Monthly Archives: September 2019

ARC Review – The Humiliations of Pipi McGee by Beth Vrabel

Title: The Humiliations of Pipi McGee

Author: Beth Vrabel

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: From her kindergarten self-portrait as a bacon with boobs, to fourth grade when she peed her pants in the library thanks to a stuck zipper to seventh grade where…well, she doesn’t talk about seventh grade. Ever.

After hearing the guidance counselor lecturing them on how high school will be a clean slate for everyone, Pipi–fearing that her eight humiliations will follow her into the halls of Northbrook High School–decides to use her last year in middle school to right the wrongs of her early education and save other innocents from the same picked-on, laughed-at fate. Pipi McGee is seeking redemption, but she’ll take revenge, too.

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

Sam’s Review:

I think everyone may be able to relate to having middle school blunders. While I don’t think a lot of drew ourselves as bacon with boobs in kindergarten only to have it haunt you on your first day of grade eight, I The Humiliations of Pipi McGee is a book that will make you laugh, smile, and empathize.

Pipi McGee is a girl who has had some struggles throughout her middle school career. Some of them infamous, others more subtle, and Pipi just can’t catch a break. Moving into eighth grade, Pipi is hoping for a fresh start, especially because she will not talk about seventh grade no matter how hard you try. Armed with Myrtle the Turtle and her best friend, Tasha, Pipi is hoping for a prank free year.

This book is genuine on so many levels. It’s humour is delightful, the characters are recognizable and ones you can sympathize with throughout. Pipi’s hardships are difficult, yet this story is very gentle in how it handles issues of humiliation and discouragement. Pipi spends a lot of the novel having to learn with her past mistakes, while also grow as an individual. She does awful things in the story, often ending up flat on her butt as punishment, and yet she is always learning, and that makes a great character. This book also features such a diverse cast of friends and family, and I like that Pipi has a close support network with her family. Her dad made me chuckle a few times!

This is a great read for middle graders who are struggling to figure out who they want to be in a time where they are moving to high school. Pipi is funny, quirky, and totally adorable as a heroine. This book is definitely recommend for readers who love Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but who also recognize that Greg is a terrible friend, where Pipi is not. Fast-paced and cheekily written, The Humiliations of Pipi McGee is a memorable romp in surviving the last year of middle school.

ARC Review – The Liars of Mariposa Island by Jennifer Mathieu

Title: The Liars of Mariposa Island

Author: Jennifer Mathieu

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Every year, summer begins when the Callahans arrive on Mariposa Island. That’s when Elena Finney gets to escape her unstable, controlling mother by babysitting for their two children. And the summer of 1986 promises to be extra special when she meets J.C., the new boy in town, whose kisses make Elena feel like she’s been transported to a new world.

Joaquin Finney can’t imagine why anyone would want to come to Mariposa Island. He just graduated from high school and dreams about going to California to find his father and escape his mother’s manipulation.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I am SO SAD right now. Jennifer Mathieu is finally one of my favourite authors, so I am super heartbroken that I didn’t love her latest, The Liars of Mariposa Island. This book is a contemporary, with a mystery wrapped in it, and it’s just… all right.

Generally, what I love about Jennifer Mathieu’s books is the writing an her characters. I always adore her heroines, but Elena and Joaquin just never spoke to me the way some of her other heroes have. This book is written in two perspectives, one that takes place in 1986, the other during the Cuban Revolution. The sections that were about Carrie, who is related to Elena and Joaquin, were my favourite bits of the book. Carrie is fleeing Cuba during the Cuban Revolution as a teen and she is trying to find freedom in America. Carrie’s story is challenging and heartbreaking, and its definitely very difficult to read about.

I do feel for Elena in this story, especially given she is trying to become a version of herself that she would feel satisfied with. There is a prickliness to her character that really suggests that she is not someone who wants people (or even the reader) to get close to her and that I think is something intriguing about this novel. Elena and Joaquin spend a lot of this book unraveling family truama and lies, though they weren’t as shocking as I was anticipating given the title of this book.

I think why this book didn’t grab me the way all of her other books did, is that it really doesn’t go anywhere and there isn’t much resolve. There doesn’t really feel like a lot of hope in this story either, which is usually a big part of a Jennifer Mathieu story. I am so torn because I do think elements of this book are wonderful, but I simply just didn’t connect to a lot of it.

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcárcel

Title: The Other Half of Happy

Author: Rebecca Balcárcel

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Quijana is a girl in pieces. One-half Guatemalan, one-half American: When Quijana’s Guatemalan cousins move to town, her dad seems ashamed that she doesn’t know more about her family’s heritage. One-half crush, one-half buddy: When Quijana meets Zuri and Jayden, she knows she’s found true friends. But she can’t help the growing feelings she has for Jayden. One-half kid, one-half grown-up: Quijana spends her nights Skyping with her ailing grandma and trying to figure out what’s going on with her increasingly hard-to-reach brother. In the course of this immersive and beautifully written novel, Quijana must figure out which parts of herself are most important, and which pieces come together to make her whole. This lyrical debut from Rebecca Balcárcel is a heartfelt poetic portrayal of a girl growing up, fitting in, and learning what it means to belong.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I really enjoyed The Other Half of Happy! It was my first time reading a story with a Guatemalan protagonist. Quijiana is a wonderful heroine to follow — she cannot speak Spanish, she doesn’t know how to play guitar, and she spends a lot of the novel fighting her family’s traditions.

This book tells the story of someone who is clearly Americanized but learning how to preserve her family’s culture. When the novel is about Quijana’s family, her interactions with her grandmother or the fights with her father, this book is fabulous and raw. Some of my favourite moments in particular, were any cases where Quijana would text her grandmother for advice or when she was feeling down. It was so pure and sweet! I also love the scenes with Quijana’s father, mainly because I feel for him — he wants to share his family’s heritage and get Quijana to appreciate his roots but he struggles to communicate these feelings to her and so they clash. The way in which family is portrayed in The Other Half of Happyis what makes this story feel so special.

The other half of the novel regarding Quijana’s school life and her crush… I admit, I didn’t dig those parts as much. The parts of the story regarding her crush didn’t add anything special to the story for me, but perhaps for another reader I could see it working for them. I just found those parts of the story to meander and not add anything special to the overarching theme, which was family and cultural identity. I wish I loved that part as much of the rest of the book, but unfortunately it didn’t work for me.

Do I still recommend The Other Half of Happy? Absolutely! I feel like many younger readers will definitely find the story engaging, and I think Quijana is a character many readers will be able to relate to. This is a fantastic story about growing up, accepting parts of your roots, and coming to terms with cultural differences. This is a great book for readers who love a good family-centered narrative.

ARC Review – Stargazing by Jen Wang

Title: Stargazing

Author: Jen Wang

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: When Moon’s family moves in next door to Christine’s, Moon goes from unlikely friend to best friend―maybe even the perfect friend. The girls share their favorite music videos, paint their toenails when Christine’s strict parents aren’t around, and make plans to enter the school talent show together. Moon even tells Christine her deepest secret: that she sometimes has visions of celestial beings who speak to her from the stars. Who reassure her that earth isn’t where she really belongs.

But when they’re least expecting it, catastrophe strikes. After relying on Moon for everything, can Christine find it in herself to be the friend Moon needs?

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Jen Wang does no wrong in my eyes. I’ve loved every single graphic novel she has put out and her art style and stories are always engaging. Stargazing is an amazing story about friendship, and it packs a surprise gut punch that the reader won’t see coming.

Christine has grown up with strict parents and a lack of fun in her life — that was until Moon and her family become her next door neighbors. Moon is a Buddhist, she is a vegetarian, she’s tough, and assertive. She’s everything Christine isn’t, and yet they create a very unlikely friendship. This book looks at how friendships are formed, even in the strangest of circumstances and how being different gives us strength. Both girls are characters I think readers will be able to relate to, and I feel like they will offering dueling perspectives for those trying to understand what it means to be unique.

As always, Wang’s artwork is vibrant and gorgeous, with such beautifully fleshed out characters. I loved both Christine and Moon and I found I could relate to them even if I’m much older than the characters in the story. Seriously, though, the plot twist in this book — it killed me! I loved it and was so surprised by it as well. Stargazing is an amazing edition to anyone’s graphic novel collection, as this heartfelt book packs an emotional and memorable gut punch that will remind readers how powerful friendship and empathy can be.

ARC Review – Are You Listening? by Tillie Walden

Title: Tillie Walden

Author:  Are You Listening?

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Bea is on the run. And then, she runs into Lou.

This chance encounter sends them on a journey through West Texas, where strange things follow them wherever they go. The landscape morphs into an unsettling world, a mysterious cat joins them, and they are haunted by a group of threatening men. To stay safe, Bea and Lou must trust each other as they are driven to confront buried truths. The two women share their stories of loss and heartbreak—and a startling revelation about sexual assault—culminating in an exquisite example of human connection.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Once again, Tillie Walden blows me away with her storytelling. In Are You Listening? the narrative focuses on Bea and Lou, two young women on the run from their pasts. Through a chanced meeting, the pair go on a road trip through West Texas, driving through blizzards and buried secrets. There is also the desire to win the affection of a white fluffy cat.

If there is one thing I love about Tillie Walden’s books, it’s that they wear their emotions on their sleeves. Her characters are often uncomfortable and raw, often seeking redemption. Bea and Lou’s relationship grows throughout the story as the two confess their secrets to one another, and I love that they are accepting of each other’s flaws and supportive when necessary. Bea’s reveal is heartbreaking and left me with so much anger, while Lou’s story is just so sad and full of discomfort. I felt emotionally connected to both girls throughout the story, and I think Walden continues to do a great job of providing characters that readers can relate to on various levels.

I will say the book can be a bit confusing at times, and the ending is a bit lacking. I do think, however, that given this isn’t plot-driven story that a lot of what Walden does here, as abstract as it is, will work for readers who want a more character-specific story. I cannot wait to see what Tillie Walden publishers next, because I continue with each new book to be very impressed.

ARC Review – Some Places More Than Others by Renée Watson

Title: Some Places More Than Others

Author: Renée Watson

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: All Amara wants is to visit her father’s family in Harlem. Her wish comes true when her dad decides to bring her along on a business trip. She can’t wait to finally meet her extended family and stay in the brownstone where her dad grew up. Plus, she wants to visit every landmark from the Apollo to Langston Hughes’s home.

But her family, and even the city, is not quite what Amara thought. Her dad doesn’t speak to her grandpa, and the crowded streets can be suffocating as well as inspiring. But as she learns more and more about Harlem—and her father’s history—Amara realizes how, in some ways more than others, she can connect with this other home and family.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I love getting a new Renee Watson book. There is something about her characters that I am always drawn to, and Amara in Some Places More Than Others is no exception. This story follows Amara’s journey to New York City, to spend time with family members whom she is unfamiliar with. This story looks at family dynamics, how we can be both so close and yet so far away from those we care about, and what it means to be apart of something bigger than yourself.

Grandpa Earl was probably my favourite character in this story. I liked his charisma and his desire to help Amara see the best parts of herself. I love how Amara has to learn about the complicated relationship between her grandfather and father, and how she has a desire to get them to reconcile. It’s interesting because it’s not like they hate each other, but Amara recognizes differences in both of them that it’s troubling. There’s also a lot of poetry sprinkled into this book and how the power of words can give someone unfounded strength.

Some Places More Than Others is a quick read, but a powerful one. I appreciate Watson’s deeper look into the complications of family and how she connects it with the crowdedness and discomfort that New York City can provide to newcomers. I think Amara’s story is one that will definitely resonate with a lot of younger readers.