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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?

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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.

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.

The Bonaventure Adventures by by Rachelle Delaney (Review and Q&A)

I love Rachelle Delaney’s The Metro Dogs of Moscow series. They were some of the cutest, most perfect middle grade reads, and they are books I always recommend when I am working with younger readers at the library. They are just plain fun! Rachelle’s latest book is a departure from that series, but it is equally amazing! Seriously, I cannot wait for more people to get their hands on The Bonaventure Adventures.

Penguin Canada approached me in regards to sharing both a review and a Q&A with Rachelle for you all. I hope you all enjoy my review, as well as the intriguing responses Rachelle has shared in regards to my questions. Make sure to check out The Bonaventure Adventures when it releases today, May 2nd!


Title: The Bonaventure Adventures

Author: Rachelle Delaney

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Sebastian Konstantinov comes from a long line of talented circus performers. Somehow, however, he has not inherited any of their acrobatic skill: he has no balance, he’s afraid of heights, he can’t even turn a somersault. But there’s one thing he does know: his father’s circus, which travels through Eastern Europe, is out of date and is fast running out of money.

Seb has a solution, though: if he can somehow get into the Bonaventure Circus School in Montreal, Canada, he might be able to learn something valuable to help his father. Seb secretly writes to the Directrice (an old friend of his father’s) and is accepted into the school. All he has to do is convince his father to send him away — oh, and keep his lack of talent a secret from all his teachers and classmates. Fortunately for him, he befriends two other students, who also don’t seem to quite fit in.

Seb is not the only one with secrets, it turns out. The school is literally crumbling beneath the feet of its students, and the directrice may be counting on Seb’s “talent” to save the day. Can he and his new friends figure out what’s really going on in the school that bills itself as the World’s Best Circus School?

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I loved Rachelle Delaney’s Metro Dogs of Moscow series. They were fun, quirky little adventures that warmed the heart and offered tons of excitement. Her latest effort The Bonaventure Adventures offers a similar feel for those familiar with her work, but I will say that this book is easily her most magical.

Sebastian has grown up in Europe as part of his father’s travelling circus. Everyone who works for the circus is a part of his family and when the circus starts to fall on hard times, Seb decides to find a means to keep the circus in business. One day his father is sent a letter from the Benventure Circus School, and Seb decides that even with his lack of skill, this might be the only way to save his father’s business and the only family he has ever know.

Seb is a wonderful protagonist. I love that given the setting for this novel is a circus school and our hero is hapless when it comes to performance. It makes for a great coming of age story! And Seb is lovable, and he his a strong desire to protect his family, his father’s business, and he wants to become someone worthy of of both those things. Seb is sweet, but determined, and I loved reading about him. I found I could relate to a lot of his desires. I also want to point out that his supporting cast in Sylvain, Frankie and Banjo were just utter perfection. They were hilarious, supportive, and I loved how they compliment both Seb and the story.

And truthfully, I simply loved this story. There wasn’t any point where I wasn’t enjoying myself. While I questioned the existence of Seb’s mother on more than one occasion, I got the sense that this was more about Seb’s desire to become someone better, someone worthy of himself and others. This book is so genuine, it’s funny, it’s quirky, it offers so much for every kind of reader. If you haven’t read her previous books, check them out. I really cannot wait for readers to get their hands on The Bonaventure Adventure, because you’re in for a magical treat of a story.


Q&A With Rachelle Delaney!

  1. Where did the inspiration for the The Bonaventure Adventures come from?

The idea came to me about five years ago, when I was teaching creative writing to some kids enrolled in circus arts classes. It struck me as such an interesting way to study art, sport, and performance at once, and so I started researching circus school as a potential setting for a novel. Through my research, I discovered that Montreal is not only home to a national circus school for young performers but also to a unique circus arts scene. So I spent some time there and quickly became enamoured with both the city and the circus world.

  1. I’ve been told that for research purposes you took some circus lessons. How did that help with the shaping of this novel?

I did indeed take some circus classes, which is kind of hilarious because I’m terribly uncoordinated and not at all acrobatic. But I wanted to know what it felt like to attempt all these amazing skills, like juggling and trapeze and aerial silks. Answer: it’s really, really hard. And painful! The day after my aerials class always involved a lot of whimpering. But that was helpful, because my main character, Sebastian, is a hopeless beginner with very few skills. So I was able to put myself in his place and understand what he might feel like.

I also mustered up the courage to take a parkour workshop, since one of my other main characters, Frankie, is a parkour expert (and also I have this little-known, inexplicable love of ridiculous parkour movies). That ranks up there with the most humbling days of my life. I can’t say I recommend taking up scaling walls in your mid-thirties.

  1. Speaking of your circus lessons, what was your favourite thing you learned?

Once I’d developed some strength, I came to love the aerial hoop. I only ever learned the most basic tricks (and my minor fear of heights will prevent me from ever progressing), but it felt amazing to find myself able to do them. Watching a professional performance never fails to blow my mind. If you haven’t ever seen one, get thee to YouTube.

  1. Sebastian is a young boy with no talent for the circus, but has a ton of heart when it comes to keeping his family together. Do you think younger readers will be able to identify with Sebastian?

I hope so! Seb adores the circus, but he’s had to come to terms with the fact that he’s not cut out to be a performer, at least not in the traditional sense. I think a lot of readers, young and old, have had the experience of realizing that they’ll never be an expert at something they love, whether that’s playing hockey or violin or juggling knives. And yes, I think Seb’s desire to keep the Konstantinov Family Circus together also makes him relatable. When we’re deeply ingrained in a family or community that’s in danger of falling apart, I think a lot of us are compelled to fight for it.

  1. One thing I noticed is that Sebastian’s mother is never really mentioned or revealed. What’s the story there?

She is a mystery! Seb’s mother left the Konstantinov Family Circus when he was very small, and Seb has given up trying to find out why, since his father always offers a different story. His father, as you know, is a giant narcissist, but inside he harbours a lot of guilt about her leaving. It’s easier for him to make up stories (like the one about her taking off to fulfil her dream of going to dental school) than admit that he and his travelling circus lifestyle were a big part of the problem. Seb’s mother decided that the caravan lifestyle wasn’t for her. I picture her living a quiet life someplace, maybe in a little flat in Paris or Barcelona.

  1. I love novels that take place in a boarding school. Why have this novel take place in a boarding school, and more specifically what prompted you to select Montreal as the location for The Bonaventure Adventures?

It was the idea of a boarding school for future circus stars that drew me in. I figured you’d have the usual boarding school antics, but with acrobatics and juggling pins! It’s like my dream. And I set the story in Montreal because it’s such a unique city culturally, and like no place else in North America in terms of its vibrant circus scene.

  1. Sylvian loves his candy, and in fact has candy for breakfast. I will admit that I like cookies for breakfast once in a blue moon. Have you ever had candy for breakfast?

I think the question should be: how often in any given week do you eat chocolate for breakfast? Answer: way more often than I should probably admit to.


Huge thank you to Penguin Canada and Rachelle Delaney for their time in answering my questions and sharing this wonderful book with me. Remember that you can pick your copy up at your favourite local bookstore!

ARC Review – Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Title: Short

Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Julia is very short for her age, but by the end of the summer run of The Wizard of Oz, she’ll realize how big she is inside, where it counts. She hasn’t ever thought of herself as a performer, but when the wonderful director of Oz casts her as a Munchkin, she begins to see herself in a new way. As Julia becomes friendly with the poised and wise Olive – one of the adults with dwarfism who’ve joined the production’s motley crew of Munchkins – and with her deeply artistic neighbor, Mrs. Chang, Julia’s own sense of self as an artist grows. Soon, she doesn’t want to fade into the background and it’s a good thing, because her director has more big plans for Julia!

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have heard nothing by praise for Holly Goldberg Solan’s Counting by 7s, and it’s a book I’ve been meaning to get to (and will, I hope!). Short is her latest effort, and it’s a pretty endearing little story of life, death, and friendship. In fact, I love the dual meaning of the title given that this book refers to life being “too short” and that Julia is in fact “short.”

Julia’s narrative is absolutely infectious. She’s curious, endearing, kind and understanding. Julia wants to know anything and everything, and it’s so apparent in the story to the reader that she is nothing if not filled with good intentions. There’s a lot of beauty in the way in which she understands the world around her. Julia’s loss of her beloved dog, Ramon, causes her to feel so much sadness, but in her sadness you see a beautiful young woman developing understanding, especially when it comes to Olive, another Munchkin in the production of Wizard of Oz who has dwarfism. Their interactions in the story were easily the bits of the novel that stole the spotlight.

Actually, Julia’s interactions with other characters just felt very genuine and spot on. I loved reading her relationship with Mrs. Chang, especially towards the end of the novel when Julia realizes that they share something in common. I also loved the way Goldberg Sloan integrated The Wizard of Oz into the story, adding such a larger, more important message about life being what you make of it, but you can’t turn back — you can only go forward. This is a huge lesson for Julia throughout the story, and how this gets tied into Oz is really special.

This book is adorable, and oh so cute. It will make you laugh, smile, cry, and it’s simply full of feeling. The book understands how children feel when dealing with loss, and I feel like Julia’s portrayal is very realistic. While I didn’t always enjoy being trapped in Julia’s head, I always appreciated her sentiments towards others. Short is one of the sweetest little middle grade reads that has a huge heart.