Monthly Archives: May 2016

ARC Review – Frannie and Tru by Karen Hattrup

23587107Title:  Frannie and Tru

Author: Karen Hattrup

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: When Frannie Little eavesdrops on her parents fighting she discovers that her cousin Truman is gay, and his parents are so upset they are sending him to live with her family for the summer. At least, that’s what she thinks the story is. . . When he arrives, shy Frannie befriends this older boy, who is everything that she’s not–rich, confident, cynical, sophisticated. Together, they embark on a magical summer marked by slowly unraveling secrets.

Molly’s Review:

My god, the writing in this book was effortless. I was able to sink down into it. I love it when I read a book and it feels like the words are just washing over my brain.

So I was DYING to read this book and was so excited when a friend gave me a copy. It sounded like such a ME book (dark-ish contemporary, ugly pretty people). And it was such a me book. I loved Tru and Frannie and their interactions with each other. I loved how pitch perfect Frannie’s thoughts and feelings and actions were.

This is the story of family. There’s a little romance in it, but not much, and it is NOT the focus of the book. Frannie’s family is struggling after her father loses his job. There are three kids, Frannie has twin brothers, and they’re at the start of what promises to be a long, hot, boring summer. Then one night Frannie’s mom gets a phone call from her sister and the next thing everyone knows cousin Tru is coming to stay for the summer. Frannie overhears her family talking about Tru and learns that he’s gay. Frannie then assumes that Tru is coming to stay with them because his family (a rich white NYC family) can’t handle it. Frannie tries to be sensitive to Tru while trying to understand him and what his sexuality means.

Only how much does Frannie REALLY know? All she can remember about her cousin is that he’s smart, funny, and well off. She harbors fantasies of the two of them going of into the summer to have grand, sexy, sultry adventures. And while they do, she learns that Tru is hiding something, that he’s not always honest with everyone (himself included) and that behind his charm and swagger is a guy who’s kind of a dick.

The family dynamics, the secrets and interactions between mother daughter sister brother father cousin and so on were so well done. Family is complicated, especially when one side is financially better off than the other. Relationships with blood can be difficult because you know you’re supposed to be a certain way and you can’t always be your true self.

There was another underlying theme playing out in this, about race, that I felt was a little too agenda-y. We find out that due to her family’s financial situation that Frannie will be going to a public school that’s going to be “filled with black kids”. There are black characters and they have discussions about race, but sometimes it felt a little too forced. I DID like the awkwardness of race between Frannie and Devon, that was so natural sounding, but there are a few other things that just kinda stuck out at me kinda oddly.

Overall this book was perfection and I think that it will do really well when it comes out.

Book Chat – Books That Surprised Me

Sometimes when I read a book, I worry I won’t enjoy it. I look at it, read the synopsis, flip through the first few pages, and debate. Surprises can come in a variety of forms — enjoyment, disappointment, disgust, confusion, there’s a lot of emotions to describe when a book can surprise you. Sometimes it’s a plot element, maybe it’s overall enjoyment, it’s hard to gauge why something works or doesn’t work for you. I thought I’d share with you guys a few books that I’ve read that have surprised me in a variety of ways.

693208

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
by Sherman Alexie (2007)

If I’m being honest, I had some reservations going into The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, if only because I am Canadian and I am a Canadian who loves Native American Fiction, but also is depressed by Canada’s past towards indiginious peoples. While this novel isn’t about Canada or written by a Canadian, it offers a very important prespective on “native culture” and what it means to be white-washed.

What surprised me about this novel wasn’t the topic, but it was in how I read it. I listened to this on audiobook with Sherman Alexie as the narrator, and at first I didn’t entirely dig his reading voice. In fact, it out right annoyed me at times… yet then as the story grew, his voice grew on me as well. There is an authenticness to the novel in having him read it, and I could feel Arnold’s emotions and struggles in Alexie’s voice and feel it in a way that felt very different then reading words off the page. This book is clever, it’s funny, and it’s downright sad at times. It took me on a surprising emotional journey, and it totally deserves all the awards that it has won.

17378527

The Raven King (The Raven Cycle #4)
by Maggie Stiefvater (2016)

I am going to avoid spoilers for this book given how new it is, but this book was a ball of surprises from start to finish. It’s one of those books where from book one you KNEW WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN, but you always kept hoping Maggie Stiefvater wouldn’t actually do it. If you’ve read the series, you know what I am talking about, and the way in which she did left me emotionally spent. However, there were other parts of this novel that just surprised me (Chapter 33 is perfect, you guys), and it made me love the novel, its characters and the series a million times more. Sometimes when you know something is supposed to be predictable, author’s will throw a wrench and still manage to surprise the crap out of it.

Maggie: I want my tears back, dammit.

25937835

The Princess in Black series
by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale (2014-)

You should all not be surprised that a middle grade series is on this list, but let me tell you: The Princess in Black series continues to get better and better with each installment. What surprised me with this series was that I worried I would find it too juvinile at times to enjoy. The child in me loves this series and the adult in me in me keeps wanting to say I shouldn’t enjoy this series, but I do. This is a favourite of mine to recommend to reluctant readers at my the public library I work at, and it’s a fun one to talk up and explain to parents as well. Cheeky and fun, this series is for kids who love adventure, and adults who miss the feeling of being a child again.

23399029

Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness
by Jennifer Tseng (2015)

Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness was such a mixed bag of a book for me. Meanwhile it focuses on a more taboo subject matter (an adult woman sleeping with a minor), that actually wasn’t the aspect of the book that surprised me, even when it started to get rather heavy. What surprised me was how beautiful the writing was in this book, but how unrealstic and frusrating the plot was for such a beautifully written book. I spent a lot of the novel wanting to scream at Mayumi, and I was certainly annoyed by how literary the boy began to sound despite his distaste for literature. There’s a lot in this book that feels hapharzardly put together and yet I COULDN’T STOP READING IT. This book was such a weird reading experience and it’s one I have a hard time forgetting because I felt so confused and yet so involved in the development of this story.

What are some novels that have surprised you, for better or worse? I’d love to know how others experience “surprising” aspects of a novel and how it affects your reading experience. Let me know in the comments below what your thoughts are on the subject!

ARC Review – You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour & David Levithan

27158835Title: You Know Me Well

Author: Nina LaCour & David Levithan

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Mark and Kate have sat next to each other for an entire year, but have never spoken. For whatever reason, their paths outside of class have never crossed.

That is until Kate spots Mark miles away from home, out in the city for a wild, unexpected night. Kate is lost, having just run away from a chance to finally meet the girl she has been in love with from afar. Mark, meanwhile, is in love with his best friend Ryan, who may or may not feel the same way.

When Kate and Mark meet up, little do they know how important they will become to each other — and how, in a very short time, they will know each other better than any of the people who are supposed to know them more.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

When I recieved You Know Me Well in the mail, I immidately started reading, realizing it was the kind of book I needed in that moment. It’s a book that explores what it means to be out and proud, but also attempting to figure out the next steps in what that actually means. I really adored the way in which the alternative POVs were used, though I did find myself loving Kate’s POV slightly more than Mark’s.

This book has a very memorable opening, one that when you read it, really does a great job illustrating who both Mark and Kate are when they are “truly” themselves. It’s a pitch perfect scene that escalates into a delightful story and an unlikely friendship between two people who likely wouldn’t have become friends if it wasn’t for this event.

A lot of this novel is very vibrant, and given that it take splace during San Francisco’s Pride, that makes a lot of sense. However, not only were our protaginists wonderful to read about, but I actually loved their love interests. While the topic of a broken heart and finding your identity are nothing new, it’s hard not to feel for Mark in a lot of this novel given that he has to watch his best friend fall in love with another person. Kate’s situation is equally something we can all relate to, as she is trying to be the woman she wants to be, and love the woman she wants to love without issue.

I flew through this novel simply because it does an amazing job of sharing what it means to be yourself, while also letting others in who may be afraid to do so. If you love LGBTQIA+ literature, or you love contemporary that focuses on tougher issues, this novel will give you just about everything you’re looking for.

ARC Review – Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories by Stephanie Perkins

25063781Title: Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories

Editor: Stephanie Perkins

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Maybe it’s the long, lazy days, or maybe it’s the heat making everyone a little bit crazy. Whatever the reason, summer is the perfect time for love to bloom. Summer Days & Summer Nights: Twelve Love Stories, written by twelve bestselling young adult writers and edited by the international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins, will have you dreaming of sunset strolls by the lake. So set out your beach chair and grab your sunglasses. You have twelve reasons this summer to soak up the sun and fall in love.

Huge thank you to Raincoast and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I LOVED Stephanie Perkins’ first short story collection, My True Love Gave to Me. This sequel collection, however, though good, read to be a bit of a mixed bag for me. I loved the way in which the stories were all about summer romances, and I loved the subtlety of a lot of the stories, but there were also some that just didn’t work for me, and I struggled to enjoy them. This seems to be the nature of a short story collection.

Hands down my favourite stories were written by Brandy Colbert, Veronica Roth, Libba Bray, Stephanie Perkins and Leigh Bardugo. I found these five stories in particular just worked very well for me — making me swoon and giving me more diverse voices in how a romance could in fact play out. There was always enough drama, but a lot of sweetness too. These were the stories I found myself swooning over, because the fluff factor was there for me.

If there was any story I struggled with and found it oddly placed, it had to be Cassandra Clare’s. I LOVED the setting of her story and the creepy carnival vibe and was totally into it atmospherically, but the story itself I found myself so frustrated by. A lot of it didn’t work for me, or felt too easily resolved. It’s not a bad story, it just didn’t jive with me in the slightest. Francesca Lia Block story was another one, I admit I struggled with too. It was awkwardly written for my tastes.

Summer Days & Summer Nights really is the anthology that will have something for every reader, and it’s diverse on all accounts. There’s delightful LGBT-themed romances, horror stories, and pure fluff. Definitely a great book for sitting outside with a nice glass of lemonade, though as I stated, because it’s a short story collection, your connection to a story is REALLY going to vary. Still, I think this is worth picking up if you enjoyed the previous anthology.

ARC Review – American Girls by Alison Umminger

26156985Title: American Girls

Author: Alison Umminger

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: She was looking for a place to land.
Anna is a fifteen-year-old girl slouching toward adulthood, and she’s had it with her life at home. So Anna “borrows” her stepmom’s credit card an runs away to Los Angeles, where her half-sister takes her in. But LA isn’t quite the glamorous escape Anna had imagined.

As Anna spends her days on TV and movie sets, she engrosses herself in a project researching the murderous Manson girls—and although the violence in her own life isn’t the kind that leaves physical scars, she begins to notice the parallels between herself and the lost girls of LA, and of America, past and present.

Huge thank you to Flatiron for sending me a copy of this book for review!

Molly’s Review:

Guys, guys. You NEED this book. Now. Or when it comes out. But YOU NEED IT. This is probably going to end up on my top ten list for the year. This book was SO GOOD. Everything about it was perfect. The voice is AH-MAY-ZING.

This is a book about sisters, family, and growing up. I LOVED that it was about two sisters. I loved that it was about a dysfunctional family. And I really loved how fucking creepy it was with all of the Manson girl’s in it.

In this book Anna runs away to LA and ends up spending the summer with her sister, Delia, who lives in LA as a struggling actress. Anna steals her step-mother’s credit card and charges a $500 plane ticket onto it without telling anyone and just leaves. Her mother and step-mother are both pissed, but, gasp, her mother is dealing with some health stuff and basically BLAMES IT ON ANNA (it was NOT Anna’s fault) so she tell’s Anna to stay in LA with her sister because she isn’t sure how Anna’s going to affect her health. WTF. The mom in this book was SO messed up.

So Delia and Anna spend the summer going around together with Delia’s ex-boyfriend who’s making an indie film. Delia also works on low budget films and Anna works on the set of some cheesy kids show to make money to pay back her step-mom (because they think that Anna needs to learn from her actions). I loved the gritty glimpse of LA’s D-list actors and movie sets. I loved how weird Delia’s ex-boyfriend was. Oh, Anna also gets a job researching about the Manson girls for the ex-boyfriend’s indie film and while doing so she starts to see how just a few bad choices can lead to one’s downfall and she even see’s parallel’s between herself and some of the Manson girls.

Ugh I really just loved everything about this book (I know, I already said that). The writing is so rich and the characters were so real. Just read this guys. You will be surprised at how good it is and then wonder why you were so surprised.

ARC Review – Trouble the Water by Frances O’Roark Dowell

27206433Title: Trouble the Water

Author: Frances O’Roark Dowell

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Callie is fearless, stubborn, and a little nosy. So when she sees an old yellow dog wandering around town by itself, you can bet she’s going to figure out who he belongs to. But when her sleuthing leads her to cross paths with a white boy named Wendell who wants to help, the segregated town doesn’t take too kindly to their budding friendship.

Meanwhile, a nearly invisible boy named Jim is stuck in a cabin in the woods. He’s lost his dog, but can’t remember exactly when his pup’s disappeared. When his companion, a little boy named Thomas, who’s been invisible much longer than he, explains that they are ghosts, the two must figure out why they can’t seem to cross the river to the other side just yet…

And as Callie and Wendell’s search for the old dog brings them closer and closer to the cabin in the woods, the simmering prejudices of the townspeople boil over.

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

Sam’s Review:

This was a book that wasn’t on my radar at all and it was sent to me unsolicited. I am a sucker for dogs being on the cover of books and this book is a few things: it’s a story of a dog becoming loved, two children from different sides of the fence becoming friends, and an issue of racism that is being propelled in segregated Celeste, Kentucky.

I adored this book and I loved it’s approach to a tougher middle grade subject matter. The friendship between Callie and Wendell is so beautiful and raw, and I love their connection to this dog who ends up lost. In fact, how the story of the dog was handled was quite lovely, very mysterious, as well. There’s an interesting ghost story and I won’t spoil this, but it was such a fascinating storyline that’s a part of the novel. SO GOOD.

And then there’s the segregation plotline, which was well researched and really done well. The town hates the friendship between Callie and Wendell, and it gets to levels where it’s so heartbreaking how they are treated. In fact, how racism effects the children just made me so sad at times. The ending is satisfying though, and it reminds readers about a point in time that was so horrible, and how even now how things still need to improve. This one is definitely worth powering through, as everything about it left me thoughtful. Check this one out!

Late to the Party ARC Review – Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness by Jennifer Tseng

23399029Title: Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness

Author: Jennifer Tseng

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Books may be Mayumi Saito’s greatest love and her one source of true pleasure. Forty-one years old, disenchanted wife and dutiful mother, Mayumi’s work as a librarian on a small island off the coast of New England feeds her passion for reading and provides her with many occasions for wry observations on human nature, but it does little to remedy the mundanity of her days. That is, until the day she issues a library card to a shy seventeen-year-old boy and swiftly succumbs to a sexual obsession that subverts the way she sees the library, her family, the island she lives on, and ultimately herself.
 
Wary of the consequences of following through on her fantasies, Mayumi hesitates at first. But she cannot keep the young man from her thoughts. After a summer of overlong glances and nervous chitchat in the library, she finally accepts that their connection is undeniable. In a sprawling house emptied of its summer vacationers, their affair is consummated and soon consolidated thanks to an explosive charge of erotic energy. Mayumi’s life is radically enriched by the few hours each week that she shares with the young man, and as their bond grows stronger thanks not only to their physical closeness but also to their long talks about the books they both love, those hours spent apart seem to Mayumi increasingly bleak and intolerable. As her obsession worsens, in a frantic attempt to become closer to the young man, Mayumi nervously befriends another librarian patron, the young man’s mother. The two women forge a tenuous friendship that will prove vital to both in the most unexpected ways when catastrophe strikes.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this finished copy!

Sam’s Review:

When Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness came through my mailbox, I was both intrigued and worried. I don’t mind books with taboo subject matters, but I was sure I was going to feel quite uncomfortable with the relationship between Mayumi and the Boy. Oddly, I wasn’t as disturbed as I thought I would be, though I did find elements of this book weirder than the taboo relationship.

First I am going to praise the writing, because I did read this book in the span of two days and it’s pretty captivating. Tseng really envelopes the reader into her prose, even when there’s barely anything going on story-wise. The story itself goes through four seasons of Mayumi and the Boy’s relationship, her connection to Violet, his mother, and the worry that she will be discovered by her husband and others. That is the whole book in a nutshell, and yet the prose really makes the reader feel connected to what is going on.

That being said, I disliked Mayumi’s character and the stereotyping of librarians in the novel. That rubbed me the wrong way more than the relationship between Mayumi and the Boy, because there is this stupid assumption that library people, though friendly, don’t want to talk or really deal with patrons (not true, by the way). Mayumi plays into this stereotype so badly, and makes for frustrating character to care about. There’s no real drama in the novel, no real climax. The ending is pretty much a cop out given this larger build that were are given between Mayumi and the Boy. In a lot of ways, I felt rather cheated.

But I kept reading on, because seriously, Tseng’s prose and descriptions were what kept me going. Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness isn’t a bad book at all, but there’s larger holes that don’t get filled very well. If the taboo subject matter isn’t your thing, I’d definitely recommend staying clear, but if you can get past that, there is an interesting narrative being discussed here.