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ARC Review – Speed of Life, by Carol Weston

Title: Speed of Life

Author: Carol Weston

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Sofia wonders if 14 might be the worst possible age to lose your mom. Talking with her dad about puberty and s-e-x is super-awkward (even though he is a gynecologist). And when she wants to talk about her mom, her friends don’t know what to say and her dad gets sad.

When Sofia discovers Dear Kate, an advice columnist from Fifteen magazine, she’s grateful to have someone to confide in about everything from crushes to mourning—someone who is completely, wonderfully anonymous. It feels ideal—until Sofia’s dad introduces her to his new girlfriend, Katherine Baird, a.k.a., Dear Kate…

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

If I am being honest, I wasn’t prepared for Speed of Life. Having read and adored Carol Weston’s Ava and Pip series, Speed of Life feels vastly different in a lot of ways. I felt a lot for the heroine, Sofia, who spends a lot of this novel trying to cope with the loss of her mother and the fact that her father is dating someone new.

A lot of Sofia’s feelings regarding the loss of her mother really resonated with me. I lost my mother last April and I admit, I’m still feeling a lot of grief and sadness. When Sofia talks about her smell, her clothes, anything reminiscent of her, I admit, it left me feeling really emotional. A lot of her feelings, people telling her how to deal with her grief, she’s super justified in her feelings. While I wouldn’t be brave enough to confide in someone such as “Dear Kate,” I thought this was an interesting way to tell the first half of Sofia’s story, especially given that Kate becomes the love interest.

There’s good characters in this series, even if the writing has some awkward moments — preferably at the beginning when reader’s are introduced to Kiki, Sofia’s bestie and “Dear Kate.” The story does fall on the much younger spectrum of YA — it’s not a bad thing, but I admit given the amount of YA I read, this threw me off a bit at first (the beginning reads so much closer to a middle grade novel to me). However, I think Weston dos do a great job of showing the reader a story where transition during a period of grief is challenging, even terrifying at times.

I think the support characters in this story are really well done. Kiki kind of urked me at first, but as the story went on she started to really grow on me. Same with Alexa and Kate. Weston’s characters are flawed in a great way — they aren’t likable at first but they are constantly trying to redeem themselves. Even Sofia’s dad, who you can tell is constantly trying to stay strong for his daughter. There is so much character growth in this story, and I love the way the book tries to acknowledge to the reader that change isn’t always a bad thing. It can be scary, but you never know what may be in store for you.

Speed of Life is a great read and one that offers a lot of depth to its readers. There’s great characters with a lot of heart and humour. Sofia is someone who becomes so strong and thoughtful throughout the course of the story. I really enjoyed my time with this book, and definitely would recommend it to younger YA readers.

ARC Review – Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

28101540Title: Under Rose-Tainted Skies

Author: Louise Gornall

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Norah has agoraphobia and OCD. When groceries are left on the porch, she can’t step out to get them. Struggling to snag the bags with a stick, she meets Luke. He’s sweet and funny, and he just caught her fishing for groceries. Because of course he did.

Norah can’t leave the house, but can she let someone in? As their friendship grows deeper, Norah realizes Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can lie on the front lawn and look up at the stars. One who isn’t so screwed up.

Huge thank you to Raincoast and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Back at the Winter #TeensReadFeed event hosted by Raincoast, the first book we as a group were introduced to was Under Rose-Tainted Skies. The book focused on a topic that I admit I have never read anything about: agoraphobia. Our heroine Norah suffers from agoraphobia, OCD and is anxious as all hell, and while these are parts of her character, she works so hard throughout the story to not let these things define her.

I think what struck me about this novel was how well Norah’s anxiety was portrayed. I suffer from social anxiety, so seeing her anxious thoughts on the page had me constantly nodding along with her feelings. These were feelings I recognizing because they were things I were feeling on a constant basis. There was even one part where she discusses how being social drains her batteries to the point where it takes a long time to recharge, and part of me wanted to yell at the book, “Girl, I feel you.”A lot of how Gornall describes Norah and her illness are things I recognize in myself — things that are ugly, that I wish weren’t a part of me, but I accept that they are there and choose to fight against. Norah struggles with loving herself, and it makes it hard for her to love others because she has no concept of loving herself. I can understand that completely, and I personally still have those kind of days. I loved a lot of the descriptions in this book and I feel like Gornall hits this aspect of the story near perfectly.

However, I REALLY struggled with the romance in this book. I am not big on stories where boys can be a magic cure for illness. It didn’t work for me in Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, and it definitely didn’t work here either for me. While Norah was so easy to connect with, Luke was the exact opposite. I found him to be a bit too robotic and awkward, but not in the teen boy way, more in that I don’t feel like his character is as well-developed. Frankly, Luke feels too much like a plot device as a opposed to a character and that was hard to stomach at times. I think there will be people who will gravitate to this kind of romance, but ultimately it just didn’t work for me.

I think Under Rose-Tainted Skies offers a wonderful perspective on mental illness that feels very authentic in ways that other YA novels have struggled with. Norah’s story is messy, its heartfelt, and Gornall’s message to her readers is so loud and clear. These are the reasons to read this book, pain and simple. I just wish I had a larger connection with the romance (or I wish it hadn’t been there at all) because this book then would have easily been a home run for me.

Blog Tour – Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova (Review and Q&A)

Labyrinth Lost is a book that wasn’t on my radar until I had gone to the #TeensReadFeed event hosted by Raincoast back in May. The book was in my goodie bag, and though it had been mentioned at previous events, the release date kept getting pushed back. I have friends who love Zoraida Cordova’s novels, but I admit I wasn’t too familiar with her work.

Labyrinth Lost is a joy. It’s sassy, it’s adventurous, and it gives you a sense of appreciation for otherly worlds and other people’s culture. Once again I am super grateful to Raincoast for inviting me on this blog tour, and a huge, huge thank you to Zoraida Cordova for taking time out of her busy schedule to do some Q&A.


27969081Title: Labyrinth Lost

Author: Zoraida Cordova

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I generally am not big on paranormal YA, like, at all. I was hesitant then that I would enjoy Labyrinth Lost, and you know what? It was a pleasant surprise for all the right reasons. It didn’t have the usual trope-yness of YA paranormal, and I think because a lot of this novel is rooted in Latin culture, that was what gave it a lot of appeal that made me fall in love with it.

I have never read any paranormal that is rooted in Latin-American culture. I am Canadian so my knowledge of Latin-American culture is fairly flimsy at best. However, I LOVE to read about other cultures and learn new things I never knew about. And this book is such a fun, fun read. The characters are very well developed, the story is fast-paced and quick witted, and I never felt bored reading Labyrinth Lost. There was always just so much happening, and my goodness when the action was on, it wad turned way up.

I think what I loved about this novel the most was how well developed the world of both Brooklyn and Los Lagos was. Cordova breaths so much life and makes both places so vivid, and watching Alex go between both places made the novel all that more interesting. She faces so many struggles because of powers she never wanted and is forced to embrace something she was fearful of. Forbidden power and family history play such a large, playful role in this story, and I found myself just turning the pages, needing to know what was going to happen next… and then the book ends on a cliffhanger — not cool Zoraida Cordova! (Except it is, because I adored this book).

But seriously, the cast of characters in this story is love: Alex is wonderful, she’s strong, and her head-space is just an interesting place to be in. I also loved Rishi and thought she was great as well. Nova took awhile to grow on me, and frankly it wasn’t until the end when I finally realized that he wasn’t too bad of a character.

I love books like Labyrinth Lost that drop you into a story and then offers so much more than meets the eye. This novel offers a fantastic adventure, with a fun cast of characters. I am very grateful that books like this exist where I can enjoy cultures that I am unfamiliar with and make them super accessible. I am excited and scared to read book two when it releases!


Q&A With Zoraida Cordova!

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Q: One of my favourite aspects of Labyrinth Lost was being allowed to learn more about
Latin culture and how you used it to create a paranormal experience for Alex. Are there
any Latin stories or myths that you love and would perhaps want to transform into a story?

ZC: There’s one story of La Llorona that used to scare me as a kid. It isn’t uniquely
Ecuadorian. There are lots of Latin American countries that have a similar story. It’s
about a weeping woman who steals children who are bad. I used to want to write a story
about her, but I don’t think I’d do it justice. There is a book called Summer of the Mariposas by Guadalupe McCall that does this wonderfully. Maybe one day!


Huge thank you to Raincoast for allowing me this chance to participate in the blog tour, and huge thank you to Zoraida for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer my question! Want to see where the blog tour is heading next? Check out all the tour stops and don’t forget to check out Labyrinth Lost, which released on September 6, 2016. 🙂

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Late to the Party ARC Review – You Were Here by Cori McCarthy

25679559Title: You Were Here

Author: Cori McCarthy

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: On the anniversary of her daredevil brother’s death, Jaycee attempts to break into Jake’s favorite hideout—the petrifying ruins of an insane asylum. Joined by four classmates, each with their own brand of dysfunction, Jaycee discovers a map detailing her brother’s exploration and the unfinished dares he left behind.

As a tribute to Jake, Jaycee vows to complete the dares, no matter how terrifying or dangerous. What she doesn’t bargain on is her eccentric band of friends who challenge her to do the unthinkable: reveal the parts of herself that she buried with her brother.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

THIS BOOK EMOTIONALLY MESSED ME UP.

Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch, but it did make me very emotional as I read it. This is a book about friendship, it’s about reconnecting with someone you’ve lost (in this case who has died). There is a huge mystery surrounding Jake’s death, and Jaycee wants to recreate his death-defying stunts so that she can connect to him in another way. She and her group of friends, who are all going through different problems, accompany her on this journey, sometimes trying to talk her out of things, other times to be supportive and it’s just, wow.

Grief makes you feel and do strange things. In Jaycee’s case, there’s this strong desire to find connection in her brother’s death. It’s heartbreaking, but totally something I could understand and sympathize with, having recently dealt with the death of my own mother. You miss someone to the point where you wish them back into existence — you want them to still be flesh and bone yet the world has taken them from you.

The friendship in this story is one of my favourite aspects, and I thought every character was strongly written. Natalie’s plotline was particularly engaging, and I actually loved how some of the prespective was told in different formats. There’s poetry, an ongoing comic, artwork, and it all fits into this story. It doesn’t feel out of place or strange, it’s just perfect actually. I loved these additions because it gave us so much insight into each character. Heck, I generally am not huge on the romance, but Mik and Jaycee’s romance was really well developed. I also liked Zach and Natalie as well, and my heart went out to Zach a lot throughout the novel.

This book is one that needs to be talked about more. It offers an insightful look to dealing with grief, while also weaving so many exceptional smaller stories along the way. Easily one of my favourite reads this year, and one that I hope others will try because there’s just so much going on in this novel, and it’so good at making the reader feel like they are a part of this story. The emotional investment I had felt so real, and I felt really connected to this story and its characters.

ARC Review – This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

24529123Title:  This Is Where It Ends

Author: Marieke Nijkamp

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: 10:00 a.m.
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03
The auditorium doors won’t open.

10:05
Someone starts shooting.

Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

Huge thank you to Raincoast Books/Sourcebooks Fire and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Ever read a book where you read the synopsis and it turns out to be exactly as the back says? To the letter, no less? That is what reading This Is Where It Ends was for me, and in a lot of ways I was surprised I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the synopsis would have led me to believe.

I love diverse YA, I equally love tough issue YA, and yet this book didn’t draw any emotion from me. That bothers me too given a lot of what the synopsis promised, but I found this book very hard to connect with. Part of it was that we have some many points of view, which is both a point in the books favour, but a point against it. I loved the multiple points of view and how it was used to layer the disturbance present in this novel, but I disliked that the characters didn’t have much personality or something to connect with. It made for both a great and frustrating experience, because while I loved seeing Tyler from each of their eyes, I still felt like I didn’t know these characters very well, even up until the end.

For a book about a school lockdown and shooting, there was a lot that felt very convenient in the story to move it along. Perhaps it’s me comparing it to school shootings that have occurred in the news in the past, but part of me expected a bit more of an onslaught from Tyler’s part, given the level of revenge he wanted to take on his classmates and the school. I wasn’t shocked or surprised by the outcome of this book, and I felt as if it was the only way the author could have ended the book… but I was mad that I didn’t show any emotion over the story or its characters. I should have given their horrific circumstances, but alas, it didn’t happen.

That’s not to say that this is a bad book! Far from it, the writing is quite good and engaging, and it’s a quick read too. I think I just would have connected to this book more had I found characters to latch onto, and you know, hadn’t readViolent Ends earlier in the year. This book is an interesting perspective of school shootings and how people crack under emotional pressure, and if you like that sort of thing, I’d recommend it. If you love a character driven novel, you won’t find that here, I’m afraid.

 

ARC Review – The Suffering (The Girl from the Well #2) by Rin Chupeco

24789796Title: The Suffering (The Girl from the Well #2)

Author: Rin Chupeco

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: It’s been two years since Tark Halloway’s nightmare ended. Free from the evil spirit that haunted him all his life, he now aids the ghostly Okiku and avenges the souls of innocent children by hunting down their murderers. But when Okiku becomes responsible for a death at his high school, Tark begins to wonder if they’re no better than the killers they seek out.

When an old friend disappears in Aokigahara, Japan’s infamous ‘suicide forest’, both must resolve their differences and return to that country of secrets to find her.

Because there is a strange village inside Aokigahara, a village people claim does not exist. A village where strange things lie waiting.

A village with old ghosts and an ancient evil – one that may be stronger than even Okiku…

Huge thank you to the publisher for letting me read an advanced copy of this book!

River’s Review:

Rin Chupeco is one of the few authors that can write an accurate book about Japan. I found only a handful of flaws in her previous book and didn’t have any qualms with this one. She doesn’t stereotype, she doesn’t write assumptions, she doesn’t write from an outsiders perspective. She has facts but she also seems to have experience. And if she doesn’t, then she is very good at making it seem like she does. I enjoy her books set in Japan because they feel authentic, and if you know me, you know this is important to me.

I sadly am not the biggest fan of the writing in this book, or the other book in this series. It’s a bit sloppy and could use a good edit. Possibly the publishers fault? I’m not sure. But once I got past that I was able to enjoy the story. This one takes place 2 years after the first one and features all the same characters. Tark and Okiku are hunting down killers (Okiku is the one taking care of business) and Tark is exorcising ghosts. Tark and his cousin are planning a trip to Japan for their spring vacation.

Only things don’t go as planned due to two ghost hunters from a popular cable TV show, and Tark’s friend, one of the miko’s from the shine in the previous book, goes missing. Tark and Callie pitch in to help find them… in the suicide forest at the base of Mount Fuji.

I loved this setting. Sadly there was a bit less Japan in it than the previous book, but this was more about the horror story than Japan, so I let it slide. The actual story takes place in a village that’s hidden in the suicide forest. Tark and Okiku get sucked into it and learn about a horrible ritual that had taken place… a ritual that was left unfinished so the village was lost and haunted by the vengeful spirits of the girls who were sacrificed.

I really liked the details of the ritual and the way Tark had to go around the village and collect the dolls that he needed to use to exorcise the ghosts. I liked how he pieced together what happened there and eventually figured out how to save them all. And I liked his relationship with Okiku. It bordered on romantic at times and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that so I just kept picturing that they had a REALLY strong bond and that it didn’t go past that.

Overall this was a solid read, and I enjoyed visiting Japan again with Tark and his friends. I would have liked a little more though, because I felt like overall this book was a little too short, and that the time in the village went by a little too fast.

ARC Review – Your Voice Is All I Hear by Leah Scheier

22082098Title:  Your Voice Is All I Hear

Author: Leah Scheier

Rating:  ★★★★★

Synopsis: Everything about Jonah is unexpected. On the first day of school, he sits next to April, when he could have chosen to sit with the popular girl. He turns down an invitation to join the school team and declares he’d rather paint. He encourages April to develop her musical talent and shrugs off the bullies that torment them. April isn’t surprised to find herself falling for Jonah. The unexpected part is when he falls for her too.

But the giddy happiness of their first romance begins to fade when Jonah’s unpredictability begins to take a darker turn. April understands that her boyfriend is haunted by a painful memory, but his sudden mood swings worry her. She can’t explain his growing fear of cellphones, electric keyboards, and of sounds that no one else can hear. Still, no matter what happens, April is sure that she’ll always stand by him. Until Jonah finally breaks and is committed to a psychiatric ward. Until schizophrenia changes everything.

Though everyone urges her to let him go, April stays true to Jonah. But as the boy she adores begins to disappear in front of her, she has to face her worst fear: that her love may not be enough to save him.

Huge thank you to Raincoast Books for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This book was an unexpected surprise for me. When I started it, it felt like just an ‘okay read’ that slowly developed into me wanting to huddle into a corner and cry. There’s a lot of tough issues in this book that are at play and Scheier does an amazing job balancing them with the core issue of the novel: how do you love and stay with someone who you know needs more help than they want to admit to?

Because this novel deals with a character who suffers from schizophrenia, you are given a story that bursts with aggression, emotion and it leaves you feeling drained. April is in love with a boy who thinks he’s hearing voices, is haunted by the death of someone, and also feels as through he has been split into two different people. Jonah is such a wonderfully rich and well written character, and if anything I love the fact that he tries so hard to control himself but knows in a lot of ways that he is ill. April wants him to get help and Jonah feels as though the world is out to get him and April is the only person he can trust.

There’s a lot to take into with this story. I admit, I was worried about April’s character in the story because she’s introduced as the token invisible girl, but I liked the way in which she develops throughout the course of the story. She’s a young woman whose never had to make difficult decisions, yet being with Jonah is both the most beautiful, destructive thing she faces. It’s gut-wrenching the decisions April makes in the story and you see her fighting for her relationship, on top of the fact that she wants to do right by Jonah in so many ways.

What I also ended up loving about her character (and this may have more to do with the writing) is the way Scheier builds the friendship between Kristin and April. A lot of their relationship was something I could relation to in some ways, especially when it came to friends trying to have the other see something they aren’t, regardless of how much it hurts. I liked the resolve between them, and I appreciated the way in which there is so much development between them — Kristin didn’t feel like she was tacked on, she felt as much of a character as everyone else did. I also loved Jonah’s sister Katie — she was just so cheeky and yet you can see how caught in the middle she is at such a young age. I also liked how April got into touch with her Jewish heritage in the story, which was a nice little addition in her development (and I have to say, I learned quite a bit!)

I felt like I learned a lot about mental illness and how much it can affect a relationship. There’s such a realistic portrayal of how mental illness changes someone, and how it is handled by loved ones. I especially enjoyed the way the novel ended, especially because I felt if it ended any other way it would be such a cop out.Your Voices Is All I Hear is beautifully written, thoroughly engaging, tough to read, and doesn’t pull any cheap tricks to play with emotions. The book is raw, has wonderfully developed and characters, and the ending will leave quite the hole in your heart.