Someone Else’s Summer – Rachel Bateman

Annie’s sister—the authentic and fearless Storm—dies in a car accident, leaving behind a devastated family… and a list of things to accomplish. Wanting to honour her sister’s memory and get out of her comfort zone, Annie embarks on a road trip with her childhood friend Cameron in the hopes of checking off every item on the list.

The list is actually the least memorable aspect of this story. What I loved most was seeing Annie and Cameron’s relationship unfold. Because Annie’s parents are grieving and absent, she has quite a lot of freedom to basically do whatever she wishes… as long as Cameron is also okay with it. He is the wisest of the two of them, so she is in good hands and unlikely to get away with too much.

I found Rachel Bateman’s writing very engaging and the storyline to move along nicely without being too predictable. In an interview with the author at the end of this novel, she actually mentions that she is a dedicated story outliner and I could certainly tell. A less than perfect aspect in this novel is the openness and niceness of the people Annie and Cameron meet. It’s not realistic.

Everyone treats them like they’re friends or family: worthy of attention, patience and care and that’s just not realistic. Someone vouches for them at the hotel; strangers hug Annie and show concern. I understand that her sister died and Cameron probably told a lot of people what their circumstances are, but she’s not the only one with a dead family member so I found the amount of love thrown their way to be idealistic.

Other than that, there is a lot of growing up being done and grieving as well. I’m really glad Annie had Cameron to help her; she especially did not deserve to be alone after her parents started physically and emotionally withdrawing from her. Truth is grief messes people up, it does, but it can heal over time, and Bateman captured that well enough.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

Creatures of the Night – Grace Collins

I have diaries. I’ve been writing them since middle school, on and off, and I took a 5-year break from sharing my most personal everyday thoughts on paper. But I got back to it a year ago and it’s been helpful. A few days ago, I started writing about things that I’m grateful for every single day. When I started this book, I wrote this: ‘‘I’m grateful for stories that I think I won’t enjoy but that end up surprising me.’’

There’s little very enticing about this book. I almost didn’t request it, because come on. Look at that unoriginal title, cover and premise. Hunters. Creatures. Secrets. Been there, read that about a hundred times.  The more I looked at it, the more I considered getting rid of my copy without even finishing the first page. But then I remembered that I’m a book blogger and that nothing and no one can force me to love a book or even finish it, so I opened it with the idea in mind that I would read enough of it to be able to review its negative aspects and then donate it.

Talk about pre-reading judgement. But admit it, we’re all guilty of it. Skipping over a cover that isn’t attractive enough or reading a premise and finding it too similar to past stories we’ve read and deciding that this thing is not worth our time. Well, I’m grateful for this book because it has reminded me that some people are able to surprise me and that sometimes the content of a book is much, much better than the way it is presented, marketed, publicized.

Grace Collins writes with a lot of intensity. This is as much a character-driven story as it is an action-driven one, my favourite combination in the entire world and something Sarah J. Maas excels at. Grace Collins may not be Miss Maas but she has delivered here a sympathetic and relatable heroine whose character-development is felt and makes me want to see what she’ll do next. The world-building she has created relies on its creatures – hollowers, wispers and shifters, oh and humans – more than its environment. The politics of the world are not heavily nuanced, but what Collins does share about the world is accessible. There is a war brewing between the hollowers and the others, who have been in conflict for a long time, mainly because hollowers kill stuff to stay alive. They ‘‘hollow’’ people out.

Milena thought they were the good guys, but she had no idea who she was living with until her 20th birthday, when her family and friends decided to murder her. She was rescued by shifters who enlightened her on the world she lives in and its real ‘‘creatures of the night.’’ What I like most about this story is that there is a lot going on. Milena doesn’t spend 5 chapters not doing anything. She’s constantly thinking, planning and moving forward. At first on her own, then with friends she’s made. The worst element is the romance, which confused the hell out of Milena. Her love interest is dealing with some stuff and does not have the capacity to be open and honest – two important qualities if you want a long-lasting and healthy relationship. But if you just want something dramatic to entertain the reader, sure, let your heroine and her love interest enter in some unhealthy push-pull type of dynamic.

So in some ways it is a cliché story, but in other ways it is surprising, super entertaining and simply a decent addition to the YA fantasy genre with a heroine who has a lot of growing up and learning to do.

Thank you Raincoast Books for the copy in exchange for an honest review.

Scavenge the Stars – Tara Sim

I knew I needed to read this series when I noticed that it was written by Tara Sim, who also authored the Timekeeper trilogy and whom I had the chance to interview a few years ago. She’s one of those authors that inspire me to keep writing and keep trying. She got her debut novel published after winning a writing contest and, I for one, love those types of success stories.

Scavenge the Stars is a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo, and though I have not read that classic, I do know it deals with revenge, which is something equally present in this story. Amaya, a teenage girl, had her childhood stolen away from her a long time ago when she was basically sold to slavery on a ship. Now that she managed to get away from the debtor’s ship, she seeks revenge—it drives her as much as it consumes her.

What I liked the most about this book were its action scenes. One thing that I noticed early on with this author, from her Timekeeper series, is that she is good at developing a world-building. I really felt like I was in the city of Moray and a part of Amaya’s revenge journey. If I’m being honest, I read this book more for its action/adventure side than its characters. I do prefer when it’s the other way around, so I can’t encourage you to prioritize this dark YA fantasy if it’s on your TBR pile, but I can tell you that its secrets and intensity are worth experiencing.

When it comes to the characters, they did have their own respective personalities, but I never quite felt like I could reach them. It’s like there was always this thin-veiled curtain in front of them that never parted. I knew information about them and how they felt at times, but a huge part of them was still hidden from the reader. I don’t remember feeling this way, to this extent, when reading Tara Sim’s Timekeeper, so it’s unfortunate but not reason enough for me to not wish to see how the story ends.      

Thank you Hachette Book Group for a copy in exchange for a review.

Burn It All Down – Nicolas DiDomizio

I knew I would love this, and not just because James Patterson blurbed it, raving about its addictiveness. It is, by the way, super addictive. It’s the type of story that you start and finish deep into the morning. Forget about getting your beauty night sleep, which likely won’t happen when it comes to this book. In my particular case though, I’m simply typically a night owl and prefer to fall asleep when I just can’t keep my eyes open anymore and fall into slumber the moment I close my eyes. This book will make it hard to close your eyes, but hey, I’m not complaining.

I also knew I would love it because after I finished watching the movie French Exit, I was subconsciously dying for another mother-son story. This is very different from the movie mentioned above, but it does feature that strong mother-son connection that I really liked from the movie and touched the part of me that adores seeing strong familial connections. Joey and his mother Gia Rossi certainly have that connection, especially when it comes to men. They both get their hearts broken by jerks and handle the heart breaks together. This time, however, they both got their hearts broken at the same time and they decide to get their revenge on. It’s cathartic for them and entertaining for the reader.

The first 100 or so pages of this book are thrilling, the rest are a bit calmer. I do admit that I prefer when it’s the other way around—when stories start in a chill way and gain energy the more I read—but for Joey and Gia Rossi, the storm never really dies. After completing their revenge plans, exteriorly they might seem okay-ish and certainly the environment they are in is more peaceful, but both mother and son are actively dealing with the aftermath of what they’ve done and how they feel, sometimes together and sometimes on their own. Of course, as interesting as it was to see Joey and Gia interact, more like friends than mother and son, it is not necessarily a very healthy type of dynamic, and both have to grow up in their own ways.

It’s part thriller, part literary, part romance and almost all coming-of-age. There are secrets and revelations, beautiful and dark moments, tears of happiness and despair and a lot, lot, lot of love. I adored it. If you like unconventional stories, this one is for you. Enjoy.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

The Startup Wife – Tahmima Anam

This is such an interesting story. I love books with characters that readers can follow for years and see how they change and grow (or not) over time. Such is the case here with Asha Ray and cie. When we first meet her, she’s a Ph.D. student, doing research in a field that is meaningful to her. But when she is reunited with her high school crush, Cyrus Jones, her focus shifts. It shifts even more when she doesn’t get the results she hoped for from her research and she starts to think about doing something else with her life, as in create an app whose popularity surpasses everyone’s expectations.

Tahmima Anam writes with a lot of care and intimacy. I felt connected to Asha and interested in her life and thoughts from the very beginning. That does not mean that I agreed with every decision she made, especially the emotionally-driven ones, but it does mean that I was able to see things from her point of view, have sympathy when the moment called for it and not judge her too harshly for her weaknesses. I will admit that Asha Ray is too good for Cyrus though. She’s such a dedicated and smart young woman, whereas he wanders the world not getting too attached too things, too involved, too serious. He is serious about Asha, yes, because she is one of his two anchors, the other being his best friend, but they have such different ways of seeing the world.

This is why, as much as I felt proud of Asha at times for showing growth and strength, when it comes to Cyrus, I simply could not cheer her on. It is as though, where he is concerned, she has to make herself smaller to fit in his world. Things do change when he becomes the focus of the app, but not for the better. For this reason, the cryptic ending did bother me. I do wish the author could write a sequel or novella to let us know what really truly happens, because as comfortable as I am imagining endings for characters I care about, it always feels more real when the actual creator delivers on their characters’ futures with certainty.  

As I said, this is a very interesting story. It feels very realistic. Though I do admit the story would have shared the same quality even if the app created had been less popular, so there wasn’t a need to make it that big a deal. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of the app’s development through Asha’s point of view. I am very proud of her for many reasons. Even during the times I wish she had been stronger, I was proud of her. I am also proud of the author for letting herself be so original and embracing peculiarity through her writing. I did, however, dislike my experience reading the last chapter. Not only was the content disappointing but so was its title. Above everything, I just wish she hadn’t used a specific current event in her story, as I feel it took some of that creativity she developed so well away and simply left me with a bad taste. So as interesting a read as this is, the ending makes me not particularly want to reread it, ever. All of that to say that I have conflicted thoughts on it, but I was thoroughly engrossed so that has to count for something and be reason enough to pick it up if the premise catches your eye.

Thank you Simon & Schuster for the copy in exchange for a review.

Bunheads – Sophie Flack

As much as I enjoy reading and reviewing new releases, which can be very exciting, especially if there’s hype associated with those releases, I also find pleasure in plunging into older books that most people have completely forgotten about.

This is one of those forgotten releases. Bunheads tells the story of 19-year-old Hannah Ward, who trains to be promoted as a ballerina and have her own solo performances. So far, so good. She works hard: lives and breathes ballet. But when she meets a cute guy at a bar, the world outside of ballet tugs at her and she grows resentful of the limited life of a ballet dancer.

First of all, the cute guy Hannah meets makes her feel guilty for working hard at her goal since she can’t spend much time with him, which I’m really on the fence about. Second of all, I was frustrated with Hannah’s unsettled mind. She’s dating two guys because she can’t decide on one. Also, one week she’s dedicated to ballet, the next one she takes it easy and repeat x 10. Basically, Hannah has a lot of growing to do, which she wasn’t able to do while focusing solely on ballet and now she’s considering what other options are out there that would be more appropriate for the person she wishes to become.

Yes, it’s frustrating at times. Emotional turmoil can be exhausting. And yet, and yet, I finished this one in two sittings. As eye-roll-worthy as it could get, I found it pretty interesting. I recently read a book about a ballet dancer who got injured – The Other Side of Perfect – and really liked it, so I was excited to know more about the world of a ballet dancer, especially a professional one. While part of me wishes Hannah Ward had made different decisions, I understood where she was coming from and I appreciated her openness about her feelings and thoughts with the reader. By the end of this book, I really felt like I knew her, whereas some characters remain strangers until the very end. So, yes, there are elements that should have been worked better – and certainly Hannah could have been less judgmental of others and of herself – but like most coming-of-age stories, there is real development happening and I appreciated being witness to Hannah’s.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

Fence: Striking Distance – Sarah Rees Brennan

You’ve probably heard of the comic series Fence by C.S. Pacat, the author of one of my all-time favourite series, Captive Prince. This story in novel format is in the same world as Fence, with chapters featuring Seiji, Nicholas, Harvard and Aiden. I myself have not had the chance to read the comics, a situation I have to remedy quite soon, so I cannot tell you how it compares with the comics, but it is publicized as an ‘‘original novel’’ so I’m assuming the content is fairly new as well.

There are three different story arcs that are brought together at some point or another but mainly different characters are dealing with their own various issues. Harvard started dating, which makes Aiden jealous and lonely and ready to suggest something to Harvard that might change their long term friendship together. Seiji and Nicholas are also roommates but not friends, and yet they might need to become cordial with one another if they want to progress, Nicholas in the fencing department and Seiji socially. There is more involved, but basically this is a story about teammates realizing they are stronger when they are working together and slowly breaking down the walls between them.

If this didn’t already have its comic adaptation, I would have probably suggested that, just because the way the author describes scenes at times reminds me of comic book panels. The characters have just enough of a cartoonish vibe to them to belong in a comic. All four main characters actually have exaggerated traits: Aiden is a big flirt, Harvard responsible to a fault, Nicholas innocent and Seiji super serious. Yet, it works. And while these exaggerated traits do seem to keep the story from reaching deeper waters at times, overall I have enjoyed spending time with these four boys and I’m looking forward to reuniting with them in the next book.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for a review.

The Other Side of Perfect – Mariko Turk

This is the hard story of Alina, a young ballerina who broke her leg and saw her dreams of becoming a professional ballerina melt away. She has no idea how to navigate her new life, post-ballet, at a school where she doesn’t quite feel like she belongs. Her mood is down, she’s short with people, but luckily she has one good friend who’s been through something as well and understands Alina’s walls. But Alina’s walls are slowly coming down as she joins her high school musical, reconnects with her love of dancing, and develops new relationships with people in her life.

It is quite a beautifully-told tale. I can’t imagine what it must be like for someone to have their passion taken away from them in a slip second. I couldn’t picture what my life would look like without my ability to read. I guess I could turn to audio books, which can be enjoyable, but I certainly would miss the amazing feeling of starting a new story, getting to the end of a page and being excited about turning it, and even enjoying the visual qualities of a book. I’m also volunteering as a reader right now, so I read books to more isolated people in my region, and I wouldn’t be able to do that if I lost my sight or anything that enables reading.

All that to say that Alina’s ups and downs were very understandable. Despite her initial refusal to dance again if she can’t be who she used to, she gives herself a chance to be happy again and see the beauty in non-pointe dancing. I watched a YouTube video yesterday in which a overweight woman artist was worried about dating another artist because she assumed that artists loved beauty and she did not consider herself to be ‘‘classically beautiful.’’ Then I read the comments and someone said that being an artist is not about liking beautiful things, but about being able to recognize beauty in things. That really touched me and I am mentioning it because Alina is trying to see the beauty in things that she wouldn’t normally have found ‘‘classically beautiful’’ or as aligning with her vision of who she’s meant to be. I found that to be quite admirable. Though this story has its hard moments, it is ultimately uplifting and very human.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Truly Madly Famously – Rebecca Serle

TRULY MADLY FAMOUSLY is the second book in the FAMOUS IN LOVE series. Is it the final book? I don’t know. I sure hope not. It is not the best YA romance series ever to be published, but it sure has an additive quality to itself that makes you want to turn the pages, even when doing so is a little painful.

Paige has made her choice. She thought she would be at peace with it, since it seemed like the more reasonable choice to make, but her heart certainly is not in agreement. Though she is happy—or perhaps ‘‘content’’ would be a better choice of words—she cannot help but miss someone else in her life, someone who has chosen to keep his distance and even start dating another girl. Paige becomes especially unsure of her love situation when her boyfriend begins to act a little distant at times as well.

In the beginning, it is slower but once the drama really starts, it moves faster. There are also way more emotions involved. More scenes. More reactions. More entertainment, of course. Frankly, Paige is a mess in this book. Yes, she is figuring celebrity out, so she is allowed to have her moments, but her feelings and thoughts all over the place. What I do like is that she does grow confidence, especially in her skills as an actress but also in herself. Love-wise, I’ll admit that at some point I had no idea what she would do or who she would ‘‘definitely’’ pick. I’m not unsatisfied with the ending (heh, it’s typical YA stuff), but to be honest I would not have been displeased if she had made a different decision as well. On the contrary, I would have admired her strength. I do so hope there is a third book, because I would love to follow Paige as she is catapulted even higher in the entertainment industry. I’m now curious to read this author’s adult stories.

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the copy in exchange for an honest review!

Famous In Love – Rebecca Serle

I can’t say I expected to enjoy this book all that much. I watched maybe the first and second episodes of the TV show with Bella Thorne and it felt so melodramatic that I gave up on it. It’s not that the book version isn’t like that, but it just seems to work so much better than on TV. Oftentimes, I disagree. I mean, I did quite enjoy the first four books in The Vampire Diaries series, and Pretty Little Liars as well, but the characters on screen had so much chemistry and added something extra to the story that I was happy to make the switch from book to screen and stick to it.

But Rebecca Serle’s writing drew me in instantly. It’s as though she remembers perfectly what it’s like to be a teenager and have dreams and hopes and be confused and a little innocent and need guidance but also want to become our own person. Ouf, it’s a lot, yes, but most of those things, I actually still feel even as I’m about to turn 24. Some things are just universal and Rebecca Serle seems to have understood that quite well. It’s very easy to connect with Paige Townsen because she’s so ‘‘alive,’’ full of life and I genuinely wanted to see her succeed. I was rooting for her in her professional career and personal life throughout the story.

There are a lot of emotions in this story, so yes, it can definitely get melodramatic, but on paper at least it seemed like a genuine type of drama. It didn’t feel forced. It can get a lot at times, for sure, seeing that there is quite an intense love triangle present here, but hey my guilty pleasure-seeking side actually enjoyed it. Anyone who knows The Vampire Diaries knows how complicated the love triangle gets—and yet, you just can’t help but get sucked in because part of you knows what’s going to happen, eventually, so you kind of just wait patiently for the right characters to figure out that despite everything they should be together and stop at nothing to pursue their connection. This is how I feel with Rebecca Serle’s series. It’s full of clichés, but I can’t help but love it.   

Thank you Hachette Book Group Canada for the free copy in exchange for an honest review!