Tag Archives: young adult

ARC Review – Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir by Robin Ha

Title: Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir

Author: Robin Ha

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: So when a vacation to visit friends in Huntsville, Alabama, unexpectedly becomes a permanent relocation—following her mother’s announcement that she’s getting married—Robin is devastated. Overnight, her life changes. She is dropped into a new school where she doesn’t understand the language and struggles to keep up. She is completely cut off from her friends at home and has no access to her beloved comics. At home, she doesn’t fit in with her new stepfamily. And worst of all, she is furious with the one person she is closest to—her mother.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

What a fantastic and heartfelt memoir! I loved Robin Ha’s Cook Korean! earlier this year, but I also thought it was such a novel concept — a graphic novel cook book. Almost American Girl, however, looks at Ha’s immigration to America, her feelings of displacement and loneliness, and how she and her mother attempt to find their place in a foreign land.

Ha’s story begins in Seoul, South Korea, when she and her mother decide that life would be better if they moved to America. With Ha’s father out of the picture, Robin and her mother decide it’s time to explore new paths. Robin, however, isn’t happy with the move to Alabama, feeling like an outsider, with only her comics to keep her company. The story moves swiftly though Robin’s feelings of displacement and loneliness, but it also looks at how she handles her family who have been living in America for a long time, and how different their lives are. This book bursts with so many different emotions all boiling over at once, so it’s easy to sympathize with Robin and her mother throughout.

I want to share that while the ARC was mainly in black and white, there were some full colour pages in the book as well. Ha’s art and colour use is breathtaking and intricate, and she does an amazing job of pouring her story through her artwork. There is so many beautifully drawn scenes that evoke so much emotion in this story, that I think a variety of readers and art lovers will gravitate towards this book.

Almost American Girl was an emotional read that offers a lot of hope to readers on how to overcome change and displacement. It’s asks readers to put themselves into Robin’s shoes and understand the difficulties that she feels. This book wears it’s heart on it’s sleeve and it’s so deeply personal, that I think many readers will find solace in Robin’s story and connect with it on a variety of different levels.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Crier’s War (Crier’s War #1) by Nina Varela

Title: Crier’s War (Crier’s War #1)

Author: Nina Varela

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.

Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.

Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.

Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I heard about Crier’s War when I went to Harper Collins Canada’s Fall Frenzy event. Some buzz words the book had were adventure, politics, revenge, and a lesbian romance. I love all those things in my fantasy novels, so I knew I needed to get my hands on this book, and lo and behold it was in my grab bag.

I enjoyed Crier’s War. It’s not the most ground breaking fantasy novel, there’s a lot that has been done before, and yet I devoured the story and found myself entertained by the characters. Crier was difficult at first for me because she’s an android “playmate” essentially, meaning she doesn’t have much will of her own. That type of character is always a hard one for me to enjoy because I like my leads in fantasy to have energy and motive, but I will say Crier grew on me throughout the story. When she starts to realize she is defective and begins to understand human agency, there’s a wonderful shift and growth in her character that is VERY rewarding. Ayla on the other hand, has very one-dimensional goals (aka. revenge, revenge, and REVENGE) and while she is energetic and a go-getter, she takes a lot of time for development and I still didn’t feel like she grew enough for me to connect with.

The romance in this novel is adorable and cheesy. It’s definitely the kind of romance that steams from hate-to-love, and it’s not necessary the most well-developed at times, but I totally bought into it. It’s corny and charming, and I think that can be a great thing in a story that is a bit too serious and dark, which Crier’s War has in spades.

The writing through is solid, there’s definitely some beautiful passages, and I think the world building is very interesting throughout. I think Crier’s War succeeds in being a plot-heavy story, but not necessarily a character driven one. There’s definitely some fantastic character driven moments (Crier’s awakening being fantastically portrayed), but I don’t feel it’s entirely equal throughout the story.

I had fun reading Crier’s War and I am definitely intrigued to see where Varela goes with the sequel given how the book ended. I look forward to seeing Ayla and Crier grow some more, and I think there’s a lot of great ideas in this book. It was such an enjoyable read and easily something I can recommend to those who want a book that is just an easy, plot-driven fantasy novel.

ARC Review – The Night Country (The Hazel Wood #2) by Melissa Albert

Title: The Night Country (The Hazel Wood #2)

Author: Melissa Albert

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: In The Night Country, Alice Proserpine dives back into a menacing, mesmerizing world of dark fairy tales and hidden doors. Follow her and Ellery Finch as they learn The Hazel Wood was just the beginning, and that worlds die not with a whimper, but a bang.

With Finch’s help, Alice escaped the Hinterland and her reclusive grandmother’s dark legacy. Now she and the rest of the dregs of the fairy tale world have washed up in New York City, where Alice is trying to make a new, unmagical life. But something is stalking the Hinterland’s survivors―and she suspects their deaths may have a darker purpose. Meanwhile, in the winking out world of the Hinterland, Finch seeks his own adventure, and―if he can find it―a way back home…

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have to say, I was surprised to see a sequel to The Hazel Wood. Perhaps it’s because I felt the first book wrapped up everything so well, so I was skeptical going into The Night Country. Turns out I was wrong about the need for a sequel — so very wrong in fact.

Melissa Albert knows how to weave a story. Whether you enjoyed The Hazel Wood or not, I think there is something to be said about writing that has the ability to make you feel discomfort. One element I loved from The Hazel Wood that is very present in this sequel, is how sinister the world feelings, the disjointedness of how everything is collapsing in on itself, and Albert’s ability to make the reader feel uncomfortable and lost.

Alice is still as frustrating as ever, but I think it’s why she is a good protagonist for stories that feature disjointed world-building. She questions things, she is curious, she is angry, and most of all, she has a will to change things for better or worse. The new characters in the book are fairly fascinating as well, and how they play into the world’s transformation feels very original and something out of video game.

There is so much I can’t talk about with this being a sequel, but I feel like if you enjoyed the first book, this one starts immediately after the first book, so rereading or quickly checking a summary is a good plan before hopping into this book. The twist and turns in this sequel are fantastic, the world building is top notch, and there is just so much mystery and intrigue to keep the reader pushing forward. I really enjoyed this sequel, and I’m happy it exists in the world.

ARC Review – Just Breathe by Cammie McGovern

Title: Just Breathe

Author: Cammie McGovern

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: David Sheinman is the popular president of his senior class, battling cystic fibrosis.

Jamie Turner is a quiet sophomore, struggling with depression.

The pair soon realizes that they can be their true selves with each other, and their unlikely friendship develops into something so much more. But neither Jamie nor David can bring themselves to reveal the secrets that weigh most heavily on their hearts—and their time for honesty may be running out.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I love me a Cammie McGovern novel. Often her books know how to hit the right notes with me in terms of how emotional her books often are, and how often my heartstrings are tug at. This particular book focuses on chronic illness, specially Cystic fibrosis (or CF), I always feel a bit weary when reading these stories if only because I worry the accuracy and how connected I am even as someone who doesn’t suffer from one. One of my dearest friends has CF, so I don’t know how accurate this book is, but in terms of storytelling, I was attached to David and Jamie’s story.

I am not a romance reader, but what I do like in McGovern’s books is that she always does a good job of making a relationship feel organic to the story. David and Jamie are friends, they bond over each other’s lives and their desires to get better, and then a romance occurs and it doesn’t feel forced or awkward the way other YA books love to do these sick-kids-in-love-stories. David has CF and Jamie has depression and they are essentially just trying to build each other up.

What I equally like, however, is that McGovern does a great job of showing how difficult it is to have a positive attitude towards chronic illness, as well as the up-and-downs that the characters are facing while coping with their situations. I also want to point out that the reactions that adult characters have in this story feels very spot on. There’s one scene in particular that illustrates how parents also have to come to terms with chronic illness and the struggles of trying to do what is best for their child, but also what it means to be in a survivor’s mentality (something I’ve had first hand experience with).

While this is not my favourite Cammie McGovern book (that still goes to Just My Luck, I think this story shows that she puts a lot of thought and care into her stories. She knows how to add the emotional punch when needed, and I appreciate that she’s unapologic about the challenges of the situations that her protagonists are facing. While I wish Jamie’s depression was addressed a bit more, I still cared for her just as much as I did David.

ARC Review – The How and the Why by Cynthia Hand

Title: The How & The Why

Author: Cynthia Hand

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Cassandra McMurtrey has the best parents a girl could ask for. They’ve given Cass a life she wouldn’t trade for the world. She has everything she needs—except maybe the one thing she wants. Like, to know who she is. Where she came from. Questions her adoptive parents can’t answer, no matter how much they love her.

But eighteen years ago, someone wrote Cass a series of letters. And they may just hold the answers Cass has been searching for.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Cynthia Hand has a magic power: she makes me cry at the drop of a hat. The How and the Way is a book that explores adoption, family, and how we deal with the unknown. After finishing the book and reading the author’s note, it’s abundantly clear that this is Cynthia Hand’s most personal book to date, and may be my favourite one that I’ve read of hers.

This book is an emotional book — it’s out to make you cry, having a million feelings, and just be an exploration experience. There is so much I didn’t know about the adoption process and system, let alone the amount of trauma it can cause on both the one giving up the child and the child who years later has found the courage to look for their biological parent. Cassandra’s experience of having a great adoptive family and having constant support from them was so beautiful to read about, and I appreciate the way this book handles its characters — every single one is flawed and nuanced.

I also like the way this book is told in letters from Cassandra’s biological mother and the present time. Cassandra has so much courage in this story, but I equally like that she has moments of weakness, and the process of her trying to find her mother organically unfolds. Everything about this book is slow and thoughtful.

I devoured the book in four days on my lunch breaks and I always felt sad when I had to put it down because Hand gives you just enough at the end of each chapter to make you want to keep reading. This book is emotional for sure, and is definitely for fans of Robin Benway’s Far From the Tree.

ARC Review – When You Ask Me Where I’m Going by Jasmin Kaur

Title: When You Ask me Where I’m Going

Author: Jasmin Kaur

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: The six sections of the book explore what it means to be a young woman living in a world that doesn’t always hear her and tell the story of Kiran as she flees a history of trauma and raises her daughter, Sahaara, while living undocumented in North America.

Delving into current cultural conversations including sexual assault, mental health, feminism, and immigration, this narrative of resilience, healing, empowerment, and love will galvanize readers to fight for what is right in their world.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC! Cross posted on Aurora Public Library’s Website as a YA Pick of the Month.

Sam’s Review:

I had the pleasure of listening to Jasmin Kaur speak at a recent Harper Collins Frenzy event in Toronto. Listening to Kaur speak about her life, the racism and sexism she has dealt with growing up, was both difficult as it was moving.

Jasmin Kaur’s debut novel is all about looking at life from various angles. This collection of mixed media features poetry, artwork, and short stories by Kaur, that depict life growing up in Abbotsford, British Columbia. Sharing stories of racism to personal trauma, Kaur exams what it means to be a young Sikh world in a world where everyone makes assumptions about you before you even have the chance to speak.

Kaur’s poems are raw and uncomfortable, but they also shed light and offer glimpses of hope as well. Kaur’s conversations about feminism, mental health, immigration, and sexual assault will resonate with a lot of readers. When You Ask Me Where I’m Going dares readers to look at their surroundings and challenges them to do better and be a better person.

ARC Review – The Liars of Mariposa Island by Jennifer Mathieu

Title: The Liars of Mariposa Island

Author: Jennifer Mathieu

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Every year, summer begins when the Callahans arrive on Mariposa Island. That’s when Elena Finney gets to escape her unstable, controlling mother by babysitting for their two children. And the summer of 1986 promises to be extra special when she meets J.C., the new boy in town, whose kisses make Elena feel like she’s been transported to a new world.

Joaquin Finney can’t imagine why anyone would want to come to Mariposa Island. He just graduated from high school and dreams about going to California to find his father and escape his mother’s manipulation.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I am SO SAD right now. Jennifer Mathieu is finally one of my favourite authors, so I am super heartbroken that I didn’t love her latest, The Liars of Mariposa Island. This book is a contemporary, with a mystery wrapped in it, and it’s just… all right.

Generally, what I love about Jennifer Mathieu’s books is the writing an her characters. I always adore her heroines, but Elena and Joaquin just never spoke to me the way some of her other heroes have. This book is written in two perspectives, one that takes place in 1986, the other during the Cuban Revolution. The sections that were about Carrie, who is related to Elena and Joaquin, were my favourite bits of the book. Carrie is fleeing Cuba during the Cuban Revolution as a teen and she is trying to find freedom in America. Carrie’s story is challenging and heartbreaking, and its definitely very difficult to read about.

I do feel for Elena in this story, especially given she is trying to become a version of herself that she would feel satisfied with. There is a prickliness to her character that really suggests that she is not someone who wants people (or even the reader) to get close to her and that I think is something intriguing about this novel. Elena and Joaquin spend a lot of this book unraveling family truama and lies, though they weren’t as shocking as I was anticipating given the title of this book.

I think why this book didn’t grab me the way all of her other books did, is that it really doesn’t go anywhere and there isn’t much resolve. There doesn’t really feel like a lot of hope in this story either, which is usually a big part of a Jennifer Mathieu story. I am so torn because I do think elements of this book are wonderful, but I simply just didn’t connect to a lot of it.