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Late to the Party ARC Review – The Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head (The Curiosity House #1) by Lauren Oliver & H.G. Chester

Title: The Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head (The Curiosity House #1)

Author: Lauren Oliver & H.G. Chester

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: The book is about, among other things: the strongest boy in the world, a talking cockatoo, a faulty mind reader, a beautiful bearded lady and a nervous magician, an old museum, and a shrunken head.

Blessed with extraordinary abilities, orphans Philippa, Sam, and Thomas have grown up happily in Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders. Philippa is a powerful mentalist, Sam is the world’s strongest boy, and Thomas can squeeze himself into a space no bigger than a bread box. The children live happily with museum owner Mr. Dumfrey, alongside other misfits. But when a fourth child, Max, a knife-thrower, joins the group, it sets off an unforgettable chain of events.

When the museum’s Amazonian shrunken head is stolen, the four are determined to get it back. But their search leads them to a series of murders and an explosive secret about their pasts.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I recognize this book has been out for two years already, but I always feel obligated that when I get an ARC from a publisher, even if I haven’t read it right away that I always give it a review. I LOVE Lauren Oliver’s middle grade books, and I would argue that those are her better works over her YA offerings. The Spindlers was imaginative, Lisel & Po has remained a favourite to this day, and then there is The Curiosity House series, which is unique to say the least.

What I enjoyed about The Shrunken Head is that it has this old timey vibe to it, from how the murder mystery elements are set up, to even the whimsical side of the narrative. It also builds of the old circus tropes from a bearded lady, to mind readers, and even a talking bird. There’s a lot of weird and whimsy in this book, and I will argue that that is what makes it so engaging. The Shrunken Head takes so many crazy twists and turns for a middle grade story that it easily keeps the reader engaged.

I will say that the kids took awhile to grow on me. I feel like they just weren’t as fleshed out compared to characters in Oliver’s other novels. This isn’t a bad thing, but it did damper my enjoyment at times because I found it so hard to connect to the children. On the opposite end, I loved how ridiculous the adults were in this story. They were extreme and utterly crazy.

While I wasn’t in love with this first installment to the The Curiosity House series, I still want to read the rest of them. I feel like this series has the potential to grow into something that is truly special, and I look forward to reading on and seeing what the next adventure has in store.

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Late to the Party ARC Review – The Gallery of Lost Species by Nina Berkhout

26114471Title: The Gallery of Lost Species

Author: Nina Berkhout

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Edith grows up in her big sister Vivienne’s shadow. While the beautiful Viv is forced by the girls’ overbearing mother to compete in child beauty pageants, plain-looking Edith follows in her father’s footsteps: collecting oddities, studying coins, and reading from old books.

When Viv rebels against her mother’s expectations, Edith finds herself torn between a desire to help her sister and pursuing her own love for a boy who might love her sister more than he loves her. When Edith accepts a job at the National Gallery of Canada, she meets an elderly cryptozoologist named Theo who is searching for a bird many believe to be extinct. Navigating her way through Vivienne’s dark landscape while trying to win Liam’s heart, Edith develops an unlikely friendship with Theo when she realizes they might have more in common than she imagined; they are both trying to retrieve something that may be impossible to bring back to life.

Huge thank you to St. Martin’s Press for sending me a copy of this book for review!

Molly’s Review:

This book was just okay for me. It’s an adult novel but the main character, Edith, is a teen and then in her early twenties for the entire book, so it’s bordering on the YA side of things. I went into this expecting things from the synopsis and it really didn’t deliver.

I did enjoy the writing and the story of the two sisters. Edith and her sister Viv are two very different girls. Edith loves to read and collect junk with her father while Viv lets her mother parade her around in child beauty pageants. The mother is a piece of work and I loved how complex her relationship was with Viv. Viv is also an artist, like her father, but she succumbs to drug and alcohol abuse and kinda ruins her artistic career.

Edith grows up into a normal young woman and she gets a job at an art gallery. She works in the collections room cataloging items. I was lead to believe that she was going to forge a deep friendship with one of the researchers who frequents the collections room and that that was going to be a core part of the story. But that was very brief and I didn’t even feel like their friendship and connection went that deeply. I was also disappointed that there wasn’t more done with the researchers quest for the mythical extinct bird.

And the whole love story with Liam was just weird and kinda gross and I didn’t really like him or the relationships that he had with either sister. I felt like Edith was rather pathetic when it came to Liam and even when she did get into a normal relationship she was still kinda pathetic about it.

And Viv’s ending was very unsatisfactory. I really was disappointed with the lack of resolution with her and her family.

Overall this book looks and sounds like it’s going to be gorgeous but it’s kinda just meh.

Late to the Party Review – The Magnificent Mya Tibbs: Spirit Week Showdown by Crystal Allen

25081701Title: The Magnificent Mya Tibbs: Spirit Week Showdown

Author: Crystal Allen

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Nine-year-old Mya Tibbs is boot-scootin’ excited for the best week of the whole school year—SPIRIT WEEK! She and her megapopular best friend, Naomi Jackson, even made a pinky promise to be Spirit Week partners so they can win the big prize: special VIP tickets to the Fall Festival!

But when the partner picking goes horribly wrong, Mya gets paired with Mean Connie Tate—the biggest bully in school. And she can’t get out of it.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this finished copy!

Sam’s Review:

Mya Tibbs is going to be one of those series that I am going to relish for next installment as I complete each book. There is this genuine quality to Crystal Allen’s story of a young black girl who wants to be herself but also be friends with those in her class. Mya wants to be a cowgirl. Mya wants to win Spirit Week for her “best friend” Naomi. Mya wants to do the right thing, and she wants to be appreciated.

I loved this story and I could identify with Mya’s troubles in elementary school because they happened to me. Mya’s best friend Naomi is so problematic as a character and it makes her a wonderful foil. Naomi wants to be the most important person in all her friend’s lives, she wants to be the star, and if she is betrayed, she takes it pretty personally. This begins a lot of Mya Tibbs’ story, along with her being paired with the school bully for Spirit Week, hence the “Showdown.”

What I adored about this novel is that Mya’s problems, her resolve, and her kindness felt so realistic, and I love the way she is written such tenacity. She’s a sweetheart, and every time she got into trouble I completely felt for her. I also loved the relationship that blossoms between Mya and Connie as it felt very organic in the story, and not forced in the slightest. I loved Connie’s secret and the way in which Mya fell in love with it as well.

There is just so much so adore about Mya Tibbs, and I cannot wait to see what new friendships and adventures she will have. I think this is the start of a fantastic middle grade series!

Late to the Party ARC Review – You Were Here by Cori McCarthy

25679559Title: You Were Here

Author: Cori McCarthy

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: On the anniversary of her daredevil brother’s death, Jaycee attempts to break into Jake’s favorite hideout—the petrifying ruins of an insane asylum. Joined by four classmates, each with their own brand of dysfunction, Jaycee discovers a map detailing her brother’s exploration and the unfinished dares he left behind.

As a tribute to Jake, Jaycee vows to complete the dares, no matter how terrifying or dangerous. What she doesn’t bargain on is her eccentric band of friends who challenge her to do the unthinkable: reveal the parts of herself that she buried with her brother.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

THIS BOOK EMOTIONALLY MESSED ME UP.

Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch, but it did make me very emotional as I read it. This is a book about friendship, it’s about reconnecting with someone you’ve lost (in this case who has died). There is a huge mystery surrounding Jake’s death, and Jaycee wants to recreate his death-defying stunts so that she can connect to him in another way. She and her group of friends, who are all going through different problems, accompany her on this journey, sometimes trying to talk her out of things, other times to be supportive and it’s just, wow.

Grief makes you feel and do strange things. In Jaycee’s case, there’s this strong desire to find connection in her brother’s death. It’s heartbreaking, but totally something I could understand and sympathize with, having recently dealt with the death of my own mother. You miss someone to the point where you wish them back into existence — you want them to still be flesh and bone yet the world has taken them from you.

The friendship in this story is one of my favourite aspects, and I thought every character was strongly written. Natalie’s plotline was particularly engaging, and I actually loved how some of the prespective was told in different formats. There’s poetry, an ongoing comic, artwork, and it all fits into this story. It doesn’t feel out of place or strange, it’s just perfect actually. I loved these additions because it gave us so much insight into each character. Heck, I generally am not huge on the romance, but Mik and Jaycee’s romance was really well developed. I also liked Zach and Natalie as well, and my heart went out to Zach a lot throughout the novel.

This book is one that needs to be talked about more. It offers an insightful look to dealing with grief, while also weaving so many exceptional smaller stories along the way. Easily one of my favourite reads this year, and one that I hope others will try because there’s just so much going on in this novel, and it’so good at making the reader feel like they are a part of this story. The emotional investment I had felt so real, and I felt really connected to this story and its characters.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness by Jennifer Tseng

23399029Title: Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness

Author: Jennifer Tseng

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Books may be Mayumi Saito’s greatest love and her one source of true pleasure. Forty-one years old, disenchanted wife and dutiful mother, Mayumi’s work as a librarian on a small island off the coast of New England feeds her passion for reading and provides her with many occasions for wry observations on human nature, but it does little to remedy the mundanity of her days. That is, until the day she issues a library card to a shy seventeen-year-old boy and swiftly succumbs to a sexual obsession that subverts the way she sees the library, her family, the island she lives on, and ultimately herself.
 
Wary of the consequences of following through on her fantasies, Mayumi hesitates at first. But she cannot keep the young man from her thoughts. After a summer of overlong glances and nervous chitchat in the library, she finally accepts that their connection is undeniable. In a sprawling house emptied of its summer vacationers, their affair is consummated and soon consolidated thanks to an explosive charge of erotic energy. Mayumi’s life is radically enriched by the few hours each week that she shares with the young man, and as their bond grows stronger thanks not only to their physical closeness but also to their long talks about the books they both love, those hours spent apart seem to Mayumi increasingly bleak and intolerable. As her obsession worsens, in a frantic attempt to become closer to the young man, Mayumi nervously befriends another librarian patron, the young man’s mother. The two women forge a tenuous friendship that will prove vital to both in the most unexpected ways when catastrophe strikes.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this finished copy!

Sam’s Review:

When Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness came through my mailbox, I was both intrigued and worried. I don’t mind books with taboo subject matters, but I was sure I was going to feel quite uncomfortable with the relationship between Mayumi and the Boy. Oddly, I wasn’t as disturbed as I thought I would be, though I did find elements of this book weirder than the taboo relationship.

First I am going to praise the writing, because I did read this book in the span of two days and it’s pretty captivating. Tseng really envelopes the reader into her prose, even when there’s barely anything going on story-wise. The story itself goes through four seasons of Mayumi and the Boy’s relationship, her connection to Violet, his mother, and the worry that she will be discovered by her husband and others. That is the whole book in a nutshell, and yet the prose really makes the reader feel connected to what is going on.

That being said, I disliked Mayumi’s character and the stereotyping of librarians in the novel. That rubbed me the wrong way more than the relationship between Mayumi and the Boy, because there is this stupid assumption that library people, though friendly, don’t want to talk or really deal with patrons (not true, by the way). Mayumi plays into this stereotype so badly, and makes for frustrating character to care about. There’s no real drama in the novel, no real climax. The ending is pretty much a cop out given this larger build that were are given between Mayumi and the Boy. In a lot of ways, I felt rather cheated.

But I kept reading on, because seriously, Tseng’s prose and descriptions were what kept me going. Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness isn’t a bad book at all, but there’s larger holes that don’t get filled very well. If the taboo subject matter isn’t your thing, I’d definitely recommend staying clear, but if you can get past that, there is an interesting narrative being discussed here.

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

15993203Title: The Dark Days Club

Author:  Alison Goodman

Rating:  ★★★

Synopsis: London, April 1812. On the eve of eighteen-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall’s presentation to the queen, one of her family’s housemaids disappears-and Helen is drawn into the shadows of Regency London. There, she meets Lord Carlston, one of the few who can stop the perpetrators: a cabal of demons infiltrating every level of society. Dare she ask for his help, when his reputation is almost as black as his lingering eyes? And will her intelligence and headstrong curiosity wind up leading them into a death trap?

Huge thank you to Razorbill Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I am insanely torn with how I feel about The Dark Days Club. This was a book adored by so many of my friends, and it hard everything I should have loved in a story: regency era politics, paranormal magic fun times, and in depth, gorgeous world-building.

And yet, I was bored for large chunks of this novel. It seemed like Goodman had so much she wanted to build in this story, so there would be these periods where I was completely in love and engaged with the story, and other moments where I found myself screaming “GET ON WITH IT!” It’s a book that just felt like such a mixed bag — if the world building was on and awesome, then the characters felt flat. If the world building was boring, the characters oddly seemed more engaging. I feel like this book is just too difficult to describe, but it made my emotions flip flop all over the place.

For me, there are chunks of this novel that are just perfectly described, and then other moments where I found myself slogging through the text to get to the good bits. I loved the last hundred pages of the story, while the middle just felt like it carried on too long. I admit, I think so much was just built up in this story that the characters were just missing the spark for me. I wanted more from them, and I wanted to have a strong connection… but it never quite happened. The pacing is slow and deliberate, but even then I felt like I was missing something a lot of the time.

I feel like The Dark Days Club is going to be a polarizing read for a lot of folks. This was my first Alison Goodman book, and I do plan on giving her another shot given that I have Eon sitting on my shelves. I’m unsure as to whether or not I will continue with this series, as it’s interesting, but it didn’t quite keep my attention. This is great for lovers of paranormal, as well as historical fiction, and I do think it’s worth the shot if you can handle a slower burn read.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu

23110068Title: Making Pretty

Author: Corey Ann Haydu

Rating:  ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Montana and her sister, Arizona, are named after the mountainous states their mother left them for. But Montana is a New York City girl through and through, and as the city heats up, she’s stepping into the most intense summer of her life. Her father is distracted by yet another divorce, and she’s growing apart from her sister. Then she meets wild, bold Karissa, who encourages Montana to live in technicolor and chase new experiences. But the more of her own secrets Karissa reveals, the more Montana has to wonder if Karissa’s someone she can really trust.

In the midst of her uncertainty, Montana finds a beautiful distraction in Bernardo. He’s serious and spontaneous, and he looks at Montana in the way she wants to be seen. For the first time, Montana understands how you can become both lost and found in somebody else. But when that love becomes everything, where does it leave the rest of her imperfect life?

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by Making Pretty. Having never read a Corey Ann Haydu book and hearing mixed reactions to her previous two novels, I was really hesitant to start this book, to the point where I had the ARC since the event I got it from and just kept putting it off. I feel stupid having done that because I thought this book was fantastic.

I have of love of pretty-ugly people. They are people who behave in horrific ways, sometimes not learning their lessons, and often are difficult to connect with. I had a rough time with Montana and Arizona, because while they don’t fall into this category, they do have moments where they are pretty damn close to the spectrum. This is a novel of complex relationships, be it family, friends, the one you love, and the book constantly is asking the reader what it means to fit in within those relationships. Montana and Arizona have a parent who has hard four failed relationships, and the daughters really don’t have faith in him. It’s hard to given how much of a serial dater/proposer he is, so it was hard for me not to blame them when they were hard on him, even if it wasn’t right at all.

Then there’s the relationship between Montana and Karissa, which I thought was so intriguing given how much Montana feels that Karissa is hers alone. I think what I loved was how realistic Montana’s response is: everyone has had a friendship where they feel that that person belongs only to them and when they stray, they take it personally. When Arizona and Montana find out about Karissa’s relationship with their father, they behave in such a horrific way, and yet again considering how the novel builds, their reactions are unsurprising in the slightest.

What I loved about this novel was how real each character felt. Each one had enough development from Montana’s POV that you knew a surprising amount about them and her relationship with that person. This novel explores relationships in a way that is both thoughtful and complex, while approaching other subjects such as sex and friendship in a very approachable way. I completely devoured this book in a day and a half, but it always kept thinking, wondering. The way in which Haydu presents relationships is both fascinating as it is truthful, and she makes no bones about how complex and challenging they can be. Furthermore, the characters are very genuine and realistic in their reactions, and it made for a compelling read.

Making Pretty is one of those books I now regret not getting to sooner, but am now glad I’ve read. It makes me want to investigate more of her novels, because I feel like the tough issues presented in this story are exactly the kinds of stories I enjoy reading about. Smart, honest, and even hurtful, this book left me with a lot to think about, and I definitely encourage others to check it out if they like tough issue YA.