Tag Archives: little brown books for young readers

Late to the Party ARC Review – Invictus by Ryan Graudin

Title: Invictus

Author: Ryan Graudin

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Farway Gaius McCarthy was born outside of time. The son of a time-traveling Recorder from 2354 AD and a gladiator living in Rome in 95 AD, Far’s birth defies the laws of nature. Exploring history himself is all he’s ever wanted, and after failing his final time-traveling exam, Far takes a position commanding a ship with a crew of his friends as part of a black market operation to steal valuables from the past. 

But during a heist on the sinking Titanic, Far meets a mysterious girl who always seems to be one step ahead of him. Armed with knowledge that will bring Far’s very existence into question, she will lead Far and his team on a race through time to discover a frightening truth: History is not as steady as it seems.

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

So, epic fail on my part. I got this book last year around the time it released and somehow only got to it this year. I LOVED Wolf by Wolfand it’s sequel by Ryan Graudin, and I was so excited to read this and yet it slipped my mind. What’s not to love about a story that focuses on time travel and being a space pirate?

Invictus is such a different beast from Graudin’s other books, especially given that a lot of her previous titles were historical fiction. I admit, this book took me a lot longer to get into because it was science fiction, and I found the first hundred pages to be a bit on the slow side. There’s a lot being explained and developed, which normally I don’t mind, but in this case I found it challenging given I was expecting a similar style of writing that wasn’t here. It’s the same with the characters — I didn’t enjoy them right off the bat and it took pages upon pages before I truly found myself engaged with them as people.

I will say, I did enjoy the science fiction elements a lot. I think what I enjoyed the most was Graudin’s treatment of Invictus, giving the ship such a wonderful personality. I loved the way in which the cast was over protective of her, and even in times of crisis it was all about the damn ship. I liked that! I appreciate and love space stories where the ship feels like a character and one with great importance. Made me think of Firefly in some ways. I also loved the jumping through history element of the novel. I think it was done in such an accessible and approachable way for readers who may not entirely be history buffs.

I am happy I finally read Invictus. It’s no Wolf by Wolf and it was ill of me to expect the same caliber of work. I think this is novel that stands well on its own, and it’s definitely for lighter science fiction fans. I think this is a rough first “space” science fiction novel, but I am still so curious if Graudin will come back to this universe or attempt science fiction again. There’s a lot of good in this novel, and I think for me the issue I had were more my own than the book itself.

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ARC Review – Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert

Title: Finding Yvonne

Author: Brandy Colbert

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Since she was seven years old, Yvonne has had her trusted violin to keep her company, especially in those lonely days after her mother walked out on their family. But with graduation just around the corner, she is forced to face the hard truth that she just might not be good enough to attend a conservatory after high school.

Full of doubt about her future, and increasingly frustrated by her strained relationship with her successful but emotionally closed-off father, Yvonne meets a street musician and fellow violinist who understands her struggle. He’s mysterious, charming, and different from Warren, the familiar and reliable boy who has her heart. But when Yvonne becomes unexpectedly pregnant. 

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Finding Yvonne is a book I would have accidentally avoided if it hadn’t been for the fact that it is penned by Brandy Colbert. I am generally not a huge fan about books that involve teen pregnancy or pregnancy in general. However, I think what drew me to this book is that it is a portrait of a girl well on her way to a successful career, how he life gets thrown off course, and how she ends up making one of the most difficult decisions of her life.

This book is intense. I felt so much reading this book because Yvonne felt like a girl whom you’d chat with, seeming so down to earth, and very kind. Her feelings for the men that she gives herself to is also so genuine. The discussion of sex and sexuality is well captured in this book, and this is a very sex-positive book. This book also has a fantastic discussion supporting pro-choice as well. I also loved the family dynamics in this book, especially between Yvonne and her father. Her family relationships felt so realistic as well.

Finding Yvonne is an amazing book with a lot of loaded discussion questions. I think adults and teens can relate to a lot of what happens in this story, and Yvonne is just such a lovable character. If you don’t mind character studies or books focusing on teen pregnancy, please read this book. It’ll spark fantastic discussion.

ARC Review – Flor and Miranda Steal the Show by Jennifer Torres

Title: Flor and Miranda Steal the Show

Author: Jennifer Torres

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Miranda is the lead singer in her family’s musical band, Miranda y Los Reyes. Her family has worked hard performing at festivals and quinceañeras. Now, they have a shot at the main stage. How will Miranda make it a performance to remember? Flor’s family runs the petting zoo at Mr. Barsetti’s carnival. When she accidentally overhears Mr. Barsetti and Miranda’s dad talk about cutting the zoo to accommodate Miranda y Los Reyes’s main stage salary, she knows she has to take action. Will she have the heart for sabotage once she and Miranda actually start to become friends? 

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Flor and Miranda Steal the Show was a book I didn’t even have on my radar. Going to HGBC ARC list, I read the synopsis and decided to give it a whirl because it felt like something children at my library branch would enjoy. For such a such book, it took me awhile to read — not because it was bad, but because it was rich in entertainment and meaningful discussion.

Miranda is the lead singer in her family’s ranchera band, while Flor is a girl who works in her family’s petting zoo. When the carnival states that they are losing funds, Flor over hears that the petting zoo is in danger and that the money will go towards Miranda’s ranchera band, which is growing in popularity. This premise tells you a lot about the story on the surface, but what it doesn’t show is just how intense Miranda and Flor’s friendship is.

This is a book about family trials and tribulations and how desperate stakes can affect a friendship, and this element is done so well. You feel for both Flor and Miranda, you see how their friendship is in jeopardy, but you also see how the girls work to try and show value for each other and their families. The book also shows the level of sacrifices the girls are willing to make to take care of each other, which is crazy unheard of in middle grade.

Flor and Miranda Steal the Show is a wonderfully crafted middle grade story that focuses on so many different topics, and does it with humour and heart. It’s a story that shows how friends can work together to overcome difficult challenges, and even how they can advocate for each other. I adored this carnival tour, and I cannot wait to share this book with younger readers.

ARC Review – Defy the Stars (Defy the Stars #1) by Claudia Gray

Title: Defy the Stars (Defy the Stars #1)

Author: Claudia Gray

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Noemi Vidal is a teen soldier from the planet Genesis, once a colony of Earth that’s now at war for its independence. The humans of Genesis have fought Earth’s robotic “mech” armies for decades with no end in sight.

After a surprise attack, Noemi finds herself stranded in space on an abandoned ship where she meets Abel, the most sophisticated mech prototype ever made. One who should be her enemy. But Abel’s programming forces him to obey Noemi as his commander, which means he has to help her save Genesis–even though her plan to win the war will kill him.

Together they embark on a daring voyage through the galaxy. Before long, Noemi begins to realize Abel may be more than a machine, and, for his part, Abel’s devotion to Noemi is no longer just a matter of programming.

Huge thank you to Miss Print’s ARC adoption for this review copy.

Molly’s Review:

Not gonna lie… Defy the Stars was kinda weak. I had REALLY been looking forward to this book but it fell flat for me in a lot of ways.

I guess my biggest issue was with the amount of EPIC scenes/themes that were really just… taken from other scifi movies/books. I’m sure that there are even some that I didn’t pick up on but there was a lot of very “Star Wars“-ish dialogue (the scene where they were like are you going to punch it? PUNCH IT! was very reminiscent of Han shouting “Punch it Chewie!”), Abel spoke like C-3p0 (odds and all), there was a scene where they come out of a gate (Star Gate/ Cowboy Bebop) straight into an asteroid field & then land on an asteroid (I was going to LOSE MY SHIT if they ended up landing inside a space slug). The religious aspects reminded me of the religious themes in Battlestar Galactica, as did the set up of the worlds. And their arrival at one of the moons (Wayland Station I think?) was pretty much taken out of Serenity.

Basically I was not IN this story, I was in a bunch of other stories. And that bugged me a lot. There was also very little world building or backstory for WHY Genesis was at war with Earth. And the whole “sacrifice myself to save my world” thing was weak because what military would let a bunch of young healthy people just go and DIE?! That’s just tactically stupid.

Maybe I’d just gone into this with too high of expectations, but after Gray’s previous trilogy I had SUCH high hopes. While this story was fast paced and there were a lot of tense moments, I didn’t find that it brought anything new or exciting to the AI-genre. I never felt like there were these DEEP questions about what makes a human, what separates us from the machines. And all of the worlds were just so stereotypical and kinda bland. I really had expected A LOT more from this and was so sad when it didn’t deliver. It was also super predictable, like I was able to figure out what Abel’s “purpose” was from the very start.

ARC Reviews – Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist

24921988Title: Love and First Sight

Author: Josh Sundquist

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: On his first day at a new school, blind sixteen-year-old Will Porter accidentally groped a girl on the stairs, sat on another student in the cafeteria, and somehow drove a classmate to tears. High school can only go up from here, right?

As Will starts to find his footing, he develops a crush on a charming, quiet girl named Cecily. Then an unprecedented opportunity arises: an experimental surgery that could give Will eyesight for the first time in his life. But learning to see is more difficult than Will ever imagined, and he soon discovers that the sighted world has been keeping secrets. It turns out Cecily doesn’t meet traditional definitions of beauty–in fact, everything he’d heard about her appearance was a lie engineered by their so-called friends to get the two of them together. Does it matter what Cecily looks like? No, not really. But then why does Will feel so betrayed?

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I loved Josh Sundquist’s non-fiction novel We Should Hang Out Sometime. It made me laugh, it educated me about disability, and I loved how open the author was about his life. This is Josh Sundquist’s debut YA novel, which focuses on Will, a boy who is blind and is going to a public school for the first time in his life. His parents are afraid of him being a part of the public school system considering he was transferring from a special school for the blind. He then falls for a girl he cannot actually see and decides to undergo a radical surgery that could potentially give him back his eye sight.

This book is so wonderful, so funny, and so heart-warming. Josh Sundquist has this crazy ability to be so inviting when he shares a story, and Will is just such a sweet protagonist who has such amazing intentions. He cannot see, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have aspirations, as he wants to be a journalist, a job that really is focused on sight. I felt invested in his story, his friendships, his family, and that’s the markings of a great main character. You can also feel the amount of research that Sundquist did to bring such an authentic story. I also love love loved Cecily, who is the love interest, and I ADORED the way Will and Cecily’s relationship develops given her own personal problems. They are such a sweet couple, and I actually love how long it took to get to that in the novel.

This is a book that can easily be read in a day. It is a sweet contemporary novel that offers a really unique perspective written by someone who understands disability lit. This book isn’t mind-blowing, but it just so funny and genuine and sometimes those are the kinds of books you need to make you smile. Even the research in regards to Will’s surgery was so well implemented, and I wanted to know more about it. I think readers will completely fall in love with Will when this book releases in January. Then while you are at it, read the Author’s Note, because it is so fascinating.

ARC Review – And the Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich

28449150Title: And the Trees Crept In

Author: Dawn Kurtagich

Rating: ★

Synopsis: When Silla and Nori arrive at their aunt’s home, it’s immediately clear that the manor is cursed. The endless creaking of the house at night and the eerie stillness of the woods surrounding them would be enough of a sign, but there are secrets too—questions that Silla can’t ignore: Why does it seem that, ever since they arrived, the trees have been creeping closer? Who is the beautiful boy who’s appeared from the woods? And who is the tall man with no eyes who Nori plays with in the basement at night… a man no one else can see?

Huge thank you to the publisher for providing me with an ARC! This does not influence my review of this book. Spoilers for the book have been shared and you have been warned.

Molly’s Review:

I picked this book up because I wanted a creepy, atmospheric Halloween read. I’d seen a lot of good things about this book, and I generally enjoyed the author’s previous novel, THE DEAD HOUSE. Turns out this book was basically the same premise as THE DEAD HOUSE. Two sisters, a haunted house, one of them thinking that they’re crazy.

AS THE TREES CREPT IN starts off with Silla and her little sister Nori showing up at their “crazy” Aunt Cath’s manor house in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the woods. This book is set in the UK, about four-some hours outside of London. Silla’s appearance is and isn’t shocking to Cath. We get the sense that Sill and Nori fled and abusive father. Nori is mute, she can’t make ANY sound, and she has a deformed arm.

At the beginning of Silla and Nori’s time with their Aunt things are good. They eat delicious food, tend the garden and play around. But Cath starts to slowly lose her mind, and when Nori almost goes into the surrounding woods, Cath snaps. Apparently Cath and her younger sisters know that something sinister is in the woods, waiting for them, watching them…

Sounds freaky right? Well… it wasn’t. There was NOTHING scary about this book. I did enjoy the creepiness: the house was rotting, sinking into the earth, the girls were growing mold on their bodies, the food was falling to pieces, the trees were DEF creeping in… but then the “villain” in the book was… get ready… named… The CREEPER MAN. What. The Fuck. That name is NOT scary at all. Like. Idk. Every time I would read that name I would just roll my eyes. I get it, the names of our terrors aren’t that frightening: Slender Man, The Boogey Man, etc. But for me, “creeper” isn’t really a scary thing, just a weird or kinda off thing. People that are described as creepers are usually gross or perverted, not really terrifying.

So Aunt Cath loses her mind after Nori almost goes into the woods and locks herself in the attick… FOR THREE YEARS. Like at this point of the book I was starting to really lose interest. It wasn’t scary, nothing was happening, the writing IS AWUFL, and then the Aunt leaves these two girls (ages 14 and 4) ALONE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE WOODS FOR THREE YEARS. Like how is that even POSSIBLE?! And she left them with a warning to NOT go into the woods because ~The Creeper Man~ will get them.

At this point Nori and Silla are starving and there’s only a little food left and the garden is dying and there’s no rain (despite it raining and storming almost EVERY OTHER PAGE) and the village across the way (through the woods) is abandoned (because apparently world war III is coming??? This was another super random thing that was tossed in here and there that had NOTHING to do with the story) and Silla went a few times (even though she was told not to go into the woods and later on REFUSES to leave because she can’t go into the woods… uh, okay…) and then this boy who used to live at the manor (when it was an orphanage) just shows up out of nowhere and Nori loves him and Silla hates him and then they have this brief love-hate relationship where Silla doesn’t want him around but does and then she FORCES him to leave and they run out of food and Silla’s teeth and hair start to fall out and then she GETS MAD at the boy (Gowan) for leaving. WHAT IS EVEN GOING ON AT THIS POINT.
Gowen FINALLY comes back and is so sorry that he left (even though Silla had forced him to) and Gowan declares his love for Silla even though they’ve never shared ANYTHING significant, and they spend a lot of time in the library while Nori is off playing games in the basement with The Creeper Man. When Silla finally realizes that Nori has been playing with the Creeper Man she freaks out and then Nori LEAVES with the Creeper man. At this point the trees have SUPER crept in and the house is not only surrounded but the trees are INSIDE the house. Crazy Cath is still in the attic and the trees basically eat her and then Silla and Gowen have to go find Nori, which means going into the woods which is THE WORST THING EVER (even though Silla has gone into them a few times and Gowen had to have come from somewhere). So Silla and Gowen are running around searching for Nori and in the middle of it all, in the middle of this haunted wood, THEY DECIDE TO HAVE SEX. I kid you not. They are so in love that they have to pause their hunt for Nori WHO COULD BE IN SUPER DANGER and have sex.

They finally find Nori and she’s dead and Silla loses her mind and then she FINALLY realizes that… THEY ARE ALL DEAD AND THE PAST 300 PAGES OF BOOK HAVE BEEN ABOUT SILLA BEING IN HER OWN PURGATORY. I was SO MAD when I got to that point. Apparently all of the suffering that they had been through had been “clues” that the book was throwing at me to lead me to knowing that they were all dead. Only nope, those clues only made sense if they were REVELED IN THAT CONTEXT. Other than that Silla being hungry all of the time (because she was starving to death next to her dead sister’s body) Cath’s creaking sounds in the attic (because she had hung herself, not because she was pacing), Gowan’s disappearance (because he went to find supplies for them before Silla died) and reappearance (because he had finally died as an old man and was able to find Silla again in ~the afterlife~) none of this was pointing to the fact that they were DEAD.

UGH.

Oh and this book is weirdly dated. It takes place in 2013 apparently and they live in the woods for three years without any TV or internet, and yet Silla is throwing around phrases like “first world problems” and apparently watched a lot of Japanese and Korean horror movies… when she was a kid? At age 14 and younger? While living in this horrific abusive household with a father that was super controlling and wouldn’t let them do anything? Just some of the very “current” things that Silla would say really hit me as weird because… where did she learn that?! HOW?!

And my BIGGEST MOST RAGE-IEST issue with this book was when Silla couldn’t eat (because she was malnourished, had no food, was trying to save food for her sister, was taking care of her sister, was only 17 and living in an abandoned haunted house, had none to care for her ect) at one point thought that the reason she wasn’t able to eat was because she “was anorexic or had a stomach bug”. At the end after she found out that the reason she was always starving in her purgatory was due to starving to death she even commented again that she “thought she was anorexic”.

PEOPLE. FUCKING HELL. WHAT EVEN IS THIS. Anorexia isn’t just “I can’t eat”. It is a fucking EATING DISORDER WHERE YOU DON’T EAT BECAUSE YOU HAVE A FEAR OF GAINING WEIGHT AND WANT TO BE THIN. IT IS AN ACTUAL DISEASE THAT IS SERIOUS AND NOT SOMETHING THAT YOU JUST “GET”. IT IS NOT JUST “I CAN’T EAT AND I DON’T KNOW WHY”. OH MY GOD. This part of the book made me RAGEFUL and at the point that I had read it I was thinking about DNFing but then I just kept on rage reading because I knew that I had to write this rage review.

DO NOT BOTHER WITH THIS BOOK. The characters are one dimensional, it’s not scary at all. Nothing makes sense until you get to the stupid ‘big reveal” and then you’ll just be angry because ~it was all a dream~. Just no with this book.

Book Chat – Books That Surprised Me

Sometimes when I read a book, I worry I won’t enjoy it. I look at it, read the synopsis, flip through the first few pages, and debate. Surprises can come in a variety of forms — enjoyment, disappointment, disgust, confusion, there’s a lot of emotions to describe when a book can surprise you. Sometimes it’s a plot element, maybe it’s overall enjoyment, it’s hard to gauge why something works or doesn’t work for you. I thought I’d share with you guys a few books that I’ve read that have surprised me in a variety of ways.

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie (2007)

If I’m being honest, I had some reservations going into The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, if only because I am Canadian and I am a Canadian who loves Native American Fiction, but also is depressed by Canada’s past towards indiginious peoples. While this novel isn’t about Canada or written by a Canadian, it offers a very important prespective on “native culture” and what it means to be white-washed.

What surprised me about this novel wasn’t the topic, but it was in how I read it. I listened to this on audiobook with Sherman Alexie as the narrator, and at first I didn’t entirely dig his reading voice. In fact, it out right annoyed me at times… yet then as the story grew, his voice grew on me as well. There is an authenticness to the novel in having him read it, and I could feel Arnold’s emotions and struggles in Alexie’s voice and feel it in a way that felt very different then reading words off the page. This book is clever, it’s funny, and it’s downright sad at times. It took me on a surprising emotional journey, and it totally deserves all the awards that it has won.

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The Raven King (The Raven Cycle #4)
by Maggie Stiefvater (2016)

I am going to avoid spoilers for this book given how new it is, but this book was a ball of surprises from start to finish. It’s one of those books where from book one you KNEW WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN, but you always kept hoping Maggie Stiefvater wouldn’t actually do it. If you’ve read the series, you know what I am talking about, and the way in which she did left me emotionally spent. However, there were other parts of this novel that just surprised me (Chapter 33 is perfect, you guys), and it made me love the novel, its characters and the series a million times more. Sometimes when you know something is supposed to be predictable, author’s will throw a wrench and still manage to surprise the crap out of it.

Maggie: I want my tears back, dammit.

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The Princess in Black series
by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale (2014-)

You should all not be surprised that a middle grade series is on this list, but let me tell you: The Princess in Black series continues to get better and better with each installment. What surprised me with this series was that I worried I would find it too juvinile at times to enjoy. The child in me loves this series and the adult in me in me keeps wanting to say I shouldn’t enjoy this series, but I do. This is a favourite of mine to recommend to reluctant readers at my the public library I work at, and it’s a fun one to talk up and explain to parents as well. Cheeky and fun, this series is for kids who love adventure, and adults who miss the feeling of being a child again.

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Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness
by Jennifer Tseng (2015)

Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness was such a mixed bag of a book for me. Meanwhile it focuses on a more taboo subject matter (an adult woman sleeping with a minor), that actually wasn’t the aspect of the book that surprised me, even when it started to get rather heavy. What surprised me was how beautiful the writing was in this book, but how unrealstic and frusrating the plot was for such a beautifully written book. I spent a lot of the novel wanting to scream at Mayumi, and I was certainly annoyed by how literary the boy began to sound despite his distaste for literature. There’s a lot in this book that feels hapharzardly put together and yet I COULDN’T STOP READING IT. This book was such a weird reading experience and it’s one I have a hard time forgetting because I felt so confused and yet so involved in the development of this story.

What are some novels that have surprised you, for better or worse? I’d love to know how others experience “surprising” aspects of a novel and how it affects your reading experience. Let me know in the comments below what your thoughts are on the subject!