Tag Archives: contemporary

ARC Review – You Must Not Miss by Katrina Leno

Title: You Must Not Miss

Author: Katrina Leno

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Magpie Lewis started writing in her yellow notebook the day her family self-destructed. That was the night Eryn, Magpie’s sister, skipped town and left her to fend for herself. That was the night of Brandon Phipp’s party.

Now, Magpie is called a slut whenever she walks down the hallways of her high school, her former best friend won’t speak to her, and she spends her lunch period with a group of misfits who’ve all been socially exiled like she has. And so, feeling trapped and forgotten, Magpie retreats to her notebook, dreaming up a place called Near.

Near is perfect–somewhere where her father never cheated, her mother never drank, and Magpie’s own life never derailed so suddenly. She imagines Near so completely, so fully, that she writes it into existence, right in her own backyard. It’s a place where she can have anything she wants…even revenge.

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

Sam’s Review:

I adore Katrina Leno’s writing, and You Must Not Miss reminded me of the level of versatility that she has when creating stories. While a lot of Leno’s books have a magical or fantastical element, they are still deeply rooted in the real world and often its the overall tone that provides a uniqueness to each and everyone one of her books.

Magpie is wonderfully intense and destructive as a character. Her overall suffering and deep hatred of herself places the reader in a difficult position when reading this book. There’s a lot of anger, there’s so much venom being spouted throughout this story from both those that surround our heroine, but also Magpie herself. I won’t lie, trying to be supportive of Magpie is challenging in this story, especially given some of the “decisions” she makes, but I think it’s a great deconstruction of dealing with mental illness or dealing with immediate crisis even.

The suffering and self-sabotage by Magpie’s character in this story is oddly a draw. Leno has this amazing way of dragging the reader into the minds of her heroines — sometimes you feel like you are steps ahead of them, and others, like Magpie make you feel lost or question what will happen next. This reminded me a lot of Leno’s first novel, The Half Life of Molly Pierce where I was so emotionally exhausted but equally invested in what was happening.

I recognize that I am being purposely vague about the plot in You Must Not Miss and it’s with good intention. It’s one of those books where the twists and turns feel weird, crazy, and often you’ll ask yourself what the heck you read — but that is actually what makes this story so appealing in my eyes. I got completely lost in it, but didn’t feel a compulsive need to rush through the story. It’s a difficult read, no questions asked, but it’s equally a rewarding, twisty, mess of a story that keeps you guessing from the get-go.

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ARC Review – Megabat and Fancy Cat (Megabat #2) by Anna Humphrey & Kass Reich

Title: Megabat and Fancy Cat (Megabat #2) b

Author: Anna Humphrey & Kass Reich

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Daniel Misumi has just moved to a new house. It’s big and old and far away from his friends and his life before. AND it’s haunted . . . or is it?

Megabat was just napping on a papaya one day when he was stuffed in a box and shipped halfway across the world. Now he’s living in an old house far from home, feeling sorry for himself and accidentally scaring the people who live there.

Daniel realizes it’s not a ghost in his new house. It’s a bat. And he can talk. And he’s actually kind of cute. Megabat realizes that not every human wants to whack him with a broom. This one shares his smooshfruit. Add some buttermelon, juice boxes, a lightsaber and a common enemy and you’ve got a new friendship in the making!

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have not read the first Mega Bat book, but now I kinda want to. This is a chapter book series that I’m positive you don’t need to read in order, but considering how fun this book was, I wanna check out the first book. I can totally see why kids would love this chapter book series — it’s funny, clever, and super duper sweet.

This is a quick read, and Daniel, our main hooman character is wonderful. This book has a wonderful lesson teaching what it means to be different and how to love comes in different forms. Mega Bat and the cat’s relationship is funny and I love how the author teaches these lessons through the two characters. Also I LOVED the artwork in this book and I think it reflects the characters and story well. It’s cute, detailed, and very soft looking.

I look forward to sharing this series with parents and kids looking for chapter books that are great for beginner readers moving into that realm. It’s so so so so adorable!

ARC Review – The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhathena

Title: The Beauty of the Moment

Author: Tanaz Bhathena

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Susan is the new girl—she’s sharp and driven, and strives to meet her parents’ expectations of excellence. Malcolm is the bad boy—he started raising hell at age fifteen, after his mom died of cancer, and has had a reputation ever since.

Susan’s parents are on the verge of divorce. Malcolm’s dad is a known adulterer.

Susan hasn’t told anyone, but she wants to be an artist. Malcolm doesn’t know what he wants—until he meets her.

Love is messy and families are messier, but in spite of their burdens, Susan and Malcolm fall for each other. The ways they drift apart and come back together are testaments to family, culture, and being true to who you are.

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I really enjoyed this book! Did I love it as much as Bhathena’s debut? No, but to be far her sophomore book is such a delicate book compared to A Girl Like That. This book looks at immigration, parental expectations and forbidden romance. This book looks at Malcolm and Susan, two teens who fall for each other despite their religious backgrounds. Susan dreams of being an artist, while Malcolm is still trying to figure out who he wants be and hasn’t thought that far regarding his own future.

My favourite aspect of this book was easily the family dynamics of both Malcolm and Susan’s families. They couldn’t be more different in terms of their beliefs. The discussion of immigration is very key to this story, especially when we are reading Susan’s perspective and learning about their parent’s struggles of adapting to Canadian society, and how certain professions don’t transfer over the same way. As someone who works in a library that is populated by newcomers, this is something I learn about from my clientele every day. Canada is a place of opportunity and safety to a lot of new immigrants, and it’s unsurprising that Susan’s family is very strict when it comes to wanting her to have the best opportunities possible. Malcolm’s family has similar ambitions for him as well, but Malcolm is very much of a case of “finding himself.”

I struggled with our main characters somewhat when reading this. Perhaps it’s because I found the beginning a bit slow, but Susan in particular is a difficult character for me: she’s a bit of a doormat through a lot of this book and it isn’t until towards the end that we see her grow into someone with a lot more insight into themselves. I did find myself yelling at the book being like “Stop being so passive! Stop being afraid!” and I had to remember that I was very fortunate growing up that my parents were supportive of anything I wanted to do and that is not Susan’s situation at all. Malcolm at times for me was too much of a stereotypical bad boy, which I know for some folks is swoon-worthy, but he’s not my taste.

I think The Beauty of the Moment will appeal to a lot of readers, especially those who love family stories and romance. While this book is no Girl Like That, I will say that I think this is a much more accessible follow-up novel, and one where I believe many readers will easily connect with.

ARC Review – The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake

Title: The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James

Author: Ashley Herring Blake

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: When Sunny St. James receives a new heart, she decides to set off on a “New Life Plan”: 1) do awesome amazing things she could never do before; 2) find a new best friend; and 3) kiss a boy for the first time.

Her “New Life Plan” seems to be racing forward, but when she meets her new best friend Quinn, Sunny questions whether she really wants to kiss a boy at all. When the reemergence of her mother, Sunny begins a journey to becoming the new Sunny St. James.

This sweet, tender novel dares readers to find the might in their own hearts. 

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada!

Sam’s Review:

On my way to Montreal in February I decided I needed to read a new Ashley Herring Blake book. Both Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the Word and Girl Made of Stars got five stars from me because they left me an emotional train-wreck. Her books are challenging but they also give me hope, and The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James is no exception.

The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James follows Sunny, a girl who got a recent heart transplant. Having a new heart, Sunny believes that she feels different about herself, that she wants life to be something different. When her biological mother comes back into her life a new girl begins to challenge her perceptions of the world, Sunny’s world is turned upside down. Sunny’s story is beautiful and I felt a lot of sympathy for her. Sunny spends a lot of this book feeling confused about who she is, who she loves, and what kind of a person she is allowed to be. Her adoptive mother shelters her because of her transplant, but even in that situation, there’s clearly more to it.

The writing in this book is stunning and Sunny’s voice is one that will definitely capture readers. I spent my last morning in Montreal tearing up simply because there is such a huge emotional punch throughout the story, and it doesn’t stop. I love when a book gives me so many emotions from start to finish, and there were parts of this book where I felt my heart beat faster and faster. This smart middle grade book will teach so many people about empathy and what it means to get a second lease on life, even at a young age.

I cried during The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James and I am not afraid to admit that. What I hope is that more people open their minds to more queer middle grade. Stories should transform our lives, and I think this book offers a transformation that readers will never forget.

ARC Review – Chicken Girl by Heather Smith

Title: Chicken Girl

Author: Heather Smith

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Poppy used to be an optimist. But after a photo of her dressed as Rosie the Riveter is mocked online, she’s having trouble seeing the good in the world. As a result, Poppy trades her beloved vintage clothes for a feathered chicken costume and accepts a job as an anonymous sign waver outside a restaurant. There, Poppy meets six-year-old girl Miracle, who helps Poppy see beyond her own pain, opening her eyes to the people around her: Cam, her twin brother, who is adjusting to life as an openly gay teen; Buck, a charming photographer with a cute British accent and a not-so-cute mean-streak; and Lewis a teen caring for an ailing parent, while struggling to reach the final stages of his gender transition. As the summer unfolds, Poppy stops glorifying the past and starts focusing on the present. But just as she comes to terms with the fact that there is good and bad in everyone, she is tested by a deep betrayal.

Huge Thank You to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Chicken Girl is a tiny book with a big punch. The story involves Poppy and her brother Cam, as they navigate growing up. When a picture of Rosie the Riveter is posted online, Poppy feels shammed and can no longer see good in the world. Her twin brother, Cam, is learning to be “out” and Poppy wants to show her support. Poppy also meets six-year-old, Miracle, who shows her how wonderful the world can really be.

What I loved about this book is how it normalizes so many aspects of LGBTQIA culture. There’s fantastic and frank discussion of what transgendered teens deal with, how homophobia comes in different (and awful) flavours, and how supportive people can be as well. Nothing in this book felt out of place and the conversations between characters felt so raw and true. My favourite parts were the interactions between Poppy and Cam, as well as Poppy and Miracle. I think these conversations about life, optimism, and finding strength will be so relevant to so many readers.

I think the only negative about this book for me, is that it’s too short. Everything ties up a bit too nicely, and there is a huge part of me that wishes Smith had delved more into the characters further. That being said, I still think what we do know about the cast of characters is wonderful and heartfelt.

There is such an honesty in these pages, which is why I hope more people will pick up Chicken Girl. The story is well-paced, genuine and raw, and while it never goes to Baygirl (Smith’s debut) levels of darkness, Chicken Girl offers readers a wonderful glimmer of hope that makes it a memorable read.

ARC Review – Click by Kayla Miller

Title: Click

Author: Kayla Miller

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Olive “clicks” with everyone in the fifth grade—until one day she doesn’t. When a school variety show leaves Olive stranded without an act to join, she begins to panic, wondering why all her friends have already formed their own groups . . . without her. With the performance drawing closer by the minute, will Olive be able to find her own place in the show before the curtain comes up.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I had never heard of Click until it appeared on my doorstep. I’m a bit out of the loop when it comes to middle grade comics at the moment, but I liked this one a lot. I thought Olive was a cute main character, and her need to be loved by her friends is something I think many folks can relate to. When her friends all pair up for the school talent program, she feels lost and as though there is no place for her.

I enjoyed this, though I wish there had been a bit more characterization among Olive and her friends. It felt a little flat at times, though admittedly this is a very plot-driven story. I just found as cute as it was, I didn’t necessarily connect with any of the characters while reading it. However, I think the story has so much for children to relate to, and I love that Olive does find her strength in this story.

This is a book about valuing friends and finding your place in them. I think a lot of young readers are definitely going to connect with Olive, her family and friends as well. I am looking forward to continuing the series with Camp, and seeing how much Olive grows in the next story!

ARC Review – Ruby in the Sky by Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

Title: Ruby in the Sky

Author: Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: When Ruby Moon Hayes, twelve, and her mother move to tiny Fortin, Vermont, Ruby is surprised to make friends at school and in the neighborhood, where a reclusive lady hides a huge secret.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Holy cow, this book is a punch in the feelings. Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo’s debut novel Ruby in the Sky is an amazing achievement in middle grade, as its a story that has so many layers in it, and each is done flawlessly.

This is the story of Ruby, a young girl who has had it rough and struggles to now find her voice. Her father is out of the picture, her mother has moved her to a new city in hopes for them to have a better life, until a situation at her job forces her into the court system. On top of being at a new school, Ruby is immediately ostracized by the female students in her class for being “weird” and she makes a wonderful friendship with a new Syrian immigrant named, Ahmed. On top of making friends with the town “Bird Lady,” Ruby’s journey of self-discovery is truly something special to read about.

Ruby in the Sky is one of those books where I was engaged from the first page. Ruby is a difficult character in that she doesn’t allow herself to truly be known by the reader. She provides bits of information as the story goes on, building to a larger picture. She has amazing growth in this story, something that had such a spark when I read this book. I loved her friendship with Ahmed, and when it fell on hard times, I was rooting for both of them to find each other again.

I loved this book so much. I cried, it left me thinking about the kinds of challenges that children face, and the way in which we as adults may not be as empathetic as we should. Ruby is a wonderful heroine and her story is one I know I won’t forget for a very long time.