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Late to the Party ARC Review – Kat and Meg Conquer the World by Anna Priemaza

Title: at and Meg Conquer the World

Author: Anna Priemaza

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Kat and Meg couldn’t be more different. Kat’s anxiety makes it hard for her to talk to people. Meg hates being alone, but her ADHD keeps pushing people away. But when the two girls are thrown together for a year-long science project, they discover they do have one thing in common: They’re both obsessed with the same online gaming star and his hilarious videos.

It might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship—if they don’t kill each other first.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

One thing I’ve often disliked in contemporary YA is the lack of friendships between girls. I mean the genuine, well-meaning, kind of friendships where there is mutual respect between the characters. Stories about friendship often have more to do with romance, but what I loved about Kat and Meg Conquer the World is that the friendship is the large focus, while the girls also attempt to conquer their mental illnesses while maybe like-liking a cute boy here and there.

Priemaza’s debut is wonderful. There’s a distinct difference in Kat and Meg’s voices, and I found myself able to visualize what the girls were doing, how they were behaving, and of course, the video game they are both obsessed with. It is so AWESOME to see girl gamers being represented in stories without it being a quirk in their character. There’s a lot of care and attention to detail in the way in which the girls interact with the MMORPG that they play online, and how online culture can feed into mental illness, in Kat’s case anxiety and depression, and Meg’s ADHD. Even the way in which mental illness is represented in this novel is just very thoughtful and mindful of those who suffer from them.

I adored Kat and Meg Concuer the Universe because it’s such a true-to-life story with fangirls who want to be accepted by others, but ultimately themselves. Kat and Meg’s friendship is easily one of the strongest and most complex part of this story, and it’s so easy to fall in love with the characters and root for them when they succeed and feel empathy when they fail. I urge people to check this book out, especially if you’re looking for a story with complex female friendships and ya don’t mind a dash of gamer culture.

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ARC Review – Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills

Title: Foolish Hearts

Author: Emma Mills

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: A contemporary novel about a girl whose high school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream leads her to new friends—and maybe even new love.

The day of the last party of the summer, Claudia overhears a conversation she wasn’t supposed to. Now on the wrong side of one of the meanest girls in school, Claudia doesn’t know what to expect when the two are paired up to write a paper—let alone when they’re both forced to try out for the school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

But mandatory participation has its upsides—namely, an unexpected friendship, a boy band obsession, and a guy with the best dimpled smile Claudia’s ever seen. As Claudia’s world starts to expand, she finds that maybe there are some things worth sticking her neck out for.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I swear when it comes to writing friendship stories, Emma Mills always knocks it out of the park. What I love about Foolish Hearts is that this is a story about an unlikely friendship through boy band fandom.

Claudia and Iris do not seem like the kind of people who would be friends, but when Iris and her girlfriend Paige suffer a nasty break up, Iris is forced to work with Claudia to work on a school paper, as well as the school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. However, one day while working on said project, Claudia learns that Iris loves TION (or This Is Our Now), a boy band that takes over every inch of her bedroom wall. They begin to foster a friendship through their love of TION, and it is adorable.

What I love about Emma Mills’ books is that they are very genuine, her heroines very believable, and it’s always chock full of humour and heart. I adored the characters in this story, I loved the building of Claudia and Iris’ friendship, and I loved all the feelings this book gave me. Even the romance between Claudia and Gideon was adorkable. I just loved everything about this story and the cast and I just found myself in such a happy state of mind while I was reading this book.

Reading an Emma Mills book is like comfort food. It’s happiness and fun, and I just love what she does with her characters. Much like This Adventure Ends, I feel like Foolish Hearts is just such a memorable read, and I will continue to support Emma Mills if she continues to keep writing fannish, fluffy, contemporary novels.

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe & Lilit Thwaites (Translator)

Title: The Librarian of Auschwitz

Author: Antonio Iturbe & Lilit Thwaites (Translator)

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Based on the experience of real-life Auschwitz prisoner Dita Kraus, this is the incredible story of a girl who risked her life to keep the magic of books alive during the Holocaust. Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious volumes the prisoners have managed to sneak past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the librarian of Auschwitz. 

Out of one of the darkest chapters of human history comes this extraordinary story of courage and hope.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

The Librarian of Auschwitz is a novel based on the life of Dita Kraus, a young woman who risked her life to protect literature in a Nazi death-camp. Dubbed “The Librarian of Auxchwitz,” Dita made it her priority to protect the books that were found on the grounds, while also helping those in need during a period of turmoil.

This book is depressing, but important. There is so man sad and horrifying moments that remind you how truly dreadful human beings are. This book reminds readers of the horrors of the Holocaust and how difficult that event truly was. I loved Dita’s courage in the story and I appreciate that as someone as young as she is, she decides to be brave in a place where bravery could potential mean death. There’s a vividness in this translation that gives the reader the sense of tragedy and foreboding. There is discomfort, fear, and sadness in these pages, and I found myself truly feeling for people represented in this story.

This book shows so much hope in the darkness, and while I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, I appreciate the learning opportunities that come from a well researched book. The Librarian of Auschwitz is a slow read, but a thoughtful one throughout.

ARC Review – Kids Like Us by Hilary Reyl

Title: Kids Like Us

Author: Hilary Reyl

Rating: ★★

Synopsis: Martin is an American teen on the autism spectrum living in France with his mom and sister for the summer. He falls for a French girl who he thinks is a real-life incarnation of a character in his favorite book. Over time Martin comes to realize she is a real person and not a character in a novel while at the same time learning that love is not out of his reach just because he is autistic.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I was so excited when I received Kids Like Us because I have been wanting to read more stories that focus on characters with autism. I think my expectations were a bit too high, because when I started the book I was into it, then I hit the middle and wasn’t enjoying it, and then the ending happened. It was an interesting ending.

I think my biggest problem with this book is the very stilted narration. Martin’s voice, though I’m sure could be authentic, is very awkward. It also does one of my bookish pet peeves where the main character will say a word and then define it for the reader. It’s also a hard book to enjoy because I think at times Martin’s voice would fluctuate between a middle grader or a high schooler. The book is also so, so, so slow and given how short the book is, I found myself not liking the meandering pace that it had.

I see value in a story such as Kids Like Us, but ultimately I feel like it wasn’t to my taste, even as a reader who loves tough issue YA. Still, I feel like I did learn a lot about autism, but I’ve heard there are definitely better books out there on the subject. I think with the right reader this book can have the emotional impact I think it was trying to have, but it just didn’t work for me.

Late to the Party ARC Review – They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

Title: They Both Die at the End

Author: Adam Silvera

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure and to live a lifetime in a single day.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I read this book in two long sittings. I was glued to the pages and intrigued by the concept of The Last Friend app and Death-Cast calls. The idea of having a phone call tell you that it’s your last day to live is utterly terrifying, but also a bizarre motivator to attempt to live your last day to the fullest. Silvera pulls no punches with this story — it’s emotional, it’s raw, and it’s going to hurt like hell.

As the title suggests, Mateo and Rufus are going to die at the end of the story. The problem with this is that Silvera makes you fall deeply in love with both boys so that when this happens it rips your heart out and the belief in love is destroyed. You never truly feel ready for the impact of the end of this book and that’s probably why it works so well. There’s moments where Silvera tries to fake out the reader in when the boys are going to die and it just pulls at the heartstrings.

I loved Mateo and Rufus. Mateo’s anxiety, his father being in a coma, and his fears of leaving the world without real accomplishment was something I truly could empathize with. He doesn’t hold himself in high regard, but once he meets Rufus you see Mateo come out of his shell, even if it almost feels like it’s too late. As for Rufus, he’s a character that understands the kinds of wrong-doings he’s committed, and you get a large sense that he wants to atone for past action and strive to be someone better… even if he only gets a day to do it. In a lot of ways that’s why this story works so well is you’re seeing all these positive changes in these characters, but you know that this is all brought down because it’s their last day to be alive.

I even liked the side characters, especially Aimee and Lidia. I feel like they added a lot of characterization to both Mateo and Rufus. I also liked the little vignettes of other people in the story either receiving the call or not and how that affects their day or last day for that matter. They are cleverly done and just as punch as the main story.

And it hurts so much. I cried, I was angry, I felt tired after finishing this book because my feelings were all over the place. They Both Die at the End was a heavy, emotional read for me, but it was one I flew through because I found myself connecting so deeply with the story and it’s characters. There is no right headspace for reading this book, just remember that the title rings true and that you’re going to need a lot of tissues to get through this one.

Five 2018 Releases That Are On My Radar

November is the month where we realize that December is around the corner and the year is nearly over. However, it’s also a month that sometimes feels longer than it should too. While I still have lots of 2017 releases in need of being read, my eyes are already looking at some of the shiny titles for 2018. While I’ve read a couple of 2018 releases, I am not going to include them in this list simply because I didn’t read them in 2018. I always try to pick five releases for the year that are considered my must-reads and here’s the ones so far I am anticipating.

Batman: Nightwalker (DC Icons #2)
by Marie Lu (Release Date: January 2nd 2018 by Random House Books for Young Readers)

I am a huge Batman fangirl. I didn’t grow up on Marvel comics, but I did DC and I have always had a more affinity with the DC Heroes. Batman was always a favourite, and even now I still watch all the animated movies that come out, and I still try to stay as current as I can with Batman comics. I really liked the first book in the DC Icons series, Warbringer, which was about Wonder Woman. Marie Lu has always been a bit of a hit-or-miss author with me, but I have faith her Batman will be good.

Girl Made of Stars
by Ashley Herring Blake (Release Date: May 15th 2018 by HMH Books for Young Readers)

While I was at the recent Raincoast #TeensReadFeed presentation, Ashley Herring Blake’s works can up twice, and both really caught my attention. I love books that focus on tough issues, and Girl Made of Stars is a book I feel like I am really going to enjoy and have many feelings towards. I still need to read her debut, Suffer Love, which I have. I may have to prioritize that before this book releases!

The Way You Make Me Feel
by Maurene Goo (Release Date: May 8th 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BFYR)

While I haven’t read Maurene Goo’s debut novel, I LOVED I Believe in a Thing Called Love. It was quirky, fun and just such a palette cleanser from books I had been reading at the time. Every time I see the title for this book I just start singing Michael Jackson, which I am not sure if that was intentional or not (seems likely though). I am hoping this book will have everything I liked about Maurene Goo’s previous book and more. Also Korean leads in books are always interesting to me and this cover is beautiful.

A Girl Like That
by Tanaz Bhathena (Release Date: February 27th 2018 by Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young)

I am very hyped for this book. I think it will be an enlightening read looking at teens and racism as a topic. I am loving reading about groups of people that are different from me and what kinds of differences they have. This sounds like such an ambitious debut that looks at topics like race, identity, class, and religion,  I will have to get my hands on it when it releases in February, and bonus that this is also written by a Canadian author! Whoo!

Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha #1)
by Tomi Adeyemi (Release Date: March 6th 2018 by Henry Holt Books for Young Readers)

I used to love reading science fiction and fantasy, but over the last year or so it’s something I have been gravitating towards less and less. I can’t really explain why, but I feel like it hasn’t been grabbing me as of late. This book however, I feel like I am going to love. This debut is written by a Nigerian-American author, and focuses on the idea of destroying magic and fighting vengeful spirits. I’ll be intrigued to see how Nigerian culture comes into play, but I am sooooo excited for this read.

And there you have it! These are the top five books that I am super anticipating for 2018. I realize this list could go on forever, but these were the ones that were definitely sticking in my mind, all things considered. I’d love to know what 2018 reads you are most anticipating in the comments below!

ARC Review – Like Water by Rebecca Podos

Title: Like Water

Author:Rebecca Podos

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: In Savannah Espinoza’s small New Mexico hometown, kids either flee after graduation or they’re trapped there forever. Vanni never planned to get stuck—but that was before her father was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, leaving her and her mother to care for him. Now, she doesn’t have much of a plan at all: living at home, working as a performing mermaid at a second-rate water park, distracting herself with one boy after another.

That changes the day she meets Leigh. Disillusioned with small-town life and looking for something greater, Leigh is not a “nice girl.” She is unlike anyone Vanni has met, and a friend when Vanni desperately needs one. Soon enough, Leigh is much more than a friend. But caring about another person stirs up the moat Vanni has carefully constructed around herself, and threatens to bring to the surface the questions she’s held under for so long.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This book is a beautiful slow burn. A part of me hates how long it took me to read, but I found myself putting it down, and realizing little parallels in my own life. A lot of the feelings that Savannah has in this story are ones I’ve shared, especially in my high school years. I was a closeted bisexual who went to a Catholic school. I never had the courage when I was younger to be open about that, and only late in my adulthood am I finally embracing it.

Savannah is a wonderful and raw heroine. Her feels about her bisexuality are all over the place, causing anxiety. Her feelings are so natural and genuine, and you get the sense that she feels as though she is coming a part at the seams because she wants to have an identity. But I had her home life at one point, and it’s a hard pill to take sometimes. I think Podos describes Vanni’s feelings perfectly. Whenever she talked about feeling trapped or lost, I found myself nodding along in understanding. She makes a sacrifice to take care of her family and that’s no small feat at any age, honestly.

And I loved reading the spiral mess that was her and Leigh’s romance. Podos captures this kind of new found love with such tenderness, yet she also shows how messy, raw and confusing it can all be. I felt like that was super spot on. I also loved Leigh despite some of the things she does in the story, but I feel like her confusion and emotional distress is captured very well. Neither girl is always likable, but their actions make sense given the course of the story.

Like Water is a beautifully written novel that shows the messiness of self and of loving others. It’s a slow read for such a short novel, but it builds in wonderful ways making it worth sticking with. I’ll definitely have to go back and check out Rebecca Podos’ first novel, but this has me sold on her as an author to watch.