Tag Archives: tough issues

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe & Lilit Thwaites (Translator)

Title: The Librarian of Auschwitz

Author: Antonio Iturbe & Lilit Thwaites (Translator)

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Based on the experience of real-life Auschwitz prisoner Dita Kraus, this is the incredible story of a girl who risked her life to keep the magic of books alive during the Holocaust. Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious volumes the prisoners have managed to sneak past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the librarian of Auschwitz. 

Out of one of the darkest chapters of human history comes this extraordinary story of courage and hope.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

The Librarian of Auschwitz is a novel based on the life of Dita Kraus, a young woman who risked her life to protect literature in a Nazi death-camp. Dubbed “The Librarian of Auxchwitz,” Dita made it her priority to protect the books that were found on the grounds, while also helping those in need during a period of turmoil.

This book is depressing, but important. There is so man sad and horrifying moments that remind you how truly dreadful human beings are. This book reminds readers of the horrors of the Holocaust and how difficult that event truly was. I loved Dita’s courage in the story and I appreciate that as someone as young as she is, she decides to be brave in a place where bravery could potential mean death. There’s a vividness in this translation that gives the reader the sense of tragedy and foreboding. There is discomfort, fear, and sadness in these pages, and I found myself truly feeling for people represented in this story.

This book shows so much hope in the darkness, and while I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, I appreciate the learning opportunities that come from a well researched book. The Librarian of Auschwitz is a slow read, but a thoughtful one throughout.

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ARC Review – Kids Like Us by Hilary Reyl

Title: Kids Like Us

Author: Hilary Reyl

Rating: ★★

Synopsis: Martin is an American teen on the autism spectrum living in France with his mom and sister for the summer. He falls for a French girl who he thinks is a real-life incarnation of a character in his favorite book. Over time Martin comes to realize she is a real person and not a character in a novel while at the same time learning that love is not out of his reach just because he is autistic.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I was so excited when I received Kids Like Us because I have been wanting to read more stories that focus on characters with autism. I think my expectations were a bit too high, because when I started the book I was into it, then I hit the middle and wasn’t enjoying it, and then the ending happened. It was an interesting ending.

I think my biggest problem with this book is the very stilted narration. Martin’s voice, though I’m sure could be authentic, is very awkward. It also does one of my bookish pet peeves where the main character will say a word and then define it for the reader. It’s also a hard book to enjoy because I think at times Martin’s voice would fluctuate between a middle grader or a high schooler. The book is also so, so, so slow and given how short the book is, I found myself not liking the meandering pace that it had.

I see value in a story such as Kids Like Us, but ultimately I feel like it wasn’t to my taste, even as a reader who loves tough issue YA. Still, I feel like I did learn a lot about autism, but I’ve heard there are definitely better books out there on the subject. I think with the right reader this book can have the emotional impact I think it was trying to have, but it just didn’t work for me.

ARC Review – Like Water by Rebecca Podos

Title: Like Water

Author:Rebecca Podos

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: In Savannah Espinoza’s small New Mexico hometown, kids either flee after graduation or they’re trapped there forever. Vanni never planned to get stuck—but that was before her father was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, leaving her and her mother to care for him. Now, she doesn’t have much of a plan at all: living at home, working as a performing mermaid at a second-rate water park, distracting herself with one boy after another.

That changes the day she meets Leigh. Disillusioned with small-town life and looking for something greater, Leigh is not a “nice girl.” She is unlike anyone Vanni has met, and a friend when Vanni desperately needs one. Soon enough, Leigh is much more than a friend. But caring about another person stirs up the moat Vanni has carefully constructed around herself, and threatens to bring to the surface the questions she’s held under for so long.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This book is a beautiful slow burn. A part of me hates how long it took me to read, but I found myself putting it down, and realizing little parallels in my own life. A lot of the feelings that Savannah has in this story are ones I’ve shared, especially in my high school years. I was a closeted bisexual who went to a Catholic school. I never had the courage when I was younger to be open about that, and only late in my adulthood am I finally embracing it.

Savannah is a wonderful and raw heroine. Her feels about her bisexuality are all over the place, causing anxiety. Her feelings are so natural and genuine, and you get the sense that she feels as though she is coming a part at the seams because she wants to have an identity. But I had her home life at one point, and it’s a hard pill to take sometimes. I think Podos describes Vanni’s feelings perfectly. Whenever she talked about feeling trapped or lost, I found myself nodding along in understanding. She makes a sacrifice to take care of her family and that’s no small feat at any age, honestly.

And I loved reading the spiral mess that was her and Leigh’s romance. Podos captures this kind of new found love with such tenderness, yet she also shows how messy, raw and confusing it can all be. I felt like that was super spot on. I also loved Leigh despite some of the things she does in the story, but I feel like her confusion and emotional distress is captured very well. Neither girl is always likable, but their actions make sense given the course of the story.

Like Water is a beautifully written novel that shows the messiness of self and of loving others. It’s a slow read for such a short novel, but it builds in wonderful ways making it worth sticking with. I’ll definitely have to go back and check out Rebecca Podos’ first novel, but this has me sold on her as an author to watch.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios

Title: Bad Romance

Author: Heather Demetrios

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Grace wants out. Out of her house, where her stepfather wields fear like a weapon and her mother makes her scrub imaginary dirt off the floors. Out of her California town, too small to contain her big city dreams. Out of her life, and into the role of Parisian artist, New York director—anything but scared and alone.

Enter Gavin: charming, talented, adored. Controlling. Dangerous. When Grace and Gavin fall in love, Grace is sure it’s too good to be true. She has no idea their relationship will become a prison she’s unable to escape. 

Deeply affecting and unflinchingly honest, this is a story about spiraling into darkness—and emerging into the light again.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I had to put off reading Bad Romance for awhile. It’s one of those books that looks at abusive relationships, why someone might stay, and ultimately why they need to choose themselves. Grace is a very difficult heroine because she is torn with choosing herself or enduring abuse because Gavin, her boyfriend, threatens to kill himself if she ever breaks up with him.

This book is very much a history of their relationship, written in a way where there’s quite a bit of second-person use. The way in which Grace describes her relationship is so heartbreaking, hard, and reading the moments of the psychological torment that she faces is rough. Like, it hurts, and I found myself wincing in pain. Not every action Grace does makes sense, but what I love is Demetrios shows how she’s working through it. I also love that she has such supportive friends who are trying to help her break the cycle.

This is also just such an amazing and well-written book. I felt so overwhelmed emotionally as I was reading this book that at times I had to simply close it because of what was happening. Being emotionally invested, even though I’ve never expected what Grace is going through… I empathized, a lot.

Bad Romance is a raw, rough, addictive book that will probably hit a lot of people’s triggers. It’s not an easy read, but it is a compelling one. Regardless of whether you’ve experience abuse or not, this is a book that will leave you emotionally raw by the end of it.

ARC Review – Top Ten by Katie Cotugno

Title: Top Ten

Author: Katie Cotugno

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Ryan McCullough and Gabby Hart are the unlikeliest of friends. Introverted, anxious Gabby would rather do literally anything than go to a party. Ryan is a star hockey player who can get any girl he wants—and does, frequently. But against all odds, they became not only friends, but each other’s favorite person. Now, as they face high school graduation, they can’t help but take a moment to reminisce and, in their signature tradition, make a top ten list—counting down the top ten moments of their friendship: 

10. Where to begin? Maybe the night we met.
9. Then there was our awkward phase.
8. When you were in love with me but never told me…
7. Those five months we stopped talking were the hardest of my life.
6. Through terrible fights…
5. And emotional makeups.
4. You were there for me when I got my heart broken.
3. …but at times, you were also the one breaking it.
2. Above all, you helped me make sense of the world.
1. Now, as we head off to college—how am I possibly going to live without you?

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I was super disappointed by Katie Cotugno’s 99 Days. It was one of those books I had high hopes for given how much I adored How to LoveTop Ten is closer to How to Love for me, as I found myself engrossed in it.

I can understand why other reviews DNF’ed this book — the style of going back and forth between Ryan and Gabby’s perspectives at different points of their lives can feel a bit jarring. Cotugno’s writing is beautiful, but the reader is just completely dropped into Gabby and Ryan’s friendship without build up. The timelines go back and forth, and it can feel a bit confusing. I, however, embraced what the author was trying to accomplish with the writing, and I loved the message she was going for.

Gabby and Ryan are awkward. They suffer from social anxiety. The are best friends, though Ryan is in love with Gabby, and Gabby has a crush on a girl. Gabby is learned to embrace her bisexuality, but she doesn’t want her relationship with Ryan to take a hit. All their messy feelings make so much sense and it’s easy to feel empathy for them. Cotugno provides us with two main characters who are messy, thoughtful, and you get the sense that there is so much that us unclear surrounding their friendship.

I even loved the sloppy, confused romance in this novel. You get the sense that there is so much emotion and inanity of teen angst and love. Top Ten is just such a unique experience for a contemporary novel, just in terms of how it is written. It’s not going to gel with every reader, but I found myself engaged from beginning to end, and I feel like regardless of my feelings on 99 Days, I’ll still read anything Katie Cotugno writes just for the experience alone.

ARC Review – Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Title: Little & Lion

Author: Brandy Colbert

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.

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

Sam’s Review:

I didn’t know what I was getting into when I started Little & Lion. The synopsis gave me some indication that this book was going to be about sexuality and mental illness, but I wasn’t anticipating the intensity that Colbert puts into this story. I haven’t read Pointe yet, but I had only heard amazing things about Brandy Colbert’s characters and her writing.

Little & Lion was slow going for me. Not because it was a bad story, but because it is an emotionally exhausting and rewarding story. Little’s narrative is very heartbreaking, sometimes tough to read. She cares a lot for Lionel, especially when it comes to how his mental illness has transformed him. You see bits and pieces of his character’s evolution and at times it feels hard to read.

I also loved the way Colbert explored Little’s sexuality and being bisexual. I think showing her conflicting romantic feelings was done in a very sensitive way, and it was easy to emphasize with Little’s emotions throughout the story. Between iris, Rafela, and Emil, you see three different kinds of romantic feelings throughout the story, and Little’s connection to each person hints at a bigger picture in regards to her understanding her bisexuality. I felt like I knew each of her love interests very well when I was reading this story.

I liked Saul as a character as well, and I think he gets some great development with Little in terms of helping her understanding her sexuality, her connection to Judaism, and her family life. He doesn’t make things easy, somewhat overreacts, but does it entirely out of love. Family as a theme in this story is just spectacularly done here, and you see the emotionally drain that Lionel does put on his family. This isn’t shyed away from, which I appreciated so much.

This book is emotional, it’s intense, it’s thoughtful, and it leaves you thinking long after the story is over. Little & Lionhas a lot to offer for those who lover tougher contemporary YA. It only has solidified that I need to get off my butt and check out Pointe.

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.