Tag Archives: realistic fiction

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.

ARC Review – Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson

28114583Title: Midnight Without a Moon

Author: Linda Williams Jackson

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Rose Lee Carter, a 13-year-old African-American girl, dreams of life beyond the Mississippi cotton fields during the summer of 1955. Her world is rocked when a 14-year-old African-American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. A powerful middle-grade debut perfect for readers who enjoyed The Watsons Go to Birmingham and Brown Girl Dreaming.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Midnight Without A Moon is a timely read given the world’s political state at the moment. While it is a historical novel based on the event of Emmett Till’s murder in the summer of 1955, a lot of the events in this story are sadly things that are still happening in today’s world. While Rose’s story is not new, but what Linda Williams Jackson presents in this story is reminder of the world before and a world we need to need to make better.

I loved Rose, by the way. I loved her curiosity, her tenacity and her kindness. She’s a character I feel like a lot of young women can identify with and respect, as she holds such strong ideals for a better world. What’s heartbreaking is that Mississippi seems to be a place that no one can escape from, and if you do return back, you are forever changed. What really saddened me was Ma Pearl’s response to Rose’s desire to leave, especially because there is this mentality to keep your head low and just do what you are supposed to — in a way I couldn’t fault Ma Pearl, but again it’s a mentality that is a product of the time period.

There is so much hardship and prejudice in this story, and it’s so easy to engage with and be reminded that we’ve both come a long way, but also have reverted back into primitive forms of dealing with racial prejudice and oppression. Rose is a fantastic character because she believes in bigger, better, ideals, and I found myself nodding along to her values and what she wanted throughout the story — to have acceptance.

I felt like I learned so much from this novel, and the way in which the historical information was presented was truly well done. It never felt overpowering (which can sometimes be an issue in historical fiction) and its integrated in a way where it just feels organic to the progression of the story. Jackson’s prose is also just so beautiful and raw, making this book so wonderful and thoughtful to read.

Midnight Without a Moon is a very powerful middle grade novel, and one that offers a lot of thought even after the book has long been completed. It’s timely, it’s smart, and it reminds that the world has a lot of growing still to do. Beautifully written and emotionally charged, this is an amazing debut novel that should be read by everyone.

ARC Review – The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu

30201161Title: The Careful Undressing of Love

Author: Corey Ann Haydu

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Everyone who really knows Brooklyn knows Devonairre Street girls are different. They’re the ones you shouldn’t fall in love with. The ones with the curse. The ones who can get you killed.

Lorna Ryder is a Devonairre Street girl, and for years, paying lip service to the curse has been the small price of living in a neighborhood full of memories of her father, one of the thousands killed five years earlier in the 2001 Times Square Bombing. Then her best friend’s boyfriend is killed, and suddenly a city paralyzed by dread of another terrorist attack is obsessed with Devonairre Street and the price of falling in love.

Set in an America where recent history has followed a different path.

Huge thank you to Miss Print’s ARC adoption for this review copy.

Molly’s Review:

This book was fucking gorgeous. I fell in love with this book at first sight because the cover it just so stunning. I have bookstagrammed it a few times because it is just so beautiful. I actually probably wouldn’t have asked for this book if not for the cover and the fact that it’s magical realism. I wasn’t a huge fan of this author’s other books, but I wanted to give it a shot.

The writing in this book is fantastic. It sucks you in and even if the story is lacking (cuz it was in a few places) you just get so wrapped up in how lyrical the writing is that you can’t not fall in love with it. I really enjoyed all of the characters and the mysterious New York City that they lived in, I loved the magical realism parts, and the way that love was used as a curse, a weapon, a sentence.

This is a story about four girls who grow up in the shadow of a curse. There’s an old lady who lives on their street and she’s akin with a cult leader. The girls living on this street have to follow certain rules and not fall in love or else the boy they love will die suddenly, before their time. As does with many superstitions, many of the traditions lose their meanings and the girls stop giving power to the curse. They buck tradition, they skimp on certain rituals, and they fall in love. Only when a boy they all care about dies do they fall back and take a hard look at the curse and the people they love.

In the background of this story of the girls there’s also a tragedy that’s similar to 9/11. Many of the girls’ fathers died in what is called the Time’s Square bombing. The story takes place seven years after the bombing and the girls are all part of the Affected. History has been re-written so rather than learning about the terrorists we instead learn about the people who died. The girls have to deal with two different stigmas, people’s prejudices against them as cursed girls AND Affected, and they struggle with “tourism grief” and people coming around to see the “cursed girls”.

There’s a bit of mob mentality as the curse seems to take stronger hold and the women of the street, those who have lost someone, those who haven’t yet, all come together and the ending of this book is heartbreaking and stunning.

I do wish that some of the things in the background of this story had been fleshed out more; I really would have liked to have had more about the bombing (but I guess not getting too much information was a reflection of the way that society had stopped caring about who did it and rather who was affected), and also I would have liked to have learned the fates of a few of the girls after the last chapter (there’s an epilogue). Also there were times when I kept thinking “so the curse only works if one of the girls falls in love with a BOY?” and if you’re worried about this, don’t, because it does delve into how it works if one of the girls falls in love with a girl as well.

ARC Reviews – Love and First Sight by Josh Sundquist

24921988Title: Love and First Sight

Author: Josh Sundquist

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: On his first day at a new school, blind sixteen-year-old Will Porter accidentally groped a girl on the stairs, sat on another student in the cafeteria, and somehow drove a classmate to tears. High school can only go up from here, right?

As Will starts to find his footing, he develops a crush on a charming, quiet girl named Cecily. Then an unprecedented opportunity arises: an experimental surgery that could give Will eyesight for the first time in his life. But learning to see is more difficult than Will ever imagined, and he soon discovers that the sighted world has been keeping secrets. It turns out Cecily doesn’t meet traditional definitions of beauty–in fact, everything he’d heard about her appearance was a lie engineered by their so-called friends to get the two of them together. Does it matter what Cecily looks like? No, not really. But then why does Will feel so betrayed?

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

Sam’s Review:

I loved Josh Sundquist’s non-fiction novel We Should Hang Out Sometime. It made me laugh, it educated me about disability, and I loved how open the author was about his life. This is Josh Sundquist’s debut YA novel, which focuses on Will, a boy who is blind and is going to a public school for the first time in his life. His parents are afraid of him being a part of the public school system considering he was transferring from a special school for the blind. He then falls for a girl he cannot actually see and decides to undergo a radical surgery that could potentially give him back his eye sight.

This book is so wonderful, so funny, and so heart-warming. Josh Sundquist has this crazy ability to be so inviting when he shares a story, and Will is just such a sweet protagonist who has such amazing intentions. He cannot see, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have aspirations, as he wants to be a journalist, a job that really is focused on sight. I felt invested in his story, his friendships, his family, and that’s the markings of a great main character. You can also feel the amount of research that Sundquist did to bring such an authentic story. I also love love loved Cecily, who is the love interest, and I ADORED the way Will and Cecily’s relationship develops given her own personal problems. They are such a sweet couple, and I actually love how long it took to get to that in the novel.

This is a book that can easily be read in a day. It is a sweet contemporary novel that offers a really unique perspective written by someone who understands disability lit. This book isn’t mind-blowing, but it just so funny and genuine and sometimes those are the kinds of books you need to make you smile. Even the research in regards to Will’s surgery was so well implemented, and I wanted to know more about it. I think readers will completely fall in love with Will when this book releases in January. Then while you are at it, read the Author’s Note, because it is so fascinating.

ARC Review – Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

28101540Title: Under Rose-Tainted Skies

Author: Louise Gornall

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Norah has agoraphobia and OCD. When groceries are left on the porch, she can’t step out to get them. Struggling to snag the bags with a stick, she meets Luke. He’s sweet and funny, and he just caught her fishing for groceries. Because of course he did.

Norah can’t leave the house, but can she let someone in? As their friendship grows deeper, Norah realizes Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can lie on the front lawn and look up at the stars. One who isn’t so screwed up.

Huge thank you to Raincoast and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Back at the Winter #TeensReadFeed event hosted by Raincoast, the first book we as a group were introduced to was Under Rose-Tainted Skies. The book focused on a topic that I admit I have never read anything about: agoraphobia. Our heroine Norah suffers from agoraphobia, OCD and is anxious as all hell, and while these are parts of her character, she works so hard throughout the story to not let these things define her.

I think what struck me about this novel was how well Norah’s anxiety was portrayed. I suffer from social anxiety, so seeing her anxious thoughts on the page had me constantly nodding along with her feelings. These were feelings I recognizing because they were things I were feeling on a constant basis. There was even one part where she discusses how being social drains her batteries to the point where it takes a long time to recharge, and part of me wanted to yell at the book, “Girl, I feel you.”A lot of how Gornall describes Norah and her illness are things I recognize in myself — things that are ugly, that I wish weren’t a part of me, but I accept that they are there and choose to fight against. Norah struggles with loving herself, and it makes it hard for her to love others because she has no concept of loving herself. I can understand that completely, and I personally still have those kind of days. I loved a lot of the descriptions in this book and I feel like Gornall hits this aspect of the story near perfectly.

However, I REALLY struggled with the romance in this book. I am not big on stories where boys can be a magic cure for illness. It didn’t work for me in Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, and it definitely didn’t work here either for me. While Norah was so easy to connect with, Luke was the exact opposite. I found him to be a bit too robotic and awkward, but not in the teen boy way, more in that I don’t feel like his character is as well-developed. Frankly, Luke feels too much like a plot device as a opposed to a character and that was hard to stomach at times. I think there will be people who will gravitate to this kind of romance, but ultimately it just didn’t work for me.

I think Under Rose-Tainted Skies offers a wonderful perspective on mental illness that feels very authentic in ways that other YA novels have struggled with. Norah’s story is messy, its heartfelt, and Gornall’s message to her readers is so loud and clear. These are the reasons to read this book, pain and simple. I just wish I had a larger connection with the romance (or I wish it hadn’t been there at all) because this book then would have easily been a home run for me.