Author Archives: samcmar

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.

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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.

ARC Review -There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon

Title: There’s Something About Sweetie

Author: Sandhya Menon

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Ashish Patel didn’t know love could be so…sucky. After being dumped by his ex-girlfriend, his mojo goes AWOL. Even worse, his parents are annoyingly, smugly confident they could find him a better match. So, in a moment of weakness, Ash challenges them to set him up.

The Patels insist that Ashish date an Indian-American girl—under contract. Per subclause 1(a), he’ll be taking his date on “fun” excursions like visiting the Hindu temple and his eccentric Gita Auntie. Kill him now. How is this ever going to work?

Sweetie Nair is many things: a formidable track athlete who can outrun most people in California, a loyal friend, a shower-singing champion. Oh, and she’s also fat. To Sweetie’s traditional parents, this last detail is the kiss of death.

Sweetie loves her parents, but she’s so tired of being told she’s lacking because she’s fat. She decides it’s time to kick off the Sassy Sweetie Project, where she’ll show the world (and herself) what she’s really made of.

Ashish and Sweetie both have something to prove. But with each date they realize there’s an unexpected magic growing between them. Can they find their true selves without losing each other?

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

Sam’s Review:

I swear, Sandhya Menon writes some of the best rom-coms I have ever had the pleasure of reading about. Not only does she create these wonderfully fleshed out characters, but her storylines have this addictive “just one more chapter” quality to them. I adored When Dimple Met Rishi the year it came out, so colour me happy when Ash, one of my favourite characters from that story, gets his own romance.

Ash and Sweetie are undeniably charming. Both characters have such unique personalities, yet you’re rooting from them to be together the whole damn story because all the nay-sayers who say they don’t fit are HECKIN’ WRONG. I will even argue that I loved Sweetie far more than I did Dimple, if only because Sweetie’s level of conviction and lack of apology for who she is, it is completely refreshing in a YA heroine. She has so much passion and I think how she discusses the word “fat” is it’s own wonderful revelation as well. Even just her storyline with her family, you get the sense that Sweetie truly loves her folks no matter what they even say to her.

Then there is my beloved Ash, who is just so darling and funny. It was nice to see more somber and thoughtful moments with him, given how high energy he was in When Dimple Met Rishi, and I like the way in which Menon handles his past relationships and how he is the sad boy trying to figure out what is wrong with him! Ash is swoony in a way that Rishi wasn’t for me, and it’s funny given I generally don’t find myself falling for the athletes in any contemporary story. Ash’s family, however? My goodness they are hilarious and his dad killed me.

In all fairness, read There’s Something About Sweetie. It has so much laughter with equal parts heart, and in a world where news spreads and things feel hopeless, it’s wonderful to be reminded of stories that evoke so much kindness and humour. If you want a fun little rom-com that doesn’t ask much of it’s read, this book is 100% for you.

Fave of the Month – April

April has come and gone, but I did read a lot of fantastic books during the month. I feel like my mojo is coming back with a vengeance, which makes me pretty happy given April was a huge month of change for me. I start a new full-time library gig on Monday, I’ve made better choices regarding what goals I want to achieve in my life — lots of positives. I also cry because April is also the month where the most money has to get spent because yay taxes and car insurance!

Anywho, let’s see the favourite book of the month.

Shout
by Laurie Halse Anderson (Published: March 12th 2019 by Viking Books)

This is an auto-biographical look at Laurie Halse Anderson’s childhood and a look back at when she was sexually assaulted as a child. This book, written in verse, is a haunting and chilling experience where Anderson pulls no punches and opens up about what it means to have had been raped and how she still keeps going and survives. I read this book in a few hours and I appreciate how uncomfortable at times it made me feel, but also the moments it instilled hope in me as well. There’s some amazing lessons in this book and it’s worth checking out.

ARC Review – Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby

Title: Hurricane Season

Author: Nicole Melleby

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Fig, a sixth grader, wants more than anything to see the world as her father does. The once-renowned pianist, who hasn’t composed a song in years and has unpredictable good and bad days, is something of a mystery to Fig. Though she’s a science and math nerd, she tries taking an art class just to be closer to him, to experience life the way an artist does. But then Fig’s dad shows up at school, disoriented and desperately searching for Fig. Not only has the class not brought Fig closer to understanding him, it has brought social services to their door.

Diving into books about Van Gogh to understand the madness of artists, calling on her best friend for advice, and turning to a new neighbor for support, Fig continues to try everything she can think of to understand her father, to save him from himself, and to find space in her life to discover who she is even as the walls are falling down around her.

Huge thank you to Thomas Allen & Sons for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Hurricane Season was a book I grabbed on a whim while I was at the OLA Super Conference early this year. It totally sounded like the kind of middle grade read I would love: a young girl trying to figure herself and her family out, while also learning to deal with large scale change. Fig is a sixth grader who at her tender age, is forced to become a caretaker to her father, a famous pianist, who has had a mental break down. In order to understand her father’s breakdown, Fig enlists in the help of her local library and begins to research Vincent Van Gogh, one of the world’s most well-known painter’s, but is equally known for his decent into madness.

This is a beautiful debut story, and Fig is such a kind, slow, quiet protagonist, making her very different from a lot of the characters you encounter in popular middle grade. She is placed in an uncomfortable position for a younger child, and yet she is determined to both support her father and understand his condition. This is not a fast paced story by any stretch of the imagination, it’s very quiet and thoughtful. Fig also has so much so support in this story, even if most of it comes from unlikely sources such as Hannah, who works at her local library.

I think what I love the most about Hurricane Season is that it’s a book all about taking risks, and how even if they don’t pay off or pay off unexpectedly, they are still worth attempting. There’s a positive message throughout this story that children can find and muster amazing and profound strength when they need to, and it’s very apparent in this story as Fig does this repeatedly, each time more difficult, but she in turn grows stronger for it.

Hurricane Season is beautiful and quiet, and it’s a book that offers so much to its reader, while being somewhat small in size. I highly recommend this book if you love tougher middle grade stories that offer opportunities to reflect on what it means to be a caretaker and how one’s life can easily be transformed in the blink of an eye.