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ARC Review – When We Collided by Emery Lord

25663637Title:  When We Collided

Author: Emery Lord

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Meet Vivi and Jonah: A girl and a boy whose love has the power save or destroy them.

Vivi and Jonah couldn’t be more different. Vivi craves anything joyful or beautiful that life can offer. Jonah has been burdened by responsibility for his family ever since his father died. As summer begins, Jonah resigns himself to another season of getting by. Then Vivi arrives, and suddenly life seems brighter and better. Jonah is the perfect project for Vivi, and things finally feel right for Jonah. Their love is the answer to everything. But soon Vivi’s zest for life falters, as her adventurousness becomes true danger-seeking. Jonah tries to keep her safe, but there’s something important Vivi hasn’t told him.

Huge thank you to Razorbill Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

When We Collided ripped me apart as I was reading it. Perhaps it’s my current circumstances, perhaps it’s the fact that a lot of this novel mirrored too much of my own life… it just destroyed me. That makes for a fantastic reading experience, admittedly. This is one of those books where I connected on so many different levels and and it made for such a layered experience.

I loved the relationship between Vivi and Jonah. In fact, it was my favourite part of the novel. It wasn’t love at first sight, the romance between both characters felt so organic, as everything builds to a messy climax. Jonah in particular was the one I could really relate to, and stories about caregivers often get ignored. Often these stories tend to miss the burnout, the aggression, the frusration of feeling like you don’t matter compared to the person you’re caring for. I understood Jonah’s trials and tribulations, in fact, whenever he vented his emotions I found myself nodding along with him. I loved Jonah’s siblings as well, especially Leah, who I feel capatured a lot of the books emotion in terms of how younger children deal with hyper-sensitive situations.

I also loved Vivi. I saw a lot of myself in her as well — emotionally investeded in others, but struggles to take care of herself. Loves others unconditionally, but cannot seem to find the same love in herself. She’s a beautiful character packed with so much intensity and emotion. I loved her need to remind the world who she once was, where she is now, and who she wishes to become. I loved her constant need to surprise others, and find the beauty in everything. She’s so well developed, though to be fair, I think every character in this book is fantastically portrayed.

This book is messy, it’s emotional, it’s loving, it’s rough, it’s kind, it’s… everything one would expect from a story about people colliding and trying to find focus in there lives in situations where it’s not possible. Lord does this amazing job of reminder readers about how these kinds of struggles are so real and should not be ignored. She also reminds us that beautiful things can often come in the messiest packages.

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

15993203Title: The Dark Days Club

Author:  Alison Goodman

Rating:  ★★★

Synopsis: London, April 1812. On the eve of eighteen-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall’s presentation to the queen, one of her family’s housemaids disappears-and Helen is drawn into the shadows of Regency London. There, she meets Lord Carlston, one of the few who can stop the perpetrators: a cabal of demons infiltrating every level of society. Dare she ask for his help, when his reputation is almost as black as his lingering eyes? And will her intelligence and headstrong curiosity wind up leading them into a death trap?

Huge thank you to Razorbill Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I am insanely torn with how I feel about The Dark Days Club. This was a book adored by so many of my friends, and it hard everything I should have loved in a story: regency era politics, paranormal magic fun times, and in depth, gorgeous world-building.

And yet, I was bored for large chunks of this novel. It seemed like Goodman had so much she wanted to build in this story, so there would be these periods where I was completely in love and engaged with the story, and other moments where I found myself screaming “GET ON WITH IT!” It’s a book that just felt like such a mixed bag — if the world building was on and awesome, then the characters felt flat. If the world building was boring, the characters oddly seemed more engaging. I feel like this book is just too difficult to describe, but it made my emotions flip flop all over the place.

For me, there are chunks of this novel that are just perfectly described, and then other moments where I found myself slogging through the text to get to the good bits. I loved the last hundred pages of the story, while the middle just felt like it carried on too long. I admit, I think so much was just built up in this story that the characters were just missing the spark for me. I wanted more from them, and I wanted to have a strong connection… but it never quite happened. The pacing is slow and deliberate, but even then I felt like I was missing something a lot of the time.

I feel like The Dark Days Club is going to be a polarizing read for a lot of folks. This was my first Alison Goodman book, and I do plan on giving her another shot given that I have Eon sitting on my shelves. I’m unsure as to whether or not I will continue with this series, as it’s interesting, but it didn’t quite keep my attention. This is great for lovers of paranormal, as well as historical fiction, and I do think it’s worth the shot if you can handle a slower burn read.

ARC Review – Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

25528801Title: Exit, Pursued by a Bear

Author:  E.K. Johnston

Rating:  ★★★★★

Synopsis: Hermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, this doesn’t mean what you think it means. At PHHS, the cheerleaders don’t cheer for the sports teams; they are the sports team—the pride and joy of a tiny town. The team’s summer training camp is Hermione’s last and marks the beginning of the end of…she’s not sure what. She does know this season could make her a legend. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And it all goes black.

In every class, there’s a star cheerleader and pariah pregnant girl. They’re never supposed to be the same person. Hermione struggles to regain the control she’s always had and faces a wrenching decision about how to move on. The assault wasn’t the beginning of Hermione Winter’s story and she’s not going to let it be the end. She won’t be anyone’s cautionary tale.

Huge thank you to Razorbill Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This. book. There is nothing like this out there in terms of novels that focus on rape victims receiving support. That alone makes it a unique read, as our heroine Hermione must cope with the fact that she has been raped, but chooses to never let it define her being.

I adored E.K Johnston’s previous novel A Thousand Nights, but I think Exit, Pursued by a Bear might be the stronger novel of the two for me. Hermione’s voice is so strong and constant, she is someone the reader can sympathize with, but she’s also someone who easily sympathizes with others. It’s also a book that explores rape and victim culture so differently, as Hermione has an amazing support network, she gets help, she attempts to come to terms with what has happened by reliving it when her cheer team goes to finals. Her narrative often left me thinking, particularly about why books like this don’t seem to exist.

I also loved that this novel took place in Ontario. Since it’s my home province I found it so easy to visualize a lot of the places Hermione went, the name dropping of different cities. There was so much that felt so familiar in this story, and it made for such an engaging experience. I loved Hermione’s friends, especially Polly, and I loved how being supportive of each other plays into this story. It’s just so unheard of, let alone strange to read about given that most books focus more of blame and shamming.

We need more books like Exit, Pursued by a Bear that focus on the support and healing process for victims of any kind of sexual assault. These books are so far and few between and it’s so disappointing given that these stories can often be just as compelling as the incident itself. This book is beautiful, haunting, and there’s just such a wonderful and deep rooted message about finding support in a time of crisis, and how people often struggle to work through traumatizing events. Hermione’s story is completely worth experiencing, and this novel has me excited to see just what E.K Johnston is capable of as a writer.

ARC Review – Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

25614492Title: Salt to the Sea

Author: Ruta Sepetys

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets. Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war. As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom. Yet not all promises can be kept.

Huge thank you to Razorbill Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Confession time: this book made me sob in public. I was reading it on the bus on my way to work and it just left me an emotional train wreck. Here’s the thing about this book: it’s based off of real historical events, and knowing that means you’re in for a trip to sadtown.

I have yet to read Ruta Sepetys’ other novels, but I heard from a trusted friend that she has a powerful way of weaving a story together and giving the reader all the information possible without being too revealing. Salt to the Sea is the story of refugees attempting to survive during the Nazi regime, and the book offers four very different perspectives: a nurse, an expected teen mother, a fugitive, and a Nazi solider. Each perspective offers unique challenges for each character, as well as how each are interconnected.

This book is depressing, but heart felt. You get a large sense of who these characters are and their struggles during a time where it was hard to have any sense of individuality. I spent a lot of the novel cheer for Florian, and wanting Alfred to get what he deserves. He made me feel so much anger, and yet I could understand him because he seemed so brainwashed into thinking that he was so big hero. Emilia and Joana were also fantastically written, and I felt for them so much throughout the story. Sepetys’ writing is just so emotionally engaging, and it really makes the reader feel as though they are involved in it’s telling.

This may be my first Ruta Sepetys’ novel, but this will definitely not be my last (given that I own Between Shades of Grey and just need to read it). She makes a genre that I generally don’t reach for so accessible and emotional gripping that I will seriously read anything she writes.

River’s Review:

So wow. Brb going and getting all of Sepetys’ books and binge reading them.

I almost didn’t read this book you guys. I grabbed it at ALAMW and then when I got home it was sorted into my “maybe” pile. I don’t know why I put it in my TBR for this month other than I was just in the mood for something different. I don’t generally seek out historical fiction, and I got over reading Holocaust stories in middle school when we had to read that one really sad popular book that they make all kids read to learn about WWII? Yeah… I generally keep away from WWII historical fiction because it’s just really hard to read about the Holocaust that much.

But this book was different. It’s not a Holocaust survival story. It’s a refugee story and it’s an important one, especially in this current political time. I wont get into all that, but I am glad to see a book about refugees and what they go through when they are forced out of their own countries because of the atrocities of war.

This book is told in an alternating four-POV first person narrative. I generally don’t read alternating/multi-POV books, but this worked so amazingly well. Each chapter is short and that makes it IMPOSSIBLE to put the book down because you feel like you can read “just one more…”. I loved the mixture of voices and ages. I was able to empathize with each character’s plight, and I ABHORRED Alfred and it was amazing the way Sepetys wrote such a twisted character.

Another issue I usually have with historical fiction is how bogged down we can get with facts and how damn dense it can be. This is… I don’t want to say light, but it’s incredibly accessible while being full of rich details. I feel like I learned a lot! The fact that a lot of this is fact (while the story is fiction) is mindbloggling. Also the way that the horrors of war were handled in the writing was perfect. There’s just enough sprinkled in that you don’t dwell on the fact that mothers are tossing their babies at a boat in hopes that they’ll land safely, but you do take a moment.

The ending of this really got me and I had to read it twice. I was not expecting that at all.

This is full of gorgeous writing, horrific war time and gut wrenching moments. Read it.

ARC Review – Don’t Fail Me Now by Una LaMarche

24878695Title: Don’t Fail me Now

Author: Una La Marche

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Michelle and her little siblings Cass and Denny are African-American and living on the poverty line in urban Baltimore, struggling to keep it together with their mom in jail and only Michelle’s part-time job at the Taco Bell to sustain them. Leah and her stepbrother Tim are white and middle class from suburban Maryland, with few worries beyond winning lacrosse games and getting college applications in on time.

Michelle and Leah only have one thing in common: Buck Devereaux, the biological father who abandoned them when they were little. After news trickles back to them that Buck is dying, they make the uneasy decision to drive across country to his hospice in California. Leah hopes for closure; Michelle just wants to give him a piece of her mind.

Five people in a failing, old station wagon, living off free samples at food courts across America, and the most pressing question on Michelle’s mind is: Who will break down first–herself or the car? All the signs tell her they won’t make it. But Michelle has heard that her whole life, and it’s never stopped her before….

Huge thank you to Razorbill Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Opening to the first page of Don’t Fail me Now, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. I’ve never read any of Una LaMarche’s novels, but a good friend of mine told me how she as an author has a way of building wonderful and memorable relationships. Don’t Fail Me Now focuses on two girls who happen to share a father, and the road trip with their siblings across America to get to him before he keels over.

This book brought out a ton of emotions in me. There were so many hilarious moments, as there were sad ones. Every character in this novel has a distinctive voice, well developed, and each has a bit of oddness to them that you cannot help but love. My favourite character easily was Denny, but that might be because of all the characters, his innocence is pretty darling. Still, he’s quirky, love a good poop joke, and does his best to get along with everyone. If I’m being realistic, I kinda of loved everyone.

Michelle is such a wonderful heroine with so much crap on her plate, and yet she pushes through all the crap to try and raise her siblings right. When she meets her half-sister Leah, they aren’t besties right away, and they at first struggle to see there relationship as being anything more than sharing a father. For me, they had a very believable relationship, and LaMarche couples this with the extra trials and tribulations of a road trip, forcing the two of them to put difference aside so they can have their say with the father that neglected them.

All the relationships in this story feel so real and honest, which is ultimately what I loved about the story. I was given five characters, each who I cared about through the entire story. I loved Cass and her attitude, Tim’s slight dippiness, but his desire to help in any way he can — these characters offer so much more than what I am describing, and it makes for such an engaging story.

The ending admittedly, wrecked me. Actually, the whole novel did. I feel like Don’t Fail Me Now is the complete package when it comes to a good summer contemporary novel. There’s an adventure, great characters, a sweet romance (which doesn’t happen really until the end of the book), family drama and antics — it’s such a well crafted novel, offering so much to the reader. Don’t Fail Me Now begs to be enjoyed by readers, and it does so much, so effortlessly. Easily one of my favourite reads this year so far.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan

23281652Title:  Daughter of Deep Silence

Author: Carrie Ryan

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: In the wake of the devastating destruction of the luxury yacht Persephone, just three souls remain to tell its story—and two of them are lying. Only Frances Mace knows the terrifying truth, and she’ll stop at nothing to avenge the murders of everyone she held dear. Even if it means taking down the boy she loves and possibly losing herself in the process.

Huge thank you to Razorbill Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

When I requested this book, I was super excited. I love Carrie Ryan’s prose, and while I often find faults in her storylines, I still adore how she illustrates them. Then the reviews poured in, and I was hesitant. I feel silly waiting as long as I did to read this, because darn it, I enjoyed the crap out of this book. It’s not without some issues, but this book read like candy, which is perhaps why I enjoyed it so much.

While this book is very much a romance novel, it has a really well described mystery component. Frances assumes the identity of a passenger of the of the luxury yacht Persephone, and is one of the only survivors after it sinks. She is forced to become someone she isn’t in order to uncover a mystery about what happened behind the tragic event. Let me tell you — Ryan does this bit very well, making it not confusing (which can sometimes happen in a story like this) and she makes Frances transformation very fun to read about. She gets to be a sort of double agent, but not quite. Admittedly, for the most part, I dug her character. I loved her strength and gusto, but I loved how she knew when to be herself, and then be her alter-ego. I love that she understands the importance of staying in character, but she doesn’t want to lose who she truly is either. Is she likeable? Not at all, but on the flipside, she makes for an interesting person to read about.

If I’m being honest, there’s no one who is actually totally likeable. Morales is kind of all over the place, Shepard is a tool, and yet… I couldn’t stop reading about these awful characters! There was something about them being horrific and unappealing that caused me to turn the pages. This is a rare case for me where the story was so much more compelling than the characters, and I found I just had to know where it was going to go and how it was going to end. Here’s the other thing: you REALLY have to suspend your disbelief for this novel to work, which is why I think the reviews are so polarizing. There’s huge chunks in the plot that feel utterly ridiculous, but so compulsively readable! I read this book in two train rides from my commute, and let me tell you: I didn’t tear my eyes from the pages because this book was just so fun, and turning pages was like popping candy.

Is there’s anything I will criticize, it’s the romance. Yes, there is a romance in the book, and yes it plays a larger role than I would have liked. Grey wasn’t the most exciting love interest, and if anything, he was kind of a push over at times. The romance in this book felt too puppy-loveish considering the mystery that is presented throughout the story. This element does come across problematic, especially towards the end of the novel when it feels less about the revenge plot and more about her hooking up with Grey. I mean, we go from 200 pages of crazy excitement, action, and just plain fun, to this weird sort of desperation for a guy who is totally connected to the murder of Frances family. I struggled to buy that sort of Hollywood plotline where enemies become lovers — it’s not a favourite of mine, and sadly it didn’t work here for me either.

But still, this book was bizarrely fun to read, and totally out of my comfort zone. Carrie Ryan is worth reading because her promise is gorgeous and her stories are just so compulsively readable. It’s ultimately why I enjoy her as an author, and while this book is utterly ridiculous at times, I seriously cannot deny the amount of enjoyment I had reading Daughter of Deep Silence. Carrie Ryan knows how to suck her readers in, and don’t let the reviews sway you, if you can suspend your disbelief, there’s is a fun story to be had here.

 

ARC Review – The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

20912424Title: The War that Saved My Life

Author: Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.
 
So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I may have ugly cried my way through the end of this book. This is a story about being displaced, learning to cope with disability and abuse, and trying to forge out and find strength when everything seems hopeless. Yes, this storyline has been done before, especially in terms of books related to war, and yet I found myself completely absorbed into the pages of Ada and Jamie’s story.

First off, the writing in this book is stunning. Ada’s voice suits her age, but never feels dumbed down or completely mature either. She’s young, disabled and uneducated, but she has a desire to understand the world around her. Her curiosity is easily her best asset, as Ada gets into a ton of trouble. However, she’s very sincere and strong, and I love her desire to protect and even educate Jamie, her brother. Can I also just say I loved that Ada had a disability? I think her foot issues were an interesting addition to her characterization, and as someone who suffers from having one foot shorter than the other by an inch, she had my sympathy throughout!

Brubaker Bradley really breathes life into her characters and the World War II backdrop. There’s something very vivid and chilling about Ada’s home life and her desire to feel connected even in times of war. Moreover, every character feels fleshed out just enough without being over-developed. I adored Susan, and a lot of her story made me so sad, especially her attachment to the children. I wanted to smack Ada and Jamie’s real parents I don’t know how many times because their logic for raising children was insanely baffling.

The thing about The War that Saved My Life is that it’s an emotional story, and one that keeps the reader engaged because you want to see the outcome of the story, even if it’s a touch obvious. You want to read about Ada and Jamie’s growth because they are so easy to empathize with. It’s a book that makes you feel like your sharing in the children’s triumphs as much as you are dealing in their disappointments. I cannot recommend this book enough, as its easily one of the most thoughtful and engaging middle grade novels I’ve read in recent memory.