Tag Archives: realistic fiction

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 – Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

Title: Goodbye Days

Author: Jeff Zentner

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Can a text message destroy your life?

Carver Briggs never thought a simple text would cause a fatal crash, killing his three best friends, Mars, Eli, and Blake. Now Carver can’t stop blaming himself for the accident and even worse, there could be a criminal investigation into the deaths.

Then Blake’s grandmother asks Carver to remember her grandson with a ‘goodbye day’ together. Carver has his misgivings, but he starts to help the families of his lost friends grieve with their own memorial days, along with Eli’s bereaved girlfriend Jesmyn. But not everyone is willing to forgive. Carver’s own despair and guilt threatens to pull him under into panic and anxiety as he faces punishment for his terrible mistake. Can the goodbye days really help?

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I have heard for various friends and bloggers that Zentner’s The Serpent King was an amazing debut novel. I’ll admit that I haven’t read it yet, and instead was handed his latest novel by my bookish angel over at Penguin Canada. I knew a bit about this book, more like, I knew the tag line and that a text message would play a larger roll. What I wasn’t expecting, was how deeply involved I would get into Carver’s story.

This was one of those reads that I dreaded putting the book down. Every time I had to put it down, whether it was to do chores, work, or help someone else… I was thinking about this book. Goodbye Days had that strong of an effect on me. I felt for Carver throughout the story; his grief, anxiety, depression, anger, loss — he feels a whirlwind of emotions, feels as though he has no control, and is told to keep pressing on. I found him easy to relate to, and I feel like I connected with him given my own personal circumstances (very different, but the emotional impact was very much the same).

I loved the way Zentner wrote the Sauce Crew, and I found myself really draw to the flashbacks in this book. At times, they felt like cheesy teenagers doing stupid things, but I found the way in which they were portrayed to be easy to connect with. They genuinely are friends! And it’s nice to see that genuineness in the writing as well. You get larger sense in the story as to how close each member was, and Carver does a great job sharing with the reader their stories, their lives, and his overall connection to them.

I won’t sugarcoat this: Goodbye Days is a very sad, depressing book. For it’s bits of glimmer and humour, it’s a sad tale that will take you to sadtown with no real way out. Expect sadness, but expect a book that feels raw as well. The writing has some moments of awkward, but overall I really did love this story, and I was always compelled to keep reading. Goodbye Days is a lovely, emotional novel that will leave you with all the feels.

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.

ARC Review – Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman

30375777Title: Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined

Author: Danielle Younge-Ullman

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Then: Ingrid traveled all over Europe with her opera star mother, Margot-Sophia. Life was beautiful and bright, and every day soared with music. Now: Ingrid is on a summertime wilderness survival trek for at-risk teens: addicts, runaways, and her. She’s fighting to survive crushing humiliations, physical challenges that push her to her limits, and mind games that threaten to break her. Then: When the curtain fell on Margot-Sophia’s singing career, they buried the past and settled into a small, painfully normal life. But Ingrid longed to let the music soar again. She wanted it so much that, for a while, nothing else mattered. Now: Ingrid is never going to make it through this summer if she can’t figure out why she’s here, what happened to Margot-Sophia, and why the music really stopped.”

Huge thank you to Penguin Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

When I received Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined in the mail, the synopsis had me instantly intrigued. This is a story about family, self-discovery, and how people can transform after a difficult event. Readers will spend a lot of this time wondering who Ingrid is writing to, what has actually happened to her mother, and why she is on this crazy wilderness retreat.

I absolutely loved this book. I found Younge-Ullman’s writing so beautiful and very gripping. Ingrid’s voice is crass, it’s raw, and I found myself always wanting to know more about her and her situation. I absolutely loved her relationship with her “father” and I loved that he wanted to accept Ingrid and her mother, flaws and all. There’s not a lot of people out there who are willing to go that extra mile when joining a family. Having these flashback sequences were so beneficial in telling this story, because when you go back to the bits with Ingrid in the wilderness, you begin to see all the cracks in her facade.

I also loved Ingrid’s adventures in the Canadian wilderness. As a young woman who spent the majority of her life traveling around the world with her opera singer mother, it’s intriguing to see Ingrid’s responses to nature, particularly right at the beginning of the book when all her supplies are taken from her and disposed. I feel like I would have had the same traumatic reaction. Furthermore, I love her transformation during the excursion, because she goes from being pampered and disgruntled to someone with intense drive and purpose. I also loved Ingrid’s letters as well and I found them to be a wonderful touch in the story.

Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined is a story that grows on you. Ingrid is an amazing protagonist and she’s accompanied by such an amazing cast of support characters. I found myself compulsively reading, needing to know what happened between Ingrid and her mother, and the payoff was worth it. Emotional and raw, this book will continue to resonate with you long after it’s been completed.

ARC Review – Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno

28926581Title: Everything All at Once

Author: Katrina Leno

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Lottie Reeves has always struggled with anxiety, and when her beloved Aunt Helen dies, Lottie begins to fear that her own unexpected death might be waiting around every corner.

Aunt Helen wasn’t a typical aunt. She was the author of the best–selling Alvin Hatter series, about siblings who discover the elixir of immortality. Her writing inspired a generation of readers.

In her will, she leaves one last writing project—just for Lottie. It’s a series of letters, each containing mysterious instructions designed to push Lottie out of her comfort zone. Soon, Lottie’s trying some writing of her own, leaping off cliffs, and even falling for a boy she’s only just met. Then the letters reveal an extraordinary secret about the inspiration for the Alvin Hatter series. Lottie finds herself faced with an impossible choice, one that will force her to confront her greatest fear once and for all.

Molly’s Review:

I HAVE SO MANY EMOTIONS RIGHT NOW.

This book was so amazing and hit me so close to home. Much like Lottie, I was close to my grandmother the same way she was with her aunt. All of her emotions and grief I felt deeply while reading this and there were parts that really gut punched me at the most random times.

This book made me cry. I rarely cry over books and I choked up quite a few times and kinda lost it at the end. SO MANY EMOTIONS.

The characters were all so wonderful. I really love the way that Katrina Leno writes siblings and best friends. I also loved the parents in this book A LOT. Abe was my favorite & I wish that I had a brother like him.

The whole Alvin Hatter book series was fucking perfection. To be honest I am NOT a fan of the “book within a book” type of books (I loved Fangirl but hated the Simon parts and won’t read Carry On. There have also been other books that I have skipped or dropped because of the book within a book parts) but it worked SO WELL in this book. The sections that were from the Alvin books actually made me yearn for a Harry Potter reread. But the best thing about the Alvin books is that they AREN’T Harry Potter specifically. They are Narnia, they are Percy Jackson, they are A Wrinkle in Time, they are The Golden Compass. Alvin Hatter is the stand in for your favorite childhood books paying homage to them all. And that is what I loved so much about them. (Yes Aunt Helen is totally the JKR of this world).

This book is surprising too and if you’re a close reader you’ll be able to figure out the magic. I was SO PLEASED with the ending and with the clues and with Aunt Helen’s big secret. I was so happy with the choices Lottie made too.

There is also A TON of diversity in this book that is reflective of the world around us. I really love how naturally Katrina writes diverse characters without it feeling like she just forced them in for diversity’s sake. It feels very REAL and authentic.

I feel like this book was meant for me. I am so honored that Katrina let me read it so early. This book was made up of so many things that I love (letters in a book! Amazing friendships, quite romance, hilarious conversations, musings about time and the universe, magic, Conor Oberst).

Lastly, if you are a book lover or a writer, this book will be something that you can really understand and just really connect with. So please check it out this coming July!

ARC Reviews – A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom

28575699Title: A Tragic Kind of Wonderful

Author: Eric Lindstrom

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: For sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to keep everyone at arm’s length. And when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to come out and upend her shaky equilibrium.

As the walls of Mel’s compartmentalized world crumble, she fears the worst–that her friends will abandon her if they learn the truth about what she’s been hiding. Can Mel bring herself to risk everything to find out?

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

Sam’s Review:

I had a weird relation with this book as I was reading it. In fact, for such a short book I had put it down for six days without reading it because something within its contents gave me a reason to. I won’t lie to readers, Mel is a challenging heroine — she’s very distant from the reader, sometimes to the point where you never feel like she’s going to be open enough either. I hit a point with her where I was frustrated and it caused me to put the book down.

After some internal monologue and a few days away from the book, I picked it up again, determined I needed to see it to the end given I have this habit that I don’t like to give up on people or ficitional characters apparently. I am happy I saw her story to the end.

Lindstrom’s writing has a very simplistic quality to it that makes it very engaging. Mel is so into her own mind, thoughts and feelings that she doesn’t see beyond the world. She’s so focused on the death of Nolan, the guilt and anxiety that is present within her and its to the point where everyone she’s ever loved has been pushed far, far away from her. I can relate to that. Sometimes it’s on purpose, other times its just done unconsciously. My frustrations with Mel came from seeing myself in her and I think it’s why a part of me avoided this book for the while that I did.

Mel’s illness is rough, but her reactions and responses are so realistic, right down to the friends she keeps. I really liked the way Lindstrom handled the teenage drama in this book because the responses didn’t feel melodramatic, but rather on point. People do blow situations out of proportion, some people do try to be an alpha in a friendship, some people will try to take all the attention for themselves — all these reactions felt right in place with the story. I felt so angry with a lot of the characters in this book because none of them every stopped to look at the bigger pictures, which again shows a lot of strength in the story being told here.

There are parts of this book that I think will make readers uneasy at times, but I do think A Tragic Kind of Wonderful offers some wonderfully realistic characters trying to seek light in dark places. It is for those who wish to understand those with mental illness, and what Mel feels throughout the story sheds a lot of light on the stigma of mental illness, even if she s a character can feel really infuriating at the same time. If you like deep contemporary YA, this is definitely worth checking out.