Tag Archives: magical realism

ARC Review – The Miraculous by Jess Redman

Title: The Miraculous

Author: Jess Redman

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Wunder Ellis is a miracologist. In a journal he calls The Miraculous, he records stories of the inexplicable and the extraordinary. These miracles fill Wunder with the feeling that he is not alone, that the world is magical, that he is part of something brighter than he can imagine.

But then his newborn sister dies, at only eight days old. If that can happen, then miracles don’t exist. So Wunder gets rid of The Miraculous. And he stops believing.

Then Wunder meets Faye—a cape-wearing, outspoken girl with losses of her own. Together, they find an abandoned house by the cemetery and the old woman who lives there—and who might be a witch. The old woman asks for Wunder and Faye’s help. She asks them to go through graveyards and forests, to townhalls and police stations, by bike and by train. She asks them to believe. And together, they go on a journey that leads them to friendship, to healing—and to miracles.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Jess Redman’s debut The Miraculous starts with a hard punch to the gut. It’s seldom that middle grade novels look at the death of a sibling, and even worse an infant. Our main character, Wunder, has stopped believing in miracles, and is convinced that miracles are not real.

That snippet of information should immediately tell you what a rough ride The Miraculous is going to be. Wunder meets Faye, a girl who has also suffered extreme loss, and the two become friends, creating an understanding that grief strikes when it wants to. I could easily connect with this story, especially as someone who has lost people who are valuable to me. Faye’s responses to her trauma are much more aggressive and even vocal, which admittedly, was also something I connected with.

Despite its over arching theme of grief and loss, I want to stress thatThe Miraculous is a hopeful read, and one filled with a lot of magical realism. There’s so many fantastical elements in the story that create such a rich reading experiences, and the larger themes (both positive and negative) are highlighted in interesting or magical ways. What I equally love about this book is that its such a fast-paced read, so much so that I read it in two one hour lunch breaks because I needed to know what was happening to Wunder and Faye throughout the story.

I do think those who love story-driven magical realism will definitely love this book. I won’t lie though, as I do think the harshness of Wunder’s trauma may be difficult for some younger readers to understand or even bear. Even with that in mind, The Miraculous is a beautiful story that will fill readers with both hope and “wunder”!

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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.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Salt by Hannah Moskowitz

Title: Salt

Author: Hannah Moskowitz

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Even though their parents disappeared during a hunt three months ago, seventeen-year-old Indi and his siblings, Beleza, Oscar, and Zulu, continue to roam the Mediterranean on their sailboat and hunt down monsters–but Indi yearns for a more settled life for his family, and he hopes that his parents’ journal with its tantalizing hints of a treasure, will provide them all with the means of escape from their nomadic and dangerous life before it is too late.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This was a fun read. There’s not a lot of pirate stories out there, let alone one with a more modernized twist to it. Salt takes a look at a group of siblings who have a strong desire for adventure, as they hit the high seas.

Salt has a fantastic ensemble cast. Each of the siblings has a distinctive voice, each with memorable quirks and personalities. I think the book captures the good aspects of a pirate novel — there’s plundering, adventure, and a desire for independence. I think what also makes this book interesting is that there’s definitely a sense of existential dread that looms over the characters as well. I think what I struggled with though, is that while the characters felt well developed, the story just plodded along and it didn’t feel like a lot happened. I suppose in a way I thought this would be a more plot intensive book, given that most pirate stories are. Perhaps that was the wrong assumption to go into with this book.

I generally have a mixed relationship to Hannah Moskowitz’s books. I either love them to the ends of the earth, or they are just pretty good. Generally, I find I love her contemporary books over her fantasy novels, and that it true of Salt. This book has fantastic characters, but if you’re looking for a plot intensive book, that isn’t what Salt is about. Sadly for me, as much as I loved the characters and found it to be a quick read, ultimately, it’s going to be a forgettable one as time passes.

ARC Review – Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

Title: Wild Beauty

Author: Anna-Marie McLemore

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: For nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.

The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I LOVED When the Moon Was Ours, and it is a book I recommend so easily to teens who come into the library looks for magic realism or diverse reads. I have yet to read The Weight of Feathers, but I knew after my first Anna-Marie McLemore book that I would be sold on her for life. She’s an amazing writer who weaves such unique stories together while also featuring under-represented groups of people as the leads.

Wild Beauty and I actually didn’t connect right away. This book is slow, thoughtful, and it marches to the beat of its own drum. Apart of me as I was reading it felt like I didn’t entirely understand what was going or who the characters were becoming. However, the more I read, the more captivated I was by all the feelings I was having. This book just has such an ethereal quality to it — it’s like getting lost in something so beautiful, yet simple. There is so much mystery, intrigue, and I feel like I was being swept away.

And that’s really all I am going to say about Wild Beauty. While it has moments where it’s very slow, it’s a book that you need to keep going with it because it will grab you and when it does it doesn’t let go. The characters, the world, the writing, it’s so magical, and it’s an experience to say the least.

ARC Review – Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Title: Wishtree

Author: Katherine Applegate

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Red is an oak tree who is many rings old. Red is the neighborhood “wishtree”—people write their wishes on pieces of cloth and tie them to Red’s branches. Along with her crow friend Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this “wishtree” watches over the neighborhood.

You might say Red has seen it all. Until a new family moves in. Not everyone is welcoming, and Red’s experiences as a wishtree are more important than ever.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Katherine Applegate is a household name in middle grade fiction when it comes to writing emotionally charged stories that linger with you long after reading. Much like The One and Only Ivan, Wishtree is one of those stories that seems simple on the surface, but offers so much more below the surface.

This story is about a tree named Red, who is the neighbourhood ‘wishtree.’ They are a large part of the community, with people in the area pinning their wishes on them, hoping they would come true. Not only does Applegate give us the stories of all the neighbourhood residents, but we see this all through Red’s perspective, with our tree offering their opinion, sympathy and kindness.

I also want to point out how much I learned about trees when reading this book. I didn’t realize that trees are multigendered! I also loved learning about their growth as well. It seems appropriate that Red doesn’t have a gender construct given how all-knowing they are. I also liked Red’s friendship with Bongo the crow, and how they would watch the neighbours, trying to understand their wishes.

This is a book was difference and a community coming together. Given the fear of ‘others’ that exists in the world right now, this story shows multiculturalism in a way that shows difference, but how people <i>should</i> be better to one another. The families in this story all want what is best for themselves, but they also wish to help others. It’s a good message, and for those who love stories from a more unique perspective, look no further than Wishtree.

ARC Review – First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

21853633Title: First Frost

Author: Sarah Addison Allen

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis:  It’s October in Bascom, North Carolina, and autumn will not go quietly. As temperatures drop and leaves begin to turn, the Waverley women are made restless by the whims of their mischievous apple tree… and all the magic that swirls around it. But this year, first frost has much more in store. Claire Waverley has started a successful new venture, Waverley’s Candies. Though her handcrafted confections—rose to recall lost love, lavender to promote happiness and lemon verbena to soothe throats and minds—are singularly effective, the business of selling them is costing her the everyday joys of her family, and her belief in her own precious gifts.

Sydney Waverley, too, is losing her balance. With each passing day she longs more for a baby— a namesake for her wonderful Henry. Yet the longer she tries, the more her desire becomes an unquenchable thirst, stealing the pleasure out of the life she already has.

Sydney’s daughter, Bay, has lost her heart to the boy she knows it belongs to…if only he could see it, too. But how can he, when he is so far outside her grasp that he appears to her as little more than a puff of smoke? When a mysterious stranger shows up and challenges the very heart of their family, each of them must make choices they have never confronted before. And through it all, the Waverley sisters must search for a way to hold their family together through their troublesome season of change, waiting for that extraordinary event that is First Frost.

Huge thank you to St. Martin’s Press & Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review: 

If you’ve never read a Sarah Addison Allen book, it’s like being embraced by a big warm hug. The kind of hug that is tight, comfortable, and one you sink into. Garden Spells was a book recommended to me years ago, and one I read and received the same feelings towards. First Frost takes readers back to the Waverley family, and it was like seeing old friends who I haven’t heard from in a long time.

First Frost focuses mostly on Bay and Claire Waverley, particularly Bay’s mysterious abilities of being able to know an item or person’s place, and Claire, who has decided to pursue a new venture in candy. Sarah Addison Allen’s books will make you hungry, as food is always a huge part of the narrative — there was one line in particularly that made me giggle, which was about a tree that threw apples. Both Bay and Claire are delightful to follow, each with their own passions and problems. But I loved them just the same.

Sarah Addison Allen always makes family a huge part of her stories, and First Frost is no exception. One thing she manages to avoid that other authors often pitfall themselves in is the level of melodrama, which doesn’t exist here. A lot of the emotion the story deals with is raw and yet very subtle, while the magical elements really pop and shine. The romances in the story made me so happy, because the author does an amazing job showing the give in the take, plus I loved Josh — He was adorable clueless in some ways.

I could ramble on about First Frost, but I really don’t want to spoil it for people. Was it necessary to revisit the Waverley’s? Not really. Was a happy to? Absolutely. Sarah Addison Allen’s books make you want a warm blanket and a cup of tea, and being able to see old friends and where they are at in life was pleasurable enough for me.