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Late to the Party ARC Review – Crier’s War (Crier’s War #1) by Nina Varela

Title: Crier’s War (Crier’s War #1)

Author: Nina Varela

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.

Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.

Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.

Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I heard about Crier’s War when I went to Harper Collins Canada’s Fall Frenzy event. Some buzz words the book had were adventure, politics, revenge, and a lesbian romance. I love all those things in my fantasy novels, so I knew I needed to get my hands on this book, and lo and behold it was in my grab bag.

I enjoyed Crier’s War. It’s not the most ground breaking fantasy novel, there’s a lot that has been done before, and yet I devoured the story and found myself entertained by the characters. Crier was difficult at first for me because she’s an android “playmate” essentially, meaning she doesn’t have much will of her own. That type of character is always a hard one for me to enjoy because I like my leads in fantasy to have energy and motive, but I will say Crier grew on me throughout the story. When she starts to realize she is defective and begins to understand human agency, there’s a wonderful shift and growth in her character that is VERY rewarding. Ayla on the other hand, has very one-dimensional goals (aka. revenge, revenge, and REVENGE) and while she is energetic and a go-getter, she takes a lot of time for development and I still didn’t feel like she grew enough for me to connect with.

The romance in this novel is adorable and cheesy. It’s definitely the kind of romance that steams from hate-to-love, and it’s not necessary the most well-developed at times, but I totally bought into it. It’s corny and charming, and I think that can be a great thing in a story that is a bit too serious and dark, which Crier’s War has in spades.

The writing through is solid, there’s definitely some beautiful passages, and I think the world building is very interesting throughout. I think Crier’s War succeeds in being a plot-heavy story, but not necessarily a character driven one. There’s definitely some fantastic character driven moments (Crier’s awakening being fantastically portrayed), but I don’t feel it’s entirely equal throughout the story.

I had fun reading Crier’s War and I am definitely intrigued to see where Varela goes with the sequel given how the book ended. I look forward to seeing Ayla and Crier grow some more, and I think there’s a lot of great ideas in this book. It was such an enjoyable read and easily something I can recommend to those who want a book that is just an easy, plot-driven fantasy novel.

ARC Review – Just Breathe by Cammie McGovern

Title: Just Breathe

Author: Cammie McGovern

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: David Sheinman is the popular president of his senior class, battling cystic fibrosis.

Jamie Turner is a quiet sophomore, struggling with depression.

The pair soon realizes that they can be their true selves with each other, and their unlikely friendship develops into something so much more. But neither Jamie nor David can bring themselves to reveal the secrets that weigh most heavily on their hearts—and their time for honesty may be running out.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I love me a Cammie McGovern novel. Often her books know how to hit the right notes with me in terms of how emotional her books often are, and how often my heartstrings are tug at. This particular book focuses on chronic illness, specially Cystic fibrosis (or CF), I always feel a bit weary when reading these stories if only because I worry the accuracy and how connected I am even as someone who doesn’t suffer from one. One of my dearest friends has CF, so I don’t know how accurate this book is, but in terms of storytelling, I was attached to David and Jamie’s story.

I am not a romance reader, but what I do like in McGovern’s books is that she always does a good job of making a relationship feel organic to the story. David and Jamie are friends, they bond over each other’s lives and their desires to get better, and then a romance occurs and it doesn’t feel forced or awkward the way other YA books love to do these sick-kids-in-love-stories. David has CF and Jamie has depression and they are essentially just trying to build each other up.

What I equally like, however, is that McGovern does a great job of showing how difficult it is to have a positive attitude towards chronic illness, as well as the up-and-downs that the characters are facing while coping with their situations. I also want to point out that the reactions that adult characters have in this story feels very spot on. There’s one scene in particular that illustrates how parents also have to come to terms with chronic illness and the struggles of trying to do what is best for their child, but also what it means to be in a survivor’s mentality (something I’ve had first hand experience with).

While this is not my favourite Cammie McGovern book (that still goes to Just My Luck, I think this story shows that she puts a lot of thought and care into her stories. She knows how to add the emotional punch when needed, and I appreciate that she’s unapologic about the challenges of the situations that her protagonists are facing. While I wish Jamie’s depression was addressed a bit more, I still cared for her just as much as I did David.

ARC Review – The How and the Why by Cynthia Hand

Title: The How & The Why

Author: Cynthia Hand

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Cassandra McMurtrey has the best parents a girl could ask for. They’ve given Cass a life she wouldn’t trade for the world. She has everything she needs—except maybe the one thing she wants. Like, to know who she is. Where she came from. Questions her adoptive parents can’t answer, no matter how much they love her.

But eighteen years ago, someone wrote Cass a series of letters. And they may just hold the answers Cass has been searching for.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Cynthia Hand has a magic power: she makes me cry at the drop of a hat. The How and the Way is a book that explores adoption, family, and how we deal with the unknown. After finishing the book and reading the author’s note, it’s abundantly clear that this is Cynthia Hand’s most personal book to date, and may be my favourite one that I’ve read of hers.

This book is an emotional book — it’s out to make you cry, having a million feelings, and just be an exploration experience. There is so much I didn’t know about the adoption process and system, let alone the amount of trauma it can cause on both the one giving up the child and the child who years later has found the courage to look for their biological parent. Cassandra’s experience of having a great adoptive family and having constant support from them was so beautiful to read about, and I appreciate the way this book handles its characters — every single one is flawed and nuanced.

I also like the way this book is told in letters from Cassandra’s biological mother and the present time. Cassandra has so much courage in this story, but I equally like that she has moments of weakness, and the process of her trying to find her mother organically unfolds. Everything about this book is slow and thoughtful.

I devoured the book in four days on my lunch breaks and I always felt sad when I had to put it down because Hand gives you just enough at the end of each chapter to make you want to keep reading. This book is emotional for sure, and is definitely for fans of Robin Benway’s Far From the Tree.

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 – 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.

ARC Review – That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim

Title: That Thing We Call a Heart

Author: Sheba Karim

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Shabnam Qureshi is a funny, imaginative Pakistani-American teen attending a tony private school in suburban New Jersey. When her feisty best friend, Farah, starts wearing the headscarf without even consulting her, it begins to unravel their friendship. After hooking up with the most racist boy in school and telling a huge lie about a tragedy that happened to her family during the Partition of India in 1947, Shabnam is ready for high school to end. She faces a summer of boredom and regret, but she has a plan: Get through the summer. Get to college. Don’t look back. Begin anew.

Everything changes when she meets Jamie, who scores her a job at his aunt’s pie shack, and meets her there every afternoon. Shabnam begins to see Jamie and herself like the rose and the nightingale of classic Urdu poetry, which, according to her father, is the ultimate language of desire. Jamie finds Shabnam fascinating—her curls, her culture, her awkwardness. Shabnam finds herself falling in love, but Farah finds Jamie worrying.

With Farah’s help, Shabnam uncovers the truth about Jamie, about herself, and what really happened during Partition. As she rebuilds her friendship with Farah and grows closer to her parents, Shabnam learns powerful lessons about the importance of love, in all of its forms.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I will be 100% honest: it wasn’t until I had gone to Harper Collins’ Spring Preview that I had even hard of this book. It didn’t seem like there was a lot of buzz surrounding this one, which is a real shame, because it is a fantastic, punchy little book about family, friendship, religion and first love.

At it’s core That Thing We Call A Heart is really about the friendship between Shabnam and her “former” best friend Farah. The two had a falling out when Farah began to proudly start wearing her headscarf to school without consulting Shabnam. This small but significant incident spirals the two best friends into a situation where they learn to be a part for awhile, but converge on how to make their friendship whole again. There is also a romance involving a non-Muslim boy who is interested in Muslim culture, a father obsessed with Urdu romance poetry but doesn’t see his wife, and a mother who has so much love to give yet seems neglected. A lot happens in this tiny novel, and all of it is interesting.

Honestly, my favourite parts of this novel were the moments between Shabnam and Farah. When they were focusing on their friendship you can see the intense chemistry between the two of them and why they were friends in the first place. Sheba Karim does this amazing job of building the relationship between these two best friends and there is a genuine sense of care and compassion coming from both sides. When Farah begins to question Shabnam’s “relationship” with Jamie, she does it from such a caring standpoint, and while it seems like she may be playing devil’s advocate, you get a very genuine vibe from her that she simply wants what is best for Shabnam. Farah was easily my favourite character in this book, as she has such a fantastic and blunt attitude. We need more badass ladies like her in contemporary YA.

I also loved Shabnam, even though she definitely had some moments that were very frustrating. I think Sheba Karim does a great job of capturing a teenager who is head over heels regarding their first love, and you can feel the this sense that Shabnam truly is in love with Jamie throughout the story. It doesn’t feel trite or forced, it feels like teenage lovesickness — realistic and heartbreaking. I will say, I still kinda didn’t get Jamie’s appeal at all in the story, and that is maybe because he’s not the kind of guy I’d dig in the slightest, but I can respect Shabnam’s interest in the guy, and I do appreciate that he was written in a way where he was trying to understand and respect Muslim culture. I thought that aspect of his character was actually very well done.

Can I also say how much I loved Shabnam’s family? There are so many moments that were so funny and toughing between her and her folks. I thought her mum was adorable and sweet, and I loved how caring she is. I also found Shabnam’s father hilarious and I liked that he made no bones about who he is throughout. They felt like read parents, which in YA often is completely unheard of.

I am so glad I was given the chance to read this book, because when it comes to books that feel genuine from start to finish, That Thing We Call A Heart succeeds. I really adored my time with this book, and I felt like I was able to really connect with the characters in this story, even though I don’t share the same culture as them. I felt like I learned so much about Muslim culture and the importance of family, both birth and chosen. There’s a lot of beauty in this book, and the ending definitely left me heartbroken.

ARC Review – Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno

28926581Title: Everything All at Once

Author: Katrina Leno

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Lottie Reeves has always struggled with anxiety, and when her beloved Aunt Helen dies, Lottie begins to fear that her own unexpected death might be waiting around every corner.

Aunt Helen wasn’t a typical aunt. She was the author of the best–selling Alvin Hatter series, about siblings who discover the elixir of immortality. Her writing inspired a generation of readers.

In her will, she leaves one last writing project—just for Lottie. It’s a series of letters, each containing mysterious instructions designed to push Lottie out of her comfort zone. Soon, Lottie’s trying some writing of her own, leaping off cliffs, and even falling for a boy she’s only just met. Then the letters reveal an extraordinary secret about the inspiration for the Alvin Hatter series. Lottie finds herself faced with an impossible choice, one that will force her to confront her greatest fear once and for all.

Molly’s Review:

I HAVE SO MANY EMOTIONS RIGHT NOW.

This book was so amazing and hit me so close to home. Much like Lottie, I was close to my grandmother the same way she was with her aunt. All of her emotions and grief I felt deeply while reading this and there were parts that really gut punched me at the most random times.

This book made me cry. I rarely cry over books and I choked up quite a few times and kinda lost it at the end. SO MANY EMOTIONS.

The characters were all so wonderful. I really love the way that Katrina Leno writes siblings and best friends. I also loved the parents in this book A LOT. Abe was my favorite & I wish that I had a brother like him.

The whole Alvin Hatter book series was fucking perfection. To be honest I am NOT a fan of the “book within a book” type of books (I loved Fangirl but hated the Simon parts and won’t read Carry On. There have also been other books that I have skipped or dropped because of the book within a book parts) but it worked SO WELL in this book. The sections that were from the Alvin books actually made me yearn for a Harry Potter reread. But the best thing about the Alvin books is that they AREN’T Harry Potter specifically. They are Narnia, they are Percy Jackson, they are A Wrinkle in Time, they are The Golden Compass. Alvin Hatter is the stand in for your favorite childhood books paying homage to them all. And that is what I loved so much about them. (Yes Aunt Helen is totally the JKR of this world).

This book is surprising too and if you’re a close reader you’ll be able to figure out the magic. I was SO PLEASED with the ending and with the clues and with Aunt Helen’s big secret. I was so happy with the choices Lottie made too.

There is also A TON of diversity in this book that is reflective of the world around us. I really love how naturally Katrina writes diverse characters without it feeling like she just forced them in for diversity’s sake. It feels very REAL and authentic.

I feel like this book was meant for me. I am so honored that Katrina let me read it so early. This book was made up of so many things that I love (letters in a book! Amazing friendships, quite romance, hilarious conversations, musings about time and the universe, magic, Conor Oberst).

Lastly, if you are a book lover or a writer, this book will be something that you can really understand and just really connect with. So please check it out this coming July!