Tag Archives: contemporary

ARC Review – After Zero by Christina Collins

Title: After Zero

Author: Christina Collins

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Elise carries a notebook full of tallies, each page marking a day spent at her new public school, each stroke of her pencil marking a word spoken. A word that can’t be taken back. Five tally marks isn’t so bad. Two is pretty good. But zero? Zero is perfect. Zero means no wrong answers called out in class, no secrets accidentally spilled, no conversations to agonize over at night when sleep is far away. But now months have passed, and Elise isn’t sure she could speak even if she wanted to―not to keep her only friend, Mel, from drifting further away―or to ask if anyone else has seen her English teacher’s stuffed raven come to life. Then, the discovery of a shocking family secret helps Elise realize that her silence might just be the key to unlocking everything she’s ever hoped for… 

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

After Zero is a book with an interesting premise: Elise is a young girl with selective mutism and her school questions why this is the case. They are frustrated by her lack of speaking, but don’t necessarily go about things in the most positive of manners. This is a middle grade book that is very emotional, and one I flew through in nearly a day.

I loved Elise and I loved being in her mind. While this book doesn’t have a lot of dialogue or conversations, it’s interesting to see how a character with selective mutism interacts with their fellow classmates, family members and school faculty. Elise writes her feelings out, she is still emotionally a very expressive young girl, and the author makes Elise’s story all the more interesting because we are only given such a limited scope of details. As the reader, it’s like you have to build friendship and trust with Elise before she even opens up to you and I appreciate that tone of voice and distance in a story like this. In that regard, it creates a great mysterious atmosphere.

This book is a intriguing look at children’s mental health issues. This book is written with passion, tenderness, and and tons of empathy. This book shows how Elise’s actions affect others and those around her. I think this book will be a fantastic tool to teach kids about empathy and how mental illness affects children during traumatic and difficult times. This is a fantastic debut, and one I hope many will share with this kids.

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Late to the Party ARC Review – Invisible Ghosts by Robyn Schneider

Title: Invisible Ghosts

Author: Robyn Schneider

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Rose Asher believes in ghosts. She should, since she has one for a best friend: Logan, her annoying, Netflix-addicted brother, who is forever stuck at fifteen. But Rose is growing up, and when an old friend moves back to Laguna Canyon and appears in her drama class, things get complicated.

Jamie Aldridge is charming, confident, and a painful reminder of the life Rose has been missing out on since her brother’s death. She watches as Jamie easily rejoins their former friends–a group of magnificently silly theater nerds–while avoiding her so intensely that it must be deliberate.

Yet when the two of them unexpectedly cross paths, Rose learns that Jamie has a secret of his own, one that changes everything. Rose finds herself drawn back into her old life–and to Jamie. But she quickly starts to suspect that he isn’t telling her the whole truth.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have loved all of Robyn Schneider’s books that she has published. I figured given her track record and my enjoyment, Invisible Ghostssurely was going to be a new favourite. I was expecting to love this, and it was just okay. Saying that it was just okay breaks my heart a little bit, but that is the truth.

When this book was being pitched to me, I was told it was an exploration of grief. That statement is true to an extent, given this is a story about Rose believing that she can see the ghost of her best friend and brother, Logan. The parts of the story where Rose and Logan interacted were easily some of the best parts of the story, and I really enjoyed those moments.

Where I struggled with this book was the romance between Jamie and Rose. I just couldn’t connect with it, I felt very hollow at times, and frankly, I was bored. I know part of Jamie’s story is that he is helping Rose through her grief, but I felt like at times the book made this element a bit too easy, undermining what it means to feel a sense of loss. I think what frustrated me more is that Robyn Schneider has explored the topic of grief before, and I think it was done much better in her other books than Invisible Ghosts.

While I love Robyn Schneider’s writing style, I found that this book and I just didn’t connect the way I was hoping. Perhaps I put too high an expectation on this book given past experiences, or maybe I just wanted something with a lot more depth on a topic that I connect with than this book provided. I think there will be plenty of readers who will love Invisible Ghosts and not much the surface level discussion of grief, but I won’t lie, my expectations were just a bit too high.

ARC Review – Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert

Title: Finding Yvonne

Author: Brandy Colbert

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Since she was seven years old, Yvonne has had her trusted violin to keep her company, especially in those lonely days after her mother walked out on their family. But with graduation just around the corner, she is forced to face the hard truth that she just might not be good enough to attend a conservatory after high school.

Full of doubt about her future, and increasingly frustrated by her strained relationship with her successful but emotionally closed-off father, Yvonne meets a street musician and fellow violinist who understands her struggle. He’s mysterious, charming, and different from Warren, the familiar and reliable boy who has her heart. But when Yvonne becomes unexpectedly pregnant. 

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

Sam’s Review:

Finding Yvonne is a book I would have accidentally avoided if it hadn’t been for the fact that it is penned by Brandy Colbert. I am generally not a huge fan about books that involve teen pregnancy or pregnancy in general. However, I think what drew me to this book is that it is a portrait of a girl well on her way to a successful career, how he life gets thrown off course, and how she ends up making one of the most difficult decisions of her life.

This book is intense. I felt so much reading this book because Yvonne felt like a girl whom you’d chat with, seeming so down to earth, and very kind. Her feelings for the men that she gives herself to is also so genuine. The discussion of sex and sexuality is well captured in this book, and this is a very sex-positive book. This book also has a fantastic discussion supporting pro-choice as well. I also loved the family dynamics in this book, especially between Yvonne and her father. Her family relationships felt so realistic as well.

Finding Yvonne is an amazing book with a lot of loaded discussion questions. I think adults and teens can relate to a lot of what happens in this story, and Yvonne is just such a lovable character. If you don’t mind character studies or books focusing on teen pregnancy, please read this book. It’ll spark fantastic discussion.

Book Review – A World in Blue by Danni Maxwell

Title: A World in Blue

Author: Danni Maxwell

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: At just eighteen years old, Oliver was offered a publishing deal. The very same day, he lost his mother to suicide. Two years later, he encounters a tall, dark, and handsome stranger. Never thinking he would write again, he is inspired once more.

Just as Oliver is launched into fame from the success of his book, the handsome stranger comes back into his life. His name is Blue and happens to be flirting with Oliver. 

Sam’s Review:

Full disclosure: the author is a friend of mine, but I purchased the book with my own funds.

I really couldn’t be more proud of Danni and the release of A World in Blue. This is such a sweet male/male romance story looking at a young man who has reached his dreams of becoming a famous author, but is lacking fulfillment and inspiration… until he meets Blue.

What I liked about this story was Oliver. I thought he was a very well developed protagonist, and I felt for him and his struggles. He’s a character whose negative traits were something I could relate to in so many ways… I saw myself in him. A lot. I also liked the development between Oliver and his friends, and I really appreciated how organic Oliver’s relationships felt throughout the story. I also love how Oliver’s confidence builds slowly throughout the story, and I loved how Blue restores parts of it for him. Blue was just darling, though I kept wanting to know more about him, which is my only real criticism of the story. I wanted more about Blue, I wanted to truly feel like I knew him.

I devoured this story in one sitting, and it filled me with many emotions. It’s short, sweet, but a very enriching story experience to say the least. Great work, Danni!

Three Contemporary Novels I Want to Read This Summer

Summer is here and it always puts me in the mood to read contemporary. There’s just something wonderful about a summer-focused novel, be it a beach read, a summer road trip, or just an adventure in dealing with feelings that feel so brand new, contemporary is just what I want to devour throughout July and August. I thought I’d share five contemporary novels I want to get to this summer.

Finding Yvonne
by Brandy Colbert (Expected Release Date: August 7th 2018 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

I am very fortunate at the moment to have an ARC for this novel. I loved Little & Lion, and I own Pointe, which I rescued from being put in the trash at my work (old weeded copy) that I still haven’t read yet. Regardless, I was beyond impressed by Little & Lion that now Colbert is an author I watch. I love her stories that focus on family, diversity, and how change affects young people. There’s a sharpness to her words that I instantly connect with and Finding Yvonne sounds like it may break me.

The Way You Make Me Feel
by Maurene Goo (Published: May 8th 2018 by Farrar Straus Giroux Books)

I loved the comedy of errors that was I Believe in a Thing Called Love. It was cute, quirky, and just so so funny. I’ve heard great things about The Way You Make Feel, and I feel like it’s going to be a book that is going to leave me so hungry given it has to do with a summer romance and food trucks. I am not the biggest romance reader, but I like how Maurene Goo writes them, so I am in it to see what all the fun is about.

Save the Date by Morgan Matson (Published: June 5th 2018 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Whenever I think of summer reads, two authors usually spring to mind: Sarah Dessen and Morgan Matson. Since I have read all the Sarah Dessen, it would seem I now need to catch up on the latter, I have only read Amy & Rodger’s Epic Detour and The Unexpected Everything, both which I thoroughly enjoyed. I ended up picking up Save the Date from my local book store on a whim, and I feel like it’s going to be a fun read.

What are some contemporary books you want to check out this summer? I’d love to know in the comments.

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.

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!