Tag Archives: tough issues

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.

Blog Tour – Fish Girl by Donna Jo Napoli & David Wiesner (Review)

I’m going to be frank: I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into when I was approached by Raincoast to host this stop on the Fish Girl blog tour. If I am being even more honest, I was worried about how I would feel about the book as well. I love when a book proves my feelings wrong, and that is exactly what Fish by Donna Jo Napoli & David Wiesner has done.

Plus, check out this artwork:

fishgirlcomic

Looks dreamy, doesn’t, it?

Once again, huge thank you to Raincoast for allowing me to share my thoughts on this blog tour stop, and I do hope you check out Fish Girl when it releases on March 7th, 2017.


30971730Title: Fish Girl

Author: Donna Jo Napoli & David Wiesner

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: In this graphic novel, a young mermaid, called Fish Girl, living in a boardwalk aquarium has a chance encounter with an ordinary girl. Their growing friendship inspires Fish Girl’s longing for freedom, independence, and a life beyond the aquarium tank.

Sam’s Review:

I’m going to be completely honest: I wasn’t sure I was going to like Fish Girl. In fact, when I received it in the mail I did that dreaded thing you sometimes shouldn’t do: judge a book by it’s cover. I wasn’t sure I was going to like the artwork, and the story sounded merely all right. I was colourfully surprised by how much I enjoyed Fish Girl

However, I say this with an air of caution: Fish Girl is a misleading book. While it’s aimed at middle grade audiences, it does shed light on themes of abuse and abduction in a way that is creepy, and seeing it from that point of view can make it a tough read. On the other side of it, this book reads like a fairy tale as well, sharing both consequences and the potential for a positive outcome. It’s a rough read all around, and I think it definitely offers some interesting discussions that can be had with younger readers on these topics.

I actually do think Mira, our Fish Girl, is a wonderful character. She longs to not be an aquarium attraction and wishes to be like the people on the land who come to see her. She wants legs, and adventures, and yet she’s trapped in a fish bowl by a man who wants nothing more than to gain profit from her existence. It’s a solid story, and it shows that people can take destiny into their own hands. Or in this case, also escape abuse. I like the message that this book presents, and I think the ending does a great job of highlighting ways in which people need to stir a course towards what they truly want from life.

I admit, at times I did have a heart time with the artwork, but it did grow on me as I read on. There’s a lot of very realistic looking artwork, the use of pastel colours is really pretty, and there are moments where the artwork is breathe-taking. There are also moments where it doesn’t fit either, which I found somewhat disappointing. That being said, once I got over my initial feelings, I found myself really digging the art style and coming to the consensus that it actually does a great job fitting the story that is being told.

Fish Girl is definitely not for your average middle grader, and that is okay. I think it teaches a lot to the reader, and it doesn’t feel heavy handed in its approach either. I will say I don’t think the art style will be for everyone, but I do believe there is a very special story being told in this book.


Huge thank you to Raincoast for organizing and allowing me the opportunity to participate in the blog tour. Still curious about Fish Girl? Please check out the other tour stops, and consider purchasing the book when it releases this March!
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ARC Review – Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz

27414408Title: Finding Perfect

Author: Elly Swartz

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: To Molly Nathans, perfect is:

• The number four
• The tip of a newly sharpened number two pencil
• A crisp, white pad of paper
• Her neatly aligned glass animal figurines

What’s not perfect is Molly’s mother leaving the family to take a faraway job with the promise to return in one year. Molly knows that promises are often broken, so she hatches a plan to bring her mother home: Win the Lakeville Middle School Slam Poetry Contest. The winner is honored at a fancy banquet with table cloths. Molly’s sure her mother would never miss that. Right…?

But as time goes on, writing and reciting slam poetry become harder. Actually, everything becomes harder as new habits appear, and counting, cleaning, and organizing are not enough to keep Molly’s world from spinning out of control.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for a finished copy of this novel!

Sam’s Review:

Finding Perfect is my kind of middle grade novel — it focuses on tough subject matters but does an amazing job of making them accessible to younger audiences without feeling patronizing or overly complicated. This is a novel about a girl named Molly who slowly learned throughout the novel that she suffers from OCD.

I want to throw out there what a delightful debut this novel is. I fell for Molly right from the get-go, and it’s because Swartz has this really inviting style of writing that eases the reader into Molly’s thoughts and feelings. Molly has her ticks, but they are introduced so organically into the story that it also makes it easy for the readers to understand where she is coming from, as well as sympathize with her. I loved her personality, and I found her emotions to be so rawly portrayed.

Actually, I should say her family is really well portrayed given that they all feel like they are suffering from neglect from a mother who had to take a job in Toronto to support her family. All of the siblings deal with this in such different ways, so it gave a very layered perspective on how siblings cope with an absent parent. I also loved Molly’s friends, I enjoyed that her environment was (mostly) supportive.

Most importantly, I love the way Swartz tackles the topic of OCD. I felt like I gained such a huge understanding of it and how young children my cope with it. I also loved the amount of research that went into making this novel authentic, and I am so happy that voices like Molly’s exist for readers who may have OCD and want representation. This novel does it with such grace and sensitivity, and I felt like I was very much a part of the story being an outsider who was looking in.

Fidning Perfect is nearly perfect. While it ends on a soft note (I admit, I would have loved to have known more), I feel like this is one of those middle grade books that will stay with the reader long after the book has been completed. Molly is such a wonderful heroine and I am looking forward to seeing what other stories Swartz will pen in the future.

 

Book Review – Wish by Barbara O’Connor

27414384Title: Wish

Author: Barbara O’Connor

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Charlie Reese has been making the same secret wish every day since fourth grade. She even has a list of all the ways there are to make the wish, such as cutting off the pointed end of a slice of pie and wishing on it as she takes the last bite. But when she is sent to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to live with family she barely knows, it seems unlikely that her wish will ever come true. That is until she meets
Wishbone, a skinny stray dog who captures her heart, and Howard, a neighbor boy who proves surprising in lots of ways. Suddenly Charlie is in serious danger of discovering that what she thought she wanted may not be what she needs at all.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for a finished copy of this book!

Sam’s Review:

Wish was a middle grade novel that wasn’t on my radar at all. I admit to being unfamiliar with Barbara O’Connor’s work, especially given she is a quite the name with quite the plethora of work in the land of middle grade. This book is about a young girl who comes from a broken home, is transplanted to live with her aunt and uncle, and has to learn to live in a new environment.

Charlie isn’t the sweetest girl given her upbringing — she’s very rough around the edges, very self-involved at times, and she struggles to understand right and wrong. This makes her a difficult character to be in the mind of at times because her emotions are completely founded, but she can also be so nasty to others at time. O’Connor does a great job of making her feel like a kid with problems and she doesn’t sugarcoat Charlie’s responses to others, which I appreciate so much. However, I feel like if I was a younger reader enjoying Wish, I think I would struggle to actually like and root for Charlie. I found my brain at odds with her character, because adult!me understands her character well, but child!me would have really disliked her as a character.

This is also a book about a girl who wants a dog, in this case, a stray named Wishbone. I won’t lie, the bits about wanting to trap Wishbone actually upset me at times, and even rubbed me the wrong way. I am happy, of course, that nothing happens to the dog, and I am even happier that Wishbone is able to help Charlie cope with her life problems, because I do believe in the healing power of animals, which this book shows very well. I also like the growth between the two characters, and how Wishbone brings Charlie out of her shell. The friendships that are forged in this book are so strongly written, so organically grown in the story, and those were my favourite parts when reading it.

Wish is a tough read — it will fill you with so many emotions as you’re reading it, and O’Connor does a good job of keeping her readers engaged in Charlie’s development. I wish the story had ended on a bit of a strong note, but I won’t deny the enjoyment I felt watching our heroine grow in the story. I loved her aunt and uncle, though I wish they had been more a part of the story, I adored Wishbone, in a way, I wish this book had been a bit longer so their could have been more character development. Still, I think this is a strong middle grade novel that is sure to win many awards and reader’s hearts.

ARC Review – Hundred Percent by Karen Romano Young

28645644Title: Hundred Percent

Author: Karen Romano Young

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: The last year of elementary school is big for every kid. Christine Gouda faces change at every turn, starting with her own nickname—Tink—which just doesn’t fit anymore. Christine navigates a year’s cringingly painful trials in normalcy—uncomfortable Halloween costumes, premature sleepover parties, crushed crushes, and changing friendships. Throughout all this, Tink learns, what you call yourself, and how you do it, has a lot to do with who you are.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this finished copy!

Sam’s Review:

You know what I love about Hundred Percent? It discusses a topic in middle grade that tends to get ignored, overshadowed, and it just seems like folks are afraid to talk about — puberty. While I am not a fan of the Judy Blume classic, Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, I think Hundred Percent might be that book that tackles so many middle grade issues at once, but it definitely does an awesome job looking at how a person can change both physically and mentally.

Tink and Jackie couldn’t be more different — Tink has started to develop while Jackie is still a bit of a twig, and yet they wish in some ways they could switch. There friendship is the larger focus of this story, and I REALLY adored the way Romano Young shows the changes in their friendship and the ways in which Tink and Jackie growing up shows how they can be both closer together, but also be driven further apart.

I mean, they are at that age where they are beginning to transform, feel different, even older, and yet it’s fun to watch Tink in particular fight back. In fact, she spends a lot of this book still throwing childish tantrums and being called out on it by Jackie, and you know what? I can’t even fault her on a lot of those because her mind and body are in two different places. I loved the way all all these feelings were expressed in the novel! I just wish at the same time Tink would have tried to be a bit more thoughtful during some of the arguments, but I also get what the author was trying to do as well.

I think my biggest criticism of this book, however, is that there were just way too many topics being handled at once, particularly when you look it discussing promiscuity, losing your best friend to the popular kids, puberty, forcing to forge on one’s own, it’s a lot packed into a tight squeeze, and sometimes I felt like it was too much. Again, I do think it works given that Tink spends a lot of the novel having so many problems to face at her age and trying to understand each of them head on, but I almost wish the book had been a tad longer to explore a lot of these issues further.

I do think Hundred Percent is a great and important middle grade book, and I love that it doesn’t shy away from the issues it presents in the text. I loved both Tink and Jackie, and I think Romano Young has brought up some important issues with this novel that perhaps need better address in middle grade today. I definitely think if you love contemporary middle grade, especially books focusing on those tough middle years, than Hundred Percent is worth looking into.

Blog Tour – Speed of Life by J.M Kelly (Review & Excerpt)

Speed of Life is a book that came in my grab bag during one of Raincoast’s #TeenReadFeed events. The moment I pulled it out of the bag and read the back I had a feeling that this was a Sam!Book. I love tough contemporary novels and I love books that look at family dynamics. This novel in particular focuses on two twins, poverty, a baby, and big dreams. I loved Crystal and Amber’s story, and since reading the book, have recommended it for purchase at my library that I work at. It’s such a beautiful story that I think so many teens and adults would easily be able to read and gravitate towards.

If you haven’t checked Speed of Life out, you’re missing out. Especially if you love contemporary YA, you need to check this book out. Check out my review below if you don’t believe me, then read the excerpt provided by Raincoast to see if it might be up your alley.

But seriously, GO READ THIS BOOK.

And as always, huge thank you to Raincoast for having me on this blog tour and supplying me with a copy of this book. They are book angels.


28114594Title: Speed of Life

Author: J.M Kelly

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Twins Crystal and Amber have the same goal: to be the first in their family to graduate high school and make something of their lives. When one gets pregnant during their junior year, they promise to raise the baby together. It’s not easy, but between their after-school jobs, they’re scraping by.

Crystal’s grades catch the attention of the new guidance counselor, who tells her about a college that offers a degree in automotive restoration, perfect for the car buff she is. When she secretly applies—and gets in—new opportunities threaten their once-certain plans, and Crystal must make a choice: follow her dreams or stay behind and honor the promise she made to her sister.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

It upsets me how much this book isn’t being talked about. This is one of those contemporary gems that has no buzz behind it, and it’s just such a genuine and thoughtful read. Speed of Life is about two twin sisters who share everything, are dirt poor, and are looking to get out of their backwater town and make real lives for themselves and the child that one of them has had out of wedlock. While this doesn’t sound like the most original plot line, there is something so engaging about the way in which Kelly shares this story.

What I loved about this novel is Crystal’s narrative. She’s very thoughtful, has a huge sense of pride in herself and her abilities as a mechanic, and she wants to be able to rescue herself, her sister, and the baby they are raising from the poverty that they face. I love the way the author establishes the sister’s relationship to both each other and their friends and family. The writing and looking at the world through Crystal’s eyes are just so vivid. She has aspirations, she has goals, and she hopes that Amber will share those goals with her. When the fall out in the story occurs, it just really broke my heart into several pieces because I just connected so deeply with the sisters conflict, despite not having experienced it personally.

I think the author does such a great job of sucking the reader into the story and making the reader connect with the girls and connect with their story. I think what I also loved about Speed of Life is that there is such a larger mystery going on with who is Natalie’s parents, why are the girls caring for her, and I think Kelly does an amazing job keeping the reader looking for these answers.

I wish more folks would read this wonderful novel, especially those who love contemporary. Speed of Life is raw, heartfelt, and it asks the reader to open themselves up to a situation that is just so emotionally exhausting. I hope when this novel releases that more readers consider checking this one out. Everything about it just left me emotionally drained in the best kind of way.


An Excerpt from Speed of Life

Raincoast was kind enough to send an excerpt from the novel. I think the bit that they sent over will give you a good indication of what one can expect from this novel, and especially the kind of character our narrator, Crystal, is.

~*~

I’m pretty sure our school’s new guidance counselor’s got a college degree in perky with a minor in enthusiasm. Even her green sweater is bright and cheerful, like spring grass. Except so soft looking, I kind of want to pet it.

“So,” Ms. Spellerman says. “Miss Robbins, isn’t it?”

I want to say, “No, actually, it’s Crystal. I’m eighteen, not thirty.” But I nod instead. In the middle of our sophomore year we got a new principal, and he decided that as a matter of respect, all teachers and staff would refer to the students by their last names prefaced with Mr. or Miss. You can imagine how much more respect is flying around now. It obviously never occurred to anyone in charge that last names like Cochran and Dykster are so much easier to make fun of than Robert or Ashley. But whatever.

Ms. Spellerman holds out her hand to me. “Nice to meet you.” She’s got long fingers and perfectly pink nails. When we shake, all I feel are skin-covered bones.

She shuffles through some papers for a while, the huge diamond on her engagement ring catching the fluorescent light and hypnotizing me. I wonder if we’re ever going to get to the reason I’m here. I’ve made it through three years of high school without seeing a guidance counselor, so I can’t imagine why they called me in when I’m almost done. As far as I know, I’m doing fine in my classes. I’m even doing okay in Amber’s classes. Not that anyone knows about that.

I hide a yawn behind my hand — I’m super tired and missing the little nap I usually take in English. Ms. Spellerman holds up a sheet of paper and squints at it. Then she slips on a pair of square pink-framed glasses and smiles. “Don’t look so worried, Miss Robbins. I just want to talk to you about your college plans.”

Is she kidding me?

“Now that I’ve joined forces with Mr. Akerman, we’re not so short on guidance counselors,” she explains. “So I’m working my way through a list of those of you who haven’t previously requested an advisor.”

Maybe not asking was a clue that we didn’t want one. I don’t say anything, though. I don’t think she expects me to.

“Now,” she says, “you might be wondering how your name came up so early in the school year. Well, I’ll tell you a little secret.” She leans in across her desk and practically whispers, “I started at the end of the alphabet instead of the beginning!”

I wonder if I’m supposed to clap or something.

“So,” she continues, “what are your plans for college? Where are you going to apply? What’s your dream school?”

“Umm . . . I don’t have one?”

“No dream school? Well, that’s understandable. There are so many choices! Do you think you want to stay in Oregon, or go somewhere out of state — get away from it all, that sort of thing?”

Is this where I tell her I’m not going to college?

“You must’ve thought about it,” she says when I sit there speechless.

“Umm . . . not really.”

“Not at all?”

“I’m not going to college,” I finally admit.

Her eyebrows shoot up. “What? Why not?”

I’m thinking I was wrong about her minor being enthusiasm. It must’ve been stupidity. Does she think she’s somehow landed at a private school? Or maybe one of Portland’s fancy high schools? This is Sacajawea High, and half the kids can’t even spell the name of it by the time they graduate. If they graduate. College is not part of the plan here.

I try to keep it simple for Ms. Spellerman. “I’m gonna . . .you know . . . get a job.”


A huge thank you to Raincoast for providing me with this opportunity to share more about Speed of Life, as well as J.M Kelly for her beautiful words and fantastic novel. If you are curious to learn more about J.M Kelly’s debut, why not check out the other stops on the blog tour! 🙂

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ARC Review – Afterward by Jennifer Mathieu

27414452Title: Afterward

Author: Jennifer Mathieu

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: When Caroline’s little brother is kidnapped, his subsequent rescue leads to the discovery of Ethan, a teenager who has been living with the kidnapper since he was a young child himself. In the aftermath, Caroline can’t help but wonder what Ethan knows about everything that happened to her brother, who is not readjusting well to life at home. And although Ethan is desperate for a friend, he can’t see Caroline without experiencing a resurgence of traumatic memories. But after the media circus surrounding the kidnappings departs from their small Texas town, both Caroline and Ethan find that they need a friend–and their best option just might be each other.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I think I just might be in love with Jennifer Mathieu. I consider Devoted to be one of my all time favourite books in recent years, and her debut The Truth About Alice left me broken yet hopeful. Her latest release, Afterward focuses on a kidnapping, and how people attempt to return to a “normal life” after such a traumatic event.

This novel focuses on two narratives: Caroline, who’s younger brother with autism is kidnapped on her watch, and Ethan, a young man who was taken at a young age and longs to feel normal again. Both boys are suffering from PTSD, remembering horrific things from the time they were removed from their families. Caroline befriends Ethan in hopes of learning about her brother’s kidnapping and why he has become much more closed off.

The friendship between Caroline and Ethan was superb in this story, and I loved that Mathieu did not make them into a couple. The novel shows the gradual build of their friendship, and it looks at how important having a good friend can be when dealing with mental stress. The plot twist that Mathieu throws in, though I had some hunches about, I was not actually expecting the way she executed it and it totally ripped me to shreds.

I also loved the way that Mathieu explores autism and families who have children who are autistic. This felt very authentic to me, and written with a very keen eye and a genuineness to understand. I think that is what I loved about reading the relationship between Caroline and Dylan, and I loved how she feels she’s the reason he was kidnapped, and how she in some ways, wants to atone for what happened.

This novel is impeccability researched and is constantly thoughtful of its every move. I really loved both main characters, I loved how fleshed out their families were given the circumstances of what happened to Ethan and Dylan, and I think just reading about the afterwards of something so horrific is unique and interesting in itself. I am so thankfully that these situations are rare, but it doesn’t make these kinds of stories any less important.

If you love tough!YA and want to read a beautiful, heartbreaking story that offers the reader so much in terms of subject matter, then Afterward is the kind of book you need in your life. Upon finishing the book it left me reflecting on the story and its characters, and even when it ended, there was a part of me that didn’t want to let go to these characters.

Jennifer Mathieu, I think I’m a fan for life. Thank you for these stories and sharing these voices.