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ARC Review – If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

23947922Title:  If I Was Your Girl

Author: Meredith Russo

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret. She’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him in. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself–including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won’t be able to see past it. Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life–and her new love?

Huge thank you to Macmillan/Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

If I Was Your Girl has the potential to be a must read novel that looks at trans-issues written by a trans woman. There’s a lot in this novel that gives so much insight into trans issues, and I felt it to be a very eye-opening reading experience, even though I’ve read plenty of YA novels that focus on being trans. This one, however, I think provides an authenticity that really does make it stand a part.

My favourite aspects of this novel were the flashbacks during Amanda’s time as Andrew, and her growing into her transition. These were the parts of the novel that I felt to ring the most true in terms of understanding what it means to transition and the desire for people to accept transition as well. This felt so heartbreaking and truthful, and watching Amanda deal with her family at the beginning of the journey just hurt so much. When it moves into current time and we see more of how the parents accept Amanda, it brings a lot to the story, providing the before and after than I think many trans novels sometimes lack.

There was one glaring issue with this book though: I didn’t entirely buy how accepting everyone was of Amanda. It just didn’t feel realistic at all, and if anything part of me struggled with how easy a lot of her friendships felt. Everyone barely knows her and yet they confide all their deepest secrets to her. It just seemed very strange at times and it actually took me out of the story on several occasions. However, I will say that it does do a great job of showing positive friendships, which still seems so unheard of in YA.

I will say, however, that everything with Grant felt quite realistic. I wasn’t really into the smoopiness of the romance at first, but it did work and grow on me and I understood why the author portrayed the relationship as she did. There’s a very nice sense of building in the relationship and the issues that Amanda and Grant face do feel like realistic and challenging. I loved the way in which Grant handles Amanda being trans and how scared he was at first but grows into a mature way of understanding. It’s really something special how a lot of their relationship is portrayed and it did win me over in the end.

If I Was Your Girl is so smart in its depiction, and brave in its execution. I loved Amanda and reading her journey was such an inspiring and engaging experience. There’s definitely nothing out there quite like this book, and if you are interested in trans issues, particularly in YA, then this is a must-read for sure.

Huge thank you to Flatiron Books for sending me a copy for review!

River’s Review:

I first heard about this book last fall and was very curious about it. I kept missing out on chances to grab a copy or borrow it and I was THRILLED when a copy finally showed up at my house. I was in the middle of THE RAVEN KING and knew that this book would be a balm on my soul for when THAT was over. And I read this in a little less than 48 hours. It is engaging and eye opening and I couldn’t put it down.

The me from before 2007 would probably never have touched this book. The me from pre-2007 was a conservative Republican-by-default living in backwoods Michigan with a vague notion that God and Christianity might be an okay thing and that there were a lot of Wrong things going on in the world. I would publicly support things like Bush and anti-Queer rhetoric. Then I moved to Tokyo and got away from the bible thumpers and closed minded white people and saw a whole new world. My mind opened, my heart changed, and I started to read way more than Vampire YA books. And I grew and my mind expanded and I met people from different walks of life and I am no longer that girl from 2007.

I hope this book will do for some people what leaving my secluded, closed minded town did for me. I hope that people who are cisgendered will read this book or books like it and understand that we’re all people, we all struggle with feelings that we don’t understand, with feelings that other people don’t accept, and we all just want to be loved. I hope that other transpeople (teens and adults alike) can connect with this story and find themselves in this. I LOVE that this book was written by someone with the experiences being written about in this book. I believe that for true DIVERSE books to be out there that they need to be written by people who have EXPERIENCED the things they are writing about. Research can only go so far.

Story and writing wise I think that Russo has a nice voice for YA and that her writing will grow with time. There were a few places in this book that I would have liked to have seen more fleshed out, and there were times when the pace was a little off for me. Amanda was a relateable character because she’s felt things that we’ve all felt growing up and even as adults. Her struggles feel real and her voice was clear. I enjoyed the side characters, but they all felt a little flat and I would have liked to have had more depth in them. The parents were wonderful in the fact that they were both there and not there for Amanda. They had their own struggles with her choices, but in the end they were good, honest people who just did their best.

This is an important book and I hope that lots of people will read it and enjoy it or learn from it or have their minds changed and their minds challenged. I can’t wait to see what more Russo will come up with.

ARC Review – Radiance: A Novel by Catherynne M. Valente

23014329Title:  Radiance: A Novel

Author: Catherynne M. Valente

Rating:  ★★★

Synopsis:  Radiance is a decopunk pulp SF alt-history space opera mystery set in a Hollywood-and solar system-very different from our own, from Catherynne M. Valente, the phenomenal talent behind the New York TimesbestsellingThe Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

Severin Unck’s father is a famous director of Gothic romances in an alternate 1986 in which talking movies are still a daring innovation due to the patent-hoarding Edison family. Rebelling against her father’s films of passion, intrigue, and spirits from beyond, Severin starts making documentaries, traveling through space and investigating the levitator cults of Neptune and the lawless saloons of Mars. For this is not our solar system, but one drawn from classic science fiction in which all the planets are inhabited and we travel through space on beautiful rockets. Severin is a realist in a fantastic universe.

But her latest film, which investigates the disappearance of a diving colony on a watery Venus populated by island-sized alien creatures, will be her last. Though her crew limps home to earth and her story is preserved by the colony’s last survivor, Severin will never return.

Told using techniques from reality TV, classic film, gossip magazines, and meta-fictional narrative, Radiance is a solar system-spanning story of love, exploration, family, loss, quantum physics, and silent film.

Huge thank you to Raincoast/Tor for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

So, Radiance is a weird, weird book. It’s not bad weird, just very out there. If people were to ask me how I described the book, I’d probably tell them it’s a confusing, yet charmingly deceptive book about film-making in space. There’s Hollywood glitz and glam and it’s all happening in the solar system. The book is alsovery old Hollywood, which is something I adored about it.

Here’s the thing, the writing in this book is stunning, and not in Valente’s usual way. It’s gritter, much more technical through the use of mixed media (such as scripts, letters, etc) and she really does this amazing job of painting space-Hollywood in a way that feels so familiar, and yet at the same time she puts enough distance between the world and the readers to remind them that not everything is as it seems on the surface. I loved that about this story, and really the writing and the world building were the parts that really kept me involved and drawn in to the overall narrative.

But if I’m being frank, I’m not sure I totally understood the story on this one. Parts of it felt slow or all over the place, and there’s this feeling of franticness that fits what is happening the story, but it makes it hard to follow. Furthermore, I wasn’t in love with these characters and I did find them memorable at all. What I was in love with was how film-making techniques were integrated in the story, the old world Hollywood elements just captured me in a way that made me want to rewatch classic films. But I wanted to connect to these characters, and struggled, hoping one of them would be someone I could connect with.

I think if you’re a hardcore Valente fan like I am, you’ll probably find something to love about this book. I do not recommend this book if this is your first time reading her work (I’d also say start with Fairyland or some of her short stories) because he writing is very unique and it’s definitely not for everyone. I think there’s a lot to enjoy about Radiance, I just found it for me personally, to be a tougher reader than some of her other works.

ARC Review – Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

22294935Title:  Six of Crows

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Rating:  ★★★★★

Synopsis:  Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge. A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager. A runaway with a privileged past. A spy known as the Wraith. A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums. A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes. Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.  

Huge thank you to Raincoast/Macmillan for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Those who know me, know I am a sucker for a good heist story. Needless to say when details started trickling out about Six of Crows, I knew I had to have it. I admit, I enjoyed the Grisha trilogy, even with all its flaws, but I feel like Six of Crows shows what a much stronger writer Leigh Bardugo has become over the years.

While this book has us following multiple perspectives, all of them are well intertwined. If you’ve read the Grisha Trilogy, than Six of Crows in terms of it’s world building will not feel foreign to you, including the series terminology. Even though there’s multiple perspective at play, each character in the story feels full developed and well realized, and each makes for an engaging point of view to read about. My favourite point of view to read, easily was Inej’s, if only because she’s a character who I easily gravitate towards when I read fantasy: mysterious, tough as nails, unafraid to be herself, but on the downside isn’t easy to warm up to others, and definitely has trust issues. She also easily gets some of the best lines in the story as well.

The additions to the Grisha world in this book is fantastic and so much more grittier than what the original series provided. I loved the grim, dark atmosphere, and I loved how Bardugo really plays with description in this novel. Everything about this novel is epic in scope, and you constantly feel like you’re being tossed around in a hectic storm. I admit, I was slow reading this at first, but once I hit parts four and five, I found I couldn’t put the novel down. I was invested in the heist, invested in the characters, and I needed to know that they were going to be okay.

I WAS NOT OKAY READING THIS BOOK. I was not, I admit it. I had moments where my heart was racing, I was panicking for the characters, and Bardugo is evil for that. She’s great at tugging on the reader’s heart strings and making her characters vulnerable. It makes for such a great reading experience. If you loved the Grisha trilogy, you’ll love how the world has been expanded with Six of Crows. However, if you want a starting point into Bardugo’s work, I strong recommend reading Shadow and Bone, if only to give yourself more familiarity to the world that’s crafted. Believe me, it’s one hell of a world, and one heck of an experience.

ARC Review – Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales

23310761Title: Tonight the Streets Are Ours

Author: Leila Sales

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Arden Huntley is recklessly loyal. Taking care of her loved ones is what gives Arden purpose in her life and makes her feel like she matters. But she’s tired of being loyal to people who don’t appreciate her—including her needy best friend and her absent mom.

Arden finds comfort in a blog she stumbles upon called “Tonight the Streets Are Ours,” the musings of a young New York City writer named Peter. When Peter is dumped by the girlfriend he blogs about, Arden decides to take a road trip to see him.

During one crazy night out in NYC filled with parties, dancing, and music—the type of night when anything can happen, and nearly everything does—Arden discovers that Peter isn’t exactly who she thought he was. And maybe she isn’t exactly who she thought she was, either.

Huge thank you to Macmillan/Raincoast Books for letting us read an advanced copy!

River’s Review:

First off I want to say that the only reason I read this so soon is because it was one of those ‘will expire in 60 days’ deals and I didn’t want to forget about it and have it expire and have to re-download it or whatever cuz then I would have just skipped it. And I did not want to skip this book. This Song Will Save Your Life is a favorite of mine and I was really excited to see another book coming out by the same author.

Sadly this just didn’t do it for me like TSWSYL. Everything was just a little flat for me and I had trouble connecting with or liking anyone. The writing was tight, but lacked the emotion that TSWSYL did. I wasn’t able to connect to Arden or Lindsey at all. The little brother annoyed the crap out of me, the dad needed a good dose of reality (which he got) and the mother… I was torn on her. I wanted to be mad at her and tell her to wait until her kids were older to run off to try and get her shit together, but as an adult woman I could understand her need to get out of the situation she was in.

In Tonight the Streets are Ours Arden tells us a love story. About her friends and family and a random boy she met online. Now, when I read the synopsis of this I thought that she’d formed a relationship (friendship, whatever) with Peter, the author of the ‘Tonight the Streets are Ours’ blog that Arden finds and becomes obsessed with. But they never communicate at all. Arden just reads about his break up with his girlfriend, decides that Peter needs here and takes off to New York City (which is 300 miles away) in her shitty car (srsly, it’s a piece of junk) and her super unreliable best friend Lindsay.

I’m gonna stop right here and say that maybe I’m too old or this book. Because all I could think about was WHAT HAPPENED TO INTERNET SAFETY 101?! Are we no longer teaching teens that it’s NOT OKAY TO MEET STRANGERS FROM THE INTERNET?! Now before you yell at me about how ppl meet online all the time, I grew up with the internet. I was in middle school when regular old people could connect their Gateway desktops to their phone lines and sit there for ten minutes while it dialed up the World Wide Web. My parents watched all of the Dateline episodes about child predators lurking in chat rooms. TV told my parents that THE INTERNET IS DANGEROUS and they listened. That said I did meet TONS of people from the internet later on in life. When I was older. Or supervised by an adult. I met my college roomates and best friends on livejournal. I used to travel across the state to stay the weekend with a girl I met online. I met my husband from the Japanese equivalent of Facebook. I’m all for meeting people online IF YOU KNOW THEM IN SOME CAPACITY BEFOREHAND. So when I say that I did not approve of what Arden did it’s because she DIDN’T KNOW PETER. And as a blogger if some random person read my blog and then drove over 300 miles to meet me WITHOUT HAVING COMMUNICATED WITH ME I would not be pleased. And that was when this book really lost points with me.

Also Adren knows that Peter works at a bookstore in NYC and on their way down Lindsey calls all of them asking if Peter is working and one store is like ‘yeah he’s in today’. And that also scared the crap out of me because I just went through security training at my new job and you’re NEVER supposed to give out personal information over the phone to an unknown party ESPECIALLY SOMETHING LIKE IF THE PERSON IS AT SAID LOCATION. It could be ANYONE calling. A stalker (case in point), an angry family member, an armed psychopath. So yes it’s supposed to be clever on Lindsey’s side, but the actual safety of it made me cringe so much.

Anyway, Adren and Lindsey make it to NYC and they find Peter and meet him and go off with him to a party. ALL THE SAFEST THINGS IN THE WORLD. Arden seems SO proud that she knows all of this stuff about Peter from his blog and he doesn’t find it creepy at all (because Peter turns out to be an asshole), and I don’t know why Arden didn’t feel weird about it (I guess because she felt like she was entitled to Peter from reading about him). Now I’m pretty active on Twitter and I follow some of my friends that I see pretty often on there and once a friend of mine and I were talking and I mentioned something that I’d written on twitter and she was like ‘oh yeah I saw on Twitter’ and then we realized how fucking WEIRD it was and decided that even if we’d already known something from reading it on twitter that we wouldn’t say anything about it because IT IS WEIRD.

Anyway, so I did like that Arden slowly pieced together that most of Peter’s blog was a one-sided version of what he wanted people to know and that he’d actually just been writing in a way that made him look cool/the victim/desirable. That he’d left out entire portions of what was really going on and the real reason why his brother ran away and his girlfriend broke up with him. How he’d used his family’s issues to make him seem unloved when really he was the cause of a lot of the problems! Adren began to see that was someone wrote down on their blog didn’t necessarily mean that’s how they were like in real life and her image of him was shattered.

So if you’re expecting this to be a love story about Arden running off to NYC to find her blogger soulmate, it’s not.

There are also a few moments where Arden finally speaks her mind to her mother, father, Lindsey and her boyfriend. Those were well done and Arden needed to finally speak her mind, but they all seemed a bit canned and didn’t necessarily flow as well as they could have.

Overall this is not a bad book and I’m sure it will work for some people, but alas it just wasn’t meant for me.

Sam’s Review:

One of my favourite books in 2013 was This Song Will Save Your Life. I found the novel moving, something I could relate to in a strong way. Needless to say, I was thrilled that Leila Sales was putting out another novel, one I was hoping to have a much stronger emotional connection towards. I have to admit, however, that while I enjoyed parts of this novel, I struggled to suspend my disbelief in some situations.

I will concede that I loved the idea of this novel being an unexpected love story, and I loved the exploration around this concept. I think Sales does a great job of grabbing the reader’s attention to show obsessed Arden becomes with the blog and the man behind the words. It’s easy to become infatuated with someone else’s words or the way in which they tell their stories, but I admit, I disapproved of Arden’s actions in going to NYC and seeking Peter out in real life.

I just had such a hard time suspending my disbelief for that, and I feel uncomfortable with the idea that someone would go that far to stalk someone’s blog. I recognize that it happens, but my discomfort comes from the fact that it at first comes across quite unwelcomed? Perhaps there’s just a part of me that was confused by how this was supposed to be a romantic gesture of sorts — and like my co-blogger said, there’s that part of me that felt out and questioned how Arden could be so damn trusting towards Peter. I understand that she feels like she knows him, but on the other side of the coin does she really? Again, the level of trust and lack of discomfort really threw me for a loop, and admittedly, I’m surprised that Lindsey as her friend would go along with this (mind you, she’s the more adventurous type compared to Arden). I really enjoyed the reveal in regards to Peter, and I loved that Arden learns how one-sided everything is after confronting him about his relationship with Bianca. I kinda wish Arden had been more upfront with Chris, but I do like how Sales shows cheating as a learning experience, though I still wish she hadn’t done that!

I will say, I actually loved the friendship between Arden and Lindsey. For me, that was the best parts of this novel — the way they had each others back, the way they could call each other on their crap, the way in which they took care of each other was pretty admirable. I also loved Arden’s growth in terms of her family problems and how she eventually is able to speak out about it to her parents and others. For me, those were the more interesting parts of the novel since I struggled to buy into the Peter relationship and the blog stalking. I just found those aspects so hard to connect with mostly because I was screaming STRANGER DANGER every few seconds.

I think Tonight the Streets Are Ours is definitely an engaging read, especially if you can suspend your disbelief with how easy a lot of aspects fall into the place. I found I liked the novel, but was just also very disappointed in how simple and easy a lot of the situations were. I wish there had been more to the consequences, because that really did frustrate me. I’m disappointed that I didn’t enjoy this book the way I did This Song Will Save Your Life, but I do recommend it to those who can suspend their disbelief and enjoy the narrative for what it is.

ARC Review – Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

22718682Title: Devoted

Author:  Jennifer Mathieu

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Rachel Walker is devoted to God. She prays every day, attends Calvary Christian Church with her family, helps care for her five younger siblings, dresses modestly, and prepares herself to be a wife and mother who serves the Lord with joy. But Rachel is curious about the world her family has turned away from, and increasingly finds that neither the church nor her homeschool education has the answers she craves. Rachel has always found solace in her beliefs, but now she can’t shake the feeling that her devotion might destroy her soul.

Huge thank you to Raincoast Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I fell deeply in love with Jennifer Mathieu’s first novel The Truth About Alice last year and remembered being completely enamoured by her writing. There’s a raw and rich quality to her work, and she leaves the reader with so much to think about both as the story progresses and when it ends. Colour me excited when Devoted showed up in the mail, because I admit, books on religion are something that always make me a touch nervous.

Devoted is written with honesty, kindness, and raw force. Rachel is the kind of heroine who a reader can connect with because she is someone who is being ripped a part at the seams. We can sympathize with her because she wants to be a devoted Christian woman, but she also has a strong desire to see the world beyond the walls of Calvary Christian, the commune she lives in.

And here’s the thing, the book does a wonderful and respectful job of looking at both of Rachel’s wants. She understands what is right and wrong about the cult she grew up in, she’s sympathetic to the people she once lived with, and yet the other half of her knows that (and through discovering Lauren’s blog) that there’s more to the world outside of it. She wants an education, she wants to have a job, she wants more for her life than simply baring children and being a good helpmeet.

I really adored the characters in this story. Rachel’s family is exceptionally frustrating, but I found myself sympathizing with them at times, particularly Rachel’s sister, Ruth, who seemed the most frazzled by Rachel’s abrupt departure. I also loved Lauren and how she comforts Rachel, and I love her genuine attitude towards helping her get settled into a normal life. I loved the Treats family, especially Diane, who was just so nutty and fun. Mark was a cutie too, and I liked that Mathiu didn’t try to force a romance between he and Rachel, but rather went very subtle about it. This book was more about Rachel’s growth, and Mark has such a sweetness about him that he wants to encourage her transition than spoil it.

So I am two for two with Jennifer Mathieu, and I know that I’ll be reading more of her books as they are published. She knows how to provide such thoughtful reads, and with such a touchy topic like religion, does it with such grace. I encourage everyone to check out Devoted, simply because it’s one of those books that offers a perspective often not considered, and it leaves  such a lasting impression. This is a tough read, but it’s the kind that is also so rewarding, that you’ll still be thinking about it well after it’s over.

ARC Review – Joyride by Anna Banks

25082330Title: Joyride

Author: Anna Banks

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: It’s been several years since Carly Vega’s parents were deported. Carly lives with her older brother, studies hard, and works the graveyard shift at a convenience store to earn enough to bring her parents back from Mexico.

Arden Moss used to be the star quarterback at school. He used to date popular blondes and have fun pranking with his older sister. But now all that’s changed, and Arden needs a new accomplice. Especially one his father, the town sheriff, will disapprove.?

All Carly wants, at first, is to stay under the radar and do what her family expects. All Arden wants is to not do what his family expects. When their paths cross, they each realize they’ve been living according to the wishes of others. Carly and Arden’s journey toward their true hearts – and one another– is funny, romantic, and sometimes harsh. Just like real life.

Huge thank you to Feiwel & Friends and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Joyride‘s cover was very deceiving to me. It looked like it could have been a fluffy romance, and it wasn’t! Actually, I gotta hand it to Anna Banks, because Joyride‘s opening chapter is easily one of the most memorable and even quotable moments of the book.

Who doesn’t love a young Latina welding a shotgun to protect her cheesy Breezy Mart? And that’s just it, Carla is hard damn core, but that’s actually not even the reason to love her. Carla is one of those heroines who gets labeled by others as being a certain way and she’s anything butt. Her encounter in the beginning of the novel is an interesting one, as I admit, I didn’t care for Arden much. He grew on me though.

The roots of Joyride really are an old fashioned immigration story, the kind where some are fortunate to be in one place, wanting to bring the rest of their family over. Carla and Julio break their backs, and pour their blood, sweat and tears, to make it so their parents can cross the border, and let’s just say the siblings face far more obstacles than is easy to deal with.

And here’s the thing, there’s a romance in this story. However, it’s an insanely well developed, organic kind of romance where you see the tensions rise between Arden and Carla — they start off completely on the wrong foot! Yet, Banks develops their relationship into something you can cheer for. Arden and Carla’s relationship felt very real and it was tested in so many ways. I found myself turning the pages because I wanted to see how their relationship would grow and mature, and I feel like Banks nails it.

The characters in Joyride are fantastically well developed considering how short the novel is. You understand every character’s motive, their reasoning and rational for their behaviour, and while it isn’t always pleasant, Banks keeps you guessing when it comes to building a resolve for each one. You want to read about Carla’s successes and failures, you want to see Arden discover who he wants to become, and you care about Julio’s dreams and desires because it’s realistic.

The writing in Joyride is punchy, humorous, and Banks really knows how to balance the humour from the seriousness of the main storyline. If there’s any small criticism I have of the book, it took me awhile to deal with the going back and forth between first and third person, but Carla and Arden have very unique voices and descriptions, so as I eased into it, the more it started to work for me.

Joyride is the kind of book that starts off with a bang, and ends with an even bigger one. It’s a page-turner with well developed characters and an interesting story about love, family, and making tough decisions in a situation where you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. I absolutely fell in love with Carla, and she’s the kind of heroine that her flaws are as wonderfully well developed as her strengths. Joyride is a roller-coaster from beginning to end and the ride is crazy from the get go.

ARC Review – Sweet by Emmy Laybourne

22718736Title: Sweet

Author: Emmy Laybourne

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: The luxurious celebrity cruise launching the trendy new diet sweetener Solu should be the vacation of a lifetime. But Laurel is starting to regret accepting her friend Viv’s invitation. She’s already completely embarrassed herself in front of celebrity host Tom Forelli—the hottest guy ever!—and she’s too sick to even try the sweetener. And that’s before Viv and all the other passengers start acting really strange.

Tom knows that he should be grateful for this job and the chance to shed his former-child-star image. His publicists have even set up a ‘romance’ with a sexy reality star. But as things on the ship start to get wild, he finds himself drawn to a different girl. And when the hosting gig turns into an expose on the shocking side effects of Solu, it’s Laurel that he’s determined to save.

Huge thank you to Macmillan and Netgalley for this ARC!

River’s Review:

Holy wow omg this book was insane. And I loved it! I looooove Laybourne’s books! She hooked me with the can’t-look-away-train-wreck-wtf-is-happening-horror amazingness that was Monument 14 and when I found out she was writing a new book I HAD to have it. And I am SO happy I was able to read this because damn. It was good. And crazy. And I loved it.

Laurel and her BFF Vivika get to go on this historical cruise where people are promised that they’ll get an exclusive taste of the new diet supplement SOLU. It’s guaranteed to help people lose weight while basically doing nothing. Viv’s father pays for them to go on the cruise a long with a bunch of other rich people and celebs: movie stars, reality show stars, and “Baby Tom-Tom” a washed up kid actor trying to reinvent himself by hosting the cruise. Both Viv and Laurel are a little overweight, but they aren’t obese or anything. Laurel actually doesn’t have a problem with her weight, but Vivika grew up with a father who is always harping on her mother’s weight and Vivika feels a lot of pressure to be a certain way.

The cruise is basically a Jay-Z music video come to life. Parties, champagne, sexy women, sexy men. Everyone starts to use SOLU in their meals and they DO start to lose weight. Laurel doesn’t eat it because her first few days on the ship she’s sea sick and then by the time she is able to eat she’s starting to get worried about what SOLU is doing to people…

The story is told in alternating POV with Laurel and Tom speaking. This didn’t bother me that much because Laybourne’s other books are like this and she’s able to create clear enough voices that I don’t get confused about who’s doing what. We learn that Tom used to be a fat kid and that he now trains hard and eats clean to maintain his new, healthy, body shape. So he also is unaffected by the SOLU.

And what does the SOLU do to people? Besides make them lose weight?

It makes them crazy. Insane. Cannibals.

This book was such an interesting take on dieting, body image, and healthy living. I loved that Laurel was viewed as a “big” girl but really she’s just a normal girl, and that she was comfortable with herself. I loved that Tom was so healthy. I think both of those are important topics when it comes to body image because so often focus on just getting thin, and not actually being healthy. I’m a naturally thin person and I get a lot of shit for it. I’ve been accused of having eating disorders, asked if I have cancer, and called a ‘skinny bitch’ more times than I can count. I don’t gain weight. I also have no bust and look like I’m 12. I’ve always HATED it when people would tell me that I’m lucky or that they wish they could be my size. Thanks but I don’t try to be this way. I just try to be healthy. My mother is much bigger than me, but she’s healthy. I think that size does NOT matter and I’m so sick of everyone caring about their size when they should be caring if they’re HEALTHY or not. So I really, really liked that health was an important topic in this.

Annnnnnd last but not least, the romance in this was cute. What, romance on a ship full of crazy people jacked up on this weird diet supplement? Yes. And it was cute!

If you are a fan of Laybourne’s earlier books, definitely check this out!

ARC Review – The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver

21469095Title: The Secrets We Keep

Author:  Trisha Leaver

Rating: ★★ / ★

Synopsis:  Ella and Maddy Lawton are identical twins. Ella has spent her high school years living in popular Maddy’s shadows, but she has never been envious of Maddy. In fact, she’s chosen the quiet, safe confines of her sketchbook over the constant battle for attention that has defined Maddy’s world.

When—after a heated argument—Maddy and Ella get into a tragic accident that leaves her sister dead, Ella wakes up in the hospital surrounded by loved ones who believe she is Maddy. Feeling responsible for Maddy’s death and everyone’s grief, Ella makes a split-second decision to pretend to be Maddy. Soon, Ella realizes that Maddy’s life was full of secrets. Caught in a web of lies, Ella is faced with two options—confess her deception or live her sister’s life.

Huge thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers & Netgalley for this ARC!

River’s Review:

Man I wanted to like this book more than I did. I thought it was going to be mysterious and emotional and it just felt so flat to me. We all know that it’s about a twin who’s twin dies and how she takes over the twin’s life. That sounded twisty! It was not. There was no depth in this book. I never felt like anyone was really grieving (well, the mother because we’re told she is, but it didn’t really seem like it for quite a bit of the time). Ella-as-Maddy spends so much time trying to convince herself that nobody cares about Ella and everyone loves Maddy and how Maddy deserved to live and blah blah blah, it was just so annoying. I also didn’t like how Ella basically thought that her own twin sister would just… move on with life and not even act differently after her own twin DIES. Ugh, the whole ‘I must be Maddy’ thing just didn’t work ever for me.

I guess I really didn’t like how nobody gave Ella-as-Maddy any slack. The boyfriend is all ‘keep it together, why are you acting strange, you aren’t acting like yourself’… um HER TWIN SISTER JUST DIED. Jesus.

And then the whole ~Mystery of Maddy’s Life’~ was just not as mind blowing as I had expected it to be. We get a glimpse that something is going down and Ella has to try to figure it out, and she does, and it’s just… idk.

And the love interest. Never felt it. Ever.

Sigh. I really wanted so much more emotion from this.

Sam’s Review:

I have to admit something — I can’t remember the last time a book really made me legitimately angry while reading it, but here we are with The Secrets We Keep. It’s about twins! One twin dies! The other decides to take on her life because she was more popular and well liked! Chaos… doesn’t actually ensure, and that’s really the issue with this book. The plot hole is so large and flimsy that the book doesn’t have a foot to stand on.

First off, and this drove me nuts while reading the book — even though the twins are identical, every identical twin has a distinguishing feature that allows people to tell the difference, especially if you interact with them it’s often clearer who is who. It baffled me that everyone just rolled with it that Ella was Maddie. Even the parents! The parents who SHOULD have been able to see physical or key differences and nope, they got smacked with the stupid stick. Alex as a character was no better — for someone who was so in love with Maddie, he should have easily clued in just through Ella’s gestures that Ella was deceiving him.

I understand feeling guilt about an accident, and I understand that Ella was not popular and kind of hated by everyone, and taking Maddie’s identity meant that she could live her sister’s legacy in her honour, but let’s be realistic here — it felt so hollow. Ella talks about how easy it is, everyone blames it on “trauma” but I struggle to buy how easy all of this deception was. The novel makes it so simple in fact that it takes the last thirty pages for everyone to realize that she isn’t who she says she is, meanwhile it’s way too obvious considering her interactions with those who are in Maddie’s clique.

Furthermore, I don’t understand how the adults were just so accepting of it either. I mean, I am sorry but even if someone says their name, what medical professional wouldn’t check further to ensure that the truth was being told. I get that these mistakes are possible, but again every resolution in this book is just so simply wrapped in a bow and pushed aside. Even when Josh discovers the truth, instead of trying to get Ella to confess, he just scolds her and that’s kind of it and then when she finally accepts herself as Ella again, everyone in the story isn’t even MAD about it. They are just “Oh, okay.”


The level of disbelief suspension in this book was just too much. There’s nothing realistic about this novel and while this concept should have been interesting and better developed, The Secrets We Keep is perfectly okay with taking the easy road and making every conflict seem so little. While I felt for Ella in some ways, particularly where she admits at Maddie’s grave that she’s not doing a great job being her, I still found myself wanting to just toss the book because again, it’s simple. The ending left me completely infuriated, again because it’s so easy and simple, and no, it’s not. It’s never that easy.

For those who can suspense their disbelief and suspend it hard, perhaps you’ll like this book. The glaring inconsistencies and plot holes just left me baffled. This book treats the reader like they are stupid, but everything is written so obviously that I kept scratching my head as to how everyone was so oblivious to “Maddie’s new personality.” Unfortunately, I cannot recommendThe Secret We Keep, because for me, there was simply nothing redeeming about the book.


ARC Review – Becoming Jinn by Lori Goldstein

24607189Title: Becoming Jinn

Author: Lori Goldstein

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Forget everything you thought you knew about genies!

Azra has just turned sixteen, and overnight her body lengthens, her olive skin deepens, and her eyes glisten gold thanks to the brand-new silver bangle that locks around her wrist. As she always knew it would, her Jinn ancestry brings not just magical powers but the reality of a life of servitude, as her wish granting is controlled by a remote ruling class of Jinn known as the Afrit.

To the humans she lives among, she’s just the girl working at the snack bar at the beach, navigating the fryer and her first crush. But behind closed doors, she’s learning how to harness her powers and fulfill the obligations of her destiny.

Mentored by her mother and her Zar “sisters”, Azra discovers she may not be quite like the rest of her circle of female Jinn . . . and that her powers could endanger them all. As Azra uncovers the darker world of becoming Jinn, she realizes when genies and wishes are involved, there’s always a trick.

Huge thank you to Macmillan and Netgalley for this ARC!

River’s Review:

To be honest I probably would have passed this book by if not for the author. Not that it doesn’t sound like a good book, but because it’s not really my thing. I’ve never really been interested in this type of paranormal, but the author is a local (from Boston) and I’m hoping to go to her release party, so I dove in.

As a debut it’s very solid! The writing is good, with a clear voice and style. I loved Azra from the start because she was just so sassy. Later on in the story she made me mad, but then she grew into herself and by the end I really started to empathize with her.

This is a coming of age story about Azra and her life as a Jinn. She has magic and can grant wishes, but her world is secret and hidden from humans. Only the female Jinn are allowed to live among humans and the men and retired Jinn live in their underground secret world due to a complex political structure.

I really liked the world building in this. And as I read I never once had a moment where I had to suspend belief or just kinda gloss over any of the how & why of the world. I hate it when I KNOW that something doesn’t work but we’re just expected to believe it for the sake of the book. In this everything made sense, was explained and seemed quite plausible.

The pacing of the book could be a little better done, but that’s something that I believe Goldstein will grow into as she writes more. The first half is a bit slow and filled with mean girls and mean mothers and sometimes a bit too much sass and attitude from Azra. And I felt like I was reading about Azra’s birthday party FOREVER. But around 60% the book really picks up and that’s when I fell in love with it (before 60% I was thinking three stars, but the last half boosted it up).

Azra is very much a flawed character despite her great beauty and perfect body (that Jinn get when they turn 16). I normally don’t like it when characters go through these ~magical transitions~ that make them perfect, but I liked the juxtaposition with Azra’s perfect outside and less than perfect inside. She does A LOT wrong (and at one point she did something SO wrong and I just couldn’t even believe it and was SO mad at her) but she does learn fro her mistakes and grow from them.

I enjoyed the relationships in this book and would have liked a little more closure with Yasmine and Laila, but I’m sure we’ll get that in the next book. I liked her friendship with Henry and how it showed how complicated a male/female friendship can be when there are other love interests in the picture. Some people have been reviewing about the ‘love triangle’ but it wasn’t really one at all. I feel like it’s a triangle when the MC is clearly into BOTH and does the whole ‘but who do I choose?!?!?!?!? woe is me’ thing but Azra doesn’t do that. And I liked Nate and how he broke stereotypes, but I would have liked a LITTLE more chemistry and swooning.

I also loved Azra’s relationship with her mother. Yes her mother can be pushy but you find out WHY and she has a DAMN good reason for a lot of what she does.

Overall this is a very solid book that can be enjoyed by both contemporary and paranormal readers a like!

ARC Review – The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre

21469091Title: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things

Author: Ann Aguirre

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Sage Czinski is trying really hard to be perfect. If she manages it, people won’t peer beyond the surface, or ask hard questions about her past. She’s learned to substitute causes for relationships, and it’s working just fine… until Shane Cavendish strolls into her math class. He’s a little antisocial, a lot beautiful, and everything she never knew she always wanted.

Shane Cavendish just wants to be left alone to play guitar and work on his music. He’s got heartbreak and loneliness in his rearview mirror, and this new school represents his last chance. He doesn’t expect to be happy; he only wants to graduate and move on. He never counted on a girl like Sage.

But love doesn’t mend all broken things, and sometimes life has to fall apart before it can be put back together again…

Huge thank you to Macmillan and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review: 

The cover of The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things is somewhat misleading (minus the post-it notes). Judging by the cover, I was half expecting this novel to be a lot more fluffy than it actually was. The models look so happy ont he cover, how could I be wrong?

Well, because, I was. I was not expecting the amount of angst this book provided considering the beginning of the book was so cute and entertaining. Angst is not a bad thing, but even reading the synopsis, this book went to a few places I didn’t expect it to go for better or worse.

I absolutely loved Sage though as a main character, and being in her head throughout the story was quite the delight. I loved her positive initiative with the post-it notes, I loved that she wanted to bring joy to people, even if it was in such a simple way. Yet, it does make her a meddler, and one who finds herself in quite a bit of trouble throughout the story. Her darkside is also so unexpected and I liked that side of her too.

Funny enough, for me it was Shane I had the hard time with. I just didn’t see the appeal, and that’s hard for me when there’s a romance. Usually when I read a book with a romance I hope to love both characters, and I find I never seem to have a lot of luck with this. Shane was all right, but I just couldn’t connect with him (and may be in some ways his distance that’s the point). I also found myself not caring as much as I’d like to in regards to the secondary characters, they just felt there and that didn’t work for me either.

If you go into this book thinking it’s fluffy, you are dead wrong. It’s anything but, and that will either work in your favour or it won’t. Unfortunately, I was looking for a fluff read after so many depressing novels, and this one made me pretty darn sad at times. The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things is a good book, but it’s one you definitely need to prepare yourself for, especially if you get swept up in how cute that darn cover is.