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Blog Tour – Caraval by Stephanie Garber (Review & Excerpt)

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Welcome to the world of Caraval, I am your hostess with the mostess, Sam, and I will be the guide to all things Caraval on this stop of the blog tour.

Charmed to meet you all, I’m sure.

I want to introduce you all to the amazing world of Caraval.  Stephanie Garber has crafted a beautiful, mysterious, and terrifying world with this novel. It will move you, captivate you, and make you want to dig a little deeper. How far are you willing to go to save someone you love? It’s an important question, here, after all. Get ready to enter a world of intrigue.


27883214Title: Caraval

Author: Stephanie Garber

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

THIS DAMN BOOK. I swear I spent so much of it guessing what was going on, who was who and what the bigger mystery was. I just, it left me exhilarated and exhausted at the same. There was just something so addictive with this book where when I put it down I was angry and upset (usually because I’d have to go back to work), and there would be times where I didn’t want to pick up the book because I felt like Garber was going to present me with my worst fears realized.

Needless to say, you want this book. I recognize the hype is big on this one, but trust me, this book is an experience that will leave you constantly guess what is real, what is magic, and what is everything in between. There were so many times where I was so genuinely surprised by the outcome of events, and other times where I guessed the outcome correctly but was still freaking out about what was happening. I had feelings, and my feelings left me an utterly wrecked mess.

And I loved every second of that.

It’s also important to point out that you want to go into this book blind. I find the synopsis doesn’t give a lot of information and that really is for the best when following Scarlett’s journey. What I also love is how Garber instills the reader with a sense of melancholy, dread, fear, panic, and she ties this back to Scarlett, the game and her circumstances in such a way where you feel for her in the story. Sometimes she does frustrating things, but it is always with the best intentions. The writing and story filled with me those emotions, and I spent a lot of time concerned for Scarlett’s safety in the game of Caraval.

I also came out of this book madly in love with Legend. He is horrific mastermind in all of this, and I love that even though he’s not a huge character in this story, his presence and what people know about him is largely important and I loved the sense of discomfort that Garber fused into his character and what we learn about him throughout. I also loved the ending and his correspondence that is constantly a large part of this story. He kept me guessing as much as the main plot.

The hype on this book is legit in every way, and it’s definitely earned it. This story offers so much intrigue and mystery, and I found myself constantly thinking about it as I was reading it and when I finished it. This book will leave you emotionally charged and drained at the same time (in other words, the sign of a great book). Definitely put Caraval on your radar, and get invested. This is definitely one of the most entertaining fantasy novels I’ve read in a long while, and I seriously cannot wait based on that ending so see where the sequel is going to go.

Legend. ❤ ❤ ❤


Huge thank you once again to the amazing crew at Raincoast for allowing me the chance to participate in this blog tour. Make sure to check out every stop on the Caraval blog tour, as you can read a different excerpt at every tour location.

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Blog Tour – The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life by Kwame Alexander, (Review & Excerpt)

Kwame Alexander, though not a new name for middle grade, is a new name for me. I had the pleasure of reading his short story in the collection Flying Lessons & Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh, and his was easily my favourite. Kwame Alexander has an amazing way with words, and I found his hero in that particular story be so honest and funny, it made me want to explore more of his work.

Raincoast approached me to share a review of The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life, which is a book of mixed media. In it contains Kwame’s beautiful words alongside Thai Neave’s stunning photography. Please enjoy my review, an excerpt, and some wonderfully wise words from Kwame Alexander.

Huge love to Raincoast again for allowing me to participate in this blog tour. Your friendship and kindness is always appreciated.


31193387Title: The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life

Author: Kwame Alexander

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: You gotta know the rules to play the game. Ball is life. Take it to the hoop. Soar. What can we imagine for our lives? What if we were the star players, moving and grooving through the game of life? What if we had our own rules of the game to help us get what we want, what we aspire to, what will enrich our lives?  Illustrated with photographs by Thai Neave, The Playbook is intended to provide inspiration on the court of life. Each rule contains wisdom from inspiring athletes and role models such as Nelson Mandela, Serena Williams, LeBron James, Carli Lloyd, Steph Curry and Michelle Obama. Kwame Alexander also provides his own poetic and uplifting words, as he shares stories of overcoming obstacles and winning games in this motivational and inspirational book just right for graduates of any age and anyone needing a little encouragement.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I am very new to Kwame Alexander’s work, and I am not going to deny that. When I was asked to help promote The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot and Score in This Game Called Life, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to be getting into. I admit, I’m not the biggest sports fan, which was my first worry, but I actually loved the way in which sports were used in this beautiful piece of non-fiction.

imageFirst off, I adore the writing in this book. Kwame Alexander is a true poet, and I think there is a wonderful simplicity in his poetry that allows for a lot of extra thinking in terms of multiple meanings. I also love that his poems are inspirational, confident and will inspire confidence in others. This book is filled with passion, kindness, and strength. I also loved the way the inspirational quotes were woven into the text, featuring the likes of Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippin. I think the quick anecdotes about different athletes and their rise to fame framing each section of the book was also fantastic, as learning about Lebron James and the William sisters was very interesting.

Second, I want to praise the use of photography in this book. I think that Thai Neave’s photographs do a stunning job of complimenting the poems and adding support to the text. I love photography and some of the images in this book are just so beautiful, and the way in which they match the text is often quite spot on. When Alexander is writing about the key feelings for the playbook of life such as passion, motivation, determination, etc, the photographs do an amazing job reflecting these emotions and the poem that is written to coincide it. While the writing in this book is stellar, just flipping through it for the breath-taking photographs is equally worth your time.

After reading The Playbook, I am very much a newfound Kwame Alexander fan, and I cannot wait to read more of his books. I love how even though this is considered middle grade there is so much wisdom in these pages for anyone or any age group. I think this book would be helpful for parents, teachers, librarians as well, as I feel like they can use this book to help teach some of these “rules” that Alexander shares with his readers. There is so much beauty in these pages, and even if you aren’t a sports fan, the metaphors that are present are completely universal. If you are looking for some inspiration or need some confidence, then check out The Playbook because it will give you with hard truths and a pick-me-up that you didn’t realize you needed.


About the Author

kwame

Kwame Alexander is a poet, educator, and New York Times Bestselling author of 21 books, including THE CROSSOVER, which received the 2015 John Newbery Medal for the Most Distinguished Contribution to American literature for Children, the Coretta Scott King Author Award Honor, The NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, and the Passaic Poetry Prize. Kwame writes for children of all ages. His other works include SURF’S UP, a picture book; BOOKED, a middle grade novel; and He Said She Said, a YA novel.


A huge thank you to Raincoast for providing me with this opportunity to share more about The Playbook, as well as Kwame Alexander for writing this wonderful book. If you are curious to learn more about The Playbook, make sure to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

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ARC Review – Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson

28114583Title: Midnight Without a Moon

Author: Linda Williams Jackson

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Rose Lee Carter, a 13-year-old African-American girl, dreams of life beyond the Mississippi cotton fields during the summer of 1955. Her world is rocked when a 14-year-old African-American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. A powerful middle-grade debut perfect for readers who enjoyed The Watsons Go to Birmingham and Brown Girl Dreaming.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Midnight Without A Moon is a timely read given the world’s political state at the moment. While it is a historical novel based on the event of Emmett Till’s murder in the summer of 1955, a lot of the events in this story are sadly things that are still happening in today’s world. While Rose’s story is not new, but what Linda Williams Jackson presents in this story is reminder of the world before and a world we need to need to make better.

I loved Rose, by the way. I loved her curiosity, her tenacity and her kindness. She’s a character I feel like a lot of young women can identify with and respect, as she holds such strong ideals for a better world. What’s heartbreaking is that Mississippi seems to be a place that no one can escape from, and if you do return back, you are forever changed. What really saddened me was Ma Pearl’s response to Rose’s desire to leave, especially because there is this mentality to keep your head low and just do what you are supposed to — in a way I couldn’t fault Ma Pearl, but again it’s a mentality that is a product of the time period.

There is so much hardship and prejudice in this story, and it’s so easy to engage with and be reminded that we’ve both come a long way, but also have reverted back into primitive forms of dealing with racial prejudice and oppression. Rose is a fantastic character because she believes in bigger, better, ideals, and I found myself nodding along to her values and what she wanted throughout the story — to have acceptance.

I felt like I learned so much from this novel, and the way in which the historical information was presented was truly well done. It never felt overpowering (which can sometimes be an issue in historical fiction) and its integrated in a way where it just feels organic to the progression of the story. Jackson’s prose is also just so beautiful and raw, making this book so wonderful and thoughtful to read.

Midnight Without a Moon is a very powerful middle grade novel, and one that offers a lot of thought even after the book has long been completed. It’s timely, it’s smart, and it reminds that the world has a lot of growing still to do. Beautifully written and emotionally charged, this is an amazing debut novel that should be read by everyone.

ARC Review – Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

28101540Title: Under Rose-Tainted Skies

Author: Louise Gornall

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Norah has agoraphobia and OCD. When groceries are left on the porch, she can’t step out to get them. Struggling to snag the bags with a stick, she meets Luke. He’s sweet and funny, and he just caught her fishing for groceries. Because of course he did.

Norah can’t leave the house, but can she let someone in? As their friendship grows deeper, Norah realizes Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can lie on the front lawn and look up at the stars. One who isn’t so screwed up.

Huge thank you to Raincoast and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Back at the Winter #TeensReadFeed event hosted by Raincoast, the first book we as a group were introduced to was Under Rose-Tainted Skies. The book focused on a topic that I admit I have never read anything about: agoraphobia. Our heroine Norah suffers from agoraphobia, OCD and is anxious as all hell, and while these are parts of her character, she works so hard throughout the story to not let these things define her.

I think what struck me about this novel was how well Norah’s anxiety was portrayed. I suffer from social anxiety, so seeing her anxious thoughts on the page had me constantly nodding along with her feelings. These were feelings I recognizing because they were things I were feeling on a constant basis. There was even one part where she discusses how being social drains her batteries to the point where it takes a long time to recharge, and part of me wanted to yell at the book, “Girl, I feel you.”A lot of how Gornall describes Norah and her illness are things I recognize in myself — things that are ugly, that I wish weren’t a part of me, but I accept that they are there and choose to fight against. Norah struggles with loving herself, and it makes it hard for her to love others because she has no concept of loving herself. I can understand that completely, and I personally still have those kind of days. I loved a lot of the descriptions in this book and I feel like Gornall hits this aspect of the story near perfectly.

However, I REALLY struggled with the romance in this book. I am not big on stories where boys can be a magic cure for illness. It didn’t work for me in Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, and it definitely didn’t work here either for me. While Norah was so easy to connect with, Luke was the exact opposite. I found him to be a bit too robotic and awkward, but not in the teen boy way, more in that I don’t feel like his character is as well-developed. Frankly, Luke feels too much like a plot device as a opposed to a character and that was hard to stomach at times. I think there will be people who will gravitate to this kind of romance, but ultimately it just didn’t work for me.

I think Under Rose-Tainted Skies offers a wonderful perspective on mental illness that feels very authentic in ways that other YA novels have struggled with. Norah’s story is messy, its heartfelt, and Gornall’s message to her readers is so loud and clear. These are the reasons to read this book, pain and simple. I just wish I had a larger connection with the romance (or I wish it hadn’t been there at all) because this book then would have easily been a home run for me.

ARC Review – Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz

27414408Title: Finding Perfect

Author: Elly Swartz

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: To Molly Nathans, perfect is:

• The number four
• The tip of a newly sharpened number two pencil
• A crisp, white pad of paper
• Her neatly aligned glass animal figurines

What’s not perfect is Molly’s mother leaving the family to take a faraway job with the promise to return in one year. Molly knows that promises are often broken, so she hatches a plan to bring her mother home: Win the Lakeville Middle School Slam Poetry Contest. The winner is honored at a fancy banquet with table cloths. Molly’s sure her mother would never miss that. Right…?

But as time goes on, writing and reciting slam poetry become harder. Actually, everything becomes harder as new habits appear, and counting, cleaning, and organizing are not enough to keep Molly’s world from spinning out of control.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for a finished copy of this novel!

Sam’s Review:

Finding Perfect is my kind of middle grade novel — it focuses on tough subject matters but does an amazing job of making them accessible to younger audiences without feeling patronizing or overly complicated. This is a novel about a girl named Molly who slowly learned throughout the novel that she suffers from OCD.

I want to throw out there what a delightful debut this novel is. I fell for Molly right from the get-go, and it’s because Swartz has this really inviting style of writing that eases the reader into Molly’s thoughts and feelings. Molly has her ticks, but they are introduced so organically into the story that it also makes it easy for the readers to understand where she is coming from, as well as sympathize with her. I loved her personality, and I found her emotions to be so rawly portrayed.

Actually, I should say her family is really well portrayed given that they all feel like they are suffering from neglect from a mother who had to take a job in Toronto to support her family. All of the siblings deal with this in such different ways, so it gave a very layered perspective on how siblings cope with an absent parent. I also loved Molly’s friends, I enjoyed that her environment was (mostly) supportive.

Most importantly, I love the way Swartz tackles the topic of OCD. I felt like I gained such a huge understanding of it and how young children my cope with it. I also loved the amount of research that went into making this novel authentic, and I am so happy that voices like Molly’s exist for readers who may have OCD and want representation. This novel does it with such grace and sensitivity, and I felt like I was very much a part of the story being an outsider who was looking in.

Fidning Perfect is nearly perfect. While it ends on a soft note (I admit, I would have loved to have known more), I feel like this is one of those middle grade books that will stay with the reader long after the book has been completed. Molly is such a wonderful heroine and I am looking forward to seeing what other stories Swartz will pen in the future.

 

ARC Review – We Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun & Susan Mullen

28220739Title: We Are Still Tornadoes

Author: Michael Kun & Susan Mullen

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Growing up across the street from each other, Scott and Cath have been best friends their entire lives. Cath would help Scott with his English homework, he would make her mix tapes (it’s the 80’s after all), and any fight they had would be forgotten over TV and cookies. But now they’ve graduated high school and Cath is off to college while Scott is at home pursuing his musical dreams.

During their first year apart, Scott and Cath’s letters help them understand heartache, annoying roommates, family drama and the pressure to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. And through it all, they realize that the only person they want to turn to is each other. But does that mean they should be more than friends? The only thing that’s clear is that change is an inescapable part of growing up. And the friends who help us navigate it share an unshakable bond.

Huge thank you to Raincoast/St. Martin’s Griffin for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I remember hearing about We Are Still Tornadoes at one of the the Raincoast #TeenReadFeed events, and it sounded intriguing to me. It is a novel about a friendship in the 1980’s, and it’s entirely told in back and forth letters. I loved that concept, so when I got the chance to read it, I was immediately draw to how much this narrative style worked for me.

First of all, this is a friendship novel through and through. Scott and Cath have such a beautiful friendship, and they know how to call each other on crapola just as much as they know when to console each other. I also love that we don’t know the events in between letters because we only get a sense of what information is important based on what is told in the letter. It’s a very limited POV, but it works really well in this story because the authors give you just enough information every time to put together the details that aren’t being said.

But seriously, Cath and Scott are adorable. I loved their interactions and I loved how they describe the other people that exist in their lives, particularly Cath’s roommate Dorothy, who was both batty and really hilarious. The whole cake incident alone kinda had me in stitches. I also loved Scott’s dream of wanting to be a musician and I loved the original titles to his songs and I love how his lyrics always came from a deeply personal place. I loved Cath’s constant encouragement, and even when she was mad at him, she would always be able to forgive him because that is how much their friendship means to her.

I also loved the 80’s references! I loved that Scott thought Freddie Mercury was straight (so wrong!), and how “Billie Jean” was one of Cath’s favourite songs. These little touches remind you of a world without e-mail, without instant communication, and it reminds you of a simpler time. I used to send letters to my friends all the time, and it was always such a treat getting a hand-written letter in the mail. Scott’s responses to getting letters — that was totally me when I was his age getting letters in the mail. It’s like Christmas!

And we need more stories like this in YA. Books that showcase friendship as a focal point. While I predicted the ending and was kinda hoping it wouldn’t go the direction it did, I still think We Are Still Tornadoes is a wonderful, quick little read that packs quite the punch given how short it is.

ARC Review – Hundred Percent by Karen Romano Young

28645644Title: Hundred Percent

Author: Karen Romano Young

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: The last year of elementary school is big for every kid. Christine Gouda faces change at every turn, starting with her own nickname—Tink—which just doesn’t fit anymore. Christine navigates a year’s cringingly painful trials in normalcy—uncomfortable Halloween costumes, premature sleepover parties, crushed crushes, and changing friendships. Throughout all this, Tink learns, what you call yourself, and how you do it, has a lot to do with who you are.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this finished copy!

Sam’s Review:

You know what I love about Hundred Percent? It discusses a topic in middle grade that tends to get ignored, overshadowed, and it just seems like folks are afraid to talk about — puberty. While I am not a fan of the Judy Blume classic, Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, I think Hundred Percent might be that book that tackles so many middle grade issues at once, but it definitely does an awesome job looking at how a person can change both physically and mentally.

Tink and Jackie couldn’t be more different — Tink has started to develop while Jackie is still a bit of a twig, and yet they wish in some ways they could switch. There friendship is the larger focus of this story, and I REALLY adored the way Romano Young shows the changes in their friendship and the ways in which Tink and Jackie growing up shows how they can be both closer together, but also be driven further apart.

I mean, they are at that age where they are beginning to transform, feel different, even older, and yet it’s fun to watch Tink in particular fight back. In fact, she spends a lot of this book still throwing childish tantrums and being called out on it by Jackie, and you know what? I can’t even fault her on a lot of those because her mind and body are in two different places. I loved the way all all these feelings were expressed in the novel! I just wish at the same time Tink would have tried to be a bit more thoughtful during some of the arguments, but I also get what the author was trying to do as well.

I think my biggest criticism of this book, however, is that there were just way too many topics being handled at once, particularly when you look it discussing promiscuity, losing your best friend to the popular kids, puberty, forcing to forge on one’s own, it’s a lot packed into a tight squeeze, and sometimes I felt like it was too much. Again, I do think it works given that Tink spends a lot of the novel having so many problems to face at her age and trying to understand each of them head on, but I almost wish the book had been a tad longer to explore a lot of these issues further.

I do think Hundred Percent is a great and important middle grade book, and I love that it doesn’t shy away from the issues it presents in the text. I loved both Tink and Jackie, and I think Romano Young has brought up some important issues with this novel that perhaps need better address in middle grade today. I definitely think if you love contemporary middle grade, especially books focusing on those tough middle years, than Hundred Percent is worth looking into.