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ARC Review – Past Tense by Star Spider

Title: Past Tense

Author: Star Spider

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Julie Nolan is a pretty average girl with pretty average problems. She’s been in love with her best friend, Lorelei, ever since they met in grade three. Only Lorelei doesn’t know about it — she’s too busy trying to set Julie up with Henry, her ex, who Julie finds, in a word, vapid.

But life gets more complicated when Julie comes home to find her mother insisting that her heart is gone. Pretty soon it becomes clear: Julie’s mom believes that she has died.

How is Julie supposed to navigate her first year of high school now, while she’s making midnight trips to the graveyard to cover her mother with dirt, lay flowers and make up eulogies? And why is Henry the only person Julie feels comfortable turning to? If she wants to get through this, Julie’s going to have to find the strength she never knew she had, and to learn how to listen to both her mom’s heart and her own.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel when Past Tense showed up in my mailbox. It looked like a story that was going to play with my heartstrings, though I admit, it took me awhile to get into.

Our heroine Julie is in love with her bestfriend Lorelei, and her mother has a rare disease, where she insists that she is, in fact, has died. Notdying, has already died, how weird and different is that? I will say, that aspect of the story was what drew me to the book in the first place — the idea that someone believes they have already died… I admit, I wondered what that would be like to read about. Julie has it truly difficult given she is trying to understand her own sexuality, on top of now having to work with her mother to try and make her see, that she hasn’t died at all.

I will say, this book was slow going at first. Julie is a challenging character to connect with, although she did grow on me as the story went on. In a lot of ways, what I liked about the story is we are seeing Julie being forced into adulthood a lot quicker than she’d like, and this aspect is done well. You can see the cogs turning in her mind, trying to understand and cope with all her newfound feelings and anxiety, and I liked that about the book. I also liked how she grows throughout the story, especially when dealing with her mother.

That being said, I was a bit uncomfortable with the Lorelei plotline. Not so much in Julie’s interest, which I thought were great, but there were some decisions in how Lorelei’s story developed that made me cringe a bit. I like how Julie deals with this situation, but I feel like the way this situation was handle hit a few of my trigger points. I also just didn’t like her as a character, and I felt how she treated Julie and her feelings to just be manipulative, shallow and utter deplorable to say the least. I liked Henry, though much like Julie, he has a slow burn for growth, and in his situation, it actually works super well.

Overall, I did really enjoy Past Tense and I think it’s worth checking out. While I loved the aspects of sexuality identity and exploration, there are parts of this book that just didn’t work for me. There’s a lot of great messages in this book and many of the characters do see some excellent growth, it’s just a shame that other characters come across much more one dimensional than I’d like.

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ARC Review – Here So Far Away by Hadley Dyer

Title: Here So Far Away

Author: Hadley Dyer

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Feisty and fearless George Warren (given name: Frances, but no one calls her that) has never let life get too serious. Now that she’s about to be a senior, her plans include partying with her tight-knit group of friends and then getting the heck out of town after graduation.

But instead of owning her last year of high school, a fight with her best friend puts her on the outs of their social circle.  If that weren’t bad enough, George’s family has been facing hard times since her father, a police sergeant, got injured and might not be able to return to work, which puts George’s college plans in jeopardy.

So when George meets Francis, an older guy who shares her name and her affinity for sarcastic banter, she’s thrown. If she lets herself, she’ll fall recklessly, hopelessly in love. But because of Francis’s age, she tells no one—and ends up losing almost everything, including herself.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I had the pleasure of meeting Hadley Dyer at the OLA Superconference earlier this year, and she was a joy to chat with. Her debut YA novel was something I could tell was close to her heart, and focused on some darker subject matters that for me as a contemporary fan, I easily gravitate towards. George (also known as Frances) is one of those heroines who goes through so much growing up in one story and what she deals with is something I feel like people may have a hard time accepting.

This book looks at an older male relationship at its core. George meets a man named Francis who shares her love of witty banter and sarcasm, but he’s nearly ten years older. For those who are uncomfortable by an older male relationship in a story, this likely might not be the book for you. I do want to stress though what an interesting and deep character Francis is given he knows that he shouldn’t be with such a younger woman, and to the point where you see it as something he struggles with. His relationship with George is one where you can see all the cogs in their brains turning, they know they shouldn’t, and it’s a point they debate frequently in the story. I was worried this would squick me out because normally I am not good with this aspect in a story, but here I appreciated that Francis wasn’t predatory in any way.

Frankly, I love both characters too. I think outside of the relationship aspect both George and Francis grow so much in this story, and there’s a genuineness in the way they are written. They learn from each other, you see that they want to be better people even for each other, but neither of them are necessary in a good emotional place to be in a proper relationship. I think Dyer writes this relationship in such a way where both characters are so well developed that they feel very realistic in their feelings and approaches towards each other.

I loved George. I saw myself in her, especially in that she uses self-deprecating humour and sarcasm as a means to hide her true self — someone who is isolated, afraid, and living with series doubts regarding her family situation (he father can no longer work), how she’ll pay for college, if she’s able to repair her friendships, and come to terms with whatever it is she has with Francis. You see a heroine who makes terrible choices, behaves in unlikable ways, and yet she’s someone we all know, and for me I can appreciate the layers that she has. I won’t lie and say I didn’t yell at the book with some of the decisions she made (I yelled a lot), but part of me knew that George is so smart and sharp and yet she knows the decisions she makes are bad and she’s okay with it.

This book was such a slow burn for me, but it’s one I grew to appreciate as I read on. I loved Dyer’s writing style and I found it so engaging. This is not the kind of book you can just whip through as there is so many little nuances within the story that I feel like on a second reading, I may enjoy even more.

Five Titles from #FrenzyPresents That I Need to Get My Paws On!

Over the weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Harper Collins Canada for their Spring #FrenzyPresents event. This event happens every few months to showcase what upcoming YA titles are on their way out to the shelves. I always love these events if only because the Frenzy crew really shows such amazing enthusiasm and passion for the titles that they are publishing. They showed us a variety of titles, from high fantasy to gripping contemporary, and I thought it would be fun to share the five titles I’d love to get my paws on!

Monday’s Not Coming
by Tiffany D. Jackson (Expected Release:  May 22nd 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books)

This book sounds like it’s going to be a rough and gripping ride. Missing persons stories are easily some of the most uncomfortable stories out there. When someone is missing there’s the fear they’ve been brutally hurt, raped,  or even murdered. There’s a discomfort and unnerving feeling that comes from stories like this — a best friend has gone missing, no one seems to pay it any mind then the one person who strongly notices. Claudia’s story sounds like one that is going to be a tough read, but I’m here for it.

 Invisible Ghosts
by Robyn Schneider (Expected Release: June 5th 2018 by Katherine Tegen Books)

It has been awhile since we’ve gotten a new Robyn Schneider book. I find what I love about Robyn Schneider’s novels is there’s always an unpredictable element to them. In the case of her new novel, it has ghosts! I feel like this is going to be a story that hits me hard given it’s mainly about moving forward and trying to let go of the past. Believe me, I can relate, and I feel like this one is going to punch me hard in the feelings.

The Bird and the Blade
by Megan Bannen (Expected publication: June 5th 2018 by Balzer + Bray)

I admit, I am not the biggest historical fiction buff. I will say, however, that if a historical fiction novel focuses on East Asia, I will pay attention. Asian culture has always fascinated me, and while the author isn’t Asian, I’m willing to see where he story goes. This book has MONGOLS. MONGOLS PEOPLE. That alone had me yelling in my chair during the event! Plus, Maeve, being the doll that she is endorsed it, and given how well-researched I’ve heard this book is, I need to get my claws on it.

Leah on the Offbeat
by Becky Albertalli (Expected publication: April 24th 2018 by HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)

Hi, my name is Sam, and I am addicted to Becky Albertalli books. Yes, yes, I am. I am SO EXCITED FOR LEAH ON THE OFF BEAT. SO MUCH SO THAT I AM USING ALL CAPS TO EXPRESS MY JOY AND HAPPINESS. YAS YAS YAS YAS YAS YAS YAS.

But seriously, I am here for this book. Feelings and flailing are going to happen.

Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now
by Dana L. Davis (Expected publication: May 1st 2018 by Harlequin Teen)

Hello family drama? I am in it. I’ll admit, this was one of the few books I hadn’t heard of during the event, but the synopsis sounded like it was going to be an emotional roller-coaster.  This book looks at a girl with two potential fathers and the possibility of feeling like she’s never going to fit in with a family. While I hope it isn’t Maury (‘You are not the father!’), I feel like there’s just going to be such an intense back and forth in this story. I look forward to reviewing it for you all very, very soon!

There you have it! These are the five titles I am beyond thrilled about it. I want to express a huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for the invitation to see their new titles, and extend a thank you tot he special guest Hadley Dyer, who was so genuine and funny, and while you are all at it, go pick up here latest Here So Far Away (which I’ll have a review for on the blog super soon for — spoiler alert: I ADORED IT).

I cannot wait to share these new titles with the teens at my work, and I am living for these releases.

Late to the Party ARC Review – A True Home (Heartwood Hotel #1) by Kallie George & Stephanie Graegin

Title: A True Home (Heartwood Hotel #1)

Author: Kallie George & Stephanie Graegin

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: When Mona the Mouse stumbles across the wondrous world of the Heartwood Hotel in the middle of a storm, she desperately hopes they’ll let her stay. As it turns out, Mona is precisely the maid they need at the grandest hotel in Fernwood Forest, where animals come from far and wide for safety, luxury, and comfort. But the Heartwood Hotel is not all acorn souffle and soft moss-lined beds. Danger lurks, and as it approaches, Mona finds that this hotel is more than a warm place to spend the night. It might also be a home.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Heartwood Hotel is such a cute series, and this first book was such a delight. Mona is such a sweet little heroine who starts out homeless and then stumbles open a beautiful hotel in the forest. I wanted to cuddle Mona throughout the story because she is so kind, but is full of determination. She’s a great role model character for younger readers. Each character is so charming, though! I LOVED bossy Tilly, though she somewhat reminded me of my own mother.

This first book is just so comfortable, warm and cozy. It’s the kind of book that you want to snuggle with a warm blanket and a hot drink. While there is some danger in the story, it’s nothing too frighting, but it teaches children about finding strength in unlikely situations and how friendship can help solve bigger problems.

I also want to praise the illustrations by Stephanie Graegin, which I feel accompany the story so beautifully. I loved having the pictures side-by-side with the text, and I can only imagine how beautiful the artwork looks in the finished edition. This first book is so charming, and it’s definitely one I will be recommending to younger readers when the opportunity arises.

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Closest I’ve Come by Fred Aceves

Title:  The Closest I’ve Come

Author: Fred Aceves

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Marcos Rivas wants to find love. He’s sure as hell not getting it at home, where his mom’s racist boyfriend beats him up. Or from his boys, who aren’t exactly the “hug it out” type. Marcos yearns for love, a working cell phone, and maybe a pair of sneakers that aren’t falling apart. But more than anything, Marcos wants to get out of Maesta, his hood—which seems impossible. When Marcos is placed in a new after-school program for troubled teens with potential, he meets Zach, a theater geek whose life seems great on the surface, and Amy, a punk girl who doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her. These new friendships inspire Marcos to open up to his Maesta crew, too, and along the way, Marcos starts to think more about his future and what he has to fight for. Marcos ultimately learns that bravery isn’t about acting tough and being macho; it’s about being true to yourself.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Sometimes it is extremely hard to not judge a book by its cover. There are some books that simply don’t win the cover lottery, and often that’s a shame given it means potentially missing out on a great read.

The Closest I’ve Come is an example of that. When I received it in the mail the cover caused me to put it off. Then, it just kept staring at me and I knew I had to see if the text would grab me. I am so glad this book exists. This amazing debut looks at Marcos, a boy who gets admitted into a special program for teens who are troubled, but show potential academically. Marcos picks fights, and believes that bravery comes from having a lot of machismo. Clearly he learns this isn’t the case.

The joy I felt reading this book was infinite. Marcos’ is a tough guy — vulgar, rough around the edges, but learning to become a better person is a lot of what this story entails. Marcos wants to win the affection of Amy, who happens to also be in the same special class as him. Amy is a rough and tumble gal who needs no man, and boy does she let Marcos know. This book looks at the emotions of under-privileged Latino teens, and I felt for the cast. There’s also an amazing twist that happens in this book that I remember when I read it, my hand slammed down on the table freaking out.

Seriously, what a hidden gem of a book. While The Closest I’ve Come doesn’t exactly have the most appealing cover, the contents inside are worth investigating. Fred Aceves’ debut is an interesting novel about growing up, and Marcos takes so many interesting directions in this story. While Marcos’ voice is rough around the edges, he’s worth sticking with, because watching his friendships develop and seeing his self-growth are enjoyable for start to finish.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Kat and Meg Conquer the World by Anna Priemaza

Title: at and Meg Conquer the World

Author: Anna Priemaza

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Kat and Meg couldn’t be more different. Kat’s anxiety makes it hard for her to talk to people. Meg hates being alone, but her ADHD keeps pushing people away. But when the two girls are thrown together for a year-long science project, they discover they do have one thing in common: They’re both obsessed with the same online gaming star and his hilarious videos.

It might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship—if they don’t kill each other first.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

One thing I’ve often disliked in contemporary YA is the lack of friendships between girls. I mean the genuine, well-meaning, kind of friendships where there is mutual respect between the characters. Stories about friendship often have more to do with romance, but what I loved about Kat and Meg Conquer the World is that the friendship is the large focus, while the girls also attempt to conquer their mental illnesses while maybe like-liking a cute boy here and there.

Priemaza’s debut is wonderful. There’s a distinct difference in Kat and Meg’s voices, and I found myself able to visualize what the girls were doing, how they were behaving, and of course, the video game they are both obsessed with. It is so AWESOME to see girl gamers being represented in stories without it being a quirk in their character. There’s a lot of care and attention to detail in the way in which the girls interact with the MMORPG that they play online, and how online culture can feed into mental illness, in Kat’s case anxiety and depression, and Meg’s ADHD. Even the way in which mental illness is represented in this novel is just very thoughtful and mindful of those who suffer from them.

I adored Kat and Meg Concuer the Universe because it’s such a true-to-life story with fangirls who want to be accepted by others, but ultimately themselves. Kat and Meg’s friendship is easily one of the strongest and most complex part of this story, and it’s so easy to fall in love with the characters and root for them when they succeed and feel empathy when they fail. I urge people to check this book out, especially if you’re looking for a story with complex female friendships and ya don’t mind a dash of gamer culture.

Late to the Party ARC Review – They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

Title: They Both Die at the End

Author: Adam Silvera

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure and to live a lifetime in a single day.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I read this book in two long sittings. I was glued to the pages and intrigued by the concept of The Last Friend app and Death-Cast calls. The idea of having a phone call tell you that it’s your last day to live is utterly terrifying, but also a bizarre motivator to attempt to live your last day to the fullest. Silvera pulls no punches with this story — it’s emotional, it’s raw, and it’s going to hurt like hell.

As the title suggests, Mateo and Rufus are going to die at the end of the story. The problem with this is that Silvera makes you fall deeply in love with both boys so that when this happens it rips your heart out and the belief in love is destroyed. You never truly feel ready for the impact of the end of this book and that’s probably why it works so well. There’s moments where Silvera tries to fake out the reader in when the boys are going to die and it just pulls at the heartstrings.

I loved Mateo and Rufus. Mateo’s anxiety, his father being in a coma, and his fears of leaving the world without real accomplishment was something I truly could empathize with. He doesn’t hold himself in high regard, but once he meets Rufus you see Mateo come out of his shell, even if it almost feels like it’s too late. As for Rufus, he’s a character that understands the kinds of wrong-doings he’s committed, and you get a large sense that he wants to atone for past action and strive to be someone better… even if he only gets a day to do it. In a lot of ways that’s why this story works so well is you’re seeing all these positive changes in these characters, but you know that this is all brought down because it’s their last day to be alive.

I even liked the side characters, especially Aimee and Lidia. I feel like they added a lot of characterization to both Mateo and Rufus. I also liked the little vignettes of other people in the story either receiving the call or not and how that affects their day or last day for that matter. They are cleverly done and just as punch as the main story.

And it hurts so much. I cried, I was angry, I felt tired after finishing this book because my feelings were all over the place. They Both Die at the End was a heavy, emotional read for me, but it was one I flew through because I found myself connecting so deeply with the story and it’s characters. There is no right headspace for reading this book, just remember that the title rings true and that you’re going to need a lot of tissues to get through this one.