ARC Review – The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake

Title: The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James

Author: Ashley Herring Blake

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: When Sunny St. James receives a new heart, she decides to set off on a “New Life Plan”: 1) do awesome amazing things she could never do before; 2) find a new best friend; and 3) kiss a boy for the first time.

Her “New Life Plan” seems to be racing forward, but when she meets her new best friend Quinn, Sunny questions whether she really wants to kiss a boy at all. When the reemergence of her mother, Sunny begins a journey to becoming the new Sunny St. James.

This sweet, tender novel dares readers to find the might in their own hearts. 

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada!

Sam’s Review:

On my way to Montreal in February I decided I needed to read a new Ashley Herring Blake book. Both Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the Word and Girl Made of Stars got five stars from me because they left me an emotional train-wreck. Her books are challenging but they also give me hope, and The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James is no exception.

The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James follows Sunny, a girl who got a recent heart transplant. Having a new heart, Sunny believes that she feels different about herself, that she wants life to be something different. When her biological mother comes back into her life a new girl begins to challenge her perceptions of the world, Sunny’s world is turned upside down. Sunny’s story is beautiful and I felt a lot of sympathy for her. Sunny spends a lot of this book feeling confused about who she is, who she loves, and what kind of a person she is allowed to be. Her adoptive mother shelters her because of her transplant, but even in that situation, there’s clearly more to it.

The writing in this book is stunning and Sunny’s voice is one that will definitely capture readers. I spent my last morning in Montreal tearing up simply because there is such a huge emotional punch throughout the story, and it doesn’t stop. I love when a book gives me so many emotions from start to finish, and there were parts of this book where I felt my heart beat faster and faster. This smart middle grade book will teach so many people about empathy and what it means to get a second lease on life, even at a young age.

I cried during The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James and I am not afraid to admit that. What I hope is that more people open their minds to more queer middle grade. Stories should transform our lives, and I think this book offers a transformation that readers will never forget.

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The Scott Challenge – January and February Selections

My husband Scott is as much an avid reader as I am. He’s always encouraging me to try different kinds of books, while also picking buzzwords for items that he knows I will read and likely love. This year, I asked him to pick a book each month that he wants me to read, whether it’s a science or fantasy novel that he knows I’ve been meaning to get to, or something he’s recently loved and wants to share. Every two months, I’ll share with you my experience of reading books my husband selections for me.

January Pick:

Red Country
by Joe Abercrombie (Published: October 23rd 2012 by Orbit)

I LOVE Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series, though hilariously I managed to skip this book and accidentally read Sharp Ends first. Red Country is, in a lot of ways, a weird Western, which I am a complete sucker for in a fantasy setting. Shy South may be my new favourite protagonist in the series (and her short story was my favourite in Sharp Ends), as she is full of gumption and grit. All the elements of a good Western are present in the story, from lawless cowfolk to gold rush fever. This book did take me awhile to get into just due to setting and style, but overall I quite loved it. 4/5 Stars.

February Pick:

Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell
by David Yaffe (Published: June 13th 2017 by Sarah Crichton Books)

My husband knows I am a huge Joni Mitchell fan. I’ve read a few books regarding her bio information in the past, but Yaffe’s book seems to be the definitive text when it comes to creating a portrait of who Mitchell was over the years. Strong in personality, her songs are a reflection of her past and the world around her. She also comes across bratty, stubborn and even callous at times, which made this book all the more interesting to read. There was so much I didn’t know regarding her illness, her depression, and even reading about her marriages was fascinating stuff. I’m really glad my husband gifted this to me two years ago and only made me read it now! 4/5 Stars.

And that’s it for now! Next update will be in May when we find out what March and April’s reads are!

ARC Review – Chicken Girl by Heather Smith

Title: Chicken Girl

Author: Heather Smith

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Poppy used to be an optimist. But after a photo of her dressed as Rosie the Riveter is mocked online, she’s having trouble seeing the good in the world. As a result, Poppy trades her beloved vintage clothes for a feathered chicken costume and accepts a job as an anonymous sign waver outside a restaurant. There, Poppy meets six-year-old girl Miracle, who helps Poppy see beyond her own pain, opening her eyes to the people around her: Cam, her twin brother, who is adjusting to life as an openly gay teen; Buck, a charming photographer with a cute British accent and a not-so-cute mean-streak; and Lewis a teen caring for an ailing parent, while struggling to reach the final stages of his gender transition. As the summer unfolds, Poppy stops glorifying the past and starts focusing on the present. But just as she comes to terms with the fact that there is good and bad in everyone, she is tested by a deep betrayal.

Huge Thank You to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Chicken Girl is a tiny book with a big punch. The story involves Poppy and her brother Cam, as they navigate growing up. When a picture of Rosie the Riveter is posted online, Poppy feels shammed and can no longer see good in the world. Her twin brother, Cam, is learning to be “out” and Poppy wants to show her support. Poppy also meets six-year-old, Miracle, who shows her how wonderful the world can really be.

What I loved about this book is how it normalizes so many aspects of LGBTQIA culture. There’s fantastic and frank discussion of what transgendered teens deal with, how homophobia comes in different (and awful) flavours, and how supportive people can be as well. Nothing in this book felt out of place and the conversations between characters felt so raw and true. My favourite parts were the interactions between Poppy and Cam, as well as Poppy and Miracle. I think these conversations about life, optimism, and finding strength will be so relevant to so many readers.

I think the only negative about this book for me, is that it’s too short. Everything ties up a bit too nicely, and there is a huge part of me that wishes Smith had delved more into the characters further. That being said, I still think what we do know about the cast of characters is wonderful and heartfelt.

There is such an honesty in these pages, which is why I hope more people will pick up Chicken Girl. The story is well-paced, genuine and raw, and while it never goes to Baygirl (Smith’s debut) levels of darkness, Chicken Girl offers readers a wonderful glimmer of hope that makes it a memorable read.

Fave of the Month – February!

It’s the beginning of March, which means it’s time to check in with what I read. I would say that hands down the best book I read in February was Ruby in the Sky, but given I did a full review on it, I thought I’d share a different read worth noting as well.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (Published February 5th 2019 by Balzer + Bray)

I feel like this book isn’t getting the same level of hype that The Hate U Give did. This book is fantastic, focusing on family and rap music. Bri creates a song that ends up going viral for the wrong reasons, and she goes on an internal journey of understanding the reactions she receives. I love this book because it’s rare in a YA book for a female character to have the level of anger that Bri does and get away with it. She’s furious, raw, and when she screws up, she’s allowed to make the mistakes and worth on self-reflection and forgiveness. Her song is also hella catchy, and I cannot wait until the film is made to hear what Bri’s song is actually going to sound like. I also loved her family, her desire to want to help her family in any way that she can. Garden Heights continues to be such a memorable place, and I cannot wait to see who Angie Thomas introduces readers to next.

#YearofLess Update 1 – Jan & Feb

March has just begun, and I thought it would be valuable every two months to show you guys where I am at with my #YearofLess project. I am sorry I haven’t shown much yet in ways in which I’ve made eco-friendly changes yet (more on that soon), but I thought I’d do a check in for books and tea. Books…. it ain’t great (though amazingly I haven’t bought a simple one of the ones I have acquired) and tea… tea is going very well.

Let’s look at books! Here is images back from the beginning of January.

And now here is how the piles look since the end of February:

It grew. Again, I didn’t buy any of these books — not a single one! However, publishers love sending me books, which I am grateful for because once I read them I pass them on to those who can love them (schools, organizations, and my colleagues), but for all the progress I thought I made, it looks like it’s overflowing even more. I also went to the library conference back at the beginning of the month, so I was handed a lot of free books as well.

I also blame this pile:

A lot of these holds were in the process of expiring it, so they came through for me. I’d love to get all of them read in March, but I doubt it. I may just also put some of them back on my For Later Shelf and take them out again when I am ready. We shall see though< I may also just read them all and then cry about it later when I didn’t get to my own stuff.

Again, my goal is to cut this as much as I can — I’ll consider it a victory if I can get the pile on the floor read and donated. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but I know it’s doable. I also know come Spring, I will get into a mood and purge more as well, and I think that will also make me feel a bit better. For the month of March I am participating in Middle Grade March, a month long read-a-thon for middle grade lovers. I have so much middle grade on my shelves that I feel like this is a good opportunity to knock some of it out and spread some love. At the end of the month, I’ll share some of my favourite reads.

Tea

My tea situation is far better than the books. I haven’t managed to clear out a full ziploc bag yet, but I’m definitely getting there. I’ve been really focused on working through what’s in the ziploc bags because my goal is to get it so I just have the few tins that I can then refill at different places to my heart’s content. I love tea, but let’s be real, my pile was getting out of control.

Before:

After:

Seriously, this looks a lot more mangeable than it was previously. It’s not perfect, but I am enjoying how little the ziploc bags are getting. 🙂 We shall see at the end of April if either of these have gone down. For now, wish me luck!

ARC Review – Click by Kayla Miller

Title: Click

Author: Kayla Miller

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Olive “clicks” with everyone in the fifth grade—until one day she doesn’t. When a school variety show leaves Olive stranded without an act to join, she begins to panic, wondering why all her friends have already formed their own groups . . . without her. With the performance drawing closer by the minute, will Olive be able to find her own place in the show before the curtain comes up.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I had never heard of Click until it appeared on my doorstep. I’m a bit out of the loop when it comes to middle grade comics at the moment, but I liked this one a lot. I thought Olive was a cute main character, and her need to be loved by her friends is something I think many folks can relate to. When her friends all pair up for the school talent program, she feels lost and as though there is no place for her.

I enjoyed this, though I wish there had been a bit more characterization among Olive and her friends. It felt a little flat at times, though admittedly this is a very plot-driven story. I just found as cute as it was, I didn’t necessarily connect with any of the characters while reading it. However, I think the story has so much for children to relate to, and I love that Olive does find her strength in this story.

This is a book about valuing friends and finding your place in them. I think a lot of young readers are definitely going to connect with Olive, her family and friends as well. I am looking forward to continuing the series with Camp, and seeing how much Olive grows in the next story!

All Checked Out – February 18th, 2019

Welcome to “All Checked Out,” where I share books I’ve borrowed from my local library (aka where I work).

So for those who are not aware, I am a Library Services Associate with a local library system in Ontario. A lot of my work entails technology requests, reader’s advisory, research, committee work, baby wrangler, and performing programming duties at our branch. I LOVE my job. Words cannot describe how much I love what I do for a living and the job I feel when I help patrons with any kind of request. I also work with some amazing men and women who constantly inspire me to be better every day. Library is intense and rewarding.

I thought it would be fun to once in awhile when I have a stack of library materials to show off what I’ve got in my reading queue. Here’s the first one for the year. 🙂

Here’s what I have on the stack:

I am currently reading “On the Come Up” which I am enjoying very much. Not sure if I love it as much as The Hate U Give, but I am trying to remind myself this is a very different story. Bri is wonderful and I adore her.

Have you read any of these? Comment down below and let me know if any of these are not worth my time and which ones I should prioritize. 🙂