Tag Archives: scholastic

Book Chat – Books That Surprised Me

Sometimes when I read a book, I worry I won’t enjoy it. I look at it, read the synopsis, flip through the first few pages, and debate. Surprises can come in a variety of forms — enjoyment, disappointment, disgust, confusion, there’s a lot of emotions to describe when a book can surprise you. Sometimes it’s a plot element, maybe it’s overall enjoyment, it’s hard to gauge why something works or doesn’t work for you. I thought I’d share with you guys a few books that I’ve read that have surprised me in a variety of ways.

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie (2007)

If I’m being honest, I had some reservations going into The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, if only because I am Canadian and I am a Canadian who loves Native American Fiction, but also is depressed by Canada’s past towards indiginious peoples. While this novel isn’t about Canada or written by a Canadian, it offers a very important prespective on “native culture” and what it means to be white-washed.

What surprised me about this novel wasn’t the topic, but it was in how I read it. I listened to this on audiobook with Sherman Alexie as the narrator, and at first I didn’t entirely dig his reading voice. In fact, it out right annoyed me at times… yet then as the story grew, his voice grew on me as well. There is an authenticness to the novel in having him read it, and I could feel Arnold’s emotions and struggles in Alexie’s voice and feel it in a way that felt very different then reading words off the page. This book is clever, it’s funny, and it’s downright sad at times. It took me on a surprising emotional journey, and it totally deserves all the awards that it has won.

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The Raven King (The Raven Cycle #4)
by Maggie Stiefvater (2016)

I am going to avoid spoilers for this book given how new it is, but this book was a ball of surprises from start to finish. It’s one of those books where from book one you KNEW WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN, but you always kept hoping Maggie Stiefvater wouldn’t actually do it. If you’ve read the series, you know what I am talking about, and the way in which she did left me emotionally spent. However, there were other parts of this novel that just surprised me (Chapter 33 is perfect, you guys), and it made me love the novel, its characters and the series a million times more. Sometimes when you know something is supposed to be predictable, author’s will throw a wrench and still manage to surprise the crap out of it.

Maggie: I want my tears back, dammit.

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The Princess in Black series
by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale (2014-)

You should all not be surprised that a middle grade series is on this list, but let me tell you: The Princess in Black series continues to get better and better with each installment. What surprised me with this series was that I worried I would find it too juvinile at times to enjoy. The child in me loves this series and the adult in me in me keeps wanting to say I shouldn’t enjoy this series, but I do. This is a favourite of mine to recommend to reluctant readers at my the public library I work at, and it’s a fun one to talk up and explain to parents as well. Cheeky and fun, this series is for kids who love adventure, and adults who miss the feeling of being a child again.

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Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness
by Jennifer Tseng (2015)

Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness was such a mixed bag of a book for me. Meanwhile it focuses on a more taboo subject matter (an adult woman sleeping with a minor), that actually wasn’t the aspect of the book that surprised me, even when it started to get rather heavy. What surprised me was how beautiful the writing was in this book, but how unrealstic and frusrating the plot was for such a beautifully written book. I spent a lot of the novel wanting to scream at Mayumi, and I was certainly annoyed by how literary the boy began to sound despite his distaste for literature. There’s a lot in this book that feels hapharzardly put together and yet I COULDN’T STOP READING IT. This book was such a weird reading experience and it’s one I have a hard time forgetting because I felt so confused and yet so involved in the development of this story.

What are some novels that have surprised you, for better or worse? I’d love to know how others experience “surprising” aspects of a novel and how it affects your reading experience. Let me know in the comments below what your thoughts are on the subject!

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Ten Comics & Graphic Novels You Should Check Out

I find I binge on comics and graphic novels. I can’t help it! I have always been one of those people who loves images and words as a combination. Graphic novels are my comfort food, something I devour the moment I start reading. Today, I thought I’d share ten of my recent favourites. I’m going to exclude capes (Batman, etc) and focus on them in another blog post, at another time. Shall we get started?

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El Deafo by Cece Bell

This is one of the most honest portrayals of living with disability that I’ve ever read about. Cece’s story is thoughtful and incredibly genuine from start to finish. I love the way she wishes to become a superhero (like Batman!), but I equally adored reading about how she overcame so many obstacles! It’s such a charming read, and one that I feel deserves a bit more attention because subject matters, like disability often go completely overlooked and are often not written in such an uplifting or humorous manner.

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Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

I have gushed on the blog previously about this book, but I feel this gushing needs to be reiterated. Through the Woods is an uncomfortable, dark, and unnerving read. Each story within this collection is fantastically plotted, creepy to the bone, and will leave chills down your spine. The artwork is absolutely amazing, if very graphic, and definitely not for those who make get squicked easily. That being said, I loved how haunting each story is, and I plan to reread it again come Halloween, just so I can scare myself silly.

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Saga by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

While Brian K. Vaughan has tons of amazing works (The Runaways, Y: The Last Man, so so good), Saga somewhat beats out all his other works for me. If you haven’t read Saga, I question what rock you’ve been hiding under. This series has amazing characters, a fantastic plot, and some of the most stunning artwork I’ve seen in comics. This world is scary, yet you gotta love a star-crossed lover’s storyline that also in turn makes fun of the classics (In your face, Romeo & Juliet!). Here’s the other thing: I love ALL the characters. Very seldom when I read books or graphic novels can I say that I love the whole cast, but Saga makes me love the cast so damn hard.

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Smile by Raina Telgemeier

I have read all of Raina Telgemeier’s work in the span of a year, but of all the books she’s done, Smile seems to be the story I look back at the fondest. There’s something about getting braces for the first time that I think a lot of us can relate to, and all the stigmas that we dream up in having them. Smile is a very honest portrayal of wanting to fit in without feeling like your a freak because you’ve got metal on your teeth. I think all of Telgemeier’s stories are fantastic, and yet this is the one I recommend because Raina’s journey is one I could relate to. Admittedly, I equally love her adaptations of the Babysitter’s Club, which I totes recommend clearly for nostalgia purposes!

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In Real Life
by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang

Outside of reading, my other major hobby is gaming. I’ve worked in the games industry as a journalist for over five years and the issues that this book tackles completely breaks my heart. It saddens me that gold farming is still a thing and that people have to suffer in the name of video games. This book has a wonderful portrayal of friendship, identity, while also looking at socio-economical issues within the virtual world. Plus, Anda is an amazing protagonist and I love her crusade against issues of gold farming. This book is incredibly smart and very well done. Plus the art? Amazing.

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The Shadow Hero
by Gene Luen Yang  & Sonny Liew 

I said no capes at the beginning of this post, but I will make the exception for The Shadow Hero because it’s a bit different from a lot of the cape comics out there. First off, it’s an origin story for a superhero many may not be familiar with: The Green Turtle. It’s the story of a man who doesn’t want to become a superhero, but his mother *demands* that he must (for reason which I will not spoil, but there’s some humour in it). Gene Luen Yang writes amazing graphic novels (and his artwork is pretty rad too). I always find myself strongly connecting to his work because of how he writes people and makes social issues accessible to all audiences. While I LOVE The Shadow Hero, Boxers & Saints and American Born Chinese are equally worth your attention.

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Seconds by Brian Lee O’Malley

I am going to cheat a little on this one and suggest you listen to this podcast where I discuss this book with my husband, Scott Wachter and the amazing Kiki. Let’s just say we super hearted this book and even if you didn’t like Scott Pilgrim, this one is still worth checking out. Beautiful artwork, hilarious characters, awesome GIRL FRIENDSHIPS. The book has it all in spades.

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Zita the Spacegirl 
by Ben Hatke

Hello, graphic novel fans out there? You really should get on it and read Zita the Space Girl. There’s something insanely magical about Ben Hatke’s writing, his characters, and the world that Zita finds herself in. He made me care about a rock monster and a giant rat! Also, this series is too short and when I finished the last volume, I may have screamed a little bit about wanting more. Seriously, Zita is fun and she needs to be read. GO DO IT.

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Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

Yes, the title seems super inappropriate. No, it’s actually not as inappropriate as one would think (though there are sexy timez so you have been warned). So Sex Criminals,, is a wonderful series with some really messed up people. There’s a lot of dark humour afoot in this series, and it’s definitely not for everyone. This series is colourful, crazy, and wonderfully messed up. It’s like your brain is on a euphoric trip that doesn’t let up until it’s over. Now if only volume 2 would come out faster, that’d be great.

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Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe  & Roc Upchurch 

I admit, this is the series I’m having the hardest time waiting for trades for. Rat Queens instantly hooked it’s claws into me, and I was completely addicted to reading it. I admit, I do not like reading single issues of comics, and I’d rather read them when they are bound up. The characters in this series are sexy, sassy and absolutely bonkers. How can you not love a group called “The Rat Queens” and how can you not enjoy their antics? This series is girl power all the way, and the women are bad ass. Rat Queens takes elements of Dungeons & Dragons and mashes it up with sass and class. I seriously cannot wait for volume 2, and I can’t wait to see what adventures are in store for the Queens!

Have some graphic novels or comics you want to share? Let me know in the comments — I love recommendations!

River & Sam’s Fave Books of October

Well, this doesn’t happen too often, but River and I have the same favourite book this month. Guess what? It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone.

River & Sam’s Pick:

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Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Are any of you REALLY surprised at this pick considering how much fangirling River and I do when it comes to this series? This book was perfect, perfect, perfect. It made me love Adam SO MUCH MORE (even though Ronan is my favourite) and it created Gansey Fancy Face, which I am convinced needs to become a meme. Seriously, if you haven’t read The Raven Boys yet — get the heck on it. Please. It’s amazing. GET ON IT, DAMMIT.

… now we have to wait until next year for book four. 😦

What was your fave read in October? Let us know in the comments!

ARC Review – Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

17378508Title: Blue Lily, Lily Blue

Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: There is danger in dreaming. But there is even more danger in waking up.

Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs.

The trick with found things though, is how easily they can be lost.

Huge thank you to Scholastic and Netgalley for this ARC!

River’s Review: 

ALL THE STARS. ALL THE LOVE. ALL THE ADJECTIVES. EVERYTHING. MY GOD.

I basically need to re-read this when it comes out. Just. omg. The wait for the last book is going to kill me.

GANSEY FANCY FACE!!!!!

Sam’s Review: 

First off, Gansey Fancy Face needs to become a meme or something. When I read that line, I ended up in a giggle fit on public transit. I got some weird looks for it, but WHATEVER.

I think of the three books in this series this one might be my favourite. Gansey and Blue’s romance is so wonderfully established and it keeps growing on me as each book comes out. While Ronan is my favourite character of the group, I loved the balance between Gansey and Blue’s romance and Adam’s circumstances. Adam won a lot of my heart during this book and it was so easy to understand where he was coming from and why he behaves the way he does. Stiefvater does this amazing job of really giving her characters these personal touches that makes them so recognizable and their own that every time I get a new book in this series it always feels so familiar. It’s never me trying to remember what happened last.

And the prose, my goodness the prose. It’s just so gorgeous and it has a methodical flow to it. While the use of all caps at times was a bit weird at first, I didn’t feel like it was as excessive as say, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (let’s face it, no character should strive to be all caps Harry). Everything felt so familiar in this book and what distance provided by the characters was easily made up when the plot started to unravel itself. Characters who I was unsure of in previous books really grew on me (Gray Man in particular).

I love this series and I love this world and these characters. The wait for the next book is going to truly be painful.

ARC Review – Can’t Look Away by Donna Cooner

20578970Title:  Can’t Look Away

Author: Donna Cooner

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Torrey Grey is famous. At least, on the internet. Thousands of people watch her popular videos on fashion and beauty. But when Torrey’s sister is killed in an accident — maybe because of Torrey and her videos — Torrey’s perfect world implodes.

Now, strangers online are bashing Torrey. And at her new school, she doesn’t know who to trust. Is queen bee Blair only being sweet because of Torrey’s internet infamy? What about Raylene, who is decidedly unpopular, but seems accepts Torrey for who she is? And then there’s Luis, with his brooding dark eyes, whose family runs the local funeral home. Torrey finds herself drawn to Luis, and his fascinating stories about El dio de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.

As the Day of the Dead draws near, Torrey will have to really look at her own feelings about death, and life, and everything in between. Can she learn to mourn her sister out of the public eye?

Huge thank you to Scholastic and Netgalley for this ARC!

River’s Review:

I originally picked up this book because I used to be into fashion and beauty blogging, so that aspect of this book really appealed to me. I also wanted to find out how Torrey’s vlog video might have contributed to her sister’s death.

Overall this was a really sweet book with a lot of emotional punch to it. Torrey and her family are dealing with the death of the youngest member of their family. Torrey was fighting with her sister moments before she was hit by a car, and this haunts her — even more so because it’s caught on video and even later put online.

I liked the family dynamics and the thought of losing a sister really broke me. I can’t imagine losing my own sister. I could totally connect with Torrey on her relationship with her sister too. Much like Torrey and Miranda, I also fought with my sister A LOT growing up. We were very different and had a lot of trouble being sisters. Later in life we found our way and became friends and now we’re super close. So my heart really broke for Torrey.

The vlogging aspect of the book was really interesting. I know how Torrey felt about wanting to become popular online for her videos (in my case it was my blog), but sometimes her age didn’t really mesh well for me. I guess it’s because I barely had the internet when I was sixteen, but I also did NOT have $300 jackets and Marc Jacob’s purses at that age. I really wanted to know where Torrey was getting the money for this stuff (her parents? It was never really addressed where the money was coming from, but it also was never really shown that her family had money either).

I really liked a lot of the side characters in this book too. Luis and Raylene were both great characters and not only were they important for Torrey to grow and come to terms with how her life had changed, they were both fleshed out pretty well and could hold their own. Even the old women were interesting (I LOVED everything that had to do with them and the Day of the Dead festival).

ARC Review – Second Chances (Everyday Angel #2) by Victoria Schwab

20578957Title:  Second Chances (Everyday Angel #2)

Author: Victoria Schwab

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Meet a guardian angel like no other, from a writer like no other. Bold, rising star Victoria Schwab returns with the second book in this whimsical, inspiring, and clever middle-grade series.

There’s more to Aria than meets the eye. She’s a guardian angel. And to earn her wings, she’ll have to help three different girls. . . .

This time, Aria comes to Caroline Mason. At her all-girls’ prep school, Caroline is being bullied. She eats lunch alone and is picked on by her classmates every day. The ringleader of the mean girls is Lily Pierce. But Lily isn’t an ordinary bully: she used to be Caroline’s best friend.

When Aria arrives, she can see Caroline is suffering. But, to Aria’s surprise, so is Lily. What is the story behind Lily’s cruel actions? And can Aria help guide Caroline out of the darkness . . . and into better, brighter future?

Huge thank you to Scholastic and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I was completely smitten with the first book of this series. Aria was completely loveable and believable as this guardian angel sent to help people with their life affecting problems, and this next instalment focuses on a popular topic that has been circulating middle grade and YA fiction for awhile: bullying. It’s a tough topic to handle, but I feel like Schwab writes it with complete ease.

I think many of us can relate to Caroline’s situation: she’s a girl who has been exiled from the popular kids for doing “the right thing.” She gets treated completely like garbage, tossed around, and she is dealing with the emotional stress of the harm that being bullied places on someone. Interestingly though, this is not just her story, as it’s equally about the former bestfriend, Lily, who is the bully in question. Aria is sent to help both girls, but interestingly, Lily’s story is well integrated into Caroline’s without her being the focus, and unlike Caroline or Aria, she is not given a point of view. Normally, I think have that extra point of view would help, but here I like that a lot of how Lily is handled is mostly from a distance because it definitely shows the difficultly that Aria has in attempting to help her.

I loved this story, and I think it’s one a lot of people can understand and relate to because this is such a scary and hot topic right now. I don’t want to spoil a few of the twists Schwab incorporates into this story, but I thought they were well done and again give the reader a touch more insight than they likely would have received otherwise. This series is fantastic, and I cannot wait for the next book when it arrives in the Winter. I could stand to have more Aria in my life!

Book Review – Summer Days, Starry Nights by Vikki VanSickle

17701021Title:  Summer Days, Starry Nights

Author: Vikki VanSickle

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: A famous rock star, a family secret and a boy with a great smile make for one unforgettable summer.

It’s 1962, and thirteen-year-old Reenie Starr comes alive the minute guests begin to arrive at her family’s summer resort. She dreams of the day she can run Sandy Shores, and she spends her time helping out at the resort, swimming, climbing trees, and singing under the stars.

One day, Reenie’s mother announces that she thinks the resort could use some entertainment. She invites Gwen, her best friend’s almost-grown daughter, to come and teach a dance class. Although Gwen seems sad and remote, Reenie’s thrilled to have her there.

As Reenie starts to learn more about the world beyond Sandy Shores, she comes up with a plan that could really put it on the map. She also finds herself caught between the simpler world of her childhood and all of the wonderful new discoveries (boys) and heartaches (boys) that growing up can bring. Reenie thought she wanted Sandy Shores to never change, but after this summer nothing will ever be the same again.

Sam’s Review:

It’s not secret that I adore middle grade books, especially ones that are realistic and thoughtful. But you know what I love even more? Middle grade novels that tackle the past, in this case in the late 1960s in Ontario. Vikki VanSickle has written a wonderful story about a young Canadian girl looking to learn the truth about her family, and one remarkable summer she may never forget.

First odd, I loved Reenie. Her voices was clear, infectious, and I loved how methodical she was. She wants a role model, she wants someone to look up to, and when her mother walks out on her (for a week, interestingly), she has a hard time trying to understand what would make her favourite role model just up and leave her.

This book has a lot to do with family secrets, and while they aren’t difficult to figure out, I love the overall approach. Nothing is ever easy to learn or accept and Reenie and her sister really struggle throughout this story to understand a lot of their mother’s odd behaviour. There’s just so much heart in this story, and while the warm and fuzzies don’t appear until the very end, the book plays with your emotions on numerous occasions, reminding the reader that nothing is ever simple.

I devoured this book in an afternoon and it’s a great summer read. I loved the choice of setting with it being a family-owned resort, because those are so typical in Canada as summer “getaways” for people who really can’t afford big vacations. At the end of the day VanSickle writes a beautiful and thoughtful story about growing up and comes to terms with newfound changes that are… unexpected shall we say. I honestly cannot wait to track down her Words That Start with B series, because I think I will probably be in love with it too.

But honestly, if you want and sweet story with a loveable protagonist, Reenie really is your girl. Her whole family truly is a joy to read about, and the secrets are worth the discovery.