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ARC Review – I Love You, Michael Collins by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Title: I Love You, Michael Collins

Author: Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: It’s 1969 and the country is gearing up for what looks to be the most exciting moment in U.S. history: men landing on the moon. Ten-year-old Mamie’s class is given an assignment to write letters to the astronauts. All the girls write to Neil Armstrong (“So cute!”) and all the boys write to Buzz Aldrin (“So cool!”). Only Mamie writes to Michael Collins, the astronaut whowill come so close but never achieve everyone else’s dream of walking on the moon, because he is the one who must stay with the ship. After school ends, Mamie keeps writing to Michael Collins, taking comfort in telling someone about what’s going on with her family as, one by one, they leave the house thinking that someone else is taking care of her—until she is all alone except for her cat and her best friend, Buster. And as the date of the launch nears, Mamie can’t help but wonder: Does no one stay with the ship anymore?

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I read this book in a day, and my goodness is it adorable. This book is the story of Mamie, a young girl who has a school assignment wherein she must write letters to an astronaut. While every other kid in her grade selects Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin, Mamie selects Michael Collins, the man responsible for orbiting around the moon.

Through a series of letters, Mamie pouring her heart and soul, sharing all her feelings to Michael Collins. Since this story takes place in 1969, a lot of this story looks at the space race, Vietnam, and other historical events that Mamie is witnessing through television. Each letter shares a bit more about what is personally going on with Mamie, from her parent’s falling out, to her sisters growing up, to her feelings for her best friend Buster. This story is so sweet, and so sad at the same time. It’s also just a very quick read as Mamie is so easy to love as a character.

This short and sweet read is for anyone who loves middle grade contemporary. Mamie is delight and her letters will easily pull you in.

ARC Review – Internet Famous by Danika Stone

Title: Internet Famous

Author: Danika Stone

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: High school senior and internet sensation Madison Nakama seems to have it all: a happy family, good grades, and a massive online following for her pop-culture blog. But when her mother suddenly abandons the family, Madi finds herself struggling to keep up with all of her commitments.

Fandom to the rescue! As her online fans band together to help, an online/offline flirtation sparks with Laurent, a French exchange student. Their internet romance—played out in the comments section of her MadLibs blog—attracts the attention of an internet troll who threatens the separation of Madi’s real and online personas. With her carefully constructed life unraveling, Madi must uncover the hacker’s identity before he can do any more damage, or risk losing the people she loves the most… Laurent included.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I love books about fandoms and internet celebrities. I love learning about their rise to popularity, and I think this book does a great job showing the pros and cons of internet fame. Madi is a very fun heroine to follow and she’s someone who loves her fandoms deeply, loves keeping her blog MadLibs busy and stocked with content, and she’s definitely a girl with passions.

I have dealt with what Madi has gone through in this story having worked in the video games industry since 2009. I’ve never had someone go as far as dox me (which geez, I felt terrible for Madi dealing with that), but I’ve definitely had my share of trolls over the years. I think Stone does a fantastic job portraying Madi’s feelings regarding her blog life versus her real one. I found her very easy to connect with, and I’d argue my favourite bits of this novel were all the scenes with her sister Sarah, who is autistic. I think their relationship was just really well portrayed and I like the way in which Sarah grows in the story as well, especially at the end. You get a huge sense that the sisters really care about one another.

I will admit that the mixed media format took a bit to grow on me. I’m not always huge on books that feature chat logs or or Snapchats, and that part of this book did take me a bit to get into. I totally see the appeal and I think many teen readers will definitely gravitate towards that style. Same with the romance in this book: Madi and Laurent are cute, but I wasn’t really in love with their romance. It’s sweet, but it lacked the organicness that I generally like when I read a romance. Still, it’s cute, fluffy, and will give you diabetes.

Internet Famous is a cute, quick read. It’s a book you can fly through in a day and it offers a lot of of fun, as well as some interesting drama. I definitely now want to check out Danika Stone’s All the Feels after reading this one. Like I said, the romance in this book will definitely rot your teeth with sweetness.

ARC Review – Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman

Title: Girl Out of Water

Author: Laura Silverman

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Anise Sawyer plans to spend every minute of summer with her friends: surfing, chowing down on fish tacos drizzled with wasabi balsamic vinegar, and throwing bonfires that blaze until dawn. But when a serious car wreck leaves her aunt, a single mother of three, with two broken legs, it forces Anise to say goodbye for the first time to Santa Cruz, the waves, her friends, and even a kindling romance, and fly with her dad to Nebraska for the entire summer. Living in Nebraska isn’t easy. Anise spends her days caring for her three younger cousins in the childhood home of her runaway mom, a wild figure who’s been flickering in and out of her life since birth, appearing for weeks at a time and then disappearing again for months, or even years, without a word.

Complicating matters is Lincoln, a one-armed, charismatic skater who pushes Anise to trade her surfboard for a skateboard. As Anise draws closer to Lincoln and takes on the full burden and joy of her cousins, she loses touch with her friends back home – leading her to one terrifying question: will she turn out just like her mom and spend her life leaving behind the ones she loves.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This book unexpectedly resonated with me in more ways than one. It’s wonderful to think that a book about a girl being transplanted into different circumstances beyond her control would have such a profound effect on me, but here we are.

I found this book a bit difficult at first — something about the writing didn’t hook me right away, and yet I found this compulsion to keep going to see if it was me or the book. It was me. Once I got further into the book I found myself really gelling with the writing. Anise’s story is one of feeling like she has lost her place and needs to in some ways, rebuild again. It’s a feeling I found myself completely empathizing with her as someone in similar circumstances. Anise’s change throughout this summer is one that is both memorizing as it is engaging. She’s a very lovable character, wearing her flaws very much out in the open.

What I loved about the story on a whole is how funny and sincere it is. There is a genuineness to the characters that I found impeccable, and watching the characters grow and develop alongside Anise in the story was a delight. I loved Lincoln and I thought he was a wonderful partner to Anise. Silverman also does something I wish more YA books did: make the romance feel organic to the overall story. It’s not love at first sight, they are friends first! We need more of that! I also loved Anise’s relationship with Emery and her cousins. It was funny, charming, and so sad too.

I am so glad I stuck with Girl Out of Water, because it’s one of those books that I found so enchanting. It filled me with so many emotions as I was reading it, and it’s the kind of book that left me thinking about life and the way in which things can change and how we sometimes have to adapt, even though it’s frightening at times. If you love contemporary, this book needs to be on your radar.

ARC Review – Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly

Title: Amberlough

Author: Lara Elena Donnelly

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Welcome to Amberlough City, the illustrious but corrupt cosmopolitan beacon of Gedda. The radical One State Party—nicknamed the Ospies—is gaining popular support to unite Gedda’s four municipal governments under an ironclad, socially conservative vision.

Not everyone agrees with the Ospies’ philosophy, including master spy Cyril DePaul and his lover Aristide Makricosta, smuggler and emcee at the popular Bumble Bee Cabaret. When Cyril’s cover is blown on a mission, however, he must become a turncoat in exchange for his life. Returning to Amberlough under the Ospies’ watchful eye, Cyril enters a complex game of deception. One of his concerns is safeguarding Aristide, who refuses to let anyone—the crooked city police or the homophobic Ospies—dictate his life.

Enter streetwise Cordelia Lehane, top dancer at the Bee and Aristide’s runner, who could be the key to Cyril’s plans—if she can be trusted. As the twinkling lights of nightclub marquees yield to the rising flames of a fascist revolution, these three will struggle to survive using whatever means—and people—necessary. Including each other.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Amberlough was a book I randomly grabbed while I was at this year’s OLA Conference. I didn’t know much about it, but I found the cover very striking. Cabaret? Spies? Fantasy? LGBT? All checkmarks for things that I love to read about.

What I loved about this book was the world that Donnelly has created. It’s got a seediness to it, something that feels so colourful yet vibrant. I really loved the characters, especially Cordelia who is an absolute boss. I also loved Cyril and Ari, and I thought they were such a delightful couple. The characters are just a lot of fun, and they have just enough depth given that this story is more about solving a mystery and dealing with an uncomfortable political atmosphere.

Spy fiction often doesn’t get it’s due in fantasy, but I love the way in which this book meshes both genres together. This book has both glitter and glamour, but it also has so much discomfort when you start to learn about what the One State Party is after. I felt like the world of Amberlough in itself was a character in the story as well! The world building just really stuck with me as the story progressed, and I knew I was easily along for the ride.

If I have any complaints about this story, it’s really that I just didn’t want it to end. I was just so completely glued to what I was reading, and I loved following these characters through this vibrant world. This is just a wonderfully impressive first novel, and if you love fantasy that has a very political spin, or you love the glitz of cabaret like I do, then Amberlough is worth your attention.

ARC Review – I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo

Title: I Believe in a Thing Called Love

Author: Maurene Goo

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Desi Lee knows how carburetors work. She learned CPR at the age of five. As a high school senior, she has never missed a day of school and has never had a B in her entire life. She’s for sure going to Stanford. But—she’s never had a boyfriend. In fact, she’s a disaster in romance, a clumsy, stammering humiliation-magnet whose botched attempts at flirting have become legendary with her friends. So when the hottest human specimen to have ever lived walks into her life one day, Desi decides to tackle her flirting failures with the same zest she’s applied to everything else in her life. She finds her answer in the Korean dramas her father has been obsessively watching for years—where the hapless heroine always seems to end up in the arms of her true love by episode ten. It’s a simple formula, and Desi is a quick study. Armed with her “K Drama Rules for True Love,” Desi goes after the moody, elusive artist Luca Drakos—and boat rescues, love triangles, and fake car crashes ensue. But when the fun and games turn to true feels, Desi finds out that real love is about way more than just drama. 

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I Believe in a Thing Called Love is one of those books that I cover lusted. The colour scheme, the adorable girl on the cover, it got me really excited. Then I found out it was a book about a girl looking for love the K Drama way and I was instantly sold. Desi is a wonderful heroine full of humour and kindness, and she wears her heart on her sleeve. She is someone I feel like readers will fall in love with.

What instantly sold me on this story was Desi’s relationship with her Appa (father). There was something so tender and sweet in their relationship, and they both draw strength from one another. It makes for a wonderful relationship to watch develop as the story hits its stride. It’s also so darling when the two are sharing in their love of K Drama. It filled my heart with happy joy and made me want to pick up on watching K Dramas as well. I also want to point out the handy K Drama guide that was at the end of the book was SO HELPFUL for K Drama noobs. I think the only one I had seen that had been mentioned was Full House!

I actually also loved the romance between Desi and Luka. Usually I find YA romance to be very blindsided and it often doesn’t feel very organic. While Desi is using K Drama to try and woo Luka, their relationship was actually very well plotted and developed, even right down to the climax. It’s one of those books where I genuinely found myself attached to the romance. I also will say I LOVED Desi’s friends and I appreciate that they felt like friends instead of the typical “friends without development” that exists in YA as well. There’s one bit of this book that I loved between Desi and Violet and it really solidified how important friendship truly is.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love is adorable, funny, and light-hearted. It’s one of those stories you’ll both laugh and cry through because there is just so much going on. I hope more readers fall in love with Desi — she’s truly quite a special protagonist.

Book Review – The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart by Lauren DeStefano

Title: The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart

Author: Lauren DeStefano

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Lionel is a wild boy, who doesn’t much like to be around other people. He’d rather be a purring cat or a wolf stalking the woods.

Marybeth is a nice girl. She doesn’t need to be told to comb her hair or brush her teeth, and she’s kind to everyone at the orphanage . . . Lionel most of all.

Different though they are, Lionel and Marybeth are best friends in a world that has forgotten about them. So when a mysterious blue spirit possesses Marybeth—and starts to take control—they know they must stop it before the real Marybeth fades away forever.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have a very hit-and-miss relationship with Lauren DeStefano’s books. There are some books of hers, like the Chemical Garden series which I found just “okay” and other books like A Curious Tale of the In-Between, which I utterly adored. I really enjoyed The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart, though it’s definitely not as strong as other books of hers I read.

One thing I will say for this book is that for middle grade, it’s outright creepy at times. DeStefano has this wonderful way of writing very unnerving and uncomfortable descriptions, which I think is stellar. You always get a sense of discomfort in Lionel and Marybeth’s stories, which I think helps given that this is a very atmospheric read. For me personally, I love a book that has a very distinctive feel to it, but I feel like for some readers that is the ultimate challenge here. The characters are interesting because of the atmosphere of the story, not because they are interesting characters.

And here’s the thing: I love the mysterious, ghostly aspects of this book. I loved uncovering Marybeth’s story and seeing where it was going to go at times. I was invested when I was trying to understand what was happening with the blue-hearted creature. I loved the amount of empathy that both Lionel and Marybeth share for the creature, and I like that DeStefano keeps the reader moving at such a swift pace. Her writing is beautiful, and there were times where I know I was sucked into the prose.

The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart is a very good read, and definitely should be read in the fall, which I think was intended given the atmosphere that is played so well into the story. I think readers will be disappointed by the lack of action or strong characterization, but I think there is something to be said about books that make you feel through the setting, which is definitely what is happening here. I am eager to see what Lauren DeStefano’s next middle grade venture will be.

ARC Review – Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld, Alex Puvilland, & Hilary Sycamore

Title: Spill Zone

Author: Scott Westerfeld, Alex Puvilland, & Hilary Sycamore

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Nobody’s ever really explained the Spill. Was it an angelic visitation? A nanotech accident? A porthole opening from another world? Whatever it was, no one’s allowed in the Spill Zone these days except government scientists and hazmat teams. But a few intrepid explorers know how to sneak through the patrols and steer clear of the dangers inside the Zone. Addison Merrick is one such explorer, dedicated to finding out what happened that night, and to unraveling the events that took her parents and left her little sister mute and disconnected from the world.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I. hate. creepy dolls. I’ve never been a fan of the living doll trope that exists in horror, mostly because I am a wuss. Also because I love toys and the idea of them being murderous or possessed frightens me. Which brings me to The Spill Zone, Scott Westerfeld’s latest effort that is both intriguing and creepy as all hell.

I will admit that it took me awhile to get into the artwork of The Spill Zone. It’s something I didn’t warm up to until I was about half way through because there are moments where some panels look very rushed or not proportioned right. I generally don’t mind a sketched style, but it’s definitely something where the end of the book looks far cleaner than the beginning. Since this was an ARC there were only a few colour panels, so I’d be interested to see the colour choices given that the colour panels that did exist in the ARC really popped!

But the story, oh my goodness, the story — creepy, disturbed, and it ended on a horrible cliffhanger that made me wish I had the second book. Vespertine the doll gave me the willies and made me so uncomfortable most of the time. I felt bad for Addison’s sister Lexa, who still can’t talk about life after “The Spill.” Addi’s taking photos illegally, risking her own life to get the perfect shot. I feel like this first installment didn’t give me enough of the characters, and while I enjoyed their presence, I can only hope book two will give more information about Addi and Lexa’s past beyond the snippet we get here in book one.

The Spill Zone is a very fast-paced graphic novel, and one that just oozes with creepiness. There’s interesting plot developments and characters, which I am sure will get more developed when the time comes. There’s an interesting world at play in The Spill Zone and I am curious as to where Westerfeld plans to take this story further.