Author Archives: samcmar

ARC Review – Shout Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts by Esta Spalding

Title: Shout Out for the Fitzgerald-Trouts

Author: Esta Spalding

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: The plucky Fitzgerald-Trout siblings (who live on a tropical island where the grown-ups are useless but the kids can drive) are back! After losing the boat that had become their home, oldest Fitzgerald-Trout, Kim, has put finding a home back on her to-do list. When her sixth-grade history assignment offers a clue about the ruins of a volcanic house built by an explorer on Mount Muldoon, she and her siblings set out to find it.  The castle they discover surpasses their wildest dreams. But having a permanent home offers more challenges than the Fitzgerald-Trouts expect, especially when they begin to suspect their home is haunted. The siblings must figure out how to fix the cracks in their family foundation before one of them is lost for good.

Huge thank you Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Have you ever read a series that just make you laugh so hard you cry? That’s what I love about the Fitzgerald-Trout series. The Fitzgerald-Trout kids are just so charming and lovable, and they get into some interesting mischief. This particular installment involved a baby, a crazy lady who sells baby products, and what it means to be homeless.

I swear this series is up there with the Penderwicks. It just has such a fantastic balance of humour and heart, and it’s hard not to love all the characters in the story. Kimo continues to be my absolutely favourite, because anything that boy does is pure comedy gold. He also just has such a sweet heart and he means so well in everything he does. Sometimes, I just want to read a series that makes me feel good about the world and this one does it.

What I love about The Fitzgerald-Trout series is that it is full of heart, and it makes you feel so good. This series is such a quick read and so engrossing given how comedic and kind it is. Sometimes you need a light-hearted series to remind you that the world can be a good and gentle place, and every time I read this series it just gives me the warm and fuzzies. I cannot wait to see if this series will continue because I am going to miss the Fitzgerald-Trout kids if they don’t have another adventure soon!

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ARC Review – Extraordinary Birds by Sandy Stark-McGinnis

Title: Extraordinary Birds

Author: Sandy Stark-McGinnis

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Eleven-year-old December knows everything about birds, and everything about getting kicked out of foster homes. All she has of her mom is the bird guide she left behind, and a message: “In flight is where you’ll find me.” December believes she’s truly a bird, just waiting for the day she transforms. The scar on her back is where her wings will sprout; she only needs to find the right tree and practice flying.

When she’s placed with foster mom Eleanor, who runs a taxidermy business and volunteers at a wildlife rescue, December begins to see what home means in a new light. But the story she’s told herself about her past is what’s kept her going this long. Can she learn to let go?

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Have you ever read a book that was just so weird, yet so captivating? That’s what reading Extraordinary Birds was like for me. It’s the story of girl who believes she is metamorphosing into a bird, and it’s just so wonderful and strange.

December is a fascinating main character and her desire to be a bird who can fly away is intriguing throughout. Given this book looks at foster care, it’s fitting that December has an obsession with birds and flight, and throughout the story you see so many attempts of her trying to find the perfect tree in order to practice flight. This is also a book about trying to find a home when you’ve never truly had one, and I think being in December’s mind for a lot of this story allows the reader to empathize with her need for transformation. She wants someone to want her, to love her, and to need her. It’s really heartbreaking.

I also really adored Eleanor, her foster mother. Eleanor is a taxidermist, she’s sharp a whip, and I love the way in which she allows December to come into her own and build trust. Eleanor is always caring and empathetic — she wants to see December flourish and doesn’t judge her desire for flight or being insecure. It’s really a beautiful relationship to read about! Even the friendships that December forges are just really thoughtful, and I think the author does a great job of portraying issues such as anxiety and even bullying in the story.

The more I read, the more I really believed that December was transforming into the bird. Stark-McGinnis has a style of writing that is so inviting and enticing that it’s so easy to fall into. Extraordinary Birds is an emotional read that will fill the reader with so much hope. It’s a wonderful look into what it’s like being a child in foster care, while also trying to find your own wings to take flight, and finding the courage to transform into who you truly want to be.

Fave of the Month – May

I saw a lot of change in May, particularly, I started a full-time job in a new library system. The month was mostly spent flailing about and trying to keep up with all my new life changes. It’s been amazing so far, and I definitely come home tired for the right reason. However, May also saw my reading turn into a haphazard mess, and I found myself trying to learn when I had free time for my hobbies. That is still a new and I’m getting used to it. Plus, summer is here, and I am ready for adventures.

As always with “Fave of the Month,” I try to choose books I didn’t review or get an advance copy of. While I read and reviewed some amazing books in May (which I don’t feel like I am caught up on), here was my favourite for the month of May:

Like No Other
by Una LaMarche (Published: Published July 14th 2015 by Razorbill)

This book was addictive and reminded me of a thriller at times. This star-crossed lovers story is enlightening as well as scary at times. There were genuine parts where I gasped because I couldn’t get over what was happening. LaMarche is super respectful about the Jewish faith in this story, and if anything through Devorah’s character, I learned a lot about what it means to have a Hasidic upbringing and yet I couldn’t help myself but cheer for her and Jaxon to be together. An excellent read!

ARC Review – Birthday by Meredith Russo

Title: Birthday

Author: Meredith Russo

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Two kids, Morgan and Eric, are bonded for life after being born on the same day at the same time. We meet them once a year on their shared birthday as they grow and change: as Eric figures out who he is and how he fits into the world, and as Morgan makes the difficult choice to live as her true self. Over the years, they will drift apart, come together, fight, make up, and break up—and ultimately, realize how inextricably they are a part of each other. 

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Reading Birthday was an intense experience. Spanning five years, the book reaccounts Eric and Morgan’s birthdays, the amazing friendship-turned-romance. The book also goes through the transition period of Morgan, as she learns about who she wants to become.

I read this book very slowly, and it was such a difficult read. It’s emotional and raw, and the friendship between Eric and Morgan is one of the most beautifully written that I’ve encountered in awhile in YA. Russo does an amazing job building her characters up, and the reader is just able to connect with them in a variety of ways. There were few moments in the story where I found myself yelling at the parents in this book, or even empathizing with them.

The challenge of this book really comes from how Morgan and Eric’s relationship is perceived by others. They are bullied, shamed, and even beaten. It’s heartbreaking, and I felt so much for both of them as the story progressed. Both of them are also forced to make such hard decisions at their age, and are made to feel as though they are less than by others because of their differences.

Meredith Russo is a writer who knows how to hit her readers right where it needs to hurt. I found myself feeling so much for Eric and Morgan and the ending does this amazing job of showing how at eighteen they are able to fight and move beyond the bullcrap that they constantly were subjected to. Birthday is hard-hitting and deeply moving, and I hope more readers give this wonderful gem a chance.

ARC Review – This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

Title: This Was Our Pact

Author: Ryan Andrews

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: It’s the night of the annual Autumn Equinox Festival, when the town gathers to float paper lanterns down the river. Legend has it that after drifting out of sight, they’ll soar off to the Milky Way and turn into brilliant stars, but could that actually be true? This year, Ben and his classmates are determined to find out where those lanterns really go, and to ensure success in their mission, they’ve made a pact with two simple rules: No one turns for home. No one looks back.

The plan is to follow the river on their bikes for as long as it takes to learn the truth, but it isn’t long before the pact is broken by all except for Ben and (much to Ben’s disappointment) Nathaniel, the one kid who just doesn’t seem to fit in.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This Was Our Pact is a very interesting graphic novel. It tells the story of two young boys who during their town’s Autumn Equinox Festival, decide to follow a bunch of paper lanterns down stream. What the uncover, ends up being a surreal experience. Legend has it that the lanterns are transported to the Milky Way and friends Nathaniel and Ben want to find out!

The artwork in this graphic novel is stunning. The choice of such soft colours throughout makes the reader feel like they are going on this journey with Ben and Nate to the Milk Way. There’s something almost comfortable about the artwork, and yet this is a true adventure lover’s story from start to finish. It also has a talking bear who is THECUTESTTHINGEVER. There’s just so many unexpected friendships and twists in this story that I feel like most readers will instantly fall in love with the characters!

This truly is both a magical story that also has a deep focus on friendship. While I have been intentionally vague about the story, its only because the surprises are worth the wait. This graphic novel is great for middle grade readers, or lovers of magical realism. Coupled with the stunning artwork, This Was Our Pact has so much to offer readers of any age.

ARC Review – All the Ways Home by Elsie Chapman

Title: All the Ways Home

Author: Elsie Chapman

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Sometimes, home isn’t where you expect to find it.

After losing his mom in a fatal car crash, Kaede Hirano–now living with a grandfather who is more stranger than family–developed anger issues and spent his last year of middle school acting out.

Best-friendless and critically in danger repeating the seventh grade, Kaede is given a summer assignment: write an essay about what home means to him, which will be even tougher now that he’s on his way to Japan to reconnect with his estranged father and older half-brother. Still, if there’s a chance Kaede can finally build a new family from an old one, he’s willing to try. But building new relationships isn’t as easy as destroying his old ones, and one last desperate act will change the way Kaede sees everyone–including himself.

This is a book about what home means to us–and that there are many different correct answers.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I felt emotional reading All the Ways Home. Not only did the book make me nostalgic for my recent trip to Japan, but it made me feel for Kaede, a boy who just wants someone to love him after the death of his mother. While I cannot relate to way Kaede’s mother dies, I can in the sense that like him, there are days where I pine for my folks because there is so much I want to tell them, and no way to truly do so.

This is the story of Kaede returning to Tokyo after the death of his mother. He’s on the verge of failing 7th Grade, he’s accidentally hurt his best friend back home in Vancouver, and he’s trying to define what ‘home’ means to him. Arriving in Tokyo, he meets up with his brother Shoma, who takes him in for the three weeks he is there. Hoping to see his famous father while in Tokyo, Kaede learns that not every person is as they seem. The growth of Kaede and Shoma’s relationship is one of my favourite aspects of this story. It’s subtle, it shows how people can move from estrangement to a level of comfort, especially as Shoma recognizes that he hasn’t been around for Kaede in such a long time, but when you learn why, you’re able to empathize with him as much as Kaede.

I also loved the visuals that Chapman provides in this story. There’s so many places that she references that I’ve been to, and it really took me back to my trip. At times I found myself poking my husband and yelling “WE’VE BEEN THERE!” which is silly, but it made me yearn for that kind of adventure again. Tokyo is an intense city, and I loved reading the bits where Kaede gets lost in Kabukicho, which was one of my favourite places to visit. Reading about the hustle and bustle of people’s lives and being able to visualize it so clearly is a wonderful feat and Chapman makes the story feel so authentic, especially when she talks about both Canada and Japan. She reminded me of the beauty of both places in such a short novel.

Kaede’s story is beautiful, and I was invested the whole way. My heart wept when he finally got to “meet” his father, his determination to find the meaning of home, and just how difficult it is to navigate the world when you’re grieving everything you’ve lost. There is so much that me, as a thirty-year-old woman could relate to, even though this story is geared towards a middle grade audience. This is one of the sweet, most difficult middle grade novels I’ve read in a long time, and I urge everyone to check out because it’s an emotional ride.

ARC Review – Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo

Title: Somewhere Only We Know

Author: Maurene Goo

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: 10 00 p.m.: Lucky is the biggest K-pop star on the scene, and she’s just performed her hit song “Heartbeat” in Hong Kong to thousands of adoring fans. She’s about to debut on The Tonight Show in America, hopefully a breakout performance for her career. But right now? She’s in her fancy hotel, trying to fall asleep but dying for a hamburger.

11 00 p.m.: Jack is sneaking into a fancy hotel, on assignment for his tabloid job that he keeps secret from his parents. On his way out of the hotel, he runs into a girl wearing slippers, a girl who is single-mindedly determined to find a hamburger. She looks kind of familiar. She’s very cute. He’s maybe curious.

12:00 a.m.: Nothing will ever be the same.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have clearly been in a fluffy romance mood, and Maurene Goo knows how to fit that bill for me. I have enjoyed all of her books and I seem to read them at the right periods of my life. Somewhere Only We Know is about K-Pop, love, and the courage to be who you wanna be. I was easily shipping Lucky and Jack while reading this.

I think what I love about Maurene Goo’s books is that her characters are always a ton of fun and they feel like real people. There always feels like there’s a magic element to her stories, and this one takes place mostly through the course of a day. It’s weird for me because I generally despite insta-love, but this one I think worked for me given the circumstances of how the two characters meet each other.

I loved Lucky, and I felt for her whenever she talked about her homesickness or her need to have her family’s love and support. It’s very clear throughout the story how much she values their opinions. I also loved Jack despite a few things he does in the story that made me cranky. He’s got a good energy and sense of humour, so I see how this all works together.

Ultimately, this is one of those stories I think you need to be in the right headspace for. It’s cute, the drama is a bit over the top, but the book has a ton of heart in it. Maurene Goo knows how to capture her readers into a fun romance and make them feel the same intensity her characters are experiencing and it’s why I keep reading her books. Somewhere Only We Know is a wonderful book about facing imperfection and embracing the kind of person you want to become.