Tag Archives: contemporary

Late to the Party ARC Review – Kat and Meg Conquer the World by Anna Priemaza

Title: at and Meg Conquer the World

Author: Anna Priemaza

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Kat and Meg couldn’t be more different. Kat’s anxiety makes it hard for her to talk to people. Meg hates being alone, but her ADHD keeps pushing people away. But when the two girls are thrown together for a year-long science project, they discover they do have one thing in common: They’re both obsessed with the same online gaming star and his hilarious videos.

It might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship—if they don’t kill each other first.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

One thing I’ve often disliked in contemporary YA is the lack of friendships between girls. I mean the genuine, well-meaning, kind of friendships where there is mutual respect between the characters. Stories about friendship often have more to do with romance, but what I loved about Kat and Meg Conquer the World is that the friendship is the large focus, while the girls also attempt to conquer their mental illnesses while maybe like-liking a cute boy here and there.

Priemaza’s debut is wonderful. There’s a distinct difference in Kat and Meg’s voices, and I found myself able to visualize what the girls were doing, how they were behaving, and of course, the video game they are both obsessed with. It is so AWESOME to see girl gamers being represented in stories without it being a quirk in their character. There’s a lot of care and attention to detail in the way in which the girls interact with the MMORPG that they play online, and how online culture can feed into mental illness, in Kat’s case anxiety and depression, and Meg’s ADHD. Even the way in which mental illness is represented in this novel is just very thoughtful and mindful of those who suffer from them.

I adored Kat and Meg Concuer the Universe because it’s such a true-to-life story with fangirls who want to be accepted by others, but ultimately themselves. Kat and Meg’s friendship is easily one of the strongest and most complex part of this story, and it’s so easy to fall in love with the characters and root for them when they succeed and feel empathy when they fail. I urge people to check this book out, especially if you’re looking for a story with complex female friendships and ya don’t mind a dash of gamer culture.

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ARC Review – Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills

Title: Foolish Hearts

Author: Emma Mills

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: A contemporary novel about a girl whose high school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream leads her to new friends—and maybe even new love.

The day of the last party of the summer, Claudia overhears a conversation she wasn’t supposed to. Now on the wrong side of one of the meanest girls in school, Claudia doesn’t know what to expect when the two are paired up to write a paper—let alone when they’re both forced to try out for the school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

But mandatory participation has its upsides—namely, an unexpected friendship, a boy band obsession, and a guy with the best dimpled smile Claudia’s ever seen. As Claudia’s world starts to expand, she finds that maybe there are some things worth sticking her neck out for.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I swear when it comes to writing friendship stories, Emma Mills always knocks it out of the park. What I love about Foolish Hearts is that this is a story about an unlikely friendship through boy band fandom.

Claudia and Iris do not seem like the kind of people who would be friends, but when Iris and her girlfriend Paige suffer a nasty break up, Iris is forced to work with Claudia to work on a school paper, as well as the school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. However, one day while working on said project, Claudia learns that Iris loves TION (or This Is Our Now), a boy band that takes over every inch of her bedroom wall. They begin to foster a friendship through their love of TION, and it is adorable.

What I love about Emma Mills’ books is that they are very genuine, her heroines very believable, and it’s always chock full of humour and heart. I adored the characters in this story, I loved the building of Claudia and Iris’ friendship, and I loved all the feelings this book gave me. Even the romance between Claudia and Gideon was adorkable. I just loved everything about this story and the cast and I just found myself in such a happy state of mind while I was reading this book.

Reading an Emma Mills book is like comfort food. It’s happiness and fun, and I just love what she does with her characters. Much like This Adventure Ends, I feel like Foolish Hearts is just such a memorable read, and I will continue to support Emma Mills if she continues to keep writing fannish, fluffy, contemporary novels.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Ban This Book by Alan Gratz

Title: Ban This Book

Author: Alan Gratz

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: An inspiring tale of a fourth-grader who fights back when her favorite book is banned from the school library–by starting her own illegal locker library!

It all started the day Amy Anne Ollinger tried to check out her favorite book in the whole world, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, from the school library. That’s when Mrs. Jones, the librarian, told her the bad news: her favorite book was banned! All because a classmate’s mom thought the book wasn’t appropriate for kids to read.

Amy Anne decides to fight back by starting a secret banned books library out of her locker. Soon, she finds herself on the front line of an unexpected battle over book banning, censorship, and who has the right to decide what she and her fellow students can read.

Reminiscent of the classic novel Frindle by Andrew Clements for its inspiring message, Ban This Book is a love letter to the written word and its power to give kids a voice.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I enjoyed Ban This Book. It’s the story of a girl whose favourite library book has been removed from her school’s collection on the challenge by one parent. This parent then uses her power of the school to have other popular titles banned so that they cannot be enjoyed by others.
Our heroine, Amy Anne, tries to go to a school board meeting to speak out against this decision, but she afraid and in the end doesn’t. Mad at herself for not fighting back in that instance, she begins to hide popular banned books in her locker for the students at her school to check out. It’s a story about trying to make changes and have other’s make formulate their own opinions before books should be challenged.

Ban This Book has a lot of charm to it as Amy Anne and her friends are very cute, and you gotta love their gusto about preserving and sharing books regardless of content. I will admit that parts of the writing style did annoy me at times (especially any time ‘she wanted to say this, but instead didn’t,’ which is mentioned far too many times). However, despite my gripes, I love how this book was a love letter to banned books, and it was great to see a history of popular banned items shared throughout the story. I also loved that it shows such a level of love and respect to library workers and what kinds of complicated feelings go into collections and ensuring that everyone has equal access to materials.

I believe that Ban This Book has a wonderful and important message about censorship and the freedom to read. It’s a great middle grade novel that will introduce readers to so many books that have been banned or challenged, what the reasoning was and how people come together all in the name of literacy.

ARC Review – Kids Like Us by Hilary Reyl

Title: Kids Like Us

Author: Hilary Reyl

Rating: ★★

Synopsis: Martin is an American teen on the autism spectrum living in France with his mom and sister for the summer. He falls for a French girl who he thinks is a real-life incarnation of a character in his favorite book. Over time Martin comes to realize she is a real person and not a character in a novel while at the same time learning that love is not out of his reach just because he is autistic.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I was so excited when I received Kids Like Us because I have been wanting to read more stories that focus on characters with autism. I think my expectations were a bit too high, because when I started the book I was into it, then I hit the middle and wasn’t enjoying it, and then the ending happened. It was an interesting ending.

I think my biggest problem with this book is the very stilted narration. Martin’s voice, though I’m sure could be authentic, is very awkward. It also does one of my bookish pet peeves where the main character will say a word and then define it for the reader. It’s also a hard book to enjoy because I think at times Martin’s voice would fluctuate between a middle grader or a high schooler. The book is also so, so, so slow and given how short the book is, I found myself not liking the meandering pace that it had.

I see value in a story such as Kids Like Us, but ultimately I feel like it wasn’t to my taste, even as a reader who loves tough issue YA. Still, I feel like I did learn a lot about autism, but I’ve heard there are definitely better books out there on the subject. I think with the right reader this book can have the emotional impact I think it was trying to have, but it just didn’t work for me.

Late to the Party ARC Review – They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

Title: They Both Die at the End

Author: Adam Silvera

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure and to live a lifetime in a single day.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I read this book in two long sittings. I was glued to the pages and intrigued by the concept of The Last Friend app and Death-Cast calls. The idea of having a phone call tell you that it’s your last day to live is utterly terrifying, but also a bizarre motivator to attempt to live your last day to the fullest. Silvera pulls no punches with this story — it’s emotional, it’s raw, and it’s going to hurt like hell.

As the title suggests, Mateo and Rufus are going to die at the end of the story. The problem with this is that Silvera makes you fall deeply in love with both boys so that when this happens it rips your heart out and the belief in love is destroyed. You never truly feel ready for the impact of the end of this book and that’s probably why it works so well. There’s moments where Silvera tries to fake out the reader in when the boys are going to die and it just pulls at the heartstrings.

I loved Mateo and Rufus. Mateo’s anxiety, his father being in a coma, and his fears of leaving the world without real accomplishment was something I truly could empathize with. He doesn’t hold himself in high regard, but once he meets Rufus you see Mateo come out of his shell, even if it almost feels like it’s too late. As for Rufus, he’s a character that understands the kinds of wrong-doings he’s committed, and you get a large sense that he wants to atone for past action and strive to be someone better… even if he only gets a day to do it. In a lot of ways that’s why this story works so well is you’re seeing all these positive changes in these characters, but you know that this is all brought down because it’s their last day to be alive.

I even liked the side characters, especially Aimee and Lidia. I feel like they added a lot of characterization to both Mateo and Rufus. I also liked the little vignettes of other people in the story either receiving the call or not and how that affects their day or last day for that matter. They are cleverly done and just as punch as the main story.

And it hurts so much. I cried, I was angry, I felt tired after finishing this book because my feelings were all over the place. They Both Die at the End was a heavy, emotional read for me, but it was one I flew through because I found myself connecting so deeply with the story and it’s characters. There is no right headspace for reading this book, just remember that the title rings true and that you’re going to need a lot of tissues to get through this one.

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner

Title: The Exact Location of Home

Author:  Kate Messner

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Kirby “Zig” Zigonski lives for the world of simple circuits, light bulbs, buzzers, and motors. Electronics are, after all, much more predictable than most people–especially his father, who he hasn’t seen in over a year. When his dad’s latest visit is canceled with no explanation and his mom seems to be hiding something, Zig turns to his best friend Gianna and a new gizmo–a garage sale GPS unit–for help. Convinced that his dad is leaving clues around town to explain his absence, Zig sets out to find him. Following one clue after another, logging mile after mile, Zig soon discovers that people aren’t always what they seem . . . and sometimes, there’s more than one set of coordinates for home.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

What a delightful and heartwarming read! I have never read any of Kate Messner’s books, but I have only heard good things from sources I trust. With it being Fall, I was itching to read some middle grade and this one caught my eye in the pile of ARCs I had.

This book is about Kirby, a boy who loves circuits and creating. He’s intelligent, a little awkward, and he’s trying to see if he can both help his mother out because their finances isn’t so hot, and also find his father. What’s intriguing about the novel and Kirby’s desire to find his father, is that Kirby falls in love with geocaching, and uses all of his father’s clues to locate where he has gone. What’s fun about the novel is that Messner makes the reader feel like they are helping Kirby along the way in terms of finding his father through the puzzles and clues.

I also loved the friendship between Kirby and Gianna. Gianna really forces Kirby out of his shell throughout the story and she is such a supportive and kind best friend. It’s wonderful to see friendships between boys and girls in a story that is completely platonic. I also loved Kirby’s relationship with his mother and his desire to try and help her any way he could. He’s a great hero to follow.

The Exact Location of Home is a wonderful, heartfelt romp that balances humour with raw emotion. I can’t wait to check out other books by Kate Messner now, because this one made me a fan!

ARC Review – Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Title: Wishtree

Author: Katherine Applegate

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood “wishtree”—people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. Along with her crow friend Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this “wishtree” watches over the neighborhood.

You might say Red has seen it all. Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experiences as a wishtree are more important than ever.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Katherine Applegate is a household name in middle grade fiction when it comes to writing emotionally charged stories that linger with you long after reading. Much like The One and Only Ivan, Wishtree is one of those stories that seems simple on the surface, but offers so much more below the surface.

This story is about a tree named Red, who is the neighbourhood ‘wishtree.’ They are a large part of the community, with people in the area pinning their wishes on them, hoping they would come true. Not only does Applegate give us the stories of all the neighbourhood residents, but we see this all through Red’s perspective, with our tree offering their opinion, sympathy and kindness.

I also want to point out how much I learned about trees when reading this book. I didn’t realize that trees are multigendered! I also loved learning about their growth as well. It seems appropriate that Red doesn’t have a gender construct given how all-knowing they are. I also liked Red’s friendship with Bongo the crow, and how they would watch the neighbours, trying to understand their wishes.

This is a book was difference and a community coming together. Given the fear of ‘others’ that exists in the world right now, this story shows multiculturalism in a way that shows difference, but how people <i>should</i> be better to one another. The families in this story all want what is best for themselves, but they also wish to help others. It’s a good message, and for those who love stories from a more unique perspective, look no further than Wishtree.