Book Review: Please Don’t Hug Me

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

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Synopsis

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

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

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

My thoughts

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

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

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Book Review: Set The Stars Alight

Set the Stars Alight – Amanda Dykes – Bethany House Publishers  -Published 30 June 2020

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Synopsis

Lucy Clairmont’s family treasured the magic of the past, and her childhood fascination with stories of the high seas led her to become a marine archaeologist. But when tragedy strikes, it’s Dashel, an American forensic astronomer, and his knowledge of the stars that may help her unearth the truth behind the puzzle she’s discovered in her family home.

Two hundred years earlier, the seeds of love are sown between a boy and a girl who spend their days playing in a secret sea cave, while the privileged young son of the estate looks on, wishing to join. As the children grow and war leads to unthinkable heartbreak, a story of love, betrayal, sacrifice, and redemption unfolds, held secret by the passage of time.

As Lucy and Dash journey to a mysterious old estate on the East Sussex coast, their search leads them to a community of souls and a long-hidden tale that may hold the answers–and the healing–they so desperately seek.

My thoughts

I am amazed at how Amanda Dykes has crafted the stories in Set The Stars Alight, how she has woven together two stories or overcoming great grief and challenges, incorporated a thrilling mystery that seems hard to believe isn’t real and all this done with a lyrical prose that sweeps the reader away.

Lucy grew up knowing the love of her parents and the stories they told her and her childhood friend, Dash. Now she has lost both parents and Dash has moved away to study the stars, but her career path – marine archaeologist – was formed through the mysteries and stories her parents shared with her. When her application for a grant to uncover the story of a ship that disappeared over 200 years ago is threatened, Dash remarkably returns to Lucy’s life and offers to join with her in her search. 200 years earlier, three lives were interwoven – a shepherd’s daughter, the young man she loved and the young boy of the estate. Their journey is forged through grief, wars, betrayal, great sacrifice and song and now 200 years later, Lucy and Dash are determined to unravel the clues of their story.

I confess I didn’t read this book at the best of times. I started it during the last week of the school term and tried to read it even though my brain was running on fumes and all I wanted to do was sleep. I don’t feel as I gave this book the attention it deserved and I would recommend to other readers that you save this for when you have a few spare afternoons, time and brain power to devote to the very clever story and wonderfully detailed writing style. Nevertheless, I was swept away by this remarkable book. It really is a little magical, a story of great sacrifice, puzzles, adventure, seafaring and romance.

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Book Review: It Came From the Sky

It Came From the Sky – Chelsea Sedoti – Sourcebooks Fire – Published 1 August 2020

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Synopsis

This is the absolutely true account of how Lansburg, Pennsylvania was invaded by aliens and the weeks of chaos that followed. There were sightings of UFOs, close encounters, and even abductions. There were believers, Truth Seekers, and, above all, people who looked to the sky and hoped for more.

Only…there were no aliens.

Gideon Hofstadt knows what really happened. When one of his science experiments went wrong, he and his older brother blamed the resulting explosion on extraterrestrial activity. And their lie was not only believed by their town―it was embraced. As the brothers go to increasingly greater lengths to keep up the ruse and avoid getting caught, the hoax flourishes. But Gideon’s obsession with their tale threatened his whole world. Can he find a way to banish the aliens before Lansburg, and his life, are changed forever?

My thoughts

Well that was a whole heap of fun. Great plot – tick. Interesting premise – tick. Unique (diverse representation) character voice – tick. Writing style that mixes character narration with document files and interviews with other characters – tick. Laugh out loud funny and with a touch of lgbt romance – tick tick. Seriously It Came From The Sky has it all and is an enjoyable, make-you-smile kind of story.

When a science experiment causes a larger than expected explosion and creates a massive crater on their family farm, Gideon and his brother Ishmael decide to create the most epic prank/sociology research experiment by trying to convince their town that the crater was caused by aliens. Neither of them expect how big the hoax gets, drawing attention nationally and having far reaching consequences.

I loved so much about this book. It’s easy to read – the narrative is all written from Gideon’s perspective broken up by files, text conversations, interview transcripts and other asides. The book is meant to represent Gideon’s research case notes, but it makes for some funny insights.

While the plot is fun and there is never a dull moment as the hoax gets wilder and more complex, my favourite thing about It Came From the Sky is the characters.

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Book Review: Keep My Heart in San Francisco

Keep My Heart in San Francisco – Amelia Diane Coombs – Simon Pulse – Published 14 July 2020

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Synopsis

Caroline “Chuck” Wilson has big plans for spring break—hit up estate sales to score vintage fashion finds and tour the fashion school she dreams of attending. But her dad wrecks those plans when he asks her to spend vacation working the counter at Bigmouth’s Bowl, her family’s failing bowling alley. Making things astronomically worse, Chuck finds out her dad is way behind on back rent—meaning they might be losing Bigmouth’s, the only thing keeping Chuck’s family in San Francisco.

And the one person other than Chuck who wants to do anything about it? Beckett Porter, her annoyingly attractive ex-best friend.

So when Beckett propositions Chuck with a plan to make serious cash infiltrating the Bay Area action bowling scene, she accepts. But she can’t shake the nagging feeling that she’s acting irrational—too much like her mother for comfort. Plus, despite her best efforts to keep things strictly business, Beckett’s charm is winning her back over…in ways that go beyond friendship.

If Chuck fails, Bigmouth’s Bowl and their San Francisco legacy are gone forever. But if she succeeds, she might just get everything she ever wanted.

My thoughts

Keep My Heart in San Francisco is a cute YA romance with a darker side of serious topics, including losing a parent to suicide, and important portrayal of mental health and depression.

Chuck (aka Caroline, but don’t call her that) Wilson loves living in San Francisco, so she is shocked to overhear that her father is in danger of losing the family bowling alley. What’s worse is that her ex-best friend Beckett Porter also overhears the eviction threat. Beckett suggests that they team up and start hustling and gambling at bowling to raise cash fast. Chuck isn’t sure, but she’d do anything to stay, even if it means working with Beckett.

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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: Seasons of the Storm

Seasons of the Storm – Elle Cosimano – Seasons of the Storm #1 – HarperTeen – Published 23 June 2020

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Synopsis

One cold, crisp night, Jack Sommers was faced with a choice—live forever according to the ancient, magical rules of Gaia, or die.

Jack chose to live, and in exchange, he became a Winter—an immortal physical embodiment of the season on Earth. Every year, he must hunt the Season who comes before him. Summer kills Spring. Autumn kills Summer. Winter kills Autumn. And Spring kills Winter.

Jack and Fleur, a Winter and a Spring, fall for each other against all odds. To be together, they’ll have to escape the cycle that’s been forcing them apart. But their creator won’t let them go without a fight.

My thoughts

Seasons of the Storm is the first book in a new fantasy duology. It’s kind of like Hunger Games meets the folklore of Jack Frost. Fighting, hunting, rebellions, breakouts, romance, teamwork and magical powers connected to nature and the weather combine to make an epic fantasy.

Jack is the embodiment of winter, just one of hundreds of seasons who have been saved from death and given a second life. There are strict rules a season must follow and the only interaction one season has with other seasons is to hunt and kill the season that comes before them and be hunted and be killed by the season that comes after them. But Jack is falling for Fleur, the spring whose job it is to kill him each year, and her reciprocated feelings are causing her to plummet on the rankings board and risk termination. For a chance to be together, Jack and Fleur have to decide if it is worth risking everything to challenge the system, break the cycle and try and find another way to survive.

This book is set on Earth in a very real and recognisable world. The only difference is that seasons, embodiments of the four seasons, walk among us and control the passing and changing of the seasons with their magic. What the seasons do during their season isn’t really explored all that much. The focus is on the times of change over, when Spring comes to kill Winter, and the time spend in stasis and recharging to go back out into the world again. We also have Chronos and Gaia as Father Time and Mother Earth who are father and daughter. Together with Chronos’ guard, they control the seasons, turning the days spent above ground into a sort of game, with rankings, a score board and a system where those who fall below the red line are culled.

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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: Renegades

Renegades – Marissa Meyer – Renegades #1 – Feiwel and Friends – Published 7 November 2017

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Synopsis

The Renegades are a syndicate of prodigies — humans with extraordinary abilities — who emerged from the ruins of a crumbled society and established peace and order where chaos reigned. As champions of justice, they remain a symbol of hope and courage to everyone… except the villains they once overthrew.

Nova has a reason to hate the Renegades, and she is on a mission for vengeance. As she gets closer to her target, she meets Adrian, a Renegade boy who believes in justice — and in Nova. But Nova’s allegiance is to a villain who has the power to end them both.

My thoughts

Well. This. Was. AWESOME. Seriously, how have I not read this before? I love superhero novels but I’m really picky and struggle to find good ones. This was just fabulous from beginning to startling end.

Nova is a villain. Has been ever since her uncle, Ace Anarchy took her in when her family was murdered and the Renegades – superheroes- did nothing to save them. When Nova’s attempt on the life of the head superhero, Captain Chromium goes awry, she has to take a new tact for taking down the Renegades – this time from the inside.

Nova is just the kind of character I love. Conflicted, hiding multiple secrets and secret identities, trying to be moral and do the right thing bust also working on the “bad guys” team, industrious and clever and also slightly sarcastic.

Our second main character is Adrian. He is a Renegade Team Captain, adoptive son to the two lead superheroes and a believer in the Renegade justice system. He is also hiding a secret. His prodigy power, to bring anything he draws into reality, has allowed him to create an extra superhero identity. Adrian is the perfect offset to Nova. And they connect almost straight away, after fighting each other in their other identities, of course. As Nova works her way into the Renegade program and onto Adrian’s team, she gathers a lot more information about the Renegades. Maybe they are not all bad, but she is determined to get revenge for her family’s deaths.

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Book Review: What Grew In Larry’s Garden

What Grew in Larry’s Garden – Laura Alary and Kass Reich (ill) – Hachette Book Group – Published 7 April 2020

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Synopsis

Grace thinks Larry’s garden is one of the wonders of the world. In his tiny backyard next door to hers, Larry grows the most extraordinary vegetables. Grace loves helping him – watering and weeding, planting and pruning, hoeing and harvesting. And whenever there’s a problem – like bugs burrowing into the carrots or slugs chewing the lettuce – Grace and Larry solve it together. Grace soon learns that Larry has big plans for the vegetables in his special garden. And when that garden faces its biggest problem yet, Grace follows Larry’s example to find the perfect solution.

My thoughts

In this story about a little girl and a man with a garden sits a message about community and helping people to grow and flourish. Inspired by a true story, What Grew in Larry’s Garden is a book that shares a love of nature, problem solving and kindness.

Bright but soft illustrations bring the story to life in greens, browns and splashes of bright red watercolour.

There is much to cherish about this book. Initially it seems a simple story about a young girl who enjoys gardening with her older neighbour. I love the cross-generational friendship and the way the pair work together to creatively and kindly solve the problems they come across in their garden from bugs to squirrels. The tomato plants they grow together have a big future, though, and that’s where the true story comes into the book. Larry is a teacher and he grows tomato plants to share with his students. He then shares with Grace the letters they write to others as they give their tomato plants away. From overcoming broken friendships, sharing small acts of kindness, or giving thanks for service. The author shares a note at the back of the book explaining the inspiration of the book and how Larry’s work with his students and the giving away of tomato plants helped to grow a community and possibility within those students.

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Book Review: The Midnight Lie

The Midnight Lie – Marie Rutkoski – The Midnight Lie #1 – Farrar, Straus and Giroux – Published 3 March 2020

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Synopsis

Where Nirrim lives, crime abounds, a harsh tribunal rules, and society’s pleasures are reserved for the High Kith. Life in the Ward is grim and punishing. People of her low status are forbidden from sampling sweets or wearing colors. You either follow the rules, or pay a tithe and suffer the consequences.

Nirrim keeps her head down and a dangerous secret close to her chest.

But then she encounters Sid, a rakish traveler from far away who whispers rumors that the High Caste possesses magic. Sid tempts Nirrim to seek that magic for herself. But to do that, Nirrim must surrender her old life. She must place her trust in this sly stranger who asks, above all, not to be trusted.

My thoughts

As a fan of Marie Rutkoski’s Winner’s Curse series, I was really looking forward to The Midnight Lie, which is based in the same world as the Winner’s series. And it certainly didn’t disappoint. Intrigue and romance (LGBT) drive the plot and the world feels a little like being in a Hunger Games novel – the High Kith world is very reminiscent of the Capitol, while behind the Wall is a little like District 11. The Midnight Lie is a compelling book and will leave readers desperate to get their hands on the next book in the series.

Nirrim lives in a world controlled by what she can’t have or do. She can’t go beyond the wall. She can’t eat sweets or wear colours. She and her fellow Half-Kith only work to produce the goods and food that those above them, the Middlings and the High Kith, can eat, wear or sell. But when an accident leaves her in prison she encounters a traveller from far away who challenges Nirrim to see beyond the restrictions that control her life and seek the magic that is rumoured to originate in her land.

Dystopian, fantasy – The Midnight Lie feels like a little of both. There is magic and a unique world, but the themes of control, segregation, restriction of knowledge and history, and the separate class structures will appeal to fans of dystopian novels.

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