Tag Archives: simon & schuster canada

Late to the Party ARC Review – Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

Title: Emergency Contact

Author: Mary H.K. Choi

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: For Penny Lee high school was a total nonevent. Her friends were okay, her grades were fine, and while she somehow managed to land a boyfriend, he doesn’t actually know anything about her. When Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, to learn how to become a writer, it’s seventy-nine miles and a zillion light years away from everything she can’t wait to leave behind.

Sam’s stuck. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, financially. He works at a café and sleeps there too, on a mattress on the floor of an empty storage room upstairs. He knows that this is the god-awful chapter of his life that will serve as inspiration for when he’s a famous movie director but right this second the seventeen bucks in his checking account and his dying laptop are really testing him. 

When Sam and Penny cross paths it’s less meet-cute and more a collision of unbearable awkwardness. Still, they swap numbers and stay in touch—via text—and soon become digitally inseparable, sharing their deepest anxieties and secret dreams without the humiliating weirdness of having to see each other.

Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I’ll be honest: I kind of ignored the hype surrounding this book. I felt like it was going to be a book that I thought would just be “okay” or “that was fine.” When I got it in my Simon and Schuster Canada goodies bag from the Ontario Library Association’s Super Conference, I was intrigued, but not in the best frame of mind to read this book.

I loved, and slowly devoured Emergency Contact. I picked it up on a whim during a crazy and difficult period in my life, and it’s a book I was constantly connecting with. I loved Penny and Sam, and I while they do frustrating and even unthinkable things, I cared about their every action, and I wanted them to be better off by the end. I love that this is first and foremost a friendship novel. Penny and Sam meet in such an awkward, uncomfortable way, and they become each other’s “emergency contact” — the person they connect with when life is beating them black and blue.

This book has a very slow build, but I found myself really loving and engaging with it. This isn’t a book I found myself reading quickly, but rather small bits at a time because I found the situations that the characters engaged in to be difficult to read about at times. Sam’s plot-line in particular had me yelling and flailing my arms in anger, while Penny I could easily relate to (despite being nothing like her) and seeing how she has to deal with changes beyond her control. The writing in this book is playful, lyrical and fun despite the darker tone in it, and I think Choi does a fantastic job of getting readers to care and emote while reading this novel.

I am definitely going to have to buy myself a copy of this book because I feel like it’s one I will get the itch to reread. While I feel like this book is pretty hyped, it’s also one I don’t think that had that intention in the first place. This is a very quiet book, and one that builds and builds until it crashes so hard that everything feels messy and raw. I love novels like that, and I think it’s why Emergency Contactresonated with me the way it did. It’s definitely not for every reader, but if you love quieter books that offer a detailed character study of two lost young adults, I think this book is highly worth the read.

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Late to the Party ARC Review – A World Below by Wesley King

Title: A World Below

Author: Wesley King

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: A class field trips turns into an underground quest for survival.

Mr. Baker’s eighth grade class thought they were in for a normal field trip to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. But when an earthquake hits, their field trip takes a terrifying turn. The students are plunged into an underground lake…and their teacher goes missing.

They have no choice but to try and make their way back above ground, even though no one can agree on the best course of action. The darkness brings out everyone’s true self. Supplies dwindle and tensions mount. Pretty and popular Silvia does everything she can to hide her panic attacks, even as she tries to step up and be a leader. But the longer she’s underground, the more frequent and debilitating they become. Meanwhile, Eric has always been a social no one, preferring to sit at the back of the class and spend evenings alone. Now, he finds himself separated from his class, totally by himself underground. That is, until he meets an unexpected stranger.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have heard a great deal from children I’ve talked to regarding how much they love Wesley King’s books. I can totally see why, too! A World Below was my first introduction to King’s works, and while I wasn’t in love with this book, I like it and I see the appeal as to why kids would enjoy it as well.

A World Below focuses on a teacher who takes his class to the Carlsbad Caverns. Our main protagonists, Eric and Silvia, are not entirely keen on this trip, and they worry Mr. Baker’s enthusiasm is not entirely warranted. They soon learn that their is a world below the caverns, after an earthquake separates the kids from their teacher. Shenanigans ensue, and we are given a story that is fast paced and full of adventure.

I want to stress that this is a very plot heavy middle grade novel, which sometimes I find a bit difficult because I am very drawn to more character driven stories. This book is not that, as it’s larger focus is definitely on the adventure regarding the kids trying to navigate their way through Carlsbad Caverns. If anything, reading this book reminded me a lot of the 80’s classic, The Goonies, which I don’t know if that was intentional or not, but that was what I was envisioning as I read the novel.

The kids felt a little too interchangeable for me, and I think that was where my struggle came with the novel. I wanted a bit more distinction in terms of personality, and I didn’t entirely feel that way. However, I think the maps and exploration aspects of the story were fabulous, and I think I would have adored this book growing up given it plays to a readers sense of wonder and desire to have answers regarding a situation. There’s also a playfulness in the writing that is utterly delightful as well!

I enjoyed my time with A World Below, but perhaps it wasn’t the best starting point for me regarding Wesley King’s works. I think this is going to be a novel that younger readers will absolutely gobble up and heighten their sense of exploration. Definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of The Goonies, though!

ARC Review – Sunny (Track #3) by Jason Reynolds

Title: Sunny (Track #3)

Author:  Jason Reynolds

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Ghost. Patina. Sunny. Lu. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds, with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics. They all have a lot of lose, but they all have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves. Sunny is the main character in this novel, the third of four books in Jason Reynold’s electrifying middle grade series.

Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

As many of you know, I am an insane Jason Reynolds fangirl. I started reading his books last year and since then have read everything he has published to date. When Simon & Schuster Canada sent me a package of Jason Reynolds books, I was rolling on the floor in utter delight. The Track series is one of my favourite middle grade reads and one I constantly recommend to parents who have reluctant readers in their lives.

In Sunny, our track team takes an interesting turn. Sunny finds track too easy and debates leaving his teammates behind to peruse his new passion — dance. Concerned about the feelings of his teammates but struggling with his own desires, Sunny fells somewhat broken as he writes in his diary. I think Sunny’s story is one we all go through just in various stages. A loss of passion for something you’ve done your whole life, letting others down for “selfish desire,” wanting to try to appease both sides, the reader truly gets a sense of Sunny’s struggle throughout.

I loved Sunny’s relationship with Aurelia, who helps him get into dance in the first place. You get to see what a good influence she is on him and she helps Sunny to see that while choices are hard, it’s what makes you the most happy. When you are a kid, that is really hard advice to take (even as an adult it’s hard advice to take). I loved Sunny though, and I kept wanting him to pursue his dreams.

The Track series is just so impeccably written and stories being told are easy to relate to. Ghost, Patty, Sunny and Lu are kids that are easy to connect with and you want to see them succeed no matter what. If you haven’t read this series, I urge you to check it out!

 

ARC Review – When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Title: When Dimple Met Rishi

Author: Sandhya Menon

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: A laugh-out-loud, heartfelt YA romantic comedy, told in alternating perspectives, about two Indian-American teens whose parents have arranged for them to be married.

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Ever since I saw the cover for When Dimple Met Rishi, I knew I wanted to read this book. When I read the synopsis, I knew I wanted to read this book. I had this book super hyped in my head, which is why I think I put off reading it for as long as I did. However, this book didn’t disappoint me! I laughed, I cried, I had many, many feelings throughout the course of it, and I feel like Sandhya Menon is going to be an author watch now.

I loved Dimple from page one. She’s one of those characters with a lot of conviction and determination. She sees herself as a very independent young woman with goals that don’t include marriage right off the bat. Her family wants her to be happy, so they arrange for her to meet with Rishi, a young Indian boy who is on his way to MIT, but has a secret passion for comic book writing.

Both protagonists have strong visions of where they want to be in their lives, but they both also struggle with their family values. It’s part of why I loved the story so much is that both Dimple and Rishi’s troubles felt very raw and real, and Menon gives the reader so much context to what it’s like to be a young Indian-American trying to both love and value yourself, but also respect the wishes of the family. What I also loved is there’s a lot of comedy between the two characters, but their romance blossoms into something that feels very organic. You get a sense that parts of this story were heavily influenced by Bollywood culture, and while that is super noticeable, it doesn’t detract from the kind of romance that Menon is trying to convey between Dimple and Rishi. There’s a lot of skill in finding a balance for this kind of story, and Menon nails it.

I also loved a lot of the supporting characters, and I didn’t feel like they were one note in the slightest. I adored Rishi’s brother, and I loved that he was a typical little brother who also could see how blind his older sibling is. I loved Celia and I thought she was a good counterpart to Dimple’s character in that she keeps her grounded. I LOVED both Dimple and Rishi’s families, particularly Dimple’s family, who made me laugh, smile and you get this huge sense of love from her family.

When Dimple Met Rishi is one of those books that just gives you so many feelings as your reading it, and that is why I loved it so much. It’s the kind of contemporary book that balances so many different aspects of life, but also still manages to craft a romance that is both organic and sweet. If you love romance, this is a book you need to put on your radar ASAP.

ARC Review – Black Apple by Joan Crate

26113982Title: Black Apple

Author: Joan Crate

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Set during the Second World War and the 1950s, Black Apple is an unforgettable, vividly rendered novel about two very different women whose worlds collide: an irrepressible young Blackfoot girl whose spirit cannot be destroyed, and an aging yet powerful nun who increasingly doubts the value of her life. It captures brilliantly the strange mix of cruelty and compassion in the residential schools, where young children are forbidden to speak their own languages and given Christian names. As Rose Marie matures, she finds increasingly that she knows only the life of the nuns, with its piety, hard work and self-denial. Why is it, then, that she is haunted by secret visions—of past crimes in the school that terrify her, of her dead mother, of the Indigenous life on the plains that has long vanished? Even the kind-hearted Sister Cilla is unable to calm her fears. And then, there is a miracle, or so Mother Grace says. Now Rose is thrust back into the outside world with only her wits to save her.

Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Black Apple was an ARC I received last January, and it’s a book I put off reading until now. Why I did that, I couldn’t tell you. I love books about tough subject matters, but I am also a Canadian who is very prideful of her country. This novel focuses on a large blemish in Canada’s history, and one that shouldn’t be ignored: residential school systems that harmed s many of Canada’s First Nations.

This book was difficult to read, and that isn’t an understatement. Sniopak, or Rose Marie, as she is renamed at St. Mark’s, is a feisty young Blackfoot girl who is thrust into the residential school system, and is fighting to not lose her roots. She is treated fairly poorly by the nuns and fathers in the school, as she refuses to allow reformation to take hold of her.

Rose Marie’s story is sad, but not uncommon, as this blight went on for many years, unchallenged or unchanged, which is why Crate’s novel is such an important read. There was so much research and empathy that went into this story, and that I can applaud wholeheartedly. I was completely invested in the story, what was happening to Rose Marie and her friends, and I was so aggravated and disturbed by how the First Nations were being treated in this story. You feel a lot of anger, a lot of sadness, and its emotionally draining. However, the secondary characters do have a solid amount of personality, and they help to contribute to Rose Marie’s overarching story of trying to choose the right path: staying true to her roots or becoming religious.

However, I did have a few gripes. One issue was with the writing itself. Sometimes I really struggled to connect with the writing, even though the content itself was really strong. Crate is a poet by trade, so parts of this novel read with such a poetic mindset, but for me sometimes I found it read a bit awkwardly. The other issue I had came in the form of the ending, which comes across a bit too “White saviour,” which I wish wasn’t the case given how the romance in this novel blossoms. I like the way in which Rose Marie leaves St. Mark’s, I’m just not sure if that ending worked for me personally, though it’s really plausible too given that sometimes people can give us a way out.

I think Black Apple is a very interesting, if challenging read. While I did have some problems with it at times, I won’t deny how engaging the story was or how much Rose Marie as a character spoke to me. This was such an interesting look at Canada’s history, and I’d be curious to see if Crate decides that Rose Marie’s story needs a continuation.

ARC Review – The Swan Riders by Erin Bow (Prisoners of Peace #2)

26409580Title: The Swan Riders (Prisoners of Peace #2)

Author: Erin Bow

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: Greta Stuart had always known her future: die young. She was her country’s crown princess, and also its hostage, destined to be the first casualty in an inevitable war. But when the war came it broke all the rules, and Greta forged a different path.

She is no longer princess. No longer hostage. No longer human. Greta Stuart has become an AI.

If she can survive the transition, Greta will earn a place alongside Talis, the AI who rules the world. Talis is a big believer in peace through superior firepower. But some problems are too personal to obliterate from orbit, and for those there are the Swan Riders: a small band of humans who serve the AIs as part army, part cult.

Now two of the Swan Riders are escorting Talis and Greta across post-apocalyptic Saskatchewan. But Greta’s fate has stirred her nation into open rebellion, and the dry grassland may hide insurgents who want to rescue her – or see her killed. Including Elian, the boy she saved—the boy who wants to change the world, with a knife if necessary. Even the infinitely loyal Swan Riders may not be everything they seem.

Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I absolutely adored the crap out of The Scorpion Rules. It was by no means perfect, but it was one of those books where my eye balls were completely glued to the page because I couldn’t get over some of the stuff that was occurring in the story. I had moments where I cringed, gasped, and maybe even threw the book — it had that much of an effect on me. I was so excited when the sequel appeared in my mail box because with the way the first book had ended, it was a hard wait to find out what was going to happen to poor Greta.

And poor Greta it is. This sequel picks up almost directly from the previous book so one needs to have read The Scorpion Rules to get a full taste of what The Swan Riders has to offer. The prisoners are not so much prisoners anymore, Greta has transformed into someone who isn’t herself anymore, and Canada is… well, Canada is an utter mess, more so than it was in the first book.

I think what I love about this series is that Bow does an amazing job of giving you a larger sense of all her characters, their motives, and their coups on morality. Frances, Greta, Talis, all have different perspectives on freedom, humanity and the decaying world, and each attempts to be compelling about their stance. I equally loved the surprises that she wove into this particular installment surrounding Talis, who is by far one of the most interesting characters in this world if I am being frank. I do think the emotional intensity of the first book is missing from this sequel, but I think the strengths here come from the larger plot being developed.

Oh, and Talis. Talis is perfect. I miss Xie. She was best.

I do think this is a solid sequel to a book that in a lot of ways didn’t need a sequel to be great. I think the ending of this instalment isn’t as strong as the first book, and it definitely leaves the door open for a potential sequel given there’s still characters whose stories don’t entirely feel complete. The last monkey wrench Bow throws in is pretty darn fabulous, though I wish the book really hadn’t ended where it did. Still, if you loved the first book, I do think this sequel is definitely worth checking out.

ARC Review – Mark of the Plague (The Blackthorn Key #2) by Kevin Sands

28954112Title: Mark of the Plague (The Blackthorn Key #2)

Author: Kevin Sands

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Christopher Rowe is back and there are more puzzles, riddles, and secrets to uncover in this follow-up to the Indie Next pickThe Blackthorn Key, which was called a “spectacular debut” byKirkus Reviews in a starred review.

The Black Death has returned to London, spreading disease and fear through town. A mysterious prophet predicts the city’s ultimate doom—until an unknown apothecary arrives with a cure that actually works. Christopher’s Blackthorn shop is chosen to prepare the remedy. But when an assassin threatens the apothecary’s life, Christopher and his faithful friend Tom are back to hunting down the truth, risking their lives to untangle the heart of a dark conspiracy.

And as the sickness strikes close to home, the stakes are higher than ever before…

Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!
Sam’s Review:

I LOVED The Blackthorn Key last year, and I still maintain that it is a million times better than Percy Jackson. Kevin Sands knows how to write a dark, twisted tale that still has a sense of wonderment and surprise, and Mark of the Plague definitely continues that trend.

There is so much action in this sequel, and I admit I got a little emotionally when the book frequently picked on Tom (he’s my favourite). There’s a larger mystery surrounding Christopher’s old master, Benedict, and with people becoming ill with a plague, it makes for a very emotionally charged adventure. What makes this a terrific follow up is that it borrows all the elements of what made the first book so great — putting the clues together to form the larger picture and uncover the larger mystery at hand. There was a lot of great twist and turns in the sequel that I thought were so perfectly timed, and it made for a fun and engaging read.

Plus the plague in this novel was so darn creepy, and I get that it’s based on a medevael plague, but geez, it’s nerve-wracking. There’s this huge sense of dread in the story about contracting this plague and Sands really puts the read through the wringer at times with what happens with some of these characters and this surrounding plague. No spoilers or anything, but I was pretty worried through a lot of this book in terms of a certain character’s fate.

This book is also much heftier in size compared to its predecessor, but it’s five hundread pages that read lightning fast. Frankly, I am thrilled that The Blackthorn Key has become a series. I think Kevin Sands just pours so much creativity into this series, and I love the way he gets his readers thinking about how to crack codes and read inbetween the lines. I also adore Christopher and Tom, and I thought Sally was a delight as well. There’s good, solid characterization here, and the adventure really makes it quite the thrill ride.