Tag Archives: contemporary fiction

ARC Review – Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

Title: Goodbye Days

Author: Jeff Zentner

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Can a text message destroy your life?

Carver Briggs never thought a simple text would cause a fatal crash, killing his three best friends, Mars, Eli, and Blake. Now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident and even worse, there could be a criminal investigation into the deaths.

Then Blake’s grandmother asks Carver to remember her grandson with a ‘goodbye day’ together. Carver has his misgivings, but he starts to help the families of his lost friends grieve with their own memorial days, along with Eli’s bereaved girlfriend Jesmyn. But not everyone is willing to forgive. Carver’s own despair and guilt threatens to pull him under into panic and anxiety as he faces punishment for his terrible mistake. Can the goodbye days really help?

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have heard for various friends and bloggers that Zentner’s The Serpent King was an amazing debut novel. I’ll admit that I haven’t read it yet, and instead was handed his latest novel by my bookish angel over at Penguin Canada. I knew a bit about this book, more like, I knew the tag line and that a text message would play a larger roll. What I wasn’t expecting, was how deeply involved I would get into Carver’s story.

This was one of those reads that I dreaded putting the book down. Every time I had to put it down, whether it was to do chores, work, or help someone else… I was thinking about this book. Goodbye Days had that strong of an effect on me. I felt for Carver throughout the story; his grief, anxiety, depression, anger, loss — he feels a whirlwind of emotions, feels as though he has no control, and is told to keep pressing on. I found him easy to relate to, and I feel like I connected with him given my own personal circumstances (very different, but the emotional impact was very much the same).

I loved the way Zentner wrote the Sauce Crew, and I found myself really draw to the flashbacks in this book. At times, they felt like cheesy teenagers doing stupid things, but I found the way in which they were portrayed to be easy to connect with. They genuinely are friends! And it’s nice to see that genuineness in the writing as well. You get larger sense in the story as to how close each member was, and Carver does a great job sharing with the reader their stories, their lives, and his overall connection to them.

I won’t sugarcoat this: Goodbye Days is a very sad, depressing book. For it’s bits of glimmer and humour, it’s a sad tale that will take you to sadtown with no real way out. Expect sadness, but expect a book that feels raw as well. The writing has some moments of awkward, but overall I really did love this story, and I was always compelled to keep reading. Goodbye Days is a lovely, emotional novel that will leave you with all the feels.

ARC Review – Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman

30375777Title: Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined

Author: Danielle Younge-Ullman

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Then: Ingrid traveled all over Europe with her opera star mother, Margot-Sophia. Life was beautiful and bright, and every day soared with music. Now: Ingrid is on a summertime wilderness survival trek for at-risk teens: addicts, runaways, and her. She’s fighting to survive crushing humiliations, physical challenges that push her to her limits, and mind games that threaten to break her. Then: When the curtain fell on Margot-Sophia’s singing career, they buried the past and settled into a small, painfully normal life. But Ingrid longed to let the music soar again. She wanted it so much that, for a while, nothing else mattered. Now: Ingrid is never going to make it through this summer if she can’t figure out why she’s here, what happened to Margot-Sophia, and why the music really stopped.”

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

When I received Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined in the mail, the synopsis had me instantly intrigued. This is a story about family, self-discovery, and how people can transform after a difficult event. Readers will spend a lot of this time wondering who Ingrid is writing to, what has actually happened to her mother, and why she is on this crazy wilderness retreat.

I absolutely loved this book. I found Younge-Ullman’s writing so beautiful and very gripping. Ingrid’s voice is crass, it’s raw, and I found myself always wanting to know more about her and her situation. I absolutely loved her relationship with her “father” and I loved that he wanted to accept Ingrid and her mother, flaws and all. There’s not a lot of people out there who are willing to go that extra mile when joining a family. Having these flashback sequences were so beneficial in telling this story, because when you go back to the bits with Ingrid in the wilderness, you begin to see all the cracks in her facade.

I also loved Ingrid’s adventures in the Canadian wilderness. As a young woman who spent the majority of her life traveling around the world with her opera singer mother, it’s intriguing to see Ingrid’s responses to nature, particularly right at the beginning of the book when all her supplies are taken from her and disposed. I feel like I would have had the same traumatic reaction. Furthermore, I love her transformation during the excursion, because she goes from being pampered and disgruntled to someone with intense drive and purpose. I also loved Ingrid’s letters as well and I found them to be a wonderful touch in the story.

Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined is a story that grows on you. Ingrid is an amazing protagonist and she’s accompanied by such an amazing cast of support characters. I found myself compulsively reading, needing to know what happened between Ingrid and her mother, and the payoff was worth it. Emotional and raw, this book will continue to resonate with you long after it’s been completed.

ARC Review – The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

32075671Title: The Hate U Give

Author: Angie Thomas

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Finishing The Hate U Give left me quite emotional. It left me thoughtful. It left me angry. Throughout the novel I found myself so angry and emotional for Starr and her family. I felt so much sadness and empathy for Khalil. I hate that this is a reality in a lot of ways. We are living in a culture of assumption, and Angie Thomas showcases in a lot of ways how evil this really can be. Khalil is unarmed and killed by a police officer. He never has the chance to give his side of the story and it kills me inside that this keeps happening.

Starr’s is a beautifully written heroine for this story. Thomas does an amazing job of developing her so organically throughout the story, as we see her transform from someone who was unable to speak up, to someone who becomes so strong willed and full of conviction. I really loved her relationship with Chris, her boyfriend, as I thought that the way in which Thomas handles their differences was done quite impeccably (and their love of the Fresh Prince was hilarious and awesome). I also like how Thomas showcases how friends can fallout due to a lack of understanding. Not going to lie, but there were numerous times where I just wanted to scream at Hallie for her ignorance. Hallie made me angry, but it’s because she felt so realistic. Her ignorance made me scream.

I also loved Starr’s relationship with her siblings and I thought that was wonderfully organic in the story. I also loved how close she was with her extended family members (I really loved Uncle Carlos), and I loved how she portrays Garden Heights. In a lot of ways, where Starr lives feels like it’s own character as she gives you this portrait of such a run-down, yet well loved neighborhood that yes, has it’s share of crime, but it also has such a wonderfully devoted community (and this is shown beautifully in the book’s ending). Starr has so many people she wants to protect, but more importantly she is wrestling with her own personal demons because she is fighting to figure out what the best course of action is. Khalil is not the first person she watched die, and yet she fights to figure out what she can do to make a larger difference.

We need more stories like this. More stories that show how love can fight corruption. There’s a reason why groups like Black Lives Matter HAVE TO EXIST, and it’s situations like Khalil’s where we have to fight even harder because it’s inexcusable. I loved towards the end of the novel when they are protesting and sharing “A hairbrush is not a gun!” because it shows how people make assumptions and in the end people get hurt or worse, killed because we assume and react.

I loved The Hate U Give. I loved the story, I loved the characters, I felt for these people, which shows how good a book this truly is. Not only is it an emotional debut, but it will leave you thoughtful and angry at the world and how it’s changing for the worse. We need to change it for the better, we need to be stronger, and I can only wish that more of us were like Starr. I was glued from page one, and when I wasn’t reading The Hate U Give, I was still constantly thinking about it. This book is powerful, and I can only hope that many readers will love it as strongly as I have.

ARC Review – The Season of You & Me by Robin Constantine

26116514Title:  The Season of You & Me

Author:  Robin Constantine

Rating: ★

Synopsis: Cassidy Emmerich is determined to make this summer—the last before her boyfriend heads off to college—unforgettable. What she doesn’t count on is her boyfriend breaking up with her. Now, instead of being poolside with him, Cass is over a hundred miles away, spending the summer with her estranged father and his family at their bed-and-breakfast at the Jersey Shore and working as the newest counselor at Camp Manatee.

Bryan Lakewood is sick of nevers. You’ll never walk. You’ll never surf. You’ll never slow dance with your date at prom. One miscalculated step and Bryan’s life changed forever—now he’s paralyzed and needs to use a wheelchair. This is the first summer he’s back at his former position at Camp Manatee and ready to reclaim some of his independence, in spite of those who question if he’s up for the job.

Cass is expecting two months dealing with heartbreak.
Bryan is expecting a summer of tough adjustments.
Neither of them is expecting to fall in love.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I think I learned something from reading The Season of You & Me — I really am not good with pure YA romances. Which is hilarious given I love authors like Morgan Matson and Heather Demetrios, who do write great contemporary novels with romance in them. This is my second time trying Robin Constantine, and I am also coming to terms with the fact that her books are simply not for me.

I really don’t care for her characters are at all. They often feel very dull, uninspired, and they are often missing personality. I struggled with Cassidy because I found she felt like a blank slate, like there was nothing to her that made her special in any way. Then there is Bryan, who I was more excited to read about since he has a disability, and even he felt vapid at times. I think he was a far better written character than Cassidy, but I still found myself unable to really connect with him. I think what might have also done me in was Constantine’s constant quip with Bryan having #wheelchairperks, and this joke gets over used to the point where it feels like it’s perpetuating his disability. I didn’t like that. Once or twice I could handle, but nearly every Bryan chapter makes that comment.

And this leads me to a larger issue with this book — she could have done so much more with this romance. It feels too instalovey, and there’s no real exploration of Bryan’s disability, which I feel like is such a missed opportunity. I also just really despised a lot of characters in this book — they felt very one-dimensional, mostly catty without good reason, and I just found them so painful.

Really, this is my own fault. I kept hoping, and hoping that this book would get better, and that perhaps there would be more to the story. I don’t mind romance, but I do want to see some real conflict, and I felt like this book was clearly lacking in that department. I thought perhaps the writing would have matured a bit more, but the voices in this book felt so phony, and degrading even at times. There is easily better YA romances out there, and The Season of You & Me is easily worth a skip. There is better.

ARC Review – The Sweetest Sound by Sherri Winston

30142002Title: The Sweetest Sound

Author: Sherri Winston

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: For ten-year-old Cadence Jolly, birthdays are a constant reminder of all that has changed since her mother skipped town with dreams of becoming a singing star. Cadence inherited that musical soul, she can’t deny it, but otherwise she couldn’t be more different – she’s as shy as can be.

She did make a promise last year that she would try to break out of her shell, just a little. And she prayed that she’d get the courage to do it. As her eleventh birthday draws near, she realizes time is running out. And when a secret recording of her singing leaks and catches the attention of her whole church, she needs to decide what’s better: deceiving everyone by pretending it belongs to someone else, or finally stepping into the spotlight.  

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

Sam’s Review:

I discovered The Sweetest Sound by its cover. I full admit that — I think it is beautiful, and having now read the book, I think it’s also spot on to the subject matter in this story. This is a lovely story about finding your voice, overcoming fear, and coming out of your shell, and Winston does this with a lot of grace and elegance.

I found myself really connecting with Cadence throughout this novel, mostly because of how her shyiness tends to overpower her. She is so afraid to share her gift of singing with others that she would do anything to hide it. Why? Because she is afraid of the kind of response she’ll get. I think this is something we can all relate to given that at one point in our lives we’ve been afraid to share our gifts or talents with others for fear of judgement. I think Winston paints a wonderful message of how to overcome shyiness in this story, and it was easily my favourite part of the book.

I didn’t always agree with some of the things that Cadence, but I think in terms of the storytelling that was kind of the point. She isn’t always the greatest with her friends and family, and I think it’s something she spends a lot of the novel trying to reconcile because she is so afraid of letting loose and singing her heart out. Cadence also suffers from not having her mother around, and she dreams of becoming like her mother and being a fantastic singer. I felt sad that Cadence didn’t have her mother throughout the story given that her father wasn’t the most well-adjusted to handle some of Cadence’s problems throughout the story.

At times the story felt very safe and on-the-nose in terms of message, and while I didn’t mind that, I wish it had felt a bit braver given that that is a huge theme in the story. This book is also quite religious, which I do think might affect the enjoyment for some readers. While I am not religious, I honestly didn’t mind this aspect, though I will concede that at times it borderlines on preachy. I also felt like her father was a bit too much of a stereotype in that he was way too over protective of Cadence, but at times I felt like it didn’t seem justified.

This is a very sweet, if safe, middle grade read. I think it will offer a lot to those who love stories about characters overcoming their fears and moving towards their passions. Cadence is a wonderful protagonist and I think she has a lot of growth in this story, which is something I appreciate in middle grade fiction. I am definitely curious to see what kinds of stories Sherri Winston will write next.

ARC Reviews – Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist

24921988Title: Love and First Sight

Author: Josh Sundquist

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: On his first day at a new school, blind sixteen-year-old Will Porter accidentally groped a girl on the stairs, sat on another student in the cafeteria, and somehow drove a classmate to tears. High school can only go up from here, right?

As Will starts to find his footing, he develops a crush on a charming, quiet girl named Cecily. Then an unprecedented opportunity arises: an experimental surgery that could give Will eyesight for the first time in his life. But learning to see is more difficult than Will ever imagined, and he soon discovers that the sighted world has been keeping secrets. It turns out Cecily doesn’t meet traditional definitions of beauty–in fact, everything he’d heard about her appearance was a lie engineered by their so-called friends to get the two of them together. Does it matter what Cecily looks like? No, not really. But then why does Will feel so betrayed?

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

Sam’s Review:

I loved Josh Sundquist’s non-fiction novel We Should Hang Out Sometime. It made me laugh, it educated me about disability, and I loved how open the author was about his life. This is Josh Sundquist’s debut YA novel, which focuses on Will, a boy who is blind and is going to a public school for the first time in his life. His parents are afraid of him being a part of the public school system considering he was transferring from a special school for the blind. He then falls for a girl he cannot actually see and decides to undergo a radical surgery that could potentially give him back his eye sight.

This book is so wonderful, so funny, and so heart-warming. Josh Sundquist has this crazy ability to be so inviting when he shares a story, and Will is just such a sweet protagonist who has such amazing intentions. He cannot see, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have aspirations, as he wants to be a journalist, a job that really is focused on sight. I felt invested in his story, his friendships, his family, and that’s the markings of a great main character. You can also feel the amount of research that Sundquist did to bring such an authentic story. I also love love loved Cecily, who is the love interest, and I ADORED the way Will and Cecily’s relationship develops given her own personal problems. They are such a sweet couple, and I actually love how long it took to get to that in the novel.

This is a book that can easily be read in a day. It is a sweet contemporary novel that offers a really unique perspective written by someone who understands disability lit. This book isn’t mind-blowing, but it just so funny and genuine and sometimes those are the kinds of books you need to make you smile. Even the research in regards to Will’s surgery was so well implemented, and I wanted to know more about it. I think readers will completely fall in love with Will when this book releases in January. Then while you are at it, read the Author’s Note, because it is so fascinating.

ARC Review – Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz

27414408Title: Finding Perfect

Author: Elly Swartz

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: To Molly Nathans, perfect is:

• The number four
• The tip of a newly sharpened number two pencil
• A crisp, white pad of paper
• Her neatly aligned glass animal figurines

What’s not perfect is Molly’s mother leaving the family to take a faraway job with the promise to return in one year. Molly knows that promises are often broken, so she hatches a plan to bring her mother home: Win the Lakeville Middle School Slam Poetry Contest. The winner is honored at a fancy banquet with table cloths. Molly’s sure her mother would never miss that. Right…?

But as time goes on, writing and reciting slam poetry become harder. Actually, everything becomes harder as new habits appear, and counting, cleaning, and organizing are not enough to keep Molly’s world from spinning out of control.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for a finished copy of this novel!

Sam’s Review:

Finding Perfect is my kind of middle grade novel — it focuses on tough subject matters but does an amazing job of making them accessible to younger audiences without feeling patronizing or overly complicated. This is a novel about a girl named Molly who slowly learned throughout the novel that she suffers from OCD.

I want to throw out there what a delightful debut this novel is. I fell for Molly right from the get-go, and it’s because Swartz has this really inviting style of writing that eases the reader into Molly’s thoughts and feelings. Molly has her ticks, but they are introduced so organically into the story that it also makes it easy for the readers to understand where she is coming from, as well as sympathize with her. I loved her personality, and I found her emotions to be so rawly portrayed.

Actually, I should say her family is really well portrayed given that they all feel like they are suffering from neglect from a mother who had to take a job in Toronto to support her family. All of the siblings deal with this in such different ways, so it gave a very layered perspective on how siblings cope with an absent parent. I also loved Molly’s friends, I enjoyed that her environment was (mostly) supportive.

Most importantly, I love the way Swartz tackles the topic of OCD. I felt like I gained such a huge understanding of it and how young children my cope with it. I also loved the amount of research that went into making this novel authentic, and I am so happy that voices like Molly’s exist for readers who may have OCD and want representation. This novel does it with such grace and sensitivity, and I felt like I was very much a part of the story being an outsider who was looking in.

Fidning Perfect is nearly perfect. While it ends on a soft note (I admit, I would have loved to have known more), I feel like this is one of those middle grade books that will stay with the reader long after the book has been completed. Molly is such a wonderful heroine and I am looking forward to seeing what other stories Swartz will pen in the future.