Tag Archives: mystery

Guest Post – The Winnowing by Vikki VanSickle

If you’ve been around the Canadian middle grade and YA blog tour circuit, you’ve likely encountered Vikki VanSickle along your travels. Easily one of the most passionate people I’ve ever met in my book blogging travels, she’s become not only an amazing source for up and coming middle grade and teen titles, but she’s also a caring individual whom when I see her in public, I love spending time with. Vikki is creative, confident, caring and kind.

Hilariously, her latest book The Winnowing is none of those things. But I still love her and this book any ways. On this leg of The Winnowing blog tour, Vikki shares with us one of her key resources that helped in the process of writing The Winnowing.  This book is unlike anything I’ve seen from Vikki before, and wow is it a roller-coaster!


MYSTERIES OF THE UNEXPLAINED, A Guest Post from Vikki VanSickle

I have always loved a mystery. A dedicated Nancy Drew fan, I graduated from mysteries about lost lockets and broken clocks to UFOs and ancient prophecies. The Mysteries of the Unexplained is an encyclopedia of unsolved mysteries and unexplained phenomena compiled by Readers’ Digest in 1982 (my birth year! Coincidence or conspiracy?!) All the usual suspects (ghosts, aliens, Nessie, Bigfoot) are here, but I also learned about spontaneous human combustion, famous prophecies, lost civilizations, and much, much more.

The book was a flea market discovery that I spent hours reading and re-reading. Arranged in categories with tantalizing titles such as “Beyond the Walls of Time,” “Unearthly Fates” and “In the Realm of Miracles,” it inspired countless stories and fuelled a life-long interest in the bizarre and the otherworldly. When you’re a kid it feels like adults know and control everything. How intoxicating to realize there are great mysteries that may never be solved. It changes the power dynamic and frees you up to think big and dream even bigger.

I still have my original copy and I find myself consulting it if I get stuck in a logic snarl or need a little bit of inspiration. More often than not what ends up happening is I will get lost in these incredible stories and look up an hour later having done no writing, but stoking my imagination all the same.


About the Author

Vikki VanSickle is the author of the acclaimed Clarissa books, including Words that Start with B, Love Is a Four-Letter Word and Days that End in Y. Vikki’s most recent middle grade novel, Summer Days, Starry Nights, has been called “summer reading at its best” and was a finalist for the Red Maple Award. After obtaining an MA in Children’s Literature from UBC, Vikki’s career began in bookselling at The Flying Dragon Bookshop, which earned her the 2011 CBA Young Bookseller of the Year award. Currently Vikki balances writing with her duties as the Marketing and Publicity Manager for Young Readers at Penguin Canada. Vikki lives with a cat named Barb who would prefer not to have to share the house with a sasquatch. — Bio supplied by publisher.

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ARC Review – The Winnowing by Vikki VanSickle

Title: The Winnowing

Author: Vikki VanSickle

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Marivic Stone lives in a small world, and that’s fine with her. Home is with her beloved grandfather in a small town that just happens to be famous for a medical discovery that saved humankind — though not without significant repercussions. Marivic loves her best friend, Saren, and the two of them promise to stick together, through thick and thin, and especially through the uncertain winnowing procedure, a now inevitable — but dangerous — part of adolescence.

But when tragedy separates the two friends, Marivic is thrust into a world of conspiracy, rebellion and revolution. For the first time in her life, Marivic is forced to think and act big. If she is going to right a decade of wrongs, she will need to trust her own frightening new abilities, even when it means turning her back on everything, and everyone, she’s known and loved. A gripping exploration of growing up, love and loss, The Winnowing is a page-turning adventure that will have readers rooting for their new hero, Marivic Stone, as they unravel the horror and intrigue of a world at once familiar but with a chilling strangeness lurking beneath the everyday. 

Huge thank you to Scholastic Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I want to preface this review by saying a couple of truths: I am a wuss who is easily spooked. I love things that can’t entirely be explained.The Winnowing is such a departure from VanSickle’s previous, more contemporary novels. This is her foray into science fiction, and her love letter to the strange and whimsy.

I will not lie, I was hesitant to read this book even after talking with Vikki at a conference we were both attending. I love her contemporary middle grade novels, I read If I Had a Gyphon during my storytimes, but this book was different. Vastly different. Thankfully, I had prepared myself for this book by watching Stranger Things earlier this year andThe Winnowing is an interesting middle grade novel to say the least.

This is a book about a world where children can be born with powers. If unwinnowed, these powers can manifest into something much more dangerous. To be winnowed is a rite of adolescent passage, it’s an attempt at normalizing. The problem is that the world Marivic and Saren live in, is one that is anything but. Marivic in particular also holds the key to a larger mystery in the story in regards to her family, the town of Darby and the school her mother worked at which was obliterated. The blurb on the back of the book gives you just enough information, but it’s definitely a book that is good going blind into.

What I loved about this book is how unexpected some of the twists and turns were. Some were a little obvious, but I found myself buying into so much of what was happening to these characters,
I was so invested in the atmosphere of the story — it is creepy and uncomfortable. Marivic and her friends felt very believable, their flaws felt real, and I truly felt for them on this journey. My favourite character in the story was Gumps, Marivic’s grandfather. He’s everything I love in a curmudgeon-y old man. A grump who is secretly loving and a little overprotective.

With the circumstances that occur in this novel, you see incredible growth in these characters. Every single one of them. The children in this story are all forced to grow up very quickly given the situation regarding the world and the process of the winnowing. In a lot of ways, these kids are robbed of their childhood and that was so heartbreaking. Marivic in particular shoulders a lot of burden in this story and she’s forced in a lot of ways to think and act more mature than someone normally her age. This is written very well because you can see she’s wrestling with both her circumstances and her actual age and what kids her age should be doing.

There’s a lot of weird and strange in The Winnowing. It’s the kind of book for people who love the X-Files, Stranger Things, Are You Afraid of the Dark?. While two of the references I’ve mention date me, I think they are accurate to what one can expect when reading this book. It’s weird, mysterious, atmospheric and wondrous. I love seeing authors jump out of their comfort zones with genre, because sometimes an experiment can blossom into something extraordinary.

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

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

Author: Lauren Oliver & H.G. Chester

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

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

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

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

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

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

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

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

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

ARC Review – The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

Title: The One Memory of Flora Banks

Author: Emily Barr

Rating: ★★

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life.

With little more than the words “be brave” inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway, the land of the midnight sun, determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must “be brave” if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I feel very torn when I think about The One Memory of Flora Banks. On one hand, it’s a very compelling story about a young woman who has been in a near vegetative state who is unable to make new memories, but on the other side of it there is something very frustrating on a whole as to how this book presents itself.

First of all, this book is compulsively readable. The writing isn’t anything spectacular, but Barr does this great job of making the read want to turn pages and keep going. The repetition, though I understand why it was there, drove me kind of bonkers at times and I found myself going “Yes, be brave, Flora. We know this already!” many times. Again, this book is like a YA version of Mr Robot or Momento, but it lacks the visual cues and punch that those stories provide because it’s in text form.

I won’t lie, I did feel sorry for Flora through the entire story, but I also found myself annoyed and angry how the story moved or progressed. Sometimes it felt like it was meandering, and sometimes it would go at a rapid pace. I’ll be frank in that I hated the Drake parts of this book (up until the end any ways) given that Flora repeats and repeats and repeats how she kissed “Drake” and we’re supposed to take that at face value from an unreliable narrator. When I got to the twist, I wasn’t surprised in the slightest because I had figured it out pretty quickly, so I think that also hindered my enjoyment a lot as well.

I will say, I did like the ending to a point. Learning about Flora’s brother, Jacob, was actually some of my favourite bits in the story. When Flora was thinking about or trying to understand Jacob’s motives, I found that’s when the story hit its stride with me and I constantly wanted to know more about what was happening and why Flora’s family behaves the way they do. When the book was about Flora trying to find Drake to get her memory back, it fell into that trope I hate which is that “boy fixes girl.” I hate that trope, and while I understand why it exists in this story, I still found myself angry by it. There are better ways to give characters agency, and in YA, the boy shouldn’t always be that factor.

I love unreliable narrators, and I adore books when I need to put my thinking cap on to try and put pieces together. Sadly, The One Memory of Flora Banks left me more annoyed than satisfied. I feel like there will be readers out there who will gobble this up and it be their jam, but for me personally, I struggled to find any connection with this story.

ARC Review – 100 Hours (100 Hours #1) by Rachel Vincent

30653906Title: 100 Hours (100 Hours #1)

Author: Rachel Vincent

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: A decadent spring break getaway on an exotic beach becomes a terrifying survival story when six Miami teens are kidnapped and ransomed.

Maddie is beyond done with her cousin Genesis’s entitled and shallow entourage. Genesis is so over Miami’s predictable social scene with its velvet ropes, petty power plays, and backstabbing boyfriends.

While Maddie craves family time for spring break, Genesis seeks novelty—like a last-minute getaway to an untouched beach in Colombia. And when Genesis wants something, it happens.

But paradise has its price. Dragged from their tents under the cover of dark, Genesis, Maddie, and their friends are kidnapped and held for ransom deep inside the jungle—with no diva left behind. It all feels so random to everyone except Genesis. She knows they were targeted for a reason. And that reason is her.

Now, as the hours count down, only one thing’s for certain: If the Miami hostages can’t set aside their personal problems, no one will make it out alive.

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

Molly’s Review:

This book was like watching an early 2000-esque action movie. Lots of complicated ugly pretty people, random almost faceless “bad guys”, a tropical location, some vague references to political unrest & explosions.

So naturally I loved it.

The writing in this book isn’t spectacular, nor are the characters, but it was very fast paced and I flew through the first 250 pages in one sitting. I didn’t really care about anyone, but I did want to see what was going to happen.

A lot of this is pretty unbelievable. One of the characters is diabetic and she’s able to jump off a cliff, hike MILES through the jungle, and make out with the cute boy she’s known for a full day without having any problems. And no, I’m not saying a diabetic couldn’t do that, I’m saying that pretty much nobody could do that, let alone a teen girl with a disease that is affected by lack of food and too much physical exertion.

There is A LOT of teen drama in this, which I also found to be a little over the top because really, I feel like most teens that were kidnapped by Colombian terrorists in the middle of the jungle would be a WHOLE LOT LESS WORRIED about who’s hooking up with who. But then again it wouldn’t be an early 2000-esqu action movie without the main character hooking up with the beautiful strange they just met (hello every single Jason Statham movie EVER).

So yeah, this book was okay. It tried hard to be something more than it was, but didn’t quite make it. And it ends on a cliff hanger so I guess there’s going to be a second book. I might pick it up if I’m in the mood for some mindless action.

ARC Review – The Great Shelby Holmes by Elizabeth Eulberg

28260589Title: The Great Shelby Holmes

Author: Elizabeth Eulberg

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Shelby Holmes is not your average sixth grader. She’s nine years old, barely four feet tall, and the best detective her Harlem neighborhood has ever seen—always using logic and a bit of pluck (which yes, some might call “bossiness”) to solve the toughest crimes.

When eleven-year-old John Watson moves downstairs, Shelby finds something that’s eluded her up till now: a friend. Easy-going John isn’t sure of what to make of Shelby, but he soon finds himself her most-trusted (read: only) partner in a dog-napping case that’ll take both their talents to crack.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

What a refreshing surprise The Great Shelby Holmes was! This is one of the best homages I’ve encountered when it comes toSherlock Holmes, and making his work accessible to younger audiences is even better! Plus it’s written by Elizabeth Eulberg? I believe we have a winner.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when The Great Shelby Holmescame through my mail box. I love a good mystery, and I also loved that this mystery focused on dogs. I am a sucker for dog stories too! I also think it’s wonderful that Eulberg decided to have Watson be a young black boy who had recently moved to Harlem, and I found his voice to be utterly delightful. I think this story does a great job of capturing the personalities of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson and transferring them into the souls of two eleven year old kids.

I also loved the way that Watson constantly debated between being a part of the mystery and trying to make friends. While the dognapping in the book is the main mystery, there’s a larger mystery looming in regards to Shelby’s character not actually having friends and Watson trying to make friends being the new kid in town. This larger aspect of the book was completely well thought out and done, and I loved how Shelby and Watson’s relationship is so organic from the start. I think Eulberg also did a great job with the main mystery as well, and for middle graders in particular, she offers some good twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. And the dog show at the end of the story? Easily the most hilarious part.

I absolutely loved Shelby and Watson’s first adventure, and I can only hope Elizabeth Eulberg writes more for this and turns it into a series. It’s just such a joy to read, and I loved the characters and the mystery that can in this book. If you love middle grade mystery, you need to check this little gem out.

And can I say that I loved that Shelby’s English Bulldog was named “Sir Arthur”? As an English Bulldog owner that gave me way too much joy.

ARC Review – Smash & Grab by Amy Christine Parker

27272262Title: Smash & Grab

Author: Amy Christine Parker

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: LEXI is a rich girl who loves a good rush. Whether it’s motorcycle racing or BASE jumping off a building in downtown Los Angeles, the only times she feels alive are when she and her friends are executing one of their dares. After her father’s arrest, Lexi doesn’t think twice about going undercover at his bank to steal the evidence that might clear his name. She enlists her hacker brother and her daredevil friends to plan a clever heist.
 
CHRISTIAN is a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. The local gang has blackmailed him and his friends into robbing banks, and he is desperate for a way out. When the boss promises that one really big job will be the last he ever has to do, Christian jumps at the chance for freedom. In fact, he’s just met a girl at the bank who might even prove useful. . . .
 
Two heists. One score. The only thing standing in their way is each other.

Huge thank you to the publisher for letting me read an advanced copy of this book!

Molly’s Review: 

I REALLY enjoyed this book! After falling into a little bit of a reading slump I needed something fun that would really drag me into the story and not let go. I didn’t want anything TOO heavy and this was just the perfect balance. I LOVE heist movies and books, so I went into this with high hopes and was not disappointed.

Lexi and her crew are thrill seekers. They’re young rich LA kids who have issues with their families and they all deal with these issues by doing crazy and wild stunts. The book starts out with them jumping off a building. I really loved how Lexi and her gang had actual problems and not just rich kid problems. Lexi’s dad is in jail and her mother is falling apart. Lexi’s friends (while not the MOST fleshed out group of side characters) are all personable and facing their own issues. We see glimpses of things that all people face: abusive parents, un-accepting parents, etc. This made the book feel real.

I also liked that Lexi was and wasn’t a stereotype. She’s a typical rich, blond, beautiful LA chick but she is also pretty bad ass. She holds her own and stays true to herself. She uses her looks and charm when she needs to, but she isn’t vapid and vain, nor a mean girl. I really liked that she didn’t quit fit any mold when she really could have.

Christian is the other voice in this book. It is a dual POV book, but the author does an AMAZING job with the two voices. I was never once confused as to who was speaking and that really helped me enjoy this book even more (because I do NOT like dual POV books with alternating chapters). Christian is from the hood and he and his own crew of friends are bank robbers. They were strong-armed into doing the robberies by the local gang which has ties to a much larger Mexican gang. Each friend is working the jobs to help their families/ save people they love. It’s all very tragic and makes them not really BAD guys. Christian was an interesting character; he’s smart, of mixed race so he doesn’t always feel like he fits in with the rest of his crew, and he cares deeply about doing the right thing even when he’s forced to do the wrong thing.

Christian and Lexi cross paths multiple times and sparks fly. They end up joining forces to rob the bank that Lexi’s dad used to work for… to help prove his innocence and to set Christian free. There’s a lot of double crossing, some kissing and swooning and some high action moments with crazy stunts. I very much enjoyed this book and would LOVE to see it as a movie.