Tag Archives: tough subjects

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.


ARC Review – Thicker Than Water by Kelly Fiore

18711172Title:  Thicker Than Water

Author: Kelly Fiore

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Cecelia Price killed her brother. At least, that’s what the police and the district attorney are saying. And although Cecelia is now locked up and forced into treatment, she knows the real story is much more complicated.

Cyrus wasn’t always the drug-addled monster he’d become. He was a successful athlete, but when an injury forced him off the soccer field and onto pain medication, his life became a blur of anger, addiction, and violence. All CeCe could do was stand by and watch, until she realized one effective way to take away her brother’s drugs while earning the money she needed for college: selling the pills.

Soon, CeCe becomes part drug dealer, part honor student. But even when all she wants is to make things right, she learns that sometimes the best intentions lead to the worst possible outcome.

Thicker than Water is an unforgettable dark, harrowing look into the disturbing truth of drug addiction and the desperate love of a sister watching her brother deteriorate before her eyes.

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

River’s Review:

Wowwwww this book is heavy. If you have issues with drugs and addiction, please be careful when you approach this book then because it could be very triggering.

This is the story of a family who’s dealing with addiction and denial. Cece’s family started to fall apart when her mother died of cancer. Cece has a really difficult time with her, but her family moves forward and on. Her father remarries and buys a farm where he tries to start his own business. Her brother, Cyrus, is a star soccer player, but then he hurts his knee and can’t play anymore. Cyrus feels like his life is ruined and he quickly comes to abuse his pain medication and becomes an addict. His addiction spirals out of control and he’s soon stealing from his father, acting violent towards Cece, and creating a wedge between all of the family members.

Money is a big problem for Cece’s family because her father’s farm dream isn’t turning out so well. And with Cyrus stealing what little money they do have they’re facing a lot of financial problems. Cece can’t even pay her school lab fees. She wanted to get a job, but was told to focus on school so she could make something of herself in the future… but that’s hard to do when she can’t afford her lab fees, let alone collage.

Cece can see what’s happening around her, but nobody seems to really are. They live in denial, and she finally gets fed up with it and says fuck it and starts to sell her brother’s pills to make some cash to put towards college. She’s quickly manipulated by a few boys from her school who get her to start stealing more of the pills and eventually they get her to even get her own prescription.

This story is told in alternating past and present sections. In the past we see how things happened, how the present came to be. The present takes place in a behavior therapy center inside of a juvenile detention center. Cece believes that she killed her brother, that her hand played the role of his death, and she all but turns herself in to the police. She’s put on trial and in the present sections of the book we see her working through therapy and preparing for her trial with her public defender. Cece is a very unwilling participant in her recovery and doesn’t see herself as anything but guilty.

The writing in this book was really good, and I flew through it in one sitting. I loved the dialogue and often found myself skipping ahead to read what people were saying and then having to drag myself back to read what was happening. There’s A LOT of tension in this book and you can really feel it.

I guess the only thing that I couldn’t come to grips with was why Cyrus had been recommended to the doctor that was giving him the drugs in the first place. It’s so obvious that he’s not a very good doctor (he is a real doctor, but he basically worked around the law as much as possible to earn money off people’s addictions; a “legal dealer”.) I just felt like any responsible parent (especially one that was always strapped for cash) would have been a bit more upset about having to shell out $215 a doctor visit for someone who was obviously not helping make their child better. But I guess with the father dealing with his own issues he’s blind to it. I just wanted to know why the COACH thought it was the right place to send him in the first place…

Overall this is a very raw, emotional book and if you like stuff like that, you’ll want to pick it up.

ARC Review – Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

22718682Title: Devoted

Author:  Jennifer Mathieu

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Rachel Walker is devoted to God. She prays every day, attends Calvary Christian Church with her family, helps care for her five younger siblings, dresses modestly, and prepares herself to be a wife and mother who serves the Lord with joy. But Rachel is curious about the world her family has turned away from, and increasingly finds that neither the church nor her homeschool education has the answers she craves. Rachel has always found solace in her beliefs, but now she can’t shake the feeling that her devotion might destroy her soul.

Huge thank you to Raincoast Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I fell deeply in love with Jennifer Mathieu’s first novel The Truth About Alice last year and remembered being completely enamoured by her writing. There’s a raw and rich quality to her work, and she leaves the reader with so much to think about both as the story progresses and when it ends. Colour me excited when Devoted showed up in the mail, because I admit, books on religion are something that always make me a touch nervous.

Devoted is written with honesty, kindness, and raw force. Rachel is the kind of heroine who a reader can connect with because she is someone who is being ripped a part at the seams. We can sympathize with her because she wants to be a devoted Christian woman, but she also has a strong desire to see the world beyond the walls of Calvary Christian, the commune she lives in.

And here’s the thing, the book does a wonderful and respectful job of looking at both of Rachel’s wants. She understands what is right and wrong about the cult she grew up in, she’s sympathetic to the people she once lived with, and yet the other half of her knows that (and through discovering Lauren’s blog) that there’s more to the world outside of it. She wants an education, she wants to have a job, she wants more for her life than simply baring children and being a good helpmeet.

I really adored the characters in this story. Rachel’s family is exceptionally frustrating, but I found myself sympathizing with them at times, particularly Rachel’s sister, Ruth, who seemed the most frazzled by Rachel’s abrupt departure. I also loved Lauren and how she comforts Rachel, and I love her genuine attitude towards helping her get settled into a normal life. I loved the Treats family, especially Diane, who was just so nutty and fun. Mark was a cutie too, and I liked that Mathiu didn’t try to force a romance between he and Rachel, but rather went very subtle about it. This book was more about Rachel’s growth, and Mark has such a sweetness about him that he wants to encourage her transition than spoil it.

So I am two for two with Jennifer Mathieu, and I know that I’ll be reading more of her books as they are published. She knows how to provide such thoughtful reads, and with such a touchy topic like religion, does it with such grace. I encourage everyone to check out Devoted, simply because it’s one of those books that offers a perspective often not considered, and it leaves  such a lasting impression. This is a tough read, but it’s the kind that is also so rewarding, that you’ll still be thinking about it well after it’s over.

ARC Review – All the Rage by Courtney Summers

21853636Title: All the Rage

Author: Courtney Summers

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything—friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous. But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time—and they certainly won’t now — but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear. 

Huge thank you to Raincoast / St. Martin’s Griffin for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Courtney Summers is known for tackling tough subjects with raw emotion. They are thought provoking, intense experiences, and I think of all her novels, All the Rage is the one that has made me the most uncomfortable and terrified.

All the Rage is largely a book about rape, rape culture and the failures that young women who have been raped are facing. There’s issues of power and influence, and essentially these are the problems Romy combats with throughout the story. There’s nothing more terrifying than telling the truth and having no one believe you. This is a conversation we should be having, we should want to give these people the support we need. Yet, like this novel questions, are we really providing support or covering up something we don’t wish to come face to face with?

Summers’ paints so many unnerving and ugly pictures in All the Rage. Romy’s self-worth is constantly questioned because she’s “the girl that lived” and yet not a single person questions if she has problems or what actually has happened to her. I found myself fuming at how many of the characters treated her, like it was a joke or that it didn’t matter. Of course it matters. I found myself in particular wanting to punch out Alek, Brock, Tina, Cat, Turner, and well really, a huge chunk of the cast. Their sense of entitlement and power, it’s just so wrong. So evil.

I will admit, I loved Romy’s mother. Her desire to help, understand, she knew something wasn’t wrong, but like any parent, there’s the desire to let their teen work through it first. I loved the messages she and Romy would leave each other, their tough conversations, she and many of the characters at the diner were really interesting, and Holly, oh my goodness, I felt for her when she said that while Romy wasn’t her daughter, it was like missing a daughter.

The book emotionally wrecked me. I was feeling all the rage while reading it, angry, frustrated, and disappointed that the world can be such a crappy place for rape victims. I realize my review is a bit all over the place, but it’s because I found myself feelings jumping all over the place, leaving me so exhausted and upset in the end. You cannot blame Romy for harbouring so much mistrust in the world, when in her world, she really has been kicked and beaten to the curb. I wanted to grab her from the book and hold her, even though I know she’d never let me.

All the Rage hurts, and it will leave you black and blue in the end. It pulls every punch and hits you harder and harder until you’re wobbly at best. It will make you angry, vengeful, and emotionally exhausted, but this story is meant to be told and will constantly be important. It certainly will leave a lasting impression.