Tag Archives: contemporary

Late to the Party ARC Review – Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn

Title: Caterpillar Summer

Author: Gillian McDunn

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Cat and her brother Chicken have always had a very special bond–Cat is one of the few people who can keep Chicken happy. When he has a “meltdown” she’s the one who scratches his back and reads his favorite story. She’s the one who knows what Chicken needs. Since their mom has had to work double-hard to keep their family afloat after their father passed away, Cat has been the glue holding her family together.

But even the strongest glue sometimes struggles to hold. When a summer trip doesn’t go according to plan, Cat and Chicken end up spending three weeks with grandparents they never knew. For the first time in years, Cat has the opportunity to be a kid again, and the journey she takes shows that even the most broken or strained relationships can be healed if people take the time to walk in one another’s shoes.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Caterpillar Summer was a total cover grab for me. There’s something about two adorable children and fishing that just screams a summer read. This book is a gentle look at sibling relationships, grief, and learning to walk in someone else’s shoes, even if it’s for a little while. There’s also a lot about fishing in this book, which definitely gave me fond memories of my childhood at my parent’s cottage.

Cat and Chicken are lovable characters, each with the ability to control each other. It’s very clear that Cat, in particular, has had to grow up very quickly and become responsible for Chicken at such a young age, so it was nice to read a narrative where the author takes that concept and offers the character an opportunity to be a child again. There is such a reluctance from Cat’s character at times, almost as though she is afraid of having the rug swept from under her feet.

There is a kindness and curious nature in that book that makes it a slow, but compelling story. This is very much a character focused story, and one where you are watching both Cat and Chicken grow. I loved their grandparents, and I also appreciated in the story how they were okay with the hesitation from Cat and Chicken given the estrangement. There’s a lot of growing and learning in this story, and I love that both cat and Chicken wear their flaws on their sleeves.

Caterpillar Summer is a lyrical book about childhood and grief, but it’s full of gentleness and hope. Coupled with some beautiful illustrations throughout, if you are someone who loves a softer middle grade story, this one is easily for you.

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ARC Review – The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert

Title: The Revolution of Birdie Randolph

Author: Brandy Colbert

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Dove “Birdie” Randolph works hard to be the perfect daughter and follow the path her parents have laid out for her: She quit playing her beloved soccer, she keeps her nose buried in textbooks, and she’s on track to finish high school at the top of her class. But then Birdie falls hard for Booker, a sweet boy with a troubled past…whom she knows her parents will never approve of.

When her estranged aunt Carlene returns to Chicago and moves into the family’s apartment above their hair salon, Birdie notices the tension building at home. Carlene is sweet, friendly, and open-minded–she’s also spent decades in and out of treatment facilities for addiction. As Birdie becomes closer to both Booker and Carlene, she yearns to spread her wings. But when long-buried secrets rise to the surface, everything she’s known to be true is turned upside down.

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Brandy Colbert has yet to disappointment. Her stories are have such raw portrayals of teens coping with difficult issues, and it’s why I always keep coming back to them. The Revolution of Birdie Randolphlooks at a disjointed relationship between sisters, a girl who is forced to study and has no means of blowing off steam, and a boy who’s been to juvie and is trying to make amends for his actions.

If there is one thing Colbert is a master of, it’s writing family dynamics in such a realistic way. Birdie’s home-life and her relationship with her parents has moments of discomfort, but also moments of joy. I think the book also has some fantastic twists and turns in terms of large scale secrets, and I think Colbert gives the right amount of bread crumbs to get those conclusions. I found myself very engaged by the family plotline (as I usually do), but I actually also liked the relationship storyline between Birdie and Booker (our boy outta juvie) as well. Romance isn’t normally my bag, but this one worked for me most of the time.

I think what I loved about Booker’s character in particular is that he recognizes the kind of harm he caused in his past and he wants to atone and become a better person. I also appreciate how sex-positive this book is, in that he never pressures Birdie into anything either. I feel for Booker through, simply because he gets pigeon-holed by so many people in the story and it takes awhile for people to warm up to him due to his past.

If I am being honest, I really loved all the characters in The Revolution of Birdie Randolph, and I like that the majority of them grow with the story, each with their own flaws. The flaws feel true to the nature of the story and don’t feel shoe-horned in any way. If you’ve read and enjoyed Colbert’s novels in the past, then this book is a no brainer. However, if you’ve been meaning to read Brandy Colbert’s works and haven’t, this one is a pretty good place to start.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Watch Us Rise by Renée Watson & Ellen Hagan

Title: Watch Us Rise

Author: Renée Watson & Ellen Hagan

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Jasmine and Chelsea are sick of the way women are treated even at their progressive NYC high school, so they decide to start a Women’s Rights Club. They post everything online—poems, essays, videos of Chelsea performing her poetry, and Jasmine’s response to the racial macroaggressions she experiences—and soon they go viral. But with such positive support, the club is also targeted by online trolls. When things escalate, the principal shuts the club down. Jasmine and Chelsea will risk everything for their voices—and those of other young women—to be heard.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

The premise of Watch Us Rise had me curious. I love books that focus on activism, and I appreciate discussions on larger topics such as body shaming, LGBTQIA+ issues, and what it means to be a woman of in our modern world. Watson and Hagan’s novel explores all these topics and more in a fresh take on school activism and how students deserve to take stands when necessary.

I appreciate all the messages that are woven into this story, though I will say it’s a lot and at times I felt the book was a bit unfocused. I really liked the friendship between Jasmine and Chelsea, and I loved how they both lifted each other up, while also using their platform to try and empower women and make them see that they are valuable. That they matter. I also appreciate that the book tries to be inclusive as well, as a lot of the commentary focuses on what can be done now and how we should want to help others.

Even with what I’ve written above, I think having so much jammed into this book is what made me “like it” but not be “in love” with it. I wanted to lovelovelove this given I have adored every book I’ve read by Renee Watson. I think the writing is good, but for a book about activism, I didn’t find myself cheering as much as I wanted to, or highlighting important phrases. I think a lot of young adult readers will enjoy this book and will gain a lot of interesting and inspiring knowledge. I think my issue came from moments of disconnect, mainly from the poetry sections, which I found to be a bit hit-or-miss.

Watch Us Rise is a great introduction for young adults who want to learn about activism. I do wish this book focused more on Jasmine, as I thought her story by far was much stronger than Chelsea’s, but I appreciate Watson and Hagan’s efforts to show two different girls going through both different and similar challenges. There’s definitely some value in this book that I think readers will definitely connect with, and that makes it worth recommending. If you are looking for a fictional book that is much deeper in terms of understanding feminism, this one might not be what you’re looking for.

ARC Review – Extraordinary Birds by Sandy Stark-McGinnis

Title: Extraordinary Birds

Author: Sandy Stark-McGinnis

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Eleven-year-old December knows everything about birds, and everything about getting kicked out of foster homes. All she has of her mom is the bird guide she left behind, and a message: “In flight is where you’ll find me.” December believes she’s truly a bird, just waiting for the day she transforms. The scar on her back is where her wings will sprout; she only needs to find the right tree and practice flying.

When she’s placed with foster mom Eleanor, who runs a taxidermy business and volunteers at a wildlife rescue, December begins to see what home means in a new light. But the story she’s told herself about her past is what’s kept her going this long. Can she learn to let go?

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Have you ever read a book that was just so weird, yet so captivating? That’s what reading Extraordinary Birds was like for me. It’s the story of girl who believes she is metamorphosing into a bird, and it’s just so wonderful and strange.

December is a fascinating main character and her desire to be a bird who can fly away is intriguing throughout. Given this book looks at foster care, it’s fitting that December has an obsession with birds and flight, and throughout the story you see so many attempts of her trying to find the perfect tree in order to practice flight. This is also a book about trying to find a home when you’ve never truly had one, and I think being in December’s mind for a lot of this story allows the reader to empathize with her need for transformation. She wants someone to want her, to love her, and to need her. It’s really heartbreaking.

I also really adored Eleanor, her foster mother. Eleanor is a taxidermist, she’s sharp a whip, and I love the way in which she allows December to come into her own and build trust. Eleanor is always caring and empathetic — she wants to see December flourish and doesn’t judge her desire for flight or being insecure. It’s really a beautiful relationship to read about! Even the friendships that December forges are just really thoughtful, and I think the author does a great job of portraying issues such as anxiety and even bullying in the story.

The more I read, the more I really believed that December was transforming into the bird. Stark-McGinnis has a style of writing that is so inviting and enticing that it’s so easy to fall into. Extraordinary Birds is an emotional read that will fill the reader with so much hope. It’s a wonderful look into what it’s like being a child in foster care, while also trying to find your own wings to take flight, and finding the courage to transform into who you truly want to be.

ARC Review – All the Ways Home by Elsie Chapman

Title: All the Ways Home

Author: Elsie Chapman

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Sometimes, home isn’t where you expect to find it.

After losing his mom in a fatal car crash, Kaede Hirano–now living with a grandfather who is more stranger than family–developed anger issues and spent his last year of middle school acting out.

Best-friendless and critically in danger repeating the seventh grade, Kaede is given a summer assignment: write an essay about what home means to him, which will be even tougher now that he’s on his way to Japan to reconnect with his estranged father and older half-brother. Still, if there’s a chance Kaede can finally build a new family from an old one, he’s willing to try. But building new relationships isn’t as easy as destroying his old ones, and one last desperate act will change the way Kaede sees everyone–including himself.

This is a book about what home means to us–and that there are many different correct answers.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I felt emotional reading All the Ways Home. Not only did the book make me nostalgic for my recent trip to Japan, but it made me feel for Kaede, a boy who just wants someone to love him after the death of his mother. While I cannot relate to way Kaede’s mother dies, I can in the sense that like him, there are days where I pine for my folks because there is so much I want to tell them, and no way to truly do so.

This is the story of Kaede returning to Tokyo after the death of his mother. He’s on the verge of failing 7th Grade, he’s accidentally hurt his best friend back home in Vancouver, and he’s trying to define what ‘home’ means to him. Arriving in Tokyo, he meets up with his brother Shoma, who takes him in for the three weeks he is there. Hoping to see his famous father while in Tokyo, Kaede learns that not every person is as they seem. The growth of Kaede and Shoma’s relationship is one of my favourite aspects of this story. It’s subtle, it shows how people can move from estrangement to a level of comfort, especially as Shoma recognizes that he hasn’t been around for Kaede in such a long time, but when you learn why, you’re able to empathize with him as much as Kaede.

I also loved the visuals that Chapman provides in this story. There’s so many places that she references that I’ve been to, and it really took me back to my trip. At times I found myself poking my husband and yelling “WE’VE BEEN THERE!” which is silly, but it made me yearn for that kind of adventure again. Tokyo is an intense city, and I loved reading the bits where Kaede gets lost in Kabukicho, which was one of my favourite places to visit. Reading about the hustle and bustle of people’s lives and being able to visualize it so clearly is a wonderful feat and Chapman makes the story feel so authentic, especially when she talks about both Canada and Japan. She reminded me of the beauty of both places in such a short novel.

Kaede’s story is beautiful, and I was invested the whole way. My heart wept when he finally got to “meet” his father, his determination to find the meaning of home, and just how difficult it is to navigate the world when you’re grieving everything you’ve lost. There is so much that me, as a thirty-year-old woman could relate to, even though this story is geared towards a middle grade audience. This is one of the sweet, most difficult middle grade novels I’ve read in a long time, and I urge everyone to check out because it’s an emotional ride.

ARC Review -There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon

Title: There’s Something About Sweetie

Author: Sandhya Menon

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Ashish Patel didn’t know love could be so…sucky. After being dumped by his ex-girlfriend, his mojo goes AWOL. Even worse, his parents are annoyingly, smugly confident they could find him a better match. So, in a moment of weakness, Ash challenges them to set him up.

The Patels insist that Ashish date an Indian-American girl—under contract. Per subclause 1(a), he’ll be taking his date on “fun” excursions like visiting the Hindu temple and his eccentric Gita Auntie. Kill him now. How is this ever going to work?

Sweetie Nair is many things: a formidable track athlete who can outrun most people in California, a loyal friend, a shower-singing champion. Oh, and she’s also fat. To Sweetie’s traditional parents, this last detail is the kiss of death.

Sweetie loves her parents, but she’s so tired of being told she’s lacking because she’s fat. She decides it’s time to kick off the Sassy Sweetie Project, where she’ll show the world (and herself) what she’s really made of.

Ashish and Sweetie both have something to prove. But with each date they realize there’s an unexpected magic growing between them. Can they find their true selves without losing each other?

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

Sam’s Review:

I swear, Sandhya Menon writes some of the best rom-coms I have ever had the pleasure of reading about. Not only does she create these wonderfully fleshed out characters, but her storylines have this addictive “just one more chapter” quality to them. I adored When Dimple Met Rishi the year it came out, so colour me happy when Ash, one of my favourite characters from that story, gets his own romance.

Ash and Sweetie are undeniably charming. Both characters have such unique personalities, yet you’re rooting from them to be together the whole damn story because all the nay-sayers who say they don’t fit are HECKIN’ WRONG. I will even argue that I loved Sweetie far more than I did Dimple, if only because Sweetie’s level of conviction and lack of apology for who she is, it is completely refreshing in a YA heroine. She has so much passion and I think how she discusses the word “fat” is it’s own wonderful revelation as well. Even just her storyline with her family, you get the sense that Sweetie truly loves her folks no matter what they even say to her.

Then there is my beloved Ash, who is just so darling and funny. It was nice to see more somber and thoughtful moments with him, given how high energy he was in When Dimple Met Rishi, and I like the way in which Menon handles his past relationships and how he is the sad boy trying to figure out what is wrong with him! Ash is swoony in a way that Rishi wasn’t for me, and it’s funny given I generally don’t find myself falling for the athletes in any contemporary story. Ash’s family, however? My goodness they are hilarious and his dad killed me.

In all fairness, read There’s Something About Sweetie. It has so much laughter with equal parts heart, and in a world where news spreads and things feel hopeless, it’s wonderful to be reminded of stories that evoke so much kindness and humour. If you want a fun little rom-com that doesn’t ask much of it’s read, this book is 100% for you.

ARC Review – Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby

Title: Hurricane Season

Author: Nicole Melleby

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Fig, a sixth grader, wants more than anything to see the world as her father does. The once-renowned pianist, who hasn’t composed a song in years and has unpredictable good and bad days, is something of a mystery to Fig. Though she’s a science and math nerd, she tries taking an art class just to be closer to him, to experience life the way an artist does. But then Fig’s dad shows up at school, disoriented and desperately searching for Fig. Not only has the class not brought Fig closer to understanding him, it has brought social services to their door.

Diving into books about Van Gogh to understand the madness of artists, calling on her best friend for advice, and turning to a new neighbor for support, Fig continues to try everything she can think of to understand her father, to save him from himself, and to find space in her life to discover who she is even as the walls are falling down around her.

Huge thank you to Thomas Allen & Sons for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Hurricane Season was a book I grabbed on a whim while I was at the OLA Super Conference early this year. It totally sounded like the kind of middle grade read I would love: a young girl trying to figure herself and her family out, while also learning to deal with large scale change. Fig is a sixth grader who at her tender age, is forced to become a caretaker to her father, a famous pianist, who has had a mental break down. In order to understand her father’s breakdown, Fig enlists in the help of her local library and begins to research Vincent Van Gogh, one of the world’s most well-known painter’s, but is equally known for his decent into madness.

This is a beautiful debut story, and Fig is such a kind, slow, quiet protagonist, making her very different from a lot of the characters you encounter in popular middle grade. She is placed in an uncomfortable position for a younger child, and yet she is determined to both support her father and understand his condition. This is not a fast paced story by any stretch of the imagination, it’s very quiet and thoughtful. Fig also has so much so support in this story, even if most of it comes from unlikely sources such as Hannah, who works at her local library.

I think what I love the most about Hurricane Season is that it’s a book all about taking risks, and how even if they don’t pay off or pay off unexpectedly, they are still worth attempting. There’s a positive message throughout this story that children can find and muster amazing and profound strength when they need to, and it’s very apparent in this story as Fig does this repeatedly, each time more difficult, but she in turn grows stronger for it.

Hurricane Season is beautiful and quiet, and it’s a book that offers so much to its reader, while being somewhat small in size. I highly recommend this book if you love tougher middle grade stories that offer opportunities to reflect on what it means to be a caretaker and how one’s life can easily be transformed in the blink of an eye.