Tag Archives: Farrar Straus and Giroux (BYR)

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 – The Other F-Word by Natasha Friend

29102849Title: The Other F-Word

Author:  Natasha Friend

Rating: ★★

Synopsis: A fresh, humorous, and timely YA novel about two teens conceived via in vitro fertilization who go in search for answers about their donor.

Milo has two great moms, but he’s never known what it’s like to have a dad. When Milo’s doctor suggests asking his biological father to undergo genetic testing to shed some light on Milo’s extreme allergies, he realizes this is a golden opportunity to find the man he’s always wondered about.

Hollis’s mom Leigh hasn’t been the same since her other mom, Pam, passed away seven years ago. But suddenly, Leigh seems happy—giddy, even—by the thought of reconnecting with Hollis’s half-brother Milo. Hollis and Milo were conceived using the same sperm donor. They met once, years ago, before Pam died.

Now Milo has reached out to Hollis to help him find their donor. Along the way, they locate three other donor siblings, and they discover the true meaning of the other F-word: family.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:
This book gets a resounding “ugh” out of me. I had high hopes for this book given it’s about a topic that interests me (vitro fertilization), and it was a snoozer. I found myself pushing through the book because I kept hoping I would enjoy it more, but I found myself never entirely connecting with this book at all. It’s not a bad book either, it just did a lot that didn’t work for me personally.

The main issue with this book falls on the main character Hollis, who is just awful. I generally don’t mind characters who can be a bit mean or cruel, but I really despised how Hollis’ treats her mother Leigh, especially given the recent loss of her wife (and Hollis’ other mother) Pam. Hollis is so malicious, so cruel, and very inconsiderate. Sadly, she stays that way for the majority of the book and never feels like she has a lot of feelings towards others. Even her treatment of the other protagonist, Milo, whom she shares a sperm donor with, at times she’s is downright dreadful to him, and again, without truly a good reason why. I feel like it takes her too long to grow in the book, so much so that I found her chapters to be so difficult and infuriating to read.

On the other side of it, I liked Milo. I thought he was kind of darling at times, though the fact that he is so persistent with someone as dreadful as Hollis baffled me. I think unlike Hollis, Milo is a much better developed character and I think his reasons for wanting to connect with his biologic father are very sound — he wants to know his medical history in case he may be allergic to different things. I think that is more than fair, no? I found his chapters so much more engaging, but I think the issue here is that Friend’s writing is a little flat on Milo’s side. In fact, at times it felt like I was reading two very different books given how the chapters read out. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a bit jarring.

If I am being honest, the characters I felt for and enjoyed the most were Milo’s parents and Leigh (Hollis’ mother). I found that I was most engaged when they were on the pages, and again my heartbroke with how little attention they get. I think even the search for the bio-logic father wasn’t even that particularly well done, and when the connection was made, it just read so flatly. That’s the larger mystery in that story and it just felt like it was being strung along at times.

I really wanted to like The Other F Word, and I like the title and it’s many interpretations. I just wished I had connected more with the characters and the story, but I just found myself more angry and frustrated just by the lack of potential that this story had. I think there will be people who will love and gravitate to this story, I just wish I had been one of them.

Five 2016 Middle Grade Novels that Deserve Your Attention

It’s been awhile since I’ve really focused on middle grade, even though it is my bread and butter. While I’ve posted a lot of reviews for middle grade titles, I will say that 2016 was an exceptionally solid year for this age group, with some absolutely fantastic titles that really stole my heart given what an emotionally draining year it’s been for me. Here’s five middle grade titles that came out in 2016 that you really should make some time for.

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The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

This is the miraculous tale of Roz, a robot who gets lost in the wildness and is forced to survive, despite the fact that she is a robot with no survival instincts. Trapped on a remote island, Roz must figure out how to survive given her own limitations. This novel is beautifully written, very descriptive, and Roz is such a wonderful heroine. Yes, she’s a robot, but she is a robot who I felt great sympathy towards throughout this novel, and I think Peter Brown does an amazing job capturing her limited emotions in a way that makes the reader really grow to love Roz.

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Pax by Sara Pennypacker

This book is a gut-punch of emotions. It’s the story of a boy who raises a fox kit and is forced by his father to set it back in the wild. Both the boy and the kit need one another, and it’s the story of how they are lost and then found. This book has left me an emotional mess at times, and I think it’s why I read it as slowly as I did. Coupled with Jon Klassen’s beautiful illustrations, Pax is one of those reads that you need to make sure you have a Kleenex box handy for.

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Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz

Finding Perfect is an amazing debut middle grade novel. Molly is a heroine that lovable and I think she is someone readers will also be able to relate to regardless of age. More importantly, I am glad this novel exists given that it does an amazing job depicting what life is like with OCD, let alone for a young girl who has suffered a lot of loss and disappointment in her life. However, despite all the sadness she faces, Molly’s kindness is admirable and her journey is wonderful, yet hard. This is definitely one of those middle grade novels that leaves you thinking once the story is long over.

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The Magnificent Mya Tibbs and the Spirit Week Showdown by Crystal Allen

This gem was a random surprise I received from an associate at Harper Collins Canada who found out my mother had died and wanted to send me a pick-me-up. Mya Tibbs is now one of my most recommended middle grade novels at the library I work at. Why? Because Crystal Allen’s amazing heroine teaches so much to her readers and does it with humour, kindness and a lot of sass. Mya is fun, and I keep hoping she’ll receive more books in her future. This book is amazing and it does a great job of showing how different people can be, and how we can work with each other’s differences to do unstoppable things.

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Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

Ben Hatke is one of my favourite writer’s and artist’s out there. He often has this amazing ability to tell a story and craft some very genuine characters on top of his amazing and well-defined artwork. This story is not only a retelling of Jack and the Beanstock, but it also discusses disability, friendship, and it takes the tale and spins it on its head. The only downer? The nasty cliffhanger which still has be going “I NEED BOOK TWO NAAAAAO.” This is an amazing graphic novel, and easily one of the best that came out in 2016.

Seriously, it was hard to narrow down a lot of the best 2016 middle grade reads, but I feel like these ones are all winners. Here’s hoping 2017 has some amazing and equally thoughtful middle grade reads. 🙂

ARC Review – Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz

27414408Title: Finding Perfect

Author: Elly Swartz

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: To Molly Nathans, perfect is:

• The number four
• The tip of a newly sharpened number two pencil
• A crisp, white pad of paper
• Her neatly aligned glass animal figurines

What’s not perfect is Molly’s mother leaving the family to take a faraway job with the promise to return in one year. Molly knows that promises are often broken, so she hatches a plan to bring her mother home: Win the Lakeville Middle School Slam Poetry Contest. The winner is honored at a fancy banquet with table cloths. Molly’s sure her mother would never miss that. Right…?

But as time goes on, writing and reciting slam poetry become harder. Actually, everything becomes harder as new habits appear, and counting, cleaning, and organizing are not enough to keep Molly’s world from spinning out of control.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for a finished copy of this novel!

Sam’s Review:

Finding Perfect is my kind of middle grade novel — it focuses on tough subject matters but does an amazing job of making them accessible to younger audiences without feeling patronizing or overly complicated. This is a novel about a girl named Molly who slowly learned throughout the novel that she suffers from OCD.

I want to throw out there what a delightful debut this novel is. I fell for Molly right from the get-go, and it’s because Swartz has this really inviting style of writing that eases the reader into Molly’s thoughts and feelings. Molly has her ticks, but they are introduced so organically into the story that it also makes it easy for the readers to understand where she is coming from, as well as sympathize with her. I loved her personality, and I found her emotions to be so rawly portrayed.

Actually, I should say her family is really well portrayed given that they all feel like they are suffering from neglect from a mother who had to take a job in Toronto to support her family. All of the siblings deal with this in such different ways, so it gave a very layered perspective on how siblings cope with an absent parent. I also loved Molly’s friends, I enjoyed that her environment was (mostly) supportive.

Most importantly, I love the way Swartz tackles the topic of OCD. I felt like I gained such a huge understanding of it and how young children my cope with it. I also loved the amount of research that went into making this novel authentic, and I am so happy that voices like Molly’s exist for readers who may have OCD and want representation. This novel does it with such grace and sensitivity, and I felt like I was very much a part of the story being an outsider who was looking in.

Fidning Perfect is nearly perfect. While it ends on a soft note (I admit, I would have loved to have known more), I feel like this is one of those middle grade books that will stay with the reader long after the book has been completed. Molly is such a wonderful heroine and I am looking forward to seeing what other stories Swartz will pen in the future.

 

Book Review – Wish by Barbara O’Connor

27414384Title: Wish

Author: Barbara O’Connor

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Charlie Reese has been making the same secret wish every day since fourth grade. She even has a list of all the ways there are to make the wish, such as cutting off the pointed end of a slice of pie and wishing on it as she takes the last bite. But when she is sent to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to live with family she barely knows, it seems unlikely that her wish will ever come true. That is until she meets
Wishbone, a skinny stray dog who captures her heart, and Howard, a neighbor boy who proves surprising in lots of ways. Suddenly Charlie is in serious danger of discovering that what she thought she wanted may not be what she needs at all.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for a finished copy of this book!

Sam’s Review:

Wish was a middle grade novel that wasn’t on my radar at all. I admit to being unfamiliar with Barbara O’Connor’s work, especially given she is a quite the name with quite the plethora of work in the land of middle grade. This book is about a young girl who comes from a broken home, is transplanted to live with her aunt and uncle, and has to learn to live in a new environment.

Charlie isn’t the sweetest girl given her upbringing — she’s very rough around the edges, very self-involved at times, and she struggles to understand right and wrong. This makes her a difficult character to be in the mind of at times because her emotions are completely founded, but she can also be so nasty to others at time. O’Connor does a great job of making her feel like a kid with problems and she doesn’t sugarcoat Charlie’s responses to others, which I appreciate so much. However, I feel like if I was a younger reader enjoying Wish, I think I would struggle to actually like and root for Charlie. I found my brain at odds with her character, because adult!me understands her character well, but child!me would have really disliked her as a character.

This is also a book about a girl who wants a dog, in this case, a stray named Wishbone. I won’t lie, the bits about wanting to trap Wishbone actually upset me at times, and even rubbed me the wrong way. I am happy, of course, that nothing happens to the dog, and I am even happier that Wishbone is able to help Charlie cope with her life problems, because I do believe in the healing power of animals, which this book shows very well. I also like the growth between the two characters, and how Wishbone brings Charlie out of her shell. The friendships that are forged in this book are so strongly written, so organically grown in the story, and those were my favourite parts when reading it.

Wish is a tough read — it will fill you with so many emotions as you’re reading it, and O’Connor does a good job of keeping her readers engaged in Charlie’s development. I wish the story had ended on a bit of a strong note, but I won’t deny the enjoyment I felt watching our heroine grow in the story. I loved her aunt and uncle, though I wish they had been more a part of the story, I adored Wishbone, in a way, I wish this book had been a bit longer so their could have been more character development. Still, I think this is a strong middle grade novel that is sure to win many awards and reader’s hearts.

ARC Review – Write This Down by Claudia Mills

27414439Title: Write This Down

Author: Claudia Mills

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Autumn loves to write. She finds inspiration all around her, especially in Cameron, the dreamy boy in her journalism class who she has a major crush on. Then her older brother, Hunter, who used to watch out for her but has grown distant since he started high school, reads one of her poems about Cameron to Cameron’s older brother. They make fun of it and she is devastated. Determined to show her brother how talented she really is, Autumn decides that she is going to become a published author – now! She writes an essay about her changing relationship with her brother, enters it in a contest, and wins, and her dream of publication is within reach. But if her essay is published, everyone will know her family’s secrets. Is being published worth hurting those you love?

Huge thank you to Raincoast/Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Write This Down is one of those middle grade novels that has a lot of great ideas, but it also is lacking as well. It deals with our heroine, Autumn, who wants to become a famous writer, and who actually writes down what she knows and sees. It’s to the point where she begins to write about her family, particularly the boy she has a crush on and the “sudden changes” in her older brother, Hunter.

One thing this book does incredibly well is that it builds on all the relationships in Autumn’s life. It’s a short book and yet I felt like I knew a lot about the different characters that she was interacting with, and Mills does an amazing job of giving us a larger picture as to what is going on between Autumn and her brother Hunter. I also want to applaud how much I loved the way Autumn and Kylee’s friendship was portrayed — it was so sweet and yet there were times when I wanted to smack Autumn and remind her how good she has it with that girl!

However, there was one thing about this book that felt very strange to me: Mills makes a lot of references to Emily Dickson and a lot of older forms of media presence, but this novel doesn’t establish when it all actually takes place? While I like the way Emily Dickson is used in the novel, I wonder with a lot of younger readers if her being referenced might go completely over their heads, or potentially encourage readers to investigate who she is. I question if Autumn can be a character that middle graders reading this novel now would be able to easily connect with or not. It’s tough to say.

I think this novel bursts with a lot of creativity and I think readers who are creative people will find lots to love about Write This Down. While I think a lot of stuff in this novel referenced feels a bit old, I won’t deny that at times I found it very charming. This novel is heartfelt and well developed, and overall I found it to be a sweet, quick little read.