Book Review: This is My Brain In Love

This is My Brain in Love – I.W. Gregorio – Little, Brown Books for Young Readers – Published 14 April 2020

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Synopsis

Jocelyn Wu has just three wishes for her junior year: To make it through without dying of boredom, to direct a short film with her BFF Priya Venkatram, and to get at least two months into the year without being compared to or confused with Peggy Chang, the only other Chinese girl in her grade.

Will Domenici has two goals: to find a paying summer internship, and to prove he has what it takes to become an editor on his school paper.

Then Jocelyn’s father tells her their family restaurant may be going under, and all wishes are off. Because her dad has the marketing skills of a dumpling, it’s up to Jocelyn and her unlikely new employee, Will, to bring A-Plus Chinese Garden into the 21st century (or, at least, to Facebook).What starts off as a rocky partnership soon grows into something more. But family prejudices and the uncertain future of A-Plus threaten to keep Will and Jocelyn apart. It will take everything they have and more, to save the family restaurant and their budding romance.

My thoughts

This is My Brain in Love celebrates family and is a wonderful representation of mental health in YA. From everything from a positive experience of therapy to overcoming the stigma of a diagnosis, cultural and family expectations and denial, this is a positive and inclusive portrayal of anxiety and depression. It’s also a wonderful mix of cultures and the wonderful food that comes with those cultures. If you enjoyed The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling, this is the perfect book for you.

Jocelyn Wu is surprised to learn her family’s restaurant is facing closure. Sure, it’s old and kind of rumpled around the edges, but it’s home. To prevent having to move away from her best friend, she sets out to improve the restaurant, including adding social media pages, new features and employing someone to help out and build them a website. Enter Will Domenici. They click and working together is fun, but both Will and Jocelyn are hiding secrets and saving the family restaurant might not be enough to save their budding romance.

Whoa. That prologue kind of threw me, giving this book a sort-of trigger warning for suicide. And while the narrator tries to reassure the reader, it kind of did the opposite. It certainly had me intrigued and ready to jump straight into the book to find out more.

And, actually, things never get as serious as hinted at at the start and a few times foreshadowed in the book. It’s a light book, despite the overtones of mental health and depression, financial difficulties and the possible failure of a family business.

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Book Review: What I Like About You

What I Like About You – Marisa Kanter – Simon and Schuster – Published 7 April 2020

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Synopsis

There are a million things that Halle Levitt likes about her online best friend, Nash.

He’s an incredibly talented graphic novelist. He loves books almost as much as she does. And she never has to deal with the awkwardness of seeing him in real life. They can talk about anything…

Except who she really is.

Because online, Halle isn’t Halle—she’s Kels, the enigmatically cool creator of One True Pastry, a YA book blog that pairs epic custom cupcakes with covers and reviews. Kels has everything Halle doesn’t: friends, a growing platform, tons of confidence, and Nash.

That is, until Halle arrives to spend senior year in Gramps’s small town and finds herself face-to-face with real, human, not-behind-a-screen Nash. Nash, who is somehow everywhere she goes—in her classes, at the bakery, even at synagogue.

Nash who has no idea she’s actually Kels.

If Halle tells him who she is, it will ruin the non-awkward magic of their digital friendship. Not telling him though, means it can never be anything more. Because while she starts to fall for Nash as Halle…he’s in love with Kels.

My thoughts

What I Like About You is about blogging, a love triangle with only two people, online relationships and friendships, books, cupcakes and more books. It’s also about family, growing up and learning to be a better friend. This reads like a great teen novel. The characters have realistic teen voices, from their integrated use of social media and text speech, to facing the problems of finishing high school. It’s a fun, lighthearted book.

Halle Levitt is better known to her many online followers as Kels, book reviewer, blogger and cupcake baker. When she and her brother move in with their grandfather while their parents go overseas for work, she doesn’t expect to come face-to-face with her online (and overall, let’s be honest) best friend, Nash. Shocked, she doesn’t tell him who she is, just introduces herself as Halle. As she gets to know Nash in real life, becomes friends with his friends and maybe even fall in love with him, it becomes harder for Halle to know how she is going to reveal that she and Kels are the same person.

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Book Review: The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling

The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling – Wai Chim – Allen and Unwin – Published 5 August 2019

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Synopsis

Anna Chiu has her hands pretty full looking after her brother and sister and helping out at her dad’s restaurant, all while her mum stays in bed. Dad’s new delivery boy, Rory, is a welcome distraction and even though she knows that things aren’t right at home, she’s starting to feel like she could just be a normal teen.

But when Mum finally gets out of bed, things go from bad to worse. And as Mum’s condition worsens, Anna and her family question everything they understand about themselves and each other.

A nourishing tale about the crevices of culture, mental wellness and family, and the surprising power of a good dumpling.

My thoughts

This book caught my eye (seriously, how could I ignore that gorgeous cover), but I rushed to read it after learning I had the opportunity to meet the author. The Surprising Power of A Good Dumpling celebrates the harsh complexity of family relationships, the love and hurt shared and the determination it takes to carry on. It celebrates community and friendship, the bond between sisters, and food. This book will have you hungry, so I highly recommend you have snacks on hand. It’s a bittersweet read, and one that is as authentic as it is honest and caring.

Anna Chiu cares for her family while her mother can’t bring herself to get out of bed and her father never comes home from working at their family restaurant. It is up to Anna to make sure her little brother gets to school and her sister knows to keep quiet about what happens at home. But the chance to work with her father at the restaurant means she can finally share the cooking skills and ideas she has and gives her the opportunity to get to know the new delivery boy, Rory. But when her mother does get out of bed, things spiral into manic midnight cleaning and angry tirades that Anna feels powerless to control.

This book doesn’t shy away from the authentic, messy details of real life, mental illness or it’s effect on families. It is honest and hopeful. It’s also not an easy book to read, despite it being so readable. It is challenging in parts, confronting and sad in others. But it doesn’t judge. It leaves room for understanding and acceptance.

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Book Review: If You Only Knew

If You Only Knew – Prerna Pickett – Swoon Reads – Published 11 February 2020

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Synopsis

Corey has just been released from jail, and all he wants is a new beginning. But when his former gang comes knocking, Corey agrees to vandalize the home of Kent Hopper, the prosecutor who put him away.

To erase the guilt she carries from getting away with a crime, Tessa spends most of her nights riding her motorcycle. When she catches Corey destroying her father’s car, she doesn’t see a criminal: She sees a way to finally right her own wrongs. So instead of turning Corey over to the police, she convinces her father to give Corey a second chance.

As Tessa and Corey spend more time with each other, it becomes difficult to ignore the pull between them. But they’re both keeping secrets, and when those secrets come to light, they’ll each have to face their demons in order to have a future together.

My thoughts

If You Only Knew is perfect for readers who enjoy the grit and gang-backdrop romances of Simone Elkeles. This second-chance, hidden-secrets romance will have readers anxiously awaiting the fates of these never-meant-to-be characters and the trauma-filled pasts they must face to find hope in their futures.

Corey would do anything to protect his family, even taking up with the gang his father worked for, even taking the fall and going to jail for his least-favourite gang member. Tessa has a privileged life, but she carries the scars from her mother’s abandonment and the shame of the night she crossed the line between right and wrong. When Corey, freshly released from jail, is trapped into vandalising the home of his prosecutor, he comes face-to-face with Tessa. Tessa convinces her father to give Corey another chance as a way to atone for her own sins, and agrees to watch him as he works to restore their vandalised home. But Corey and Tessa have more in common then they realised, starting with attraction and ending with a whole heap of danger.

Can I start by saying I hate this book’s cover. I hope it is changed before it hits the shelves. It just gives it the whole wrong vibe. This is a dark, edgy, gritty novel. It’s about crime, gangs and mistakes. I get that the image is meant to reflect Corey’s graffiti work, but it just doesn’t work for me. Okay, that aside, this is a pretty quick book to read. It has a straightforward plot that is easy to predict and follow. There were a few surprises, especially the leader of the gang – didn’t see that coming! – but the appeal of this book comes from the edgy attraction between Corey and Tessa. Both have made mistakes, both want to make a different path for their future and both feel trapped by their choices. Together, they start to have hope. Tessa has a supportive and slightly abrasive cousin who also fulfils the role of best friend.

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Book Review: Take The Shot

Take The Shot – Susan White – Affirm Press – Published 23 July 2019

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Synopsis

Bug has a secret. Actually, he has a lot of secrets.

1. He’s formed a basketball team at his new school based on a giant lie.
2. His parents don’t know he’s playing basketball again.
3. His new team-mates have no idea he isn’t allowed to play, and they definitely don’t know why.

Bug will do ANYTHING to keep his secrets, keep his new team and keep his life from falling apart. Because no one can know The Biggest Secret of All: Bug risks his life every time he steps out onto the basketball court.

My thoughts

I’m always on the lookout for YA sport novels. I love them, despite not liking sport myself, and we are always keen to add more titles to our library’s sport collection. Take The Shot has a great mix of sport action, complex family relationships and an authentic teen boy narrating the story. If stories about growing up and navigating your way through high school and new friendships, try Take The Shot.

Bug lives for basketball. It’s the only place he doesn’t feel freakishly tall or gangly, where he has friends and fits in. But when he and his father are diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome, his mother bans him from playing, saying it’s too dangerous. When he has to move in with his Nan, the change of school gives him the opportunity to hide his syndrome and join a mixed basketball team without telling his parents. Hiding these two secrets takes its toll, but it’s worth it to play. But it may be more dangerous that he realises.

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Book Review: The Rest of the Story

The Rest of the Story – Sarah Dessen – Balzer
+Bray – Published 4 June 2019

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Synopsis

Emma Saylor doesn’t remember a lot about her mother, who died when she was ten. But she does remember the stories her mom told her about the big lake that went on forever, with cold, clear water and mossy trees at the edges.

Now it’s just Emma and her dad, and life is good, if a little predictable…until Emma is unexpectedly sent to spend the summer with her mother’s family—her grandmother and cousins she hasn’t seen since she was a little girl.

When Emma arrives at North Lake, she realizes there are actually two very different communities there. Her mother grew up in working class North Lake, while her dad spent summers in the wealthier Lake North resort. The more time Emma spends there, the more it starts to feel like she is divided into two people as well. To her father, she is Emma. But to her new family, she is Saylor, the name her mother always called her.

Then there’s Roo, the boy who was her very best friend when she was little. Roo holds the key to her family’s history, and slowly, he helps her put the pieces together about her past. It’s hard not to get caught up in the magic of North Lake—and Saylor finds herself falling under Roo’s spell as well.

My thoughts

The Rest of the Story is the perfect summer read. Or the perfect book to pick up in winter when you are craving summer days at the beach. I’ve always loved Sarah Dessen’s writing and The Rest of the Story was no different. It’s a great blend of summer romance with deeper themes around family, memories and loss. It’s also funny and has a few teen hijinks that will have you craving ice cream, secret parties, and impromptu proms with loads of fairy lights.

Emma Saylor has only a few memories of her mother. When her plans to stay at a friend’s place while her father honeymoons with his new (really nice) wife, Emma volunteers to go and stay with her mother’s family at North Lake. While she visited as a small child, Emma has no recollection of the lake or her maternal family. Her arrival at her grandmother’s house and family-run motel is bumpy. Emma is the city girl who doesn’t know any of the people she’s surrounded with or the lake traditions. But it isn’t long before she is swept up into the big, loud extended family, volunteering at the motel and sharing stories of the past with the intriguing Roo.

Put your feet up, grab your shades and sink into The Rest of the Story. It’s the perfect way to enjoy this sweet summer story. Emma Saylor—Emma to her dad and everyone, Saylor to her mother and now her mother’s family—is an easy character to like. She’s a good girl, a good daughter, a good friend, makes good decisions and tries not to rock the boat. She’s also genuinely nice, so it’s easy to become immersed in her world. Emma also has anxiety, so travelling to a new place surrounded by unfamiliar faces is a challenge. But she finds that she fits at North Lake, fits with the people there and the relaxed vibe, even if she is fighting with her cousin, dodging the wrath of her other cousin’s girlfriend, or trying to get on the good side of her another cousin (it’s a big family).

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Book Review: Tweet Cute

Tweet Cute – Emma Lord – Wednesday Books- Published 21 January 2020

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Synopsis

Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming ― mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.

All’s fair in love and cheese ― that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life ― on an anonymous chat app Jack built.

My thoughts

Tweet Cute is seriously cute. But not in a cringey, saccharine way. It is one of the most genuine, adorable but realistic and heartfelt and, yes, cute books I’ve read in ages-maybe ever. It’s a story about social media, a story about family and the ways in which we fight for them. A story about growing up and trying to decide what to do with your life. It’s a story about the most incredible baking and comfort food. Seriously. Pack snacks. And it’s a story about falling in love, and YA contemporary readers are sure to fall in love with this delightful book.

Pepper is in control of her life. Swim team captain, top grades, and a place amongst the genius students of her fancy New York high school. So what if she feels like she doesn’t really belong, would rather have her family whole again and be living in Nashville, and maybe even have some genuine friends. When her mother insists that she take over their company’s Twitter feed as they launch new stores around the country, Pepper doesn’t expect to have one of her tweets directly challenge a local family-owned deli or for her to have to go head to head with a fellow classmate as he seeks to defend his family’s deli. As Pepper and Jack wage war on Twitter, their paths keep crossing in real life.

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Book Review: Echoes Between Us

Echoes Between Us – Katie McGarry – Tor Teen – Published 14 January 2020

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Synopsis

Veronica sees ghosts. More specifically, her mother’s ghost. The afterimages of blinding migraines caused by the brain tumor that keeps her on the fringes and consumes her whole life haunt her, even as she wonders if it’s something more…

Golden boy Sawyer is handsome and popular, a state champion swimmer, but his adrenaline addiction draws him to Veronica.

A girl with nothing to live for and a boy with everything to lose–can they conquer their demons together?

My thoughts

As a devoted Katie McGarry fan I was a little worried when this book was marketed as a breakout novel and a move into a new genre. I shouldn’t have worried. Echoes Between Us is everything a Katie McGarry novel always is – heartbreaking, emotional, addictive, thrilling and romantic- with ghosts. It’s actually not much different from its companion novel Only A Breath Apart, which introduced a touch of the supernatural to the main story of family complexity and romance. Echoes Between Us encapsulates so many emotions and such important topics around grief, learning difficulties, illness and addiction.

Veronica can see her mother’s ghost. It, along with crippling migraines, is a constant reminder that she has a brain tumour, like the tumour that killed her mother. But she’s not afraid to die. Veronica is curious about the footsteps and rumbles in her own home, the rumours of ghosts that haunt the abandoned TB hospital, the stories of a girl who walks along the stretch of road where she died. When Sawyer moves into the rooms above Veronica’s house, he is sceptical of the warnings he receives about it being haunted. Even more sceptical of Veronica and her band of friends. He’s got bigger troubles, like taking care of his mother and sister, and resisting to urge to get adrenaline highs from cliff jumping. But Sawyer and Veronica are drawn together, and in order to hide a secret, Sawyer agrees to partner with Veronica on her ghost hunting senior project.

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Book Review: It’s My Life

It’s My Life – Stacie Ramey – Sourcebooks Fire – Published 7 January 2020

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Synopsis

Jenna’s never let her cerebral palsy get her down. But when she discovers that her condition was actually caused by an injury at birth, she’s furious with her parents, who withheld the truth. And as they push her to get yet another difficult procedure, Jenna feels her control over her life starting to slip.

Enter Julian, Jenna’s childhood crush. He’s just moved back to town, and he’s struggling in school, so Jenna reaches out to him—anonymously— to help. Soon, their conversations are about so much more than class. She’s falling for him all over again, hard and fast. But would Julian still be interested in her if he knew who she really was? And can she find a way to take back her own narrative before she pushes away everyone she loves?

My thoughts

It’s My Life is a story about growing up, finding your voice and asserting control over your life, while also learning to accept others for the choices they make. Unfortunately, an awkward text-based romance drives what should be a sweet story of first love, but overall It’s My Life is about empowerment and family.

When Jenna discovered that her Cerebral Palsy was caused rather than just happened, it changed how she views her parents, the medical system, her lack of say in the decisions happening about her body, even her body’s limits. When an old friend—and longtime crush— returns to town, Jenna is torn between avoiding the inevitable rejection and a chance to get close to him. She starts chatting with him via text, refusing to reveal her identity. Meanwhile, as her parents discuss yet another surgery, Jenna considers medical emancipation.

I know this is just one girl’s story and every person with Cerebral Palsy and a disability is different, prefers different terms, has a different approach to their abilities, life, etc, but I know that the perspective in this story is a powerful message about abilities and empowerment, control and strength. Jenna, at times, refuses to let her CP stop her. Ice skating? No problem. Sneaking out? If her siblings can, she can too. But on the other hand, how she views herself—as something that boys will not want to date— is negative and destructive. This negativity extends outside her disability and into body image as well.

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Book Review: Throw Like A Girl

Throw Like A Girl – Sarah Henning – Poppy – Published 7 January 2020

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Synopsis

When softball star Liv Rodinsky throws one ill-advised punch during the most important game of the year, she loses her scholarship to her fancy private school, her boyfriend, and her teammates all in one fell swoop. With no other options, Liv is forced to transfer to the nearest public school, Northland, where she’ll have to convince its coach she deserves a spot on the softball team, all while facing both her ex and the teammates of the girl she punched… Every. Single. Day.

Enter Grey, the injured star quarterback with amazing hair and a foolproof plan: if Liv joins the football team as his temporary replacement, he’ll make sure she gets a spot on the softball team in the spring. But it will take more than just a flawless spiral for Liv to find acceptance in Northland’s halls, and behind that charismatic smile, Grey may not be so perfect after all.

My thoughts

Throw Like A Girl is such a feel-good, girl power (but taking nothing away from the guys) kind of book. I love sports books because of the suspense, the blood, sweat and tears, the team camaraderie, the hard work they put in and those glorious moments of triumph. Throw Like A Girl delivers all of that alongside such great displays of friendship, lessons about lying and the consequences of not disclosing the full truth and swoon. worthy. romance. Such a great book and everything I wanted it to be.

Liv Rodinsky is one of her softball team’s stars. That is, until she punches an opposing team member in the face for an offensive slur. Cast from the team, her scholarship and her school, Liv has to start again, this time on the team of the girl she punched. The coach asks her to display team skills, so when the school’s football team quarterback recruits Liv, she takes him up on the offer.

Oh my gosh I loved this book. From Liv’s fierceness and excellent sport skills to her burgeoning relationship with Grey. She makes an excellent narrator- great friend, good daughter and just a genuinely nice person. But she doesn’t take any nonsense and is quick to set people straight.

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