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ARC Review – The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer

18668051Title:   The Secret Hum of a Daisy

Author:  Tracy Holczer

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis:  Twelve-year-old Grace and her mother have always been their own family, traveling from place to place like gypsies. But Grace wants to finally have a home all their own. Just when she thinks she’s found it her mother says it’s time to move again. Grace summons the courage to tell her mother how she really feels and will always regret that her last words to her were angry ones.

After her mother’s sudden death, Grace is forced to live with a grandmother she’s never met. She can’t imagine her mother would want her to stay with this stranger. Then Grace finds clues in a mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on. Maybe itis her mother, showing her the way to her true home.

Huge thank you to Putnam/Razorbill CA for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I went into The Secret Hum of a Daisy completely blind. I didn’t know very much about the story other than it was about a young girl who’s mother dies and she is forced to live with a grandmother who didn’t want her in the first place. This titbit alone sounded incredibly harsh, and interestingly, it does follow through in that sour relationship.

Grace has a beautiful story to tell, and one she shares with such honesty. She isn’t afraid to speak the truth or explain what her life was like in the past with her gypsy mother and her present with her angry grandmother. Exploration of family roots in this story is impeccable, as Holczer gives you just enough information to make your own guesses about some of the mysteries surrounding Grace and her family. Like an onion, the book peels back each layer, giving you a bit more each time.

The writing in this book is gorgeous, poignant and engaging. This book is also a very slow burn and one that I don’t think every middle grade reader will pick up with ease and whiz through. This isn’t a book to be rushed — everything is slow, deliberate and thoughtful. There’s no room for rushing because every piece has it’s place. That being said, witht he right reader, there’s a lot to love in this story.

I also loved the friendship between Lacey and Grace and that was easily my favourite parts of the book. I loved the letters they would send each other and the way Grace would remember about their adventures. For Grace, her family is so broken and detached and you can see her envy of Lacey and her mother — she wants stability, and above all else, happiness.

I don’t want to spoil too much else about this novel, but it’s one I strongly recommend checking out if you love a tough contemporary read that makes you work a little for the whole picture. The time investment in this story is completely worth it.

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Late to the Party ARC Review – The Investor’s Secret by Andrea Cremer

18058211Title: The Investor’s Secret

Author: Andrea Cremer

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: In this world, sixteen-year-old Charlotte and her fellow refugees have scraped out an existence on the edge of Britain’s industrial empire. Though they live by the skin of their teeth, they have their health (at least when they can find enough food and avoid the Imperial Labor Gatherers) and each other. When a new exile with no memory of his escape  or even his own name seeks shelter in their camp he brings new dangers with him and secrets about the terrible future that awaits all those who have struggled has to live free of the bonds of the empire’s Machineworks.

Huge thank you to Razorbill Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review: 

This is my first foray into Andrea Cremer’s work and it was an interesting experience.The Investor’s Secret has a great premise, but considering it’s supposed to be an alternative history, I wanted a bit more for that side of this story. The book took me a good while to get into, as it starts out great, fizzles, and then picks up its pace again. Steampunk novels usually suck me right into their world, but this cast of characters I had a hard time rooting for.

I think the story is pretty fun for the most part, but it drags in spots making it a challenging to devour. There’s a great positive attitude and strength within the ensemble cast, and one that gets surprisingly infectious during some of the action sequences. I don’t know if I can say I loved the characters, truthfully, because I found they started to blur (other than Charlotte). Another thing I kinda wished is that this book had been written in first and not third because most of the story really is about Charlotte and it would have been nice to be in her mind for some of the more critical moments in the story.

This is a tough book to review because I see the appeal and in the end I just “liked” it. I struggled with parts of it, I never was a book I wanted to instantly keep reading and I was able to put it aside with ease. That said there is aspects to like about this book and if Cremer is turning this in a series, parts of me are curious as to where it will go. I just wish the writing had felt more compelling to make me want to devour the book as soon as I started it.

ARC Review – Half-Bad by Sally Green

18079804Title:  Half-Bad

Author: Sally Green

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: In modern-day England, witches live alongside humans: White witches, who are good; Black witches, who are evil; and fifteen-year-old Nathan, who is both. Nathan’s father is the world’s most powerful and cruel Black witch, and his mother is dead. He is hunted from all sides. Trapped in a cage, beaten and handcuffed, Nathan must escape before his sixteenth birthday, at which point he will receive three gifts from his father and come into his own as a witch—or else he will die. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust—not even family, not even the girl he loves?

In the tradition of Patrick Ness and Markus Zusak, Half Bad is a gripping tale of alienation and the indomitable will to survive, a story that will grab hold of you and not let go until the very last page.

Huge thank you to Razorbill Canada for this advance reader copy.

Sam’s Review:

I wasn’t sure what I would think of Half-Bad when it arrived in my mail box. Truth be told I don’t read a lot of paranormal that deals with witches, but I am also the type of person who’s willing to give anything a shot.

Nathan is a young man, held captive in a cage, and who’s father is the most powerful Black Witch in England. Nathan is of half-blood, both Black and White Witch, and is treated as a cruel experiment. Nathan knows he must escape before his sixteenth birthday or else he could die before receiving his three gifts.

The first third of this book is surprisingly slow, awkwardly written at times, and not always the most clear in terms of explaining the rules to its world building. A lot of it also has to do with Nathan’s repeated suffering, and at first I didn’t like his character at all. I understood his mannerisms and behavior but I found him lacking in connection. Perhaps that was the point, but I just found the first half of this book difficult to connect with — the characters felt forgettable, the atmosphere felt same-y and it was a story I felt like I had seen before. It also didn’t help that Green loved throwing in second person point-of-view into the text, which read so awkwardly that I found myself shutting the book at those points. I’m not a fan of that perspective unless it’s in an old school style role-playing game (then it just makes perfect sense to me).

Now, while I’ve been hard on Half-Bad, I want to tell you about the second half the book which I absolutely adored. Once Nathan has escaped the book is an adrenaline rush. You find yourself turning the pages, he has characters that he is interacting with who are actually interesting. I LOVED Rose and Gabriel and I thought they really made the story work. I also thought the mystery behind Mercury was fascinating. It makes judging Half-Bad rather difficult because for all its false starts at the beginning, once you hit 50% the book just speeds off without a sign of stopping. The second half just also felt less convoluted and more straight-forward, which I appreciated.

Half-Bad is going to be a polarizing read for a lot of people, I think. The writing is interesting, but awkward, the characters have flavour, but it takes too long to get to know them, and the world is interesting but vague. These aspects are not always going to work for each reader, but I think the elements on a whole are pretty solid even if the execution for me personally left a lot to be desired.

Interestingly, I could see how this series might be the next big thing in YA and frankly if it does, I wouldn’t be surprised or disappointed in the slightest.

ARC Review – The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky by Holly Schindler

18079564Title:  The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky

Author: Holly Schindler

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: August “Auggie” Jones lives with her Grandpa Gus, a trash hauler, in a poor part of town. So when her wealthy classmate’s father starts the House Beautification Committee, it’s homes like Auggie’s that are deemed “in violation.” Auggie is determined to prove that she is not as run-down as the outside of her house might suggest. Using the kind of items Gus usually hauls to the scrap heap, a broken toaster becomes a flower; church windows turn into a rainbow walkway; and an old car gets new life as spinning whirligigs. What starts out as a home renovation project becomes much more as Auggie and her grandpa discover a talent they never knew they had—and redefine a whole town’s perception of beauty, one recycled sculpture at a time. Auggie’s talent for creating found art will remind readers that one girl’s trash really is another girl’s treasure.

Sam’s Review:

Huge thank you to Dial Books for Young Readers for an advance copy of this book!

I love going into a book where I have no expectations. I love to see where stories I might not have been interested in will take me. Sometimes you get a dud, or in this case, you get a wonderfully rich surprise. The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky definitely falls in the latter category, creating a story that teaches us about the importance of inner beauty and community.

Auggie’s voices in infectious. You can tell she’s the type of person who has a good head on her shoulders and wants what’s best for those around her. What I also love about her is that she understands what it means to live within one’s means and create beauty out of old junk. I love that she is at war with the House Beautification Committee, yet her overall question in the novel is “Who deems the right to say what is and isn’t beautiful?” It’s an amazing question to ask in middle grade fiction because we’re constantly seeing this issues take shape within media, yet the definition of beauty has always been subjective, though for younger readers its always a bit harder to grasp because peer pressure can be so strong.

Auggie combats a lot of this. You see this issues of peer pressure with characters like, Lexie, where its handled so perfectly, yet true friendship can and will conquer all. A lot of the characters were surprisingly memorable as well. My personal favourite was Weird Harold, he was just a delightful odd ball who’s hat always said something new that reflected what was happening within the plot. It was a clever gimmick on the author’s part, but I love his suspicions about the committee and his desire to fight. In fact, that’s really the main aspect I love about this novel: its sense of community.

This novel deals with segregation in a way that is so easy to comprehend without being childish. When you dig below the surface, Auggie lives in a place where the rich stay rich and the poor get poorer, yet the beauty lies in its approach.  The characters who live at the Junction of Sunshine and Lucky are OKAY with being poor so long as they have places and friends to take care of. Everyone in the community has a strong desire to take care of one another and its quite a great sight to read about. I appreciated how community played a big role in this story as it added a lot overall.

The only thing that kept this book from being a five for me was how abrupt it ends. The conflict was so strong, yet towards the end it just felt like it trickled off. Still, it’s not often you read a book that incorporates folk art in such a way where its fun to read and accessible in the process. I think The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky will definitely have its share of readers who will easily resonate with a lot of its wonderfully positive messages, and it’s a great book for any middle grader on your list, especially those who have an interest in art.

Blog Tour – The Rule of Three by Eric Walters (Review)

18483588Title:  The Rule of Three

Author: Eric Walters

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: One afternoon, every single machine in sixteen-year-old Adam’s high school computer lab stops working. Outside, cars won’t start, phones are down, and a blackout is widespread. Soon Adam will discover that the problem has paralyzed not just his town but the whole country and beyond. As resources dwindle, crises mount, and chaos descends, he will see that his suburban neighborhood must band together for protection.
 
Violence will erupt and Adam will understand that having a police captain for a mother and a retired government agent living next door are not just the facts of his life but the keys
to his survival.

Sam’s Review:

Huge thank you to Razorbill Canada for the advance copy of this book. The Rule of Three is out now in book stores everywhere!

I am generally not a fan of survivalist stories. There’s always this uncomfortable vibe about reading a story where the potential for it to happen is surprisingly high. In the case of Eric Walter’s The Rule of Three, the reality he has painted is one that really does have the potential to happen.

What I enjoyed about this book is how close to home it hit. Recently Toronto was hit with a devastating ice storm that caused over thousands of people to be without power. Interestingly, however, no one resorted to the level of what the characters in the Rule of Three face, but it was interesting to have that happen while reading this book.

The Rule of Three, for the most part, is surprisingly action-packed read. There’s always big conflict, big problems, and Adam is a wonderfully engaging protagonist in the sense that he’s always trying to find the best solution, but struggles to trust ever person who comes to their group with a problem. Heck, he struggles to trust people within his own group, so I really enjoyed how multi-layered he felt on a whole. I did find some of the other characters a bit less dimensional (particularly the women), which frustrated me somewhat because there was a lot of potential for genuine emotion in such a terrifying situation, and those moments were few and far between for me.

Still, I think this is the type of book where if you’re okay with discomfort, there’s a surprising amount to enjoy. I appreciate the realism that this novel has and the real warning that it presents. Characterization is very important for me as a reader, and I know that’s where I really did struggle with this book because I wanted more than I got. Still, there’s some wonderfully descriptive moments in this book, and Walter’s gives us a reality is that is both very real, yet he doesn’t deny the power of hope and change.

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ARC Review – Control by Lydia Kang

16718816Title: Control

Author: Lydia Kang

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: When a crash kills their father and leaves them orphaned, Zel knows she needs to protect her sister, Dyl. But before Zel has a plan, Dyl is taken by strangers using bizarre sensory weapons, and Zel finds herself in a safe house for teens who aren’t like any she’s ever seen before—teens who shouldn’t even exist. Using broken-down technology, her new friends’ peculiar gifts, and her own grit, Zel must find a way to get her sister back from the kidnappers who think a powerful secret is encoded in Dyl’s DNA.

Huge thank you to Dial Books for Young Readers and Netgalley for this advance read copy!

Sam’s Review (4.5 Stars)

Control was an unexpected surprise for me. I didn’t know anything about it upon requesting it, but from page one I found myself instantly hooked. I wasn’t sure at first what to expect or where Kang was going to go with this story about displaced twins and medical do-the-whacky, but I found myself completely drawn to the world (even if the building was a bit slow at first) and the characters. I can’t say I’ve ever read a science-fiction medical thriller than was, in fact, written by an actual doctor.

What I loved about Kang’s writing style is that it’s snappy. It’s easy to know what’s going on, who’s speaking and the overall conflict within the world. Even more so, I love the incorporation of medical terminology and sciterrificness (science + terrific + ness = sciterrificness) that she presents within the story — she makes all these aspects extremely accessible and easy to understand. The jargon is there, but it never feels out of place. In a lot of ways, Kang tackles so many kinds of medical issues, making them front and centre. Funny enough the book is called Conrtrol yet its anything but. That’s part of the fun though, considering what a page turner this book is.

I LOVED Zel and Dyl’s relationship and I felt it was very strong and well realized. Their need for each other goes beyond just being sisters — they are best friends. I enjoyed the secondary cast of characters, particularly Vera who gave me the willies at times. I loved that the nearly every character in this story is mutated or transformed in some way — physically or mentally, yet it doesn’t stop them from trying to be the best they can be. I wasn’t originally sold on Micah or Cy, but I actually ended up liking them both quite a bit. Heck, I even thought the romance was surprisingly fun — how many girls can get away with half the stuff Zel did and still land a good guy? Cy and Zel relationship is surprisingly violent, yet playful (odd, I know), but they just worked so well for me!

It’s hard for me to explain all the reasons why I liked Control, but I think I can sum it up in two words: it’s fun. It’s fun, fast, engaging, and everything just works so well without feeling out of place. Yes there is some lack of believably, but in this story it works to its advantage, and many of the diseases within the book are real and are scary. I cannot wait to read the sequel and see where Zel, Dyl and Cy’s adventures take them. Also this book totally needs more mutants. And not in the X-Men way (which I totally appreciated even though I love X-Men).

River’s Review:

Coming Soon.

Books We’re Excited For Releasing in 2014

River and I are totally trapped under a pile of books at the moment, but that doesn’t me we aren’t excited to read more. Today we’re going to share our Top Five that we are most excited to get our grubby hands on.

River’s Top Five:

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1) Salvage, by Alexandra Duncan (Greenwillow)

2) Tease, by Amanda Maciel (Balzer + Bray)

3) (Don’t You) Forget About Me, by by Kate Karyus Quinn (Harper Teen)

4) After the End, by Amy Plum (Harper Teen)

5) Alienated, by Melissa Landers (Disney Hyperion)

Sam’s Top Five:

18599748

1) Guy in Real Life, by Steve Brezenoff  (Balzer + Bray)

2) Dorothy Must Die, by Danielle Paige (Harper Teen)

3) Prisoner of Night and Fog, by Anne Blankman (Balzer + Bray)

4)  The Rule of Three, by Eric Walters (Razorbill Canada)

5) (Don’t You) Forget About Me, by by Kate Karyus Quinn (Harper Teen)

So these are the books that River and I are beyond excited about. One treat I will let you in on is that “Guy in Real Life” is going to be participating in an upcoming feature over at RPGamer.com (video games in a book blog? How dare you, Sam!), so there will be a few goodies related to that one that will likely be cross-posted to here.

Coming up River and I are going to share our Top Five Favourite Books that we read in 2013. Keep in mind they may be actual 2013 releases, or just books we finally got to within the year. In the comments let us know what 2014 releases you’re excited for and why you simply cannot wait for them!