Book Reviews, Lists, Discussions, and Displays

Category: Contemporary (Page 1 of 4)

Book Review: Everything I Thought I Knew

Everything I Thought I Knew – Shannon Takaoka – Candlewick Press – Published 13 October 2020

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Synopsis

Seventeen-year-old Chloe had a plan: work hard, get good grades, and attend a top-tier college. But after she collapses during cross-country practice and is told that she needs a new heart, all her careful preparations are laid to waste.

Eight months after her transplant, everything is different. Stuck in summer school with the underachievers, all she wants to do now is grab her surfboard and hit the waves—which is strange, because she wasn’t interested in surfing before her transplant. (It doesn’t hurt that her instructor, Kai, is seriously good-looking.)

And that’s not all that’s strange. There’s also the vivid recurring nightmare about crashing a motorcycle in a tunnel and memories of people and places she doesn’t recognize.

Is there something wrong with her head now, too, or is there another explanation for what she’s experiencing?

As she searches for answers, and as her attraction to Kai intensifies, what she learns will lead her to question everything she thought she knew—about life, death, love, identity, and the true nature of reality.

My thoughts

While the start and middle of Everything I Thought I Knew have everything I love in a book – heartwarming story, building romance, struggling friendship, introspection following trauma – it is the ending, the glorious, surprising, on-my-gosh-no-way, ending that makes this book so gosh-darned amazing. I was shocked, stunned, honestly a little traumatised. It is honest, brilliant, amazing, and defies the realms of possibility just enough to have you questioning everything you thought you knew.

Chloe is lucky. Or so everyone tells her. Lucky when she collapsed and her heart failed that she didn’t die. Lucky that she received a heart transplant. Lucky she can continue her life. Eight months after her transplant, Chloe is finishing high school via summer school and watching her friends move away to college. Things are changing for Chloe. She does’t feel like the same person. She is sneaking away to take surfing lessons from the gorgeous Kai and has recurring dreams about crashing a motorcycle. Flashbacks, seeing people, knowing things she shouldn’t know. Something is wrong and so she starts to search for answers.

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Book Review: Chasing Lucky

Chasing Lucky – Jenn Bennett – Simon Pulse – Published 10 November 2020

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Synopsis

Budding photographer Josie Saint-Martin has spent half her life with her single mother, moving from city to city. When they return to her historical New England hometown years later to run the family bookstore, Josie knows it’s not forever. Her dreams are on the opposite coast, and she has a plan to get there.

What she doesn’t plan for is a run-in with the town bad boy, Lucky Karras. Outsider, rebel…and her former childhood best friend. Lucky makes it clear he wants nothing to do with the newly returned Josie. But everything changes after a disastrous pool party, and a poorly executed act of revenge lands Josie in some big-time trouble—with Lucky unexpectedly taking the blame.

Determined to understand why Lucky was so quick to cover for her, Josie discovers that both of them have changed, and that the good boy she once knew now has a dark sense of humor and a smile that makes her heart race. And maybe, just maybe, he’s not quite the brooding bad boy everyone thinks he is…

My thoughts

Well, Jenn Bennett has done it again. Just when I thought I was in a book slump that would last forever, Jenn swept in with her tales growing up, dealing with complicated family circumstances, aching and swoony romance. Combined with addictive storytelling, I rejoiced in having found such a wonderful book once again. If you are a fan of Jenn Bennett’s other books (and by that I mean you’ve read one) you will be delighted by Chasing Lucky.

Josie knows how to pack light. She’s used to throwing together her things as her mother moves them from town to town, sometimes in the dead of night. Ever since the great blow up between her mother and grandmother when she was 12, Josie has been on the move. Now, thanks to her grandmother taking an overseas trip, Josie and her mother are finally returning to their hometown, Beauty. Confronted by her past, her ex-best friend and now rather gorgeous Lucky Karras, a chance to realise her dreams of moving to live with her professional photographer father and maybe even get to the bottom of her mother’s history in Beauty, Josie’s return is far from smooth but it might also be everything she’s looking for.

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Book Review: Thoughts & Prayers

Thoughts & Prayers – Bryan Bliss – Greenwillow Books – Published 29 September 2020

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Synopsis

Claire, Eleanor, and Brezzen have little in common. Except for the fact that a year ago, they all hid under the same staircase and heard the shots that took the lives of some of their classmates and a teacher.

Now, each one copes with the trauma as best as they can as the world around them keeps moving. Thoughts and Prayers is a story about gun violence, but more importantly it is the story of what happens after the reporters leave and the news cycle moves on to the next tragedy. It is the story of three unforgettable teens who feel forgotten.

My thoughts

Thank goodness for this book. It is beautiful, insightful, reflective, powerful and conveys so much with such a simple, non-preachy style. Three teenagers. Three separate stories. And yet their lives crossed for just a few moments on one fateful day under a school staircase.

Claire, Eleanor and Brezzen survived the school shooting that killed a teacher and fellow classmates. They have each continued their lives, coping with the trauma and fallout in their own ways.

Thoughts & Prayers starts with Claire and her story. Part one starts with Claire and her brother having made a new life after moving towns. Claire is about to start at a new school. Each morning, she and her brother escape to a local skating park after hours – it’s the only time Claire can move without thinking about everyone around her and constantly scanning the environment. She meets three guys at the park, Leg, God and Dark. They seem like they could become friends, they are supportive of her need for space, cope with her panic attacks. But as she spends more time with them, there seems to be something wrong, a little off, with Dark and Claire knows the risks of not speaking up. Claire has an intriguing story and it brings such a powerful message of how hard it is to do the right thing – to even know what the right thing is. She risks everything to speak out, just as she would risk everything by staying silent. Her story is also about the debilitating panic, fear and gamut of emotions that can occur after experiencing such a traumatic event.

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Book Review: Far From Normal

Far From Normal – Becky Wallace – Page Street Kids – Published 22 September 2020

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Synopsis

Maddie McPherson is sick of Normal—both her hometown of Normal, Illinois and being the ‘normal’ sibling. But when she lands a summer internship with a sports marketing firm, she finally has a chance to crawl out of her genius brother’s shadow. Not to mention, a glowing letter of recommendation could secure her admission to her dream college.

But Maddie’s nickname is “CalaMaddie” for a reason, and when the company tasks her with repairing the image of teen soccer phenom Gabriel Fortunato, she wonders if she’s set herself up for embarrassment. Gabriel is a tabloid magnet, who’s best-known for flubbing Italy’s World Cup hopes. As Maddie works with him to develop “pleasant and friendly” content for social media, she also learns he’s thoughtful, multi-talented, and fiercely loyal—maybe even to a fault. Falling for a footballer is exactly how CalaMaddie would botch this internship, but with the firm pressuring her to get the job done, perhaps her heart is worth risking?

My thoughts

Far From Normal is a sweet and light YA romance about soccer, summer, and social media.

Maddie McPherson has landed an awesome summer internship working at her aunt’s sports marketing firm. Within ing days of being there, Maddie is presented with the opportunity to create and post the social media content for teen soccer star Gabriel Fortunato. The goal is to repair Gabe’s image, but Maddie has to decide between doing her job well enough to get a glowing recommendation letter for college and falling for the boy who is quickly capturing her heart.

Far From Normal is perfect if you are in the mood for something very light. There are meet-cutes (a bike, a dog and a soccer ball, you do the math), working relationships that cross into romantic territory, a mean-girl work colleague Maddie must contend with, and romantic meals in Italian restaurants.

While Gabe and Maddie do discuss a few things about Gabe’s life in the spotlight, the incidents he has been involved in are never fully discussed and they never have any really deep conversations about this, so the book remains on the fluffy side. Fine, if you like cute and light stories, but I usually enjoy something with a bit more depth, so I didn’t connect that much with the characters.

Despite this being about a soccer star and sports marketing, the sports side of things don’t come into the story at all, so I’ll be shelving this under romance and not sport.

A quick read, perfect if you are looking for a fun and light YA romance.

The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.

More information

Category: Young adult fiction

Genre: Contemporary

Themes: Romance, internships, soccer, social media, family, college applications.

Reading age guide: Ages 14 and up.

Advisory: References to drug and alcohol use and related accidents. Drunk driving. Sexual references and references to sexual relationships.

Published: 22 September 2020 by Page Street Kids.

Format: Hardcover, ebook. 240 pages.

ISBN: 9781645670568

Find it on Goodreads

Book Review: Charming As A Verb

Charming As A Verb – Ben Philipp – Balzer + Bray – Published 8 September 2020

 

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Synopsis

Henri “Halti” Haltiwanger can charm just about anyone. He is a star debater and popular student at the prestigious FATE academy, the dutiful first-generation Haitian son, and the trusted dog walker for his wealthy New York City neighbors. But his easy smiles mask a burning ambition to attend his dream college, Columbia University.

There is only one person who seems immune to Henri’s charms: his “intense” classmate and neighbor Corinne Troy. When she uncovers Henri’s less-than-honest dog-walking scheme, she blackmails him into helping her change her image at school. Henri agrees, seeing a potential upside for himself.

Soon what started as a mutual hustle turns into something more surprising than either of them ever bargained for. . . .

My thoughts

As charming as its title and main character, Charming As A Verb is a sweet realistic novel about growing up, falling in love, and finishing high school.

Henri Haltiwanger, Halti to his friends, is a hard worker. He needs to be if he’s going to make into his dream college, the college he and his father have always planned. As well as balancing debate team and maintaining his grades at the prestigious FATE academy, Henri runs his own dog walking business. When a classmate figures out his business is less of a corporate company and more a one-man show, she blackmails him into helping her fix her image at school. If anyone can charm their way into the popular crowd, it’s Henri. But what starts as blackmail, quickly turns to friendship.

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Book Review: Early Departures

Early Departures – Justin A. Reynolds – Katherine Tegen Books – Published 22 September 2020

 

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Synopsis

What if you could bring your best friend back to life—but only for a short time?

Jamal’s best friend, Q, doesn’t know that he died, and that he’s about to die . . . again. He doesn’t know that Jamal tried to save him. And that the reason they haven’t been friends for two years is because Jamal blames Q for the accident that killed his parents.

But what if Jamal could have a second chance? A new technology allows Q to be reanimated for a few weeks before he dies . . . permanently. And Q’s mom is not about to let anyone ruin this miracle by telling Q about his impending death. So how can Jamal fix everything if he can’t tell Q the truth?

My thoughts

An honest, heartbreaking yet humorous look at death and saying goodbye, Justin A. Reynolds brings his trademark style and humour to this incredible story you’ll have to read to believe.

What would you do if you could bring someone back from the dead? Even if it was only for a short time? That’s exactly the question Jamal must face when his ex-best friend dies in his arms. When Quincy’s mother and Jamal are taken to a secret facility they are offered a mind-blowing option – reanimate Quincy. But it will only be for a few days. For Jamal, it’s a chance to make things right with his once best friend, to heal the hurt between them, a chance to finally speak his mind and a chance to say goodbye, a chance he never got with his parents. But Quincy’s mother doesn’t want to tell Quincy he only has a few days left on earth and Jamal isn’t sure that’s the right way to handle things.

This book just felt so incredibly authentic. The grief, the hurt Jamal is carrying, and most especially the wonderful, broken but still clicked-in friendship bond the two boys share. Flashbacks in the form of videos the two boys made show the depth of connection they share.

Parts of this book are heartbreaking. Yet other parts of this book are honestly hilarious. Jamal and Quincy both have a wonderful sense of humour and are constantly making witty quips and jokes. Quincy dreams of making it big as a comedian. But it’s not just Jamal and Quincy that bring the laughs in the book. Despite the topics of grief and loss, the death of Jamal’s parents and the impending death of Quincy, there are some wonderful light-hearted moments in this book and that’s what brings home the message about living well and enjoying every minute.

As much as I adored Jamal and Quincy, there are some fantastic side characters, especially Jamal’s sister and Quincy’s mother, both who play important roles in the story.

Looking for a meaningful yet lighthearted novel that will have you smiling, crying and rejoicing all at once, then look no farther than Early Departures.

The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.

More information

Category: Young adult fiction

Genre: Contemporary

Themes: Death, grief, friendship, best friends, humour, comedy, family,

Reading age guide: Ages 13 and up.

Advisory: References to death. Vague sexual references. F*** (16), sh** (24), pi** (5), di** (1), as***** (4).

Representation: Main characters and side characters african american. Heterosexual relationships.

Published: 22 September 2020 by Katherine Tegen Books

Format: Hardcover, ebook. 400 pages.

ISBN: 9780062748409

Find it on Goodreads

Book Review: Dating Makes Perfect

Dating Makes Perfect – Pintip Dunn – Entangled:Teen – Published 18 August 2020

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Synopsis

The Tech sisters don’t date in high school. Not because they’re not asked. Not because they’re not interested. Not even because no one can pronounce their long, Thai last name—hence the shortened, awkward moniker. But simply because they’re not allowed. Until now.

In a move that other Asian American girls know all too well, six months after the older Tech twins got to college, their parents asked, “Why aren’t you engaged yet?” The sisters retaliated by vowing that they won’t marry for ten (maybe even twenty!) years, not until they’ve had lots of the dating practice that they didn’t get in high school.

In a shocking war on the status quo, her parents now insist that their youngest daughter, Orrawin (aka “Winnie”), must practice fake dating in high school. Under their watchful eyes, of course—and organized based on their favorite rom-coms. ’Cause that won’t end in disaster.

The first candidate? The son of their longtime friends, Mat Songsomboon—arrogant, infuriating, and way too good-looking. Winnie’s known him since they were toddlers throwing sticky rice balls at each other. And her parents love him.

If only he weren’t her sworn enemy.

My thoughts

What would you do if the only way your parents would let you date in high school was to date your sworn enemy/ex-best friend. That’s what happens to Winnie in this fun and flirty YA romance. Alongside an awesome sister relationship, a series of dates that have come straight from the movies (literally) and two cute love interests, Dating Makes Perfect is #OwnVoices and lots of fun, perfect if you are in the mood for something lighthearted.

Winnie doesn’t have any intentions of dating during high school, no partner for the prom. It’s a family rule that the Tech sisters are not allowed to date in high school. But when her mother asks Winnie’s older sisters why they haven’t found partners yet now they are in college, the girls turn the tables on their parents and convince them that Winnie should be allowed to date in high school. But their parents have one condition: they will choose who Winnie dates and where they go. Winnie is horrified that, despite a perfectly handsome new boy in town, her parents decide she is to date her sworn enemy Mat Songsomboon.

I know Winnie and Mat are meant to be sworn enemies, but it’s easy to see their feelings underneath their hilarious ‘fighting’. Their insults and arguing is more like banter and flirting. But there is some hurt buried after their friendship broke down and I loved that they are able to finally talk about this and offer each other an explanation. This book is more best friends to lovers than enemies to lovers romance, simply because it’s hard not to imagine Mat and Winnie together. The other love interest just provides some motivation, shall we say.

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Book Review: All Our Worst Ideas

All Our Worst Ideas – Vicky Skinner – Swoon Readers – Published 11 August 2020

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Synopsis

When Amy, on her way to becoming valedictorian of her graduating class and getting accepted to her dream school, gets dumped by her long-term boyfriend, she takes a job at a record store to ease the pain. She needs a distraction, badly.

Oliver, Amy’s record store co-worker, isn’t so sure about Amy—his complete opposite—but what he is sure of is his decision not to go to college. He just can’t figure out how to tell his mother.

As they work late-night shifts at the record store, Amy and Oliver become friends and then confidantes and then something more, but when Amy has a hard time letting go of what she thought was her perfect future with her ex, she risks losing the future she didn’t even know she wanted with Oliver.

My thoughts

If you are looking for a teenage true love story about finding the one, you’ll love All Our Worst Ideas. Touching on topics about following your dreams and dealing with family issues, All Our Worst Ideas is a sweet mature YA contemporary romance.

Amy is ready to finish her high schooling as valedictorian, get into Stanford with a full ride scholarship. Then every Friday night spent studying, every sacrifice will be worth it. Until her mother asks her to get a job while her stepdad is out of work. Until her boyfriend dumps her for not spending enough time with him. Until she starts to like hanging out with her new, if slightly grumpy co-worker. But Amy doesn’t have time for distractions and she will have to decide what is most important to her and what she is willing to risk to achieve her dreams.

Amy is your typical YA heroine who is excellent at school and spends her time studying. Oliver is a year older, finished with high school and working full time at the record store.

Amy starts the novel in a very serious, long-term relationship. Fortunately, she isn’t quick to fall out of love after her boyfriend ends their relationship nor quick to move straight onto a new relationship.

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Book Review: More Than Just A Pretty Face

More Than Just A Pretty Face – Syed M. Masood – Little, Brown Books for Young Readers – Published 4 August 2020

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Synopsis

Danyal Jilani doesn’t lack confidence. He may not be the smartest guy in the room, but he’s funny, gorgeous, and going to make a great chef one day. His father doesn’t approve of his career choice, but that hardly matters. What does matter is the opinion of Danyal’s longtime crush, the perfect-in-all-ways Kaval, and her family, who consider him a less than ideal arranged marriage prospect.

When Danyal gets selected for Renaissance Man–a school-wide academic championship–it’s the perfect opportunity to show everyone he’s smarter than they think. He recruits the brilliant, totally-uninterested-in-him Bisma to help with the competition, but the more time Danyal spends with her…the more he learns from her…the more he cooks for her…the more he realizes that happiness may be staring him right in his pretty face.

My thoughts

More Than Just A Pretty Face is an uplifting, fun book that also comes with sweet romance and a feel-good, save the world message. Diverse representation – both ethnically and faith based, #OwnVoices, this has all the boxes ticked to make it an “important” book, but basically it’s just lots of fun to read.

Danyal is going to be a chef. Sure, his teachers and classmates think he’s a joke and his father disapproves of pretty much everything he does, but Danyal isn’t fazed. His goal is to get his best-friend’s twin, Kaval to value him as he is, even if their parents might not approve an arranged marriage match. When his mother sets up a meeting with Bisma, he is shocked with her open honesty and the way she gets him, even if she says she’s not interested in him. When he is selected for a school academic championship, he asks Bisma for help researching his topic – a topic everyone else has cautioned him against. But working with Bisma makes him feel like nothing else does and it might just mean he has to reevaluate his other goals too.

More Than Just A Pretty Face is Syed M. Mason’s YA debut and I really hope he sticks with it, as I would love to read another YA contemporary novel from him. He has such a great way of capturing the characters’ voices and bringing them to life. The situations are almost ridiculous – people don’t treat their family that way, right? – but it is so ridiculous it feels entirely true and hits home. The teens in this book struggle to balance their faith and personal values with the ideals and standards of the world – something that brings conflict into their relationships with friends and family. Danyal is open about his faith, but can’t quite relate to the more devout devotion his friend is showing.

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Book Review: Please Don’t Hug Me

Please Don’t Hug Me – Kay Kerr – Text Publishing – Published 28 April 2020

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Synopsis

Budding photographer Josie Saint-Martin has spent half her life with her single mother, moving from city to city. When they return to her historical New England hometown years later to run the family bookstore, Josie knows it’s not forever. Her dreams are on the opposite coast, and she has a plan to get there.

What she doesn’t plan for is a run-in with the town bad boy, Lucky Karras. Outsider, rebel…and her former childhood best friend. Lucky makes it clear he wants nothing to do with the newly returned Josie. But everything changes after a disastrous pool party, and a poorly executed act of revenge lands Josie in some big-time trouble—with Lucky unexpectedly taking the blame.

Determined to understand why Lucky was so quick to cover for her, Josie discovers that both of them have changed, and that the good boy she once knew now has a dark sense of humor and a smile that makes her heart race. And maybe, just maybe, he’s not quite the brooding bad boy everyone thinks he is…

My thoughts

This is the book that everyone is talking about right now. Honestly, I was on board with the pink cover and cinnamon doughnuts, but bonus points for #ownvoices, local Aussie author, diverse character voice representation and a realistic story about growing up, fitting in and learning that it is okay to be different.

Please Don’t Hug Me is written entirely in the form of letters from our main character Erin, to her brother Rudy. We readers don’t know where or why Rudy isn’t at home anymore, but Erin is working through a few things and has been tasked by her therapist to write letters. Through these letters, which include enough dialogue and reflection on events to feel like you are in the middle of each situation, we readers learn about Erin’s friendships, her work, getting through the last year of school, looking forward to things like schoolies, but also feeling out of the loop as she is unable to read social cues or properly fit in with her best-friend’s group of school fiends. A new job, a new friend and working through her feelings about her brother and family, might just be the things she needs to make it through the year.

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