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ARC Review – When You Ask Me Where I’m Going by Jasmin Kaur

Title: When You Ask me Where I’m Going

Author: Jasmin Kaur

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: The six sections of the book explore what it means to be a young woman living in a world that doesn’t always hear her and tell the story of Kiran as she flees a history of trauma and raises her daughter, Sahaara, while living undocumented in North America.

Delving into current cultural conversations including sexual assault, mental health, feminism, and immigration, this narrative of resilience, healing, empowerment, and love will galvanize readers to fight for what is right in their world.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC! Cross posted on Aurora Public Library’s Website as a YA Pick of the Month.

Sam’s Review:

I had the pleasure of listening to Jasmin Kaur speak at a recent Harper Collins Frenzy event in Toronto. Listening to Kaur speak about her life, the racism and sexism she has dealt with growing up, was both difficult as it was moving.

Jasmin Kaur’s debut novel is all about looking at life from various angles. This collection of mixed media features poetry, artwork, and short stories by Kaur, that depict life growing up in Abbotsford, British Columbia. Sharing stories of racism to personal trauma, Kaur exams what it means to be a young Sikh world in a world where everyone makes assumptions about you before you even have the chance to speak.

Kaur’s poems are raw and uncomfortable, but they also shed light and offer glimpses of hope as well. Kaur’s conversations about feminism, mental health, immigration, and sexual assault will resonate with a lot of readers. When You Ask Me Where I’m Going dares readers to look at their surroundings and challenges them to do better and be a better person.

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ARC Review – The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick by Mallory O’Meara

Title: The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick

Author: Mallory O’Meara

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: As a teenager, Mallory O’Meara was thrilled to discover that one of her favorite movies, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, featured a monster designed by a woman, Milicent Patrick. But for someone who should have been hailed as a pioneer in the genre there was little information available. For, as O’Meara soon discovered, Patrick’s contribution had been claimed by a jealous male colleague, her career had been cut short and she soon after had disappeared from film history. No one even knew if she was still alive.

As a young woman working in the horror film industry, O’Meara set out to right the wrong, and in the process discovered the full, fascinating story of an ambitious, artistic woman ahead of her time. Patrick’s contribution to special effects proved to be just the latest chapter in a remarkable, unconventional life, from her youth growing up in the shadow of Hearst Castle, to her career as one of Disney’s first female animators. And at last, O’Meara discovered what really had happened to Patrick after The Creature’s success, and where she went.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

San’s Review:

I love Mallory O’Meara on the Reading Glasses podcast. She’s crass, sassy, and just very entertaining when it comes to the discussion of reading and writing. She’s a very passionate individual and her first book The Lady from the Black Lagoonnot only focuses on the life of Milicent Patrick, who crafted monsters for a living, but O’Meara also parallels Patrick’s struggles of being a woman in Hollywood with her own personal struggles as a young genre film producer.

I was to first comment on how personal the writing felt in this book. It’s very conversational, very open-faced and honest. Reflecting on Milicent Patrick’s life and trying to uncover who she was, O’Meara goes through great lengths to learn about how Patrick survived in male dominated Hollywood as a woman who worked in Disney’s animation Department (she was responsible for “Night on Bald Mountain” and Chernabog design in Disney’s Fantasia!) to what it was like designing the suit for The Creature from the Black Lagoon. O’Meara shares her discovery of Patrick’s lack of credit for her various accomplishments and the toxic culture that unfortunately, still exists in Hollywood today.

I think what I loved about this book was just reading Mallory’s experience is doing research about someone who was fairly elusive. It was amazing to read about the lengths she went from doing specialized research with the L.A Library, to situations involving special collections, to even just stepping foot on Disney property to uncover as much as she could about Milicent Patrick. The library nerd in me was very into the deep dive of what it meant to go into an intense research frenzy. You feel O’Meara’s highs and lows while reading this book. Learning about the horror industry as well was very fascinating as someone who is fairly unfamiliar. Learning about how the horror industry is fairly sexist and misogynistic was of course, known, but reading about both O’Meara and Patrick’s experiences definitely made my blood boil at times.

I love when I get to read a book that is all about uncovering new truths about someone or something. Not only was Lady from the Black Lagoon a very approachable read, but it was one that allowed me to learn so much about an industry and a genre that I’m not the most familiar with. All in all Lady from the Black Lagoon was an enjoyable romp into uncovering the bright and darksides of what it means to be a female in the film industry.

ARC Review – We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Title: We Set the Dark on Fire

Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children, but both are promised a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class. Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her bright future depends upon no one discovering her darkest secret—that her pedigree is a lie. Her parents sacrificed everything to obtain forged identification papers so Dani could rise above her station. Now that her marriage to an important politico’s son is fast approaching, she must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society, where famine and poverty rule supreme.

On her graduation night, Dani seems to be in the clear, despite the surprises that unfold. But nothing prepares her for all the difficult choices she must make, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or to give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy We Set the Dark on Fire. I love books with feminist angles and I love unique world building, which this book has in spades. However, there were things about it that definitely kept it from being a favourite.

I want to talk first about the aspects that I liked. First was the setting and particularly the Medio School and it’s weird cult-like behaviour. I loved reading the bits from the handbook and I loved the sinister feeling that came anytime Mejia wrote about this organization and how the females in it were oppressed. There was such a good level of creep factor here that definitely gave me Handmaid’s Tale vibes. I also loved the fast, hard, feminist angle this book has, as there is this amazing build towards uprising that I think just works in the story so so so well.

I think the hardest part for me with this book was the writing. I found that while the world was very interesting and colourful, not seeing it through Dani’s eyes was difficult for me. I think the third person narration just didn’t work for me at all, and I think for a lot of the more difficult or high pressure moments in the story, the third person perspective removed a lot of the agency for me. I would have loved to have a sense of Dani’s feelings, her discomfort, and her drive to survive this weird dystopian world.

I wasn’t also entirely sold right away on the forbidden romance, especially because I struggled with the character in question. I generally don’t mind a hate-to-love relationship but again parts of it just didn’t work for me. It made me happy because I’m all for these types of stories being told and I think there is a lot of value in them, and towards the end of the book, I found myself setting into the romance and it grew on me.

We Set the Dark on Fire is an interesting debut where I found myself loving the world-building and the creep factor, but the characters fell short for me. I wish I liked these characters more because I found myself not really connecting with any of them, even in their times of distress. I think those looking for an interesting and different kind of dystopian story, will definitely enjoy this one.

ARC Review – The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe

Title:  The Field Guide to the North American Teenager

Author: Ben Philippe

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Norris finds himself cataloging everyone he meets: the Cheerleaders, the Jocks, the Loners, and even the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Making a ton of friends has never been a priority for him, and this way he can at least amuse himself until it’s time to go back to Canada, where he belongs.

Yet, against all odds, those labels soon become actual people to Norris. Be it loner Liam, who makes it his mission to befriend Norris, or Madison the beta cheerleader, who is so nice that it has to be a trap. Not to mention Aarti the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who might, in fact, be a real love interest in the making. He even starts playing actual hockey with these Texans.

But the night of the prom, Norris screws everything up royally. As he tries to pick up the pieces, he realizes it might be time to stop hiding behind his snarky opinions and start living his life—along with the people who have found their way into his heart.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager was not on my radar until it ended up on my doorstep thanks to Harper Collins Canada. This delightfully honest and quirky debut tells the story of a young black French-Canadian, who is forced to transplant to Austin, Texas. Recognizing that Texas doesn’t appreciate the important things in life, i.e. hockey, Norris is forced to figure out how he, a Canadian, must fit in with the “American Teenager.”

This book is hilarious! I found myself laughing out loud on numerous occasions because Norris is just such a funny character. I loved him so much, and I love how he was constantly being called out on being a bit of a drama queen (mainly by his friends back home). Norris is one of those protagonists who is so intelligent and funny, but lacks confidence in himself to not create drama around him. It’s a character trait I found myself weirdly connecting with. Norris is one of those characters who grows so much from start to finish that even with his emo exterior, you’re still rooting for him to get his head out of his butt.

I also want to praise the side characters in this story, my favourite being Judith, Norris’ mom. She does an absolutely amazing and hilarious thing at the beginning of this story that even now I still think about and laugh at. Eric, Norris’ friend from Montreal, also had me in stitches any time he and Norris were having IMs back and forth. I loved Maddie and her honesty, and like Norris, I think grows wonderfully in this story. Even Aarti , who I had a bit of a hard time with throughout the story, grew on me. The cast of characters in this story are funny and flawed, making them feel very believable as teenagers.

I loved my time with The Field Guide to the North American Teenager. It was such a funny, honest little romp that made me laugh and smile during my time reading it. Ben Phillippe writes with such charm and sensitivity, making moments of both darkness and light in this novel feel so raw and truthful. This is a wonderful debut novel that I hope many readers will pick up and enjoy!

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.

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 – Invisible Ghosts by Robyn Schneider

Title: Invisible Ghosts

Author: Robyn Schneider

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Rose Asher believes in ghosts. She should, since she has one for a best friend: Logan, her annoying, Netflix-addicted brother, who is forever stuck at fifteen. But Rose is growing up, and when an old friend moves back to Laguna Canyon and appears in her drama class, things get complicated.

Jamie Aldridge is charming, confident, and a painful reminder of the life Rose has been missing out on since her brother’s death. She watches as Jamie easily rejoins their former friends–a group of magnificently silly theater nerds–while avoiding her so intensely that it must be deliberate.

Yet when the two of them unexpectedly cross paths, Rose learns that Jamie has a secret of his own, one that changes everything. Rose finds herself drawn back into her old life–and to Jamie. But she quickly starts to suspect that he isn’t telling her the whole truth.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have loved all of Robyn Schneider’s books that she has published. I figured given her track record and my enjoyment, Invisible Ghostssurely was going to be a new favourite. I was expecting to love this, and it was just okay. Saying that it was just okay breaks my heart a little bit, but that is the truth.

When this book was being pitched to me, I was told it was an exploration of grief. That statement is true to an extent, given this is a story about Rose believing that she can see the ghost of her best friend and brother, Logan. The parts of the story where Rose and Logan interacted were easily some of the best parts of the story, and I really enjoyed those moments.

Where I struggled with this book was the romance between Jamie and Rose. I just couldn’t connect with it, I felt very hollow at times, and frankly, I was bored. I know part of Jamie’s story is that he is helping Rose through her grief, but I felt like at times the book made this element a bit too easy, undermining what it means to feel a sense of loss. I think what frustrated me more is that Robyn Schneider has explored the topic of grief before, and I think it was done much better in her other books than Invisible Ghosts.

While I love Robyn Schneider’s writing style, I found that this book and I just didn’t connect the way I was hoping. Perhaps I put too high an expectation on this book given past experiences, or maybe I just wanted something with a lot more depth on a topic that I connect with than this book provided. I think there will be plenty of readers who will love Invisible Ghosts and not much the surface level discussion of grief, but I won’t lie, my expectations were just a bit too high.