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Late to the Party ARC Review – Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios

Title: Bad Romance

Author: Heather Demetrios

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Grace wants out. Out of her house, where her stepfather wields fear like a weapon and her mother makes her scrub imaginary dirt off the floors. Out of her California town, too small to contain her big city dreams. Out of her life, and into the role of Parisian artist, New York director—anything but scared and alone.

Enter Gavin: charming, talented, adored. Controlling. Dangerous. When Grace and Gavin fall in love, Grace is sure it’s too good to be true. She has no idea their relationship will become a prison she’s unable to escape. 

Deeply affecting and unflinchingly honest, this is a story about spiraling into darkness—and emerging into the light again.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I had to put off reading Bad Romance for awhile. It’s one of those books that looks at abusive relationships, why someone might stay, and ultimately why they need to choose themselves. Grace is a very difficult heroine because she is torn with choosing herself or enduring abuse because Gavin, her boyfriend, threatens to kill himself if she ever breaks up with him.

This book is very much a history of their relationship, written in a way where there’s quite a bit of second-person use. The way in which Grace describes her relationship is so heartbreaking, hard, and reading the moments of the psychological torment that she faces is rough. Like, it hurts, and I found myself wincing in pain. Not every action Grace does makes sense, but what I love is Demetrios shows how she’s working through it. I also love that she has such supportive friends who are trying to help her break the cycle.

This is also just such an amazing and well-written book. I felt so overwhelmed emotionally as I was reading this book that at times I had to simply close it because of what was happening. Being emotionally invested, even though I’ve never expected what Grace is going through… I empathized, a lot.

Bad Romance is a raw, rough, addictive book that will probably hit a lot of people’s triggers. It’s not an easy read, but it is a compelling one. Regardless of whether you’ve experience abuse or not, this is a book that will leave you emotionally raw by the end of it.

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ARC Review – That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston

Title: That Inevitable Victorian Thing

Author: E.K. Johnston

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Set in a near-future world where the British Empire was preserved, not by the cost of blood and theft but by effort of repatriation and promises kept, That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a novel of love, duty, and the small moments that can change people and the world.

Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendant of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she’ll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire’s greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I feel like based on the Goodreads reviews that I am in the minority for this book. I really love E.K Johnston’s work and I think there is something interesting discussions that can be had with a book likeThat Inevitable Victorian Thing.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing is an interesting read. It focuses on the idea that colonialism didn’t have it’s chance to manifest in North America and Europe, and the idea that groups of people regardless of race or religion can live in harmony. While that concept is somewhat very unrealistic, the idealism behind it is quite wonderful in my opinion. I would love to live in a world where racism doesn’t exist, where people respect one another. Again, it’s not perfect given racism isn’t entirely abolished in the story and classism still exists, but you get a sense of hopefulness from the cast of characters that they want a better world.

I do want to stress that I think a lot of the Canadian content and Ontario pride in this story may go over the heads of non-Canadian readers, as Canada has some impressive rep in this story. As someone who lives in Ontario, I loved reading the maps and Johnston’s discussions of the province within the story, and it was fun to see name droppings for people, places and things that are indicative of Ontario. I recognize this is something not everyone is able to appreciate, but I enjoyed it a lot.

This Inevitable Victorian Thing is wonderfully diverse and I loved how well marginalized people are handled. I think Johnston put a lot of care into the world-building and characters, making the world feel like it could be believable. Margaret, Helena, and August are all characters who, despite their flaws, want to change the world for the better, and I appreciated their hopefulness throughout the narrative.

Personally, I loved That Inevitable Victorian Thing. Yes, it is a slow burn, and perhaps a bit too ideal, but I found myself loving the world and the characters. I loved the larger theme of hope, connection and respect that existed throughout the narrative, and the romance in the story is pretty darn darling all things considered. I think there are aspects that will be difficult for some reads to appreciate, but if you’ve enjoyed Johnston’s works in the past, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed by this book.

ARC Review – Berserker (Berserker #1) by Emmy Laybourne

Title: Berserker (Berserker #1)

Author: Emmy Laybourne

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Her brother Stieg swears their powers are a gift from the old gods, but Hanne Hemstad knows she is truly cursed. It’s not Stieg’s fault that their father is dead, their mother has left, and their brother Knut has been accused of a crime he didn’t commit.

No, the fault lies with Hanne and her inability to control her murderous “gift”–she is a Berserker. When someone she loves is threatened, she flies into a killing state. The siblings must leave Norway for the American frontier or risk being brought to justice.

Aided by a young cowboy who agrees to be their guide, Hanne and her siblings use their powers to survive the perilous trail, where blizzards, wild animals, and vicious bounty hunters await.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Emmy Laybourne writes some fast-paced novels, and her latest,Berserker is not exception. I’d even argue it’s her most unique book to date given it is a Western-meets-Norse Mythology-meets-Historical Fiction. It’s a cluster of so many genres, a mish-mash that is though very fun, doesn’t entirely work together as well as it could.

I’m all for a genre mash-up, but Westerns tend to be always a difficult genre to mash given it has very specific tropes that it follows. Weirdly, I loved the Western-y bits of this story, but mixing it with Norse Mythology is a bit of an odd choice given how rich Viking culture is. This book has so much in it and at times it can feel very overwhelming, and yet it is also such a compulsively readable book where you want to know what is going on. There’s so much action and insanity, it makes for an entertaining read. Laybourne is great at bringing fun and disaster to her stories and Berserker doesn’t disappoint in this regard.

While I loved the action, gore and just utter insanity of the story, I wish I had enjoyed the characters more. Henne is a fun character who is troubled by her powers of murder, but if I am being frank, a lot of the characters felt very interchangeable for me and didn’t feel too distinctive on their own. Mind you, I’ve always felt that as a writer, Laybourne’s characters are not always the starring attraction (unless we are talking Max from Monument 14 aka the best character), but it’s the worlds that she creates which are truly the draw.

Berserker is a book where I need to explain to readers going into it before hand to just “go with the flow.” It’s a fun, delightful romp, but it’s also messy in that it’s trying to do a lot at once creating sensory overload. I still think it’s a great read for those who love a fast-paced story full of crazy and murder. I definitely am still curious as to where the next book in the series is going to go as well.

ARC Review – Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

Title: Wild Beauty

Author: Anna-Marie McLemore

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.

The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I LOVED When the Moon Was Ours, and it is a book I recommend so easily to teens who come into the library looks for magic realism or diverse reads. I have yet to read The Weight of Feathers, but I knew after my first Anna-Marie McLemore book that I would be sold on her for life. She’s an amazing writer who weaves such unique stories together while also featuring under-represented groups of people as the leads.

Wild Beauty and I actually didn’t connect right away. This book is slow, thoughtful, and it marches to the beat of its own drum. Apart of me as I was reading it felt like I didn’t entirely understand what was going or who the characters were becoming. However, the more I read, the more captivated I was by all the feelings I was having. This book just has such an ethereal quality to it — it’s like getting lost in something so beautiful, yet simple. There is so much mystery, intrigue, and I feel like I was being swept away.

And that’s really all I am going to say about Wild Beauty. While it has moments where it’s very slow, it’s a book that you need to keep going with it because it will grab you and when it does it doesn’t let go. The characters, the world, the writing, it’s so magical, and it’s an experience to say the least.

ARC Review – Top Ten by Katie Cotugno

Title: Top Ten

Author: Katie Cotugno

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Ryan McCullough and Gabby Hart are the unlikeliest of friends. Introverted, anxious Gabby would rather do literally anything than go to a party. Ryan is a star hockey player who can get any girl he wants—and does, frequently. But against all odds, they became not only friends, but each other’s favorite person. Now, as they face high school graduation, they can’t help but take a moment to reminisce and, in their signature tradition, make a top ten list—counting down the top ten moments of their friendship: 

10. Where to begin? Maybe the night we met.
9. Then there was our awkward phase.
8. When you were in love with me but never told me…
7. Those five months we stopped talking were the hardest of my life.
6. Through terrible fights…
5. And emotional makeups.
4. You were there for me when I got my heart broken.
3. …but at times, you were also the one breaking it.
2. Above all, you helped me make sense of the world.
1. Now, as we head off to college—how am I possibly going to live without you?

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I was super disappointed by Katie Cotugno’s 99 Days. It was one of those books I had high hopes for given how much I adored How to LoveTop Ten is closer to How to Love for me, as I found myself engrossed in it.

I can understand why other reviews DNF’ed this book — the style of going back and forth between Ryan and Gabby’s perspectives at different points of their lives can feel a bit jarring. Cotugno’s writing is beautiful, but the reader is just completely dropped into Gabby and Ryan’s friendship without build up. The timelines go back and forth, and it can feel a bit confusing. I, however, embraced what the author was trying to accomplish with the writing, and I loved the message she was going for.

Gabby and Ryan are awkward. They suffer from social anxiety. The are best friends, though Ryan is in love with Gabby, and Gabby has a crush on a girl. Gabby is learned to embrace her bisexuality, but she doesn’t want her relationship with Ryan to take a hit. All their messy feelings make so much sense and it’s easy to feel empathy for them. Cotugno provides us with two main characters who are messy, thoughtful, and you get the sense that there is so much that us unclear surrounding their friendship.

I even loved the sloppy, confused romance in this novel. You get the sense that there is so much emotion and inanity of teen angst and love. Top Ten is just such a unique experience for a contemporary novel, just in terms of how it is written. It’s not going to gel with every reader, but I found myself engaged from beginning to end, and I feel like regardless of my feelings on 99 Days, I’ll still read anything Katie Cotugno writes just for the experience alone.

ARC Review – Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Title: Moxie

Author: Jennifer Mathieu

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with a school administration at her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment, and gross comments from guys during class. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. As Viv forges friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This is a book I want in the hands of every young girl. I wish I had this book when I was growing up. Moxie is a book about girl power, girl friendship and the need to band together to fight injustice. Once again, Jennifer Mathieu has written a damned winner with this book, and if this doesn’t become mandatory reading for young feminists, I may cry.

Vivian is an amazing heroine who gets fed up with the sexism that exists in her school. Girls being told to go home and “make a sandwich” to trying to deny the existence of sexual assault, Viv can’t take it anymore. What does she do? She channels her inner Riot Grrl and creates “Moxie” a zine that focuses on the importance of banding together against injustice and to fight the rampant sexism that exists at East Rockport High. Vivian begins to start a hidden movement, with girls being able to find their voice.

HOLY CRAP THIS BOOK. I read this book in two full sittings and was completely glued the story. Mathieu does an amazing job building every action and consequence in this story. There is this fantastic build in the story that makes you want to get to the climax and then see how everything falls into place. This is a girl friendship book and that is the larger focus in this story, and it’s amazing because you see supportive girls, you see them protecting each other, wanting to do what is right. Even the romance with Seth in this book is done well. I love how he makes such a huge mistake and Viv doesn’t just cave to it — she wants him to learn and wants him to build his understanding. She calls him out, and we need more of that. Women calling men out for their crap.

Moxie is an amazing read, and easily a favourite. I loved the characters, the friendship and the power of feminism that exists in this story. I can only hope this gets turned into a film or at least ending up in the hands of girls who need this understanding, this pick me up, this reminder that we need to stick together. Thank you, Jennifer Mathieu for continuing to write books that challenge, intrigue — if you keep writing, I’ll keep reading.

ARC Review – Spinning by Tillie Walden

Title: Spinning

Author: Tillie Walden

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: It was the same every morning. Wake up, grab the ice skates, and head to the rink while the world was still dark.

Weekends were spent in glitter and tights at competitions. Perform. Smile. And do it again.

She was good. She won. And she hated it.

For ten years, figure skating was Tillie Walden’s life. She woke before dawn for morning lessons, went straight to group practice after school, and spent weekends competing at ice rinks across the state. It was a central piece of her identity, her safe haven from the stress of school, bullies, and family. But over time, as she switched schools, got into art, and fell in love with her first girlfriend, she began to question how the close-minded world of figure skating fit in with the rest of her life, and whether all the work was worth it given the reality: that she, and her friends on the figure skating team, were nowhere close to Olympic hopefuls. It all led to one question: What was the point?

Huge thank you to First Second for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I always love sports stories despite not enjoying playing sports. There’s something about watching a protagonist grow and transform through the use of sport. However, this is not entirely that story. This graphic memoir looks back on Tillie Walden’s relationship to figure skating, understanding her sexuality, and falling in love with art.

First off, I am a big fan of graphic memoirs. They are an interesting medium for telling personal stories, and Walden’s is one I think many readers can relate to, particular what it means to fall out of love with someone and in love with something (and someone else). You see throughout the course of the story that Walden’s passion for figure skating changes, that it doesn’t feel fulfilling. You also see what is keeping her there – her first love, a girl, whom she is over the moon for.

We learn in the story that Walden has known she was gay since she was quite young. We are told that she was afraid of coming out for so long, but because of how young she was it was easier to have girls come over for sleepovers and her parents think nothing of it. She talks about how living in Texas is was scary to be young and gay, especially when society pushes it’s agenda of marriage and kids. I felt for Walden, especially when she talked about her fears and how concerned she was if people found out she was gay. The book shows how she was bullied and tormented be it at school or at figure skating practice, and she never truly gets to feel satisfied in her own skin.

Spinning is a gentle story about growing up. Tillie Walden shares such a powerful narrative, and her artwork does an amazing job of showing the intense feeling of what happened in her life. I LOVED the artwork and chromatic colouring in this graphic memoir and I think it just adds such a beautiful layer to such an emotional story. I felt nothing but sympathy for Tillie, but I felt so proud towards the end when things finally came together.