the characters more. I felt that they weren’t the most well developed or even the most memorable. I found myself so drawn into the picture she was painting, but I didn’t find myself attached to anyone in particular. Perhaps that is both the strength and weakness of this book: there is so much happening in this story and yet it also feels like there’s something missing that stops it from being perfect for me. This is also very much a mood read for me: I’d have have moments where I was super into reading this book, and some days where I picked it up, felt overwhelmed and said NOPE.

And that’s just it — if you are a fan of Laini Taylor, you’ll likely adore this book because it has everything that makes her books special — fantastic and poetic writing and very vivid worlds. I think this is definitely a book I am going to have to reread before the sequel comes out just too see if my opinion on it changes, because part of me feels like if I had been in a different frame of mind this book would have easily been a win for me. Still, there’s a lot to like here, but if you don’t like feeling overwhelmed by intense world building, or feeling confused until the pieces of the puzzle are given to you, this might not be the book for you.

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 – The Sweetest Sound by Sherri Winston

30142002Title: The Sweetest Sound

Author: Sherri Winston

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: For ten-year-old Cadence Jolly, birthdays are a constant reminder of all that has changed since her mother skipped town with dreams of becoming a singing star. Cadence inherited that musical soul, she can’t deny it, but otherwise she couldn’t be more different – she’s as shy as can be.

She did make a promise last year that she would try to break out of her shell, just a little. And she prayed that she’d get the courage to do it. As her eleventh birthday draws near, she realizes time is running out. And when a secret recording of her singing leaks and catches the attention of her whole church, she needs to decide what’s better: deceiving everyone by pretending it belongs to someone else, or finally stepping into the spotlight.  

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

Sam’s Review:

I discovered The Sweetest Sound by its cover. I full admit that — I think it is beautiful, and having now read the book, I think it’s also spot on to the subject matter in this story. This is a lovely story about finding your voice, overcoming fear, and coming out of your shell, and Winston does this with a lot of grace and elegance.

I found myself really connecting with Cadence throughout this novel, mostly because of how her shyiness tends to overpower her. She is so afraid to share her gift of singing with others that she would do anything to hide it. Why? Because she is afraid of the kind of response she’ll get. I think this is something we can all relate to given that at one point in our lives we’ve been afraid to share our gifts or talents with others for fear of judgement. I think Winston paints a wonderful message of how to overcome shyiness in this story, and it was easily my favourite part of the book.

I didn’t always agree with some of the things that Cadence, but I think in terms of the storytelling that was kind of the point. She isn’t always the greatest with her friends and family, and I think it’s something she spends a lot of the novel trying to reconcile because she is so afraid of letting loose and singing her heart out. Cadence also suffers from not having her mother around, and she dreams of becoming like her mother and being a fantastic singer. I felt sad that Cadence didn’t have her mother throughout the story given that her father wasn’t the most well-adjusted to handle some of Cadence’s problems throughout the story.

At times the story felt very safe and on-the-nose in terms of message, and while I didn’t mind that, I wish it had felt a bit braver given that that is a huge theme in the story. This book is also quite religious, which I do think might affect the enjoyment for some readers. While I am not religious, I honestly didn’t mind this aspect, though I will concede that at times it borderlines on preachy. I also felt like her father was a bit too much of a stereotype in that he was way too over protective of Cadence, but at times I felt like it didn’t seem justified.

This is a very sweet, if safe, middle grade read. I think it will offer a lot to those who love stories about characters overcoming their fears and moving towards their passions. Cadence is a wonderful protagonist and I think she has a lot of growth in this story, which is something I appreciate in middle grade fiction. I am definitely curious to see what kinds of stories Sherri Winston will write next.