Book Review: When Elephants Fly

When Elephants Fly – Nancy Richardson Fischer – Harlequin Teen – Published 4 September 2018

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Synopsis

T. Lily Decker is a high school senior with a twelve-year plan: avoid stress, drugs, alcohol and boyfriends, and take regular psych quizzes administered by her best friend, Sawyer, to make sure she’s not developing schizophrenia.Genetics are not on Lily’s side.

When she was seven, her mother, who had paranoid schizophrenia, tried to kill her. And a secret has revealed that Lily’s odds are even worse than she thought. Still, there’s a chance to avoid triggering the mental health condition, if Lily can live a careful life from ages eighteen to thirty, when schizophrenia most commonly manifests.

But when a newspaper internship results in Lily witnessing a mother elephant try to kill her three-week-old calf, Swifty, Lily can’t abandon the story or the calf. With Swifty in danger of dying from grief, Lily must choose whether to risk everything, including her sanity and a first love, on a desperate road trip to save the calf’s life, perhaps finding her own version of freedom along the way.

My thoughts

An incredible story of survival and finding something to believe in and fight for, When Elephants Fly will have you laughing, crying buckets and wildly cheering for Lily and her battle to save elephant calf, Swifty.

Lily is working off a tight plan to control the likelihood of her developing schizophrenia. The genetic odds are not in her favour but by living carefully she hopes to avoid following the same journey her mother took. But, when on assignment for her journalism internship, she witnesses an elephant reject her calf and Lily can’t help but see the parallels between their stories. Lily must decide if it is worth risking everything she has worked so hard to control to try and save the life of the elephant she is quickly coming to love.

Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautifully written, beautiful message, beautiful characters (and yes, that includes elephant calf, Swifty). Alone, Lily’s story or Swifty’s story would be enough in themselves to be both moving and motivational, enough for any book. Yet together they become phenomenal. The compassion between humans and animals, the loss Swifty and Lily both share, and they ways in which they help each other is stunningly conceived and written.

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Book Review: All That I Can Fix

All That I Can Fix – Crystal Chan – Simon Pulse – Published 12 June 2018

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Synopsis

In Makersville, Indiana, people know all about Ronney—he’s from that mixed-race family with the dad who tried to kill himself, the pill-popping mom, and the genius kid sister. If having a family like that wasn’t bad enough, the local eccentric at the edge of town decided one night to open up all the cages of his exotic zoo—lions, cheetahs, tigers—and then shoot himself dead. Go figure. Even more proof that you can’t trust adults to do the right thing.

Overnight, news crews, gun control supporters, and gun rights advocates descend on Makersville, bringing around-the-clock news coverage, rallies, and anti-rallies with them. With his parents checked out, Ronney is left tending to his sister’s mounting fears of roaming lions, stopping his best friend from going on a suburban safari, and shaking loose a lonely boy who follows Ronney wherever he goes. Can Ronney figure out a way to hold it together as all his worlds fall apart?

My thoughts

What to say about a book that is one part humorous, two parts ridiculous, and the rest a bundle of important messages, from mental health, stigma, and racism, to gun control and animal cruelty? All That I Can Fix is a novel that faces difficult topics straight on, with an abruptness that is both disconcerting and refreshing.

When the local exotic zoo owner shoots himself and lets loose his animals, Ronney isn’t fazed. What’s a camel on the loose compared to a father who might be continually physically present but never mentally, a mother who doesn’t know how to cope anymore, a sister on the verge of a meltdown, and a list of things he must do to keep the whole family from falling apart?

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Book Review: Thief of Happy Endings

Thief of Happy Endings – Kristen Chandler – Viking Books for Young Readers – Published 19 June 2018

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Synopsis

Cassidy Carrigan wasn’t planning to ever get on a horse again. She wasn’t even planning on going to back to school after her dad moved out, her best friend ditched her, and her anxiety took over. But then she wasn’t planning on being shipped off to a ranch in the mountains of Wyoming as a charity case either. Or falling for a cowboy with a broken nose and an even more broken soul. But sometimes you just have to do a stupid, dangerous thing to have the time of your life.

My thoughts

Horses, mountains, romance and new beginnings – Thief of Happy Endings has all the makings of a perfect YA contemporary that grabs your heart. Thief of Happy Endings is thoroughly charming in a down-to-earth, back-to-basics, raw and real way. It touches on so many important themes, from racism and prejudice, bullying and relationships, and divorce and parenting to anxiety and mental health, physical abuse, and the capture and treatment of wild mustangs. All these elements come together in a beautiful story that is utterly moving.

Cassidy’s parents are sending her to the middle of nowhere, Wyoming, to a horse ranch. Cassidy hasn’t been around horses since she was a young girl and suffered serious injuries from a fall. But fear of horses is just one more thing turning her stomach to knots. Settling into the ranch, fighting with her new bunkmates, and working with wild horses is nothing like she expected. This summer Cassidy will do more than just face some of her fears, sh might even learn to embrace them.

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Book Review: Jacked Up

Jacked Up – Erica Sage – Sky Pony Press – Published 3 April 2018

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Synopsis

It’s bad enough that Nick’s sister is dead and, in some bizarre attempt to force him to confront his grief, his parents are shipping him off to Jesus Camp. But he’s also being haunted by the ghost of Jack Kerouac—who’s surprisingly annoying, for a genius.

And if arguing with a dead beat poet weren’t enough to qualify Nick for antipsychotics, he’s pretty sure Eden Springs Church Camp is going to drive him insane. The campers ride donkeys into the desert campsite; a retired magician dressed as Jesus seems obsessed with converting him; and Nick’s practically shunned for uttering the words “Harry Potter.”

Worst of all is the PC Box, into which every camper is required to place a nightly prayer or confession. In hopes of getting Jack to stop nagging him about it, Nick scribbles down his darkest secret—a secret about his sister’s death—and drops it in the box.

But then the box is stolen, with Nick’s secret inside of it. When campers’ confessions start appearing around the camp, Nick is desperate to get the box back—before the world learns the truth about what he did. The truth he can’t even face, himself.

My thoughts

What a crazy book! Jacked Up is a uncontrollable snort laugher inducing, hypocrisy identifying, gut punching, grammar fixing, donkey jokes kind of crazy book. With all the finesse and humour of its authentic male narrator, Jacked Up is an upfront and honest novel that delves into the aftermath of suicide, grief, and guilt, in a way that is easy to read and lots of fun.

In the wake of his sister’s suicide, Nick’s parents are sending him to Bible Camp. Sure it is the last place on Earth that could help him, especially considering the soul-eating secrets he is hiding, Nick is reluctant at first. Arriving at the camp only increases his doubts – are these people serious with their Bible character dress-up selfie moments, donkey lotteries, and box of prayers and confessions? But when the PC box goes missing, containing Nick’s biggest secret, he will do anything to get it back.

I jumped into Jacked Up with little prior knowledge of its aspirations as a novel. And it totally surprised me. There were so many fun moments. Nick is an awesome narrator and totally realistic of a teenage boy. And the book doesn’t shy away from anything – coarse language, sexual references, innuendo, jokes of every description. Honestly, I’m not sure there is a teen boy (or maybe girl) alive who wouldn’t love to read this book. Unless you consider those who might be offended by it…. And let’s face it, there are many people who might be offended by the revealing of this teenage boy’s mind.

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Book Review: The Astonishing Color of After

The Astonishing Color of After – Emily X.R. Pan – Little, Brown Books for Young Readers – Published 20 March 2018

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Synopsis

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

My thoughts

Imaginative, and with lyrical writing, The Astonishing Color of After is perfect if you enjoy a touch of magical realism served alongside plenty of heartbreak. Addressing the impact of suicide and the devastation it brings to the surrounding family members and friends, The Astonishing Color of After tackles this sensitive topic with delicacy, magic, and a sincere forthrightness.

When Leigh’s mother dies by suicide, Leigh’s world is thrown into chaos. One thing of which she is sure: her mother has turned into a beautiful, red bird. And that bird wants her to travel to Taiwan. Meeting her grandparents for the first time, exploring the places her mother once visited, and trying to uncover the long-buried truths of her family, Leigh slowly starts to face her mother’s death and the events leading up to it.

Over the years I have called many a book ‘important’. And yet, The Astonishing Color of After is important with a capital I. The Astonishing Color of After tackles the topic of suicide and the aftermath of suicide in an upfront way, which is so very needed in today’s society. The author’s note only expands on the very clear level of care, understanding and personal experience that has gone into making this book as considered and profound as it is.

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Book Review: The Secrets We Bury

The Secrets We Bury – Stacie Ramey – Sourcebooks Fire – Published 6 March 2018

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Synopsis

In an effort to escape his family, Dylan decides to hike the Appalachian trail—but he never expected to run into love.

Dylan Taggart is on the run. His family is trying to put him in a school for psychologically challenged students, and he gets it—he has anger issues. But Believers Charter School is a complete overreaction. So he decides a six-month hike on the Appalachian Trail is the perfect place to hide out until he can legally drop out of school.

Dylan wanted independence, but being alone on the trail is more than he bargained for. Then he meets a mysterious hiker named Sophie, and the two begin to develop a bond he never expected. But will love be enough to escape what they’re both running from?

My thoughts

I was intrigued by The Secrets We Bury, but never did I expect that is was going to be that good! Everything fits seamlessly together: the authentic male protagonist who struggles to fit in and deal with everything that makes him different; the people Dylan meets on the trail, those who are just passing strangers and those who come to have such an impact on him and he on them; the trail magic; the powerful beauty of the setting and the way Dylan slowly comes to notice it; and of course the underlying themes of grief, guilt, forgiveness and starting over.

Dylan has run away from home. Run away from the grief that overpowers him, run from the guilt of the secrets he carries, run from the mother who wants to put him in a special school to control his outpouring of anger. His plan of escape is to hike the Appalachian Trail. But the trail will test Dylan in ways he couldn’t expect – from bugs and new food to bears. When Dylan happens upon a strange and intriguing girl who is apparently hiking alone and unprepared, Dylan is drawn to her in a way he has never experienced before. Dylan might be running away, but the trail just might be the place where he finds himself.

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Book Review: When My Heart Joins The Thousand

When My Heart Joins The Thousand – A.J. Steiger – HarperTeen – Published 6 February 2018

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Synopsis

Alvie Fitz doesn’t fit in, and she doesn’t care. She’s spent years swallowing meds and bad advice from doctors and social workers. Adjust, adapt. Pretend to be normal. It sounds so easy.

If she can make it to her eighteenth birthday without any major mishaps, she’ll be legally emancipated. Free. But if she fails, she’ll become a ward of the state and be sent back to the group home.

All she wants is to be left alone to spend time with her friend, Chance, the one-winged hawk at the zoo where she works. She can bide her time with him until her emancipation. Humans are overrated anyway. Then she meets Stanley, a boy who might be even stranger than she is—a boy who walks with a cane, who turns up every day with a new injury, whose body seems as fragile as glass. Without even meaning to, she finds herself getting close to him. But Alvie remembers what happened to the last person she truly cared about.

Her past stalks her with every step, and it has sharp teeth. But if she can find the strength to face the enemy inside her, maybe she’ll have a chance at happiness after all.

My thoughts

When My Heart Joins The Thousand offers a beautiful insight into growing up and learning to accept your self.

Alvie has only another year until she will legally be free – free from fear of being returned to the foster care system, free to continue living on her own terms, free from the continual assessment of others as seeing her as something different, something other. When a young man enters the sphere of her daily routine she is at first shaken, but then takes up the opportunity to prove that even she can enjoy the closeness of others. But her relationship with Stanley is nothing like she imagined. As Alvie faces the challenges of living alone, fights for her freedom, and faces her past, it is her relationship with Stanley that prompts her to reassess everything she knows about herself and love.

Well, that is one intense prologue. Talk about getting thrown right into the story. Actually, intense is the perfect descriptor for this book. It tackles so many important themes in an upfront and honest way. It is intense in an unputdownable way and I greatly enjoyed reading Alvie’s story.

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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: A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares – Krystal Sutherland – G.P Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers – Published 5 September 2017

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Synopsis

Ever since Esther Solar’s grandfather was cursed by Death, everyone in her family has been doomed to suffer one great fear in their lifetime. Esther’s father is agoraphobic and hasn’t left the basement in six years, her twin brother can t be in the dark without a light on, and her mother is terrified of bad luck.

The Solars are consumed by their fears and, according to the legend of the curse, destined to die from them.

Esther doesn’t know what her great fear is yet (nor does she want to), a feat achieved by avoiding pretty much everything. Elevators, small spaces, and crowds are all off-limits. So are haircuts, spiders, dolls, mirrors and three dozen other phobias she keeps a record of in her semi-definitive list of worst nightmares.

Then Esther is pickpocketed by Jonah Smallwood, an old elementary school classmate. Along with her phone, money and a fruit roll-up she d been saving, Jonah also steals her list of fears. Despite the theft, Esther and Jonah become friends, and he sets a challenge for them: in an effort to break the curse that has crippled her family, they will meet every Sunday of senior year to work their way through the list, facing one terrifying fear at a time, including one that Esther hadn’t counted on: love.

My thoughts

This amazing books takes mental health and family breakdown and wraps it in a layer of magic and imagery so strong it glows like a thousand candles in the dark. It is a story of family and fear and bravery and love. It is funny and clever and sad and just a little bit frightening.

Esther Solar’s family is cursed. Cursed to die of their greatest fear. It’s why her father hasn’t left the basement in six years, why her brother is constantly surrounded by multiple sources of light, and why she herself has decided to never find her greatest fear. Instead, Esther has created a list of her worst nightmares and has worked hard to avoid each and every one of them. But then an old classmate (and crush) reappears in her life, pickpockets her belongings, and discovers her list. Jonah decides that Esther must face her fears and that he will help.

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