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ARC Review – The Stone Heart by Faith Erin Hicks

29102807Title: The Stone Heart

Author: Faith Erin Hicks

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Kaidu and Rat have only just recovered from the assassination attempt on the General of All Blades when more chaos breaks loose in the Nameless City: deep conflicts within the Dao nation are making it impossible to find a political solution for the disputed territory of the City itself.

To complicate things further, Kaidu is fairly certain he’s stumbled on a formula for the lost weapon of the mysterious founders of the City. . . . But sharing it with the Dao military would be a complete betrayal of his friendship with Rat. Can Kai find the right solution before the Dao find themselves at war?

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

Sam’s Review:

The Nameless City was one of my favourite graphic novels that I read last year when I received it as a galley. Faith Erin Hicks has created a fantastic group of characters for the reader to follow and such an enchanting world to inhabit. It has been an insanely hard wait to read The Stone Heart, and while it didn’t wow me the same way the first book did, it is still worth the read. Too bad it isn’t out until April 2017. You definitely need to check out the first book in this series because this sequel very much picks up right after the first book.

Rat and Kaidu are fantastic characters, and I could sing their praises that is how much I love them. This story feels more like Kaidu’s tale, and it focuses on him finding an ancient lost weapon that is somehow connected to The Nameless City. There’s a lot of good suspense and build up in this sequel, but it definitely suffers at times for being the middle book considering this is a trilogy. Still Rat and Kaidu definitely have some antics in this installment, and that alone made it golden in my books. I just wish Rat was in the book more. She is still my favourite.

I also REALLY adored the ending of this sequel, but it’s kinda cliffhanger-y and when I finished the book I was so sad that now I have to wait another year and a bit until I get to read the third book in this series. I really do hate when I do this to myself. But yes, check out The Nameless City, then definitely get in on The Stone Heart. This series should not be missing by graphic novel fans who love a sweeping adventure!

ARC Review – Diplomatic Immunity by Brodi Ashton

Title:  Diplomatic Immunity
Author: Brodi Ashton
Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Aspiring reporter Piper Baird decides to write a scathing exposé on the overprivileged students at an elite Washington, DC, school, only for her life to change when she begins to fall for the story’s main subject, in this new realistic contemporary romance from Brodi Ashton, the author of the Everneath trilogy.

Raucous parties, privileged attitudes, underage drinking, and diplomatic immunity…it’s all part of student life on Embassy Row.

Piper Baird has always dreamed of becoming a journalist. So when she scores a scholarship to exclusive Chiswick Academy in Washington, DC, she knows it’s her big opportunity. Chiswick offers the country’s most competitive prize for teen journalists—the Bennington scholarship—and winning will ensure her acceptance to one of the best schools in the country.

Piper isn’t at Chiswick for two days before she witnesses the intense competition in the journalism program—and the extreme privilege of the young and wealthy elite who attend her school. And Piper knows access to these untouchable students just might give her the edge she’ll need to blow the lid off life at the school in a scathing and unforgettable exposé worthy of the Bennington.

The key to the whole story lies with Rafael Amador, the son of the Spanish ambassador—and the boy at the center of the most explosive secrets and scandals on Embassy Row. Rafael is big trouble—and when he drops into her bedroom window one night, asking for help, it’s Piper’s chance to get the full scoop. But as they spend time together, Piper discovers that despite his dark streak, Rafael is smart, kind, funny, and gorgeous—and she might have real feelings for him. How can she break the story of a lifetime if it could destroy the boy she just might love? 

Molly’s Review – 

Huge thank you to HarperTeen for an advance copy of this book!

I really loved this book! I went into it with high hopes and they were met! This is my first book by Brodi Ashton and wow, her writing is so fun! I breezed right through this book, and was totally engaged from start to finish.

Our MC, Piper, is a journalist. She’s a big neurotic and will do anything for a story… and college tuition. So she gets it into her head that if she can get into this super competitive Ivy league high school in Washington D.C. that she’ll win a prestigious scholarship that will get her into Columbia. She manages to get into the school and is shocked by the way that the privileged elite that attend the school act, and what they can get away with. Especially those with diplomatic immunity.

On Piper’s first day of school she makes a fool out of herself in front of the son of the Spanish diplomat. Raf is charming and a bit of a bad boy. Piper sees her in with the DI crowd (diplomatic immunity kids) and starts to put together an expose on the shit that they get away with. She knows that this story will get her the scholarship that will get her into Columbia. Only she doesn’t really plan on falling for Raf but… she does. And then lines start to blur…

I really loved the voice of this book. Piper was so relateable because she’s not perfect. She lies and uses and she loves and cares so deeply. Her brother is on the spectrum and the way that she interacts with him is perfect and I just loved her whole family, money troubles and all. I also loved that Raf’s brother was also on the spectrum and that they had something really intimate to bond over. That they could get each other on this different level. And that it made Piper all the more human when she starts to delve away from her path of “getting the story”.

The writing in this book was so effortless. I love it when I fall into a book and just read and don’t feel like I’m putting in any effort. Sure some books I love to really dig into and have to think about, but there are times when I just need something smooth. This was perfect. It had just enough drama, enough heart and humor that it kept me engaged and I flew through it.

Really enjoyed this one! Don’t miss out!

ARC Review – Paths & Portals (Secret Coders #2) by Gene Luen Yang & Mike Holmes

25688979Title: Paths & Portals (Secret Coders #2)

Author:  Gene Luen Yang & Mike Holmes

Rating:  ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: There’s something lurking beneath the surface of Stately Academy—literally. In a secret underground classroom Hopper, Eni, and Josh discover that the campus was once home to the Bee School, an institute where teachers, students, and robots worked together to unravel the mysteries of coding. Hopper and her friends are eager to follow in this tradition and become top-rate coders. But why are Principal Dean and the rugby team suddenly so interested in their extracurricular activities?

From graphic novel superstar (and high school computer programming teacher) Gene Luen Yang comes the second volume of Secret Coders, a wildly entertaining new series that combines logic puzzles and basic programming instruction with a page-turning mystery plot!

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

Sam’s Review:

I read the first installment of Secret Coders back in January and thought it was pretty cute. I’m not a fan of math, and I find programming to be both fascinating and terrifying at the same time. The first volume ends on quite the cliffhanger, but I’d argue the cliffhanger in Paths & Portals is much difficult to endure — I need to know what happens!

One aspect I loved about this second installment is how much more character development we get for Hopper, Eni, and Josh. They unfortunately get bullied by the school principal and rugby team due to their love of coding, programming and math. There’s a lot of mayhem and shenanigans in this second volume, and my goodness are they funny to boot. I also love the illustrations in Secret Coders, and I love the simplified approach to try and make coding and math a much more accessible and interesting subject matter. Still, while these comics are very fun and cute, it still feels a little heavy handed and dense at times, which I think could be a turn off for some readers.

Still, I’m eager to read the next installment of Secret Coders because I have to know what happens next. There’s definitely a ton of fun to be had here, even if you may not be a fan of math.

ARC Review – Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories by Stephanie Perkins

25063781Title: Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories

Editor: Stephanie Perkins

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Maybe it’s the long, lazy days, or maybe it’s the heat making everyone a little bit crazy. Whatever the reason, summer is the perfect time for love to bloom. Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories, written by twelve bestselling young adult writers and edited by the international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins, will have you dreaming of sunset strolls by the lake. So set out your beach chair and grab your sunglasses. You have twelve reasons this summer to soak up the sun and fall in love.

Huge thank you to Raincoast and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I LOVED Stephanie Perkins’ first short story collection, My True Love Gave to Me. This sequel collection, however, though good, read to be a bit of a mixed bag for me. I loved the way in which the stories were all about summer romances, and I loved the subtlety of a lot of the stories, but there were also some that just didn’t work for me, and I struggled to enjoy them. This seems to be the nature of a short story collection.

Hands down my favourite stories were written by Brandy Colbert, Veronica Roth, Libba Bray, Stephanie Perkins and Leigh Bardugo. I found these five stories in particular just worked very well for me — making me swoon and giving me more diverse voices in how a romance could in fact play out. There was always enough drama, but a lot of sweetness too. These were the stories I found myself swooning over, because the fluff factor was there for me.

If there was any story I struggled with and found it oddly placed, it had to be Cassandra Clare’s. I LOVED the setting of her story and the creepy carnival vibe and was totally into it atmospherically, but the story itself I found myself so frustrated by. A lot of it didn’t work for me, or felt too easily resolved. It’s not a bad story, it just didn’t jive with me in the slightest. Francesca Lia Block story was another one, I admit I struggled with too. It was awkwardly written for my tastes.

Summer Days & Summer Nights really is the anthology that will have something for every reader, and it’s diverse on all accounts. There’s delightful LGBT-themed romances, horror stories, and pure fluff. Definitely a great book for sitting outside with a nice glass of lemonade, though as I stated, because it’s a short story collection, your connection to a story is REALLY going to vary. Still, I think this is worth picking up if you enjoyed the previous anthology.

ARC Review – The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

26871765Title: The Unexpected Everything

Author: Morgan Matson

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Andie has a plan. And she always sticks to her plan.  Future? A top-tier medical school. Dad? Avoid him as much as possible (which isn’t that hard considering he’s a Congressman and he’s never around).
Friends? Palmer, Bri, and Toby—pretty much the most awesome people on the planet, who needs anyone else?
Relationships? No one’s worth more than three weeks.

So it’s no surprise that Andie’s got her summer all planned out too.

Until a political scandal costs Andie her summer pre-med internship, and lands both she and Dad back in the same house together for the first time in years. Suddenly she’s doing things that aren’t Andie at all—working as a dog walker, doing an epic scavenger hunt with her dad, and maybe, just maybe, letting the super cute Clark get closer than she expected. Palmer, Bri, and Toby tell her to embrace all the chaos, but can she really let go of her control?

Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

After all the crumminess in my life as of late, it makes me so excited to have a book like The Unexpected Everything pop up and be exactly what I want it to be. Morgan Matson has this knack for writing contemporary stories that I love to read — the kind that focus on harder realities and how we choose to deal with those difficulties. While her books often offer an element of fun, whimsical teen spirit, they are also parts tough issue novels that are full of heart.

I loved Andie and I could easily relate to her in a lot of ways. I love being in control of situations, and when I want control it’s done in a very specific way. Even though I’ve recently lost my mother, it’s one of those things where no matter how much control you want to take in a situation, life truly has other plans and sometimes you have to find a way to make backup plans when you didn’t think you’d need one. Andie is one of those girls, and when her summer starts to fall a part because of her plans, she gets scared, frightened, like there’s something wrong with her. But she also picks up her boot straps and find a way to get her life back on track. I LOVED that she was a dog walker, and I loved how she went from being someone who didn’t think she could do the job and then she pulls through.

I also loved the romance in this book, but much like Matson’s other novels, she’s one of the few writers where she gets me to enjoy romance in the first place. I adored Clark, I loved that he wore his geek flag loud and proud, and I adored that he was simply himself. He had a lot of insecurities and discomfort in being himself, but he also wanted to embrace it as well. I thought Andie’s group of friends were fantastic, and if I’m being frank, Matson knows how to create great friendships for her characters in a way that a lot of authors tend to make friendships feel so secondary. Palmer, Bri, Toby, I loved them all.

The Unexpected Everything is a book I unexpected loved and came at the right time for me. While things do get tied up fairly easily in the end, I still loved the story and its characters. Matson just knows how to get her readers cuddled into her stories, and they are often so much fun to read, but so thoughtful and smart as well. I need to work on checking out the other two books of hers I haven’t read yet and get on those stat!

ARC Review – Heir to the Sky by Amanda Sun

25502639Title:  Heir to the Sky

Author: Amanda Sun

Rating: ★★

Synopsis: As heir to a kingdom of floating continents, Kali has spent her life bound by limits—by her duties as a member of the royal family; by a forced betrothal to the son of a nobleman; and by the edge of the only world she’s ever known—a small island hovering above a monster-ridden earth, long since uninhabited by humans. She is the Eternal Flame of Hope for what’s left of mankind, the wick and the wax burning in service for her people, and for their revered Phoenix, whose magic keeps them aloft.

When Kali falls off the edge of her kingdom and miraculously survives, she is shocked to discover there are still humans on the earth. Determined to get home, Kali entrusts a rugged monster-hunter named Griffin to guide her across a world overrun by chimera, storm dragons, basilisks, and other terrifying beasts. But the more time she spends on earth, the more dark truths she begins to uncover about her home in the sky, and the more resolute she is to start burning for herself. 

Huge thank you to Harlequin TEEN and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I am one of those people who adored Amanda Sun’s Paper Gods series. It was basically reading manga, with fun and over the top characters. I loved those characters. So of course I was super excited for Heir to the Sky and after reading it, I kinda wish I hadn’t hyped it in my mind. This read like a Final Fantasy plotline — begins interesting and then gets bogged down by a romance subplot and a save-the-world mentality.

I really found the majority of this book dull. The beginning had all the intrigue, the world building seemed great, but once I hit the middle I found myself slogging through, hoping I would get the spark of the beginning. It never quite happened. There’s a lot of great action, a neat use of mythology, but I couldn’t connect with these characters AT ALL. Kali was missing something for me that Katie had in Paper Gods, which is growth granted Katie had growth through three novels, but Kali never truly finds her way for me, and the romance is in a lot of ways her characteristics. She lets the other characters push her around despite being the “entitled one” which I thought was a little odd. The male characters feel really one-dimensional and if anything I didn’t get their appeal at all.

And that’s just it. The world building is SO FANTASTIC until Kali falls to earth, and then everything just feels like such a mess. The drive in this story just never felt compelling to me, and as I read on, I kept hoping for a spark — something that would redeem the rest of the novel for me. But it just never came. Which is a shame given how lovely Sun’s prose is. She has such fantastic ideas, but for me this novel just felt so flat and it never got the momentum that I was use to from her Paper Gods series. Seriously, it hurts me that I didn’t love this book. I think Amanda Sun is really talented, but this book lacked the spark for me.

ARC Review – Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor

26028989Title: Into the Dim

Author: Janet B. Taylor

Rating: ★

Synopsis: Being “the homeschooled girl,” in a small town, Hope Walton’s crippling phobias and photographic memory don’t help her fit in with her adoptive dad’s perfectly blonde Southern family. But when her mother is killed in a natural disaster thousands of miles from home, Hope’s secluded world crumbles. After an aunt she’s never met invites her to spend the summer in Scotland, Hope discovers that her mother was more than a brilliant academic. She’s a member of a secret society of time travelers, and is actually trapped in the twelfth century in the age of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Now Hope must conquer her numerous fears and travel back in time to help rescue her mother before she’s lost for good. Along the way, she’ll discover more family secrets, and a mysterious boy who could be vital to setting her mother free… or the key to Hope’s undoing.

Thank you to HMH Books for Young Readers & Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I can’t remember the last time I was angry reading a book. Like, really angry. But here you have it,Into the Dim managed to set me off as I was reading it, because I simply couldn’t get over what people think teens are like. Part of the issue is — this isn’t a YA novel at all. It doesn’t feel like one, and if anything it has the trapping of an adult romance novel, which I didn’t like one bit. Furthermore when it tries to be a YA novel, it just fails because it spends more time focusing on stereotypes that are already exemplified in other novels.

This book is being marketed as Outlander for teens, but if I’m being frank, teens should go readOutlander over this novel. The kinds of cliches that exist in this novel are so problematic, and I think if teens wanted a good romance novel, they could do better than Into the Dim. This book is big on slut-shamming, and suggests that aggressive and abusive men are perfectly suitable love interests.

Hope disgusts me as a heroine because she falls into the trapping of the “poor girl who doesn’t know she’s beautiful, but omg everyone thinks she’s beautiful.” The worst part is she makes such stupid decisions throughout the novel and is perfectly okay with an abusive male character. Collum is worst than Hope, as he’s described as being perfect looking, yet his only personality trait is that he is “aggressive.” Because all Scottish men are aggressive, and angry, and mopey. Again, we could do better than this. His treatment of female characters in the novel is so problematic and thinking back to the story just makes me seeth with anger.

Then there’s the time travel element which is just a hot mess. It makes very little sense, and while it’s important to the story between Hope and her mother, it doesn’t feel as prevelient as it should. The level of stereotyping, especially the intrpretation of Scottish people is just odd. It’s hard to really care about the characters in this story because they are either so mean or just have zero personality beyond “he’s handsome but mean” and “she’s pretty, but so so plain.” Again, readers can do so much better.

I think there’s this notion that teens aren’t smart enough to go beyond sterotypes and trappings within the genre, and that’s disappointing. I kept hoping it would get more interesting considering how much I love time travel stories, but this one just felt flat and confusing a lot of the time. I didn’t feel like I fully grasped what the author was trying to get at in the Dims usage beyond it being a connection between mother and daughter. It’d be interesting if both characters didn’t behave like such horrible people.

And that is ultimately my issue with this book. Nothing felt cohesive or even interesting! What this book represents is this logic that slut-shamming and one dimensional story telling is an acceptable practice. There are better written adult romance novels than this book. I just can’t recommend Into the Dim, because it just offers a message that I can’t get behind, and further perpetuates stereotypes that don’t need that. Don’t waste your time on this chunker of a novel, it’s easily worth the skip.