Tag Archives: simon & schuster canada

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.

 

ARC Review – Trouble the Water by Frances O’Roark Dowell

27206433Title: Trouble the Water

Author: Frances O’Roark Dowell

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Callie is fearless, stubborn, and a little nosy. So when she sees an old yellow dog wandering around town by itself, you can bet she’s going to figure out who he belongs to. But when her sleuthing leads her to cross paths with a white boy named Wendell who wants to help, the segregated town doesn’t take too kindly to their budding friendship.

Meanwhile, a nearly invisible boy named Jim is stuck in a cabin in the woods. He’s lost his dog, but can’t remember exactly when his pup’s disappeared. When his companion, a little boy named Thomas, who’s been invisible much longer than he, explains that they are ghosts, the two must figure out why they can’t seem to cross the river to the other side just yet…

And as Callie and Wendell’s search for the old dog brings them closer and closer to the cabin in the woods, the simmering prejudices of the townspeople boil over.

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

Sam’s Review:

This was a book that wasn’t on my radar at all and it was sent to me unsolicited. I am a sucker for dogs being on the cover of books and this book is a few things: it’s a story of a dog becoming loved, two children from different sides of the fence becoming friends, and an issue of racism that is being propelled in segregated Celeste, Kentucky.

I adored this book and I loved it’s approach to a tougher middle grade subject matter. The friendship between Callie and Wendell is so beautiful and raw, and I love their connection to this dog who ends up lost. In fact, how the story of the dog was handled was quite lovely, very mysterious, as well. There’s an interesting ghost story and I won’t spoil this, but it was such a fascinating storyline that’s a part of the novel. SO GOOD.

And then there’s the segregation plotline, which was well researched and really done well. The town hates the friendship between Callie and Wendell, and it gets to levels where it’s so heartbreaking how they are treated. In fact, how racism effects the children just made me so sad at times. The ending is satisfying though, and it reminds readers about a point in time that was so horrible, and how even now how things still need to improve. This one is definitely worth powering through, as everything about it left me thoughtful. Check this one out!

ARC Review – Relativity by Antonia Hayes

25814254Title: Relativity

Author: Antonia Hayes

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Ethan Forsythe, an exceptionally talented boy obsessed with physics and astronomy, has been raised alone by his mother in Sydney, Australia. Claire, a former professional ballerina, has been a wonderful parent to Ethan, but he’s becoming increasingly curious about his father’s absence in his life. Claire is fiercely protective of her talented, vulnerable son—and of her own feelings. But when Ethan falls ill, tied to a tragic event that occurred during his infancy, her tightly-held world is split open.

Thousands of miles away on the western coast of Australia, Mark is trying to forget about the events that tore his family apart, but an unexpected call forces him to confront his past and return home. When Ethan secretly intercepts a letter from Mark to Claire, he unleashes long-suppressed forces that—like gravity—pull the three together again, testing the limits of love and forgiveness.

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

Sam’s Review:

Relativity was a book I had heard nothing about until it appeared in my mailbox. I’ve been trying to get myself to read more adult fiction again, despite running a mainly MG and YA focused blog. There’s a lot of good in this book, though for me there was also a lot that held it back as well.

The book follows three main characters, Claire, Mark and Ethan, who are all family. Ethan has a unique generic case where he is able to see physics. He also has been separated from his father, Mark, for many years and wants to be reunited with him. Claire, Ethan’s mother, believes that the amount of sacrifices she had made for her family has amounted to her neglecting her own needs in life, but still feels as though she can’t put her needs before that of her child.

I really dug the emotional struggles that were present in the novel, because each of the characters all had different problems resulting in a need for wanting to be selfish. Claire has made sacrifices to no end but doesn’t feel valued, Mark wants his career and a family but doesn’t want to make either of these actually work, and Ethan is the product of two people who in a lot of ways didn’t necessarily want him for different reasons. It’s really sad to watch a lot of these people falling a part and the novel doesn’t really allow them to entirely get back together either.

That being said, while the plot was interesting, the writing was kind of bland. It was either over saturated in metaphors or everything felt so plain and direct. While I could sense the emotional struggles within the characters, sometimes I felt like the writing wasn’t able to convey that strongly. It definitely had it’s heartfelt moments, which I think fit the tone of the story well, and I liked the level of research that went into describing Ethan’s Shaken Baby Syndrome, and the backstory to that was intriguing, but I wish the writing did a better job of making me emote as a reader.

Relativity is a decent read, and I think for some readers will be an easy book to connect with. The overall story is really interesting and well put together, even if I found the writing a bit overdone or even lacking in places. It’s great for those though who want to be invested in a small scale story with only a handful of characters.

ARC Review – Daughters of Ruin by K.D. Castner

25785728Title:  Daughters of Ruin

Author: K.D. Castner

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Rhea, Cadis, Suki, and Iren have lived together since they were children. They are called sisters. They are not. They are called equals. They are not. They are princesses…and they are enemies. Not long ago, a brutal war ravaged their kingdoms, and Rhea’s father was the victor. As a gesture of peace, King Declan brought the daughters of his rivals to live under his protection—and his ever-watchful eye. For ten years the girls have trained together as diplomats and warriors, raised to accept their thrones and unite their kingdoms in peace.

But there is rarely peace among sisters. Sheltered Rhea was raised to rule everyone—including her “sisters”—but she’s cracking under pressure. The charismatic Cadis is desperately trying to redeem her people from their actions during the war. Suki guards deep family secrets that isolate her, and quiet Iren’s meekness is not what it seems.

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


Sam’s Review:

I must confess, I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy Daughters of Ruin. It has a beautiful cover,that misrepresents the novel in a lot of ways. The blurb sounded interesting, but felt a little misleading. I was worried I was going to get a fantasy novel with a ton of romance in it just based on the cover alone, but what I got was quite the surprise.

Daughters of Ruin spans four POVs of view regarding four women who are forced to live together, though taken from rival kingdoms. There’s a lot of strong political intrigue, fantastic action sequences, and the heroines (minus one for me) were very well developed given that this novel isn’t very long. My favourite POVs to read were definitely Cadis and Iren’s, though I may or may not have been shipping them as a couple throughout the whole book. I loved their relationship and how they knew when they could sass-mouth each other and when it was time to get to down to business. I loved the politics in Rhea’s chapters and she grew on me as the novel went on.

But I hated Suki. I found her chapters very painful to read given the unique style they were in. I think there are better ways to share an internal monologue through text, but this wasn’t one of them. I found her chapters hard to read from a format perspective, and she was just a really whiny and annoying character to follow about.

The other thing about this book is that while the story does a great job of building itself, the ending is a tad weak. In fact, it feels like it should be sequel-bait because it’s simply ends. The resolve doesn’t feel as strong as it could, so I am wondering if there is going to be a series or not. And yeah, there’s romance in this book, but it’s more from a political standpoint, and this is really more about understanding the politics behind each heroines motives. That, I liked a lot.

Daughter of Ruin was an unexpected surprise for me, and I think those who love darker, more politically fueled fantasy would definitely get a kick out of this novel. I really just wish it had been a little longer, because I feel like there’s so much more that could have been explored. But each of the heroines really does have something to offer the reader, and I think given the craziness of this world and the fast-paced action, that this one will be an easier winner for fantasy fans.

ARC Review – The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith

25785649Title: The Way I Used to Be

Author:  Amber Smith

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: Eden was always good at being good. Starting high school didn’t change who she was. But the night her brother’s best friend rapes her, Eden’s world capsizes.

What was once simple, is now complex. What Eden once loved—who she once loved—she now hates. What she thought she knew to be true, is now lies. Nothing makes sense anymore, and she knows she’s supposed to tell someone what happened but she can’t. So she buries it instead. And she buries the way she used to be.

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

Sam’s Review:

This was a tough book to read. It’s one that focuses on rape, consent, and how rape transforms someone. Eden, our heroine, spends a lot of this novel in self-reflection, transforming into a young woman who has had her world changed in a way in which she had no control. She becomes someone so drastically different after she is raped, and she is coming to terms with who she once was and who she has become.

The writing in this novel is absolutely stunning, and it makes for strong, absorbing storytelling. While I didn’t necessarily love the way in which it went through her four years of high school, it did grow on me as I read on. Sometimes it felt like time was moving crazy slow, other moments quick as lightning. It makes for a difficult yet unique approach to storytelling — how one event can make someone feel so polarized about themselves, and that’s a lot of what I felt the author was exploring.

I really loved Eden and her friendship with Mara. I loved watching their transformations go in completely different directions and yet they still were very bound to their friendship. In a lot of ways I felt like they were constantly rescuing each other from so much that has happened. The way in which their friendship was portrayed left me with a lot of thinking when I was finished the novel. There’s a lot of growth in Eden, and you see how complicated and complex she becomes as a character, and it’s shows so well in this story. I loved growing along side Eden.

This is a very challenging novel to read and I think it asks readers to look at difficult issues through different gazes. It asks people to understand that events can transform people for better or worse, and I feel like that is The Way I Used to Be‘s strong suit. This novel is beautiful as it is smart, and it definitely has the power to spark some real good conversation.