Tag Archives: contemporary fiction

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.

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.