Tag Archives: realistic fiction

Late to the Party ARC Review – Invisible Ghosts by Robyn Schneider

Title: Invisible Ghosts

Author: Robyn Schneider

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Rose Asher believes in ghosts. She should, since she has one for a best friend: Logan, her annoying, Netflix-addicted brother, who is forever stuck at fifteen. But Rose is growing up, and when an old friend moves back to Laguna Canyon and appears in her drama class, things get complicated.

Jamie Aldridge is charming, confident, and a painful reminder of the life Rose has been missing out on since her brother’s death. She watches as Jamie easily rejoins their former friends–a group of magnificently silly theater nerds–while avoiding her so intensely that it must be deliberate.

Yet when the two of them unexpectedly cross paths, Rose learns that Jamie has a secret of his own, one that changes everything. Rose finds herself drawn back into her old life–and to Jamie. But she quickly starts to suspect that he isn’t telling her the whole truth.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have loved all of Robyn Schneider’s books that she has published. I figured given her track record and my enjoyment, Invisible Ghostssurely was going to be a new favourite. I was expecting to love this, and it was just okay. Saying that it was just okay breaks my heart a little bit, but that is the truth.

When this book was being pitched to me, I was told it was an exploration of grief. That statement is true to an extent, given this is a story about Rose believing that she can see the ghost of her best friend and brother, Logan. The parts of the story where Rose and Logan interacted were easily some of the best parts of the story, and I really enjoyed those moments.

Where I struggled with this book was the romance between Jamie and Rose. I just couldn’t connect with it, I felt very hollow at times, and frankly, I was bored. I know part of Jamie’s story is that he is helping Rose through her grief, but I felt like at times the book made this element a bit too easy, undermining what it means to feel a sense of loss. I think what frustrated me more is that Robyn Schneider has explored the topic of grief before, and I think it was done much better in her other books than Invisible Ghosts.

While I love Robyn Schneider’s writing style, I found that this book and I just didn’t connect the way I was hoping. Perhaps I put too high an expectation on this book given past experiences, or maybe I just wanted something with a lot more depth on a topic that I connect with than this book provided. I think there will be plenty of readers who will love Invisible Ghosts and not much the surface level discussion of grief, but I won’t lie, my expectations were just a bit too high.

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ARC Review – Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert

Title: Finding Yvonne

Author: Brandy Colbert

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Since she was seven years old, Yvonne has had her trusted violin to keep her company, especially in those lonely days after her mother walked out on their family. But with graduation just around the corner, she is forced to face the hard truth that she just might not be good enough to attend a conservatory after high school.

Full of doubt about her future, and increasingly frustrated by her strained relationship with her successful but emotionally closed-off father, Yvonne meets a street musician and fellow violinist who understands her struggle. He’s mysterious, charming, and different from Warren, the familiar and reliable boy who has her heart. But when Yvonne becomes unexpectedly pregnant. 

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Finding Yvonne is a book I would have accidentally avoided if it hadn’t been for the fact that it is penned by Brandy Colbert. I am generally not a huge fan about books that involve teen pregnancy or pregnancy in general. However, I think what drew me to this book is that it is a portrait of a girl well on her way to a successful career, how he life gets thrown off course, and how she ends up making one of the most difficult decisions of her life.

This book is intense. I felt so much reading this book because Yvonne felt like a girl whom you’d chat with, seeming so down to earth, and very kind. Her feelings for the men that she gives herself to is also so genuine. The discussion of sex and sexuality is well captured in this book, and this is a very sex-positive book. This book also has a fantastic discussion supporting pro-choice as well. I also loved the family dynamics in this book, especially between Yvonne and her father. Her family relationships felt so realistic as well.

Finding Yvonne is an amazing book with a lot of loaded discussion questions. I think adults and teens can relate to a lot of what happens in this story, and Yvonne is just such a lovable character. If you don’t mind character studies or books focusing on teen pregnancy, please read this book. It’ll spark fantastic discussion.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Tiny Infinities by J.H. Diehl

Title: Tiny Infinities

Author: J.H. Diehl

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: When Alice’s dad moves out, leaving her with her troubled mother, she does the only thing that feels right: she retreats to her family’s old Renaissance tent in the backyard, determined to live there until her dad comes home. In an attempt to keep at least one part of her summer from changing, Alice focuses on her quest to swim freestyle fast enough to get on her swim team’s record board. But summers contain multitudes, and soon Alice meets an odd new friend, Harriet, whose obsession with the school’s science fair is equal only to her conviction that Alice’s best stroke is backstroke, not freestyle. Most unexpected of all is an unusual babysitting charge, Piper, who is mute—until Alice hears her speak. 

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This book was very much a slow burn for me as far as middle grade reads are concerned. This is a book about loss, change, friendships, and swimming. When Alice’s father leaves her family, she decides to take refuge in his old Renaissance tent in the backyard. Her summer is showing constant change, as she meets a new girl who loves science, but is a bit odd. She meets a girl who is a mute that she attempts to befriend, and she spends her days learning that perhaps difference and change isn’t such a bad thing.

Alice’s story is one I think a lot of readers will be able to relate to. She’s learning to deal with her family getting a divorce, she’s determined to try and stop her world for changing. Alice is lovable as a heroine — she’s stubborn, determined, and a bit shy. She’s a character I think a lot of readers will connect with because she goes through events in her life that are challenging, and there is such an unknown feeling to the changes she encounters.

I also really liked the writing in this book, even if the story was a tad slow. I did find Harriet, Alice’s newfound friend, to be a bit of a difficult character. At times she read very robotically, though that may stem from the fact that she is very intelligent and somewhat socially awkward. I think she’s a character kids may have some trouble with just because her vocabulary is so advanced compared to other children in the story, but I think given how she is portrayed, it makes a lot of sense.

I enjoyed my time with Tiny Infinities. I loved it’s message about how adapting to change can be wonderful and rewarding, and I loved that as a middle grade story, it had subject matters that kids could relate to, but they were still complex enough to be challenging. I definitely look forward to recommending this to more patient middle grade readers. I don’t recommend this for readers looking for a fast paced adventure, because that doesn’t exist here.

ARC Review – Breakout by Kate Messner

Title: Breakout

Author: Kate Messner

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Nora Tucker is looking forward to summer vacation in Wolf Creek–two months of swimming, popsicles, and brushing up on her journalism skills for the school paper. But when two inmates break out of the town’s maximum security prison, everything changes. Doors are locked, helicopters fly over the woods, and police patrol the school grounds. Worst of all, everyone is on edge, and fear brings out the worst in some people Nora has known her whole life. Even if the inmates are caught, she worries that home might never feel the same.

Told in letters, poems, text messages, news stories, and comics–a series of documents Nora collects for the Wolf Creek Community Time Capsule Project–Breakout is a thrilling story that will leave readers thinking about who’s really welcome in the places we call home.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Breakout wasn’t what I thought it would be for a middle grade novel. It is a mixed media novel filled with comics, letters, text messages, and documents that are collected. It’s also based on a jail breakout that occurred in 2015 and the grinding halt it put a town into.

This book took me awhile to read. The first half moved so quickly, to the point where I was pretty swept up in the story. Then I hit the middle and the book came to this weird, grinding halt for me. I mixed media style wasn’t engaging me anymore and if I am being honest, the main fault of this book is that it’s actually a bit too long for it’s own good, and I feel like parts of it could have easily been edited down.

That being said, I loved the social activism in this book. Nora, Elidee, and Lizzie, are very engaged young adults who are trying to understand fear mongering, depression, discomfort, and alienation. The Wolf Creek Community is shocked to its core when two inmates break out of the nearby prison. Nora, Elidee and Lizzie talk about how the adults project onto them, while also writing to a future generation who may not realize what this situation has done to the community.

What I like about Kate Messner’s novels is that they always have an element of excitement to them. They are engaging, exciting, and they have such a consistent flow for readers. This book has all that, but it’s interesting seeing the level of discomfort in the story, and that felt new here. I will also point out, I love the recommendations that Messner put into the back of the book and I definitely want to check out all the books on those lists that I haven’t read yet.

While I didn’t enjoy Breakout as much as The Exact Location of Home, I still think this is going to be a great middle grade novel for readers who love stories that are different. I think this book will kindle the interest of middle graders who are interested in social activism and understanding justice. I think it will spark great conversation as well, and I look forward to recommending it to many of my middle grade readers at the library!

Late to the Party ARC Review – Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

Title: Emergency Contact

Author: Mary H.K. Choi

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: For Penny Lee high school was a total nonevent. Her friends were okay, her grades were fine, and while she somehow managed to land a boyfriend, he doesn’t actually know anything about her. When Penny heads to college in Austin, Texas, to learn how to become a writer, it’s seventy-nine miles and a zillion light years away from everything she can’t wait to leave behind.

Sam’s stuck. Literally, figuratively, emotionally, financially. He works at a café and sleeps there too, on a mattress on the floor of an empty storage room upstairs. He knows that this is the god-awful chapter of his life that will serve as inspiration for when he’s a famous movie director but right this second the seventeen bucks in his checking account and his dying laptop are really testing him. 

When Sam and Penny cross paths it’s less meet-cute and more a collision of unbearable awkwardness. Still, they swap numbers and stay in touch—via text—and soon become digitally inseparable, sharing their deepest anxieties and secret dreams without the humiliating weirdness of having to see each other.

Huge thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I’ll be honest: I kind of ignored the hype surrounding this book. I felt like it was going to be a book that I thought would just be “okay” or “that was fine.” When I got it in my Simon and Schuster Canada goodies bag from the Ontario Library Association’s Super Conference, I was intrigued, but not in the best frame of mind to read this book.

I loved, and slowly devoured Emergency Contact. I picked it up on a whim during a crazy and difficult period in my life, and it’s a book I was constantly connecting with. I loved Penny and Sam, and I while they do frustrating and even unthinkable things, I cared about their every action, and I wanted them to be better off by the end. I love that this is first and foremost a friendship novel. Penny and Sam meet in such an awkward, uncomfortable way, and they become each other’s “emergency contact” — the person they connect with when life is beating them black and blue.

This book has a very slow build, but I found myself really loving and engaging with it. This isn’t a book I found myself reading quickly, but rather small bits at a time because I found the situations that the characters engaged in to be difficult to read about at times. Sam’s plot-line in particular had me yelling and flailing my arms in anger, while Penny I could easily relate to (despite being nothing like her) and seeing how she has to deal with changes beyond her control. The writing in this book is playful, lyrical and fun despite the darker tone in it, and I think Choi does a fantastic job of getting readers to care and emote while reading this novel.

I am definitely going to have to buy myself a copy of this book because I feel like it’s one I will get the itch to reread. While I feel like this book is pretty hyped, it’s also one I don’t think that had that intention in the first place. This is a very quiet book, and one that builds and builds until it crashes so hard that everything feels messy and raw. I love novels like that, and I think it’s why Emergency Contactresonated with me the way it did. It’s definitely not for every reader, but if you love quieter books that offer a detailed character study of two lost young adults, I think this book is highly worth the read.

ARC Review – Here So Far Away by Hadley Dyer

Title: Here So Far Away

Author: Hadley Dyer

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Feisty and fearless George Warren (given name: Frances, but no one calls her that) has never let life get too serious. Now that she’s about to be a senior, her plans include partying with her tight-knit group of friends and then getting the heck out of town after graduation.

But instead of owning her last year of high school, a fight with her best friend puts her on the outs of their social circle.  If that weren’t bad enough, George’s family has been facing hard times since her father, a police sergeant, got injured and might not be able to return to work, which puts George’s college plans in jeopardy.

So when George meets Francis, an older guy who shares her name and her affinity for sarcastic banter, she’s thrown. If she lets herself, she’ll fall recklessly, hopelessly in love. But because of Francis’s age, she tells no one—and ends up losing almost everything, including herself.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I had the pleasure of meeting Hadley Dyer at the OLA Superconference earlier this year, and she was a joy to chat with. Her debut YA novel was something I could tell was close to her heart, and focused on some darker subject matters that for me as a contemporary fan, I easily gravitate towards. George (also known as Frances) is one of those heroines who goes through so much growing up in one story and what she deals with is something I feel like people may have a hard time accepting.

This book looks at an older male relationship at its core. George meets a man named Francis who shares her love of witty banter and sarcasm, but he’s nearly ten years older. For those who are uncomfortable by an older male relationship in a story, this likely might not be the book for you. I do want to stress though what an interesting and deep character Francis is given he knows that he shouldn’t be with such a younger woman, and to the point where you see it as something he struggles with. His relationship with George is one where you can see all the cogs in their brains turning, they know they shouldn’t, and it’s a point they debate frequently in the story. I was worried this would squick me out because normally I am not good with this aspect in a story, but here I appreciated that Francis wasn’t predatory in any way.

Frankly, I love both characters too. I think outside of the relationship aspect both George and Francis grow so much in this story, and there’s a genuineness in the way they are written. They learn from each other, you see that they want to be better people even for each other, but neither of them are necessary in a good emotional place to be in a proper relationship. I think Dyer writes this relationship in such a way where both characters are so well developed that they feel very realistic in their feelings and approaches towards each other.

I loved George. I saw myself in her, especially in that she uses self-deprecating humour and sarcasm as a means to hide her true self — someone who is isolated, afraid, and living with series doubts regarding her family situation (he father can no longer work), how she’ll pay for college, if she’s able to repair her friendships, and come to terms with whatever it is she has with Francis. You see a heroine who makes terrible choices, behaves in unlikable ways, and yet she’s someone we all know, and for me I can appreciate the layers that she has. I won’t lie and say I didn’t yell at the book with some of the decisions she made (I yelled a lot), but part of me knew that George is so smart and sharp and yet she knows the decisions she makes are bad and she’s okay with it.

This book was such a slow burn for me, but it’s one I grew to appreciate as I read on. I loved Dyer’s writing style and I found it so engaging. This is not the kind of book you can just whip through as there is so many little nuances within the story that I feel like on a second reading, I may enjoy even more.

ARC Review – Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

Title: Tyler Johnson Was Here

Author: Jay Coles

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: When Marvin Johnson’s twin, Tyler, goes to a party, Marvin decides to tag along to keep an eye on his brother. But what starts as harmless fun turns into a shooting, followed by a police raid.

The next day, Tyler has gone missing, and it’s up to Marvin to find him. But when Tyler is found dead, a video leaked online tells an even more chilling story: Tyler has been shot and killed by a police officer. Terrified as his mother unravels and mourning a brother who is now a hashtag, Marvin must learn what justice and freedom really mean.

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

We need more books like Tyler Johnson Was Here, written by young voices. This fantastic debut explores police brutality, racism, prejudice, and the way in which people are labelled. This book is about a boy named Marvin, who loses his twin brother, and begins to start his own social media revolution. This story is powerful, it’s thoughtful, and it has me excited to see what Jay Coles is going to write in the future.

I do want to talk about the writing because I think I will be hit-or-miss with some reader. There are moments of beautiful passages and metaphors, but there’s also moments where the writing does feel a tad stilted and awkward. There were a few times where I had to reread sentences to ensure I knew what Marvin was getting at, though this only happened a few times. Regardless of how you view the language, the subject matter is fairly brutal and very eye-opening.

Marvin is a fantastic protagonist going through grief, and I found I could connect with him on that level. There are instances where he shuts down and he’ll mention how he feels empty or lonely, and I know it was something I could relate to. The loss of Tyler in this story shows how torn apart Marvin and his mother are, as through a large part of them was stolen by police violence. You get a sense throughout the story that people, specifically white people, need to smarten up and listen — and damn straight we do.

I will say, I wasn’t entirely super sold on the relationship between Marvin and Faith in the story. It felt too insta-lovey for me personally, but I will say that I did like Faith as a character a lot. I loved that she tried to be guidance for Marvin, offering him support and kindness. I loved G-Mo and Ivy, who I felt were developed just enough that you see their compassion and care for Marvin and his family. Hell, I even adored the passages we get from Marvin’s father in prison and some of the lessons and social commentary he makes about being black and living in a world where people peg you one way, and it’s all they can see.

I think Tyler Johnson Was Here is a powerful debut that tackles some rough subject matters, and does it in such a pro-active way. It doesn’t shy away from emotion, it’s brutally honest and unapologetic, and we need more stories like this. I feel like I still have so much to learn after reading this book.