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ARC Review – The How and the Why by Cynthia Hand

Title: The How & The Why

Author: Cynthia Hand

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Cassandra McMurtrey has the best parents a girl could ask for. They’ve given Cass a life she wouldn’t trade for the world. She has everything she needs—except maybe the one thing she wants. Like, to know who she is. Where she came from. Questions her adoptive parents can’t answer, no matter how much they love her.

But eighteen years ago, someone wrote Cass a series of letters. And they may just hold the answers Cass has been searching for.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Cynthia Hand has a magic power: she makes me cry at the drop of a hat. The How and the Way is a book that explores adoption, family, and how we deal with the unknown. After finishing the book and reading the author’s note, it’s abundantly clear that this is Cynthia Hand’s most personal book to date, and may be my favourite one that I’ve read of hers.

This book is an emotional book — it’s out to make you cry, having a million feelings, and just be an exploration experience. There is so much I didn’t know about the adoption process and system, let alone the amount of trauma it can cause on both the one giving up the child and the child who years later has found the courage to look for their biological parent. Cassandra’s experience of having a great adoptive family and having constant support from them was so beautiful to read about, and I appreciate the way this book handles its characters — every single one is flawed and nuanced.

I also like the way this book is told in letters from Cassandra’s biological mother and the present time. Cassandra has so much courage in this story, but I equally like that she has moments of weakness, and the process of her trying to find her mother organically unfolds. Everything about this book is slow and thoughtful.

I devoured the book in four days on my lunch breaks and I always felt sad when I had to put it down because Hand gives you just enough at the end of each chapter to make you want to keep reading. This book is emotional for sure, and is definitely for fans of Robin Benway’s Far From the Tree.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Break in Case of Emergency by Brian Francis

Title: Break in Case of Emergency

Author: Brian Francis

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Life has been a struggle for Toby Goodman. Her mother died by suicide five years ago, and her father left their small town before Toby was born. Now a teenager living on her grandparents’ dairy farm, Toby has trouble letting people in. She keeps even her closest friend, the brash but endearing Trisha, at arms’ length, and recently ended her first relationship, with Trisha’s burnout brother, Mike. Convinced that she is destined to follow her mother’s path, Toby creates a plan to escape her pain.

But with the news that her father is coming home and finally wants to meet her, Toby must face the truth of her family’s story. Not only is her father gay, but he’s also a world-famous female impersonator—and a self-absorbed, temperamental man-child who is ill-prepared to be a real parent.

When Toby’s careful plans go awry, she is forced to rebuild the life she thought she knew from the ground up. While she may not follow an expected path, through the support of a quirky but lovable circle of friends and family, Toby may finally put together the many different pieces that make up her past, her present, and her future.

Huge Thank You to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

THIS BOOK.

This book is a beautiful surprise. Break in Case of Emergency tells the tale of Toby Goodman, a girl who lives with her grandparents on their diary farm. Toby feels like her life is meaningless, especially after the loss of her mother and the disappearance of her father. Constantly contemplating suicide, Toby considers ending her life, until one day her father returns to her, though not what he seems.

I loved this book. Toby is such an intriguing heroine who isn’t exactly chummy with the reader. If anything, she is somewhat distant, often frustrated, and she is trying to cope with the concept that neither of her parents “loved her.” She also lives with her grandparents who are sheltered, somewhat bigoted, but mostly have a good heart. They want to protect Toby, even if they don’t entirely understand what she is feeling. When her father Arthur returns, there’s a sense of the grandparents that Toby needs to be protected from him, but by the other side of it, there’s this understand that Toby needs to deal with him on her own.

Brain Francis’ characters are absolutely wonderful, each well-developed and full of life. Each character offers a different perspective in Toby’s sheltered world, and the revelation of Toby’s father returning is such a raw and intense moment in the story. Arthur is a fantastic character, equally on par with Toby. He’s awkward, but like Toby, is also somewhat distant. His story is so heartbreaking, though it doesn’t excuse his behaviour. There’s a great lesson in novel involving forgiveness, especially in the idea that forgiveness must be earned, but just given, and it plays such a huge role for a lot of the characters in the story.

Watching Toby grow and change in this story is also a delightful aspect, as it unfolds in such an organic way. Toby has had so much loss and hardship, to the point of wanting to commit suicide, and yet she also grows to understand the value of life and what it means to live fully and freely. Everything about this story from new beginnings, to new relationships, to mending fences, are all interesting and emotional.

There’s just so much to love and connect with in Break in Case of Emergency. It’s a story of displaced family, found family, and it means to be alive. Brain Francis has written a story that is deeply moving, as it is funny and poignant. If you love your young adult stories to be full of raw emotion and small triumphs, than this novel is easily for you.

ARC Review – When You Ask Me Where I’m Going by Jasmin Kaur

Title: When You Ask me Where I’m Going

Author: Jasmin Kaur

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: The six sections of the book explore what it means to be a young woman living in a world that doesn’t always hear her and tell the story of Kiran as she flees a history of trauma and raises her daughter, Sahaara, while living undocumented in North America.

Delving into current cultural conversations including sexual assault, mental health, feminism, and immigration, this narrative of resilience, healing, empowerment, and love will galvanize readers to fight for what is right in their world.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC! Cross posted on Aurora Public Library’s Website as a YA Pick of the Month.

Sam’s Review:

I had the pleasure of listening to Jasmin Kaur speak at a recent Harper Collins Frenzy event in Toronto. Listening to Kaur speak about her life, the racism and sexism she has dealt with growing up, was both difficult as it was moving.

Jasmin Kaur’s debut novel is all about looking at life from various angles. This collection of mixed media features poetry, artwork, and short stories by Kaur, that depict life growing up in Abbotsford, British Columbia. Sharing stories of racism to personal trauma, Kaur exams what it means to be a young Sikh world in a world where everyone makes assumptions about you before you even have the chance to speak.

Kaur’s poems are raw and uncomfortable, but they also shed light and offer glimpses of hope as well. Kaur’s conversations about feminism, mental health, immigration, and sexual assault will resonate with a lot of readers. When You Ask Me Where I’m Going dares readers to look at their surroundings and challenges them to do better and be a better person.

ARC Review – The Liars of Mariposa Island by Jennifer Mathieu

Title: The Liars of Mariposa Island

Author: Jennifer Mathieu

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Every year, summer begins when the Callahans arrive on Mariposa Island. That’s when Elena Finney gets to escape her unstable, controlling mother by babysitting for their two children. And the summer of 1986 promises to be extra special when she meets J.C., the new boy in town, whose kisses make Elena feel like she’s been transported to a new world.

Joaquin Finney can’t imagine why anyone would want to come to Mariposa Island. He just graduated from high school and dreams about going to California to find his father and escape his mother’s manipulation.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I am SO SAD right now. Jennifer Mathieu is finally one of my favourite authors, so I am super heartbroken that I didn’t love her latest, The Liars of Mariposa Island. This book is a contemporary, with a mystery wrapped in it, and it’s just… all right.

Generally, what I love about Jennifer Mathieu’s books is the writing an her characters. I always adore her heroines, but Elena and Joaquin just never spoke to me the way some of her other heroes have. This book is written in two perspectives, one that takes place in 1986, the other during the Cuban Revolution. The sections that were about Carrie, who is related to Elena and Joaquin, were my favourite bits of the book. Carrie is fleeing Cuba during the Cuban Revolution as a teen and she is trying to find freedom in America. Carrie’s story is challenging and heartbreaking, and its definitely very difficult to read about.

I do feel for Elena in this story, especially given she is trying to become a version of herself that she would feel satisfied with. There is a prickliness to her character that really suggests that she is not someone who wants people (or even the reader) to get close to her and that I think is something intriguing about this novel. Elena and Joaquin spend a lot of this book unraveling family truama and lies, though they weren’t as shocking as I was anticipating given the title of this book.

I think why this book didn’t grab me the way all of her other books did, is that it really doesn’t go anywhere and there isn’t much resolve. There doesn’t really feel like a lot of hope in this story either, which is usually a big part of a Jennifer Mathieu story. I am so torn because I do think elements of this book are wonderful, but I simply just didn’t connect to a lot of it.

ARC Review – Are You Listening? by Tillie Walden

Title: Tillie Walden

Author:  Are You Listening?

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Bea is on the run. And then, she runs into Lou.

This chance encounter sends them on a journey through West Texas, where strange things follow them wherever they go. The landscape morphs into an unsettling world, a mysterious cat joins them, and they are haunted by a group of threatening men. To stay safe, Bea and Lou must trust each other as they are driven to confront buried truths. The two women share their stories of loss and heartbreak—and a startling revelation about sexual assault—culminating in an exquisite example of human connection.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Once again, Tillie Walden blows me away with her storytelling. In Are You Listening? the narrative focuses on Bea and Lou, two young women on the run from their pasts. Through a chanced meeting, the pair go on a road trip through West Texas, driving through blizzards and buried secrets. There is also the desire to win the affection of a white fluffy cat.

If there is one thing I love about Tillie Walden’s books, it’s that they wear their emotions on their sleeves. Her characters are often uncomfortable and raw, often seeking redemption. Bea and Lou’s relationship grows throughout the story as the two confess their secrets to one another, and I love that they are accepting of each other’s flaws and supportive when necessary. Bea’s reveal is heartbreaking and left me with so much anger, while Lou’s story is just so sad and full of discomfort. I felt emotionally connected to both girls throughout the story, and I think Walden continues to do a great job of providing characters that readers can relate to on various levels.

I will say the book can be a bit confusing at times, and the ending is a bit lacking. I do think, however, that given this isn’t plot-driven story that a lot of what Walden does here, as abstract as it is, will work for readers who want a more character-specific story. I cannot wait to see what Tillie Walden publishers next, because I continue with each new book to be very impressed.

Books I Reviewed For the Library – Issue #1

One thing I now have to do as part of my job is review and curate our Fave Books of the Month lists. I do reviews for both our middle grade selections and young adult, and it’s easily one of the more interesting parts of my job because essentially I am reviewing titles that I want to see succeed in the library’s collection. I’ve also actively been picking titles I don’t have ARCs for or items that have already released so our customers can enjoy them right away. Here’s two reviews I did for our collection maintenance. 🙂


Tilly and the Bookwanderers (Pages & Co. #1) by Anna James – Have you ever wanted the ability to travel into your favourite books? Anna James’ “Tilly and the Bookwanderers” is a bookworm’s dream! Tilly is a young girl who lives in her grandfather’s book shop, spending her days reading and devouring stories. When she accidentally meets Anne Shirley from “Anne of Green Gables,” shenanigans begin, and Tilly must come to terms with the fact that her favourite stories have come to life and that perhaps, there’s a larger mystery afoot. “Tilly and the Bookwanders” is filled with magic on every page, and is one of those books that feels like a nice warm hug when you read it. One of my favourite elements of this story was anticipating who Tilly would meet next! This is a love-letter to bookworms everywhere, and is a complete must read for those who love to dream about their favourite stories.


Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki & Rosemary Valero-O’Connell – Freddie and Laura have a routine – they fight, the break up, they kiss and then they make up. At least, that was the story for awhile. When Freddie catches Laura in the act of cheating, she begins to question the healthiness of their relationship and what kind of a friend it makes her. This book is an emotional roller-coaster, especially for anyone who has dealt with a toxic relationship. Freddie is forced to question her actions and determine the kind of person she wants to be, which I think many readers will be able to relate to. The artwork in this graphic novel is gorgeous and flows beautifully with the story as well. “Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me” is about finding your support networks and reminding yourself that you don’t have to put up with people treating you like crap.

ARC Review – The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert

Title: The Revolution of Birdie Randolph

Author: Brandy Colbert

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Dove “Birdie” Randolph works hard to be the perfect daughter and follow the path her parents have laid out for her: She quit playing her beloved soccer, she keeps her nose buried in textbooks, and she’s on track to finish high school at the top of her class. But then Birdie falls hard for Booker, a sweet boy with a troubled past…whom she knows her parents will never approve of.

When her estranged aunt Carlene returns to Chicago and moves into the family’s apartment above their hair salon, Birdie notices the tension building at home. Carlene is sweet, friendly, and open-minded–she’s also spent decades in and out of treatment facilities for addiction. As Birdie becomes closer to both Booker and Carlene, she yearns to spread her wings. But when long-buried secrets rise to the surface, everything she’s known to be true is turned upside down.

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

Sam’s Review:

Brandy Colbert has yet to disappointment. Her stories are have such raw portrayals of teens coping with difficult issues, and it’s why I always keep coming back to them. The Revolution of Birdie Randolphlooks at a disjointed relationship between sisters, a girl who is forced to study and has no means of blowing off steam, and a boy who’s been to juvie and is trying to make amends for his actions.

If there is one thing Colbert is a master of, it’s writing family dynamics in such a realistic way. Birdie’s home-life and her relationship with her parents has moments of discomfort, but also moments of joy. I think the book also has some fantastic twists and turns in terms of large scale secrets, and I think Colbert gives the right amount of bread crumbs to get those conclusions. I found myself very engaged by the family plotline (as I usually do), but I actually also liked the relationship storyline between Birdie and Booker (our boy outta juvie) as well. Romance isn’t normally my bag, but this one worked for me most of the time.

I think what I loved about Booker’s character in particular is that he recognizes the kind of harm he caused in his past and he wants to atone and become a better person. I also appreciate how sex-positive this book is, in that he never pressures Birdie into anything either. I feel for Booker through, simply because he gets pigeon-holed by so many people in the story and it takes awhile for people to warm up to him due to his past.

If I am being honest, I really loved all the characters in The Revolution of Birdie Randolph, and I like that the majority of them grow with the story, each with their own flaws. The flaws feel true to the nature of the story and don’t feel shoe-horned in any way. If you’ve read and enjoyed Colbert’s novels in the past, then this book is a no brainer. However, if you’ve been meaning to read Brandy Colbert’s works and haven’t, this one is a pretty good place to start.