Tag Archives: contemporary

Late to the Party ARC Review – Tiny Infinities by J.H. Diehl

Title: Tiny Infinities

Author: J.H. Diehl

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: When Alice’s dad moves out, leaving her with her troubled mother, she does the only thing that feels right: she retreats to her family’s old Renaissance tent in the backyard, determined to live there until her dad comes home. In an attempt to keep at least one part of her summer from changing, Alice focuses on her quest to swim freestyle fast enough to get on her swim team’s record board. But summers contain multitudes, and soon Alice meets an odd new friend, Harriet, whose obsession with the school’s science fair is equal only to her conviction that Alice’s best stroke is backstroke, not freestyle. Most unexpected of all is an unusual babysitting charge, Piper, who is mute—until Alice hears her speak. 

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This book was very much a slow burn for me as far as middle grade reads are concerned. This is a book about loss, change, friendships, and swimming. When Alice’s father leaves her family, she decides to take refuge in his old Renaissance tent in the backyard. Her summer is showing constant change, as she meets a new girl who loves science, but is a bit odd. She meets a girl who is a mute that she attempts to befriend, and she spends her days learning that perhaps difference and change isn’t such a bad thing.

Alice’s story is one I think a lot of readers will be able to relate to. She’s learning to deal with her family getting a divorce, she’s determined to try and stop her world for changing. Alice is lovable as a heroine — she’s stubborn, determined, and a bit shy. She’s a character I think a lot of readers will connect with because she goes through events in her life that are challenging, and there is such an unknown feeling to the changes she encounters.

I also really liked the writing in this book, even if the story was a tad slow. I did find Harriet, Alice’s newfound friend, to be a bit of a difficult character. At times she read very robotically, though that may stem from the fact that she is very intelligent and somewhat socially awkward. I think she’s a character kids may have some trouble with just because her vocabulary is so advanced compared to other children in the story, but I think given how she is portrayed, it makes a lot of sense.

I enjoyed my time with Tiny Infinities. I loved it’s message about how adapting to change can be wonderful and rewarding, and I loved that as a middle grade story, it had subject matters that kids could relate to, but they were still complex enough to be challenging. I definitely look forward to recommending this to more patient middle grade readers. I don’t recommend this for readers looking for a fast paced adventure, because that doesn’t exist here.

Advertisements

ARC Review – Breakout by Kate Messner

Title: Breakout

Author: Kate Messner

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Nora Tucker is looking forward to summer vacation in Wolf Creek–two months of swimming, popsicles, and brushing up on her journalism skills for the school paper. But when two inmates break out of the town’s maximum security prison, everything changes. Doors are locked, helicopters fly over the woods, and police patrol the school grounds. Worst of all, everyone is on edge, and fear brings out the worst in some people Nora has known her whole life. Even if the inmates are caught, she worries that home might never feel the same.

Told in letters, poems, text messages, news stories, and comics–a series of documents Nora collects for the Wolf Creek Community Time Capsule Project–Breakout is a thrilling story that will leave readers thinking about who’s really welcome in the places we call home.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Breakout wasn’t what I thought it would be for a middle grade novel. It is a mixed media novel filled with comics, letters, text messages, and documents that are collected. It’s also based on a jail breakout that occurred in 2015 and the grinding halt it put a town into.

This book took me awhile to read. The first half moved so quickly, to the point where I was pretty swept up in the story. Then I hit the middle and the book came to this weird, grinding halt for me. I mixed media style wasn’t engaging me anymore and if I am being honest, the main fault of this book is that it’s actually a bit too long for it’s own good, and I feel like parts of it could have easily been edited down.

That being said, I loved the social activism in this book. Nora, Elidee, and Lizzie, are very engaged young adults who are trying to understand fear mongering, depression, discomfort, and alienation. The Wolf Creek Community is shocked to its core when two inmates break out of the nearby prison. Nora, Elidee and Lizzie talk about how the adults project onto them, while also writing to a future generation who may not realize what this situation has done to the community.

What I like about Kate Messner’s novels is that they always have an element of excitement to them. They are engaging, exciting, and they have such a consistent flow for readers. This book has all that, but it’s interesting seeing the level of discomfort in the story, and that felt new here. I will also point out, I love the recommendations that Messner put into the back of the book and I definitely want to check out all the books on those lists that I haven’t read yet.

While I didn’t enjoy Breakout as much as The Exact Location of Home, I still think this is going to be a great middle grade novel for readers who love stories that are different. I think this book will kindle the interest of middle graders who are interested in social activism and understanding justice. I think it will spark great conversation as well, and I look forward to recommending it to many of my middle grade readers at the library!

ARC Review – 9 Days and 9 Nights by Katie Cotugno

Title: 9 Days and 9 Nights

Author: Katie Cotugno

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Molly Barlow isn’t that girl anymore. A business major at her college in Boston, she’s reinvented herself after everything that went down a year ago . . . after all the people she hurt and the family she tore apart.

Slowly, life is getting back to normal. Molly has just said “I love you” to her new boyfriend, Ian, and they are off on a romantic European vacation together, starting with scenic London. But there on a Tube platform, the past catches up to her in the form of Gabe, her ex, traveling on his own parallel vacation with new girlfriend Sadie.

After comparing itineraries, Ian ends up extending an invite for Gabe and Sadie to join them on the next leg of their trip, to Ireland. Sadie, who’s dying to go there, jumps at the prospect. And Molly and Gabe can’t bring themselves to tell the truth about who they once were to each other to their new significant others.

Now Molly has to spend nine days and nine nights with the boy she once loved, the boy whose heart she shredded, without Ian knowing. Will she make it through as new, improved Molly, or will everything that happened between her and Gabe come rushing back?

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I love Katie Cotugno’s books. I don’t read a lot of pure romance, but I find a lot of her books deal with love and tougher issues. I adored How to Love and Top Ten, but 99 Days had some moments that were hit-and-miss for me. I loathed Gabe, and I found Molly struggled as a character in ways that weren’t entirely redemptive.

9 Days and 9 Nights, I feel, was a much better book than its predecessor. Molly has moved to Boston, she’s learning to become the person she’s always wanted to be, and it’s great to see her grow. She’s dating a new guy, still might somewhat be hung up on Gabe still, but she’s dealing. The main story looks at how Molly is changing as an individual, and if she’ll get her happy ending.

I want to praise the discussion of abortion in this book. Cotugno handles this subject matter with such directness and empathy. We get to see how this choice was made and how others respond to it, and I appreciate that the book looked at this subject matter. You see how it impacts Molly, and you get a sense of how difficult a choice this was. I also was so happy to see that she had support throughout the story, which you don’t often see.

I still had the hardest time with Gabe, but that’s because I generally dislike his kind of male persona. The “dominate, has no faults, likes to mansplain” type nonsense. I enjoyed the push-and-pull between he and Molly thought, and I like that she forces him to see things from her perspective and really, she helps him get his head out of his butt.

I feel like 9 Days and 9 Nights was a far superior to 99 Days. If you struggled with Molly in the first book, I feel like she is a much more solid heroine this time around. She still can be unlikable, but at least there is growth in her character that didn’t feel like it was entirely there in the first book. Katie Cotugno still manages to show that she is a queen when it comes to handling tough issues in young adult.

ARC Review – Past Tense by Star Spider

Title: Past Tense

Author: Star Spider

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Julie Nolan is a pretty average girl with pretty average problems. She’s been in love with her best friend, Lorelei, ever since they met in grade three. Only Lorelei doesn’t know about it — she’s too busy trying to set Julie up with Henry, her ex, who Julie finds, in a word, vapid.

But life gets more complicated when Julie comes home to find her mother insisting that her heart is gone. Pretty soon it becomes clear: Julie’s mom believes that she has died.

How is Julie supposed to navigate her first year of high school now, while she’s making midnight trips to the graveyard to cover her mother with dirt, lay flowers and make up eulogies? And why is Henry the only person Julie feels comfortable turning to? If she wants to get through this, Julie’s going to have to find the strength she never knew she had, and to learn how to listen to both her mom’s heart and her own.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel when Past Tense showed up in my mailbox. It looked like a story that was going to play with my heartstrings, though I admit, it took me awhile to get into.

Our heroine Julie is in love with her bestfriend Lorelei, and her mother has a rare disease, where she insists that she is, in fact, has died. Notdying, has already died, how weird and different is that? I will say, that aspect of the story was what drew me to the book in the first place — the idea that someone believes they have already died… I admit, I wondered what that would be like to read about. Julie has it truly difficult given she is trying to understand her own sexuality, on top of now having to work with her mother to try and make her see, that she hasn’t died at all.

I will say, this book was slow going at first. Julie is a challenging character to connect with, although she did grow on me as the story went on. In a lot of ways, what I liked about the story is we are seeing Julie being forced into adulthood a lot quicker than she’d like, and this aspect is done well. You can see the cogs turning in her mind, trying to understand and cope with all her newfound feelings and anxiety, and I liked that about the book. I also liked how she grows throughout the story, especially when dealing with her mother.

That being said, I was a bit uncomfortable with the Lorelei plotline. Not so much in Julie’s interest, which I thought were great, but there were some decisions in how Lorelei’s story developed that made me cringe a bit. I like how Julie deals with this situation, but I feel like the way this situation was handle hit a few of my trigger points. I also just didn’t like her as a character, and I felt how she treated Julie and her feelings to just be manipulative, shallow and utter deplorable to say the least. I liked Henry, though much like Julie, he has a slow burn for growth, and in his situation, it actually works super well.

Overall, I did really enjoy Past Tense and I think it’s worth checking out. While I loved the aspects of sexuality identity and exploration, there are parts of this book that just didn’t work for me. There’s a lot of great messages in this book and many of the characters do see some excellent growth, it’s just a shame that other characters come across much more one dimensional than I’d like.

ARC Review – Here So Far Away by Hadley Dyer

Title: Here So Far Away

Author: Hadley Dyer

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Feisty and fearless George Warren (given name: Frances, but no one calls her that) has never let life get too serious. Now that she’s about to be a senior, her plans include partying with her tight-knit group of friends and then getting the heck out of town after graduation.

But instead of owning her last year of high school, a fight with her best friend puts her on the outs of their social circle.  If that weren’t bad enough, George’s family has been facing hard times since her father, a police sergeant, got injured and might not be able to return to work, which puts George’s college plans in jeopardy.

So when George meets Francis, an older guy who shares her name and her affinity for sarcastic banter, she’s thrown. If she lets herself, she’ll fall recklessly, hopelessly in love. But because of Francis’s age, she tells no one—and ends up losing almost everything, including herself.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I had the pleasure of meeting Hadley Dyer at the OLA Superconference earlier this year, and she was a joy to chat with. Her debut YA novel was something I could tell was close to her heart, and focused on some darker subject matters that for me as a contemporary fan, I easily gravitate towards. George (also known as Frances) is one of those heroines who goes through so much growing up in one story and what she deals with is something I feel like people may have a hard time accepting.

This book looks at an older male relationship at its core. George meets a man named Francis who shares her love of witty banter and sarcasm, but he’s nearly ten years older. For those who are uncomfortable by an older male relationship in a story, this likely might not be the book for you. I do want to stress though what an interesting and deep character Francis is given he knows that he shouldn’t be with such a younger woman, and to the point where you see it as something he struggles with. His relationship with George is one where you can see all the cogs in their brains turning, they know they shouldn’t, and it’s a point they debate frequently in the story. I was worried this would squick me out because normally I am not good with this aspect in a story, but here I appreciated that Francis wasn’t predatory in any way.

Frankly, I love both characters too. I think outside of the relationship aspect both George and Francis grow so much in this story, and there’s a genuineness in the way they are written. They learn from each other, you see that they want to be better people even for each other, but neither of them are necessary in a good emotional place to be in a proper relationship. I think Dyer writes this relationship in such a way where both characters are so well developed that they feel very realistic in their feelings and approaches towards each other.

I loved George. I saw myself in her, especially in that she uses self-deprecating humour and sarcasm as a means to hide her true self — someone who is isolated, afraid, and living with series doubts regarding her family situation (he father can no longer work), how she’ll pay for college, if she’s able to repair her friendships, and come to terms with whatever it is she has with Francis. You see a heroine who makes terrible choices, behaves in unlikable ways, and yet she’s someone we all know, and for me I can appreciate the layers that she has. I won’t lie and say I didn’t yell at the book with some of the decisions she made (I yelled a lot), but part of me knew that George is so smart and sharp and yet she knows the decisions she makes are bad and she’s okay with it.

This book was such a slow burn for me, but it’s one I grew to appreciate as I read on. I loved Dyer’s writing style and I found it so engaging. This is not the kind of book you can just whip through as there is so many little nuances within the story that I feel like on a second reading, I may enjoy even more.

ARC Review – Rebound (The Crossover 0.5) by Kwame Alexander

Title: For Every One

Author: Jason Reynolds

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Before Josh and Jordan Bell were streaking up and down the court, their father was learning his own moves. In this prequel to Newbery Medal winner The Crossover, Chuck Bell takes center stage, as readers get a glimpse of his childhood and how he became the jazz music worshipping, basketball star his sons look up to.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I loved The Crossover when I read it last year, and it was the second novel by Kwame Alexander that I’ve read. Rebound is a prequel novel that focuses on Charlie Bell, father to Josh and Jordan Bell. Charlie’s story looks at growing up, what it means to come from nothing but demanding to be someone.

I will say I really did enjoy this book, though it didn’t hook me the way Alexander’s other books have. While I loved some of the poems, others didn’t click as well with me. The other issue is I wasn’t often fond of Charlie or his decisions in the story, and I found him much more difficult to connect with compared to Josh. I still say though that I did love the themes that were present in Charlie’s story, and it was interesting to read his thoughts and feelings known how he was presented in The Crossover. There is still a sense of hope, to be a better person, to want to do better and be successful — all messages that anyone can relate to, and especially growing up in the 1980’s which this book takes place in, as the 1980’s ever an interesting period of self-discovery.

I do think if you loved The Crossover that Rebound is completely worth checking out. While I didn’t have the same emotional investment, I still loved seeing Charlie’s transformation even if I couldn’t connect with him the same way I did Josh. As always, I love reading Kwame Alexander’s books, especially about sports given he always makes me feel as a reader like I can accomplish anything with sports metaphors.

ARC Review – Sunny (Track #3) by Jason Reynolds

Title: Sunny (Track #3)

Author:  Jason Reynolds

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Ghost. Patina. Sunny. Lu. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds, with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics. They all have a lot of lose, but they all have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves. Sunny is the main character in this novel, the third of four books in Jason Reynold’s electrifying middle grade series.

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

Sam’s Review:

As many of you know, I am an insane Jason Reynolds fangirl. I started reading his books last year and since then have read everything he has published to date. When Simon & Schuster Canada sent me a package of Jason Reynolds books, I was rolling on the floor in utter delight. The Track series is one of my favourite middle grade reads and one I constantly recommend to parents who have reluctant readers in their lives.

In Sunny, our track team takes an interesting turn. Sunny finds track too easy and debates leaving his teammates behind to peruse his new passion — dance. Concerned about the feelings of his teammates but struggling with his own desires, Sunny fells somewhat broken as he writes in his diary. I think Sunny’s story is one we all go through just in various stages. A loss of passion for something you’ve done your whole life, letting others down for “selfish desire,” wanting to try to appease both sides, the reader truly gets a sense of Sunny’s struggle throughout.

I loved Sunny’s relationship with Aurelia, who helps him get into dance in the first place. You get to see what a good influence she is on him and she helps Sunny to see that while choices are hard, it’s what makes you the most happy. When you are a kid, that is really hard advice to take (even as an adult it’s hard advice to take). I loved Sunny though, and I kept wanting him to pursue his dreams.

The Track series is just so impeccably written and stories being told are easy to relate to. Ghost, Patty, Sunny and Lu are kids that are easy to connect with and you want to see them succeed no matter what. If you haven’t read this series, I urge you to check it out!