Tag Archives: contemporary fiction

Late to the Party ARC Review – Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

Title: Emergency Contact

Author: Mary H.K. Choi

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: For Penny Lee high school was a total nonevent. Her friends were okay, her grades were fine, and while she somehow managed to land a boyfriend, he doesn’t actually know anything about her. When Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, to learn how to become a writer, it’s seventy-nine miles and a zillion light years away from everything she can’t wait to leave behind.

Sam’s stuck. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, financially. He works at a café and sleeps there too, on a mattress on the floor of an empty storage room upstairs. He knows that this is the god-awful chapter of his life that will serve as inspiration for when he’s a famous movie director but right this second the seventeen bucks in his checking account and his dying laptop are really testing him. 

When Sam and Penny cross paths it’s less meet-cute and more a collision of unbearable awkwardness. Still, they swap numbers and stay in touch—via text—and soon become digitally inseparable, sharing their deepest anxieties and secret dreams without the humiliating weirdness of having to see each other.

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

Sam’s Review:

I’ll be honest: I kind of ignored the hype surrounding this book. I felt like it was going to be a book that I thought would just be “okay” or “that was fine.” When I got it in my Simon and Schuster Canada goodies bag from the Ontario Library Association’s Super Conference, I was intrigued, but not in the best frame of mind to read this book.

I loved, and slowly devoured Emergency Contact. I picked it up on a whim during a crazy and difficult period in my life, and it’s a book I was constantly connecting with. I loved Penny and Sam, and I while they do frustrating and even unthinkable things, I cared about their every action, and I wanted them to be better off by the end. I love that this is first and foremost a friendship novel. Penny and Sam meet in such an awkward, uncomfortable way, and they become each other’s “emergency contact” — the person they connect with when life is beating them black and blue.

This book has a very slow build, but I found myself really loving and engaging with it. This isn’t a book I found myself reading quickly, but rather small bits at a time because I found the situations that the characters engaged in to be difficult to read about at times. Sam’s plot-line in particular had me yelling and flailing my arms in anger, while Penny I could easily relate to (despite being nothing like her) and seeing how she has to deal with changes beyond her control. The writing in this book is playful, lyrical and fun despite the darker tone in it, and I think Choi does a fantastic job of getting readers to care and emote while reading this novel.

I am definitely going to have to buy myself a copy of this book because I feel like it’s one I will get the itch to reread. While I feel like this book is pretty hyped, it’s also one I don’t think that had that intention in the first place. This is a very quiet book, and one that builds and builds until it crashes so hard that everything feels messy and raw. I love novels like that, and I think it’s why Emergency Contactresonated with me the way it did. It’s definitely not for every reader, but if you love quieter books that offer a detailed character study of two lost young adults, I think this book is highly worth the read.

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Blog Tour – A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena (Review + Q&A)

A Girl Like That was a book that caught my eye at the latest #TeensReadFeed preview hosted by Raincoast Books Canada. It was a book that piqued my interest given the bright pink cover and the fact that it dealt with tougher issues. This is a book that explores prejudice, religion, slut shamming, and it’s tied together in a beautifully written package. I was sad that I missed out on having the chance to chat with Tanaz Bhathena at the OLA Super Conference back at the beginning of the month, but I was so happy when Raincoast approached me to ask Tanaz a question and review her book.

So without further ado…


Title: A Girl Like That

Author: Tanaz Bhathena

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Zarin Wadia is many things: a bright and vivacious student, an orphan, a risk taker. She’s also the kind of girl that parents warn their kids to stay away from: a troublemaker whose many romances are the subject of endless gossip at school.  You don’t want to get involved with a girl like that, they say. So how is it that eighteen-year-old Porus Dumasia has only ever had eyes for her? And how did Zarin and Porus end up dead in a car together, crashed on the side of a highway in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia? When the religious police arrive on the scene, everything everyone thought they knew about Zarin is questioned. And as her story is pieced together, told through multiple perspectives, it becomes clear that she was far more than just a girl like that. 

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This was a difficult book to read. It has a very unique set up and one I feel like readers might have a hard time with at first. I want to say, very clearly: STICK WITH THIS STORY. Zarin’s story is heartbreaking, hurtful, and it will make you angry. I found myself feeling a roller-coaster of emotions going through this book, and I think it’s because it reminds me how cruel people can be.

In a lot of ways, this book reminded me of Jennifer Mathieu’s The Truth About Alice, except we actually get the points of view from the deceased characters. Many of the perspectives we get talk in depth about Zarin and Porus during their time alive and even in death. As the reader you start to question what is fact and fiction from many of the perspective characters. Reading from certain characters at times were so uncomfortable, because you get a sense of ugliness that is hiding in them. You also see how much of a role family can play in fact and fiction as well.

Zarin’s story is hard to read because it looks at not only a girl who may be breaking cultural practices, but she wants to be her own person and everyone has assumed the worst about her. That she is a slut, that she’s unpredictable, that she has the wrong agenda. A lot of my favourite chapters were when I got to be inside Zarin’s head and get a sense of what she was thinking and feeling. She takes so much abuse in this story, and yet she is so strong at the same time.

And the topics discussed hurt. You see religious prejudice, you see sexism, you see displacement, but there is also hope in this story. It’s a twinkle, but it’s there, and it feels so unexpected and so important. There are just so many complicated parts to A Girl Like That, and I feel not knowing too much about this story is what makes it such a compelling read. Beautifully written, heartbreaking and painful, this is a must read debut that offers so much insight into one girl’s existence, and if you can juggle the points of view, it’s a rewarding novel.

Note: A Girl Like That released on February 27th, so it is out now as of this post!


Q&A with Tanaz Bhathena!

Thanks to the wonderful folks at Raincoast, I was given a chance to ask Tanaz a question regarding A Girl Like That.  Here’s her response to my question!

SM: Zarin, like many women, face a lot of discrimination. Based on what happens to Zarin in the story, are these issues based on your own personal experience fighting discrimination or are her issues encompassing a lot of different issues on a whole?

TB: A few of the issues Zarin faces are my own—coming from a minority religion in a Muslim majority country, and the hypocrisy and double standards with which women are treated compared to men. But Zarin also encompasses a lot of different issues based on things I saw happen to people around me—Muslim and non-Muslim—and stories I heard that were swept quietly under the rug.

I began A Girl Like That by writing what I knew, and eventually discovered that there was a lot that I didn’t. I began researching by reading the Arab News and the Saudi Gazette again. I also read candid first-person blogs by people who lived in Riyadh and Jeddah, and reports by organizations like Human Rights Watch, MEMRI and Amnesty International. I watched videos. You can live for fifteen years in a country, but sometimes you need to have that physical and mental distance to really make sense of the things that happened to you while you lived there.


I want to thank Tanaz for stopping by and answering my question on this stop of the blog tour. I also want to extend a thank you as well to Raincoast Canada for allowing me to be a participant! A Girl Like That is out NOW! And while you’re at it, please check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour!

ARC Review – Like Water by Rebecca Podos

Title: Like Water

Author:Rebecca Podos

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: In Savannah Espinoza’s small New Mexico hometown, kids either flee after graduation or they’re trapped there forever. Vanni never planned to get stuck—but that was before her father was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, leaving her and her mother to care for him. Now, she doesn’t have much of a plan at all: living at home, working as a performing mermaid at a second-rate water park, distracting herself with one boy after another.

That changes the day she meets Leigh. Disillusioned with small-town life and looking for something greater, Leigh is not a “nice girl.” She is unlike anyone Vanni has met, and a friend when Vanni desperately needs one. Soon enough, Leigh is much more than a friend. But caring about another person stirs up the moat Vanni has carefully constructed around herself, and threatens to bring to the surface the questions she’s held under for so long.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This book is a beautiful slow burn. A part of me hates how long it took me to read, but I found myself putting it down, and realizing little parallels in my own life. A lot of the feelings that Savannah has in this story are ones I’ve shared, especially in my high school years. I was a closeted bisexual who went to a Catholic school. I never had the courage when I was younger to be open about that, and only late in my adulthood am I finally embracing it.

Savannah is a wonderful and raw heroine. Her feels about her bisexuality are all over the place, causing anxiety. Her feelings are so natural and genuine, and you get the sense that she feels as though she is coming a part at the seams because she wants to have an identity. But I had her home life at one point, and it’s a hard pill to take sometimes. I think Podos describes Vanni’s feelings perfectly. Whenever she talked about feeling trapped or lost, I found myself nodding along in understanding. She makes a sacrifice to take care of her family and that’s no small feat at any age, honestly.

And I loved reading the spiral mess that was her and Leigh’s romance. Podos captures this kind of new found love with such tenderness, yet she also shows how messy, raw and confusing it can all be. I felt like that was super spot on. I also loved Leigh despite some of the things she does in the story, but I feel like her confusion and emotional distress is captured very well. Neither girl is always likable, but their actions make sense given the course of the story.

Like Water is a beautifully written novel that shows the messiness of self and of loving others. It’s a slow read for such a short novel, but it builds in wonderful ways making it worth sticking with. I’ll definitely have to go back and check out Rebecca Podos’ first novel, but this has me sold on her as an author to watch.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios

Title: Bad Romance

Author: Heather Demetrios

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Grace wants out. Out of her house, where her stepfather wields fear like a weapon and her mother makes her scrub imaginary dirt off the floors. Out of her California town, too small to contain her big city dreams. Out of her life, and into the role of Parisian artist, New York director—anything but scared and alone.

Enter Gavin: charming, talented, adored. Controlling. Dangerous. When Grace and Gavin fall in love, Grace is sure it’s too good to be true. She has no idea their relationship will become a prison she’s unable to escape. 

Deeply affecting and unflinchingly honest, this is a story about spiraling into darkness—and emerging into the light again.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I had to put off reading Bad Romance for awhile. It’s one of those books that looks at abusive relationships, why someone might stay, and ultimately why they need to choose themselves. Grace is a very difficult heroine because she is torn with choosing herself or enduring abuse because Gavin, her boyfriend, threatens to kill himself if she ever breaks up with him.

This book is very much a history of their relationship, written in a way where there’s quite a bit of second-person use. The way in which Grace describes her relationship is so heartbreaking, hard, and reading the moments of the psychological torment that she faces is rough. Like, it hurts, and I found myself wincing in pain. Not every action Grace does makes sense, but what I love is Demetrios shows how she’s working through it. I also love that she has such supportive friends who are trying to help her break the cycle.

This is also just such an amazing and well-written book. I felt so overwhelmed emotionally as I was reading this book that at times I had to simply close it because of what was happening. Being emotionally invested, even though I’ve never expected what Grace is going through… I empathized, a lot.

Bad Romance is a raw, rough, addictive book that will probably hit a lot of people’s triggers. It’s not an easy read, but it is a compelling one. Regardless of whether you’ve experience abuse or not, this is a book that will leave you emotionally raw by the end of it.

ARC Review – Top Ten by Katie Cotugno

Title: Top Ten

Author: Katie Cotugno

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Ryan McCullough and Gabby Hart are the unlikeliest of friends. Introverted, anxious Gabby would rather do literally anything than go to a party. Ryan is a star hockey player who can get any girl he wants—and does, frequently. But against all odds, they became not only friends, but each other’s favorite person. Now, as they face high school graduation, they can’t help but take a moment to reminisce and, in their signature tradition, make a top ten list—counting down the top ten moments of their friendship: 

10. Where to begin? Maybe the night we met.
9. Then there was our awkward phase.
8. When you were in love with me but never told me…
7. Those five months we stopped talking were the hardest of my life.
6. Through terrible fights…
5. And emotional makeups.
4. You were there for me when I got my heart broken.
3. …but at times, you were also the one breaking it.
2. Above all, you helped me make sense of the world.
1. Now, as we head off to college—how am I possibly going to live without you?

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I was super disappointed by Katie Cotugno’s 99 Days. It was one of those books I had high hopes for given how much I adored How to LoveTop Ten is closer to How to Love for me, as I found myself engrossed in it.

I can understand why other reviews DNF’ed this book — the style of going back and forth between Ryan and Gabby’s perspectives at different points of their lives can feel a bit jarring. Cotugno’s writing is beautiful, but the reader is just completely dropped into Gabby and Ryan’s friendship without build up. The timelines go back and forth, and it can feel a bit confusing. I, however, embraced what the author was trying to accomplish with the writing, and I loved the message she was going for.

Gabby and Ryan are awkward. They suffer from social anxiety. The are best friends, though Ryan is in love with Gabby, and Gabby has a crush on a girl. Gabby is learned to embrace her bisexuality, but she doesn’t want her relationship with Ryan to take a hit. All their messy feelings make so much sense and it’s easy to feel empathy for them. Cotugno provides us with two main characters who are messy, thoughtful, and you get the sense that there is so much that us unclear surrounding their friendship.

I even loved the sloppy, confused romance in this novel. You get the sense that there is so much emotion and inanity of teen angst and love. Top Ten is just such a unique experience for a contemporary novel, just in terms of how it is written. It’s not going to gel with every reader, but I found myself engaged from beginning to end, and I feel like regardless of my feelings on 99 Days, I’ll still read anything Katie Cotugno writes just for the experience alone.

ARC Review – These Things I’ve Done by Rebecca Phillips

Title: These Things I’ve Done

Author: Rebecca Phillips

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Before: Dara and Aubrey have been inseparable since they became best friends in sixth grade. However, as they begin their sophomore year of high school, cracks in their friendship begin to form, testing the bond they always thought was unbreakable.

After: It’s been fifteen months since the accident that killed Aubrey, and not a day goes by that Dara isn’t racked with guilt over her role in her best friend’s death. Dara thought nothing could be worse than confronting the memories of Aubrey that relentlessly haunt her, but she soon realizes it isn’t half as difficult as seeing Ethan, Aubrey’s brother, every day. Not just because he’s a walking reminder of what she did, but because the more her feelings for him change, the more she knows she’s betraying her best friend one final time.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I’ve had a copy of These Things I’ve Done since February, and I had constant hesitation to pick this book up. Books that deal with both guilt and grief are sometimes a topic that I need to be emotionally in the right frame of mind for, and this book based on the blurb told me I was going to have all the feels.

I did have feels, they just seemed to happen in the last hundred pages of the book.

This is a slow burn and one where the writing style really took me a bit to get into. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in the slightest, but I know writing style can always be a tricky thing, especially if you feel turned off at the beginning. Dara is a character that for the most part I struggled to connect with. I could empathize with her a lot, but I never felt a huge connection between her and I while I was reading the book, which is very important to me as a reader. I also weirdly could have done without the romance part of this book because I found myself unable to entirely buy into it. I think other readers will adore it, but I found it a little too obvious and frankly, really dull. It’s like Dara and Ethan couldn’t decide if they had or didn’t have chemistry, if that makes sense.

That being said, the subject matters this book tackles are utterly heartbreaking and that’s what I was there for, and I think Phillips delivers on that. Dara’s grief, her pain, and her guilt all translate so well in this story, and when she talked about life without Audrey, those were the parts of the book I lived for. When the book was in the sophomore year sections when Audrey was alive, I enjoyed it somewhat, but it was the living without sections that I found I was really glued to. I wanted to know what Dara did and why she felt the intense pain she did. I wanted to know the full extent of her damage, and I think the build to that is something the author did extremely well. I think she captured so much in Dara’s feelings that even though I had moments of disconnect with her, I somewhat understood why.

really loved many aspects of this book and it’s one I’ll be happy to recommend to the teens I work with at the library. I think Rebecca Phillips captures the spirit of teenage grief in a really well understood way, and I think it will definitely resonate with a lot of other readers. While I wasn’t in love with this book the way I thought I would be, I still am super glad I read it and didn’t DNF it like I originally was going to with that rocky start.

ARC Review – The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

Title: The Names They Gave Us

Author: Emery Lord

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Everything is going right for Lucy Hansson, until her mom’s cancer reappears. Just like that, Lucy breaks with all the constants in her life: her do-good boyfriend, her steady faith, even her longtime summer church camp job.

Instead, Lucy lands at a camp for kids who have been through tough times. As a counselor, Lucy is in over her head and longs to be with her parents across the lake. But that’s before she gets to know her coworkers, who are as loving and unafraid as she so desperately wants to be.

It’s not just new friends that Lucy discovers at camp—more than one old secret is revealed along the way. In fact, maybe there’s much more to her family and her faith than Lucy ever realized.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I absolutely adored this book. I find Emery Lord’s works have this way of capturing my attention and making me fall in love with the teens that she writes. They are flawed, imperfect, but lovable people. The Names They Gave Us may be her most powerful novel to date, and easily her most difficult in terms of subject matter as well.

Lucy is a great heroine. She’s devoted to her religious beliefs, has the perfect boyfriend, and loves her family deeply to the point of resentment at times. Her mother’s cancer reappears and she struggles to grasp that this could be the end for her mother, and ends up at a camp for teens dealing with tougher issues. There she makes wonderful, thoughtful friendships and grows into a stronger person. Lord does a fantastic job of showing Lucy’s growth in the story, and I think it shows when she learns about Anna, a trans girl at the camp. Their friendship was easily one of my favourites, and I enjoyed the way in which Anna educates Lucy about trans rights and issues transpeople face.

I also think how Lord deals with Lucy and her faith is very intriguing. It reminded me of my all time favourite novels, Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu, although they are coming at the topic in very different ways. Lucy trying to reconcile her feelings about the people she meets and what the Bible has taught her is played up very well in this story, and I think this is just another area where Lord shows magnificent growth for Lucy as a character.

The Names They Gave Us is a beautiful, smart, sensitive read that offers amazing and thoughtful character development. Lord continues to show readers that she can work with tough issues, make them accessible, and still write a heartbreaking and touching story. WhileWhen We Collided still remains my favourite of hers, this one is a close second.