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ARC Review – On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

Title: On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

Author: Rachel Hartman

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Throughout the deepest reaches of space, a crew rebuilds beautiful and broken-down structures, painstakingly putting the past together. As Mia, the newest member, gets to know her team, the story flashes back to her pivotal year in boarding school, where she fell in love with a mysterious new student. When Mia grows close to her new friends, she reveals her true purpose for joining their ship—to track down her long-lost love.

An inventive world, a breathtaking love story, and stunning art come together in this new work by award-winning artist Tillie Walden.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I loved the heck out of Tillie Walden’s Spinning. When I heard that more of her comics were being published, I decided to keep my eye out for them. On a Sunbeam focuses on a female-female relationship that transcends to the deepest edge of the universe.

This book was beautiful. I loved Walden’s artwork and the colour choice of muted tones throughout the story. There’s a sense of loneliness, foreboding, and discomfort throughout On a Sunbeam, and that is reflected in the artwork through and through. What I loved about the story was the relationship between Mira and Grace. It felt very genuine and raw, right down to the moments where there was heartbreak. Mia is an interesting character in that she’s very strong and smart, but she’s not necessarily the most comfortable in her own skin. I found she was very easy to connect with.

There is also so much going on in this story. I think what I loved was how disjointed parts of it felt. Nothing entirely felt straight-forward and I found myself constantly questioning what was going on. Furthermore, there’s some interesting discussion regarding language usage, family dynamics, and even though this story takes place in outer space, space itself feels like it’s own character.

I loved reading On a Sunbeam, from its wonderful lady-driven romance, to its portrayal of family (and how family doesn’t have to be blood). I think Tillie Walden is a talented storyteller who gets readers attached to her characters and often lets the reader feel a strong connection to them. This story is dark, yet hopeful, and I think it will gel with readers who want stories that they feel they can be closely connected to.

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ARC Review – Check, Please!: #Hockey by Ngozi Ukazu

Title: Check, Please!: #Hockey

Author: Ngozi Ukazu

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: A collection of the first half of the megapopular webcomic series of the same name, Check, Please!: #Hockey is the first book of a hilarious and stirring two-volume coming-of-age story about hockey, bros, and trying to find yourself during the best four years of your life.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review: 

I didn’t even know I needed Check Please! in my life until I started reading it. It was a webcomic that I saw being discussed over on Cece @ ProblemsofaBookNerd’s channel, and every time she mentioned it, the more intrigued I was. Hockey? Baked goods? Vlogging? What more can you ask for?

Eric “Bitty” Bittle is the smallest player on his college hockey team. He’s also openly gay, and kinda sorta maybe has the hots for Jack, a French-Canadian teammate. The romance between the two is SO DARLING. It is so cute, and I love how organic it feels in the story. Eric and Jack are just so awkward and sweet! I kept rooting for them from start to finish even though yes, I knew they would end up together. THAT’S NOT THE POINT. POINT IS IS LOVED IT, OKAY?!

I also adored the artwork, and just how well-researched it is. anytime hockey is discussed I just found myself being like “I KNOW WHAT THAT IS!” or “I know who they are talking about!” I recognize how silly that may sound, but I love learning about sports even if I don’t necessarily like playing them. I also loved any section of the story that focused on Eric and his former figure-skating career! Those panels are so pretty!

I honestly can gush forever about Check Please! and honestly I am so excited to have discovered this comic series. I cannot wait for the next part to be bundled together just so I scan squeal at the top of my lungs over just how freakin’ cute it is.

ARC Review – Sadie by Courtney Summers

Title: Sadie

Author: Courtney Summers

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: A missing girl on a journey of revenge and a Serial-like podcast following the clues she’s left behind.

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have adored every book Courtney Summers has put out. I find the moment I have one of her books I tend to devour it quickly because I get so engrossed in her stories and characters. Sadie is one of those books that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and is unafraid to look at complicated issues regarding sexual conduct and runaway teens.

First off, I loved the dual perspective in this novel. The reader is introduced to West McCray, who has a podcast in the style of Serial as he tries to uncover why Sadie ran away from home, as well as what truly happened to her sister, Mattie. We also have Sadie’s perspective, which shows us just how far a young woman can go when trying to seek her own kind of personal justice. Sadie is a character you root for, get frustrated by, but constantly find yourself empathizing with. I felt like when I was reading this book I was constantly her shadow — looking overhead and trying to see what she would do next. Both these perspectives draw from each other so well, and it makes this thriller have all the more impact.

This story though… it’s an uncomfortable one. Sadie’s reasons, West McCray’s desire to help, all converge in such a troubling way, and I loved it for that. I loved guessing what was happening in the story, I loved getting the perspectives of all the interviewees and trying to figure out if they were telling the truth, and I love how convoluted a lot of the investigation feels. I also loved getting Sadie’s backstory, learning about her mother and Mattie — a lot of it is so heartbreaking and yet, the reader is constantly asking why.

Sadie is a fantastic, unflinching novel that will keep you guessing. The conclusion is satisfying, and it’s one of those books where I would love to hear an audio-version in the future. If you loved raw, angry novels, please check out Sadie, and I promise you won’t regret it.

ARC Review – The Broken Vow (Spill Zone #2) by Scott Westerfeld & Alex Puvilland

Title: Spill Zone: The Broken Vow

Author: Scott Westefeld & Alex Puvilland

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Only the very brave or the very desperate dare enter the Spill Zone—Addison Merritt is a little of both. In exchange for a suitcase full of cash, she made one last to the Zone. She survived the encounter, but came back changed.

Addison is not alone. In a remote village in North Korea, a young man named Jae was touched by the unholy fire of the Spill Zone. He made it out alive—alive, but also changed.

Now bestowed with uncanny powers, Addison and Jae may be the only ones strong enough to face a new threat that has risen in the Spill Zone. This deadly entity is searching for his runaway bride—and his hunt is bringing him closer and closer to Addison and her little sister. 

Huge thank you to Raincoast books for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I really enjoyed the first volume of Spill Zone, and I will admit, I think I enjoyed this sequel a little less. The story has definitely taken some interesting twists and turns, especially now that we are introduced to Jae, a North Korean boy who has similar powers to Addison. This novel explores what happens to those who have been touched by the spill and how drastically they transform.

I won’t lie, I still found parts of this graphic novel a bit confusing. The plot of the first book was a lot more steady, but here I found myself lost at times regarding some of the elemental plots. It’s interesting to see what the spill is doing worldwide, and this book is genuinely far creepier than the first. I still hate the creepy-doll, but this book takes this element to a different level and one I was unnerved by — which means the book did it’s job. I do think the pacing was much slower for this installment than the first, but I appreciated that the stakes truly felt higher in Broken Vow compared to Spill Zone.

I still think the artwork is quite a unique mashup of styles and colours. I love that they puke every colour of the rainbow and it suits so much of what is happening in the story. I still love the relationship between Addi and Lexa, though the ending did leave a bit to be desired. This volume really felt like it was playing with a lot of different science fiction and horror tropes, which I appreciated. Vespertine the doll still gives me nightmares. I didn’t think it would be possible, but she was scary in book one and in the sequel… lets just say she shook me at times.

I think Broken Vow is a good sequel, and perhaps I am at fault for having not reread the first book just for a refresher. I think fans of the first book will definitely enjoy this volume, and I think maybe for me I just had the wrong expectations as I was reading this of what I thought was going to happen. A good, but not great conclusion for me.

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.

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.