Tag Archives: realistic fiction

ARC Review – These Things I’ve Done by Rebecca Phillips

Title: These Things I’ve Done

Author: Rebecca Phillips

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Before: Dara and Aubrey have been inseparable since they became best friends in sixth grade. However, as they begin their sophomore year of high school, cracks in their friendship begin to form, testing the bond they always thought was unbreakable.

After: It’s been fifteen months since the accident that killed Aubrey, and not a day goes by that Dara isn’t racked with guilt over her role in her best friend’s death. Dara thought nothing could be worse than confronting the memories of Aubrey that relentlessly haunt her, but she soon realizes it isn’t half as difficult as seeing Ethan, Aubrey’s brother, every day. Not just because he’s a walking reminder of what she did, but because the more her feelings for him change, the more she knows she’s betraying her best friend one final time.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I’ve had a copy of These Things I’ve Done since February, and I had constant hesitation to pick this book up. Books that deal with both guilt and grief are sometimes a topic that I need to be emotionally in the right frame of mind for, and this book based on the blurb told me I was going to have all the feels.

I did have feels, they just seemed to happen in the last hundred pages of the book.

This is a slow burn and one where the writing style really took me a bit to get into. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in the slightest, but I know writing style can always be a tricky thing, especially if you feel turned off at the beginning. Dara is a character that for the most part I struggled to connect with. I could empathize with her a lot, but I never felt a huge connection between her and I while I was reading the book, which is very important to me as a reader. I also weirdly could have done without the romance part of this book because I found myself unable to entirely buy into it. I think other readers will adore it, but I found it a little too obvious and frankly, really dull. It’s like Dara and Ethan couldn’t decide if they had or didn’t have chemistry, if that makes sense.

That being said, the subject matters this book tackles are utterly heartbreaking and that’s what I was there for, and I think Phillips delivers on that. Dara’s grief, her pain, and her guilt all translate so well in this story, and when she talked about life without Audrey, those were the parts of the book I lived for. When the book was in the sophomore year sections when Audrey was alive, I enjoyed it somewhat, but it was the living without sections that I found I was really glued to. I wanted to know what Dara did and why she felt the intense pain she did. I wanted to know the full extent of her damage, and I think the build to that is something the author did extremely well. I think she captured so much in Dara’s feelings that even though I had moments of disconnect with her, I somewhat understood why.

really loved many aspects of this book and it’s one I’ll be happy to recommend to the teens I work with at the library. I think Rebecca Phillips captures the spirit of teenage grief in a really well understood way, and I think it will definitely resonate with a lot of other readers. While I wasn’t in love with this book the way I thought I would be, I still am super glad I read it and didn’t DNF it like I originally was going to with that rocky start.

ARC Review – Get It Together, Delilah! by Erin Gough

Title: Get It Together, Delilah!

Author: Erin Gough

Rating: ★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Delilah Green wouldn’t have chosen to do her last year of school this way, but she figures it’s working fine. Her dad is on a trip to fix his broken heart after her mom left him for another man, so Del’s managing the family café in his absence. Easy, she thinks. But what about: homework and the nasty posse of mean girls making her life hell – or how one of Del’s best friends won’t stop guilt-tripping her – and her other best friend is so in love with his tutor he might go to jail for her if Del doesn’t do something

But who cares about any of that really, because above all else, she can’t stop thinking about beautiful Rosa who dances every night across the street until one day Rosa comes in the café door . . .

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I was very excited for Get it Together, Delilah!, but I will admit this book felt a bit far-fetched at times. This is the story of Delilah, a young lesbian who is in love with a beautiful Latina who works across the street from her father’s cafe. Delilah ends up running her father’s cafe while he is away mending his wounded heart, and that’s when the chaos begins. She’s unable to “get it together” between the cafe and school, needing to figure out how to do it all at once.

I will say I really loved Delilah’s voice. Her voice felt very authentic to the story and I found the way in which she described the world around her to be very interesting. I was less huge on her friends, particularly Charlie who rubbed me the wrong way for a large chunk of the story until he was redeemed. I liked Rosa’s character, although she felt a little too perfect and too good to be true.

Which leads me to my largest issue with this book: everything that happens is easily resolved. Like, too easily resolved. It’s hard to suspend your disbelief when for every bad thing, it’s easily fixed without a lot of effort. Every conflict Delilah faced seemed so easily fixed, and her dislike towards her competitors seems a little one-sided. These were the moments where I had a bit of trouble connecting to the narrative. Also, what was the deal with Delilah’s dad? I feel like even int he ending he accepts things way too easily.

I will maintain that the writing was comforting and easy to get into, but for a contemporary novel that should have been filled with tougher issues, I just had a hard time getting behind how simple and trivial a lot of the issues felt in the story. While Delilah and Rosa’s romance is adorable, and Rosa’s family story is wonderfully portrayed, it’s hard for me to praise the book any further.

So I liked this book, but I feel like the over-simplification of things damped the story a lot for me. I feel like there should have been bigger consequences for specific moments in the story. The parts I liked just didn’t outweigh the things I didn’t like, making this a hard book to recommend in the end.

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 – 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.

ARC Review – That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim

Title: That Thing We Call a Heart

Author: Sheba Karim

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Shabnam Qureshi is a funny, imaginative Pakistani-American teen attending a tony private school in suburban New Jersey. When her feisty best friend, Farah, starts wearing the headscarf without even consulting her, it begins to unravel their friendship. After hooking up with the most racist boy in school and telling a huge lie about a tragedy that happened to her family during the Partition of India in 1947, Shabnam is ready for high school to end. She faces a summer of boredom and regret, but she has a plan: Get through the summer. Get to college. Don’t look back. Begin anew.

Everything changes when she meets Jamie, who scores her a job at his aunt’s pie shack, and meets her there every afternoon. Shabnam begins to see Jamie and herself like the rose and the nightingale of classic Urdu poetry, which, according to her father, is the ultimate language of desire. Jamie finds Shabnam fascinating—her curls, her culture, her awkwardness. Shabnam finds herself falling in love, but Farah finds Jamie worrying.

With Farah’s help, Shabnam uncovers the truth about Jamie, about herself, and what really happened during Partition. As she rebuilds her friendship with Farah and grows closer to her parents, Shabnam learns powerful lessons about the importance of love, in all of its forms.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I will be 100% honest: it wasn’t until I had gone to Harper Collins’ Spring Preview that I had even hard of this book. It didn’t seem like there was a lot of buzz surrounding this one, which is a real shame, because it is a fantastic, punchy little book about family, friendship, religion and first love.

At it’s core That Thing We Call A Heart is really about the friendship between Shabnam and her “former” best friend Farah. The two had a falling out when Farah began to proudly start wearing her headscarf to school without consulting Shabnam. This small but significant incident spirals the two best friends into a situation where they learn to be a part for awhile, but converge on how to make their friendship whole again. There is also a romance involving a non-Muslim boy who is interested in Muslim culture, a father obsessed with Urdu romance poetry but doesn’t see his wife, and a mother who has so much love to give yet seems neglected. A lot happens in this tiny novel, and all of it is interesting.

Honestly, my favourite parts of this novel were the moments between Shabnam and Farah. When they were focusing on their friendship you can see the intense chemistry between the two of them and why they were friends in the first place. Sheba Karim does this amazing job of building the relationship between these two best friends and there is a genuine sense of care and compassion coming from both sides. When Farah begins to question Shabnam’s “relationship” with Jamie, she does it from such a caring standpoint, and while it seems like she may be playing devil’s advocate, you get a very genuine vibe from her that she simply wants what is best for Shabnam. Farah was easily my favourite character in this book, as she has such a fantastic and blunt attitude. We need more badass ladies like her in contemporary YA.

I also loved Shabnam, even though she definitely had some moments that were very frustrating. I think Sheba Karim does a great job of capturing a teenager who is head over heels regarding their first love, and you can feel the this sense that Shabnam truly is in love with Jamie throughout the story. It doesn’t feel trite or forced, it feels like teenage lovesickness — realistic and heartbreaking. I will say, I still kinda didn’t get Jamie’s appeal at all in the story, and that is maybe because he’s not the kind of guy I’d dig in the slightest, but I can respect Shabnam’s interest in the guy, and I do appreciate that he was written in a way where he was trying to understand and respect Muslim culture. I thought that aspect of his character was actually very well done.

Can I also say how much I loved Shabnam’s family? There are so many moments that were so funny and toughing between her and her folks. I thought her mum was adorable and sweet, and I loved how caring she is. I also found Shabnam’s father hilarious and I liked that he made no bones about who he is throughout. They felt like read parents, which in YA often is completely unheard of.

I am so glad I was given the chance to read this book, because when it comes to books that feel genuine from start to finish, That Thing We Call A Heart succeeds. I really adored my time with this book, and I felt like I was able to really connect with the characters in this story, even though I don’t share the same culture as them. I felt like I learned so much about Muslim culture and the importance of family, both birth and chosen. There’s a lot of beauty in this book, and the ending definitely left me heartbroken.

ARC Review – Me and Me by Alice Kuipers

Title: Me and Me

Author: Alice Kuipers

Rating: ★★

Synopsis: It’s Lark’s seventeenth birthday, and although she’s hated to be reminded of the day ever since her mom’s death three years ago, it’s off to a great start. Lark has written a killer song to perform with her band, the weather is stunning and she’s got a date with gorgeous Alec. The two take a canoe out on the lake, and everything is perfect—until Lark hears the screams. Annabelle, a little girl she used to babysit, is drowning in the nearby reeds while Annabelle’s mom tries desperately to reach her. Lark and Alec are closer, and they both dive in. But Alec hits his head on a rock in the water and begins to flail.

Alec and Annabelle are drowning. And Lark can save only one of them.

Lark chooses, and in that moment her world splits into two distinct lives. She must live with the consequences of both choices. As Lark finds herself going down more than one path, she has to decide: Which life is the right one?

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Alice Kuipers is a household name in Canadian YA fiction. Sad to say but this is the first novel of hers that I have read and I really struggled with it. I feel like Me and Me offers such an interesting premise to the reader with Lark’s two different perspectives, but the overall execution was confusing and sloppy. A lot of the time I feel like I didn’t entirely understand what the goal of this story was. Perhaps it boils down to me and the writing not jiving, but I really struggled to care about these characters.

For starters, I really disliked the romance between Lark and Alec. I found it very dull, and I didn’t really feel the emotional connection that compels them to be together. I didn’t feel the drive or the passion, and I again I think it’s because the writing style was trying to be more dreamy, which I wasn’t as huge on. I wanted to love this book given the tough choice and lasting consequence that is supposed to plague Lark through the story, but it didn’t feel compelling, and the level of disconnect towards Lark was ultimately what hindered the story for me. I kept hoping, hoping, hoping that I would find the connection to her that I wanted, but it never came.

I feel like this was a case of me not liking the execution of this story. I feel like for some readers, they would get the larger emotional punch that this story was attempting, but I never found myself personally buying into it. Me and Me is not a bad book in the slightest, this was just definitely a case of it didn’t work for me personally.

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.