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ARC Review – Real Friends by Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham

Title: Real Friends

Author:  Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends ever since they were little. But one day, Adrienne starts hanging out with Jen, the most popular girl in class and the leader of a circle of friends called The Group. Everyone in The Group wants to be Jen’s #1, and some girls would do anything to stay on top . . . even if it means bullying others.

Now every day is like a roller coaster for Shannon. Will she and Adrienne stay friends? Can she stand up for herself? And is she in The Group—or out?

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Have you ever read a book that you felt perfectly reflected parts of your life? That’s how I felt when I was reading Real Friends and watching Little!Shannon go through the motions of making friends. Being that this is an autobiographical graphic novel, it’s interesting to see how the artwork and the story co-exist — truthfully, the art does an amazing job capturing this story.

I felt for Shannon throughout the whole book. I was one of those kids who was forced out of “The Group” or was picked last because they didn’t always fit in. I was bullied, shamed, and pushed around. It got to the point where throughout my elementary school years that I really struggled to make friends with other girls (boys, hilariously, no issue). I wanted girl!friends, but when sixth grade began I remember what a dark place I was in. How different I was compared to the other kids in my grade. Like Shannon who was connected to writing her novels and having imagination time, I was similar in my love of drawing, colouring and playing with toys. I always had ongoing plotlines that would span weeks and weeks of “episodes” but by sixth grade, no one thought playing with toys was cool anymore.

And that’s what a lot of this story is about. It’s about Shannon trying to make connections with others while also staying completely true to herself, which in this day and age is hard to do. Children are surrounded with so many new pressures that they lose sight of the person they want to be and become, and I love and appreciate the message that Hale and Pham share throughout this story and being yourself. I found myself nodding a long to the story, cheering for Shannon in her successes, but also having those same possessive feelings when you feel like a friend only belongs to you and no one else (which is totally how kids think when they are young, I did it repeatedly).

I think many kids and adults will love Real Friends and I think it offers some important commentary about what it means to grow up and figure yourself out. Packed with gorgeous artwork and it’s strong storytelling, Real Friends is the perfect book for those in the awkward middle stage, who may need a small helping hand.

ARC Review – Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

Title: Forget Me Not

Author: Ellie Terry

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: A girl with Tourette syndrome starts a new school and tries to hide her quirks in this debut middle-grade novel in verse.

Calliope June has Tourette syndrome. Sometimes she can’t control the noises that come out of her mouth, or even her body language. When she and her mother move yet again, she tries to hide her TS. But soon the kids in her class realize she’s different. Only her neighbor, who is also the class president, sees her as she truly is—a quirky kid, and a good friend. But is he brave enough to take their friendship public?

As Callie navigates school, she must also face her mother’s new relationship and the fact that she might be moving again—just as she’s starting to make friends and finally accept her differences. This story of being true to yourself will speak to a wide audience.

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

Forget Me Not is a very unique read with an important message. I think Ellie Terry’s novel has so much value in teaching readers about Tourette syndrome. Her protagonist, Calliope suffers from Tourette syndrome, is forced to go to a new place every year, and she never feels like she gets to settle or be herself. A lot of kids look at her strangely because of her tics, and she struggles to make friends due to this condition. She meets a boy named Jinsong who takes a shine to her and they embark on a wonderful friendship.

Calli is an easy character to love and feel sympathy for. She wants to feel like everyone else, wants to feel as though her Tourette syndrome doesn’t define her, and simply, she wants to feel normal. These are all very reasonable things. However, I will admit that I struggled with this book half being written in verse. As much as the poems were beautiful, I found they made me feel distanced from Calli a lot of the time. I felt like could understand her feelings, but by the other side of it, I struggled to really connect with her. In a lot of ways, I did love this story and I do feel it is super important, I think I just wish I could have connected more with the writing. I also think books in verse can be a hard sell to middle grade audiences, regardless of how amazing the story or subject matter is.

Jinsong’s sections were written much more traditionally, and I actually found his sections worked much better for me as a reader, and I loved the way Terry merged the two narratives together. Jinsong and Calli’s relationship is insanely sweet and so genuine. Their moments were easily some of my favourites in the story.

What I adored about Forget Me Not is its sheer honesty. I have never read a book where a character had Tourette syndrome, and I found this read to be very eye opening as well. I think it’s also amazing of the author to share her personal experiences with Tourette syndrome with the reader, just to give them a sense of how truly close to the topic they are. This book was a learning experience for me in a lot of ways, and I appreciate so much of what the author was doing in using her characters to not only educate the reader, but offer a perspective that perhaps they weren’t thinking about. Forget Me Not is a beautiful story through-and-through, and I can only hope more readers pick it up as a means to educate themselves a bit more about life with Tourette syndrome.

 

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.

ARC Review – Windwitch (The Witchlands #2) by Susan Dennard

29939390Title: Windwitch (The Witchlands #2)

Author: Susan Dennard

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: After an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak—which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed.

When the Bloodwitch Aeduan discovers a bounty on Iseult, he makes sure to be the first to find her—yet in a surprise twist, Iseult offers him a deal. She will return money stolen from him, if he locates Safi. Now they must work together to cross the Witchlands, while constantly wondering, who will betray whom first?

After a surprise attack and shipwreck, Safi and the Empress of Marstok barely escape with their lives. Alone in a land of pirates, every moment balances on a knife’s edge—especially when the pirates’ next move could unleash war upon the Witchlands.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

So I feel like I am in a minority with this series. I thought Truthwitch was delightful candy, but Windwitch was just… more candy. I didn’t find this sequel as compelling to read as the first book, which is a real shame given how fast I whipped through Truthwitch. I think the reason I didn’t enjoy Windwitch as much was that there just wasn’t enough Safi and Iseult.

Safi and Iseult were easily my favourite parts of Truthwitch. I loved their friendship, I loved their banter, and I maintain that they are the superior ship over Safi/Merik (mostly due to my dislike of Merik). Sadly, this book didn’t change my feelings of Merik, which I hoped it would given he had much more of a larger focus in this installment. I still find him bland and cheesy, and there is part of my brain that is still not computing why Safi and Iseult are the main ship. Well, they can be the mainship in my heart.

I actually liked the way this book separated all the different plotlines that were at work, but like any story that focuses on multiple plotlines, some are going to be stronger than others. My personal favourite of the bunch was Iseult and Aeduan scenes, which I thought were pretty stellar. I also really enjoyed Vivia’s plotline as well. I feel like Safi got the short end of the stick in this book, because her sections felt very out of place a lot of the time, or didn’t feel like they connected fully with the rest of the book. I still adore Safi as a character, but I feel like she didn’t get her due in Windwitch.

I just found this book to be all over the place. I feel like Dennard had a bit too much going on in this novel and it was simply missing a lot of the cohesion that existed in Truthwitch. That being said, I do think the book was still fun to read, and it’s definitely fantasy candy for me. If you liked Truthwitch, keep your expectations in check when you read Windwitch because your feelings may go either way.

ARC Review – Blueberry Pancakes Forever (Tuesday McGillycuddy #3) by Angelica Banks

Title: Blueberry Pancakes Forever (Tuesday McGillycuddy #3)

Author:  Angelica Banks

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Winter has fallen in the world of story, and at Brown Street, Tuesday’s typewriter lies silent. Far away in the Peppermint Forest, Vivienne Small fears that she will never again feel the touch of the sun…But when the mysterious Loddon appears in Vivienne’s treehouse, he brings with him terrible danger. Without warning, Tuesday is swept up into the world of story as she has never seen it before. In this forbidding and unfamiliar place – and without her beloved dog Baxterr at her side – Tuesday becomes Loddon’s captive. But who exactly is this strange boy? And will she find a way to defeat him?..Blueberry Pancakes Forever will capture the hearts of everyone who is entranced by the power of story.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I am so depressed that the Tuesday McGillycuddy series is completed. This has been one of my “go-to” middle grade series that I love to recommend to kids at my work. It’s funny, it’s enchanting, the writing is stunning, the characters are delightful — it’s the complete package for any middle grade lover. I loved each installment of this series, but reading Blueberry Pancakes Forever was both wonderful and bittersweet all the same.

I can’t go into too much detail for this review because it is a series and there are events leading into this finale. There’s a lot of drama in this book, particularly involving Vivian Small, Tuesday’s mother’s leading character in her popular children’s series. Baxterr the dog also has some awesome moments in the story as well (although let’s be real here, Baxterr is always the best). I also love the incorporation of food in Blueberry Pancakes Forever, and we get to see more of Tuesday’s family dynamic as well.

There’s also some very heavy moments in this story. For all this series’ humour, there are some gut-punching moments that I know got me as I was reading along. Especially in the first few pages, even! But in all honesty, if you’ve never read the Tuesday McGillycuddy series and you love middle grade, this is A+, will read again material. If you have a young one who loves magic and fun characters, this series is equally for them. While I am sad that this is the last book in the series, I really cannot wait to see what Angelica Banks has in store next.

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.

ARC Review – The Pants Project by Cat Clarke

26828816Title: The Pants Project

Author: Cat Clarke

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: A Transformer is a robot in disguise. Liv is a boy in disguise. It’s that simple. Liv knows he was always meant to be a boy, but with his new school’s terrible dress code, he can’t even wear pants. Only skirts.

Operation: Pants Project begins! The only way for Live to get what he wants is to go after it himself. But to Liv, this isn’t just a mission to change the policy- it’s a mission to change his life. And that’s a pretty big deal.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

The Pants Project is one of those books I knew I had to read when I first discovered it. It is the story of Liv who is transgendered, but goes to a uniformed school that has some strict policies regarding gender and the clothing that must be worn. Liv launches “The Pants Project” in an attempt to show that gender norms shouldn’t be the norm, and since Liv is a boy, he feels that he shouldn’t be subjected to wearing a skirt if he doesn’t identify as female.

This book is an amazing little gem that offers big discussion about being transgendered, as well as rights for those who are transgendered. Liv is a great hero who often discusses with the reader what his identity is like (he states it’s like a Transformer, which I can totally see), what people see on the surface and why people need to dig a bit deeper. Liv’s narration is a wonderful tour de force, showcasing in such simple but powerful ways the kinds of discussion that needs to be had at schools regarding students who are transgendered. Liv’s quest in providing this knowledge doesn’t come without challenges, but he has great support in Jakob, who is just an amazing and sharply written character. Seriously, he and Liv are a delight when they are on the page together.

Also I loved that Liv had two moms. In fact, if I am being honest, the moms were my favourite characters in the story because I love how different their personalities were, but the joke of the story is that they are called “The moms.” I love how their personalities differed on somethings, but they always come together. If anything I wish their had been more of them in the story because they were seriously delightful.

The Pants Project is a fantastic discussion about transgender identity told through a fantastic and clever hero. Much like George before it, Cat Clarke weaves a courageous tale about a young boy who wants to be treated properly, and at the end of the day isn’t that what anyone wants? If you loved George then The Pants Project should easily be your next go to book, as it is both touching as it is smart.