Book Reviews, Lists, Discussions, and Displays

Tag: Contemporary (Page 1 of 45)

Book Review: Let It Be Me

Let It Be Me – Becky Wade – A Misty River Romance #2 – Bethany House Publishers – Published 4 May 2021

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Synopsis

Having graduated college at 18, Sebastian Grant has continued to leverage his intelligence and determination to become a pediatric heart surgeon. The more accolades he receives, the more he’s driven to pursue. Then he meets high school math teacher Leah Montgomery, and his fast-spinning world comes to a sudden stop.

Solving advanced math equations by the age of five, Leah has always wanted to pursue a PhD in mathematics. She willingly put that dream on hold to raise her brother. Now that he is of age, she’s set on avoiding any obstacles to her goal–including romance.

When Leah receives surprising news in the process of taking a test for tracking her ancestry, she asks Sebastian to help her comb through aged hospital records to learn more. Soon his presence isn’t so easily ignored. But when Sebastian learns his best friend also has feelings for Leah, he begins to question his resolve to win her. Attaining their deepest desires may require more sacrifices than they ever imagined.

My thoughts

Let It Be Me is another heartwarming contemporary, Christian romance from Becky Wade. Like her previous book, Let It Be Me features one of the Miracle Five, five teens who had been miraculously saved after a building collapsed on them during an earthquake. Now adults, we follow them as they sort through their past hurts and journey on the road to love. This time it’s Sebastian’s turn.

Sebastian is a gifted surgeon. After the events of the earthquake, he turned his life around. Drawn into the Coleman family, he didn’t let being a foster kid define him. They saved him and offered what he most wanted – to belong. That’s way he would do anything for his best friend and closest person he has to family, Ben Coleman. When Sebastian meets and is instantly drawn to Leah Montgomery, he knows he has to get to know her better. The one problem is that it’s the same Leah Ben has been crushing on for two years. Sebastian does the right thing and withdraws but when Leah asks for his help to untangle a mystery involving DNA and hospital logistics, they spend more time together and Sebastian finds it increasingly difficult to stay honourable to his best friend.

I think this book has one of the few love triangles I’ve truly enjoyed. Maybe that’s because all along Leah has no feelings but those of friendship for Ben and it’s so clear that she and Sebastian are perfect for each other. Everyone is respectful of the other and mindful not to hurt anyone’s feelings. There is an intense connection between Sebastian and Leah but there are many obstacle in the path, firstly Ben and Sebastian’s duty of friendship but also Leah’s desire to remain single and Sebastian’s own habit of not getting to close to people.

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Book Review: How To Become A Planet

How to Become A Planet – Nicole Melleby – Algonquin Young Readers –  Published 25 May 2021

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Synopsis

For Pluto, summer has always started with a trip to the planetarium. It’s the launch to her favorite season, which also includes visits to the boardwalk arcade, working in her mom’s pizzeria, and her best friend Meredith’s birthday party. But this summer, none of that feels possible.

A month before the end of the school year, Pluto’s frightened mom broke down Pluto’s bedroom door. What came next were doctor’s appointments, a diagnosis of depression, and a big black hole that still sits on Pluto’s chest, making it too hard to do anything.

Pluto can’t explain to her mom why she can’t do the things she used to love. And it isn’t until Pluto’s dad threatens to make her move with him to the city—where he believes his money, in particular, could help—that Pluto becomes desperate enough to do whatever it takes to be the old Pluto again.

She develops a plan and a checklist: If she takes her medication, if she goes to the planetarium with her mom for her birthday, if she successfully finishes her summer school work with her tutor, if she goes to Meredith’s birthday party . . . if she does all the things that “normal” Pluto would do, she can stay with her mom in Jersey. But it takes a new therapist, a new tutor, and a new (and cute) friend with a checklist and plan of her own for Pluto to learn that there is no old and new Pluto. There’s just her.

My thoughts

How To Become A Planet is a novel about anxiety and depression, friendship and gender identity exploration for upper middle graders. Perfect for students just transitioning into high school and confronted with new levels of expectations, new hormones and feelings, and dealing with mental health and complicated feelings from family breakdown and changes in friendship groups.

Pluto has depression and anxiety and at the moment that’s all she really knows about herself. She struggles to get out of bed, and certainly doesn’t want to spend her summer break at her mother’s pizzeria and with a tutor so she can go to eighth grade next year. When Pluto unexpectedly makes a new friend, they each make a list of things they want to do this summer. Pluto’s list is all about returning to the girl she was before her diagnosis. For Fallon, her list is about telling her mother how she feels about having long hair and wearing dresses.

Pluto starts to develop romantic feelings for Fallon – funny feelings in her tummy and wanting to touch Fallon’s face. No labels are applied, but Pluto is supported by and identifies with her tutor who is in a homosexual relationship. Again, no labels are applied to Fallon’s desire to cut her hair short, and wear her brothers’ clothes, but these discussions and feelings are a major part of the book, giving readers something to identify with and relate to without applying labels.

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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: All That Really Matters

All That Really Matters – Nicole Deese – Bethany House Publishers – Published 6 April 2021

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Synopsis

Molly McKenzie’s bright personality and on-trend fashion and beauty advice have earned her an impressive social media following, as well as a big paycheck each month. When her manager-turned-boyfriend says she has an audition to appear as a host on a makeover show that nominates underprivileged youth, her dream of further fame seems to be coming true. There’s just one catch: she has little experience interacting with people in need.

When her manager-boyfriend convinces her to partner with a local organization, she begins volunteering with a summer youth program. The program’s director, Silas Whittaker, challenges her at every turn, but she swiftly grows more attached to the kids–and him–every day.

As Molly experiences an acceptance unlike anything she’s known, she wrestles with the lies she’s been believing about herself for years. She thought she knew what mattered most in life, but maybe she’s had it wrong this whole time, and there’s more to being truly seen than what she’s built her entire life on.

My thoughts

All That Really Matters has to be one of the best books I’ve read in ages. It was exactly what I needed, totally addictive – I literally couldn’t put it down – and just so good!!! I really must go back and ensure I have read all of Nicole Deere’s books because she is fast becoming one of my favourite authors.

All That Really Matters is an uplifting story that had be smiling right from the start. It is a book with so much heart. It is a wonderful romance and the relationship that builds between the two main character is genuine and caring and full of trust and patience, which is so lovely. Be still be beating heart. I loved, loved, loved this book.

Molly Mackenzie is an Influencer. She has built a very successful career and successful business for herself. When her manager suggests taking on a good cause to help boost her followers she asks her brother to pass her the name of something suitable. She doesn’t expect what she finds at the The Bridge Youth Home. The first surprise is Silas – young, good looking, very formal and unimpressed with her interview. She doesn’t expect to get turned away. Molly is also surprised by how her quick glimpse of The Bridge intrigues her. When her determination finally impresses Silas, Molly is surprised by how quickly she comes to care for the program and the special young people it helps.

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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: Talking To Alaska

Talking To Alaska – Anna Woltz, Translated by Laura Watkinson – Oneworld Publications – Published 2 March 2021

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Synopsis

It only takes one day at their new school for Parker and Sven to become mortal enemies. Parker’s had a terrible summer and just wants to be invisible, while Sven is desperate to make an impression and be known as anything other than “that boy with epilepsy.”

When Parker discovers her beloved dog Alaska – who she had to give away last year – now belongs to Sven, she’s determined to steal Alaska back. Of course, that’s easier said than done…

My thoughts

I know first hand just how special Golden Retrievers are so I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful story about two young people brought together by a very special dog

Day one of the new school year. For Parker and Sven, this is a massive first day and both have plans to make a positive impact on their classmates. Parker plans to stay stay under the radar and Sven wants to make a big impression, but, within just the first few hours both have made a slightly different impact than they were imagining. Parker is upset with Sven for making her introduction a big deal and for making fun of her and Sven is upset that everyone already knows him as “the boy with epilepsy.” When Parker learns that her beloved dog Alaska, who she has to give away last year, now belongs to a Sven, she declares war and decides to return Alaska to her rightful home.

Talking To Alaska is such an important middle grade novel. It talks about things that so many young people face – starting at new schools, the transition to middle school, making friends, and dealing with unkind comments from others. It also addresses other important topics that is so refreshing to see in middle grade fiction, including recovering from trauma and invisible disabilities.

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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: 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: 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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