Monthly Archives: December 2016

ARC Review – The Sweetest Sound by Sherri Winston

30142002Title: The Sweetest Sound

Author: Sherri Winston

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: For ten-year-old Cadence Jolly, birthdays are a constant reminder of all that has changed since her mother skipped town with dreams of becoming a singing star. Cadence inherited that musical soul, she can’t deny it, but otherwise she couldn’t be more different – she’s as shy as can be.

She did make a promise last year that she would try to break out of her shell, just a little. And she prayed that she’d get the courage to do it. As her eleventh birthday draws near, she realizes time is running out. And when a secret recording of her singing leaks and catches the attention of her whole church, she needs to decide what’s better: deceiving everyone by pretending it belongs to someone else, or finally stepping into the spotlight.  

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I discovered The Sweetest Sound by its cover. I full admit that — I think it is beautiful, and having now read the book, I think it’s also spot on to the subject matter in this story. This is a lovely story about finding your voice, overcoming fear, and coming out of your shell, and Winston does this with a lot of grace and elegance.

I found myself really connecting with Cadence throughout this novel, mostly because of how her shyiness tends to overpower her. She is so afraid to share her gift of singing with others that she would do anything to hide it. Why? Because she is afraid of the kind of response she’ll get. I think this is something we can all relate to given that at one point in our lives we’ve been afraid to share our gifts or talents with others for fear of judgement. I think Winston paints a wonderful message of how to overcome shyiness in this story, and it was easily my favourite part of the book.

I didn’t always agree with some of the things that Cadence, but I think in terms of the storytelling that was kind of the point. She isn’t always the greatest with her friends and family, and I think it’s something she spends a lot of the novel trying to reconcile because she is so afraid of letting loose and singing her heart out. Cadence also suffers from not having her mother around, and she dreams of becoming like her mother and being a fantastic singer. I felt sad that Cadence didn’t have her mother throughout the story given that her father wasn’t the most well-adjusted to handle some of Cadence’s problems throughout the story.

At times the story felt very safe and on-the-nose in terms of message, and while I didn’t mind that, I wish it had felt a bit braver given that that is a huge theme in the story. This book is also quite religious, which I do think might affect the enjoyment for some readers. While I am not religious, I honestly didn’t mind this aspect, though I will concede that at times it borderlines on preachy. I also felt like her father was a bit too much of a stereotype in that he was way too over protective of Cadence, but at times I felt like it didn’t seem justified.

This is a very sweet, if safe, middle grade read. I think it will offer a lot to those who love stories about characters overcoming their fears and moving towards their passions. Cadence is a wonderful protagonist and I think she has a lot of growth in this story, which is something I appreciate in middle grade fiction. I am definitely curious to see what kinds of stories Sherri Winston will write next.

ARC Review – The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu

30201161Title: The Careful Undressing of Love

Author: Corey Ann Haydu

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Everyone who really knows Brooklyn knows Devonairre Street girls are different. They’re the ones you shouldn’t fall in love with. The ones with the curse. The ones who can get you killed.

Lorna Ryder is a Devonairre Street girl, and for years, paying lip service to the curse has been the small price of living in a neighborhood full of memories of her father, one of the thousands killed five years earlier in the 2001 Times Square Bombing. Then her best friend’s boyfriend is killed, and suddenly a city paralyzed by dread of another terrorist attack is obsessed with Devonairre Street and the price of falling in love.

Set in an America where recent history has followed a different path.

Huge thank you to Miss Print’s ARC adoption for this review copy.

Molly’s Review:

This book was fucking gorgeous. I fell in love with this book at first sight because the cover it just so stunning. I have bookstagrammed it a few times because it is just so beautiful. I actually probably wouldn’t have asked for this book if not for the cover and the fact that it’s magical realism. I wasn’t a huge fan of this author’s other books, but I wanted to give it a shot.

The writing in this book is fantastic. It sucks you in and even if the story is lacking (cuz it was in a few places) you just get so wrapped up in how lyrical the writing is that you can’t not fall in love with it. I really enjoyed all of the characters and the mysterious New York City that they lived in, I loved the magical realism parts, and the way that love was used as a curse, a weapon, a sentence.

This is a story about four girls who grow up in the shadow of a curse. There’s an old lady who lives on their street and she’s akin with a cult leader. The girls living on this street have to follow certain rules and not fall in love or else the boy they love will die suddenly, before their time. As does with many superstitions, many of the traditions lose their meanings and the girls stop giving power to the curse. They buck tradition, they skimp on certain rituals, and they fall in love. Only when a boy they all care about dies do they fall back and take a hard look at the curse and the people they love.

In the background of this story of the girls there’s also a tragedy that’s similar to 9/11. Many of the girls’ fathers died in what is called the Time’s Square bombing. The story takes place seven years after the bombing and the girls are all part of the Affected. History has been re-written so rather than learning about the terrorists we instead learn about the people who died. The girls have to deal with two different stigmas, people’s prejudices against them as cursed girls AND Affected, and they struggle with “tourism grief” and people coming around to see the “cursed girls”.

There’s a bit of mob mentality as the curse seems to take stronger hold and the women of the street, those who have lost someone, those who haven’t yet, all come together and the ending of this book is heartbreaking and stunning.

I do wish that some of the things in the background of this story had been fleshed out more; I really would have liked to have had more about the bombing (but I guess not getting too much information was a reflection of the way that society had stopped caring about who did it and rather who was affected), and also I would have liked to have learned the fates of a few of the girls after the last chapter (there’s an epilogue). Also there were times when I kept thinking “so the curse only works if one of the girls falls in love with a BOY?” and if you’re worried about this, don’t, because it does delve into how it works if one of the girls falls in love with a girl as well.

ARC Reviews – Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist

24921988Title: Love and First Sight

Author: Josh Sundquist

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: On his first day at a new school, blind sixteen-year-old Will Porter accidentally groped a girl on the stairs, sat on another student in the cafeteria, and somehow drove a classmate to tears. High school can only go up from here, right?

As Will starts to find his footing, he develops a crush on a charming, quiet girl named Cecily. Then an unprecedented opportunity arises: an experimental surgery that could give Will eyesight for the first time in his life. But learning to see is more difficult than Will ever imagined, and he soon discovers that the sighted world has been keeping secrets. It turns out Cecily doesn’t meet traditional definitions of beauty–in fact, everything he’d heard about her appearance was a lie engineered by their so-called friends to get the two of them together. Does it matter what Cecily looks like? No, not really. But then why does Will feel so betrayed?

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I loved Josh Sundquist’s non-fiction novel We Should Hang Out Sometime. It made me laugh, it educated me about disability, and I loved how open the author was about his life. This is Josh Sundquist’s debut YA novel, which focuses on Will, a boy who is blind and is going to a public school for the first time in his life. His parents are afraid of him being a part of the public school system considering he was transferring from a special school for the blind. He then falls for a girl he cannot actually see and decides to undergo a radical surgery that could potentially give him back his eye sight.

This book is so wonderful, so funny, and so heart-warming. Josh Sundquist has this crazy ability to be so inviting when he shares a story, and Will is just such a sweet protagonist who has such amazing intentions. He cannot see, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have aspirations, as he wants to be a journalist, a job that really is focused on sight. I felt invested in his story, his friendships, his family, and that’s the markings of a great main character. You can also feel the amount of research that Sundquist did to bring such an authentic story. I also love love loved Cecily, who is the love interest, and I ADORED the way Will and Cecily’s relationship develops given her own personal problems. They are such a sweet couple, and I actually love how long it took to get to that in the novel.

This is a book that can easily be read in a day. It is a sweet contemporary novel that offers a really unique perspective written by someone who understands disability lit. This book isn’t mind-blowing, but it just so funny and genuine and sometimes those are the kinds of books you need to make you smile. Even the research in regards to Will’s surgery was so well implemented, and I wanted to know more about it. I think readers will completely fall in love with Will when this book releases in January. Then while you are at it, read the Author’s Note, because it is so fascinating.

ARC Review – Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

28101540Title: Under Rose-Tainted Skies

Author: Louise Gornall

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Norah has agoraphobia and OCD. When groceries are left on the porch, she can’t step out to get them. Struggling to snag the bags with a stick, she meets Luke. He’s sweet and funny, and he just caught her fishing for groceries. Because of course he did.

Norah can’t leave the house, but can she let someone in? As their friendship grows deeper, Norah realizes Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can lie on the front lawn and look up at the stars. One who isn’t so screwed up.

Huge thank you to Raincoast and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Back at the Winter #TeensReadFeed event hosted by Raincoast, the first book we as a group were introduced to was Under Rose-Tainted Skies. The book focused on a topic that I admit I have never read anything about: agoraphobia. Our heroine Norah suffers from agoraphobia, OCD and is anxious as all hell, and while these are parts of her character, she works so hard throughout the story to not let these things define her.

I think what struck me about this novel was how well Norah’s anxiety was portrayed. I suffer from social anxiety, so seeing her anxious thoughts on the page had me constantly nodding along with her feelings. These were feelings I recognizing because they were things I were feeling on a constant basis. There was even one part where she discusses how being social drains her batteries to the point where it takes a long time to recharge, and part of me wanted to yell at the book, “Girl, I feel you.”A lot of how Gornall describes Norah and her illness are things I recognize in myself — things that are ugly, that I wish weren’t a part of me, but I accept that they are there and choose to fight against. Norah struggles with loving herself, and it makes it hard for her to love others because she has no concept of loving herself. I can understand that completely, and I personally still have those kind of days. I loved a lot of the descriptions in this book and I feel like Gornall hits this aspect of the story near perfectly.

However, I REALLY struggled with the romance in this book. I am not big on stories where boys can be a magic cure for illness. It didn’t work for me in Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, and it definitely didn’t work here either for me. While Norah was so easy to connect with, Luke was the exact opposite. I found him to be a bit too robotic and awkward, but not in the teen boy way, more in that I don’t feel like his character is as well-developed. Frankly, Luke feels too much like a plot device as a opposed to a character and that was hard to stomach at times. I think there will be people who will gravitate to this kind of romance, but ultimately it just didn’t work for me.

I think Under Rose-Tainted Skies offers a wonderful perspective on mental illness that feels very authentic in ways that other YA novels have struggled with. Norah’s story is messy, its heartfelt, and Gornall’s message to her readers is so loud and clear. These are the reasons to read this book, pain and simple. I just wish I had a larger connection with the romance (or I wish it hadn’t been there at all) because this book then would have easily been a home run for me.

Five 2016 Middle Grade Novels that Deserve Your Attention

It’s been awhile since I’ve really focused on middle grade, even though it is my bread and butter. While I’ve posted a lot of reviews for middle grade titles, I will say that 2016 was an exceptionally solid year for this age group, with some absolutely fantastic titles that really stole my heart given what an emotionally draining year it’s been for me. Here’s five middle grade titles that came out in 2016 that you really should make some time for.

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The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

This is the miraculous tale of Roz, a robot who gets lost in the wildness and is forced to survive, despite the fact that she is a robot with no survival instincts. Trapped on a remote island, Roz must figure out how to survive given her own limitations. This novel is beautifully written, very descriptive, and Roz is such a wonderful heroine. Yes, she’s a robot, but she is a robot who I felt great sympathy towards throughout this novel, and I think Peter Brown does an amazing job capturing her limited emotions in a way that makes the reader really grow to love Roz.

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Pax by Sara Pennypacker

This book is a gut-punch of emotions. It’s the story of a boy who raises a fox kit and is forced by his father to set it back in the wild. Both the boy and the kit need one another, and it’s the story of how they are lost and then found. This book has left me an emotional mess at times, and I think it’s why I read it as slowly as I did. Coupled with Jon Klassen’s beautiful illustrations, Pax is one of those reads that you need to make sure you have a Kleenex box handy for.

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Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz

Finding Perfect is an amazing debut middle grade novel. Molly is a heroine that lovable and I think she is someone readers will also be able to relate to regardless of age. More importantly, I am glad this novel exists given that it does an amazing job depicting what life is like with OCD, let alone for a young girl who has suffered a lot of loss and disappointment in her life. However, despite all the sadness she faces, Molly’s kindness is admirable and her journey is wonderful, yet hard. This is definitely one of those middle grade novels that leaves you thinking once the story is long over.

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The Magnificent Mya Tibbs and the Spirit Week Showdown by Crystal Allen

This gem was a random surprise I received from an associate at Harper Collins Canada who found out my mother had died and wanted to send me a pick-me-up. Mya Tibbs is now one of my most recommended middle grade novels at the library I work at. Why? Because Crystal Allen’s amazing heroine teaches so much to her readers and does it with humour, kindness and a lot of sass. Mya is fun, and I keep hoping she’ll receive more books in her future. This book is amazing and it does a great job of showing how different people can be, and how we can work with each other’s differences to do unstoppable things.

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Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

Ben Hatke is one of my favourite writer’s and artist’s out there. He often has this amazing ability to tell a story and craft some very genuine characters on top of his amazing and well-defined artwork. This story is not only a retelling of Jack and the Beanstock, but it also discusses disability, friendship, and it takes the tale and spins it on its head. The only downer? The nasty cliffhanger which still has be going “I NEED BOOK TWO NAAAAAO.” This is an amazing graphic novel, and easily one of the best that came out in 2016.

Seriously, it was hard to narrow down a lot of the best 2016 middle grade reads, but I feel like these ones are all winners. Here’s hoping 2017 has some amazing and equally thoughtful middle grade reads. 🙂

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.