ARC Review – Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz

27414408Title: Finding Perfect

Author: Elly Swartz

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: To Molly Nathans, perfect is:

• The number four
• The tip of a newly sharpened number two pencil
• A crisp, white pad of paper
• Her neatly aligned glass animal figurines

What’s not perfect is Molly’s mother leaving the family to take a faraway job with the promise to return in one year. Molly knows that promises are often broken, so she hatches a plan to bring her mother home: Win the Lakeville Middle School Slam Poetry Contest. The winner is honored at a fancy banquet with table cloths. Molly’s sure her mother would never miss that. Right…?

But as time goes on, writing and reciting slam poetry become harder. Actually, everything becomes harder as new habits appear, and counting, cleaning, and organizing are not enough to keep Molly’s world from spinning out of control.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for a finished copy of this novel!

Sam’s Review:

Finding Perfect is my kind of middle grade novel — it focuses on tough subject matters but does an amazing job of making them accessible to younger audiences without feeling patronizing or overly complicated. This is a novel about a girl named Molly who slowly learned throughout the novel that she suffers from OCD.

I want to throw out there what a delightful debut this novel is. I fell for Molly right from the get-go, and it’s because Swartz has this really inviting style of writing that eases the reader into Molly’s thoughts and feelings. Molly has her ticks, but they are introduced so organically into the story that it also makes it easy for the readers to understand where she is coming from, as well as sympathize with her. I loved her personality, and I found her emotions to be so rawly portrayed.

Actually, I should say her family is really well portrayed given that they all feel like they are suffering from neglect from a mother who had to take a job in Toronto to support her family. All of the siblings deal with this in such different ways, so it gave a very layered perspective on how siblings cope with an absent parent. I also loved Molly’s friends, I enjoyed that her environment was (mostly) supportive.

Most importantly, I love the way Swartz tackles the topic of OCD. I felt like I gained such a huge understanding of it and how young children my cope with it. I also loved the amount of research that went into making this novel authentic, and I am so happy that voices like Molly’s exist for readers who may have OCD and want representation. This novel does it with such grace and sensitivity, and I felt like I was very much a part of the story being an outsider who was looking in.

Fidning Perfect is nearly perfect. While it ends on a soft note (I admit, I would have loved to have known more), I feel like this is one of those middle grade books that will stay with the reader long after the book has been completed. Molly is such a wonderful heroine and I am looking forward to seeing what other stories Swartz will pen in the future.

 

Building a Little Free Library

Back in August, my husband decided to surprise me with a unique birthday gift. He bought me a Little Free Library, which is a box that you place on your front lawn where you can share books with your community. Community members can take a book, leave a book, and the cycle repeats itself. There were definitely some challenges to this project of course, such as worrying about vandalism, city by-laws, and if the neighbors would even enjoy it.

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There is variety of styles that exist for Little Free Library’s, and they can be made uniquely your own depending on design and paint. We opted for a pre-built one as neither of us is particularly crafty in terms of woodwork. Then we also needed to select an outdoor paint that could take a beating, but still make the library look appealing and eye-catching. Then if you have an official LFL you also need to register it with the organization (mostly so you can use the name). In the set my husband purchased, we were also given a bunch of children’s books to fill our library with. It was exciting to see what items they sent us — since August, a lot of those books are already gone!

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This has been an amazing community project to work on and I couldn’t have done it without the help and patience of my husband. It’s great to see my neighbors using the LFL! They have left me notes, commented on how much they love it as a fixture in our neighborhood. It feels so rewarding, and I always get excited to see what kinds of new items community members put into it.

Part of why I wanted to get a Little Free Library comes from the fact that I am not a Librarian by trade, but rather a proud Library Technician. Working in libraries has been a huge part of my life and I’ve been a long time advocate for reading, and I am active in my province’s association, wherein I write pieces focusing on how we can handle Reader’s Advisory for Teens. My husband and I are also huge readers, and this project gave us a huge sense of accomplishment. It also taught us a lot about our neighbors’ reading habits and their interest in literacy as well.

Would you make a Little Free Library? Or have you seen any nice looking ones in your neighborhood? I’d love to know in the comments.

Book Review – Wish by Barbara O’Connor

27414384Title: Wish

Author: Barbara O’Connor

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Charlie Reese has been making the same secret wish every day since fourth grade. She even has a list of all the ways there are to make the wish, such as cutting off the pointed end of a slice of pie and wishing on it as she takes the last bite. But when she is sent to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to live with family she barely knows, it seems unlikely that her wish will ever come true. That is until she meets
Wishbone, a skinny stray dog who captures her heart, and Howard, a neighbor boy who proves surprising in lots of ways. Suddenly Charlie is in serious danger of discovering that what she thought she wanted may not be what she needs at all.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for a finished copy of this book!

Sam’s Review:

Wish was a middle grade novel that wasn’t on my radar at all. I admit to being unfamiliar with Barbara O’Connor’s work, especially given she is a quite the name with quite the plethora of work in the land of middle grade. This book is about a young girl who comes from a broken home, is transplanted to live with her aunt and uncle, and has to learn to live in a new environment.

Charlie isn’t the sweetest girl given her upbringing — she’s very rough around the edges, very self-involved at times, and she struggles to understand right and wrong. This makes her a difficult character to be in the mind of at times because her emotions are completely founded, but she can also be so nasty to others at time. O’Connor does a great job of making her feel like a kid with problems and she doesn’t sugarcoat Charlie’s responses to others, which I appreciate so much. However, I feel like if I was a younger reader enjoying Wish, I think I would struggle to actually like and root for Charlie. I found my brain at odds with her character, because adult!me understands her character well, but child!me would have really disliked her as a character.

This is also a book about a girl who wants a dog, in this case, a stray named Wishbone. I won’t lie, the bits about wanting to trap Wishbone actually upset me at times, and even rubbed me the wrong way. I am happy, of course, that nothing happens to the dog, and I am even happier that Wishbone is able to help Charlie cope with her life problems, because I do believe in the healing power of animals, which this book shows very well. I also like the growth between the two characters, and how Wishbone brings Charlie out of her shell. The friendships that are forged in this book are so strongly written, so organically grown in the story, and those were my favourite parts when reading it.

Wish is a tough read — it will fill you with so many emotions as you’re reading it, and O’Connor does a good job of keeping her readers engaged in Charlie’s development. I wish the story had ended on a bit of a strong note, but I won’t deny the enjoyment I felt watching our heroine grow in the story. I loved her aunt and uncle, though I wish they had been more a part of the story, I adored Wishbone, in a way, I wish this book had been a bit longer so their could have been more character development. Still, I think this is a strong middle grade novel that is sure to win many awards and reader’s hearts.

Four Books About Convention Life That You Should Check Out

mitsuadaI love conventions, and they were a huge part of my life for many years. Video games, anime, cosplay, fanart, deal’s room, big scale guests, these were my favourite things to immerse myself in during the summer months. I adored cosplaying, even if my costumers were a bit more DIY than those with real sewing talents. Often we’d go in large groups, protraying characters from one favourite series. Some of the best memories and friendships I’ve made, are because of fandom and cons.

Becoming more of a working girl has made it more difficult for me to get out there and enjoy them over the last few years, but it hasn’t stopped me from loving stories that ineveniblity come out of them. Here are four books I absolutely ADORE that all focus on convention culture and waving your geek flag high and mighty. Definitely check out these books, they will make you smile.

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The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love by Sarvenaz Tash

The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love was a book I picked up on a whim while I was at work browsing our new arrivals section. The cover seems a bit corny, but the contents inside this book? Utterly delightful. This is the story of one guy’s quest to tell the girl he loves how he feels by taking her to Comic Con. However, nothing is ever as it seems, and shenanigans are afoot. I loved this book so much! It reminded me of my own con-romance that I had with my now-husband (which no, we didn’t meet at a con, we were lab partners in school, but we were reunited at a con). There is just so great entertainment and this book does an amazing job of painting the convention backdrop with a great amount of authenticity. If you want a book that depicts the fun in conventions, definitely look no further.

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Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

While Queens of Geek doesn’t release until next March, I had the chance to read this one and early, and my goodness is it a favourite. I am not a huge romance reader, but conventions really do lend themselves to the romance genre well. This book isn’t specifically about convention romances, but it does look at how deeply fandom runs in people and how far we are willing to go to follow our con-related dreams. This is another book that again authentically portrays convention life and how insane con weekends can really be. I thought both plot-lines in this book were just utterly fabulous and I think Charlie, Taylor and Jamie really do a great job of stealing the reader’s hearts.

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Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs

The only non-fiction book on this list but important none the less, Sam Maggs’ Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy is a handbook for the modern geek gal that offers a plethora of information from cosplaying to convention etiquette, to simply ‘how to survive cons.’ This book is written with charm and wit, and Sam Maggs knows how to deliver thoughtful information with quite the one-two punch. If you’ve never been to a convention, or are afraid to share your geek pride beyond your peers, this book offers a lot of great tips to discovering fandom and first time convention goers. This is an essential handbook for con-life, yo.

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One Con Glory by Sarah Kuhn

Last book on this list is the first book I had ever read that was set in an convention. This is a very sassy read about a young woman who is constantly forced to show her geek cred, how she combats it, and how she kicks major ass. This book is adorable, it’s clever, and Julie is just such a misanthrope with her fellow nerds (Think April Ludgate in Parks & Recreation and you have Julie). While this book is far from perfect, it was Kuhn’s first novel, and I still think even now it’s worth the read just show readers can see that rougher side to conventions. Seriously no one should have to constantly prove their geek cred, and those that do that? Shame on you!

I hope this list of recommendations helps to get you excited for the 2017 convention season. I am hoping to make it back to a convention of some kind in 2017, but we will see given that life works in mysterious ways. Definitely check these books out and let me know what you think of them down in the comments below.

ARC Review – Black Apple by Joan Crate

26113982Title: Black Apple

Author: Joan Crate

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Set during the Second World War and the 1950s, Black Apple is an unforgettable, vividly rendered novel about two very different women whose worlds collide: an irrepressible young Blackfoot girl whose spirit cannot be destroyed, and an aging yet powerful nun who increasingly doubts the value of her life. It captures brilliantly the strange mix of cruelty and compassion in the residential schools, where young children are forbidden to speak their own languages and given Christian names. As Rose Marie matures, she finds increasingly that she knows only the life of the nuns, with its piety, hard work and self-denial. Why is it, then, that she is haunted by secret visions—of past crimes in the school that terrify her, of her dead mother, of the Indigenous life on the plains that has long vanished? Even the kind-hearted Sister Cilla is unable to calm her fears. And then, there is a miracle, or so Mother Grace says. Now Rose is thrust back into the outside world with only her wits to save her.

Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Black Apple was an ARC I received last January, and it’s a book I put off reading until now. Why I did that, I couldn’t tell you. I love books about tough subject matters, but I am also a Canadian who is very prideful of her country. This novel focuses on a large blemish in Canada’s history, and one that shouldn’t be ignored: residential school systems that harmed s many of Canada’s First Nations.

This book was difficult to read, and that isn’t an understatement. Sniopak, or Rose Marie, as she is renamed at St. Mark’s, is a feisty young Blackfoot girl who is thrust into the residential school system, and is fighting to not lose her roots. She is treated fairly poorly by the nuns and fathers in the school, as she refuses to allow reformation to take hold of her.

Rose Marie’s story is sad, but not uncommon, as this blight went on for many years, unchallenged or unchanged, which is why Crate’s novel is such an important read. There was so much research and empathy that went into this story, and that I can applaud wholeheartedly. I was completely invested in the story, what was happening to Rose Marie and her friends, and I was so aggravated and disturbed by how the First Nations were being treated in this story. You feel a lot of anger, a lot of sadness, and its emotionally draining. However, the secondary characters do have a solid amount of personality, and they help to contribute to Rose Marie’s overarching story of trying to choose the right path: staying true to her roots or becoming religious.

However, I did have a few gripes. One issue was with the writing itself. Sometimes I really struggled to connect with the writing, even though the content itself was really strong. Crate is a poet by trade, so parts of this novel read with such a poetic mindset, but for me sometimes I found it read a bit awkwardly. The other issue I had came in the form of the ending, which comes across a bit too “White saviour,” which I wish wasn’t the case given how the romance in this novel blossoms. I like the way in which Rose Marie leaves St. Mark’s, I’m just not sure if that ending worked for me personally, though it’s really plausible too given that sometimes people can give us a way out.

I think Black Apple is a very interesting, if challenging read. While I did have some problems with it at times, I won’t deny how engaging the story was or how much Rose Marie as a character spoke to me. This was such an interesting look at Canada’s history, and I’d be curious to see if Crate decides that Rose Marie’s story needs a continuation.

2017 Releases That Are On My Radar

The new year is coming and I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface with all of the releases that 2016 has had to offer. It’s the same old song and dance, there’s never enough time to read everything, but darn it you’re going to give it a college try!

I thought today I would focus on a few releases in 2017 that are coming and I have on my radar. These are books I am super curious to get my hands on and read just to see if they live up to the expectation that may be forming in my head. Also for the purposes of this post I am avoiding books I actually have ARCs for, mainly to spotlight stuff that I am interested in reading at some point.

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Once And For All by Sarah Dessen (June 6th 2017 by Viking Books for Young Readers)

I am so jazzed for a new Sarah Dessen book. She is one contemporary YA author who I have religiously be reading for over five years. I always find I have such a deep connection to her characters and there is always something in her writing style that just clicks with me. Also this book has a cynical main character who has a dislike for weddings. I may be married and have had a wedding, but man weddings are draining things. I think I am going to like this one!

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Blueberry Pancakes Forever (Tuesday McGillycuddy #3) by Angelica Banks (February 7th 2017 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

This is a reminder to all middle grade fans out there that you should be reading the Tuesday McGillycuddy series. Creative, delightful, and just plain fun this series has been one of my go tos when I am doing middle grade Reader’s Advisory. I think it’s just such a fantastic and imagaintive series for all ages. This is the third adventure for Tuesday and I am dying to see what her and Baxterr’s next adventure is going to be. Have I mentioned this series has the best covers ever? Because they do.

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When Dimple Met Rishi
by Sandhya Menon (May 30th 2017 by Simon Pulse)

THIS BOOK SOUNDS ADORKABLE. I am not always the biggest on romance, but I don’t mind it in YA if the plot is really well fleshed out and it isn’t just a love-at-first-sight-thing. This book gives an inside look to Indian culture and practices, but it also looks like it shows taking charge of oneself and becoming who one wants to be. It just sounds like a great little romance, and I love reading about other cultures, especially ones vastly different from my own.

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The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
by Mackenzi Lee (June 20th 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books)

Confession time: I still haven’t read Mackenzi Lee’s debut and I know I need to. In fact, my bestfriend lent me her copy of the book to ensure I would make time to read it. GGtVV sounds like it’s going to be a crazy fun historical romp, and this is a romp I wanted to read and have fun with.  Yeah, I just want it. I want it now.

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Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children #2)
by Seanan McGuire (June 13th 2017 by Tor)

I absolutely adored Every Heart, A Doorway, and Seanan McGuire is a favourite author of mine. Colour me crazy surprised that there is going to be a sequel! And I couldn’t be more excited. I won’t say too much about the plot, but definitely read the first book if for the portrayal of an asexual heroine. Seanan McGuire is such an amazing writer and her worlds are always so vivid and it’s always why I keep coming back.

What are your five must-have reads for 2017? Let me know in the comments.

ARC Review – The Stone Heart by Faith Erin Hicks

29102807Title: The Stone Heart

Author: Faith Erin Hicks

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Kaidu and Rat have only just recovered from the assassination attempt on the General of All Blades when more chaos breaks loose in the Nameless City: deep conflicts within the Dao nation are making it impossible to find a political solution for the disputed territory of the City itself.

To complicate things further, Kaidu is fairly certain he’s stumbled on a formula for the lost weapon of the mysterious founders of the City. . . . But sharing it with the Dao military would be a complete betrayal of his friendship with Rat. Can Kai find the right solution before the Dao find themselves at war?

Huge thank you to First Second and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

The Nameless City was one of my favourite graphic novels that I read last year when I received it as a galley. Faith Erin Hicks has created a fantastic group of characters for the reader to follow and such an enchanting world to inhabit. It has been an insanely hard wait to read The Stone Heart, and while it didn’t wow me the same way the first book did, it is still worth the read. Too bad it isn’t out until April 2017. You definitely need to check out the first book in this series because this sequel very much picks up right after the first book.

Rat and Kaidu are fantastic characters, and I could sing their praises that is how much I love them. This story feels more like Kaidu’s tale, and it focuses on him finding an ancient lost weapon that is somehow connected to The Nameless City. There’s a lot of good suspense and build up in this sequel, but it definitely suffers at times for being the middle book considering this is a trilogy. Still Rat and Kaidu definitely have some antics in this installment, and that alone made it golden in my books. I just wish Rat was in the book more. She is still my favourite.

I also REALLY adored the ending of this sequel, but it’s kinda cliffhanger-y and when I finished the book I was so sad that now I have to wait another year and a bit until I get to read the third book in this series. I really do hate when I do this to myself. But yes, check out The Nameless City, then definitely get in on The Stone Heart. This series should not be missing by graphic novel fans who love a sweeping adventure!