Wolves of Winter, by Tyrell Johnson

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Title: Wolves of Winter
Author: Tyrell Johnson
Rating: 4/5

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):

Forget the old days. Forget summer. Forget warmth. Forget anything that doesn’t help you survive.

Lynn McBride has learned much since society collapsed in the face of nuclear war and the relentless spread of disease. As memories of her old life haunt her, she has been forced to forge ahead in the snow-covered Canadian Yukon, learning how to hunt and trap to survive.

But her fragile existence is about to be shattered. Shadows of the world before have found her tiny community—most prominently in the enigmatic figure of Jax, who sets in motion a chain of events that will force Lynn to fulfill a destiny she never imagined.

***

Review:

I closed my 2017 reading challenge with this book, and there couldn’t be a more perfect one for the subzero temperatures we’ve been seeing here. The atmosphere in the book is glacial and miserable, so I highly recommend this book during the dead of winter, or when it’s so hot outside that only imagination can cool you down!

In all honesty, however, it was refreshing (is this a pun?) to read a dystopian where the weather turns snowy as opposed to hot, dry, deserted wastelands. The author doesn’t gloss over glamourized details of a winter apocalypse – we see the characters suffer from the cold, the blandness of the food, the loneliness that can only be caused by strictly living with family members. We also get to read about the nostalgia caused by losing almost everything one had taken for granted, both through the character’s present-time and through flashbacks. There’s a grim reality in these pages that some dystopian books lack, so I truly appreciated reading about Lynn and her family’s struggles.

The characters were all wonderful with the exception perhaps of Conrad – I’m still not sure what was the purpose of adding a perverted, violent man for only a handful of pages? The book could have lived quite wonderfully without the Conrad-related arcs, but I suppose it would be important to show that survival can turn a person into something this nasty.

I’d like to thank Simon & Schuster as well as Netgalley for the free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I would recommend picking it up!

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ReWired, by S. R. Johannes

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Title: ReWired
Author: S. R. Johannes
Rating: 3/5

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):

YA cyber thriller, ReWired, by Shelli Johannes-Wells (writing as S.R. Johannes), which offers a fresh and exciting new take on the genre, and could be described as Ally Carter’s HEIST SOCIETY meets THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO for teens.

Sixteen-year-old Ada Lovelace is never more alive and sure of herself than when she’s hacking into a “secure” network as her alter ego, the Dark Angel. In the real world, Ada is broken, reeling from her best friend Simone’s recent suicide. But online, the reclusive daughter of Senator Lovelace (champion of the new Online Privacy Bill) is a daring white hat hacker and the only female member of the Orwellians, an elite group responsible for a string of high-profile hacks against major corporations, with a mission to protect the little guy. Ada is swiftly proving she’s a force to be reckoned with, when a fellow Orwellian betrays her to the FBI. To protect her father’s career, Ada is sent to ReBoot, a technology rehab facility for teens…the same rehab Simone attended right before killing herself.

It’s bad enough that the ReBoot facility is creepy in an Overlook-Hotel-meets-Winchester-Mansion way, but when Ada realizes Simone’s suicide is just one in an increasingly suspicious string of “accidental” deaths and “suicides” occurring just after kids leave ReBoot, Ada knows she can’t leave without figuring out what really happened to her best friend. The massive cyber conspiracy she uncovers will threaten everything she cares about–her dad’s career, her new relationship with a wry, handsome, reformed hacker who gets under her skin, and most of all–the version of herself Ada likes best–the Dark Angel.

With a deliciously twisty plot, the topical bite of Cory Doctorow’s LITTLE BROTHER, ReWired delves into technology addiction, internet privacy, and corporate/government collection of data, as it vividly illuminates the universally human questions about ethics, privacy, and self-definition that both underpin these socio-political issues and dovetail with classic coming-of-age themes. Ultimately, ReWired is about the daily choices we all make about who we want to be, how much of ourselves we choose to share with others, and the terrifying risks and exhilarating rewards of being ourselves, online and off.

***

Review:

This is a strange book to review, because there’s so much contained between those few hundred pages. Where to start? The characters? The intrigue? The clash between the cyber world and the natural world? The romance or the friendship? There is just so much crammed in there that it’s hard to focus my review on a particular aspect, so I will simply resume what I liked and didn’t like.

What I enjoyed: this book reads like a Nancy Drew novel aimed at an older (see: teenager) audience. You know the tropes: witty young girl becomes involved in a mystery that she has to solve, gets herself in these terribly dangerous situations, always comes back relatively unscathed, etc. One moment, she is safe, and then the next she’s falling through the floor or being shot with strange objects… All to solve the mystery along with her sidekicks, but definitely always working better on her own. Luckily, I absolutely adored the Nancy Drew books as a tween, and therefore, I did really enjoy the intrigue behind ReWired.

I also loved how funny this book was; I genuinely laughed out loud a few times! There is a really good balance between serious topics and light-hearted intercessions, and the book never felt overwhelming in a specific kind of tropes.

Which brings me to what I liked a little less: the pacing – that was overwhelming. I love past-paced books as much as any other reader, but I honestly think this novel could have been a trilogy. It goes from everyone hating themselves to being super close all at once, which left me feeling rather indifferent about anyone but the protagonist.

Also, I think I received an ARC; I hope the cut-off sentences and missing words and grammatical errors were fixed before the release, because it sucks when you get to the end of the paragraph and your sentence doesn’t end.

Still, it wasn’t a bad book; I’d be curious to see what the final version looks like. I’d like to thank Coleman and Stott for the free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Immortal Creators, by Jill Bowers

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Title: Immortal Creators
Author: Jill Bowers
Rating: 4.5/5, rounded up

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):

Sixteen-year-old author Scott Beck never wanted to be an Immortal Writer—not after his father was killed on a mission attempting to dispatch his own villain. Scott blames Shakespeare and the Writers for his father’s untimely demise, but no amount of hatred will prevent the oncoming alien attack, which has come over to reality straight from Scott’s book.

Scott is forced to collect his characters—an Air Force colonel, two of the best pilots on Earth, and an alien enthusiast from the year 2134—and defeat the alien king before Earth is obliterated by his ships. But an odd sickness Scott calls his Writing Fever might just kill him before the aliens have the chance.

Will Scott be able to defeat the monsters he created, or will the world end in flames?

***

(Warning: this review may contain spoiler-y content for the first book in this series.)

Sequels should be about coming home, and this book really hits the mark. While readers get to enjoy a fresh new author protagonist and wonderful supporting characters, they are also treated with a glimpse into everything that made the first book so wonderful: the Writer’s Castle and its colourful quirks, a few memorable appearances by Liz and Curtis, and, of course, Shakespeare and other well-known authors. Bowers writes so well that readers will end up with a series containing entertaining books that are both familiar and fresh – I already can’t wait to read the third one.

Back to the book itself: this time around, we are dealing with a science fiction book and not a fantasy one, so instead of dragons, we get aliens as antagonists. I actually thought it was pretty cool, and I look forward to seeing what other genres will be explored in the next book, as the author really seems to be nailing each one so far.

I suppose that if I had to choose something to complain about, it would be the lack of chemistry between the author (the in-book author, Scott, and not Jill Bowers – she has excellent chemistry with her characters!) and his characters. I suppose that this might have been intended, since Scott is a lot more reluctant to follow the Immortal Writer lifestyle than Liz was in the first book; however, I wish there would have been more delving into the characters’ lives and personalities. It didn’t stop me from enjoying the book, however, so it was more of a disappointment than a deal breaker… I guess it’s not a flaw when your only complaint is “I wish I knew more about the characters”!

Still, I really loved Scott. I was disappointed at first that Liz wasn’t the protagonist, but Scott was such a well-rounded character that I quickly got over it. He feels so real. He is an angry teenage boy who gets embarrassed when he’s not as mighty as the others, who eats strange food combinations and who bickers with his brother. Also, he transforms throughout the book, and last-chapter Scott is so different than first-chapter Scott. You’ll love it, trust me.

And the ending… don’t get me started on that cliff-hanger. I can’t believe this book is only going to be published in 2018, which means I’ll have to wait for a long time before the third book.

I’d like to thank Blue Moon Publishers for the free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. I would recommend this book, and I really look forward to reading what else Jill Bowers comes up with!

Autonomous, by Andy Marino

Title: Autonomous
Author: Andy Marino
Rating: 3.5/5

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):

William Mackler is about to go on a road trip of a lifetime. After winning a contest—and nearly dying in the process—he becomes the proud owner of Autonomous, a driverless car that knows where you want to go before you do. #Worthit! To sweeten the deal he gets to pick three friends to go with him on a cross-country trip to see their favorite band. For William, a reckless adrenaline junkie, this is the perfect last hurrah before he and his friends go their separate ways after graduation. But Autonomous is more than just a car without a steering wheel. It’s capable of downloading all of the passengers’ digital history—from the good, to the bad, to the humiliating. The information is customized into an itinerary that will expose a few well-kept secrets, but it will also force William to face some inner demons of his own. Think you know Autonomous? The real question is, how much does Autonomous know about you?

Review:

Now here’s the thing about getting an advanced reader’s copy. Sometimes, the reviews are not good, such as the reviews for this novel, and now this book is being reworked as it was meant to be published this month, but is now aiming for 2018. Therefore, my review reflects the unrevised book, not the copy that will hit the shelves in a few months.

First things first, I need to explain something about Autonomous. It was marketed as a 14+ book and as a funny story. Also, when a book comes from Disney, you most likely will expect the book will be appropriate for teenagers to read, even if it says 14+ on the cover – it’s Disney, for goodness’ sake. Autonomous was absolutely not appropriate for youth. There were themes in there that twisted my stomach and that made my heart plummet, and I think I perhaps laughed once in the entire book.

However, if I had picked up this book elsewhere, I would have thought that it was freaking amazing. If the audience had been adults and the book’s teen-targeted content had been edited out, I could see how this would have been a horror/thriller that would have kept me up at night. I assume that the edits will remove all the adult content from the book, which is quite necessary for this to be published by Disney Book Group, but… I keep wondering “what if” this story is edited differently. I loved the car, I loved the social media content, I loved the psychology behind putting four very different people in a car that reads your mind and adapts a road trip to fit the occupant’s needs… and then this car turning dark and reflecting each individual’s darkest secrets… It was a really good ARC. Again, I’m just sad that this manuscript didn’t make it to a different audience.

I’d like to thank Disney Book Group for the free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. I look forward to picking up a copy of the re-edited product, because despite all the bad stuff in the book, I actually enjoyed it.

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.

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.