Tag Archives: hmh books for young readers

Late to the Party ARC Review – Normal: One Kid’s Extraordinary Journey by Magdalena & Nathaniel Newman

Title: Normal: One Kid’s Extraordinary Journey

Author: Magdalena & Nathaniel Newman

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Who is to say what this word means? For Magda Newman, it was a goal. She wanted her son Nathaniel to be able to play on the playground, swim at the beach, enjoy the moments his friends took for granted. But Nathaniel’s severe Treacher Collins syndrome–a craniofacial condition–meant that other concerns came first. Could he eat without the aid of a gastrointestinal tube? Could he hear? Would he ever be able to breathe effortlessly? But Nathaniel looks at “normal” from a completely different perspective.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Normal is a memoir by a boy who has Treacher Collins syndrom, a craniofacial condition that is very unique. Written from the dual perspective of Nathaniel and Magda Newman, this book follows Nathaniel’s life growing up with TC and being the inspiration for R.J Palacio’s “Auggie” in her famous book Wonder!

This was a fast and compulsive read. What I enjoyed about this book was the honest and difficultly that comes with talking about such a subject matter, and I loved particularly Nathaniel’s parts given he is very forthcoming about how he was treated by other kids, how he handles his condition, and ultimately how Wonder helped a generation of kids learn to accept people born with unique differences. There’s a lot of good conversation starters for kids in this book, and I think there’s a lot of value in learning about how someone survives given unique circumstances. This family clearly has had hardship, but they also show amazing resilience as well.

I think for younger readers who are curious about the inspiration for Wonder will definitely find some enjoyment here. I don’t know how much of a book there would have been given the importance of Wonder in this family’s life, but I think Normal is a good and accessible memoir for younger readers, and I think Nathaniel’s struggles and triumph’s will definitely resonate for many people.

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Crossover by Kwame Alexander & Dawud Anyabwile

Title: The Crossover

Author: Kwame Alexander & Dawud Anyabwile

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: “With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . . The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. ’Cuz tonight I’m delivering,” raps twelve-year-old Josh Bell. Thanks to their dad, he and his twin brother, Jordan, are kings on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood—he’s got mad beats, too, which help him find his rhythm when it’s all on the line.

See the Bell family in a whole new light through Dawud Anyabwile’s illustrations as the brothers’ winning season unfolds, and the world as they know it begins to change.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I adored Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover a few years back. As a person who has very little interest in sports, I loved the way Alexander wove sports and family together through his beautiful poems. I loved the Bell family, I loved Josh’s narration, and there was also something about the twists and turns in Alexander’s prose that just had me completely head-over-heels.

This graphic novel version of The Crossover may even be better than the original. Having Dawud Anyabwile’s gorgeous illustrations accompany Alexander’s poetry is phenomenal. I felt like Anyabwile’s artwork really showcased the heart and soul of the Bell family’s trials and tribulations in such a way where it connected to the text perfectly. I loved the artwork, and how Josh and Jordan were designed, and I loved the attention to detail throughout.

The Crossover is still a wonderful and powerful story about family. A lot of what Alexander’s words stated in 2014, are just as true in 2019. This edition boasts amazing artwork to accompany Alexander’s beautiful words, and is a great addition to anyone’s graphic novel collection or just for anyone who loves story about family and the turbulence than comes with being a part of one.

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 – 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 – Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein by Jennifer Roy & Ali Fadhil

Title: Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein

Author: Jennifer Roy & Ali Fadhil

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: At the start of 1991, eleven-year-old Ali Fadhil was consumed by his love for soccer, video games, and American television shows. Then, on January 17, Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein went to war with thirty-four nations lead by the United States.

Over the next forty-three days, Ali and his family survived bombings, food shortages, and constant fear. Ali and his brothers played soccer on the abandoned streets of their Basra neighborhood, wondering when or if their medic father would return from the war front. Cinematic, accessible, and timely, this is the story of one ordinary kid’s view of life during war.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I was intrigued by Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein when I heard about it during Raincoast’s Fall #TeensReadFeed preview. It’s a story about living through bombings, yet still trying to live life despite constant fears. This book takes place during 1991 when Saddam Hussein goes to war with the United States. Ali Fadhil, an eleven year old boy, who just wants a normal life of loving soccer, video games and American television.

This was an interesting read since it’s grounded in historical events. Ali is such a sweet main character who seeks normalcy with his friends and family. His siblings Ahmed, Shirzad and Shireen are also such wonderful characters. You learn so much about their family life and how as children they have to cope with a war that is surrounding them. I felt so many feelings read this book, from sadness to laughter. There’s a lot of emotion in this very short read and a lot of Ali’s feelings truly pack a punch.

Overall, I really enjoyed Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein. It’s a very compelling read, and the author’s note is really intriguing given Ali’s life situation and who he becomes much later in life. I wish there had been a bit more characterization to all the other characters as they did feel a touch one note, but since this book is more about an event and a family’s connection to it, I can be forgiving. This is a great story and an absorbing read.

ARC Review – Meet Cute: Some People Are Destined to Meet Edited by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Title: Meet Cute: Some People Are Destined to Meet

Editor: Jennifer L. Armentrout

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Whether or not you believe in fate, or luck, or love at first sight, every romance has to start somewhere. MEET CUTE is an anthology of original short stories featuring tales of “how they first met” from some of today’s most popular YA authors. 

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Meet Cute was a book I requested entirely based on its cover. I had pure cover lust for this adorable looking book. Turns out, it’s a pretty cute, if not entirely remarkable short story collection.

One of the issues with short story collections is that some stories can be hit and some can be a miss. I think this collection in particularly because it’s about first meetings and loves, it makes it kind of tricky to really enjoy. However, I appreciate the diversity of couples and relationships in the story, and many of the stories featured a lot of great LGBTQIA+ characters. Some of my favourite stories in this collection where:

– Print Shop by Nina LaCour
– Somewhere That’s Green by Meredith Russo
– Oomph by Emery Lord
– Something Real by Julie Murphy

These were the four stories I really connected with while I was reading the book. These ones not only made me smile, but I felt they were the strongest in terms of an authentic first meeting. I wasn’t huge on the few stories that attempted science fiction, as those ones felt very awkward in the collection. I do love science fiction, but those stories felt out of place and more insta-lovey than I would have liked. Not to say the ones above don’t have insta-love, but I found my enjoyment was just there by comparison.

Meet Cute has a great variety in terms of stories and I think there’s definitely something for any reader than picks it up.

ARC Review – Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik

Title: Things I Should Have Known

Author: Claire LaZebnik

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: From the author of Epic Fail comes the story of Chloe Mitchell, a Los Angeles girl on a quest to find love for her autistic sister, Ivy. Ethan, from Ivy’s class, seems like the perfect match. It’s unfortunate that his older brother, David, is one of Chloe’s least favorite people, but Chloe can deal, especially when she realizes that David is just as devoted to Ethan as she is to Ivy.

Uncommonly honest and refreshingly funny, this is a story about sisterhood, autism, and first love. Chloe, Ivy, David, and Ethan, who form a quirky and lovable circle, will steal readers’ hearts and remind us all that it’s okay to be a different kind of normal.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!
I have adored Claire LaZebnik’s books in the past. They are cheeky, funny, and always full of heart. That’s not entirely the case where with Things I Should Have Known. This book is definitely full of heart and it definitely comes from a deeply personal place. I admit I had a bit of a rough start with this book, but it’s only because the introduction to Claire and Ivy is a slow burn with a lot of ground to cover. Once I got a few chapters in, I felt the spark from this book.

This book, at it’s core, is a book about autism and sisterhood. Ivy is autistic, while Claire is the older sister who becomes in a lot of ways, Ivy’s pillar of support. Claire teaches Ivy about dating, integrating with others, and through the story we come to learn that not only is Ivy autistic, but she is also gay. There’s a lot of exploration in this story revolving Ivy’s sexuality, how her autism affects her, and how she wants to feel like everyone else, despite knowing she is anything but. I really loved the way LaZebnik sheds light on the sister’s relationship: it shows a lot of strength and there is a part of me that could really relate the sister’s situation. Claire has to sacrifice parts of herself for Ivy, but it’s only because she cares so deeply for her sister and her happiness.

I really adored how real this book felt. The large conflicts at play, be it Ethan’s plotline or Claire’s relationship with David — there is something in how LaZebnik connects all these people together that just works so well. I also liked how long it took Claire and David to get together, it felt so organic and I found it made a lot of sense as I was reading a long. The only thing I can say in regards to the romance that I disliked was Claire trying to force Ivy into a relationship towards the beginning. I really didn’t like that, but I did understand Claire’s point of view in this regard (even if it didn’t make it right). I appreciate that this gets remedied later on when Claire and Ivy start to undercover Ivy’s sexuality more. It’s very interesting and thoughtful.

I feel like those who love raw YA novels will definitely love Things I Should Have Known. This is an amazing and well researched book that has really great characters, and it shows a lot of sensitivity. There’s a gentleness in this novel that is appreciated as it is thoughtful. If you love tough YA, this book is worth checking out.

Blog Tour – The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life by Kwame Alexander (Review & Excerpt)

Kwame Alexander, though not a new name for middle grade, is a new name for me. I had the pleasure of reading his short story in the collection Flying Lessons & Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh, and his was easily my favourite. Kwame Alexander has an amazing way with words, and I found his hero in that particular story be so honest and funny, it made me want to explore more of his work.

Raincoast approached me to share a review of The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life, which is a book of mixed media. In it contains Kwame’s beautiful words alongside Thai Neave’s stunning photography. Please enjoy my review, an excerpt, and some wonderfully wise words from Kwame Alexander.

Huge love to Raincoast again for allowing me to participate in this blog tour. Your friendship and kindness is always appreciated.


31193387Title: The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life

Author: Kwame Alexander

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: You gotta know the rules to play the game. Ball is life. Take it to the hoop. Soar. What can we imagine for our lives? What if we were the star players, moving and grooving through the game of life? What if we had our own rules of the game to help us get what we want, what we aspire to, what will enrich our lives?  Illustrated with photographs by Thai Neave, The Playbook is intended to provide inspiration on the court of life. Each rule contains wisdom from inspiring athletes and role models such as Nelson Mandela, Serena Williams, LeBron James, Carli Lloyd, Steph Curry and Michelle Obama. Kwame Alexander also provides his own poetic and uplifting words, as he shares stories of overcoming obstacles and winning games in this motivational and inspirational book just right for graduates of any age and anyone needing a little encouragement.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I am very new to Kwame Alexander’s work, and I am not going to deny that. When I was asked to help promote The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot and Score in This Game Called Life, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to be getting into. I admit, I’m not the biggest sports fan, which was my first worry, but I actually loved the way in which sports were used in this beautiful piece of non-fiction.

imageFirst off, I adore the writing in this book. Kwame Alexander is a true poet, and I think there is a wonderful simplicity in his poetry that allows for a lot of extra thinking in terms of multiple meanings. I also love that his poems are inspirational, confident and will inspire confidence in others. This book is filled with passion, kindness, and strength. I also loved the way the inspirational quotes were woven into the text, featuring the likes of Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippin. I think the quick anecdotes about different athletes and their rise to fame framing each section of the book was also fantastic, as learning about Lebron James and the William sisters was very interesting.

Second, I want to praise the use of photography in this book. I think that Thai Neave’s photographs do a stunning job of complimenting the poems and adding support to the text. I love photography and some of the images in this book are just so beautiful, and the way in which they match the text is often quite spot on. When Alexander is writing about the key feelings for the playbook of life such as passion, motivation, determination, etc, the photographs do an amazing job reflecting these emotions and the poem that is written to coincide it. While the writing in this book is stellar, just flipping through it for the breath-taking photographs is equally worth your time.

After reading The Playbook, I am very much a newfound Kwame Alexander fan, and I cannot wait to read more of his books. I love how even though this is considered middle grade there is so much wisdom in these pages for anyone or any age group. I think this book would be helpful for parents, teachers, librarians as well, as I feel like they can use this book to help teach some of these “rules” that Alexander shares with his readers. There is so much beauty in these pages, and even if you aren’t a sports fan, the metaphors that are present are completely universal. If you are looking for some inspiration or need some confidence, then check out The Playbook because it will give you with hard truths and a pick-me-up that you didn’t realize you needed.


About the Author

kwame

Kwame Alexander is a poet, educator, and New York Times Bestselling author of 21 books, including THE CROSSOVER, which received the 2015 John Newbery Medal for the Most Distinguished Contribution to American literature for Children, the Coretta Scott King Author Award Honor, The NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, and the Passaic Poetry Prize. Kwame writes for children of all ages. His other works include SURF’S UP, a picture book; BOOKED, a middle grade novel; and He Said She Said, a YA novel.


A huge thank you to Raincoast for providing me with this opportunity to share more about The Playbook, as well as Kwame Alexander for writing this wonderful book. If you are curious to learn more about The Playbook, make sure to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

banner

ARC Review – Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson

28114583Title: Midnight Without a Moon

Author: Linda Williams Jackson

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Rose Lee Carter, a 13-year-old African-American girl, dreams of life beyond the Mississippi cotton fields during the summer of 1955. Her world is rocked when a 14-year-old African-American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. A powerful middle-grade debut perfect for readers who enjoyed The Watsons Go to Birmingham and Brown Girl Dreaming.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Midnight Without A Moon is a timely read given the world’s political state at the moment. While it is a historical novel based on the event of Emmett Till’s murder in the summer of 1955, a lot of the events in this story are sadly things that are still happening in today’s world. While Rose’s story is not new, but what Linda Williams Jackson presents in this story is reminder of the world before and a world we need to need to make better.

I loved Rose, by the way. I loved her curiosity, her tenacity and her kindness. She’s a character I feel like a lot of young women can identify with and respect, as she holds such strong ideals for a better world. What’s heartbreaking is that Mississippi seems to be a place that no one can escape from, and if you do return back, you are forever changed. What really saddened me was Ma Pearl’s response to Rose’s desire to leave, especially because there is this mentality to keep your head low and just do what you are supposed to — in a way I couldn’t fault Ma Pearl, but again it’s a mentality that is a product of the time period.

There is so much hardship and prejudice in this story, and it’s so easy to engage with and be reminded that we’ve both come a long way, but also have reverted back into primitive forms of dealing with racial prejudice and oppression. Rose is a fantastic character because she believes in bigger, better, ideals, and I found myself nodding along to her values and what she wanted throughout the story — to have acceptance.

I felt like I learned so much from this novel, and the way in which the historical information was presented was truly well done. It never felt overpowering (which can sometimes be an issue in historical fiction) and its integrated in a way where it just feels organic to the progression of the story. Jackson’s prose is also just so beautiful and raw, making this book so wonderful and thoughtful to read.

Midnight Without a Moon is a very powerful middle grade novel, and one that offers a lot of thought even after the book has long been completed. It’s timely, it’s smart, and it reminds that the world has a lot of growing still to do. Beautifully written and emotionally charged, this is an amazing debut novel that should be read by everyone.

ARC Review – Girls Like Me by Lola St.Vil

28114572Title: Girls Like Me

Author: Lola St.Vil

Rating: ★★

Synopsis: Fifteen-year-old Shay Summers is trying to cope with the death of her father, being overweight, and threats from a girl bully in school. When she falls in love with Blake, a mysterious boy online, insecure Shay doesn’t want to tell him who she is. But with the help of her two best friends, as well as an assist by Kermit and Miss Piggy, ultimately Shay and Blake’s love prevails. 

 

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!
Sam’s Review:

Girls Like Me was a book I came out coveting from the #TeendsReadFeed event hosted by Raincoast. With its adorable cover and its interesting pitch, I thought this would book would be a grand slam for me. I love books about underdogs, about people don’t necessary fit into the molds of society, who want be loved, but there was a lot about this book that simply didn’t work for me.

First off, I really didn’t understand why this novel was written in verse. I like to think when a novel is written in verse that it’s attempting to highlight something specific by using the style to explore whatever it is they are attempting to show. In this novel, I found I just never connected with the use of verse. It was there but it didn’t evoke any real meaning or feeling for me. Also the sections that were written entirely in text message? Those were simply painful to read, and while I am sure teens likely do text that way, I had moments where it was hard to decipher what some of the short hands even meant.

The other thing is that I wanted to love Shay and I wanted to root for her, but the book was missing something there as well. All we know is that she’s bullied and she fat, but neither of these aspects are really explore because this is all we are really told about her character. We don’t actually know much about why she is bullied (although in truth, it is high school and sometimes bullies bully for the sake of it), but it just felt like something more was needed to make me connect to her on that emotional level, which I just felt like I never got reading this book. Being emotionally connected to characters is important to me, and I felt like Shay was very distant and very closed despite this being her personal thoughts.

The other thing I wish this book had pushed harder and started to before it fizzled off was looking at being “body positive.” It was there, then it kinda disappeared and I felt like the messages that the author was trying to convey started to get lost and over showed by Shay’s romantic feelings, which is totally fine, except that I don’t feel like I really got to know the guy she was falling for.

While I felt horrible for the way Shay was treated in the novel and the names she was called, I feel like this book was missing the spark for me to cheer for her when she does fight back. This isn’t a bad book at all, and I do think there will be readers out there who will connect emotionally to Shay’s story, I just wish I had been one of them.