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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: Accidental

Accidental – Alex Richards – Bloomsbury YA – Published 7 July 2020

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Synopsis

Johanna has had more than enough trauma in her life. She lost her mom in a car accident, and her father went AWOL when Johanna was just a baby. At sixteen, life is steady, boring . . . maybe even stifling, since she’s being raised by her grandparents who never talk about their daughter, her mother Mandy.

Then he comes back: Robert Newsome, Johanna’s father, bringing memories and pictures of Mandy. But that’s not all he shares. A tragic car accident didn’t kill Mandy–it was Johanna, who at two years old, accidentally shot her own mother with an unsecured gun.

Now Johanna has to sort through it all–the return of her absentee father, her grandparents’ lies, her part in her mother’s death. But no one, neither her loyal best friends nor her sweet new boyfriend, can help her forgive them. Most of all, can she ever find a way to forgive herself?

My thoughts

What would happen if you discovered you were the reason your mother was dead? That’s exactly what Johanna learns in Accidental. It’s a heartbreaking novel about family, death, grief, uncontrollable emotions, huge letdowns, and broken relationships, yet it is also about learning to breath again, hanging onto those friendships, mending relationships and letting go of others, about making a difference, fall in love and even making out.

Jo has always missed her mother, but respected the boundaries her grandparents have put in place – no talking about her, no photos, no memories. They put their life on hold to raise a granddaughter. But when Jo’s father suddenly appears in her life and tells her that she accidentally shot her own mother, Jo’s life is upended. Not sure what to do, not sure what to believe, Jo relies on her friendship and growing relationship with new student, Milo, to navigated the complex emotions she is feeling.

Gut punch comes to mind from the emotions in this book that feel so big and real. The roller coaster Jo rides from before she knew to the absolute devastation she feels after discovering the truth of her mother’s death is compelling. It’s messy and complicated. There are also so happy times. I loved the friendship she has with Leah and Gabby. Those two friends are there for her and even when they hit hard times, they stick together. Jo, despite everything she’s going through is a decent friend. All three girls must learn how to cope and support each other.

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Book Review: Brave Like That

Brave Like That – Lindsey Stoddard – HarperCollins – Published June 2 2020

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Synopsis

Cyrus Olson’s dad is a hero—Northfield’s former football star and now one of their finest firefighters. Everyone expects Cyrus to follow in his dad’s record-breaking footsteps, and he wishes they were right—except he’s never been brave like that. But this year, with the help of a stray dog, a few new friends, a little bit of rhythm, and a lot of nerve, he may just discover that actually…he is.

Lauded as “remarkable” by the New York Times Book Review, Lindsey Stoddard’s heartfelt stories continue to garner critical acclaim, and her latest novel will have fans new and old rooting for Cyrus and Parker’s special bond and the courage it helps them both to find.

My thoughts

Brave Like That is the same kind of feel-good, heartwarming, uplifting book as Wonder. Brave Like That is utterly delightful to read and I can’t wait to share this with our middle-grade readers.

Cyrus knows very well the story of the night he was found on the steps of the firehouse. He knows how his father had every intention of finding him a new home but decided to keep him. Cyrus has grown up in that firehouse, just as much a part of the fire crew as his dad and the other firefighters. When he discovers a dog, which he names Parker, on the steps of the firehouse, on the eve of his own discovery, he knows that dog belongs with him. He just doesn’t know how to convince his dad, nor how to tell him that he doesn’t actually like football and he would never be brave enough to actually be a fireman. With football season just starting, a new student in school who is being bullied, changes in his friendship group, and the ultimate desire to fight for Parker, Cyrus will have to discover if he can be the kind of brave that stands up for what is right.

I adored everything about this book. It is so easy to read, the story just unfolds and I didn’t want to put it down. There are so many important messages in this book and while they are pretty clearly outlined by Cyrus, the book doesn’t feel self-righteous. Cyrus learns a lot in the book and I was cheering him on every step of the way.

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Book Review: All Your Twisted Secrets

All Your Twisted Secrets – Diana Urban – HarperTeen – Published 17 March 2020

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Synopsis

Welcome to dinner, and again, congratulations on being selected. Now you must do the selecting.

What do the queen bee, star athlete, valedictorian, stoner, loner, and music geek all have in common? They were all invited to a scholarship dinner, only to discover it’s a trap. Someone has locked them into a room with a bomb, a syringe filled with poison, and a note saying they have an hour to pick someone to kill … or else everyone dies.

Amber Prescott is determined to get her classmates and herself out of the room alive, but that might be easier said than done. No one knows how they’re all connected or who would want them dead. As they retrace the events over the past year that might have triggered their captor’s ultimatum, it becomes clear that everyone is hiding something. And with the clock ticking down, confusion turns into fear, and fear morphs into panic as they race to answer the biggest question: Who will they choose to die?

My thoughts

Well, that’s how you start a book. Talk about getting hooked. All Your Twisted Secrets, as the title implies, is a thrilling book told in now and then sections about the secrets six teens will reveal when faced with a life-threatening situation. This book is compelling, addictive and shocking – I know teen readers will soak this up.

When six teens are invited to a prestigious dinner as scholarship recipients, they are shocked to discover they are locked in the room with a bomb, a syringe filled with deadly poison and a choice – kill one person or all be killed. Amber knows there must be another way to get everyone to safety, if she could just get the others to stop fighting. But as the clock ticks down, the six must face the events of the past year, and reveal the secrets they have kept hidden.

This book is thrilling from beginning to end. The short countdown chapters are perfectly spaced between the longer flashback sections. I won’t say too much about the characters or plot because the book is so brilliantly done I don’t remember what I didn’t know at the start and what I learnt as each fragment and detail is revealed throughout the book. I desperately wanted to flip to the back of the book to see how it would end and I’m so glad I didn’t. The build up and reveals are worth it. Stay away from spoilers if you can and enjoy the journey Diana Urban has masterfully created. With some important messages about friendship, bullying and social justice, this book has heart as well as guts.

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Book Review: Fan the Fame

Fan The Fame – Anna Priemaza – HarperTeen – Published 20 August 2019

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Synopsis

Lainey wouldn’t mind lugging a camera around a video game convention for her brother, aka YouTube superstar Codemeister, except for one big problem. He’s funny and charming online, but behind closed doors, Cody is a sexist jerk.

SamTheBrave came to this year’s con with one mission: meeting Codemeister—because getting his idol’s attention could be the big break Sam needs.

ShadowWillow is already a successful streamer. But when her fans start shipping her with Code, Shadow concocts a plan to turn the rumors to her advantage.

The three teens’ paths collide when Lainey records one of Cody’s hateful rants on video. Because she’s determined to spill the truth to her brother’s fans—even if that means putting Sam and Shadow in the crosshairs.

My thoughts

Fan The Fame is a relatable novel about responsibility, doing and saying the right thing and speaking up – or choosing not to. With three distinct character perspectives and voices, this is a clever and thought-provoking novel.

Lainey: not much into gaming. Her brother is a huge YouTube star and she can’t quite understand why so many people subscribe to his videos when he so racist, sexist and rude. Working for Cody, aka Codemeister, this summer means carting around his video gear at the gaming conference and seeing his jerkiness up close.
ShadowWillow: an up and coming successful, and very good, female gamer and streamer. When her fans start shipping her with Codemeister, she knows joining someone so famous would really up her subscriber numbers.
SamTheBrave: young gamer with not many subscribers, but hilarious jokes. Feels like the gaming world is the one place he might actually belong. Also wants to get the attention of Codemeister at the conference.

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Book Review: On Thin Ice

On Thin Ice – Julie Cross – Juniper Falls #3 – Entangled: Teen – Published 26 February 2019

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Synopsis

Brooke Parker never expected to find herself in the tiny town of Juniper Falls, Minnesota. Of course, she also never expected to lose her dad. Or for her mom to lose herself. Brooke feels like she’s losing it…until she finds Juniper Falls hockey. Juniper Falls girls’ hockey, that is.

Jake Hammond, current prince of Juniper Falls, captain of the hockey team, and player with the best chance of scoring it big, is on top of the world. Until one hazing ritual gone wrong lands him injured, sitting on the sidelines, and―shocking even to him―finding himself enjoying his “punishment” as assistant coach for the girls’ team.

As Jake and Brooke grow closer, he finds the quiet new girl is hiding a persona full of life, ideas, and experiences bigger and broader than anything he’s ever known. But to Jake, hockey’s never just been a game. It’s his whole life. And leveraging the game for a shot at their future might be more than he can give.

My thoughts

On Thin Ice is the romantic and sensational third book in the Juniper Falls series. Ice hockey, scintillating romance, heartbreaking family troubles, strong friendship and a soul searching story about standing up for what’s right, On Thin Ice has all the pieces to create a captivating story which I devoured.

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Book Review: Puddin’

Puddin’ – Julie Murphy – Dumplin’ #2 – Balzer+Bray – Published 8 May 2018

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Synopsis

Millie Michalchuk has gone to fat camp every year since she was a girl. Not this year. This year she has new plans to chase her secret dream—and to kiss her crush. Callie Reyes is the pretty girl who is next in line for dance team captain and has the popular boyfriend. But when it comes to other girls, she’s more frenemy than friend. When circumstances bring the girls together over the course of a semester, they will surprise everyone (especially themselves) by realizing they might have more in common than they ever imagined.

My thoughts

Puddin’ is a delightful, uplifting, and empowering novel about friendship, fitting in and standing out – for all the right reasons.

Millie has no intention of returning to Fat Camp this summer. She just hasn’t told her mother yet. Millie dreams of becoming a journalist, even if it means she must stand up to the people who would attempt to dissuade her. Callie has the perfect life -boyfriend and co-captaincy of the dance team. But when a dance-team revenge prank gets out of hand, Callie ends up taking the fall – alone. Thrown together, Millie and Callie seemingly have nothing in common. But if anyone can break through Callie’s rough exterior, it is Millie. What starts as forced slowly becomes a strong friendship and the girls realise they might have more in common than they first thought.

Puddin’ is (I’m a little ashamed to admit) the first book I have read by Julie Murphy. Many of her other novels, especially Dumplin’, have been on my to-read list for ages, but for some reason I have never got around to reading them. That will change in the immediate future. While Puddin’ is a companion novel to Dumplin’ I was able to read, enjoy, and understand everything in Puddin’ without any trouble as it is a complete story in its own right and a standalone title. There were a few references that left me very intrigued, though, so I am really looking forward to finally reading Dumplin’. And seriously, how awesome is Willowdean?

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Book Review: Take Three Girls

Take Three Girls – Cath Crowley, Fiona Wood, Simmone Howell – Pan Australia – Published 29 August 2017

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Synopsis

Ady – not the confident A-Lister she appears to be.
Kate – brainy boarder taking risks to pursue the music she loves.
Clem – disenchanted swim-star losing her heart to the wrong boy.

All are targeted by PSST, a toxic website that deals in gossip and lies. St Hilda’s antidote to the cyber-bullying? The Year 10 Wellness program. Nice try – but sometimes all it takes is three girls.

My thoughts

Take Three Girls is contemporary #LoveOzYA fiction at its best. And yet, Take Three Girls is transferable to any society, any country which experiences the troubles of bullying, social media dangers, and relationship breakdown. With a no-holds-barred approach, Take Three Girls takes some serious and seriously important topics and meets them head on. What results is an open, honest, and refreshing novel that clears the way for some vital conversations.

Clem, Ady, and Kate. Three girls who attend the same school, but who otherwise don’t have a lot in common. Or at least, don’t think they do. When these three girls, like many others, are targeted by an abusive website spreading horrifying false information and sexual harassment, they are thrown together, not only in class but as they face the challenges of a cruel online world and culture.

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Book Review: A Taxonomy of Love

A Taxonomy of Love – Rachael Allen – Amulet Books – Published 9 January 2018

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Synopsis

The moment Spencer meets Hope the summer before seventh grade, it’s . . . something at first sight. He knows she’s special, possibly even magical. The pair become fast friends, climbing trees and planning world travels. After years of being outshone by his older brother and teased because of his Tourette syndrome, Spencer finally feels like he belongs. But as Hope and Spencer get older and life gets messier, the clear label of “friend” gets messier, too.

Through sibling feuds and family tragedies, new relationships and broken hearts, the two grow together and apart, and Spencer, an aspiring scientist, tries to map it all out using his trusty system of taxonomy. He wants to identify and classify their relationship, but in the end, he finds that life doesn’t always fit into easy-to-manage boxes, and it’s this messy complexity that makes life so rich and beautiful.

My thoughts

Is there a way to understand and capture the complexities of life, friendship, and love? A Taxonomy of Love is a sweet story that captures all the magic and heartbreak of friendship and growing up.

When the new girl moves in next door, she and Spencer become strong friends. Who else but Hope could understand Spencer’s love of bugs and climbing trees. Who else could understand the ways in which he is different and yet not treat him as if he is any different at all. But sometimes life is messy and not as easy to categorise as Spencer would like. Friends, more than friends, not friends at all?

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Book Review: The Way It Hurts

The Way It Hurts – Patty Blount – Sourcebooks Fire – Published 1 August 2017

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Synopsis

Music is Elijah’s life. His band plays loud and hard, and he’ll do anything to get them a big break. He needs that success to help take care of his sister, who has special needs. So he’d rather be practicing when his friends drag him to a musical in the next town…until the lead starts to sing.

Kristen dreams of a career on stage like her grandmother’s. She knows she needs an edge to get into a competitive theater program―and being the star in her high school musical isn’t going to cut it. The applause and the attention only encourage her to work harder.

Elijah can’t take his eyes off of Kristen’s performance, and his swooning face is captured on camera and posted with an out-of-context comment. It goes viral. Suddenly, Elijah and Kristen are in a new spotlight as the online backlash spins out of control. And the consequences are bigger than they both could have ever imagined because these threats don’t stay online…they follow them into real life.

My thoughts

The Way It Hurts is a story about music and the passion to take that music to as many people as possible. It is also a story about the impact of social media. The Way It Hurts is a novel with plenty of drama and characters with very strong emotions.

Kristin is counting on a summer music program to give her an edge when it comes time for her conservatory application. For Kristin, singing, performing, and dancing is everything. Elijah wants to take his heavy metal band all the way. He dreams of fame. When he sees Kristin perform, he knows her voice could be the thing to promote his band. He posts a picture of her and a comment about wanting her in his band. But convincing Kristin to sing with them might be hard after she discovers he is the one she spars with online and his post quickly sparks a derogatory backlash. But Kristin decides that performing with Ride Out could benefit her, and so starts to use the social media outcry to her own advantage. But when the comments online become increasingly sinister and her relationship with Elijah’s band mates struggles from the beginning, Elijah and Kristin will have to decide how much they will risk for what they want.

Firstly, let me state that I found the synopsis originally provided with this book misleading. There is no picture taken of Eli’s swooning face, he takes a photo of Kristen and posts his own, easily misconstrued, comment. And I don’t think Elijah and Kristen finds themselves in the midst of a social media maelstrom – they have a large part in creating it. As it escalates, Kristin is forced to bear the brunt of rude comments and disgusting photos and suggestions, which Elijah largely dismisses until it begins to effect him.

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