Book Review: Any Way You Slice It

Any Way You Slice It – Kristine Carlson Asselin – Wicked Whale Publishing – Published 15 November 2017

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Synopsis

Penelope Spaulding just can’t catch a break. Between long hours at the family pizza shop, piles of homework, and her dad’s new obsession—getting the restaurant on a new foodie reality show—it’s hard to find a spare moment to breathe. But when she laces up her skates and steps on the ice, the world is hers to control and everything else slips away.

When the bad boy who lives down the street dares her to join the Rink Rats, the local misfit hockey team, she surprises herself and joins in silent defiance of her controlling parents.

The more she plays, the easier it is to keep lying, and soon Pen finds it impossible to come clean. She’s sneaking out to practice—and loving every minute of it. It doesn’t take long for her to fall in love with hockey…but she’s not entirely sure if it’s the game she’s falling for or the boy. Because it can’t last. As soon as her dad finds out, she’ll be benched. For good.

And the one thing she IS sure of…she can’t stop playing.

My thoughts

Ice hockey. Cute romance. Pizza. What more could you want? Any Way You Slice It is the perfect light-hearted YA contemporary.

For Penelope, skating gives her a break from school and endlessly working at her family’s pizza restaurant. When Jake, resident bad boy and her old friend turned we-don’t-speak-anymore-because-of-that-6th-grade-incident enemy, asks Pen to join their recreational ice hockey team, Pen surprises herself by considering it. But she knows her father will never let her play hockey, especially now when he is solely focused on getting their restaurant on a (sure-to-be-humiliating) TV show. But Pen can’t resist the game or Jake’s company and soon she is wrapped up in a tangle of lies, which, if she doesn’t manage a spectacular interception soon, is set to be revealed on national TV.

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Book Review: Love, Life, and the List

Love, Life, and the List – Kasie West – HarperTeen – Published 26 December 2017

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Synopsis

Seventeen-year-old Abby Turner’s summer isn’t going the way she’d planned. She has a not-so-secret but definitely unrequited crush on her best friend, Cooper. She hasn’t been able to manage her mother’s growing issues with anxiety. And now she’s been rejected from an art show because her work “has no heart.” So when she gets another opportunity to show her paintings Abby isn’t going to take any chances.

Which is where the list comes in.

Abby gives herself one month to do ten things, ranging from face a fear (#3) to learn a stranger’s story (#5) to fall in love (#8). She knows that if she can complete the list she’ll become the kind of artist she’s always dreamed of being. But as the deadline approaches, Abby realizes that getting through the list isn’t as straightforward as it seems… and that maybe—just maybe—she can’t change her art if she isn’t first willing to change herself.

This is the first in a set of three standalone books with crossover characters.

My thoughts

Can you make your best friend fall in love with you? Can you change your heart, become a better person with a few simple steps? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s what Abby learns in the process that makes Love, Life and the List such a fun, contemporary YA novel.

Abby’s goal is to make it into a prestigious art program. The one obstacle in her way is showing her art in an exhibit. When her work is turned away as ‘lacking in heart’, she creates a list of things to help her develop a deeper understand and appreciation of the world that will hopefully translate to her paintings. As she and her best friend Cooper work their way through Abby’s list, Abby is determined to make the experience a chance to finally get over her unrequited feelings for Cooper and hopeful fulfill her art goals at the same time.

A list that can change a person’s heart? Well, maybe it’s not as crazy as it sounds. I actually really love how Abby creates her list. It isn’t the typical flighty, ridiculous list of summer plans gone awry. Instead, Abby chooses things she likes best about each of her friends and family members and adds something that will help her become more like that. It’s a beautiful idea.

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Book Review: Exchange of Heart

Exchange of Heart – Darren Groth – Penguin Random House Australia – Published 31 July 2017

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Synopsis

Sometimes, Life takes on a life of its own…

Since the sudden death of his younger sister, Munro Maddux has been stuck. Flashbacks. Anger. Chest pains. And a voice – taunting, barking, biting – that his counsellor calls ‘the Coyote’. Munro knows a student exchange will not be the stuff of Disney movies. But in Australia he intends to move beyond his troubled past.

Forced by his new school to join a volunteer program, Munro discovers the Coyote is silenced in one place: Fair Go, an assisted living residence in Brisbane’s west, where Munro gets to know his team of residents: dogged designer Bernie; sleeping refugee Shah; would-be wedded couple Blake and Dale; comic creator Iggy; and self-defence tutor Florence. As this unlikely group shows Munro the sights, Munro’s notion of what it means to be a big brother begins to change.

But the burden Munro carries is not so easily cast aside, and unexpected developments at Fair Go prompt a devastating flashback that threatens to end the student exchange. Will the Coyote ultimately triumph? Or can Munro find the fortitude necessary to mend his heart?

My thoughts

There is so much to love about Exchange of Heart. I enjoyed every single minute spent reading this amazing book. Heart, humour, grief, and friendship combine in this moving story.

After the sudden death of his sister, Munro Maddux is desperate to do something to shake the numbness and remove the voice in his head. So he grabs at the opportunity to complete a student exchange program to Australia. Here, he hopes he can find the peace he is searching for. But a volunteering program at his new school has him working at Fair Go, an independent-living residency for young adults with disabilities. Instead of this sparking more trauma and flashbacks, like he expects, being around the residents finally quiets the voice in his head.

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Book Review: Now Is Everything

Now Is Everything – Amy Giles – HarperTeen – Published 7 November 2017

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Synopsis

The McCauleys look perfect on the outside. But nothing is ever as it seems, and this family is hiding a dark secret.

Hadley McCauley will do anything to keep her sister safe from their father. But when Hadley’s forbidden relationship with Charlie Simmons deepens, the violence at home escalates, culminating in an explosive accident that will leave everyone changed.

When Hadley attempts to take her own life at the hospital post-accident, her friends, doctors, family, and the investigator on the case want to know why. Only Hadley knows what really happened that day, and she’s not talking.

My thoughts

I’m not sure I will be able to write this review without crying. And I’m not sure if they would be tears of heartbreak, overwhelming relief, or joy. Simple words will not do justice to this incredible book. It captured my attention, enthralled my curiosity, and, most of all, worked its way into my heart. There is something so important in this book, so vital we must share it and shout it from roof tops. The survival, the resilience, the importance of friendship and love in this book, the display of emotions and fear and strength is truly amazing. It all makes Now Is Everything such a vibrant, heartbreaking, and incredible book.

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Book Review: Good and Gone

Good and Gone – Megan Frazer Blakemore – HarperTeen – Published 14 November 2017

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Synopsis

When Lexi Green’s older brother, Charlie, starts plotting a road trip to find Adrian Wildes, a famous musician who’s been reported missing, she’s beyond confused. Her brother hasn’t said a nice word to her or left the couch since his girlfriend dumped him months ago—but he’ll hop in a car to find some hipster? Concerned at how quickly he seems to be rebounding, Lexi decides to go along for the ride.

Besides, Lexi could use the distraction. The anger and bewilderment coursing through her after getting dumped by her pretentious boyfriend, Seth, has left her on edge. As Lexi, Charlie, and their neighbor Zack hit the road, Lexi recalls bits and pieces of her short-lived romance and sees, for the first time, what it truly was: a one-sided, coldhearted manipulation game. Not only did Seth completely isolate her, but he took something from her that she didn’t give him permission to. 

The farther from home they get, the three uncover much more than empty clues about a reclusive rocker’s whereabouts. Instead, what starts off as a car ride turns into an exploration of self as each of them faces questions they have been avoiding for too long. Like the real reason Charlie has been so withdrawn lately. What Seth stole from Lexi in the pool house. And if shattered girls can ever put themselves back together.

My thoughts

Wow. What a tangle of emotions. In the best way. There is an unguarded truth to this story, an earnest rawness that is at times hilarious and heartbreaking. It touches on so many important points – unhealthy abusive relationships, mental health and depression, and when it is time to let go and when it is important to hang on with all your might.

When Lexi’s brother Charlie suggests a road trip to locate missing pop star, Adrian Wildes, Lexi is shocked. Charlie hasn’t moved from the couch since he broke up with his girlfriend and dropped out of college. So despite Lexi’s scepticism, despite the hurt she has been feeling, she agrees. Along for the ride (and actually providing the means of transport for this road trip) is their neighbour, Zack. As Lexi, Charlie, and Zack hunt for the elusive pop star, they begin to work through the emotions, hurt, and actions of the past year.

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Book Review: The First To Know

The First To Know – Abigail Johnson – Harlequin Teen – Published 23 October 2017 (Aus) 7 November 2017 (US)

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Synopsis

Dana Fields’s father never knew his parents. When Dana secretly does a DNA test for her dad, hoping to find him some distant relatives for his birthday, her entire world implodes. Instead of a few third cousins, Dana discovers a half brother her age whose very existence means her parents’ happy marriage is a lie.

Dana’s desire to know her half brother, Brandon, and the extent of her dad’s deception, clashes with her wish not to destroy her family. When she sees the opportunity to get to know Brandon through his cousin, the intense yet kind Chase, she takes it. But the more she finds out about Brandon, her father’s past and the irresistible guy who’ll never forgive her if he discovers the truth, the more she sees the inevitable fallout from her own lies. With her family crumbling around her, Dana must own up to her actions and find a way to heal the breach—for everyone—before they’re torn apart for good.

My thoughts

Once again I am left utterly speechless by an Abigail Johnson novel. How does she do it!?!! Because The First To Know is the most incredible, agonising, rip-your-heart-out-and-then-sew-it-back-together, amazing book. Asdffdhngikaldnvj….I hope the publisher wasn’t expecting a put-together, coherent review, because all they are going to get is swooning, sighs, exclamation marks and fan-girling. Because it really is just. that. good.

When Dana decides to surprise her father with a birthday present to beat all birthday presents, she could never have expected the bombshell she would unleash. The DNA testing kit was supposed to unveil some long-lost family members – parents or cousins perhaps – for her father who grew up in foster care never knowing anything about his heritage or family. Instead, Dana discovers that her father has a son. A son who is not that much older than she is…and not that much younger than her sister. Confused and devastated, Dana keeps her secret while desperately trying to learn more about her brother, even if it means getting close to Chase, her brother’s cousin, a guy who is starting to mean so much to her, a guy she really shouldn’t be lying to.

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Book Review: Eight Days on Planet Earth

Eight Days on Planet Earth – Cat Jordan – HarperTeen – Published 7 November 2017

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Synopsis

How long does it take to travel 13 light-years to Earth?
How long does it take to fall in love?

To the universe, eight days is a mere blip—but to Matty Jones, it may be just enough time to change his life.

On the hot summer day Matty’s dad leaves for good, a strange girl suddenly appears in the empty field next to the Jones farm—the very field in rural Pennsylvania where a spaceship supposedly landed fifty years ago. She is uniquely beautiful, sweet, and smart, and she tells Matty she’s waiting for her spaceship to return to pick her up. Of course she is.

Matty has heard all the impossible UFO stories for all of his seventeen years: the conspiracy theories, the wild rumors, the crazy belief in life beyond the stars. As a kid, he searched the skies with his dad and studied the constellations. But all that is behind him now. Dad’s gone and Matty’s stuck.

But now there is Priya. The self-proclaimed alien girl. She must be crazy or high, right?  As Matty unravels the mystery of Priya, he realizes there is far more to her than he first imagined. And if he can learn to believe in what he can’t see: the universe, aliens…love…then maybe the impossible is possible, after all.

My thoughts

Eight Days on Planet Earth is a down-to-earth yet otherworldly novel – magical, funny, and a little heartbreaking.

Matty Jones has grown up knowing the field he lives next to is a little different. Matty’s father claims that a spaceship landed there on the night he was born. But Matty’s father has since run off with his brother’s sister, leaving Matty and his mother alone, so Matty isn’t all that inclined to listen to what his father believes. When a strange girl suddenly appears in Matty’s field claiming to be from another planet, waiting to be collected by a spaceship, Matty knows it can’t be true. But there is something so ethereal about Priya that she starts to change Matty’s view on life, the universe and, maybe, even love.

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Book Review: The Nowhere Girls

The Nowhere Girls – Amy Reed – Simon Pulse – Published 10 October 2017

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Synopsis

Who are the Nowhere Girls? They’re everygirl. But they start with just three:

Grace Salter is the new girl in town, whose family was run out of their former community after her southern Baptist preacher mom turned into a radical liberal after falling off a horse and bumping her head.

Rosina Suarez is the queer punk girl in a conservative Mexican immigrant family, who dreams of a life playing music instead of babysitting her gaggle of cousins and waitressing at her uncle’s restaurant.

Erin Delillo is obsessed with two things: marine biology and Star Trek: The Next Generation, but they aren’t enough to distract her from her suspicion that she may in fact be an android.

When Grace learns that Lucy Moynihan, the former occupant of her new home, was run out of town for having accused the popular guys at school of gang rape, she’s incensed that Lucy never had justice. For their own personal reasons, Rosina and Erin feel equally deeply about Lucy’s tragedy, so they form an anonymous group of girls at Prescott High to resist the sexist culture at their school, which includes boycotting sex of any kind with the male students.

My thoughts

The Nowhere Girls is an important book. A voice for girls, a book for change. It doesn’t pull it’s punches. This book is brutal, and sometimes horribly honest and upfront. At first I was slightly unsure about this book, it’s message, and where it was going, but by the end I was uplifted and reduced to tears. The Nowhere Girls is a book that provokes discussion that is vital for changing mindsets and empowering young women.

Three girls spark revolution at their high school when they create The Nowhere Girls – a group that protests their school’s misogynist culture in defence of one of their previous classmates who was brutally raped.

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Book Review: Things I’m Seeing Without You

Things I’m Seeing Without You – Peter Bognanni – Dial Books – Published 3 October 2017 

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Synopsis

Seventeen-year-old Tess Fowler has just dropped out of high school. She can barely function after learning of Jonah’s death. Jonah, the boy she’d traded banter with over texts and heartfelt e-mails.

Jonah, the first boy she’d told she loved and the first boy to say it back.

Jonah, the boy whose suicide she never saw coming.

Tess continues to write to Jonah, as a way of processing her grief and confusion. But for now she finds solace in perhaps the unlikeliest of ways: by helping her father with his new alternative funeral business, where his biggest client is . . . a prized racehorse?

As Tess’s involvement in her father’s business grows, both find comfort in the clients they serve and in each other. But love, loss, and life are so much more complicated than Tess ever thought. Especially after she receives a message that turns her life upside down.

My thoughts

This novel takes all the sadness and numbing grief of losing someone and presents it in such an upfront and honest way. Picturesque scenery, dry whit in the midst of heartbreak, broken families trying to heal and help in the only way they can, new beginnings, living funerals, dogs in rocket ships, and love – Things I’m Seeing Without You is brutal and beautiful. How is it that I spent so much time laughing while reading this book when it made me want to cry? Amazing.

Tess Fowler has dropped out of school in the wake of her boyfriend’s suicide, her grief and depression overwhelming. Sure, she only met Jonah once but all their online conversations in the past months were no less real or effecting than any face-to-face relationship. She loved him and his death has left her shaken. With nowhere else to go, she turns up on her father’s doorstep. In the following weeks, Tess begins to help her father run his funeral business and meets new people who change her life in ways she never saw coming.

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Book Review: Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index

Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index – Julie Israel – Penguin – Published 1 June 2017

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Synopsis

It’s been sixty-five painful days since the death of Juniper’s big sister, Camilla. On her first day back at school, bracing herself for the stares and whispers, Juniper borrows Camie’s handbag for luck – and discovers an unsent break-up letter inside. It’s mysteriously addressed to ‘You’ and dated July 4th – the day of Camie’s accident. Desperate to learn the identity of Camie’s secret love, Juniper starts to investigate.

But then she loses something herself. A card from her daily ritual, The Happiness Index: little notecards on which she rates the day. The Index has been holding Juniper together since Camie’s death – but without this card, there’s a hole. And this particular card contains Juniper’s own secret: a memory that she can’t let anyone else find out.

My thoughts

A beautifully written contemporary, Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index is the perfect book for readers who enjoy moving stories about grief, romance against the odds, strong friendships, and the daily rituals that get us through all of the above.

Juniper Lemon writes down everything she liked or disliked about her day in her happiness index. It’s something her older sister Camilla suggested and she can’t let the habit go, especially now that there are already so many holes in her life left void after Camilla’s sudden death. So, trying to think of a few things that made her happy gets Juniper through the day. But when she loses one of her index cards, her journey to find it will have her encounter (in no particular order): a whole lot of smelly garbage, a secret letter from her sister, three amazing new friends, a variety of secret notes and letters discarded by her classmates, a boy who is definitely hiding something, and memories of her sister in the most unexpected of places.

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