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The Valiant by Lesley Livingston (from a Two Thumbs Up reviewer)

by McNally Robinson - Sunday, Jan 22, 2017 at 3:55pm

So, not going to lie, I went into this book pretty hesitant. Historical fiction just doesn’t really appeal to me, I’m not into the runaway/lost/kidnapped princess trope, and this book seemed to reek of bad romance. But somehow—despite my reluctance—I ended up picking this ARC up. I didn't expect much. I was just going to try a little bit and see how it went, feeling confident that it would be crappy and I would be right. But I GOT SCHOOLED.

I didn’t warm up to Lesley Livingston’s writing style (which was a disappointment), BUT I love what Livingston did with Rome’s complicated history. This is a very plot-driven novel that takes place in Rome during the Cleopatra-Julius Caesar era. Rome is a truly magnificent city with an unforgettable past. The fact that this book is revolves around gladiators—no, female gladiators—intrigued me. Livingston did some research, and it is historically accurate that female gladiators existed. YES! That fact alone helped me love this book a bit more.

So we start off meeting Fallon, daughter and princess to a proud Celtic king. Fallon attempts to do something called the Morrigan Flight, an incredibly dangerous task that is completely reckless. Right away, we see a glimpse of Fallon’s feisty character. I appreciate Fallon's strength as a heroine who commands our attention and holds our love, whilst still being what some would consider unlikable. Fallon is then kidnapped by a group of slavers who sell her to an exclusive school for female gladiators. She now must prove exactly what she is worth; a warrior that will bow to no one.

This book is on the slow side when it begins, but let me tell you, IT IS EPIC. We have an amazing female friendship going on, an important sisterhood and, come on, it’s basically a school for female fighters! Think Vampire Academy meets The Hunger Games. I mean, this book has some serious Hunger Games vibes!

The romance was also a minor sub-plot (Thank God! Too many authors base their books off of romance when the premise of the book promises something different). I am happy to say this is a historical fiction (maybe fantasy) with romantic elements, not the other way around.

I give this book a 4/5 stars. So to wrap up, if you’re a fan of historical fiction and kick-ass women, this is the book for you.

- Yen Anh, a Two Thumbs Up reviewer

The Valiant will be available February 14. 

Categories: Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Two Thumbs Up

How to Break a Boy by Laurie Devore (from a Two Thumbs Up reviewer)

by McNally Robinson - Saturday, Jan 21, 2017 at 6:56pm

How to Break a Boy is a drama-filled, yet pure and raw portrayal about what is it meant to be "popular" in high school. Olivia Clayton has always been the second best, and Adrienne is always at the top of everything. Adrienne is the best friend that Olivia constantly wants to please, no matter the cost. The drama begins after a family tragedy and Olivia's discovery of the affair betwren Adrienne and her boyfriend. Olivia is left questioning every decision she has ever made, the question stands: will she be able to get out of the shadow of her formal, mean girl self?

Okay, that sounds very cliche but this book is not like that at all. It is basically like an emotional rollercoaster ride if you want a better description. Don't let the bright and happy cover fool you though, and go read it because it's very good! I connected with Olivia on a spiritual level. Her character development was on point. It was very gradual too, which I liked. She doesn't suddenly convert from bad to good on the first page, but the futher I read the more I can tell that she is slowly changing her view and opinion on certain matters and that is how I expected every character development to be like. Although, I must say that I get frustrated with Olivia's bad side pretty easily. But comparing this with how much I adored her in the end, I think the author had done what she meant to do. How to Break a Boy is definitely a character driven story. Besides Olivia, every other character was fleshed out in their entirety. As mean as she is in the book, I thought Adrienne's character was very interesting. She is so much more crazy and complex and she isn't being mean for the sake of being mean. The romance between Olivia and a certain "golden boy" was something else. The uncertainty and tension between the two of them lasted the entire book, I've never encountered something like this and it was great to see how the romance get resolved properly in the end.

I won't talk much about the plot, just know that it is one of those mean girl stories that is properly done! I went in expecting something between drama and a light read. Instead, I came out as a mess. I just couldn't turn the pages fast enough. I give this book a 4.5/5 Stars!

- Phuong, a Two Thumbs Up reviewer

How to Break a Boy will be available January 31.

Categories: Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Two Thumbs Up

You Don't Know My Name by Kristen Orlando (from a Two Thumbs Up reviewer)

by McNally Robinson - Wednesday, Jan 18, 2017 at 8:37pm

I am one who loves a good spy story, however this book wasn't what I thought it would be. I did really enjoy this book, I just didn't really love it. The story had many good ideas and the suspense was definitely there, but the build up to the actual story took forever. I did really like Reagan though. 

It was clear from the beginning that Reagan and her family live a very dangerous life. However, after the opening segment, it seemed like we were shown more of Reagan's "normal" life. Now don't get me wrong, I loved reading about her friends, but I had troubles with the story in that aspect. When I hit those final chapters, it started to pick up again. I was very entertained at that point.

I really loved Reagan. She is a thinker and good on her feet. I loved the strength that was shown from her. I also very much loved her and Luke's relationship. I loved Luke's character, and I found his traits absolutely amazing. I found myself squealing about their relationship.

Overall, I really did enjoy this book. Besides the minor details with the story, it was well executed. I would give this book a 4 out of 5 stars. 

- Sabrina, a Two Thumbs Up reviewer

Categories: Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Two Thumbs Up

The Last Harvest by Kim Liggett (from a Two Thumbs Up reviewer)

by McNally Robinson - Wednesday, Jan 11, 2017 at 3:39pm

He hears voices, sees things that aren't there, and can't tell the difference between reality and imagination. Clay Tate is wondering if, just like his dad, he might be losing his mind, and if people are waiting for it. At 17, Clay is left to care for his mom and two sisters, as well as run the family farm after his dad is killedfollowing a strange series of events.

This book was very well written and it draws you in slowly to keep you wondering for as long as possible. The two sides to the story really have you questioning both the characters and plot. There is no doubt that this is a horror story. It is very creepy, but still an absorbing page turner. It's easy to become attached to these characters that are so much like high school kids today. Once I started reading, I didn't stop until I was done. I never got bored and I would definitely recommend this book.

- Emily, a Two Thumbs Up reviewer

Categories: Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Two Thumbs Up

The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro (from a Two Thumbs Up reviewer)

by McNally Robinson - Tuesday, Jan 10, 2017 at 2:38pm

The Last of August is the sequel to A Study in Charlotte, a retelling of everyone's favourite detective, Sherlock Holmes. While the first book was decent, this book caught my attention because how much of an absolute mess it was (a somewhat good mess so bear with me!). Set in the 21st century, this series follows the descendants of Watson and Holmes—Jamie and Charlotte—as they navigate through danger and face off against the Moriaty-s (gasp! and yes, there are multiple Moriaty villains). In this world, the original Holmes and Watson did exist and so did their adventures. However, I've found the explanation about why Charlotte and Jamie somehow managed to turn out the same way as their ancestors a bit too convenient. It doesn't make a ton of sense, but at some point you just sort of accept it. If you are okay with this, then this series is an enjoyable ride!

The Last of August was a tiny-bit better than the first book. If it wasn't for the uncessary romance, it would've been a whole lot better. Friendships between boys and girls are just so rare in YA these days, and although the romance in this book was barely visible, I was still disappointed. Kudos to Brittany Cavallaro for giving Jamie and Charlotte's relationship more depth than before, but a friendship can work just as well for this development!

Besides that, the plot of this book was a pleasant surprise. There was enough action and suspense to keep me occupied, and unlike book one, there wasn't any boring moments. The Last of August is no murder mystery, but the case Charlotte takes on is interesting and more than it seems. This installment also stood out on its own without shadowing the original Sherlock Holmes stories.Charlotte no longer seems like the mini-Sherlock she was in book one, and her distinct quirks and flaws are well-showcased. There is a bit of a mess near the end of the book where I thought the plot was literally moving at rocket speed. Don't get me wrong, I didn't mind it, but it seems like the author was rushing to get to the perfect ending. This messy ending is the reason why I am conflicted with this book. I mean, I liked it, but I was also dazed and confused, if that make sense.

This book and series gets a 3.5/5 stars. If you fancy a Sherlock-y type story, then give this series a try. The second book is way better than the first, but just go in with lower expections.

- Phuong, a Two Thumbs Up reviewer

The Last of August will be available February 14.

Categories: Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Two Thumbs Up
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