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Late to the Party ARC Review – Invictus by Ryan Graudin

Title: Invictus

Author: Ryan Graudin

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Farway Gaius McCarthy was born outside of time. The son of a time-traveling Recorder from 2354 AD and a gladiator living in Rome in 95 AD, Far’s birth defies the laws of nature. Exploring history himself is all he’s ever wanted, and after failing his final time-traveling exam, Far takes a position commanding a ship with a crew of his friends as part of a black market operation to steal valuables from the past. 

But during a heist on the sinking Titanic, Far meets a mysterious girl who always seems to be one step ahead of him. Armed with knowledge that will bring Far’s very existence into question, she will lead Far and his team on a race through time to discover a frightening truth: History is not as steady as it seems.

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

So, epic fail on my part. I got this book last year around the time it released and somehow only got to it this year. I LOVED Wolf by Wolfand it’s sequel by Ryan Graudin, and I was so excited to read this and yet it slipped my mind. What’s not to love about a story that focuses on time travel and being a space pirate?

Invictus is such a different beast from Graudin’s other books, especially given that a lot of her previous titles were historical fiction. I admit, this book took me a lot longer to get into because it was science fiction, and I found the first hundred pages to be a bit on the slow side. There’s a lot being explained and developed, which normally I don’t mind, but in this case I found it challenging given I was expecting a similar style of writing that wasn’t here. It’s the same with the characters — I didn’t enjoy them right off the bat and it took pages upon pages before I truly found myself engaged with them as people.

I will say, I did enjoy the science fiction elements a lot. I think what I enjoyed the most was Graudin’s treatment of Invictus, giving the ship such a wonderful personality. I loved the way in which the cast was over protective of her, and even in times of crisis it was all about the damn ship. I liked that! I appreciate and love space stories where the ship feels like a character and one with great importance. Made me think of Firefly in some ways. I also loved the jumping through history element of the novel. I think it was done in such an accessible and approachable way for readers who may not entirely be history buffs.

I am happy I finally read Invictus. It’s no Wolf by Wolf and it was ill of me to expect the same caliber of work. I think this is novel that stands well on its own, and it’s definitely for lighter science fiction fans. I think this is a rough first “space” science fiction novel, but I am still so curious if Graudin will come back to this universe or attempt science fiction again. There’s a lot of good in this novel, and I think for me the issue I had were more my own than the book itself.

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Late to the Party ARC Review – Invisible Ghosts by Robyn Schneider

Title: Invisible Ghosts

Author: Robyn Schneider

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Rose Asher believes in ghosts. She should, since she has one for a best friend: Logan, her annoying, Netflix-addicted brother, who is forever stuck at fifteen. But Rose is growing up, and when an old friend moves back to Laguna Canyon and appears in her drama class, things get complicated.

Jamie Aldridge is charming, confident, and a painful reminder of the life Rose has been missing out on since her brother’s death. She watches as Jamie easily rejoins their former friends–a group of magnificently silly theater nerds–while avoiding her so intensely that it must be deliberate.

Yet when the two of them unexpectedly cross paths, Rose learns that Jamie has a secret of his own, one that changes everything. Rose finds herself drawn back into her old life–and to Jamie. But she quickly starts to suspect that he isn’t telling her the whole truth.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have loved all of Robyn Schneider’s books that she has published. I figured given her track record and my enjoyment, Invisible Ghostssurely was going to be a new favourite. I was expecting to love this, and it was just okay. Saying that it was just okay breaks my heart a little bit, but that is the truth.

When this book was being pitched to me, I was told it was an exploration of grief. That statement is true to an extent, given this is a story about Rose believing that she can see the ghost of her best friend and brother, Logan. The parts of the story where Rose and Logan interacted were easily some of the best parts of the story, and I really enjoyed those moments.

Where I struggled with this book was the romance between Jamie and Rose. I just couldn’t connect with it, I felt very hollow at times, and frankly, I was bored. I know part of Jamie’s story is that he is helping Rose through her grief, but I felt like at times the book made this element a bit too easy, undermining what it means to feel a sense of loss. I think what frustrated me more is that Robyn Schneider has explored the topic of grief before, and I think it was done much better in her other books than Invisible Ghosts.

While I love Robyn Schneider’s writing style, I found that this book and I just didn’t connect the way I was hoping. Perhaps I put too high an expectation on this book given past experiences, or maybe I just wanted something with a lot more depth on a topic that I connect with than this book provided. I think there will be plenty of readers who will love Invisible Ghosts and not much the surface level discussion of grief, but I won’t lie, my expectations were just a bit too high.

ARC Review – Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert

Title: Finding Yvonne

Author: Brandy Colbert

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Since she was seven years old, Yvonne has had her trusted violin to keep her company, especially in those lonely days after her mother walked out on their family. But with graduation just around the corner, she is forced to face the hard truth that she just might not be good enough to attend a conservatory after high school.

Full of doubt about her future, and increasingly frustrated by her strained relationship with her successful but emotionally closed-off father, Yvonne meets a street musician and fellow violinist who understands her struggle. He’s mysterious, charming, and different from Warren, the familiar and reliable boy who has her heart. But when Yvonne becomes unexpectedly pregnant. 

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Finding Yvonne is a book I would have accidentally avoided if it hadn’t been for the fact that it is penned by Brandy Colbert. I am generally not a huge fan about books that involve teen pregnancy or pregnancy in general. However, I think what drew me to this book is that it is a portrait of a girl well on her way to a successful career, how he life gets thrown off course, and how she ends up making one of the most difficult decisions of her life.

This book is intense. I felt so much reading this book because Yvonne felt like a girl whom you’d chat with, seeming so down to earth, and very kind. Her feelings for the men that she gives herself to is also so genuine. The discussion of sex and sexuality is well captured in this book, and this is a very sex-positive book. This book also has a fantastic discussion supporting pro-choice as well. I also loved the family dynamics in this book, especially between Yvonne and her father. Her family relationships felt so realistic as well.

Finding Yvonne is an amazing book with a lot of loaded discussion questions. I think adults and teens can relate to a lot of what happens in this story, and Yvonne is just such a lovable character. If you don’t mind character studies or books focusing on teen pregnancy, please read this book. It’ll spark fantastic discussion.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Tess of the Road (Tess of the Road #1) by Rachel Hartman

Title: Tess of the Road (Tess of the Road #1)

Author: Rachel Hartman

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: In the medieval kingdom of Goredd, women are expected to be ladies, men are their protectors, and dragons can be whomever they choose. Tess is none of these things. Tess is. . . different. She speaks out of turn, has wild ideas, and can’t seem to keep out of trouble. Then Tess goes too far. What she’s done is so disgraceful, she can’t even allow herself to think of it. Unfortunately, the past cannot be ignored. So Tess’s family decide the only path for her is a nunnery.

But on the day she is to join the nuns, Tess chooses a different path for herself. She cuts her hair, pulls on her boots, and sets out on a journey. She’s not running away, she’s running towards something. What that something is, she doesn’t know. Tess just knows that the open road is a map to somewhere else–a life where she might belong.

Huge thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I should have read this book sooner. Seraphina is one of my favourite fantasy novels, and I was beyond thrilled to find out that Rachel Hartman finally had a new book coming out set int he same universe. I also haven’t been reading as much fantasy lately, so it was so nice to pick this up and fly through it. Plus, this book has dragons, and dragons are A+ in my books.

This is a rich and character driven fantasy novel. Tess is a fantastic, snarky, lovable heroine and I loved being on this journey with her. I loved how sassy and take charge she is! And she wasn’t even my favourite character! That crown goes to Pathka, who just made this book everything I wanted it to be and more. But in all seriousness, this book is about Tess’ growth as a character, and it looks at her life in alternative perspectives in how she’s grown and her connection with the dragons. Tess goes through some horrific things in her life, yet you cannot help but root for her.

Also some of the deaths in this book ruined me. RUINED ME. No spoilers, but they were so heartbreaking and I may have yelled at the book for it. I recognize the book cannot talk back to me (and if it did, it would tell me it’s feeding on my tears).

I think for a lot of fantasy readers Tess of the Road might be too much of a slow burn. Personally, I love fantasy novels that gradually build to its climax. This book lacks a lot of the fantasy tropes that people love — there’s no complicated magic systems or intalove — just a story about a girl out on the open on the road, forging a new path for herself. What’s not to love?

Late to the Party ARC Review – Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now by Dana L. Davis

Title: Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now

Author: Dana L. Davis

Rating: ★★ 1/2

Synopsis: For sixteen-year-old Tiffany Sly, life hasn’t been safe or normal for a while. Losing her mom to cancer has her a little bit traumatized and now she has to leave her hometown of Chicago to live with the biological dad she’s never known.

Anthony Stone is a rich man with four other daughters—and rules for every second of the day. Tiffany tries to make the best of things, but she doesn’t fit into her new luxurious, but super-strict, home—or get along with her standoffish sister London. The only thing that makes her new life even remotely bearable is the strange boy across the street. Marcus McKinney has had his own experiences with death, and the unexpected friendship that blossoms between them is the only thing that makes her feel grounded.

But Tiffany has a secret. Another man claims he’s Tiffany’s real dad—and she only has seven days before he shows up to demand a paternity test and the truth comes out. With her life about to fall apart all over again, Tiffany finds herself discovering unexpected truths about her father, her mother and herself, and realizing that maybe family is in the bonds you make—and that life means sometimes taking risks.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

When I heard about the premise for Dana L. Davis’ Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now, I was intrigued. The focus on a girl with two potential fathers definitely means there is doing to be some drama, and I love stories that focus on unique familial circumstances. I may have hyped this book in my mind, and sadly it didn’t live up to the expectations I gave it. It’s a good book, but it’s not without some issues.

First off, this book took me awhile to get into. Like, I would pick up and read, then completely forget about it. The first hundred pages were not holding my attention. However, once I hit the latter half of the book, I was completely glued to the pages and needed to know what was happening. It’s weird for a book to do such a mad 180 degree turn, but that was my reading experience with this book. Sometimes I so invested in the story, and other times I was just bored because the story wasn’t engaging me.

I will say that I really did like Tiffany as a character. She’s got a good head on her shoulders, she’s smart, kind, and she means well. She’s also a girl questioning her family and her faith. This book is uncomfortable at times… especially Tiffany’s estranged father, who does some borderline abusive things to her. His treatment of her mental illness in particular disgusted me, as the idea of keeping medication away from someone who needs it is just revolting and wrong. But him being an uncomfortable person is what drives a lot of the story, especially given that before he and Tiffany met, they lived such different lives.

The way in which religion is portrayed in this book is also a difficult subject matter. It’s a weird kind of zealotry, and it’s no wonder why Tiffany fights it. Why she’s trying to protect her siblings from it. There’s so much complication in how Tiffany’s father is portrayed in this book, and some of it works, and some of it does not. I will say… I really disliked the treatment of the autistic character in this book. There was something about it that just screamed power-trip and again, it’s unnerving and disturbing.

I am all for tough subject matters in YA, and I liked how some issues were portrayed in this book. This is definitely a hard book to review because there’s a lot going on, and if I am being honest, this was just an okay ride for me. I wish the book had hooked me sooner, and I do think this book could have been a bit shorter. I think Tiffany as a story is interesting, I just think the execution left a lot to be desired.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Title:  Sky in the Deep

Author: Adrienne Young

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Raised to be a warrior, seventeen-year-old Eelyn fights alongside her Aska clansmen in an ancient rivalry against the Riki clan. Her life is brutal but simple: fight and survive. Until the day she sees the impossible on the battlefield — her brother, fighting with the enemy — the brother she watched die five years ago.

Faced with her brother’s betrayal, she must survive the winter in the mountains with the Riki, in a village where every neighbor is an enemy, every battle scar possibly one she delivered. But when the Riki village is raided by a ruthless clan thought to be a legend, Eelyn is even more desperate to get back to her beloved family.

She is given no choice but to trust Fiske, her brother’s friend, who sees her as a threat. They must do the impossible: unite the clans to fight together, or risk being slaughtered one by one. Driven by a love for her clan and her growing love for Fiske, Eelyn must confront her own definition of loyalty and family while daring to put her faith in the people she’s spent her life hating.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I was so excited when Raincoast sent me Sky in the Deep. I haven’t read a lot of novels featuring vikings, let alone one where the lead is a female warrior. Eelyn story is wonderfully compelling, and this book read like candy.

I won’t lie, this book is not to most ground-breaking or well-written. It’s a debut, and it makes a lot of the mistakes debuts have by giving so much in a story without properly providing necessary aspects such as strong world building or deep and developed characters. This is true for Sky in the Deep and yet, I didn’t care. I was having so much fun reading this book, and while I didn’t read it quickly, I appreciated what an easy read it was.

Eelyn is a fun heroine. She’s strong, difficult, and she stands out. She takes to tasks and wants to get the job done, making her quite the boss. She’s also wonderfully flawed, which made me happy given I like a heroine to have flaws that the reader can relate to. This is a heroine who is tough, she mows people down, she has a sense of justice and duty and yet she’s a fighter. I just, I loved her so.

I just had such fun with all the action in the book. I also liked the political aspects between the viking groups, though I wish it had been more developed. I also appreciated that the romance wasn’t the forefront in this story mostly because I found it to be very phoned in. I still say I loved the issues involving the clans (well, any bit of information we received).

I can’t really explained why I liked this book. There’s a lot of action, politics and an awesome heroine, but there’s equally enough problems such as a lack of world-building and characterization among the secondary cast. But I found this to be such an enjoyable page-turner and even with the lack of information at times I was still loving the book, flaws and all. I wish we had more YA viking fantasy, and even with the book’s problems, I am still so happy it exists in the world and I cannot wait to start recommending it.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

Title: Emergency Contact

Author: Mary H.K. Choi

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: For Penny Lee high school was a total nonevent. Her friends were okay, her grades were fine, and while she somehow managed to land a boyfriend, he doesn’t actually know anything about her. When Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, to learn how to become a writer, it’s seventy-nine miles and a zillion light years away from everything she can’t wait to leave behind.

Sam’s stuck. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, financially. He works at a café and sleeps there too, on a mattress on the floor of an empty storage room upstairs. He knows that this is the god-awful chapter of his life that will serve as inspiration for when he’s a famous movie director but right this second the seventeen bucks in his checking account and his dying laptop are really testing him. 

When Sam and Penny cross paths it’s less meet-cute and more a collision of unbearable awkwardness. Still, they swap numbers and stay in touch—via text—and soon become digitally inseparable, sharing their deepest anxieties and secret dreams without the humiliating weirdness of having to see each other.

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

Sam’s Review:

I’ll be honest: I kind of ignored the hype surrounding this book. I felt like it was going to be a book that I thought would just be “okay” or “that was fine.” When I got it in my Simon and Schuster Canada goodies bag from the Ontario Library Association’s Super Conference, I was intrigued, but not in the best frame of mind to read this book.

I loved, and slowly devoured Emergency Contact. I picked it up on a whim during a crazy and difficult period in my life, and it’s a book I was constantly connecting with. I loved Penny and Sam, and I while they do frustrating and even unthinkable things, I cared about their every action, and I wanted them to be better off by the end. I love that this is first and foremost a friendship novel. Penny and Sam meet in such an awkward, uncomfortable way, and they become each other’s “emergency contact” — the person they connect with when life is beating them black and blue.

This book has a very slow build, but I found myself really loving and engaging with it. This isn’t a book I found myself reading quickly, but rather small bits at a time because I found the situations that the characters engaged in to be difficult to read about at times. Sam’s plot-line in particular had me yelling and flailing my arms in anger, while Penny I could easily relate to (despite being nothing like her) and seeing how she has to deal with changes beyond her control. The writing in this book is playful, lyrical and fun despite the darker tone in it, and I think Choi does a fantastic job of getting readers to care and emote while reading this novel.

I am definitely going to have to buy myself a copy of this book because I feel like it’s one I will get the itch to reread. While I feel like this book is pretty hyped, it’s also one I don’t think that had that intention in the first place. This is a very quiet book, and one that builds and builds until it crashes so hard that everything feels messy and raw. I love novels like that, and I think it’s why Emergency Contactresonated with me the way it did. It’s definitely not for every reader, but if you love quieter books that offer a detailed character study of two lost young adults, I think this book is highly worth the read.