#Review: Crush by Svetlana Chmakova #GraphicNovel #Crush #NetGalley

I am in love with this book… probably more than Jorge loves Jazmine. But seriously, it’s so dang good! If you’ve never read anything by Svetlana Chmakova before you’re seriously missing out. Crush is fun, funny, and absolutely fabulous. It brings back the growing pains of being in middle school, navigating the complex world of social relationships, and the confusion of finding your place in the world. If you read only one graphic novel this year, this should be it.


crushTitle: Crush

AuthorSvetlana Chmakova

Publisher: Yen Press

Publication Date: October 30, 2018

Genre: Fiction, YA, Graphic Novel, Middle Grade Fiction

Themes: Friendship, First Love, Bullying, School

Features: N/A


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Following the overwhelming success of AWKWARD and BRAVE, Svetlana Chmakova’s award winning Berrybrook Middle School series continues with its next installment – CRUSH!

Jorge seems to have it all together. He’s big enough that nobody really messes with him, but he’s also a genuinely sweet guy with a solid, reliable group of friends. The only time he ever really feels off his game is when he crosses paths with a certain girl… But when the group dynamic among the boys starts to shift, will Jorge be able to balance what his friends expect of him versus what he actually wants?


My Review

When I was still working in elementary schools Awkward and Brave were two of the books I went to battle over including in a start-up graphic novel collection. I stood my ground against the PTA because 1) graphic novels are ‘real books’, 2) the visual nature of comics levels the playing field when it comes to lexiles and reading levels, and 3) graphic mediums are known to convey more information regarding interpersonal dynamics and internalized feelings as they allow for readers to imagine themselves in the character’s shoes.

So, when I saw the Galley for Crush I simply had to get behind one of my favourite graphic novelists. Be warned, I am massively biased in favour of Chmakova’s work. And truth be told, the latest addition did not disappoint. The style remained consistent with her previous work, both visually and thematically, and once again Chmakova’s tackled some serious issues without delivering any overt lectures. Themes on the docket this go round include: first loves, peer pressure, group dynamics, bullying, and bodily autonomy. Whew! That’s no small chunk of change when it’s all packed into a middle grade graphic novel.

I loved the diversity in the characters, and appreciated how the inclusive elements never felt token or forced. The representation of the school populous was anything by homogenous and presented an honest reflection of the average public school. There were cliques, distinct personality types, and it even played on the typical clubs and groups that can be found in almost any school. There’s the drama kids, the athletes, the cheer leaders, the nerds, and on and on. But what I loved most about these representations is that even though there are characters that play to stereotypes, that those characters that represent toxic masculinity and abusive behaviours are thoroughly condemned for their actions. So too are the bullies, the gossips, and the mean girls. No excuses are made, no free passes are given, and the real-word consequences for being horrible are detailed in full. Hello, cleverly disguised teaching moments!

And just as there are examples of poor behaviour and what not to do, there are some shining examples of how to be kind and conscientious human being. For this alone, I love Jorge! He’s a jock without being a jerk, doesn’t feel the need to participate in petty drama, and despite what his peers are doing he doesn’t cave to the pressure of commenting on or physically invading other’s bodily autonomy. He is supportive, respectful, and absolutely adorable. Svetlana Chmakova, thank you thank you thank you for putting forward an absolutely crush-worthy knight in shining armour. Thank you for setting the bar high when it comes to how people should be treated.

I appreciated that Jorge was painfully shy and unsure of how to navigate his first crush. He was human and relatable, yet at the same time Jorge is also confident in his individuality and unwavering in his treatment of others. I loved his patience, his willingness to forgive, and his refusal to stand idly by why others are bullied. That’s right my friends, while Crush might be about Jorge’s first love it also hands out some (not so) subtle tactics on how to stand up to d-bags of all ages.

With that being said though, the kids really taken centre stage in this book, as the few adult characters serve only to advance the plot rather than deliver lectures or provide guidance. The kids themselves navigate the grounds of what’s right and wrong, and that alone keeps it more relatable for to a middle grade audience.

As far as the artwork goes, I absolutely loved it. The line work is clean, the characters unique and easily distinguished – abstracted enough to be relatable yet detailed enough to convey meaning, and the panel arrangement easily readable. The facial expressions and body language effectively convey the differences in personalities and internal emotions, and speak volumes in a way that text never could. The panel arrangement is clean and not to cluttered, in fact it follows the  left to right, top to bottom pattern of a standard books with only a few full page panels or exceptions to the rule. The result is that this text is an easy introduction to graphic novels for those new to the medium. The colours are used for maximum impact but aren’t overwhelming. They’re subtle, soft, and don’t detract from the visual language employed. Additionally, enough action takes place in the gutter to keep the imagination firing on all pistons, but not so much as to leave the reader to their own devices – especially when it comes to the emotional implications of decisions and behaviours.

Would I recommend this book? Let’s put it this way, I’ve already bought a copy and sent it to my old school! Great for parents, kids, and anyone in-between. This is a smash hit, home-run, middle grade must read.


Many thanks to Yen Press, Svetlana Chmakova, and NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review. 

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#Review: Courtney’s War by Wilbur Smith with David Churchill #WWIIFiction #HistoricalFiction

Okay, once more I’m breaking my rule regarding reviewing in order. Enter Courtney’s War by Wilbur Smith and David Churchill. Having never read anything in the Courtney series, and jumping in at #17, I was expecting for this sucker to take some serious intuition and back-story sleuthing in order to make my way through it – wrong! Instead it turned out to be a fantastic stand-alone packed with drama, back story, and a strong as hell female protagonist. Basically, I loved it!


CourtneyTitle: Courtney’s War

AuthorWilbur Smith with David Churchill

Publisher: Zaffre

Publication Date: September 18, 2018

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, WWII Fiction

Themes: Love, Loyalty, WWII, War, Survival

Features: N/A


My Rating: 4/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

The brand new Courtney Series novel, and the much-anticipated sequel to the global bestseller WAR CRY 

Paris, 1939 -Torn apart by war, Saffron Courtney and Gerhard von Meerbach are thousands of miles apart, both struggling for their lives.

Gerhard – despite his objections to the Nazi regime – is fighting for the Fatherland, hoping to one day have the opportunity to rid Germany of Hitler and his cronies. But as his unit is thrown into the hellish attrition of the Battle of Stalingrad, he knows his chances of survival are dwindling by the day.

Meanwhile Saffron – recruited by the Special Operations Executive and sent to occupied Belgium to discover how the Nazis have infiltrated SOE’s network – soon finds herself being hunted by Germany’s most ruthless spymaster.

Confronted by evil beyond their worst imaginings, the lovers must each make the hardest choice of all: sacrifice themselves, or do whatever they can to survive, hoping that one day they will be reunited.

Courtney’s War  is an epic story of courage, betrayal and undying love that takes the reader to the very heart of a world at war.


My Review

Now, if you’ve ever trolled the directory on this blog you might have noticed that one of the (many) genres I have a soft spot for is WWII fiction – especially when it features a strong female protagonist and clandestine elements like the SOE. So, naturally, when I say the blurb for Courtney’sWar on NetGalley I simply couldn’t resist hitting the request button.

Now imagine my delight when the romance between Saffron and Gerhard was not just that of two lovers separated by war, but that of star crossed lovers on opposites sides of the front line. Gerhard the German war hero, fighter ace, and decorated officer and Saffron the sharp, driven, SOE officer with a record most operatives world kill for (or die attempting to obtain). So dang good!

Right from the get go Saffron had all of the spunk and grit to pull the book along without the added bonus of the personal drama. I loved her mother’s connection to working as a spy, her privileged background, and her determination to be the best operative possible. I really enjoyed that the Courtney family history only played a small role in the story. There was just enough of it to let you know that there’s a larger narrative that this book belongs to, but not so much that you felt the need to have read any other books in the series. What I appreciated the most though, was how these did-bits were doled out gradually and at well-timed moments to add emphasis to actions and reveal motivations.

I also appreciated that while Saffron and Courtney were touted as the paragons of physical perfection, that their realities as people were almost fatally flawed. However, I almost expected Saffron’s lack of scruples about killing to cause more issues interpersonally, and Gerhard’s pretending to tow the Nazi line to culminate in a much different result. Don’t get me wrong though, I LOVE it when things turn out differently than I think they will – it means that the plot wasn’t predictable.

Perhaps the only thing that stopped this from being a 5 star review was that I found the language to be a touch too flowery. Had I encountered the type and frequency of the vocabulary used to embellish the text in a period romance I don’t think that I would have batted an eye. It just seemed a little out of place when set against the front line of WWII, SOE training and operations, and the internal workings of Baker Street. The only time that I didn’t take any notice was when Saffron was visiting her family in South Africa, where everything just seemed to fit. I can only chalk this up to the more colonial setting of Smith’s previous novels and the literary empire he has built out of the Courtney’s adventures in Africa.

I loved the drama, the breakneck pace, and the clear evidence of thorough research. While real people and events were referenced to throughout, I enjoyed that no fictionalized representations were made of the big players on either side, and that the characters presented were genuinely fictional with no obligation to mimic the history books. With that said though, I appreciated the detail that went into describing military maneuvers and campaigns, the specifics of the physical training endured by SOE trainees, and the repulsive descriptions of the meagre war-time food throughout.

Would I recommend this book? Most definitely. It’s gritty, gripping, and utterly uplifting. For those that love WWII fiction, treacherous spy games, and romantic paradoxes this baby will certainly be for you.


Many thanks to NetGalley, Wilbur Smith, David Churchill, and Net Zaffre for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review. 

#ARC #Review: The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi #YALit #TheGildedWolves #NetGalley

Okay, okay, after promising I’d get back to normal I’m immediately going to break my own rules. You see, I have 5 books waiting to be reviewed, and I typically like to do everything in order because it’s easier on my memory. But The Gilded Wolves was so damned good I had to move it up to the front of the que! If you like YA lit, fantasy, historical fiction, diverse reads, or even just exceptional characters this baby needs to be on your must read list when it’s released in the new year.


wolvesTitle: The Gilded Wolves

AuthorRoshani Chokshi

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Expected Publication Date: January 15, 2019

Genre: Fiction, YA, Fantasy

Themes: Family, Friendship, Romance, LGBTQ

Features: N/A


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

From Goodreads…

Set in a darkly glamorous world, The Gilded Wolves is full of mystery, decadence, and dangerous but thrilling adventure.

Paris, 1889: The world is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. In this city, no one keeps tabs on secrets better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier, Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. But when the all-powerful society, the Order of Babel, seeks him out for help, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To find the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin will need help from a band of experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian who can’t yet go home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in all but blood, who might care too much.

Together, they’ll have to use their wits and knowledge to hunt the artifact through the dark and glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the world, but only if they can stay alive.


My Review

This book is insane, challenging, diverse, and inclusive in the best ways possible. It explores gender, sexuality, race and privilege without making any overt statements. And best of all, it challenges the sordid histories of subjugation and colonialism in an imaginative and introspective way. Oh, and this heavy hitter is clever disguised on an epic (almost steampunk) fantasy filled with magic, science, history and drama to boot!

Set during the French Revolution, and steeped in colourful imagery, the combination of history and fantasy is one that is sure to set the imagination on fire. I fell in love with the food, the costumes, the magic of forging, and the world Chokshi created. But best of all the characters are complete and entirely unique. If you don’t find yourself feeling for one or more of Severin’s crew, you must be broken. Seriously, who can’t help but love a band of plucky, artefact stealing, mission oriented, insanely intelligent misfits? Let em give you the run down:

First, there’s Severin. The rightful heir to house Vanth which has been declared dead by the Order of Babel.  He’s the ring leader of our motley crew and at a ridiculously young age liquidated his fortune and turned himself in the owner of the lavish L’Eden Hotel. Now, if you’re a fan of Gossip Girl think Chuck Bass in the midst of the French Revolution, but with magic and friends that actually like him. He’s moody, secretive, loyal, and pining after an insanely independent and determined cabaret dancer. Oh, and he thinks he’s being kinder (not) by making his friends swear, and marking them with, kinder oaths than most of the other masters out there. The truth is though, that he is really just a broody, handsome, and rather lovable tyrant.

Then there’s Tristan, Severin’s half brother and equally cast out son of house Vanth. Brilliant botanist, forever childlike, and obsessed with his giant spider Goliath. At first I was irked by his unwavering innocence in the face of such hardship, but as the boy’s pasts were revealed my ire changed to pity, and finally pity to fondness. His story, though less explicitly told, was perhaps the most moving and heartbreaking of the group.

Next is Laila, our enigmatic pastry chef who just so happens to moonlight as Paris’ most famous dancer. She is well versed in the languages of beauty and power, mysterious to the core, and just so happens to be the forbidden object of Severn’s desire. And despite all of this she is kind, empathetic, and the glue that holds this motley crew together in spite of Severin’s delusions of leadership. Her tenderness and social aptitude save her friends on more often than they give her credit for. And she has her own secrets too – a mysterious past, a dire quest, and a wicked streak you don’t want to get on the wrong side of.

Enter Zofia the resident mathematical genius and baby pyromaniac. She’s socially awkward, painfully literal, and the most endearingly blunt character I have every encountered. I have no doubt that her exclusion and bullying at school will be relatable to many. Her attempts at learning how to flirt might split your gut, and her refusal to be anyone or anything but her brilliant, awkward and calculating self will leave you cheering for strong female characters everywhere.

Then there’s Enrique, scholar and historian, who wants nothing more than to be accepted by his countrymen. He’s so blinded by desire that he’s often incapable of seeing his place amongst his peers, and how loved he is by his friends. He’s the quintessential representation and exploration of otherness. He’s egotistical, vain, and entirely oblivious of his effect on others. I couldn’t help but feel for Enrique’s desire to be accepted, and found his love of luxury impossible to look away from – especially since so many of his obsessions have to do with the relics of the Order, decoding the mysterious, and generally making academia (dare I say it?) sexy.

And finally we have Hypnos, our young flamboyant patriarch, who experiences his otherness on a level apart from the others. Acknowledged member of the order yet looked on with disdain, childhood friend of Severin yet kept at arm’s length from the group, and painfully lonely in a way that wealth and power can’t correct. We’ve all seen that kid, hell we might have even been that kid, who wants so badly to be part of a group but just doesn’t fit in – and it’s impossible not to draw connections to your own life.

I want to say more about the actual plot, but I’m scared that I would dole out some ridiculous spoilers. There is no detail in this book that doesn’t have meaning, so be prepared to go back and read a few things twice! The symbolism, foreshadowing, and planning in this book are on the next level. It might be listed as YA, but The Gilded Wolves can be enjoyed by all.

Would I recommend this book? Oh hell yes! And better yet, it’s set to come out on my birthday. I strongly suggest you read it as a gift to me. But if you’re not into charitable reading, do it for yourself – it’s beautifully written, imaginative, and carriers some powerful messages. Read it book nerds, it’s amazing.


Many thanks to NetGalley for providing a Advanced Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review. 

#BlogTour #Review: The Night Visitor by Patrick Redmond #NightVisitor @PRedmondAuthor @BooksManatee

The-Night-Visitor-(NEW).jpg

Today I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Patrick Redmond’s latest psychological thriller The Night Visitor. Gripping and imaginative with a paranormal twist, I was hooked after the first few paragraphs and resented the need to stop reading in favour of sleep. If you’ve read any of Redmond’s other books, this baby will not disappoint.



thenightvisitor.jpgTitle: 
The Night Visitor

Author: Patrick Redmond

Publisher: Manatee Books

Publication Date: October 29, 2018

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Paranormal, Mystery, Thriller

Themes: Friendship, Family, Relationships

Features: N/A


My Rating: 5/ 5


Synopsis

When does a gift become a curse?

Meg has a gift. She can change lives. But when tragedy strikes in childhood she vows never to use it again. Now an adult, she is living in Cornwall; a place where the elements themselves have a life of their own. When they call she refuses to listen, fearful of the dark places where her gift can lead.

But the dead will not be silenced. They are stronger than her. And now they have chosen she is powerless to escape…


My Review

I am absolutely over the moon to be taking part in this blog tour, and on day one to boot! Having read The Wishing Game a while back, I knew that I was a fan of Redmond’s writing going in to this. So I will make my bias known up front. But with that being said, the story was so dang imaginative and well thought out that any of my presumptions about what to expect were thrown out the window and I was left hanging on the edge of my seat the whole way through.

I loved the premise of the story – a young girl who can see the dead, who tries to help them find their peace, and has to come terms with how her abilities set her apart from the rest of the world. Then fast forward to adult life – successful in business but personally in tatters. I found the bits that Meg worked the hardest to repress about herself were the most endearing, and that her tenacity and denial were almost contagious. Now throw in the loss of Meg and Grace’s mother, the sheer insanity that was their father, and the slow release of the details surrounding Grace’s death. UGH, so good! I was as drawn into the personal elements of the story as much as the action of Meg’s ghost in Cornwall.

And let’s talk about that for a minute. I felt for Meg when she first started seeing the signs that her abilities were coming back to the surface, and the fear of opening herself up to that life again. I didn’t know whether or not the clues being left for her were for better or ill, and genuinely had no idea how the historic narrative was going to end or how it was tied to Meg’s story until the closing chapters. Even though the crimes were in the past, and finding the truth seemed almost impossible, I was enraptured the same as any intense investigative mystery. The conclusion was entirely different than how I thought it would be – which is just how I like ’em – and was the perfect tonic to the intensity of those chapters leading up to the final moments in Meg’s quest to save her ghost.

Now throw in a moody artist who pushes Meg to confront her ghosts rather than run from them, the quintessential English pub, and some unpredictably rugged coastal landscapes and you have the perfect storm. Although, I might loose my shit if a neighbour randomly burst through my front door after I feel down the stairs… I would be thankful, don’t get me wrong, but I would have been way less calm with a stranger entering my home!

The writing was exceptional, and never once felt repetitive. I enjoyed the breadth of the characters, the portrayal of the ghosts, and the approachability of the language employed throughout. The pacing was steady, building to a difficult-to-put-down crescendo, and although there’s enough action to pull you through it never feels rushed or like important details have been left out. I really enjoyed how Meg’s perspective evolved as she aged, and how those chapters where Meg and Grace were children actually felt as those they were being seen through the eyes of child rather than as an adult looking back. And even though there were some paranormal elements to Meg’s story, they never felt outlandish or impossible.

Steeped in discovery and distraction, routine and chaos, The Night Visitor is a tale of constant juxtaposition and endless revelations. It’s the kind of book that will capture both the heart and the imagination, and leave you wanting more. I would absolutely recommend this book – and with Halloween right around the corner it should go on the read-right-now pile rather than the TBR. If you enjoy mysteries, crime drama, and a touch of the other-worldly this one is absolutely for you!


About The Author

2def03_fee78678bbeb422dbd134d1def9c9cfe~mv2_d_1632_2464_s_2.jpgPatrick Redmond worked as a City solicitor before publishing his first psychological thriller “The Wishing Game”.  Having long been interested in criminology his books focus on the psychological aspect of crime and the disturbing ways in which a strong mind can manipulate a weaker one.  Patrick lives in West London.  In his spare time he likes socialising, watching films, eating pizza and making half-hearted attempts to keep fit.


Many thanks to Tracy Fenton for inviting me to join in this tour, and to Patrick Redmond and Manatee Books for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Big Changes, Small(er) Living

Hello my fellow book nerds,

I feel like I owe you an explanation. I haven’t posted in just over a month, and in that time I read a grand total of only 5 books! Obviously, this isn’t my normal. And for some reason I feel like I’ve let you down. But, I have a long winded story and some pictures to make up for it.

img_3119You see, the fellow and I have been looking to leave the city behind and move out to the country for a fair few years, and starting in August everything started to fall into place. Naturally, this didn’t go smoothly – because when does it ever?! We put an offer on a place, it was accepted and we were over the moon. So, we listed our house, cleaned like mad and started accepting showings. But, just a few days later they accepted a backup offer, and we withdrew as they wanted us to firm up whilst foregoing all inspection – BIG RED FLAG. Turns out walking away was the best thing we could have done as we heard from the final buyers who shared some horror stories of asbestos ceiling tiles, a cracked foundation, an unportable well, and defunct septic system. We were lucky to get out when we did!

But, that doesn’t change the fact that we had listed and stared showing our house. And to make things even more dramatic, within 48 hours of withdrawing from the first property, we had accepted on offer on our house in the city – WITH A 30 DAY POSSESSION. What in the world were we thinking?! So, cue the packing, cue the panic. Because here we are approaching fall when the acreage market is soft with nowhere to go. Somewhere, somehow, in the heavens the stars aligned. Because 5 days later our dream property (that had been conditionally sold earlier in the summer) suddenly came back on the market. We went, we saw (the view pictured below), we offered on the spot…. and settled on an even shorter possession day than the one our home, only 17 days away.

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WTF were we thinking?!

I can tell you exactly what we were thinking. We were thinking it would be best to get moved in before semester kicked into full gear at the university where I work. We were thinking we wanted out of the city so bad and that we didn’t want to hear emergency sirens at night anymore, that we didn’t want to pay the 3.5% increase in our already ridiculous property taxes, and that we were tired of dealing with Dragon-Lady across the laneway.

Oh, and did I mention that my fellow works Shiftwork away? Yeah, one week at camp, one week at home. Of those 17 days before we moved, he worked 14. My brain hurt. But I packed the entire house in just under three weeks, arranged movers, cleaners, and an army friends and we hit the road to head an hour south.

img_3080But first we had to paint (I did all of that), move two walls (he handled that), repair some shoddy drywall and plaster work, remove oodles of barbed wire fencing (thanks mom & dad!), ran electrobraid and installed gates to make the property horse safe. And the work isn’t done yet either, we still have baseboards and trim to replace, we just finished installing 5 out of 8 needed light fixtures last night, we need to rewire some of our switches because we have no clue what they’re attached to, I am halfway through installing the built-in desk and shelving in my office.

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It’s all been worth it though, and were delighted to leave the hustle and bustle of city life behind. Our views are killer, the nights are quiet, and I am finally getting back to reading at my regular rate. Tomorrow I will be taking part in the blog tour for the fabulous paranormal mystery The Night Visitor by Patrick Redmond, and have reviews ready to go for My Real Name is Hannah, Crush, and The Gilded Wolves. It might take a little while for me to figure out this new balance, but I promise I’ll get there eventually.

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Love you my nerds, and I’ll be back at it tomorrow!

-J