The Innocence Treatment, by Ari Geolman

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Title: The Innocence Treatment
Author: Ari Geolman
Rating: 5/5

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):

You may believe the government protects you, but only one girl knows how they use you.

Lauren has a disorder that makes her believe everything her friends tell her–and she believes everyone is her friend. Her innocence puts her at constant risk, so when she gets the opportunity to have an operation to correct her condition, she seizes it. But after the surgery, Lauren is changed. Is she a paranoid lunatic with violent tendencies? Or a clear-eyed observer of the world who does what needs to be done?

Told in journal entries and therapy session transcripts, The Innocence Treatment is a collection of Lauren’s papers, annotated by her sister long after the events of the novel. A compelling YA debut thriller that is part speculative fiction and part shocking tell-all of genetic engineering and government secrets, Lauren’s story is ultimately an electrifying, propulsive, and spine-tingling read.

***

Review:

The beauty of the epistolary novel is that it allows you to dig into the private thoughts of a character, and makes the book feel more real. The Innocence Treatment handles this so well that I sometimes felt like I was reading a nonfiction book, but set in an alternate universe. It is extremely well-structured, alternating between diary entries from a younger Lauren, to the present-day Lauren as she discusses these entries with a therapist. Geolman managed to give each character their unique voice, but also to keep the different formats from blending into one another.

For instance, Lauren’s diary entries are annotated by her sister, and readers can clearly see the different writing styles between the two sisters. The therapy sessions are written down as a conversation between the two characters, and you can recognize (especially further in the book) that Lauren’s voice is her own, recognizable from her diary entries, while the therapist’s is his. It’s also interesting to see the point of views from different characters, and how they think of one another.

The content itself grabbed my attention early on and held onto it throughout the entire story. With the formatting of the novel, we get many unreliable narrators, and this keeps you guessing until the very end about how the book will be wrapped up. It is also a dystopia, but the story revolves more around Lauren’s life within this world, and doesn’t only revolve around her fighting this dystopia. It contains a story about a family affected by constraints of this supervised world, without necessarily revolving around how they are all working to suppress the regime. It was refreshing to read!

Honestly, though, this book makes me wish I was still in university so I could dissect it through an essay on the difficulty of mastering the epistolary style and its strength if done correctly. Geolman wrote what became one of my favourite books of 2017 and I highly recommend it.

I’d like to thank Roaring Brook Press and Netgalley for the free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Zero Repeat Forever, by Gabrielle Prendergast

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Title: Zero Repeat Forever (The Nahx Invasions #1)
Author: Gabrielle Prendergast
Rating: 5/5

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):

He has no voice, or name, only a rank, Eighth. He doesn’t know the details of the mission, only the directives that hum in his mind.

Dart the humans. Leave them where they fall.

His job is to protect his Offside. Let her do the shooting.

Until a human kills her…

Sixteen year-old Raven is at summer camp when the terrifying armored Nahx invade, annihilating entire cities, taking control of the Earth. Isolated in the wilderness, Raven and her friends have only a fragment of instruction from the human resistance.

Shelter in place.

Which seems like good advice at first. Stay put. Await rescue. Raven doesn’t like feeling helpless but what choice does she have?

Then a Nahx kills her boyfriend.

Thrown together in a violent, unfamiliar world, Eighth and Raven should feel only hate and fear. But when Raven is injured, and Eighth deserts his unit, their survival comes to depend on trusting each other…

***

Review:

How do you choose a book? Is it for the cover? The synopsis? If the title catches your eye? Or are you like one of my high school teachers, who insisted that you must read a book up to the 10th percent before you can tell if it will hook you in or not?

Isn’t it fun when a book catches your interest in all four ways?

This is definitely the case with Zero Repeat Forever. The cover is absolutely beautiful, the synopsis catchy, and the title intriguing (I could go on and on about how this is a perfect book title, but alas, spoilers). Also, everyone can forget about the 10% rule – this book had me wrapped around its little finger after the first five chapters. The beginning gripped me in so quickly and the story just kept on getting better and better until I reached the amazing ending. There isn’t a dull moment throughout.

This is a slow burn novel of the best kind; I could call it the sci-fi Romeo and Juliet you didn’t even know you wanted to read. It’s well-paced and doesn’t rush from one scene to another, and instead develops gradually into a complete story. It is the first book in the series, so the reader won’t finish it with all the answers they are looking for, but with enough answers to feel satisfied with the end.

The format of the book is also quite interesting – the point of view flips between Raven, a spitfire heroine that reminded me a little bit of Tris from Divergent, but with a meaner streak; and Eighth, a low-ranked Nahx who is part of the destruction of the human race. Therefore, readers will not only be able to read the point of view of a human throughout an apocalypse, but also about a conflicted soldier who has been drilled to follow orders. The Nahx are very complex beings, and I know that book one only explored the surface of that race. I look forward to finding more about the Nahx and their motives through the next installments!

Go pick it up! It’s a great book from a Canadian author who wrote the first draft during NaNoWriMo – read the north, everyone!

I’d like to thank Simon & Schuster Canada for the free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Bedlam Stacks, by Natasha Pulley

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Title: The Bedlam Stacks
Author: Natasha Pulley
Rating: 5/5

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):

In 1859, ex-East India Company smuggler Merrick Tremayne is trapped at home in Cornwall after sustaining an injury that almost cost him his leg and something is wrong; a statue moves, his grandfather’s pines explode, and his brother accuses him of madness.

When the India Office recruits Merrick for an expedition to fetch quinine—essential for the treatment of malaria—from deep within Peru, he knows it’s a terrible idea. Nearly every able-bodied expeditionary who’s made the attempt has died, and he can barely walk. But Merrick is desperate to escape everything at home, so he sets off, against his better judgment, for a tiny mission colony on the edge of the Amazon where a salt line on the ground separates town from forest. Anyone who crosses is killed by something that watches from the trees, but somewhere beyond the salt are the quinine woods, and the way around is blocked.

Surrounded by local stories of lost time, cursed woods, and living rock, Merrick must separate truth from fairytale and find out what befell the last expeditions; why the villagers are forbidden to go into the forest; and what is happening to Raphael, the young priest who seems to have known Merrick’s grandfather, who visited Peru many decades before. The Bedlam Stacks is the story of a profound friendship that grows in a place that seems just this side of magical.

***

Review:

 

While my usual reading preferences lean more towards YA, romance and dystopian fiction, I will occasionally pick up a classic, or a book that’s way outside my comfort zone. Sometimes I regret it bitterly, and sometimes, it’s a book I never want to let go of, and that slips into my favourite novels. The Bedlam Stacks is definitely the latter. I requested it after briefly reading over the summary on Netgalley; it had a nice cover and sounded interesting enough. I would have never known that this book would become one of my favourite books ever.

The first thing I need to mention is that this book contains a slower paced story. It’s not one that you will pick up and finish within 24 hours, and that’s quite okay with me. It’s a book that you enjoy over several days or weeks, one chapter at a time. Its ending will leave you mesmerized from the complex beauty you experienced through the pages, and you will finish this book completely satisfied with the time you spent reading it… a bit like reading lengthy masterpieces like The Lord of the Rings.

The Bedlam Stacks contains a magical, wonderful story, as the blurb predicts. The narrator is just unreliable enough to keep you guessing about what is really happening; some is even left to the reader’s imagination. Just when you begin to settle comfortably in your knowledge of the plot or of the characters, the author twists the story and you’re left scrambling to understand what happened and what you could have missed. There’s a bit of a Jules Verne feel during some chapters — a delightful mix of suspense and adventure with a twinge of the mysterious. Yes, I am ranking The Bedlam Stacks right up there with Journey to the Centre of the Earth, one of my favourite classics. Add just a touch of spooky supernatural, and you’ve got a good idea of what The Bedlam Stacks is about.

I’d like to thank Bloomsbury USA for the free eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. This title is due to be published early next month, so keep an eye out for it, and enjoy reading Merrick’s story. I cannot recommend this book enough!

Amish Guys Don’t Call, by Debby Dodds

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Title: Amish Guys Don’t Call
Author: Debby Dodds
Rating: 4/5

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):

Samantha is already facing scrutiny and anxiety at the start of her junior year, as she’s finally been accepted into the popular girls’ clique called “The Sherpas.” But when she realizes that her new boyfriend Zach was raised Amish, Sam must tackle a whole new set of challenges! Zach has chosen not to end his Rumspringa, instigating a potential shunning from his family. Not only that, but Sam’s new friends can’t miss this opportunity to tease and torment her.

Sam has never really come to terms with her parents’ divorce, so when her world crashes down on her in the form of cyberbullying and Zach’s apparent return to the Amish community, she reverts to old, illegal habits. Does Sam even want friends like these? And, will her culture-crossed love with Zach find a way?

***

Review:

Sometimes, I pick up books because their title is so witty that I can’t stop myself from wanting to read what else is tucked away within its pages, and this is what happened with this novel. I was very pleased with the content; I have to admit that it took me more time to write the review than it did reading the novel! So, Amish Guys Don’t Call is a fast-paced book that’s part romance, part intrigue, part good old high school (and general) drama. It raises interesting points about who we are versus who we want to be, or who we want others to see when they glance our way. I have to admit that I love when books urge you into a little bit of introspection.

My love for secondary characters really got treated in this novel. While the main character is your “quirky, foot-in-mouth, trying to be cool” type of high school girl (that you can actually relate to!), the love interest, Zach, is a real gem. I even slightly wished that the book had been written in alternating point of views so the readers would get more insight on his life, his feelings, and how he experienced our dear awkward Sam… I definitely would not say no to a novella about his life. The author touched on his Amish past quite tastefully, in my opinion, and I was glad to see that it wasn’t the main focus of their relationship. Please, Debby Dodds – we want more!

Ironically, my only disappointment  with this book was the summary. I’d say that the blurb  summarizes approximately 70% of the book, with little amount of information left to surprise the reader. The second part of the summary (the cyber bullying and Zach’s return to the Amish and Sam reverting to the illegal habits) could have easily been left out in order to keep some mystery alive. But then again, what is summarized is what you get. Therefore, if the summary interested you, then the book will definitely deliver, and yes, I would recommend this book!

I’d like to thank Blue Moon Publishers for the free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The List, by Patricia Forde

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 Title: The List
Author: Patricia Forde
Rating: 3/5

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):

In the city of Ark, speech is constrained to five hundred sanctioned words. Speak outside the approved lexicon and face banishment. The exceptions are the Wordsmith and his apprentice Letta, the keepers and archivists of all language in their post-apocalyptic, neo-medieval world.

On the death of her master, Letta is suddenly promoted to Wordsmith, charged with collecting and saving words. But when she uncovers a sinister plan to suppress language and rob Ark’s citizens of their power of speech, she realizes that it’s up to her to save not only words, but culture itself.

***

Review:

If I could review this book with only one sentence, it would be: this is a perfect introduction to dystopian novels for older children. This genre of fiction is now taught in most schools through books like Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451; meanwhile, teens are willingly picking up Hunger Games and Divergent at the library. I think “The List” is a great way to introduce a younger audience to the genre.

Another reason why this is a good introductory book is to keep an element of surprise. After reading several dozens of dystopias, I could easily deduce most of the plot twists before I had 20% of the book read. Nothing of the ending surprised me, although it was a lovely and fitting ending. Still, the main character was adorable, and I grew fond of her; I wish I could have read more about her job (which was what appealed to me when I requested this book) and less about the secondary characters.

So truth be told, there is nothing wrong with the book, it just wasn’t something fresh for me… but I do believe that it would appeal a younger audience. I’d like to thank Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, as well as Netgalley, for the free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Maud, by Melanie Fishbane

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Title: Maud: A Novel Inspired by the Life of L.M. Montgomery
Author: Melanie J. Fishbane
Rating: 5/5

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):

Fourteen-year-old Lucy Maud Montgomery—Maud to her friends—has a dream: to go to college and, just like her idol, Louisa May Alcott, become a writer. But living with her grandparents on Prince Edward Island, she worries that this dream will never come true. Her grandfather has strong opinions about a woman’s place in the world, and they do not include spending good money on college. Luckily, she has a teacher to believe in her, and good friends to support her, including Nate, the Baptist minister’s stepson and the smartest boy in the class. If only he weren’t a Baptist; her Presbyterian grandparents would never approve. Then again, Maud isn’t sure she wants to settle down with a boy—her dreams of being a writer are much more important.

Life changes for Maud when she goes out West to live with her father and his new wife and daughter. Her new home offers her another chance at love, as well as attending school, but tensions increase as Maud discovers her stepmother’s plans for her, which threaten Maud’s future—and her happiness—forever.

***

Review:

My childhood was punctuated by entire evenings spent watching shows like Little House on the Prairie, Séraphin: Heart of Stone, Les filles de Caleb, etc. etc. You see the type. This shaped me to love fiction set in the prairies or in an older Canada, which pushed me to take a Canadian Fiction class in university, where I finally ‘met’ Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. I fell in love, as so many others did, with the little redhead.

So to me, this book was a taste of home. It was as comforting as a pool on a hot day and a mug of warm tea during a winter storm. Not only was it super interesting to read, but it was effortless – the writing itself was excellent and engaging, and there was never a dull moment.

The best of it was obviously Maud herself. What an amazing characterization of the young teenage girl struggling through the various roles and lives people are trying to impose on her. Her courage just leaks through the pages. I think that if Lucy Maud Montgomery was alive today, she would be absolutely thrilled at how Melanie J. Fishbane has portrayed her.

I would definitely recommend this book to any young woman looking for a good Canadian fiction YA novel — I really have nothing negative to say about this novel, to be perfectly honest. Also, it’s an absolutely beautiful book cover, and it will make a lovely addition to any bookshelf.

I’d like to thank Penguin Random House Canada for the free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by Jack Thorne, John Tiffany, and J.K. Rowling

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Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Author: J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany
Rating: 4/5

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

***

Review:

Well, this book is over… and I’m not sure how I feel about it.

It seems to be the general consensus from everyone who picked up this script. It’s sort of awful in places, sort of cheesy in others, and if it wasn’t Harry Potter, we wouldn’t have picked it up in the first place… But we did, and now here we are.

Have you ever gone back to a “happy place” only to find it dull? Maybe a cottage you used to go to as a child (today, some beams are broken and it seems to wobble when the wind hits it) or a particular beach or trail in the forest (did it used to smell so stale back then?) I think this is a bit what happened with this script. I picked it up hoping it would transport me back to my elementary and high school days, where I would bury my nose in a Harry Potter book and lose track of time… only to find myself slightly disappointed that the magic isn’t 100% there.

Should it be there? I mean, it is a script, after all. It takes a special kind of person to read a script and enjoy it as much as a novel. Therefore, while some aspects were familiar (Harry and company, for one), others, such as the writing itself, weren’t. It’s not going back to your grandparents’ cottage – it’s trying out the modernized cabin at three times the price, one campground over. It’s just familiar enough to reminisce, but at the end of it all… you feel a tiny bit cheated somewhere deep down.

Personally, I sort of liked it. If the production came near me and the price was not too exorbitant, I would definitely go see it. Would I recommend the script? Yeah, I’d recommend it to any Harry Potter fan. If anything, read it to go back to Hogwarts, and to spend a few more hours in the characters’ company.

 

Someone Else’s Summer, by Rachel Bateman

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Title: Someone Else’s Summer
Author: Rachel Bateman
Rating: 4/5

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):

Anna’s always idolized her older sister, Storm. So when Storm dies in a tragic car accident on the night of her high school graduation, Anna is completely lost and her family is torn apart. That is, until she finds Storm’s summer bucket list and decides to honor her sister by having the best summer ever—which includes taking an epic road trip to the coast from her sleepy Iowa town. Setting out to do everything on Storm’s list along with her sisters best friend Cameron—the boy next door—who knew that Storm’s dream summer would eventually lead to Anna’s own self-discovery?

***

Review:

I feel that 25 years old may be a bit early to say, “Oh, to be young and in love!” when discussing a bunch of high schoolers, yet here I am. Someone Else’s Summer is about two teenagers, Anna and Cameron, who embark on a summer road trip to fulfill Anna’s late sister’s bucket list. It’s the type of book that you bring to the beach, or that you flip through while sipping a cold drink on a lounge chair on a patio. Although it deals with the dark reality of death, the bulk of the book is a fun, light read.

It isn’t hard to see how “Someone Else’s Summer” could easily become a teenager’s favourite book, which is why I would first and foremost recommend it to high school librarians. I do have to warn that it has some mature themes throughout (it is a love story through and through), but it’s the perfect YA love story. The story goes much further than the cutesy instant love affair, however – you get to see Anna, a young teenage girl, slowly grow into a brave young woman.  She discovers so much about herself that I see her as the completely relatable character. We follow her summer through the good and the ugly, her excitement and her despair, and I dare you not to love her.

I can feel some of you start to roll your eyes, so let me tell you what differentiates this book, in my opinion, from the other books tackling the “summer bucket list” trope. It starts with a funeral. Storm, Anna’s sister, is always omnipresent through the book. She is never forgotten. Anna and Cameron learn to heal, but never forget. The tone of the book is bittersweet throughout, which stops it from being a suffocating type of “cute”, which could have been its downfall. Thankfully, it wasn’t. It reads as a real story, at times, which is why I believe this will become someone’s favourite book.

I’d like to thank Running Press, as well as Netgalley, for the free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This book is being published May 9th (that’s next week!) so keep an eye out for it!

Hit the Ground Running by Mark Burle

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Title: Hit the Ground Running
Author: Mark Burley
Rating: 4/5

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):
“Eric—Mom and Dad are gone. I don’t know what happened, but I’m going to find out.”

Eric might not be getting along with his family—or anyone else, for that matter—but he’s pretty sure a boarding school in another country isn’t the answer. Skilled in parkour, running helps him deal. So be it, he decides. Do the time and get out. Flow like water. But when he gets a cryptic message from his brother telling him their parents have been abducted, and then his brother disappears, he realises they weren’t punishing him, they were hiding him. To find them, Eric has to discover the secrets of his parents’ research, but the conspiracy he uncovers threatens more than just his family. With help from unlikely new friends, a hack-first-ask-questions-later approach to computers, and a dangerous plan, he soon learns that some secrets don’t want to be found, and others have a way of revealing themselves at all the wrong times.

***

Review:

This book “hits the ground running”, indeed — I think its biggest strength was the hook. I read through the first 10% very enthusiastically, and then somewhere along the way, the pace slowed down. Thankfully, it’s not a book where it just goes downhill and doesn’t stop. In fact, as the plot thickens around the 50% mark, my interest picked up again, and the ending was absolutely amazing. Stick with this book to the end, you hear?

What made my interest drop was how sudden information arrives. There will be a slow-paced buildup of several pages, and then for five pages in a row, the reader gets an onslaught of information that may or may not be relevant to the plot (for example, non-relevant dream descriptions and discussions about movies). It did get a bit overwhelming at some point and I lost track of little important details that probably would’ve made the book more enjoyable had I retained them. I also really wish the secrets had been revealed a bit slower through the story, but I suppose it is what it is.

The book alternates between these types of “reveals” and pretty intense action scenes that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The reader gets a cocktail of stalking, kidnappings, motorcycle rides, murders, etc… and of course, the complimentary side romance side story. Additionally, the characters are well-developed and pretty neat; I think anyone would grow fond of them. What struck me the most about Eric and about Tess was how real they felt, and how I could believably run into them in the middle of the street. Very well done!

If you are fond of anthropological mysteries/adventures, be sure to pick up this YA novel. This is suitable for teenagers and up. I read this as part of my own personal challenge to read more books by Canadian authors, and I am proud to say that our nation has great writers!

I’d like to thank Blue Moon Publishers for the free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Ensnared, by Rita Sadling

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Title: Ensnared
Author: Rita Sadling
Rating: 4/5

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):

A Near Future Retelling of Beauty and the Beast

Alainn’s father is not a bad man. He’s a genius and an inventor. When he’s hired to create the robot Rose, Alainn knows taking the money is a mistake.

Rose acts like a human. She looks exactly like Alainn. But, something in her comes out wrong.

To save her father from a five year prison sentence, Alainn takes Rose’s place. She says goodbye to the sun and goes to live in a tower no human is allowed to enter. She becomes the prisoner of a man no human is allowed to see.

Believing that a life of servitude lies ahead, Alainn finds a very different fate awaits her in the company of the strange, scarred recluse.

[This novel contains adult situations and is only suitable for readers who are 18+]
***

Review:

The buzz for this book couldn’t happen at a better time! With the upcoming live action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, readers will be drawn to the “tale as old as time” offered by Rita Sadling’s book… as they should be!

To begin: be aware that the audience for this book is definitely not children. I highly recommend adhering to the 18+ warning as the scenes get quite graphic. I would not put this in a YA section or in a high school library.

This book has been a wild ride from the first few chapters onwards! From the blurb, this story merely seems to be Beauty and the Beast retold as a sci-fi, but the blurb promotes the similarities a bit more than what the book actually is. Therefore, the retelling wasn’t overwhelming as it could have been; there were just enough inspiration to recognize the plotline.

While sci-fi stories never really captured my attention, this kind of world-building kept me on my toes. The AI robots throughout the story were realistic to the point of being uncanny, and I would occasionally get goose bumps throughout my reading. Gone are the friendly Lumière and Big Ben, to be replaced by a robot named Rosebud, who is Alainn’s sole ally for a while. The tower is dark and the walls are made entirely of screens that change at Rosebud or Lorcann’s mere command. As terrifying as it is, it’s also pretty cool and it made me think about where we will be in several years, technology-wise.

While the primary characters were great, the secondary characters were borderline unecessary. This story could have comfortably sustained itself with Alainn, Lorcann, and the AI robots… perhaps with the addition of two or three supporting characters. Unfortunately, characters like Greg, Karen, and Cara were irrelevant, in my opinion.

Nonetheless, I would recommend this book to an adult audience who want to read a modernized, sci-fi romance inspired by Beauty and the Beast. I received this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The anticipated publication is December 2017.