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ARC Review – Lost Boys by Darcey Rosenblatt

Title: Lost Boys

Author: Darcey Rosenblatt

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Based on historical events, this unforgettable and inspiring tale for middle-grade readers is about a young boy torn from the only life he’s ever known and held captive as a prisoner of war.

In 1982, twelve-year-old Reza has no interest in joining Iran’s war effort against Iraq. But in the wake of a tragedy and at his mother’s urging, he decides to enlist, assured by the authorities that he will achieve paradise should he die in service to his country.

War does not bring the glory the boys of Iran have been promised, and Reza soon finds himself held in a prisoner-of-war camp in Iraq, where the guards not only threaten violence—they act upon it. Will Reza make it out alive? And if he does, will he even have a home to return to?

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Lost Boys is both a beautiful people of historical fiction. While this book is classified as middle grade fiction, it actually reads much older in some aspects of the story, but regardless of that it’s a very heartbreaking and beautiful story about friendship in Iran during 1982. According to the author’s note, parts of the story where based on an account by her neighbour who had been growing up in Iran.

Reza is a wonderful protagonist who is both kind as he is curious. You learn about Reza’s love of Western music which he got from his Uncle. You learn his love of modern music and the kinds of songs that were present in the 1980s. In some regards this makes Reza seem a little older than he actually is, but I found him to constantly be endearing throughout the story. His friendship with Ebi and Miles are both unique aspects in the story as Ebi at the tender age of twelve believes young boys need to die for their nation, while Miles an Irish aid worker tries to instill a different perspective…

…And it works well in this story. In this story you see Reza feeling torn between the love of his family and country, but also struggling with his feelings towards the political environment in Iran. Characters like Ebi break your heart because they are the product of propaganda, the belief that every man must die for his nation. There’s an idealism in this notion, but the story shows how many of the children are completely robbed of childhoods.

Lost Boys is a very thoughtful read, and Rosenblatt is a beautiful writer. I appreciated much of the leg work that went into this novel, and if you haven’t read the Author’s Note it is worth checking out just to get some extra context to where the author was coming from with the story. This book will leave you sad yet very hopeful in the end.

ARC Review – Fetch: How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home by Nicole J. Georges

Title: Fetch: How a Bad Dog Brought Me Home

Author: Nicole J. Georges

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: When Nicole Georges was sixteen she adopted Beija, a dysfunctional shar-pei/corgi mix—a troublesome combination of tiny and attack, just like teenaged Nicole herself. For the next fifteen years, Beija would be the one constant in her life. Through depression, relationships gone awry, and an unmoored young adulthood played out against the backdrop of the Portland punk scene, Beija was there, wearing her “Don’t Pet Me” bandana.   Georges’s gorgeous graphic novel Fetch chronicles their symbiotic, codependent relationship and probes what it means to care for and be responsible to another living thing—a living thing that occasionally lunges at toddlers. Nicole turns to vets, dog whisperers, and even a pet psychic for help, but it is the moments of accommodation, adaption, and compassion that sustain them. Nicole never successfully taught Beija “sit,” but in the end, Beija taught Nicole how to stay.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I knew this book was going to emotionally wreck me. This is the story of Nicole J. Georges and her dog, Beija. Beija is a shar-pei/corgi mix with some behavioral troubles. She’s not comfortable with people petting her, she’s somewhat aggressive when people emit different kinds of energy levels. She is constantly told by people that she is a horrible, no good, bad dog. However, reading this graphic memoir you can see through Nicole George’s perspective that Beija is also a misunderstood dog.

As someone who owns a bulldog, I actually found myself understanding where the author was coming from. It’s hard because in some circumstances you understand why people see and say what they do when they think something is wrong with a dog’s behavior, but the fault in that is that often people don’t give certain breeds of dog a chance to become better.

It’s very evident in this story how much the author loved her dog and how much her dog helped me with a dark period of her life. Animals have magic powers in this regard, they know when their companion needs them and will do anything to try and make things better. I also loved the artwork in this graphic memoir. It’s got great visual appeal and the author does an amazing job of illustrating the story that she wanted to tell.

I really loved this story, and I definitely want to check out more of Nicole J Georges graphic memoirs. Fetch is both funny as it is heartbreaking, and if you are an animal lover and owner it will probably make you cry. I know I did.

ARC Review – Bubbles by Abby Cooper

Title: Bubbles

Author: Abby Cooper

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Sophie Mulvaney’s world has been turned upside down. Mom lost her job at the TV station and broke up with Pratik, whom Sophie adored. Her teacher is making them do a special project about risk-taking, so Sophie gets roped into doing a triathlon. And to top it all off, she’s started seeing bubbles above people’s heads that tell her what these people are thinking. Seeing other people’s thoughts seems like it should be cool, but it’s actually just stressful. What does it mean that Pratik wishes she and Mom were with him to eat dinner? Is her best friend Kaya really going out with their other best friend, Rafael, whom Sophie also has a crush on? And can Sophie’s mom ever go back to her old self? In this funny, heartwarming novel, Sophie comes to learn that people are more than what they seem—or what they think.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I will admit, I am unfamiliar with the works of Abby Cooper. She is well loved in the middle grade sphere for her first book Sticks & Stones (which after reading Bubbles I now want to read). I wasn’t sure what I was going to get with Bubbles, but what is presented is a very sweet story of friendship with a pinch of magical realism.

This is a book entirely looking at perceptions of others. Sophie, our heroine, can see thought bubbles over people’s heads and she is instantly given an impression of the people that surround her. It’s a pretty interesting concept for a middle grade novel, also given that this is a story about risk-taking and essentially trying to be the best version of yourself. There’s some wonderful messages in this book that I feel will appeal to middle grade readers, as well as adults who love middle grade.

My favourite aspects of this book were Sophie’s relationships. She is constantly given reasons to pre-judge people with her ‘bubbles’ ability, and it’s interesting to see her mind fight with the images that she sees. Sometimes she finds herself agree with what the bubbles show, and other times you see that she struggles to see the best in everyone. I think Abby Cooper does a good job of showing this balance, which I think can be hard to do given the novel concept of seeing thought bubbles.

Bubbles is a very genuine novel. It’s one of those stories where the author does a fantastic job of tapping into the insecurities and impressions that young children can often have as they are growing up. I definitely want to check out Cooper’s first novel, but Bubbles definitely left me thinking long after I had closed the book.

ARC Review – The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

Title: The Names They Gave Us

Author: Emery Lord

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Everything is going right for Lucy Hansson, until her mom’s cancer reappears. Just like that, Lucy breaks with all the constants in her life: her do-good boyfriend, her steady faith, even her longtime summer church camp job.

Instead, Lucy lands at a camp for kids who have been through tough times. As a counselor, Lucy is in over her head and longs to be with her parents across the lake. But that’s before she gets to know her coworkers, who are as loving and unafraid as she so desperately wants to be.

It’s not just new friends that Lucy discovers at camp—more than one old secret is revealed along the way. In fact, maybe there’s much more to her family and her faith than Lucy ever realized.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I absolutely adored this book. I find Emery Lord’s works have this way of capturing my attention and making me fall in love with the teens that she writes. They are flawed, imperfect, but lovable people. The Names They Gave Us may be her most powerful novel to date, and easily her most difficult in terms of subject matter as well.

Lucy is a great heroine. She’s devoted to her religious beliefs, has the perfect boyfriend, and loves her family deeply to the point of resentment at times. Her mother’s cancer reappears and she struggles to grasp that this could be the end for her mother, and ends up at a camp for teens dealing with tougher issues. There she makes wonderful, thoughtful friendships and grows into a stronger person. Lord does a fantastic job of showing Lucy’s growth in the story, and I think it shows when she learns about Anna, a trans girl at the camp. Their friendship was easily one of my favourites, and I enjoyed the way in which Anna educates Lucy about trans rights and issues transpeople face.

I also think how Lord deals with Lucy and her faith is very intriguing. It reminded me of my all time favourite novels, Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu, although they are coming at the topic in very different ways. Lucy trying to reconcile her feelings about the people she meets and what the Bible has taught her is played up very well in this story, and I think this is just another area where Lord shows magnificent growth for Lucy as a character.

The Names They Gave Us is a beautiful, smart, sensitive read that offers amazing and thoughtful character development. Lord continues to show readers that she can work with tough issues, make them accessible, and still write a heartbreaking and touching story. WhileWhen We Collided still remains my favourite of hers, this one is a close second.

ARC Review – The Song From Somewhere Else by A.F. Harrold & Levi Pinfold

Title: The Song From Somewhere Else

Author: A.F. Harrold & Levi Pinfold

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Frank thought her summer couldn’t get any worse–until big, weird, smelly Nick Underbridge rescues her from a bully, and she winds up at his house.

Frank quickly realizes there’s more to Nick than meets the eye. When she’s at his house, she hears the strangest, most beautiful music, music which leads her to a mysterious, hidden door. Beyond the door are amazing creatures that she never even dreamed could be real. For the first time in forever, Frank feels happy . . . and she and Nick start to become friends.

But Nick’s incredible secrets are also accompanied by great danger. Frank must figure out how to help her new friend, the same way that he has helped her.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I admit, I wasn’t familiar with A.F Harrold’s works until I read The Song From Somewhere Else. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting from this book, but it’s pretty swell.

This book is a very sad yet whimsical middle grade read. There’s a beautiful blend of magic realism that is used to tell a story of bullying and self-empowerment. Frank is a great character to follow and I like how the author shows her growth in the story, especially after being bullied. She’s easy to sympathize with, and her friendship with Nick Underbridge is one of the more beautiful aspects of this story.

I will say the twist was a little odd for me in this book. Not bad, just odd. I wonder if it’s something that middle grade readers would be surprised by or put together on their own. I did find the writing, though lovely, very flowery at times. However, despise my complaints I whipped through this book in two sittings because I did find the story very compelling and watching Frank’s grow became very important to me. I will say, the artwork that accompanies the story is gorgeous, and I like the way it compliments what is happening in the story, adding an extra bit of depth to Frank’s story.

I think The Song From Somewhere Else is a fun read, and an easy book to read in one or two sittings. It’s very compelling and it does a great job of grabbing the reader and wanting to see the mysterious elements through to the end.

ARC Review – I Love You, Michael Collins by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Title: I Love You, Michael Collins

Author: Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: It’s 1969 and the country is gearing up for what looks to be the most exciting moment in U.S. history: men landing on the moon. Ten-year-old Mamie’s class is given an assignment to write letters to the astronauts. All the girls write to Neil Armstrong (“So cute!”) and all the boys write to Buzz Aldrin (“So cool!”). Only Mamie writes to Michael Collins, the astronaut whowill come so close but never achieve everyone else’s dream of walking on the moon, because he is the one who must stay with the ship. After school ends, Mamie keeps writing to Michael Collins, taking comfort in telling someone about what’s going on with her family as, one by one, they leave the house thinking that someone else is taking care of her—until she is all alone except for her cat and her best friend, Buster. And as the date of the launch nears, Mamie can’t help but wonder: Does no one stay with the ship anymore?

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I read this book in a day, and my goodness is it adorable. This book is the story of Mamie, a young girl who has a school assignment wherein she must write letters to an astronaut. While every other kid in her grade selects Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin, Mamie selects Michael Collins, the man responsible for orbiting around the moon.

Through a series of letters, Mamie pouring her heart and soul, sharing all her feelings to Michael Collins. Since this story takes place in 1969, a lot of this story looks at the space race, Vietnam, and other historical events that Mamie is witnessing through television. Each letter shares a bit more about what is personally going on with Mamie, from her parent’s falling out, to her sisters growing up, to her feelings for her best friend Buster. This story is so sweet, and so sad at the same time. It’s also just a very quick read as Mamie is so easy to love as a character.

This short and sweet read is for anyone who loves middle grade contemporary. Mamie is delight and her letters will easily pull you in.

ARC Review – Internet Famous by Danika Stone

Title: Internet Famous

Author: Danika Stone

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: High school senior and internet sensation Madison Nakama seems to have it all: a happy family, good grades, and a massive online following for her pop-culture blog. But when her mother suddenly abandons the family, Madi finds herself struggling to keep up with all of her commitments.

Fandom to the rescue! As her online fans band together to help, an online/offline flirtation sparks with Laurent, a French exchange student. Their internet romance—played out in the comments section of her MadLibs blog—attracts the attention of an internet troll who threatens the separation of Madi’s real and online personas. With her carefully constructed life unraveling, Madi must uncover the hacker’s identity before he can do any more damage, or risk losing the people she loves the most… Laurent included.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I love books about fandoms and internet celebrities. I love learning about their rise to popularity, and I think this book does a great job showing the pros and cons of internet fame. Madi is a very fun heroine to follow and she’s someone who loves her fandoms deeply, loves keeping her blog MadLibs busy and stocked with content, and she’s definitely a girl with passions.

I have dealt with what Madi has gone through in this story having worked in the video games industry since 2009. I’ve never had someone go as far as dox me (which geez, I felt terrible for Madi dealing with that), but I’ve definitely had my share of trolls over the years. I think Stone does a fantastic job portraying Madi’s feelings regarding her blog life versus her real one. I found her very easy to connect with, and I’d argue my favourite bits of this novel were all the scenes with her sister Sarah, who is autistic. I think their relationship was just really well portrayed and I like the way in which Sarah grows in the story as well, especially at the end. You get a huge sense that the sisters really care about one another.

I will admit that the mixed media format took a bit to grow on me. I’m not always huge on books that feature chat logs or or Snapchats, and that part of this book did take me a bit to get into. I totally see the appeal and I think many teen readers will definitely gravitate towards that style. Same with the romance in this book: Madi and Laurent are cute, but I wasn’t really in love with their romance. It’s sweet, but it lacked the organicness that I generally like when I read a romance. Still, it’s cute, fluffy, and will give you diabetes.

Internet Famous is a cute, quick read. It’s a book you can fly through in a day and it offers a lot of of fun, as well as some interesting drama. I definitely now want to check out Danika Stone’s All the Feels after reading this one. Like I said, the romance in this book will definitely rot your teeth with sweetness.