Tag Archives: penguin canada

ARC Review – Shout Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts by Esta Spalding

Title: Shout Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts

Author: Esta Spalding

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: The plucky Fitzgerald-Trout siblings (who live on a tropical island where the grown-ups are useless but the kids can drive) are back! After losing the boat that had become their home, oldest Fitzgerald-Trout, Kim, has put finding a home back on her to-do list. When her sixth-grade history assignment offers a clue about the ruins of a volcanic house built by an explorer on Mount Muldoon, she and her siblings set out to find it.  The castle they discover surpasses their wildest dreams. But having a permanent home offers more challenges than the Fitzgerald-Trouts expect, especially when they begin to suspect their home is haunted. The siblings must figure out how to fix the cracks in their family foundation before one of them is lost for good.

Huge thank you Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Have you ever read a series that just make you laugh so hard you cry? That’s what I love about the Fitzgerald-Trout series. The Fitzgerald-Trout kids are just so charming and lovable, and they get into some interesting mischief. This particular installment involved a baby, a crazy lady who sells baby products, and what it means to be homeless.

I swear this series is up there with the Penderwicks. It just has such a fantastic balance of humour and heart, and it’s hard not to love all the characters in the story. Kimo continues to be my absolutely favourite, because anything that boy does is pure comedy gold. He also just has such a sweet heart and he means so well in everything he does. Sometimes, I just want to read a series that makes me feel good about the world and this one does it.

What I love about The Fitzgerald-Trout series is that it is full of heart, and it makes you feel so good. This series is such a quick read and so engrossing given how comedic and kind it is. Sometimes you need a light-hearted series to remind you that the world can be a good and gentle place, and every time I read this series it just gives me the warm and fuzzies. I cannot wait to see if this series will continue because I am going to miss the Fitzgerald-Trout kids if they don’t have another adventure soon!

ARC Review – The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhathena

Title: The Beauty of the Moment

Author: Tanaz Bhathena

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Susan is the new girl—she’s sharp and driven, and strives to meet her parents’ expectations of excellence. Malcolm is the bad boy—he started raising hell at age fifteen, after his mom died of cancer, and has had a reputation ever since.

Susan’s parents are on the verge of divorce. Malcolm’s dad is a known adulterer.

Susan hasn’t told anyone, but she wants to be an artist. Malcolm doesn’t know what he wants—until he meets her.

Love is messy and families are messier, but in spite of their burdens, Susan and Malcolm fall for each other. The ways they drift apart and come back together are testaments to family, culture, and being true to who you are.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I really enjoyed this book! Did I love it as much as Bhathena’s debut? No, but to be far her sophomore book is such a delicate book compared to A Girl Like That. This book looks at immigration, parental expectations and forbidden romance. This book looks at Malcolm and Susan, two teens who fall for each other despite their religious backgrounds. Susan dreams of being an artist, while Malcolm is still trying to figure out who he wants be and hasn’t thought that far regarding his own future.

My favourite aspect of this book was easily the family dynamics of both Malcolm and Susan’s families. They couldn’t be more different in terms of their beliefs. The discussion of immigration is very key to this story, especially when we are reading Susan’s perspective and learning about their parent’s struggles of adapting to Canadian society, and how certain professions don’t transfer over the same way. As someone who works in a library that is populated by newcomers, this is something I learn about from my clientele every day. Canada is a place of opportunity and safety to a lot of new immigrants, and it’s unsurprising that Susan’s family is very strict when it comes to wanting her to have the best opportunities possible. Malcolm’s family has similar ambitions for him as well, but Malcolm is very much of a case of “finding himself.”

I struggled with our main characters somewhat when reading this. Perhaps it’s because I found the beginning a bit slow, but Susan in particular is a difficult character for me: she’s a bit of a doormat through a lot of this book and it isn’t until towards the end that we see her grow into someone with a lot more insight into themselves. I did find myself yelling at the book being like “Stop being so passive! Stop being afraid!” and I had to remember that I was very fortunate growing up that my parents were supportive of anything I wanted to do and that is not Susan’s situation at all. Malcolm at times for me was too much of a stereotypical bad boy, which I know for some folks is swoon-worthy, but he’s not my taste.

I think The Beauty of the Moment will appeal to a lot of readers, especially those who love family stories and romance. While this book is no Girl Like That, I will say that I think this is a much more accessible follow-up novel, and one where I believe many readers will easily connect with.

ARC Review – Chicken Girl by Heather Smith

Title: Chicken Girl

Author: Heather Smith

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Poppy used to be an optimist. But after a photo of her dressed as Rosie the Riveter is mocked online, she’s having trouble seeing the good in the world. As a result, Poppy trades her beloved vintage clothes for a feathered chicken costume and accepts a job as an anonymous sign waver outside a restaurant. There, Poppy meets six-year-old girl Miracle, who helps Poppy see beyond her own pain, opening her eyes to the people around her: Cam, her twin brother, who is adjusting to life as an openly gay teen; Buck, a charming photographer with a cute British accent and a not-so-cute mean-streak; and Lewis a teen caring for an ailing parent, while struggling to reach the final stages of his gender transition. As the summer unfolds, Poppy stops glorifying the past and starts focusing on the present. But just as she comes to terms with the fact that there is good and bad in everyone, she is tested by a deep betrayal.

Huge Thank You to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Chicken Girl is a tiny book with a big punch. The story involves Poppy and her brother Cam, as they navigate growing up. When a picture of Rosie the Riveter is posted online, Poppy feels shammed and can no longer see good in the world. Her twin brother, Cam, is learning to be “out” and Poppy wants to show her support. Poppy also meets six-year-old, Miracle, who shows her how wonderful the world can really be.

What I loved about this book is how it normalizes so many aspects of LGBTQIA culture. There’s fantastic and frank discussion of what transgendered teens deal with, how homophobia comes in different (and awful) flavours, and how supportive people can be as well. Nothing in this book felt out of place and the conversations between characters felt so raw and true. My favourite parts were the interactions between Poppy and Cam, as well as Poppy and Miracle. I think these conversations about life, optimism, and finding strength will be so relevant to so many readers.

I think the only negative about this book for me, is that it’s too short. Everything ties up a bit too nicely, and there is a huge part of me that wishes Smith had delved more into the characters further. That being said, I still think what we do know about the cast of characters is wonderful and heartfelt.

There is such an honesty in these pages, which is why I hope more people will pick up Chicken Girl. The story is well-paced, genuine and raw, and while it never goes to Baygirl (Smith’s debut) levels of darkness, Chicken Girl offers readers a wonderful glimmer of hope that makes it a memorable read.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Tess of the Road (Tess of the Road #1) by Rachel Hartman

Title: Tess of the Road (Tess of the Road #1)

Author: Rachel Hartman

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: In the medieval kingdom of Goredd, women are expected to be ladies, men are their protectors, and dragons can be whomever they choose. Tess is none of these things. Tess is. . . different. She speaks out of turn, has wild ideas, and can’t seem to keep out of trouble. Then Tess goes too far. What she’s done is so disgraceful, she can’t even allow herself to think of it. Unfortunately, the past cannot be ignored. So Tess’s family decide the only path for her is a nunnery.

But on the day she is to join the nuns, Tess chooses a different path for herself. She cuts her hair, pulls on her boots, and sets out on a journey. She’s not running away, she’s running towards something. What that something is, she doesn’t know. Tess just knows that the open road is a map to somewhere else–a life where she might belong.

Huge thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I should have read this book sooner. Seraphina is one of my favourite fantasy novels, and I was beyond thrilled to find out that Rachel Hartman finally had a new book coming out set int he same universe. I also haven’t been reading as much fantasy lately, so it was so nice to pick this up and fly through it. Plus, this book has dragons, and dragons are A+ in my books.

This is a rich and character driven fantasy novel. Tess is a fantastic, snarky, lovable heroine and I loved being on this journey with her. I loved how sassy and take charge she is! And she wasn’t even my favourite character! That crown goes to Pathka, who just made this book everything I wanted it to be and more. But in all seriousness, this book is about Tess’ growth as a character, and it looks at her life in alternative perspectives in how she’s grown and her connection with the dragons. Tess goes through some horrific things in her life, yet you cannot help but root for her.

Also some of the deaths in this book ruined me. RUINED ME. No spoilers, but they were so heartbreaking and I may have yelled at the book for it. I recognize the book cannot talk back to me (and if it did, it would tell me it’s feeding on my tears).

I think for a lot of fantasy readers Tess of the Road might be too much of a slow burn. Personally, I love fantasy novels that gradually build to its climax. This book lacks a lot of the fantasy tropes that people love — there’s no complicated magic systems or intalove — just a story about a girl out on the open on the road, forging a new path for herself. What’s not to love?

Late to the Party ARC Review – Who’s Who When Everyone Is Someone Else by C.D. Rose

Title: Who’s Who When Everyone Is Someone Else

Author: C.D. Rose

Rating: ★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Fleeing heartbreak, an unnamed author goes to an unnamed city to give a series of lectures at an unnamed university about forgotten books…only to find himself involved in a mystery when it turns out the professor who invited him is no where to be found, and no one seems quite sure why he’s there.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This pains me, but I struggled with this book. I picked it up on a whim at this year’s Ontario Library Super Conference after reading the blurb. I love the “Who’s Who” series, and I think that’s entirely where my brain was going when reading this novel.

It was partially that, and partially something harder to describe. This is a book that features “lectures” (or rather, waxings) on particular novels, and as well as the story of an unnamed author and journey through an unnamed Middle-European city. No one in this novel really has a name or even a role persay — bur rather, this is a novel that feels very meditative and thoughtful, but nothing really happens either.

That’s ultimately what I struggled with. I don’t mind a novel that feels aimless, let alone one that is poetic and thoughtful, but the writing in this book felt so dense at times that for every beautiful line or passage, there was something hard or difficult to navigate through in terms of the writing.

This is a book lover’s book for sure, and it’s a love letter to readers and that is abundantly clear. I just wish I had connected more with it or had been in a better head space to appreciate a lot of what C.D Rose was attempting to accomplish here.

ARC Review – Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner

Title: Chaotic Good

Author: Whitney Gardner

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Cameron’s cosplay–dressing like a fictional character–is finally starting to earn her attention–attention she hopes to use to get into the CalTech costume department for college. But when she wins a major competition, she inadvertently sets off a firestorm of angry comments from male fans.

When Cameron’s family moves the summer before her senior year, she hopes to complete her costume portfolio in peace and quiet away from the abuse. Unfortunately, the only comic shop in town–her main destination for character reference–is staffed by a dudebro owner who challenges every woman who comes into the shop.

At her twin brother’s suggestion, Cameron borrows a set of his clothes and uses her costuming expertise to waltz into the shop as Boy Cameron, where she’s shocked at how easily she’s accepted into the nerd inner sanctum. Soon, Cameron finds herself drafted into a D&D campaign alongside the jerky shop-owner Brody, friendly (almost flirtatiously so) clerk Wyatt, handsome Lincoln, and her bro Cooper, dragged along for good measure.

But as her “secret identity” gets more and more entrenched, Cameron’s portfolio falls by the wayside–and her feelings for Lincoln threaten to make a complicated situation even more precarious. 

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Full disclosure: I am a D&D fan and a role-playing game fanatic. I live and breathe RPGs, so of course I was going to read a book about a girl who loves cosplay and geek culture.

Chaotic Good looks at Cameron, a cosplayer who gets into a bit of a nerd-fight when she cosplays Cloud from Final Fantasy VII and tells everyone she has never played the game, but loved his design. This starts flame wars and troll battles on her cosplay blog, and Cameron has to deal with the fallout. On top of all that, she is applying to a costuming department and has to create five original pieces of her own, and Cameron feels like this is impossible because she only knows how to craft characters she is familiar with.

What a mouthful! But seriously, this was a fun and easy read. It was a book I found myself relating to, especially in situations when Cameron would go to the comic book store and get told she was a “fake geek girl” (which honestly, whoever coined that needs to be slapped — hard). Whitney Gardner does an amazing job of showing and telling her readers about how toxic comic book and geek culture can be, or how it’s male dominance has always tried to keep women out. She also shows constructs for how we can change this perspective, which I thought was admirable.

Plus, it’s about Dungeons & Dragons! I love D&D, and I have so much fun playing it. I loved the artwork that was present, showing off how the campaign would be imagined. I also loved the characters, both in-game and in real life. I found them all to be flawed, but fun none-the-less. I really adored Cooper, as he made me laugh, and his storyline with Cameron’s is one I think many people may be able to relate to.

Anywho, Chaotic Good is a cheeky, sassy, fun read. It was a book I gobbled up because I am a sucker for books that look at gaming culture in any way, and this hit the sweet spot for me.

ARC Review – That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston

Title: That Inevitable Victorian Thing

Author: E.K. Johnston

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Set in a near-future world where the British Empire was preserved, not by the cost of blood and theft but by effort of repatriation and promises kept, That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a novel of love, duty, and the small moments that can change people and the world.

Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendant of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she’ll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire’s greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I feel like based on the Goodreads reviews that I am in the minority for this book. I really love E.K Johnston’s work and I think there is something interesting discussions that can be had with a book likeThat Inevitable Victorian Thing.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing is an interesting read. It focuses on the idea that colonialism didn’t have it’s chance to manifest in North America and Europe, and the idea that groups of people regardless of race or religion can live in harmony. While that concept is somewhat very unrealistic, the idealism behind it is quite wonderful in my opinion. I would love to live in a world where racism doesn’t exist, where people respect one another. Again, it’s not perfect given racism isn’t entirely abolished in the story and classism still exists, but you get a sense of hopefulness from the cast of characters that they want a better world.

I do want to stress that I think a lot of the Canadian content and Ontario pride in this story may go over the heads of non-Canadian readers, as Canada has some impressive rep in this story. As someone who lives in Ontario, I loved reading the maps and Johnston’s discussions of the province within the story, and it was fun to see name droppings for people, places and things that are indicative of Ontario. I recognize this is something not everyone is able to appreciate, but I enjoyed it a lot.

This Inevitable Victorian Thing is wonderfully diverse and I loved how well marginalized people are handled. I think Johnston put a lot of care into the world-building and characters, making the world feel like it could be believable. Margaret, Helena, and August are all characters who, despite their flaws, want to change the world for the better, and I appreciated their hopefulness throughout the narrative.

Personally, I loved That Inevitable Victorian Thing. Yes, it is a slow burn, and perhaps a bit too ideal, but I found myself loving the world and the characters. I loved the larger theme of hope, connection and respect that existed throughout the narrative, and the romance in the story is pretty darn darling all things considered. I think there are aspects that will be difficult for some reads to appreciate, but if you’ve enjoyed Johnston’s works in the past, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed by this book.