Tag Archives: thriller

Guest Post – The Winnowing by Vikki VanSickle

If you’ve been around the Canadian middle grade and YA blog tour circuit, you’ve likely encountered Vikki VanSickle along your travels. Easily one of the most passionate people I’ve ever met in my book blogging travels, she’s become not only an amazing source for up and coming middle grade and teen titles, but she’s also a caring individual whom when I see her in public, I love spending time with. Vikki is creative, confident, caring and kind.

Hilariously, her latest book The Winnowing is none of those things. But I still love her and this book any ways. On this leg of The Winnowing blog tour, Vikki shares with us one of her key resources that helped in the process of writing The Winnowing.  This book is unlike anything I’ve seen from Vikki before, and wow is it a roller-coaster!


MYSTERIES OF THE UNEXPLAINED, A Guest Post from Vikki VanSickle

I have always loved a mystery. A dedicated Nancy Drew fan, I graduated from mysteries about lost lockets and broken clocks to UFOs and ancient prophecies. The Mysteries of the Unexplained is an encyclopedia of unsolved mysteries and unexplained phenomena compiled by Readers’ Digest in 1982 (my birth year! Coincidence or conspiracy?!) All the usual suspects (ghosts, aliens, Nessie, Bigfoot) are here, but I also learned about spontaneous human combustion, famous prophecies, lost civilizations, and much, much more.

The book was a flea market discovery that I spent hours reading and re-reading. Arranged in categories with tantalizing titles such as “Beyond the Walls of Time,” “Unearthly Fates” and “In the Realm of Miracles,” it inspired countless stories and fuelled a life-long interest in the bizarre and the otherworldly. When you’re a kid it feels like adults know and control everything. How intoxicating to realize there are great mysteries that may never be solved. It changes the power dynamic and frees you up to think big and dream even bigger.

I still have my original copy and I find myself consulting it if I get stuck in a logic snarl or need a little bit of inspiration. More often than not what ends up happening is I will get lost in these incredible stories and look up an hour later having done no writing, but stoking my imagination all the same.


About the Author

Vikki VanSickle is the author of the acclaimed Clarissa books, including Words that Start with B, Love Is a Four-Letter Word and Days that End in Y. Vikki’s most recent middle grade novel, Summer Days, Starry Nights, has been called “summer reading at its best” and was a finalist for the Red Maple Award. After obtaining an MA in Children’s Literature from UBC, Vikki’s career began in bookselling at The Flying Dragon Bookshop, which earned her the 2011 CBA Young Bookseller of the Year award. Currently Vikki balances writing with her duties as the Marketing and Publicity Manager for Young Readers at Penguin Canada. Vikki lives with a cat named Barb who would prefer not to have to share the house with a sasquatch. — Bio supplied by publisher.

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ARC Review – The Winnowing by Vikki VanSickle

Title: The Winnowing

Author: Vikki VanSickle

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Marivic Stone lives in a small world, and that’s fine with her. Home is with her beloved grandfather in a small town that just happens to be famous for a medical discovery that saved humankind — though not without significant repercussions. Marivic loves her best friend, Saren, and the two of them promise to stick together, through thick and thin, and especially through the uncertain winnowing procedure, a now inevitable — but dangerous — part of adolescence.

But when tragedy separates the two friends, Marivic is thrust into a world of conspiracy, rebellion and revolution. For the first time in her life, Marivic is forced to think and act big. If she is going to right a decade of wrongs, she will need to trust her own frightening new abilities, even when it means turning her back on everything, and everyone, she’s known and loved. A gripping exploration of growing up, love and loss, The Winnowing is a page-turning adventure that will have readers rooting for their new hero, Marivic Stone, as they unravel the horror and intrigue of a world at once familiar but with a chilling strangeness lurking beneath the everyday. 

Huge thank you to Scholastic Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I want to preface this review by saying a couple of truths: I am a wuss who is easily spooked. I love things that can’t entirely be explained.The Winnowing is such a departure from VanSickle’s previous, more contemporary novels. This is her foray into science fiction, and her love letter to the strange and whimsy.

I will not lie, I was hesitant to read this book even after talking with Vikki at a conference we were both attending. I love her contemporary middle grade novels, I read If I Had a Gyphon during my storytimes, but this book was different. Vastly different. Thankfully, I had prepared myself for this book by watching Stranger Things earlier this year andThe Winnowing is an interesting middle grade novel to say the least.

This is a book about a world where children can be born with powers. If unwinnowed, these powers can manifest into something much more dangerous. To be winnowed is a rite of adolescent passage, it’s an attempt at normalizing. The problem is that the world Marivic and Saren live in, is one that is anything but. Marivic in particular also holds the key to a larger mystery in the story in regards to her family, the town of Darby and the school her mother worked at which was obliterated. The blurb on the back of the book gives you just enough information, but it’s definitely a book that is good going blind into.

What I loved about this book is how unexpected some of the twists and turns were. Some were a little obvious, but I found myself buying into so much of what was happening to these characters,
I was so invested in the atmosphere of the story — it is creepy and uncomfortable. Marivic and her friends felt very believable, their flaws felt real, and I truly felt for them on this journey. My favourite character in the story was Gumps, Marivic’s grandfather. He’s everything I love in a curmudgeon-y old man. A grump who is secretly loving and a little overprotective.

With the circumstances that occur in this novel, you see incredible growth in these characters. Every single one of them. The children in this story are all forced to grow up very quickly given the situation regarding the world and the process of the winnowing. In a lot of ways, these kids are robbed of their childhood and that was so heartbreaking. Marivic in particular shoulders a lot of burden in this story and she’s forced in a lot of ways to think and act more mature than someone normally her age. This is written very well because you can see she’s wrestling with both her circumstances and her actual age and what kids her age should be doing.

There’s a lot of weird and strange in The Winnowing. It’s the kind of book for people who love the X-Files, Stranger Things, Are You Afraid of the Dark?. While two of the references I’ve mention date me, I think they are accurate to what one can expect when reading this book. It’s weird, mysterious, atmospheric and wondrous. I love seeing authors jump out of their comfort zones with genre, because sometimes an experiment can blossom into something extraordinary.

ARC Review – The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

Title: The One Memory of Flora Banks

Author: Emily Barr

Rating: ★★

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life.

With little more than the words “be brave” inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway, the land of the midnight sun, determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must “be brave” if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I feel very torn when I think about The One Memory of Flora Banks. On one hand, it’s a very compelling story about a young woman who has been in a near vegetative state who is unable to make new memories, but on the other side of it there is something very frustrating on a whole as to how this book presents itself.

First of all, this book is compulsively readable. The writing isn’t anything spectacular, but Barr does this great job of making the read want to turn pages and keep going. The repetition, though I understand why it was there, drove me kind of bonkers at times and I found myself going “Yes, be brave, Flora. We know this already!” many times. Again, this book is like a YA version of Mr Robot or Momento, but it lacks the visual cues and punch that those stories provide because it’s in text form.

I won’t lie, I did feel sorry for Flora through the entire story, but I also found myself annoyed and angry how the story moved or progressed. Sometimes it felt like it was meandering, and sometimes it would go at a rapid pace. I’ll be frank in that I hated the Drake parts of this book (up until the end any ways) given that Flora repeats and repeats and repeats how she kissed “Drake” and we’re supposed to take that at face value from an unreliable narrator. When I got to the twist, I wasn’t surprised in the slightest because I had figured it out pretty quickly, so I think that also hindered my enjoyment a lot as well.

I will say, I did like the ending to a point. Learning about Flora’s brother, Jacob, was actually some of my favourite bits in the story. When Flora was thinking about or trying to understand Jacob’s motives, I found that’s when the story hit its stride with me and I constantly wanted to know more about what was happening and why Flora’s family behaves the way they do. When the book was about Flora trying to find Drake to get her memory back, it fell into that trope I hate which is that “boy fixes girl.” I hate that trope, and while I understand why it exists in this story, I still found myself angry by it. There are better ways to give characters agency, and in YA, the boy shouldn’t always be that factor.

I love unreliable narrators, and I adore books when I need to put my thinking cap on to try and put pieces together. Sadly, The One Memory of Flora Banks left me more annoyed than satisfied. I feel like there will be readers out there who will gobble this up and it be their jam, but for me personally, I struggled to find any connection with this story.

ARC Review – 100 Hours (100 Hours #1) by Rachel Vincent

30653906Title: 100 Hours (100 Hours #1)

Author: Rachel Vincent

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: A decadent spring break getaway on an exotic beach becomes a terrifying survival story when six Miami teens are kidnapped and ransomed.

Maddie is beyond done with her cousin Genesis’s entitled and shallow entourage. Genesis is so over Miami’s predictable social scene with its velvet ropes, petty power plays, and backstabbing boyfriends.

While Maddie craves family time for spring break, Genesis seeks novelty—like a last-minute getaway to an untouched beach in Colombia. And when Genesis wants something, it happens.

But paradise has its price. Dragged from their tents under the cover of dark, Genesis, Maddie, and their friends are kidnapped and held for ransom deep inside the jungle—with no diva left behind. It all feels so random to everyone except Genesis. She knows they were targeted for a reason. And that reason is her.

Now, as the hours count down, only one thing’s for certain: If the Miami hostages can’t set aside their personal problems, no one will make it out alive.

Huge thank you to Miss Print’s ARC adoption for this review copy.

Molly’s Review:

This book was like watching an early 2000-esque action movie. Lots of complicated ugly pretty people, random almost faceless “bad guys”, a tropical location, some vague references to political unrest & explosions.

So naturally I loved it.

The writing in this book isn’t spectacular, nor are the characters, but it was very fast paced and I flew through the first 250 pages in one sitting. I didn’t really care about anyone, but I did want to see what was going to happen.

A lot of this is pretty unbelievable. One of the characters is diabetic and she’s able to jump off a cliff, hike MILES through the jungle, and make out with the cute boy she’s known for a full day without having any problems. And no, I’m not saying a diabetic couldn’t do that, I’m saying that pretty much nobody could do that, let alone a teen girl with a disease that is affected by lack of food and too much physical exertion.

There is A LOT of teen drama in this, which I also found to be a little over the top because really, I feel like most teens that were kidnapped by Colombian terrorists in the middle of the jungle would be a WHOLE LOT LESS WORRIED about who’s hooking up with who. But then again it wouldn’t be an early 2000-esqu action movie without the main character hooking up with the beautiful strange they just met (hello every single Jason Statham movie EVER).

So yeah, this book was okay. It tried hard to be something more than it was, but didn’t quite make it. And it ends on a cliff hanger so I guess there’s going to be a second book. I might pick it up if I’m in the mood for some mindless action.

ARC Review – The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

25812109Title:  The Female of the Species

Author: Mindy McGinnis

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it. When her older sister, Anna, was murdered three years ago and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best. The language of violence.

While her crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people, even in her small hometown. She relegates herself to the shadows, a girl who goes unseen in plain sight, unremarkable in the high school hallways.

But Jack Fisher sees her. He’s the guy all other guys want to be: the star athlete gunning for valedictorian with the prom queen on his arm. Guilt over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered hasn’t let him forget Alex over the years, and now her green eyes amid a constellation of freckles have his attention. He doesn’t want to only see Alex Craft; he wants to know her.

Huge thank you to the publisher for this ARC!

River’s Review:

I have been a fan of Mindy McGinnis since her debut, and I have enjoyed everything that she has written so far. I was SO excited when I found out that she was writing a contemporary, but sadly this wasn’t my most fav of her books (I did really enjoy it a lot tho).

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect going into this book. We know that the MC, Alex, is dealing with the death of her sister. We know that Alex knows how to kill a man. Has she done it? Why does she know? How did she learn? And why would she want to know?

This book is told in three POVs that alternate. I am not a big fan of this, and I had a lot of trouble connecting with Alex (which was probably the point). Jack was okay and I really enjoyed Peekay’s chapters. I loved the way things ebbed and flowed through the story, and how they twisted around to get to the real heart of things.

This is a book about sexual assault. And I for some reason hadn’t seen that coming.

McGinnis’ writing is gritty and honest and sometimes made me cringe with just how fucking real it is. She made me want to cry at times with some of her vivid truths and the way that she used animals to illustrate how brutal humans can be. This book scared me with how wrong things can go in the blink of an eye. And it broke my heart at the end.

If you love honest books, pick this up. If you love gritty portritates of real life, pick this up. If you think that books about rape are important, pick this up. And if you’ve previously enjoyed a book by the author, make sure you don’t miss this one.

 

ARC Review – The Girl I Used to Be by April Henry

23018249Title: The Girl I Used to Be

Author:  April Henry

Rating:  ★★

Synopsis: When Olivia’s mother was killed, everyone suspected her father of murder. But his whereabouts remained a mystery. Fast forward fourteen years. New evidence now proves Olivia’s father was actually murdered on the same fateful day her mother died. That means there’s a killer still at large. It’s up to Olivia to uncover who that may be. But can she do that before the killer tracks her down first?

Huge thank you to the publisher for sending me an ARC for review!

Molly’s Review:

To be honest, if this book had been ANY longer, I would have DNFed it. Instead I’m giving it a generous 2 stars because I do think that maybe younger teens will enjoy this, and it is a quick throw-away of a read. I finished it in just a few hours and I’m glad I didn’t spend anymore time than that.

I love dark contemporary YA and I love it when there’s some type of mystery as well. I was hoping that this would be dark and twisty and it… was so flat and barebones. There is no character development at all. We get a cast of one-dimensional people who are supposed to be caught up in this horrific murder and… they’re all just so flat. Our MC is also supposed to be super traumatized by her past and there are a few flashes of trauma here and there, but over all she just seemed like a normal girl who’s just dealing with life.

There are also some really weird things that happen in this book that I didn’t think were very true to life. Like the MC literally abandons her apartment. She’s a 17 year old emancipated minor who rents her own place in Portland. And she decides to rent a new place and literally does nothing to cancel her old lease and she just leaves all of her stuff in the old place. There were a few other weird things like that too.

Everything pertaining to the mystery is also very one dimensional. There’s no red herrings, no false leads, just a bunch of people who maybe could have done it? And a few of them are a little suspicious? Despite the fact that the MC has only known most of them for a week? There’s no tension, no build, and when we do find out who did it and why it was all incredibly anticlimactic.

I feel like if you don’t read a lot YA or you don’t read a lot of well done mysteries then this could be enjoyable.

ARC Review – Crossing the Line (The Raven Files #1) by Meghan Rogers

23566919Title:  Crossing the Line (The Raven Files #1)

Author: Meghan Rogers

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Jocelyn Steely was kidnapped as a child and raised in North Korea as a spy. When her agency sends her to the U.S. to infiltrate the very group her parents once worked for, Jocelyn jumps at the chance to turn double agent and finish off her kidnappers once and for all. She convinces the head of the American spy agency to trust her, but it’s not quite as simple as that: Jocelyn has to fight the withdrawal symptoms from the drug that the North Koreans used to keep her in line, and her new fellow spies refuse to trust their former adversary. Worst of all, there might be some new information to uncover about her parents – if she even wants to find out.

Huge thank you to Penguin Random House for sending me a copy of this book for review!

River’s Review:

WOW! So. When I got this book I wasn’t sure if I was going to read it. Yes, I judged it by the cover. It looks kinda cheesy and… young. A little middle-grade-ish if you will. Well. It’s not. And it was SO SO GOOD! So I really wish this would get a new cover so more people would be prone to picking it up.

This book is pitched as a Bourne Identity type book, but for me it was A LOT like La Feme Nikita. I am OBSESSED with that movie/ TV show (the TV show mostly) and this book had SUCH a Nikita feeling to it. Our MC, Jocelyn, is SO BAD ASS. And she’s smart, fierce, and willing to do what it takes to survive. She’s kidnapped by a North Korean spy agency as a child and trained to be a killer. She’s good at what she does, but she isn’t as brain washed as they’d like to believe she is… and when she has a chance to go to the USA to join a rival spy team as a double agent, she takes it. But turns the tables and instead becomes a double agent for the US team, IDA.

I loved the way that Jocelyn dealt with her past and present situations at the same time. She learns about herself and grows, makes friends, and starts to trust for the first time in her life. She’s got some Katniss in her, but she also reminded me of a mix of Nikita and Alex from the Nikita TV show. Despite being similar to some of my favorite badass females, Jocelyn is very much her own well developed character. And not only was she well developed, but all of the characters were too. I LOVED how complex everyone was!

There’s a lot of really awesome action in this that just SPOKE to my action hero loving self. I am a sucker for old (and new-old) action movies with all our favorite action heros from the 80s and 90s. Okay even some of the new ones (hello Jason Statham!). So this really kept me engaged.

I also liked that there wasn’t any romance in this. Often times a lot of YA action novels get bogged down with the heroine falling in love and making stupid mistakes and having to be rescued. That did NOT happen in this and I was SO glad. There’s a lot of focus on friendship in this and trusting your partner. I think that we WILL see some romance in future books, but I’d be okay with that because Jocelyn has earned it!

The only issues that I had with this was the plausibility of a few things. For one I never learned Jocelyn’s ethnicity. Is she Korean or at least Asian? Would North Korea have non-North Korean spies? I’m not sure about this. I told myself that yes, they would, so they could have people on the ground anywhere. Another thing that bugged me (which is the most nitpicky thing ever, I know) is when Jocelyn is in China and she “presses the Chinese symbol for 25” in the elevator. For one, Chinese for 25 is three characters. Two, I don’t believe that a high tech science institute would have non-numeric numbers on it’s elevator buttons. And finally when Jocelyn and Ethan are in North Korea and they’re in public HOW DOES NOBODY NOTICE HIM? Unless he’s also Asian? (Again, I don’t think we ever got his ethnicity, but I always pictured him as a brown haired good ole American boy). Seriously, just a few tiny things.

BUT THIS BOOK WAS SO AWESOME GO GRAB A COPY AND A BOWL OF POPCORN AND READ IT YOU WONT REGRET IT!