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Late to the Party ARC Review – Tess of the Road (Tess of the Road #1) by Rachel Hartman

Title: Tess of the Road (Tess of the Road #1)

Author: Rachel Hartman

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: In the medieval kingdom of Goredd, women are expected to be ladies, men are their protectors, and dragons can be whomever they choose. Tess is none of these things. Tess is. . . different. She speaks out of turn, has wild ideas, and can’t seem to keep out of trouble. Then Tess goes too far. What she’s done is so disgraceful, she can’t even allow herself to think of it. Unfortunately, the past cannot be ignored. So Tess’s family decide the only path for her is a nunnery.

But on the day she is to join the nuns, Tess chooses a different path for herself. She cuts her hair, pulls on her boots, and sets out on a journey. She’s not running away, she’s running towards something. What that something is, she doesn’t know. Tess just knows that the open road is a map to somewhere else–a life where she might belong.

Huge thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I should have read this book sooner. Seraphina is one of my favourite fantasy novels, and I was beyond thrilled to find out that Rachel Hartman finally had a new book coming out set int he same universe. I also haven’t been reading as much fantasy lately, so it was so nice to pick this up and fly through it. Plus, this book has dragons, and dragons are A+ in my books.

This is a rich and character driven fantasy novel. Tess is a fantastic, snarky, lovable heroine and I loved being on this journey with her. I loved how sassy and take charge she is! And she wasn’t even my favourite character! That crown goes to Pathka, who just made this book everything I wanted it to be and more. But in all seriousness, this book is about Tess’ growth as a character, and it looks at her life in alternative perspectives in how she’s grown and her connection with the dragons. Tess goes through some horrific things in her life, yet you cannot help but root for her.

Also some of the deaths in this book ruined me. RUINED ME. No spoilers, but they were so heartbreaking and I may have yelled at the book for it. I recognize the book cannot talk back to me (and if it did, it would tell me it’s feeding on my tears).

I think for a lot of fantasy readers Tess of the Road might be too much of a slow burn. Personally, I love fantasy novels that gradually build to its climax. This book lacks a lot of the fantasy tropes that people love — there’s no complicated magic systems or intalove — just a story about a girl out on the open on the road, forging a new path for herself. What’s not to love?

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Late to the Party ARC Review – Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now by Dana L. Davis

Title: Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now

Author: Dana L. Davis

Rating: ★★ 1/2

Synopsis: For sixteen-year-old Tiffany Sly, life hasn’t been safe or normal for a while. Losing her mom to cancer has her a little bit traumatized and now she has to leave her hometown of Chicago to live with the biological dad she’s never known.

Anthony Stone is a rich man with four other daughters—and rules for every second of the day. Tiffany tries to make the best of things, but she doesn’t fit into her new luxurious, but super-strict, home—or get along with her standoffish sister London. The only thing that makes her new life even remotely bearable is the strange boy across the street. Marcus McKinney has had his own experiences with death, and the unexpected friendship that blossoms between them is the only thing that makes her feel grounded.

But Tiffany has a secret. Another man claims he’s Tiffany’s real dad—and she only has seven days before he shows up to demand a paternity test and the truth comes out. With her life about to fall apart all over again, Tiffany finds herself discovering unexpected truths about her father, her mother and herself, and realizing that maybe family is in the bonds you make—and that life means sometimes taking risks.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

When I heard about the premise for Dana L. Davis’ Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now, I was intrigued. The focus on a girl with two potential fathers definitely means there is doing to be some drama, and I love stories that focus on unique familial circumstances. I may have hyped this book in my mind, and sadly it didn’t live up to the expectations I gave it. It’s a good book, but it’s not without some issues.

First off, this book took me awhile to get into. Like, I would pick up and read, then completely forget about it. The first hundred pages were not holding my attention. However, once I hit the latter half of the book, I was completely glued to the pages and needed to know what was happening. It’s weird for a book to do such a mad 180 degree turn, but that was my reading experience with this book. Sometimes I so invested in the story, and other times I was just bored because the story wasn’t engaging me.

I will say that I really did like Tiffany as a character. She’s got a good head on her shoulders, she’s smart, kind, and she means well. She’s also a girl questioning her family and her faith. This book is uncomfortable at times… especially Tiffany’s estranged father, who does some borderline abusive things to her. His treatment of her mental illness in particular disgusted me, as the idea of keeping medication away from someone who needs it is just revolting and wrong. But him being an uncomfortable person is what drives a lot of the story, especially given that before he and Tiffany met, they lived such different lives.

The way in which religion is portrayed in this book is also a difficult subject matter. It’s a weird kind of zealotry, and it’s no wonder why Tiffany fights it. Why she’s trying to protect her siblings from it. There’s so much complication in how Tiffany’s father is portrayed in this book, and some of it works, and some of it does not. I will say… I really disliked the treatment of the autistic character in this book. There was something about it that just screamed power-trip and again, it’s unnerving and disturbing.

I am all for tough subject matters in YA, and I liked how some issues were portrayed in this book. This is definitely a hard book to review because there’s a lot going on, and if I am being honest, this was just an okay ride for me. I wish the book had hooked me sooner, and I do think this book could have been a bit shorter. I think Tiffany as a story is interesting, I just think the execution left a lot to be desired.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Who’s Who When Everyone Is Someone Else by C.D. Rose

Title: Who’s Who When Everyone Is Someone Else

Author: C.D. Rose

Rating: ★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Fleeing heartbreak, an unnamed author goes to an unnamed city to give a series of lectures at an unnamed university about forgotten books…only to find himself involved in a mystery when it turns out the professor who invited him is no where to be found, and no one seems quite sure why he’s there.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This pains me, but I struggled with this book. I picked it up on a whim at this year’s Ontario Library Super Conference after reading the blurb. I love the “Who’s Who” series, and I think that’s entirely where my brain was going when reading this novel.

It was partially that, and partially something harder to describe. This is a book that features “lectures” (or rather, waxings) on particular novels, and as well as the story of an unnamed author and journey through an unnamed Middle-European city. No one in this novel really has a name or even a role persay — bur rather, this is a novel that feels very meditative and thoughtful, but nothing really happens either.

That’s ultimately what I struggled with. I don’t mind a novel that feels aimless, let alone one that is poetic and thoughtful, but the writing in this book felt so dense at times that for every beautiful line or passage, there was something hard or difficult to navigate through in terms of the writing.

This is a book lover’s book for sure, and it’s a love letter to readers and that is abundantly clear. I just wish I had connected more with it or had been in a better head space to appreciate a lot of what C.D Rose was attempting to accomplish here.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Title:  Sky in the Deep

Author: Adrienne Young

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Raised to be a warrior, seventeen-year-old Eelyn fights alongside her Aska clansmen in an ancient rivalry against the Riki clan. Her life is brutal but simple: fight and survive. Until the day she sees the impossible on the battlefield — her brother, fighting with the enemy — the brother she watched die five years ago.

Faced with her brother’s betrayal, she must survive the winter in the mountains with the Riki, in a village where every neighbor is an enemy, every battle scar possibly one she delivered. But when the Riki village is raided by a ruthless clan thought to be a legend, Eelyn is even more desperate to get back to her beloved family.

She is given no choice but to trust Fiske, her brother’s friend, who sees her as a threat. They must do the impossible: unite the clans to fight together, or risk being slaughtered one by one. Driven by a love for her clan and her growing love for Fiske, Eelyn must confront her own definition of loyalty and family while daring to put her faith in the people she’s spent her life hating.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I was so excited when Raincoast sent me Sky in the Deep. I haven’t read a lot of novels featuring vikings, let alone one where the lead is a female warrior. Eelyn story is wonderfully compelling, and this book read like candy.

I won’t lie, this book is not to most ground-breaking or well-written. It’s a debut, and it makes a lot of the mistakes debuts have by giving so much in a story without properly providing necessary aspects such as strong world building or deep and developed characters. This is true for Sky in the Deep and yet, I didn’t care. I was having so much fun reading this book, and while I didn’t read it quickly, I appreciated what an easy read it was.

Eelyn is a fun heroine. She’s strong, difficult, and she stands out. She takes to tasks and wants to get the job done, making her quite the boss. She’s also wonderfully flawed, which made me happy given I like a heroine to have flaws that the reader can relate to. This is a heroine who is tough, she mows people down, she has a sense of justice and duty and yet she’s a fighter. I just, I loved her so.

I just had such fun with all the action in the book. I also liked the political aspects between the viking groups, though I wish it had been more developed. I also appreciated that the romance wasn’t the forefront in this story mostly because I found it to be very phoned in. I still say I loved the issues involving the clans (well, any bit of information we received).

I can’t really explained why I liked this book. There’s a lot of action, politics and an awesome heroine, but there’s equally enough problems such as a lack of world-building and characterization among the secondary cast. But I found this to be such an enjoyable page-turner and even with the lack of information at times I was still loving the book, flaws and all. I wish we had more YA viking fantasy, and even with the book’s problems, I am still so happy it exists in the world and I cannot wait to start recommending it.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

Title: Emergency Contact

Author: Mary H.K. Choi

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: For Penny Lee high school was a total nonevent. Her friends were okay, her grades were fine, and while she somehow managed to land a boyfriend, he doesn’t actually know anything about her. When Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, to learn how to become a writer, it’s seventy-nine miles and a zillion light years away from everything she can’t wait to leave behind.

Sam’s stuck. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, financially. He works at a café and sleeps there too, on a mattress on the floor of an empty storage room upstairs. He knows that this is the god-awful chapter of his life that will serve as inspiration for when he’s a famous movie director but right this second the seventeen bucks in his checking account and his dying laptop are really testing him. 

When Sam and Penny cross paths it’s less meet-cute and more a collision of unbearable awkwardness. Still, they swap numbers and stay in touch—via text—and soon become digitally inseparable, sharing their deepest anxieties and secret dreams without the humiliating weirdness of having to see each other.

Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I’ll be honest: I kind of ignored the hype surrounding this book. I felt like it was going to be a book that I thought would just be “okay” or “that was fine.” When I got it in my Simon and Schuster Canada goodies bag from the Ontario Library Association’s Super Conference, I was intrigued, but not in the best frame of mind to read this book.

I loved, and slowly devoured Emergency Contact. I picked it up on a whim during a crazy and difficult period in my life, and it’s a book I was constantly connecting with. I loved Penny and Sam, and I while they do frustrating and even unthinkable things, I cared about their every action, and I wanted them to be better off by the end. I love that this is first and foremost a friendship novel. Penny and Sam meet in such an awkward, uncomfortable way, and they become each other’s “emergency contact” — the person they connect with when life is beating them black and blue.

This book has a very slow build, but I found myself really loving and engaging with it. This isn’t a book I found myself reading quickly, but rather small bits at a time because I found the situations that the characters engaged in to be difficult to read about at times. Sam’s plot-line in particular had me yelling and flailing my arms in anger, while Penny I could easily relate to (despite being nothing like her) and seeing how she has to deal with changes beyond her control. The writing in this book is playful, lyrical and fun despite the darker tone in it, and I think Choi does a fantastic job of getting readers to care and emote while reading this novel.

I am definitely going to have to buy myself a copy of this book because I feel like it’s one I will get the itch to reread. While I feel like this book is pretty hyped, it’s also one I don’t think that had that intention in the first place. This is a very quiet book, and one that builds and builds until it crashes so hard that everything feels messy and raw. I love novels like that, and I think it’s why Emergency Contactresonated with me the way it did. It’s definitely not for every reader, but if you love quieter books that offer a detailed character study of two lost young adults, I think this book is highly worth the read.

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Greatest Gift (Heartwood Hotel #2) by Kallie George & Stephanie Graegin

Title: The Greatest Gift (Heartwood Hotel #2)

Author: Kallie George & Stephanie Graegin

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Mona the mouse has finally found a place to call home, the cozy Heartwood Hotel, where she works as a maid and sleeps snuggled up in a room with her best friend. Following the festive St. Slumber celebration, most of the guests have settled in to hibernate, and the staff is looking forward to a relaxing winter. But disruptions abound, from a difficult duchess to a mysterious midnight snacker. As the snow stacks higher, Mona will have to gather friends both old and new to keep the peace, finding help in some of the most unexpected places.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I read Heartwood Hotel books one and two back to back. This sequel, The Greatest Gift is a much more gentle book compared to the first one. Mona has now found a place to call her own, and the true villain of this story is winter. I think we can all relate to that, at least here in Canada!

I think The Greatest Gift continues to show the strengths of the first book, focusing on themes of friendship and learning to rely on others for help. This book read so quickly, and compared to the first book I thought the story wasn’t as strong here. It’s enjoyable, but it also just felt like it ended too fast? I’m not sure.

This series is sweet, adorable, and fluffy. I am really happy I read this sequel just so I could read more about Mona and Tilly’s adventures. This continues to be a great middle grade series, and I hope more people will check them out.

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.