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Late to the Party ARC Review – Imagine by John Lennon & Jean Jullien (Illustrator)

Title: Imagine

Author:  John Lennon & Jean Jullien (Illustrator)

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Join one little pigeon as she sets out on a journey to spread a message of tolerance around the world. Featuring the lyrics of John Lennon’s iconic song and illustrations by the award-winning artist Jean Jullien, this poignant and timely picture book dares to imagine a world at peace. Imagine will be published in partnership with human rights organization, Amnesty International.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I don’t normally review picture books on my blog, despite reading a lot of them as part of my job at the library. That being said, I couldn’t resist checking out this beautiful picture book put to the lyrics of John Lennon’s Imagine.

There is a wonderful simplicity to the artwork, as you’re watching this pigeon explore the world around him, trying to unify people. Ultimately that was Lennon’s message on a whole, finding peace, loving others regardless of race, gender, colour, sexuality or creed. He believed that one day the world would be “one” and peace would defeat war. We need the hope that Imagine provides to remind us that people are not inherently evil.

I enjoyed Yoko Ono’s forward in the book and he discussion of John Lennon’s thought process when he crafted Imagine, and what he hoped from the world. She said that we need Imagine now more than ever because the world isn’t “one” and hope must triumph over despair. This picture book is a lovely addition to anyone’s picture book collection and worth the read with your loved ones.

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Late to the Party ARC Review – The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner

Title: The Exact Location of Home

Author:  Kate Messner

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Kirby “Zig” Zigonski lives for the world of simple circuits, light bulbs, buzzers, and motors. Electronics are, after all, much more predictable than most people–especially his father, who he hasn’t seen in over a year. When his dad’s latest visit is canceled with no explanation and his mom seems to be hiding something, Zig turns to his best friend Gianna and a new gizmo–a garage sale GPS unit–for help. Convinced that his dad is leaving clues around town to explain his absence, Zig sets out to find him. Following one clue after another, logging mile after mile, Zig soon discovers that people aren’t always what they seem . . . and sometimes, there’s more than one set of coordinates for home.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

What a delightful and heartwarming read! I have never read any of Kate Messner’s books, but I have only heard good things from sources I trust. With it being Fall, I was itching to read some middle grade and this one caught my eye in the pile of ARCs I had.

This book is about Kirby, a boy who loves circuits and creating. He’s intelligent, a little awkward, and he’s trying to see if he can both help his mother out because their finances isn’t so hot, and also find his father. What’s intriguing about the novel and Kirby’s desire to find his father, is that Kirby falls in love with geocaching, and uses all of his father’s clues to locate where he has gone. What’s fun about the novel is that Messner makes the reader feel like they are helping Kirby along the way in terms of finding his father through the puzzles and clues.

I also loved the friendship between Kirby and Gianna. Gianna really forces Kirby out of his shell throughout the story and she is such a supportive and kind best friend. It’s wonderful to see friendships between boys and girls in a story that is completely platonic. I also loved Kirby’s relationship with his mother and his desire to try and help her any way he could. He’s a great hero to follow.

The Exact Location of Home is a wonderful, heartfelt romp that balances humour with raw emotion. I can’t wait to check out other books by Kate Messner now, because this one made me a fan!

Late to the Party ARC Review – Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios

Title: Bad Romance

Author: Heather Demetrios

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Grace wants out. Out of her house, where her stepfather wields fear like a weapon and her mother makes her scrub imaginary dirt off the floors. Out of her California town, too small to contain her big city dreams. Out of her life, and into the role of Parisian artist, New York director—anything but scared and alone.

Enter Gavin: charming, talented, adored. Controlling. Dangerous. When Grace and Gavin fall in love, Grace is sure it’s too good to be true. She has no idea their relationship will become a prison she’s unable to escape. 

Deeply affecting and unflinchingly honest, this is a story about spiraling into darkness—and emerging into the light again.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I had to put off reading Bad Romance for awhile. It’s one of those books that looks at abusive relationships, why someone might stay, and ultimately why they need to choose themselves. Grace is a very difficult heroine because she is torn with choosing herself or enduring abuse because Gavin, her boyfriend, threatens to kill himself if she ever breaks up with him.

This book is very much a history of their relationship, written in a way where there’s quite a bit of second-person use. The way in which Grace describes her relationship is so heartbreaking, hard, and reading the moments of the psychological torment that she faces is rough. Like, it hurts, and I found myself wincing in pain. Not every action Grace does makes sense, but what I love is Demetrios shows how she’s working through it. I also love that she has such supportive friends who are trying to help her break the cycle.

This is also just such an amazing and well-written book. I felt so overwhelmed emotionally as I was reading this book that at times I had to simply close it because of what was happening. Being emotionally invested, even though I’ve never expected what Grace is going through… I empathized, a lot.

Bad Romance is a raw, rough, addictive book that will probably hit a lot of people’s triggers. It’s not an easy read, but it is a compelling one. Regardless of whether you’ve experience abuse or not, this is a book that will leave you emotionally raw by the end of it.

ARC Review – Berserker (Berserker #1) by Emmy Laybourne

Title: Berserker (Berserker #1)

Author: Emmy Laybourne

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Her brother Stieg swears their powers are a gift from the old gods, but Hanne Hemstad knows she is truly cursed. It’s not Stieg’s fault that their father is dead, their mother has left, and their brother Knut has been accused of a crime he didn’t commit.

No, the fault lies with Hanne and her inability to control her murderous “gift”–she is a Berserker. When someone she loves is threatened, she flies into a killing state. The siblings must leave Norway for the American frontier or risk being brought to justice.

Aided by a young cowboy who agrees to be their guide, Hanne and her siblings use their powers to survive the perilous trail, where blizzards, wild animals, and vicious bounty hunters await.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Emmy Laybourne writes some fast-paced novels, and her latest,Berserker is not exception. I’d even argue it’s her most unique book to date given it is a Western-meets-Norse Mythology-meets-Historical Fiction. It’s a cluster of so many genres, a mish-mash that is though very fun, doesn’t entirely work together as well as it could.

I’m all for a genre mash-up, but Westerns tend to be always a difficult genre to mash given it has very specific tropes that it follows. Weirdly, I loved the Western-y bits of this story, but mixing it with Norse Mythology is a bit of an odd choice given how rich Viking culture is. This book has so much in it and at times it can feel very overwhelming, and yet it is also such a compulsively readable book where you want to know what is going on. There’s so much action and insanity, it makes for an entertaining read. Laybourne is great at bringing fun and disaster to her stories and Berserker doesn’t disappoint in this regard.

While I loved the action, gore and just utter insanity of the story, I wish I had enjoyed the characters more. Henne is a fun character who is troubled by her powers of murder, but if I am being frank, a lot of the characters felt very interchangeable for me and didn’t feel too distinctive on their own. Mind you, I’ve always felt that as a writer, Laybourne’s characters are not always the starring attraction (unless we are talking Max from Monument 14 aka the best character), but it’s the worlds that she creates which are truly the draw.

Berserker is a book where I need to explain to readers going into it before hand to just “go with the flow.” It’s a fun, delightful romp, but it’s also messy in that it’s trying to do a lot at once creating sensory overload. I still think it’s a great read for those who love a fast-paced story full of crazy and murder. I definitely am still curious as to where the next book in the series is going to go as well.

ARC Review – Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

Title: Wild Beauty

Author: Anna-Marie McLemore

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.

The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I LOVED When the Moon Was Ours, and it is a book I recommend so easily to teens who come into the library looks for magic realism or diverse reads. I have yet to read The Weight of Feathers, but I knew after my first Anna-Marie McLemore book that I would be sold on her for life. She’s an amazing writer who weaves such unique stories together while also featuring under-represented groups of people as the leads.

Wild Beauty and I actually didn’t connect right away. This book is slow, thoughtful, and it marches to the beat of its own drum. Apart of me as I was reading it felt like I didn’t entirely understand what was going or who the characters were becoming. However, the more I read, the more captivated I was by all the feelings I was having. This book just has such an ethereal quality to it — it’s like getting lost in something so beautiful, yet simple. There is so much mystery, intrigue, and I feel like I was being swept away.

And that’s really all I am going to say about Wild Beauty. While it has moments where it’s very slow, it’s a book that you need to keep going with it because it will grab you and when it does it doesn’t let go. The characters, the world, the writing, it’s so magical, and it’s an experience to say the least.

#TeensReadFeed Winter/Spring Preview!

On Saturday I had the chance to spend the afternoon learning about Raincoast Books upcoming YA titles for Winter/Spring 2018. There were so many interesting titles, and easily something for everyone. From a retelling of Jane Eyre in space to dark fairy tales to swoon-worthy romance. I thought I’d share the three titles from the event that I am most excited about!

The Hazel Wood
by Melissa Albert (January 30th 2018 by Flatiron Books)

This book sounds like something I would love to pieces. It’s a darker fantasy story that takes place in the contemporary world, and it’s about a cult-classic novel, death, and it just seems like it’s going to be a fantastic book to check out this Fall (even though it comes out in Winter!). It just looks like it’s going to be quite the adventure. Plus, Molly loved it and I trust what my co-blogger thinks when it comes to books.

Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein
by Jennifer Roy (February 6th 2018 by HMH Books for Young Readers)

This book had me at it’s title. There’s something intriguing about a book that has both the words Atari and Saddam Hussein in it. This middle grade read takes place in 1991 and follows an eleven year old boy who loves video games. Over forty-three days we learn about how the main character, Ali’s family survives bombings as Saddam Hussein goes to war with the United States. I feel like this is going to be a wonderful, smart, challenging read and I can’t wait to check it out.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World
by Pénélope Bagieu (March 6th 2018 by First Second)

This graphic novel offers mini-comics for many badass ladies throughout history. I feel like I am a huge fan of books that teach me about women and women’s accomplishments, as I loved Badass Ladies Through History and Wonder Women. I just want more books like this and since it’s a graphic novel, I feel like I’m going to be all over it.

During the event we also learned about Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke (releasing January 9th 2018 by Clarion Books), who was discussing her writing process, her beginnings as a writer and how he got her publishing deal. It was such a fantastic talk to listen to, and it has me excited to read the book when it releases. Then there were prizes, which is always fun. I ended up winning the “Hazel Wood” prize pack, which has me interviewing Melissa Albert, and I am stoked to have that opportunity. No pressure though, right? So excited!

There was also food, swag bags, and so much wonderful and thoughtful discussion. I also ended up with too many books added to my TBR, but you know what? I accept that I am going to die with a TBR pile and I love learning about new reads. Huge thank you again to Raincoast for allowing me the opportunity to hang out with them and learn about the new reads, and for the awesome prize which I cannot wait to share with you all!

 

ARC Review – Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Title: Wishtree

Author: Katherine Applegate

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood “wishtree”—people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. Along with her crow friend Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this “wishtree” watches over the neighborhood.

You might say Red has seen it all. Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experiences as a wishtree are more important than ever.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Katherine Applegate is a household name in middle grade fiction when it comes to writing emotionally charged stories that linger with you long after reading. Much like The One and Only Ivan, Wishtree is one of those stories that seems simple on the surface, but offers so much more below the surface.

This story is about a tree named Red, who is the neighbourhood ‘wishtree.’ They are a large part of the community, with people in the area pinning their wishes on them, hoping they would come true. Not only does Applegate give us the stories of all the neighbourhood residents, but we see this all through Red’s perspective, with our tree offering their opinion, sympathy and kindness.

I also want to point out how much I learned about trees when reading this book. I didn’t realize that trees are multigendered! I also loved learning about their growth as well. It seems appropriate that Red doesn’t have a gender construct given how all-knowing they are. I also liked Red’s friendship with Bongo the crow, and how they would watch the neighbours, trying to understand their wishes.

This is a book was difference and a community coming together. Given the fear of ‘others’ that exists in the world right now, this story shows multiculturalism in a way that shows difference, but how people <i>should</i> be better to one another. The families in this story all want what is best for themselves, but they also wish to help others. It’s a good message, and for those who love stories from a more unique perspective, look no further than Wishtree.