Tag Archives: contemporary fiction

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.

ARC Review – I Love You, Michael Collins by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Title: I Love You, Michael Collins

Author: Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: It’s 1969 and the country is gearing up for what looks to be the most exciting moment in U.S. history: men landing on the moon. Ten-year-old Mamie’s class is given an assignment to write letters to the astronauts. All the girls write to Neil Armstrong (“So cute!”) and all the boys write to Buzz Aldrin (“So cool!”). Only Mamie writes to Michael Collins, the astronaut whowill come so close but never achieve everyone else’s dream of walking on the moon, because he is the one who must stay with the ship. After school ends, Mamie keeps writing to Michael Collins, taking comfort in telling someone about what’s going on with her family as, one by one, they leave the house thinking that someone else is taking care of her—until she is all alone except for her cat and her best friend, Buster. And as the date of the launch nears, Mamie can’t help but wonder: Does no one stay with the ship anymore?

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I read this book in a day, and my goodness is it adorable. This book is the story of Mamie, a young girl who has a school assignment wherein she must write letters to an astronaut. While every other kid in her grade selects Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin, Mamie selects Michael Collins, the man responsible for orbiting around the moon.

Through a series of letters, Mamie pouring her heart and soul, sharing all her feelings to Michael Collins. Since this story takes place in 1969, a lot of this story looks at the space race, Vietnam, and other historical events that Mamie is witnessing through television. Each letter shares a bit more about what is personally going on with Mamie, from her parent’s falling out, to her sisters growing up, to her feelings for her best friend Buster. This story is so sweet, and so sad at the same time. It’s also just a very quick read as Mamie is so easy to love as a character.

This short and sweet read is for anyone who loves middle grade contemporary. Mamie is delight and her letters will easily pull you in.

ARC Review – Internet Famous by Danika Stone

Title: Internet Famous

Author: Danika Stone

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: High school senior and internet sensation Madison Nakama seems to have it all: a happy family, good grades, and a massive online following for her pop-culture blog. But when her mother suddenly abandons the family, Madi finds herself struggling to keep up with all of her commitments.

Fandom to the rescue! As her online fans band together to help, an online/offline flirtation sparks with Laurent, a French exchange student. Their internet romance—played out in the comments section of her MadLibs blog—attracts the attention of an internet troll who threatens the separation of Madi’s real and online personas. With her carefully constructed life unraveling, Madi must uncover the hacker’s identity before he can do any more damage, or risk losing the people she loves the most… Laurent included.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I love books about fandoms and internet celebrities. I love learning about their rise to popularity, and I think this book does a great job showing the pros and cons of internet fame. Madi is a very fun heroine to follow and she’s someone who loves her fandoms deeply, loves keeping her blog MadLibs busy and stocked with content, and she’s definitely a girl with passions.

I have dealt with what Madi has gone through in this story having worked in the video games industry since 2009. I’ve never had someone go as far as dox me (which geez, I felt terrible for Madi dealing with that), but I’ve definitely had my share of trolls over the years. I think Stone does a fantastic job portraying Madi’s feelings regarding her blog life versus her real one. I found her very easy to connect with, and I’d argue my favourite bits of this novel were all the scenes with her sister Sarah, who is autistic. I think their relationship was just really well portrayed and I like the way in which Sarah grows in the story as well, especially at the end. You get a huge sense that the sisters really care about one another.

I will admit that the mixed media format took a bit to grow on me. I’m not always huge on books that feature chat logs or or Snapchats, and that part of this book did take me a bit to get into. I totally see the appeal and I think many teen readers will definitely gravitate towards that style. Same with the romance in this book: Madi and Laurent are cute, but I wasn’t really in love with their romance. It’s sweet, but it lacked the organicness that I generally like when I read a romance. Still, it’s cute, fluffy, and will give you diabetes.

Internet Famous is a cute, quick read. It’s a book you can fly through in a day and it offers a lot of of fun, as well as some interesting drama. I definitely now want to check out Danika Stone’s All the Feels after reading this one. Like I said, the romance in this book will definitely rot your teeth with sweetness.

ARC Review – Speed of Life, by Carol Weston

Title: Speed of Life

Author: Carol Weston

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Sofia wonders if 14 might be the worst possible age to lose your mom. Talking with her dad about puberty and s-e-x is super-awkward (even though he is a gynecologist). And when she wants to talk about her mom, her friends don’t know what to say and her dad gets sad.

When Sofia discovers Dear Kate, an advice columnist from Fifteen magazine, she’s grateful to have someone to confide in about everything from crushes to mourning—someone who is completely, wonderfully anonymous. It feels ideal—until Sofia’s dad introduces her to his new girlfriend, Katherine Baird, a.k.a., Dear Kate…

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

If I am being honest, I wasn’t prepared for Speed of Life. Having read and adored Carol Weston’s Ava and Pip series, Speed of Life feels vastly different in a lot of ways. I felt a lot for the heroine, Sofia, who spends a lot of this novel trying to cope with the loss of her mother and the fact that her father is dating someone new.

A lot of Sofia’s feelings regarding the loss of her mother really resonated with me. I lost my mother last April and I admit, I’m still feeling a lot of grief and sadness. When Sofia talks about her smell, her clothes, anything reminiscent of her, I admit, it left me feeling really emotional. A lot of her feelings, people telling her how to deal with her grief, she’s super justified in her feelings. While I wouldn’t be brave enough to confide in someone such as “Dear Kate,” I thought this was an interesting way to tell the first half of Sofia’s story, especially given that Kate becomes the love interest.

There’s good characters in this series, even if the writing has some awkward moments — preferably at the beginning when reader’s are introduced to Kiki, Sofia’s bestie and “Dear Kate.” The story does fall on the much younger spectrum of YA — it’s not a bad thing, but I admit given the amount of YA I read, this threw me off a bit at first (the beginning reads so much closer to a middle grade novel to me). However, I think Weston dos do a great job of showing the reader a story where transition during a period of grief is challenging, even terrifying at times.

I think the support characters in this story are really well done. Kiki kind of urked me at first, but as the story went on she started to really grow on me. Same with Alexa and Kate. Weston’s characters are flawed in a great way — they aren’t likable at first but they are constantly trying to redeem themselves. Even Sofia’s dad, who you can tell is constantly trying to stay strong for his daughter. There is so much character growth in this story, and I love the way the book tries to acknowledge to the reader that change isn’t always a bad thing. It can be scary, but you never know what may be in store for you.

Speed of Life is a great read and one that offers a lot of depth to its readers. There’s great characters with a lot of heart and humour. Sofia is someone who becomes so strong and thoughtful throughout the course of the story. I really enjoyed my time with this book, and definitely would recommend it to younger YA readers.

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.