Tag Archives: contemporary

ARC Review – Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman

Title: Girl Out of Water

Author: Laura Silverman

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Anise Sawyer plans to spend every minute of summer with her friends: surfing, chowing down on fish tacos drizzled with wasabi balsamic vinegar, and throwing bonfires that blaze until dawn. But when a serious car wreck leaves her aunt, a single mother of three, with two broken legs, it forces Anise to say goodbye for the first time to Santa Cruz, the waves, her friends, and even a kindling romance, and fly with her dad to Nebraska for the entire summer. Living in Nebraska isn’t easy. Anise spends her days caring for her three younger cousins in the childhood home of her runaway mom, a wild figure who’s been flickering in and out of her life since birth, appearing for weeks at a time and then disappearing again for months, or even years, without a word.

Complicating matters is Lincoln, a one-armed, charismatic skater who pushes Anise to trade her surfboard for a skateboard. As Anise draws closer to Lincoln and takes on the full burden and joy of her cousins, she loses touch with her friends back home – leading her to one terrifying question: will she turn out just like her mom and spend her life leaving behind the ones she loves.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This book unexpectedly resonated with me in more ways than one. It’s wonderful to think that a book about a girl being transplanted into different circumstances beyond her control would have such a profound effect on me, but here we are.

I found this book a bit difficult at first — something about the writing didn’t hook me right away, and yet I found this compulsion to keep going to see if it was me or the book. It was me. Once I got further into the book I found myself really gelling with the writing. Anise’s story is one of feeling like she has lost her place and needs to in some ways, rebuild again. It’s a feeling I found myself completely empathizing with her as someone in similar circumstances. Anise’s change throughout this summer is one that is both memorizing as it is engaging. She’s a very lovable character, wearing her flaws very much out in the open.

What I loved about the story on a whole is how funny and sincere it is. There is a genuineness to the characters that I found impeccable, and watching the characters grow and develop alongside Anise in the story was a delight. I loved Lincoln and I thought he was a wonderful partner to Anise. Silverman also does something I wish more YA books did: make the romance feel organic to the overall story. It’s not love at first sight, they are friends first! We need more of that! I also loved Anise’s relationship with Emery and her cousins. It was funny, charming, and so sad too.

I am so glad I stuck with Girl Out of Water, because it’s one of those books that I found so enchanting. It filled me with so many emotions as I was reading it, and it’s the kind of book that left me thinking about life and the way in which things can change and how we sometimes have to adapt, even though it’s frightening at times. If you love contemporary, this book needs to be on your radar.

ARC Review – I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo

Title: I Believe in a Thing Called Love

Author: Maurene Goo

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Desi Lee knows how carburetors work. She learned CPR at the age of five. As a high school senior, she has never missed a day of school and has never had a B in her entire life. She’s for sure going to Stanford. But—she’s never had a boyfriend. In fact, she’s a disaster in romance, a clumsy, stammering humiliation-magnet whose botched attempts at flirting have become legendary with her friends. So when the hottest human specimen to have ever lived walks into her life one day, Desi decides to tackle her flirting failures with the same zest she’s applied to everything else in her life. She finds her answer in the Korean dramas her father has been obsessively watching for years—where the hapless heroine always seems to end up in the arms of her true love by episode ten. It’s a simple formula, and Desi is a quick study. Armed with her “K Drama Rules for True Love,” Desi goes after the moody, elusive artist Luca Drakos—and boat rescues, love triangles, and fake car crashes ensue. But when the fun and games turn to true feels, Desi finds out that real love is about way more than just drama. 

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I Believe in a Thing Called Love is one of those books that I cover lusted. The colour scheme, the adorable girl on the cover, it got me really excited. Then I found out it was a book about a girl looking for love the K Drama way and I was instantly sold. Desi is a wonderful heroine full of humour and kindness, and she wears her heart on her sleeve. She is someone I feel like readers will fall in love with.

What instantly sold me on this story was Desi’s relationship with her Appa (father). There was something so tender and sweet in their relationship, and they both draw strength from one another. It makes for a wonderful relationship to watch develop as the story hits its stride. It’s also so darling when the two are sharing in their love of K Drama. It filled my heart with happy joy and made me want to pick up on watching K Dramas as well. I also want to point out the handy K Drama guide that was at the end of the book was SO HELPFUL for K Drama noobs. I think the only one I had seen that had been mentioned was Full House!

I actually also loved the romance between Desi and Luka. Usually I find YA romance to be very blindsided and it often doesn’t feel very organic. While Desi is using K Drama to try and woo Luka, their relationship was actually very well plotted and developed, even right down to the climax. It’s one of those books where I genuinely found myself attached to the romance. I also will say I LOVED Desi’s friends and I appreciate that they felt like friends instead of the typical “friends without development” that exists in YA as well. There’s one bit of this book that I loved between Desi and Violet and it really solidified how important friendship truly is.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love is adorable, funny, and light-hearted. It’s one of those stories you’ll both laugh and cry through because there is just so much going on. I hope more readers fall in love with Desi — she’s truly quite a special protagonist.

ARC Review – Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

Title: Ramona Blue

Author: Julie Murphy

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever.

Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she’s fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family. Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I really loved Julie Murphy’s Side Effects May Very, despite it being such a polarizing novel. I have yet to read Dumplin’ (seriously, I need to get on that), and skipped my way to Ramona Blue, a book that had some polarizing conversations up until it’s release.

Truthfully, I found the novel very engaging throughout. Yes, this book, looks at Ramona’s sexuality, and yes it looks at the idea of how she doesn’t want to label herself entirely one way or another. But I think that is just a fraction of what this story is truly about. This story is about self-sacrifice for family, sisters in a bind, and importantly, Ramona trying to figure out who she wants to be and if she wants to stay in Eulogy for the rest of her life.

I think Julie Murphy does an amazing job walking the reader through Ramona’s journey. Ramona is a complicated character who is trying to figure out what is the right course of action regarding her family, as well as herself. I loved her as a character, and I constantly found myself empathizing with Ramona because I found her easy to connect with. I’ve done a lot of what she has in terms of putting others over myself, and like Ramona, there’s no regret. It’s interesting to watch Ramona’s complicated life grow and transform throughout the course of the story, and that made it all the more engaging.

I also loved Ramona’s friends and I thought they were wonderfully developed. I found Grace frustrating at times, but I also feel like I could understand where she was coming from when it came to her feelings for Ramona. Her feelings for Freddie in the story are conflicting, but I think it also shows how Ramona is growing, and I think there’s an interesting conversation presented in this book about labeling one’s self. There is no man saving Ramona in this story, or no man changing who she is — that’s not the discussion this book is presenting. The conversation that is apparent is about learning who you are and who you want to become. If I am being honest, the romance wasn’t a huge deal breaker for me like it was others — I liked it, but I adored the parts about Ramona’s self-discovery and her family life more.

Ramona Blue is a wonderful story about growing up in a situation where you are forced into adulthood at an early age. It’s about discovering oneself and trying to figure out who you want to be. There is is so much depth and complexity to this novel, and I think despite the controversy, people should read it before making a judgement call.

ARC Review – When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Title: When Dimple Met Rishi

Author: Sandhya Menon

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: A laugh-out-loud, heartfelt YA romantic comedy, told in alternating perspectives, about two Indian-American teens whose parents have arranged for them to be married.

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

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

Sam’s Review:

Ever since I saw the cover for When Dimple Met Rishi, I knew I wanted to read this book. When I read the synopsis, I knew I wanted to read this book. I had this book super hyped in my head, which is why I think I put off reading it for as long as I did. However, this book didn’t disappoint me! I laughed, I cried, I had many, many feelings throughout the course of it, and I feel like Sandhya Menon is going to be an author watch now.

I loved Dimple from page one. She’s one of those characters with a lot of conviction and determination. She sees herself as a very independent young woman with goals that don’t include marriage right off the bat. Her family wants her to be happy, so they arrange for her to meet with Rishi, a young Indian boy who is on his way to MIT, but has a secret passion for comic book writing.

Both protagonists have strong visions of where they want to be in their lives, but they both also struggle with their family values. It’s part of why I loved the story so much is that both Dimple and Rishi’s troubles felt very raw and real, and Menon gives the reader so much context to what it’s like to be a young Indian-American trying to both love and value yourself, but also respect the wishes of the family. What I also loved is there’s a lot of comedy between the two characters, but their romance blossoms into something that feels very organic. You get a sense that parts of this story were heavily influenced by Bollywood culture, and while that is super noticeable, it doesn’t detract from the kind of romance that Menon is trying to convey between Dimple and Rishi. There’s a lot of skill in finding a balance for this kind of story, and Menon nails it.

I also loved a lot of the supporting characters, and I didn’t feel like they were one note in the slightest. I adored Rishi’s brother, and I loved that he was a typical little brother who also could see how blind his older sibling is. I loved Celia and I thought she was a good counterpart to Dimple’s character in that she keeps her grounded. I LOVED both Dimple and Rishi’s families, particularly Dimple’s family, who made me laugh, smile and you get this huge sense of love from her family.

When Dimple Met Rishi is one of those books that just gives you so many feelings as your reading it, and that is why I loved it so much. It’s the kind of contemporary book that balances so many different aspects of life, but also still manages to craft a romance that is both organic and sweet. If you love romance, this is a book you need to put on your radar ASAP.

ARC Review – That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim

Title: That Thing We Call a Heart

Author: Sheba Karim

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Shabnam Qureshi is a funny, imaginative Pakistani-American teen attending a tony private school in suburban New Jersey. When her feisty best friend, Farah, starts wearing the headscarf without even consulting her, it begins to unravel their friendship. After hooking up with the most racist boy in school and telling a huge lie about a tragedy that happened to her family during the Partition of India in 1947, Shabnam is ready for high school to end. She faces a summer of boredom and regret, but she has a plan: Get through the summer. Get to college. Don’t look back. Begin anew.

Everything changes when she meets Jamie, who scores her a job at his aunt’s pie shack, and meets her there every afternoon. Shabnam begins to see Jamie and herself like the rose and the nightingale of classic Urdu poetry, which, according to her father, is the ultimate language of desire. Jamie finds Shabnam fascinating—her curls, her culture, her awkwardness. Shabnam finds herself falling in love, but Farah finds Jamie worrying.

With Farah’s help, Shabnam uncovers the truth about Jamie, about herself, and what really happened during Partition. As she rebuilds her friendship with Farah and grows closer to her parents, Shabnam learns powerful lessons about the importance of love, in all of its forms.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I will be 100% honest: it wasn’t until I had gone to Harper Collins’ Spring Preview that I had even hard of this book. It didn’t seem like there was a lot of buzz surrounding this one, which is a real shame, because it is a fantastic, punchy little book about family, friendship, religion and first love.

At it’s core That Thing We Call A Heart is really about the friendship between Shabnam and her “former” best friend Farah. The two had a falling out when Farah began to proudly start wearing her headscarf to school without consulting Shabnam. This small but significant incident spirals the two best friends into a situation where they learn to be a part for awhile, but converge on how to make their friendship whole again. There is also a romance involving a non-Muslim boy who is interested in Muslim culture, a father obsessed with Urdu romance poetry but doesn’t see his wife, and a mother who has so much love to give yet seems neglected. A lot happens in this tiny novel, and all of it is interesting.

Honestly, my favourite parts of this novel were the moments between Shabnam and Farah. When they were focusing on their friendship you can see the intense chemistry between the two of them and why they were friends in the first place. Sheba Karim does this amazing job of building the relationship between these two best friends and there is a genuine sense of care and compassion coming from both sides. When Farah begins to question Shabnam’s “relationship” with Jamie, she does it from such a caring standpoint, and while it seems like she may be playing devil’s advocate, you get a very genuine vibe from her that she simply wants what is best for Shabnam. Farah was easily my favourite character in this book, as she has such a fantastic and blunt attitude. We need more badass ladies like her in contemporary YA.

I also loved Shabnam, even though she definitely had some moments that were very frustrating. I think Sheba Karim does a great job of capturing a teenager who is head over heels regarding their first love, and you can feel the this sense that Shabnam truly is in love with Jamie throughout the story. It doesn’t feel trite or forced, it feels like teenage lovesickness — realistic and heartbreaking. I will say, I still kinda didn’t get Jamie’s appeal at all in the story, and that is maybe because he’s not the kind of guy I’d dig in the slightest, but I can respect Shabnam’s interest in the guy, and I do appreciate that he was written in a way where he was trying to understand and respect Muslim culture. I thought that aspect of his character was actually very well done.

Can I also say how much I loved Shabnam’s family? There are so many moments that were so funny and toughing between her and her folks. I thought her mum was adorable and sweet, and I loved how caring she is. I also found Shabnam’s father hilarious and I liked that he made no bones about who he is throughout. They felt like read parents, which in YA often is completely unheard of.

I am so glad I was given the chance to read this book, because when it comes to books that feel genuine from start to finish, That Thing We Call A Heart succeeds. I really adored my time with this book, and I felt like I was able to really connect with the characters in this story, even though I don’t share the same culture as them. I felt like I learned so much about Muslim culture and the importance of family, both birth and chosen. There’s a lot of beauty in this book, and the ending definitely left me heartbroken.

ARC Review – Me and Me by Alice Kuipers

Title: Me and Me

Author: Alice Kuipers

Rating: ★★

Synopsis: It’s Lark’s seventeenth birthday, and although she’s hated to be reminded of the day ever since her mom’s death three years ago, it’s off to a great start. Lark has written a killer song to perform with her band, the weather is stunning and she’s got a date with gorgeous Alec. The two take a canoe out on the lake, and everything is perfect—until Lark hears the screams. Annabelle, a little girl she used to babysit, is drowning in the nearby reeds while Annabelle’s mom tries desperately to reach her. Lark and Alec are closer, and they both dive in. But Alec hits his head on a rock in the water and begins to flail.

Alec and Annabelle are drowning. And Lark can save only one of them.

Lark chooses, and in that moment her world splits into two distinct lives. She must live with the consequences of both choices. As Lark finds herself going down more than one path, she has to decide: Which life is the right one?

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Alice Kuipers is a household name in Canadian YA fiction. Sad to say but this is the first novel of hers that I have read and I really struggled with it. I feel like Me and Me offers such an interesting premise to the reader with Lark’s two different perspectives, but the overall execution was confusing and sloppy. A lot of the time I feel like I didn’t entirely understand what the goal of this story was. Perhaps it boils down to me and the writing not jiving, but I really struggled to care about these characters.

For starters, I really disliked the romance between Lark and Alec. I found it very dull, and I didn’t really feel the emotional connection that compels them to be together. I didn’t feel the drive or the passion, and I again I think it’s because the writing style was trying to be more dreamy, which I wasn’t as huge on. I wanted to love this book given the tough choice and lasting consequence that is supposed to plague Lark through the story, but it didn’t feel compelling, and the level of disconnect towards Lark was ultimately what hindered the story for me. I kept hoping, hoping, hoping that I would find the connection to her that I wanted, but it never came.

I feel like this was a case of me not liking the execution of this story. I feel like for some readers, they would get the larger emotional punch that this story was attempting, but I never found myself personally buying into it. Me and Me is not a bad book in the slightest, this was just definitely a case of it didn’t work for me personally.

ARC Review – Real Friends by Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham

Title: Real Friends

Author:  Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends ever since they were little. But one day, Adrienne starts hanging out with Jen, the most popular girl in class and the leader of a circle of friends called The Group. Everyone in The Group wants to be Jen’s #1, and some girls would do anything to stay on top . . . even if it means bullying others.

Now every day is like a roller coaster for Shannon. Will she and Adrienne stay friends? Can she stand up for herself? And is she in The Group—or out?

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Have you ever read a book that you felt perfectly reflected parts of your life? That’s how I felt when I was reading Real Friends and watching Little!Shannon go through the motions of making friends. Being that this is an autobiographical graphic novel, it’s interesting to see how the artwork and the story co-exist — truthfully, the art does an amazing job capturing this story.

I felt for Shannon throughout the whole book. I was one of those kids who was forced out of “The Group” or was picked last because they didn’t always fit in. I was bullied, shamed, and pushed around. It got to the point where throughout my elementary school years that I really struggled to make friends with other girls (boys, hilariously, no issue). I wanted girl!friends, but when sixth grade began I remember what a dark place I was in. How different I was compared to the other kids in my grade. Like Shannon who was connected to writing her novels and having imagination time, I was similar in my love of drawing, colouring and playing with toys. I always had ongoing plotlines that would span weeks and weeks of “episodes” but by sixth grade, no one thought playing with toys was cool anymore.

And that’s what a lot of this story is about. It’s about Shannon trying to make connections with others while also staying completely true to herself, which in this day and age is hard to do. Children are surrounded with so many new pressures that they lose sight of the person they want to be and become, and I love and appreciate the message that Hale and Pham share throughout this story and being yourself. I found myself nodding a long to the story, cheering for Shannon in her successes, but also having those same possessive feelings when you feel like a friend only belongs to you and no one else (which is totally how kids think when they are young, I did it repeatedly).

I think many kids and adults will love Real Friends and I think it offers some important commentary about what it means to grow up and figure yourself out. Packed with gorgeous artwork and it’s strong storytelling, Real Friends is the perfect book for those in the awkward middle stage, who may need a small helping hand.