Book Reviews, Lists, Discussions, and Displays

Category: Contemporary (Page 1 of 5)

Book Review: The Hollow Inside

The Hollow Inside – Brooke Lauren Davis – Bloomsbury YA – Published 25 May 2021

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Synopsis

Phoenix and mom Nina have spent years on the road, using their charm and wits to swindle and steal to get by. Now they’ve made it to their ultimate destination, Mom’s hometown of Jasper Hollow. The plan: bring down Ellis Bowman, the man who ruined Nina’s life.

After Phoenix gets caught spying, she spins a convincing story that inadvertently gives her full access to the Bowman family. As she digs deeper into their secrets, she finds herself entrenched in the tale of a death and a disappearance that doesn’t entirely line up with what Mom has told her. Who, if anyone, is telling the whole truth?

My thoughts

The Hollow Inside is completely addictive but I also kind of wanted to read it between my fingers while covering my eyes as there is a near constant feeling of impending dread. Revenges, lies, betrayal, longing – a mystery thriller with so much heart.

I was so caught up in the world and so torn between waning to rescue Phoenix from the woman she calls mother and rescue Nina, both from herself and from the pain of her past. On one hand I was totally, one hundred percent behind the notion of revenge – make that man hurt, ladies. And on the other it’s so easy to see the hurt and destruction Phoenix has to endure while her mother seeks this revenge. There really isn’t a right answer, yet Phoenix has to chose every single day what her right will be. She longs for her mother to acknowledge her and the sacrifices she is making, yet her mother is constantly upset with her, angry and takes it out on Phoenix.

As Phoenix and Nina arrive in Jasper Hollow the truth of what happened there is slowly revealed. Some of this Phoenix discovers as she goes undercover as a sad, homeless girl and finds herself invited to live with the Bowmans. Other, clearer details are revealed through flashbacks to Nina’s childhood. This is what really caught me between wanting a different life for Phoenix and wanting revenge for Nina, as we see the hurt through Nina’s eyes. Does it justify Nina’s actions now or explain them? The reader will have to decide, as does Phoenix.

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Book Review: Tiger Daughter

Tiger Daughter – Rebecca Lim – Allen & Unwin –  Published February 2021

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Synopsis

Wen Zhou is the only child of Chinese immigrants whose move to the lucky country has proven to be not so lucky. Wen and her friend, Henry Xiao — whose mum and dad are also struggling immigrants — both dream of escape from their unhappy circumstances, and form a plan to sit an entrance exam to a selective high school far from home. But when tragedy strikes, it will take all of Wen’s resilience and resourcefulness to get herself and Henry through the storm that follows.

My thoughts

A beautiful and powerful #OwnVoices novel about abusive family relationships and the possibility of freedom offered by friendship and education.

Tiger Daughter is a book that really quick and easy to devour. It address some very serious topics – domestic abuse and control, suicide – but does so in a way that makes it accessible for young readers, compelling but also sensitive.

I love books that make me feel and Tiger Daughter had me swinging wildly from raging hot mad to sad and back again.

Wen is the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Travelling to Australia didn’t bring them the new, grand life they expected. Wen is bound by the restrictions her father places on her and her mother. Honestly, her father comes across as awful, but there is more to his story, more to the relationship Wen has with him. This book in no way excuses domestic abuse and nor does Wen. She knows how her father treats her and her mother is wrong and is determined to stand up against it in the ways in which she can. She is brave and determined. Her only friend at school, Henry, understands. He too is the son of immigrants. Together, they have planned to sit an entrance exam for an elite school – a future that will give them a way out and up.

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Book Review: Where The Road Leads Us

Where the Road Leads Us – Robin Reul – Sourcebooks Fire –  Published 6 April 2021

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Synopsis

Jack is on the verge for leaving for college, but before he does, he wants to track down his estranged brother, Alex and find some closure in the wake of their father’s death. Meanwhile, Hallie has just found out some upsetting news about a friend in Oregon, and she has a small window to go see him before it’s too late.

Jack and Hallie are practically strangers. They shared a class together years ago and haven’t seen each other since, though they have more in common than they’d ever imagine. And when fate puts them into the same rideshare to the bus terminal, it kicks off an unconventional and hilarious adventure that may lead them to their own true selves…and maybe to each other.

My thoughts

Should you follow your heart and if so, how do you decide what your heart is telling you? That’s what Jack and Hallie must both answer in this road trip novel about finding forgiveness, finding your voice and finding your path in this world.

I love road trip novels. I love contemporary novels that combine hope for the future with hurts from the past. That’s exactly what you get in Where The Road Leads Us. Jack has a plan for the future – graduate, internship in New York and follow in his father’s footsteps to become a doctor. But when his girlfriend breaks up with him on graduation night and he spends his birthday alone, he decides to follow the clues in a note from his late father to his estranged brother and finally try to reconnect with his brother.

Hallie knows nothing in her future is certain, not going to college and not her health. When she is given one last chance to meet and say goodbye to an online friend, she decides to follow her heart. Even if it means going on a road trip with two guys she might have just met or sort of know from school.

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Book Review: Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet – Laekan Zea Kemp – Little, Brown Books for Young Readers – Published 6 April 2021

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Synopsis

As an aspiring pastry chef, Penelope Prado has always dreamed of opening her own pastelería next to her father’s restaurant, Nacho’s Tacos. But her mom and dad have different plans — leaving Pen to choose between disappointing her traditional Mexican-American parents or following her own path. When she confesses a secret she’s been keeping, her world is sent into a tailspin. But then she meets a cute new hire at Nacho’s who sees through her hard exterior and asks the questions she’s been too afraid to ask herself.

Xander Amaro has been searching for home since he was a little boy. For him, a job at Nacho’s is an opportunity for just that — a chance at a normal life, to settle in at his abuelo’s, and to find the father who left him behind. But when both the restaurant and Xander’s immigrant status are threatened, he will do whatever it takes to protect his new found family and himself.

Together, Pen and Xander must navigate first love and discovering where they belong — both within their families and their fiercely loyal Chicanx community — in order to save the place they all call home.

My thoughts

I love books about/that feature food. They are also slightly torturous because food and that makes me hungry. And this book had me serious hungry for Mexican flavours and culinary delights. Of course, what sits so beautifully alongside this story of passion for food and the love that goes into their cooking is a heartbreaking story of belonging.

Penelope Prado knows where she belongs. She dreams of running her own bakery, and building it right next to her family’s restaurant. Her father disagrees, and when Pen finally tells her parents she has dropped out of school and walked away from the life they wanted for her, they refuse to speak to her and her father fires her from the restaurant. Pen is an incredibly strong character – and not just because the guys in the kitchen completely and utterly fear her (which is awesome, by the way). Pen has a history of depression, anxiety and self harm. With her future so uncertainly and her risking everything to chase what feels right, but not really sure how to actually move forward, Pen finds herself wrestling with her mental demons again.

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Book Review: Things That Grow

Things That Grow – Meredith Goldstein – HMH Books for Young Readers – Published 9 March 2021

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Synopsis

When Lori’s Dorothy Parker–loving grandmother dies, Lori’s world is turned upside down. Grandma Sheryl was everything to Lori—and not just because Sheryl raised Lori when Lori’s mom got a job out of town. Now Lori’s mom is insisting on moving her away from her beloved Boston right before senior year. Desperate to stay for as long as possible, Lori insists on honoring her grandmother’s last request before she moves: to scatter Sheryl’s ashes near things that grow.

Along with her uncle Seth and Chris, best friend and love-of-her-life crush, Lori sets off on a road trip to visit her grandmother’s favorite gardens. Dodging forest bathers, scandalized volunteers, and angry homeowners, they come to terms with the shape of life after Grandma Sheryl. Saying goodbye isn’t easy, but Lori might just find a way to move forward surrounded by the people she loves.

My thoughts

Things That Grow is a novel about family and grief, about growing up, falling in love with your best friend but not wanting to risk the relationship and staying quiet about your feeling. It’s also got quite a few gardens in it (I love fiction that includes gardens, not sure why but they always make a story more beautiful) and you could almost call it a road tip novel, as the characters venture on their journey, which doesn’t span too many miles, but still forces them to consider their relationships with each other.

Lori has lived with her Grandma for a few years. She was happy for the stability after living with her mother who would move them regularly, changing jobs and locations as often as she changed boyfriends. So when Grandma Sheryl dies, Lori is reeling from both the loss of her home and the woman who felt more like a mother than her mother ever did. Lori’s mother demands Lori move back with her, despite it meaning Lori will have to change schools right at the start of her senior year and leave behind her best friend, Chris. Lori stalls by insisting they honour her grandmother’s last wish – to have her ashes scattered in four gardens.

Anyone who has had to deal with the aftermath of losing a loved one will relate to Lori’s feelings. This book explores grief in an honest way. Lori isn’t sure how to deal with her feelings and often uses humour to cope with the situations she finds herself in – like trying to find a cremation service for a Jewish woman. So yes, while this book is about death, funerals (they don’t really have one), spreading of ashes and grief, it’s actually a funny, realistic, ‘oh my gosh, no don’t do that’, hopeful novel.

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Book Review: The Secret Recipe for Moving On

The Secret Recipe for Moving On – Karen Bischer – Swoon Reads – Published 23 March 2021

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Synopsis

Home economics is supposed to be an easy A for Ellie Agresti, but, much like an imperfect souffle, her plans collapse epically when she’s dumped by her boyfriend, Hunter. Now Ellie has to mend her broken heart while watching Hunter fawn all over his new girlfriend, Brynn, in class. To make matters worse, Ellie is partnered with four of the biggest misfit guys in school: Jeremy, the loudmouth with temper issues; Isaiah, the solemn, silent horse racing obsessive; Andrew, who can’t take rejection; and Luke, the giant, tattooed stunt biker.

Over the course of a semester, Ellie works to overcome her feelings for Hunter, as well as deeper insecurities that have plagued her since middle school. As the weeks go by, she’s surprised to find friendships in unexpected places… and sparks flying with the last guy she’d expect.

My thoughts

From that beautiful, pastel cover to the romance and teen drama, this is a sugar-sweet YA novel about, well, life as a teenager.

This book was just a whole heap of fun. Yes, there is drama. Lots of drama. From high school gossip blogs to breakups in the worst of circumstances. Crying, losing tempers, showdowns and attacking classmates in the middle of class. There are also so many moments that just made me grin or happy dance. I adored the time Ellie spends with her Home Ec teammates. As they learn to work together and slowly learn more about each other, as they go on team excursions, they become a great group and it was this dynamic that I really loved about this book. You could have doubled these interactions in the book and I would have loved every minute spent with them.

Ellie is our narrator and she is a teenager who is struggling to find her place in the high school world. She was bullied in middle school and starting at a new high school was daunting. Finding a boyfriend so quickly and falling in with his friends seemed the perfect way to both fly under the radar but also not be invisible. Just when Ellie is ready to take the next, big step with Hunter, she finds him distant. It’s pretty obvious to the reader what is going to happen, but when he dumps her, Ellie is devastated. From my reader perspective, it was good riddance, but to Ellie, her heart and trust has been broken. Enter her new Home Ec class. She has to share it with her ex and his new girlfriend, and she is forced to join a team of – in here eyes – losers. But, those losers turn out to be great guys, and together they vow to beat the other teams. Ellie also finds herself romantically drawn to one of her teammates, Luke. But he is in a relationship and the last thing she wants to do is be on the other side of a messy breakup.

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Book Review: Amelia Unabridged

Amelia Unabridged – Ashley Schumacher – Wednesday Books – Published 16 February 2021

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Synopsis

Eighteen-year-old Amelia Griffin is obsessed with the famous Orman Chronicles, written by the young and reclusive prodigy N. E. Endsley. They’re the books that brought her and her best friend Jenna together after Amelia’s father left and her family imploded. So when Amelia and Jenna get the opportunity to attend a book festival with Endsley in attendance, Amelia is ecstatic. It’s the perfect way to start off their last summer before college.

In a heartbeat, everything goes horribly wrong. When Jenna gets a chance to meet the author and Amelia doesn’t, the two have a blowout fight like they’ve never experienced. And before Amelia has a chance to mend things, Jenna is killed in a freak car accident. Grief-stricken, and without her best friend to guide her, Amelia questions everything she had planned for the future.

When a mysterious, rare edition of the Orman Chronicles arrives, Amelia is convinced that it somehow came from Jenna. Tracking the book to an obscure but enchanting bookstore in Michigan, Amelia is shocked to find herself face-to-face with the enigmatic and handsome N. E. Endsley himself, the reason for Amelia’s and Jenna’s fight and perhaps the clue to what Jenna wanted to tell her all along.

My thoughts

Amelia Unabridged is a beautiful, beautiful story about grief and loss. It is also about magic. Magic that happens in the everyday world. The magic of books. The magic of friendship. The magic of a new love and the way it can bring out the very best in people and grapple them back from the edge. The magic of a perfectly amazing bookstore. Amelia Unabridged has all of this and more. It was exactly the book I was looking for – deep, heartbreaking, uplifting, inspiring and honestly so easy to read and snuggle up with, but also lyrical and poetic and metaphoric and so I felt a little bit smart reading it.

Amelia loves her best friend Jenna. They are alike as much as they are different. Jenna has the most amazing, loving, supportive parents. Amelia’s father checked out with his young girlfriend and her mother has checked out in the aftermath. Jenna has their future all planned out while Amelia isn’t sure what she wants. But they both love books. Especially the Orman Chronicles. When the chance to meet the reclusive author of their favourite series, they jump at it, only to be disappointed and torn apart by their experience. A few weeks later, Jenna is dead and Amelia is reeling from the loss. Weighed down by grief and guilt, a surprise package sends Amelia chasing something that feels like Jenna directing things from beyond the grave, and what Amelia finds is more than she could have ever imagined – if she is brave enough to reach and and grab it.

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Book Review: Glimpsed

Glimpsed – G.F. Miller – Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers – Published 5 January 2021

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Synopsis

Charity is a fairy godmother. She doesn’t wear a poofy dress or go around waving a wand, but she does make sure the deepest desires of the student population at Jack London High School come true. And she knows what they want even better than they do because she can glimpse their perfect futures.

But when Charity fulfills a glimpse that gets Vibha crowned homecoming queen, it ends in disaster. Suddenly, every wish Charity has ever granted is called into question. Has she really been helping people? Where do these glimpses come from, anyway? What if she’s not getting the whole picture?

Making this existential crisis way worse is Noah—the adorkable and (in Charity’s opinion) diabolical ex of one of her past clients—who blames her for sabotaging his prom plans and claims her interventions are doing more harm than good. He demands that she stop granting wishes and help him get his girl back. At first, Charity has no choice but to play along. But soon, Noah becomes an unexpected ally in getting to the bottom of the glimpses. Before long, Charity dares to call him her friend…and even starts to wish he were something more. But can the fairy godmother ever get the happily ever after?

My thoughts

I wasn’t entirely convinced from the summary that Glimpsed was going to be the right book for me. Then one of my favourite authors, Abigail Johnson, posted her enjoyed of the novel and I knew I needed to give it a go. Despite my dislike of the cover (sorry, it just doesn’t appeal to me), this is a really fun, flirty, enjoyable romp. And yet, it also has a depth of character, character growth and introspection, enough for me to really enjoy it.

Charity is a fairy godmother. She’s also an average teenager – student bogged down by homework, cheerleader, and daughter of an absent workaholic mother. Her mission is to grant the wish of her Cindys and she is good at it. But when she receives a message telling her to stop or face having her secret revealed, Charity decides she will not bow to her blackmailer. Instead, she decides to grant her blackmailer a wish – he wants his best friend back – but it means working closely with Noah and he is determined to change her mind about the good she does with her fairy godmother skills.

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Book Review: A Shot At Normal

A Shot At Normal – Marisa Reichardt – Farrar, Straus and Giroux – Published 16 February 2021

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Synopsis

Juniper Jade’s parents are hippies. They didn’t attend the first Woodstock, but they were there for the second one. The Jade family lives an all-organic homeschool lifestyle that means no plastics, no cell phones, and no vaccines. It isn’t exactly normal, but it’s the only thing Juniper has ever known. She doesn’t agree with her parents on everything, but she knows that to be in this family, you’ve got to stick to the rules. That is, until the unthinkable happens.

Juniper contracts the measles and unknowingly passes the disease along, with tragic consequences. She is shell-shocked. Juniper knows she is responsible and feels simultaneously helpless and furious at her parents, and herself.

Now, with the help of Nico, the boy who works at the library and loves movies and may just be more than a friend, Juniper comes to a decision: she is going to get vaccinated. Her parents refuse so Juniper arms herself with a lawyer and prepares for battle. But is waging war for her autonomy worth losing her family? How much is Juniper willing to risk for a shot at normal?

My thoughts

A Shot At Normal is a really intriguing novel and totally thought-provoking. It raises the issue of vaccinations, anti-vaccinations and the teenagers caught in the middle. Set against the backdrop of a loving family and a new and sweet romance, A Shot At Normal is a story about growing up, learning to make tough decisions and standing up for what you believe in.

Juniper wants to be normal. She’d give anything to attend high school like normal teens instead of being homeschooled with her younger siblings. She’d love to join a school team, make friends or get a job. None of that is possible, as she has never had the required vaccinations. Not that her alternative parents would every let her. When Juniper contracts the measles, she realises the consequences for not being vaccinated are far more serious than not being allowed to attend school and she must decide how far she wants to go to fight for her right to have the immunisation injections.

This novel is presented as clearly pro vaccinations. I thought maybe there would be more deliberating and weighing backwards and forwards, but once Juniper learns about the consequences of not being vaccinated, she very firmly becomes pro vaccinations. As a result of her contracting and spreading the measles, Juniper is faced with a whole lot of guilt and grief, as well as the negative response from the towns people.

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Book Review: Love in English

Love In English – Maria E. Andreu – Balzer+Bray – Published 2 February 2021

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Synopsis

Sixteen-year-old Ana has just moved to New Jersey from Argentina for her Junior year of high school. She’s a poet and a lover of language—except that now, she can barely understand what’s going on around her, let alone find the words to express how she feels in the language she’s expected to speak.

All Ana wants to do is go home—until she meets Harrison, the very cute, very American boy in her math class. And then there’s her new friend Neo, the Greek boy she’s partnered up with in ESL class, who she bonds with over the 80s teen movies they are assigned to watch for class (but later keep watching together for fun), and Altagracia, her artistic and Instagram-fabulous friend, who thankfully is fluent in Spanish and able to help her settle into American high school.

But is it possible that she’s becoming too American—as her father accuses—and what does it mean when her feelings for Harrison and Neo start to change? Ana will spend her year learning that the rules of English may be confounding, but there are no rules when it comes to love.

My thoughts

Love in English is a YA contemporary novel about fitting in and finding the words to speak in your own voice to reflect your heart. This book is written by an author who can relate to how hard it is to move to a new country and learn a new language, and how complicated it is to balance trying to fit in with the ‘American’ culture, but also retaining what is special and true about your own culture, self and family. 

When Ana moves from Argentina to New Jersey, she doesn’t expect it to be so hard or so isolating. Her father, having lived in the US for a few years, demands that she and her mother speak only English – a language of which she only knows a little. High school seems in some ways so different and yet so similar to the things she saw in movies. She is a poet and loves learning the strange idiosyncrasies of the English language, but she longs to be able to truly communicate. 

Set against powerful themes of immigration, belonging and challenging the ‘American Dream’, In Love in English Ana has to stand up to her father, to embrace what she is and where she came from, as well as where she is now. This book is about finding out who you truly are, even if that is not as clear or defined as you thought it once was.

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