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ARC Review – One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva

18465591Title:  One Man Guy

Author: Michael Barakiva

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Alek Khederian should have guessed something was wrong when his parents took him to a restaurant. Everyone knows that Armenians never eat out. Between bouts of interrogating the waitress and criticizing the menu, Alek’s parents announce that he’ll be attending summer school in order to bring up his grades. Alek is sure this experience will be the perfect hellish end to his hellish freshman year of high school. He never could’ve predicted that he’d meet someone like Ethan.

Ethan is everything Alek wishes he were: confident, free-spirited, and irreverent. He can’t believe a guy this cool wants to be his friend. And before long, it seems like Ethan wants to be more than friends. Alek has never thought about having a boyfriend—he’s barely ever had a girlfriend—but maybe it’s time to think again.

Huge thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) and Netgalley for this advance reader copy.

I am a little torn with One Man Guy because I actually loved the majority of this book but there was one thing that surprisingly tested my nerves and did genuinely upset me.

First off, I love that the title of this book is a reference to Rufus Wainwright and I love and appreciated Barakiva discussing the history of the song “One Man Guy” as well as a bit of history about Rufus Wainwright as a performance artist. I am a huge lover of Rufus Wainwright and anytime the characters quote songs or discussed the meanings I found myself smiling and grinning.

I actually also loved the writing in this book as well. The flow and pacing were close to perfect, and it was easy to understand a lot of the culture aspects of the story. There’s no heavy handedness, Barakiva makes Armenian culture something accessible, understandable, and quite lovable with his cast of characters. I had particular love for Alek’s family, especially Nik, oddly but there were parts of him that reminded me of my older brother.

Alek’s character is handled beautifully, and I loved his how he was coming out of shell and growing into someone who he wanted to be comfortable with. I like that people weren’t automatically accepting, but understood in such a way where he was fortunate enough to have an awesome support system in his parents and Becky. A lot of his mannerism and behavior make perfect sense for growing fourteen year old who’s learning how to push his parent’s buttons a little but still try to be his own person.

In a lot of GLBT literature, there’s always the approch of parents hating that their kids are gay, or trying to un-gay them in some way. What I loved in Barakiva’s approach is how understanding and supportive they were in their son’s decision, even if right away they weren’t fond of Ethan. You get a genuine sense that they love and care regardless of sexual orientation, and that was so refreshing. For the most part the world that we see in Alek’s life is surprisingly positive which in these types of stories sometimes feels unheard of. I also loved Nik’s big reveal and how that handed — it was so sweet and I found myself cheering so happily. The ending of this book is also wonderful and perfect and I feel like it couldn’t have ended any other way.

I do want to talk about something that did upset me with the book and it threw me for a bit of a loop, but I struggled with Ethan’s character. I was not fond of his forceful behavior towards Alek, particularly when he was still trying to understand what it meant to be gay. He’d say things like he gets it, but then force Alek to kiss him or expose himself and the way the novel is written you get the sense of discomfort from Alek’s character, and I just didn’t like Ethan’s lack of respect. It made it harder for me to connect with him because you can see Alek trying to grow and become who he wants to be. This happens a few times in the story and I had a hard time with it.

However, when Ethan is being as sweet and as vulnerable as Alek, that was something I liked and appreciated. In fact, I love them as a couple when they are learning and exploring, so the forced aspects just threw me off. Ethan has some amazing insight for a man his age, and I like his attitude towards what it means to be gay and being true to who you are.

There’s a wonderful debut here and the story is so sweet. It’s a relationship the reader gets to see develop and unfold, without the insta-love crap that often YA often likes to push forth. While I wasn’t 100% fond of Ethan’s characterization, I still loved the cast of characters and the story that Barakiva presented. Plus it’s an easy read and all it asks for the most part is an open-mind and welcomes those with a cheeky sense of humor.

ARC Review – This One Summer by Jillian Yamaki and Mariko Tamaki

18465634Title: This One Summer

Author(s): Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Every summer, Rose goes with her mom and dad to a lake house in Awago Beach. It’s their getaway, their refuge. Rosie’s friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had. But this summer is different. Rose’s mom and dad won’t stop fighting, and when Rose and Windy seek a distraction from the drama, they find themselves with a whole new set of problems. One of the local teens – just a couple of years older than Rose and Windy – is caught up in something bad… Something life threatening.

It’s a summer of secrets, and sorrow, and growing up, and it’s a good thing Rose and Windy have each other.

Huge thank you to First Second and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Huge thank you to First Second and Netgalley for this ARC!

This is not the first book I’ve read by cousins Jillian and Mariko Tamaki. Back when I was in university, I actually attended a talk by Mariko Tamaki on writing an feminism, and since then I’ve actually read just about everything she’s ever published. This One Summer was a return back to contemporary for both authors, so I was excited to see where the story would go.

This One Summer was a book that reminded me of my cottage and how much I miss it. I would take my friends up there, we’d spend hours swimming, exploring, watching scary movies, and lounging about near the lake with books in our hands. Cottage life always reminded me of the good times in life, and often it was where I did my most growing up. Those interactions between Rose and Windy I found myself nodding along with as it was something I have connected with before.

The actually mysteries within this story are fairly uncomfortable for the most part. Much like Skim, their previous joint graphic novel effort, there’s no real fluff in this story. There’s a lot of confronting fears, forcing others to do the same, and accepting when mistakes are made. Everything that happens in this novel happens with a heavy reason and often an unavoidable consequence. In a lot of ways, that’s what makes Rose and Windy growing up such a tough aspect to watch — like many of us, nothing ever comes easy.

What really helps this narrative along is the artwork — it’s stunning. Especially any scenes involving forests and water, you get a sense of being swept away and the use of the monochromatic colouring works wonders. The emotion from the art is really impressive and I loved it.

A lot of the conflict is minimized or even at times non-existent. There are definitely parts of the story I was more had been done with, but overall I still think This One Summer is a delightful read that makes me wish I still wasn’t currently trapped under a pile of snow.

ARC Review – The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

16068341Title:  The Truth About Alice

Author: Jennifer Mathieu

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2 / ★★★★★

Synopsis: Everyone has a lot to say about Alice Franklin, and it’s stopped mattering whether it’s true. The rumors started at a party when Alice supposedly had sex with two guys in one night. When school starts everyone almost forgets about Alice until one of those guys, super-popular Brandon, dies in a car wreck that was allegedly all Alice’s fault. Now the only friend she has is a boy who may be the only other person who knows the truth, but is too afraid to admit it. Told from the perspectives of popular girl Elaine, football star Josh, former outcast Kelsie, and shy genius Kurt, we see how everyone has a motive to bring – and keep – Alice down.

Huge thank you to Macmillian and Netgalley for this advance reader copy.

River’s Review (4.5 Stars)

I FLEW through this. Read it in less than 24 hours. I mainly picked it as my end-of-month read because it’s short (and because I was free from my January ARCs to read whatever I wanted) and wow.

This book is told from four different perspectives. If you know me, you know that I do NOT like multiple-first person-POV novels. But this worked really well. The voices were all VERY clear. I never had any question about who was speaking. And I thought that the choice to tell Alice’s story from four other perspectives was what made this book unique.

Overall this is a book about mean girls (and boys). Small town drama. I actually thought this was similar to Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers. Only rather than being told from the POV of the exiled, persecuted ex-mean girl, it’s told from the mean girls (and boys) POV. THAT was fresh and different. Each character has some truth about Alice that they’re keeping to themselves and for the first half of the book I was wondering all kinds of things.

The truth of this book is that people will believe what they want, they’ll do whatever they need to do to stay on top, and they will spin stories to save their own faces. I was SO MAD at how awful these people were (well, Kurt wasn’t too awful, he was probably the only character that I could stomach) but that’s the point. Ugly pretty people. All of them blaming Alice for their own shitty choices, it was just… so awful. And the best part is that they KNOW they’re being awful. Kelsie’s story made me want to punch her. I felt bad for her, but any sympathy I had vanished when she blamed Alice for her own TERRIBLE choices. For her own stupid mistakes. I’m not even sure if Josh knew WHY he was blaming Alice, he was so oblivious to his own confused feelings.

This book is a unique, quick, though-provoking read and I think fans of contemporary YA will really enjoy it. Especially fans of Courtney Summers.

Sam’s Review (5 Stars)

My co-blogger was actually the one who told me I needed to read The Truth About Alice. She knows I have a love for books about crappy and disgusting people who get a comeuppance and what many readers are going to find with this book is a surprisingly engaging, if a touch disturbing mystery that involves a young girl who supposedly slept with two guys at a party, one of them dead shortly after.

The Truth About Alice is one of the best books I’ve seen that deal with bullying and slut-shamming. The characters in this book, each and everyone of them is guilty of this action and since you don’t get Alice’s perspective, your left to your own devices in terms of figuring out who is telling the truth and who is lying. Who is out there to stir the dramalama pot, and who’s genuine. I love the way Mathieu portrays these awful people because I love when naughty teens get a good hard lesson. One which isn’t just solved with a quick apology.

Alice is actually my favourite character because her presence in the story is minimal and almost ghost like. She’s there, but not, and as the novel develops you see more of her and you realize who she truly is is not what she’s painted as. She admits to fault, is brave for not attempting to go to extreme levels because she knows the truth and she knows that all actions have consequence. It doesn’t make it any harder to roam around Healy High, but you get a sense that despite her timid demur she’s quite humble, lovable even.

The interactions with Kurt and Alice were actually my favourite. A lot of the time they played well of of each other and Kurt’s point-of-view always felt the closet to the truth for me. That’s not to say he’s a good person either, because his reveal is one of the more gut-wrenching, but I appreciate Mathieu didn’t just make Kurt the “goodie goodie” because he’s actually anything but if you look at his motives.

The imagery painted in this novel is haunting and disturbing. It’s not a book I recommend with every reader in mind, but I loved it from start to finish. I loved that every action had a consequence, I loved the mystery surrounding Alice and Brandon and I loved that there was no sugarcoating on the subject. Plus the final chapter is really what sold the whole book for me, because having that truth really can make you a whole lot stronger.

River & Sam’s Fave Books of February

At the beginning of each new month, River and I decided we wanted to share with you guys our favourite read (or reads in the case of February) for that month. Why? Because sometimes its awesome to showcase favourites! February was an odd month for River and I as we both experienced reading slumps up the yin-yang, so it’s was impressive for both of us to have two favourites for the month of February. Without further ado, here’s our picks.

River’s Book(s) of the Month:

tease18820442

Tease by Amanda Maciel & (Don’t You) Forget About Me by Kate Karyus Quinn

So neither of these books are out yet and our reviews for them won’t go live until closer to their release dates, but these two are definitely books to watch I think. River expressed how Tease is one of those books where it’s “crappy people doing crappy things” and not understanding repercussion, and I have a bizarre love for those types of stories because I suppose it baffles me that there are people out there who behave that way. (Don’t You) Forget About Me by Kate Karyus Quinn sounds as creepy and intriguing as her debut Another Little Piece, which I still haven’t read yet (story of my life, huh?). Needless to say, these books should be on your radar.

Sam’s Picks:

1363812516068341

Vicious by V.E Schwab and The Truth About Alice by Jennifer Mathieu

Ah, Vicious, the book that sunk its teeth into me and refused to let go. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how much I was going to love Vicious considering I am still fairly new to Victoria Schwab’s work, but her characters are so wonderfully crafted that it was so easy to fall into the world and its evils. I spent a good chunk of this book yelling at the characters because dammit, they were totally listening to me (no, no they weren’t) and I was just completely engaged. Also for the record, I am totes Team Victor even though the whole team thing is overrated.

My second choice, which almost gave Vicious a run for its money was The Truth About Alice which, like I mentioned above with Tease, is about crappy people being crappy, but where it works here is that you get everyone else’s perspective from the party, but Alice’s POV is non-existent. The reader is forced to put the pieces together in a wonderfully intriguing mystery where you don’t know who is telling the truth and who is crafting a new lie. I was glued to this book, so much so that I was bitter when my Kindle died while I was reading it. I had to know all the answers! Our review for this book will be coming up very soon  even though this book does not release until June.

So there you have it! What was your favourite book(s) you read in the month of February? Please share in the comments — we’d love to know!

ARC Review – Sekret by Lindsay Smith

15673520Title:  Sekret

Author: Lindsay Smith

Rating: ★★★ 1/2 & ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Yulia’s father always taught her that an empty mind is a safe mind. She has to hide her thoughts and control her emotions to survive in Communist Russia, especially because she seems to be able to read the minds of the people she touches. When she’s captured by the KGB and forced to work as a psychic spy with a mission to undermine the U.S. space program, she’s thrust into a world of suspicion, deceit, and horrifying power where she can trust no one. 

I received an ARC from the publisher and I’m writing this honest review to say thank you.

River’s Review: 

3.5 Stars

I wanted to love Sekret more than I did. Spies. SPIES GUYS. I love anything with spies. And this wasn’t just spies, it was PSYCHIC RUSSIAN SPIES. Which was so cool.

Overall I enjoyed the setting of this book a lot, but I sometimes have trouble getting into historical books and that might have just been one of the parts that disconnected me from this book. Another part was that it was slow. I would read for an hour and be like ‘wow, I read so much!’ and then update my status and be shocked to see that I’d only read like 30 pages. I just feel like it took me FOREVER to read this. And it wasn’t that long and it wasn’t boring it was just… slow.

The entire thing wasn’t slow though. When they went on missions it was really tense and I was totally sucked in! But when they were training at school and stuff I just never felt fully engaged.

Despite that the writing was beautiful, and I loved the imagery that flowed through the words. I also enjoyed learning about Russia and the atmosphere of the book.

I did like the characters, and felt so bad for Sergei at times, he just was like such a huge puppy dog trying so hard to make the best of everything and then there’s dark, mysterious, musical Valentin who steals everyone’s hearts through his dark eyes. Ugh, it was hard to pick who to swoon over.

I DID like that I didn’t see the twist coming and I want to know SO much more about how all of that came to be! Maybe in the next book?

So if you like historical fiction, then you’ll love this. If you like spies, then you’ll love this. If you like psychic teens then you’ll like this. If you like all of these, then you’ll LOVE this.

Sam’s Review:

4.5 Stars

I am a huge fan of books that take place in Russia or use Russian history as a backdrop. I also love spy and espionage story, so Sekret won me over with its premise alone. Turns out, there was also an excellent novel hidden in this book!

Although this is Smith’s debut, this is one of those books where you can’t tell it’s in fact, a debut. The writing is tight, tension filled, and memorizing. I found I had a hard time putting Sekret down every time I started it, because I had to know what was happening to these characters and this world. The writing makes everything feel so vivid and terrifying, I literally jumped a few times just because Smith took turns I wasn’t necessarily expecting.

Seriously, the plot twist alone int his book makes it worth the read. I didn’t see it coming, and it’s definitely something that will make your jaw-drop. Also Sergei needed like, all the hugs in this book. All of them. I just loved all the characters, and I thought Yulia was a fabulous protagonist to follow. She has great convictions, strength and determination, and it’s no wonder why people fear her gifts in a lot of ways. With the way the novel ended, I’m struggling to wait for book two. I really am.

Sekret is slow, but thoughtful. Engaging, but creepy. There’s so much to love in the writing, characters and world building that I feel like Smith wrote an almost grand-slam. I do think the pacing will bother some readers, but when slow burns are done the right way, they often can be the most interesting reads of all.

ARC Review – She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

18926796Title:  She Is Not Invisible

Author: Marcus Sedgwick 

Rating: ★★

Synopsis: Laureth Peak’s father has taught her to look for recurring events, patterns, and numbers–a skill at which she’s remarkably talented. Her secret: She is blind. But when her father goes missing, Laureth and her 7-year-old brother Benjamin are thrust into a mystery that takes them to New York City where surviving will take all her skill at spotting the amazing, shocking, and sometimes dangerous connections in a world full of darkness. She Is Not Invisible is an intricate puzzle of a novel that sheds a light on the delicate ties that bind people to each other.

Sam’s Review:

Huge thank you to Macmillian and Netgalley for providing me with an advance reader copy of this book.

I wasn’t sure what I was going to get with She is Not Invisible, and truthfully what I ended up getting was something I wasn’t at all impressed with. This book has many great ideas, but these great ideas are never fully realized, and often even go ignored. If I could sum this book up into two words it would be wasted potential.

I love the idea of reading a novel where a character has a disability. I love to see how author interpret disability in literature, and I will give Sedgwick credit for creating a very positive approach to this topic. I love the fact that even though Laureth is blind, the novel has a lot of auditory moments where you can sense the heighten of sounds that surround her. But this also leads me into my first set of complaints: half the time the book forgets that Laureth is blind. In a lot of ways this novel is VERY visual, and to the point where you could see the book struggling with what it means to show versus tell, with showing winning out in a few major instances. If your protagonist is blind, shouldn’t the novel lean more towards telling? Well it does to an extent, but you can see the fumbling between both ideologies. A lot of the time Laureth behaved as though she had sight, and seldom were we reminded that she was in fact, a blind person.

I’ll admit, I love that Laureth is strong, but I found myself frustrated by the fact that her being blind felt so meaningless in this novel. Everything felt too easy and to the point where you ask yourself what was the point of making her blind in the first place. Moreover, I thought it was odd how all the adults in this novel seemed so moronic and stupid. In one instance, Laureth and Benjamin are able to get on a plane with ease and without an adult and no one in the airport questions this, even though they probably should? These were the moments where Sedgwick remembered that Laureth was blind, and these moments really ruined what strength he could have gave to this character. I just kept asking myself why he bothered to make her blind if he wasn’t going to use that to its full potential. Every situation that Laureth gets out of also just felt so Scooby-Doo that it was very hard to take the novel seriously. Believe-ability was something I definitely struggled with while reading She is Not Invisible.

It also doesn’t help that the writing in this book is surprisingly boring. For a topic that could have been more interesting than it was, I was horribly disappointed with the narrative flow and use of language. Often philosophical ideas were through in, but the connections were never strong enough to Laureth’s narrative and moreover, they often felt thrown in for the sake of being thrown in. If you’re going to add this type of content, give it a concrete purpose and really make it connect to the narrative in such a way where the reader can appreciate it being there. Then the ending comes along and everything feels so anti-climatic that I felt like the book had been just such a waste of time and potential. I feel like if you’re going to create to a mystery novel with a blind protagonist, you need to make her struggles feel more realistic and honest, and this book felt so hokey a lot of the time that I found myself rolling my eyes more often than not.

I love when authors try to take a chance and include issues of disability within texts. I love being given a new point of view where I get into the shoes of someone else and attempt to understand their trials and tribulations. But the author made everything feel too comfortable and too easy that it killed the intrigue for me. I expected so much from this great idea and I got very little in return. Is it a bad book? No, because the ideas are there, they just happen to be very flawed. If you’re the type of person who struggles to suspend their disbelief and suspend itfar, you will have a hard time with this book and I can’t recommend it. If you’re someone where this doesn’t bother you, there are neat ideas in this story that just needed further exploration. I want to recommend this novel, but considering the end result its a difficult call to make.

ARC Review – Love Letters to the Dead, by Ava Dellaira

18140047Title:  Love Letters to the Dead

Author: Ava Dellaira

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: It begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May did. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to people like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger, and more; though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating new friendships, falling in love for the first time, learning to live with her splintering family.

Huge thank you to Macmillian and Netgalley for this advance reader’s copy.

Sam’s Review: 

You can tell that Ava Dellaira is a protege of Stephen Chbosky with her debut novel Love Letters to the Dead. There’s something about the  nature intimate of Laurel, her desire to reach out to those who have already passed, and her need to find comfort in someone or something that may or may not be listening to her.

This book is beautifully written and has moments that are clever and sweet. It’s also a messy gut puncher when it wants to be as well. Laurel’s voice was so easy to fall into, you wanted to know more about her pain and why she was reaching out to the unknown. She wanted someone to understand how she feels about losing her sister, lacking direction, and just trying to cope overall.

Everything about this story worked for me, even the romance between Laurel and Sky, though at times I found myself so frustrated with their lack of communication. However, even with those feelings, it made sense why the two often behaved the way they did and never fully saw eye-to-eye. The ending though was sweet and I did find myself rooting for them, even when I was mad at them.

There’s just something about the style that resonated with me. Perhaps it was the fact that its told entirely in letters, or its the fact that its on a topic I understand very well. I found myself nodding along with Laurel’s feelings of displacement and grief — they felt so natural and I appreciated that approach. I think I would have been more disappointed had it come across very forced.

There’s a lot to like about Love Letters to the Dead, though it’s definitely a difficult read that you need to be in the right frame of mind for. It can be dark, but often you’ll find yourself humming along to the songs many of the dead artists had written, and often reminds us just how hard death can really hit us and how we have to adapt when we lose someone. Loved, loved, loved this one.