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: The Girl in the White Van

The Girl In the White Van – April Henry – Henry Holt and Company – Published 28 July 2020

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Synopsis

When Savannah disappears soon after arguing with her mom’s boyfriend, everyone assumes she’s run away. The truth is much worse. She’s been kidnapped by a man in a white van who locks her in an old trailer home, far from prying eyes. And worse yet, Savannah’s not alone: Ten months earlier, Jenny met the same fate and nearly died trying to escape. Now as the two girls wonder if he will hold them captive forever or kill them, they must join forces to break out—even if it means they die trying.

My thoughts

Girl in the White Van is exactly the kind of book I am always on the lookout for to add to our mystery/thriller YA collection. It is an engaging, quick read, with strong characters. Girl in the White Van is a thrilling book. Scary but hopefully, dark and gritty but full of empowerment and a sense of justice.

Savannah is just waiting until she turns 18 and she can escape her mother’s toxic pattern of moving in with random guys. While she doesn’t love living with her mother’s latest boyfriend, she is enjoying living in Portland. She loves her Kung fu class and is just getting to know one of her classmates, Daniel. But on the way home from class, Savannah is grabbed by a man in a white van. Drugged, hurt and confused, Savannah wakes in an old trailer home. But she isn’t alone. Jenny was taken nine months ago.

While the majority of the chapters are written from Savannah’s perspective, there are also chapters from Jenny, Daniel, Jenny and Savannah’s parents’ perspective and a variety of other side characters, including the suspects. The reader is given an insight into the person responsible, but the mystery of who they are remains and builds the tension.

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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: This Vicious Cure

This Vicious Cure – Emily Suvada – This Mortal Coil #3 – Simon Pulse – Published 21 January 2020

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Synopsis

Cat’s hacking skills weren’t enough to keep her from losing everything—her identity, her past, and now her freedom. She’s trapped and alone, but she’s survived this long, and she’s not giving up without a fight.

Though the outbreak has been contained, a new threat has emerged—one that’s taken the world to the brink of a devastating war. With genetic technology that promises not just a cure for the plague, but a way to prevent death itself, both sides will stop at nothing to seize control of humanity’s future.

Facing her smartest, most devastating enemy yet, Cat must race against the clock to protect her friends and save the lives of millions on the planet’s surface. No matter the outcome, humanity will never be the same.

And this time, Cat can’t afford to let anything, or anyone, stand in her way.

My thoughts

This Vicious Cure is the eagerly awaited third and final book in the This Mortal Coil series. I was a little delaying in picking up this third book after it’s publication (or one of the other librarians gave it to a student before I could read it!) so it was during the height of the first wave of COVID-19 that I was reading this conclusion to a series about a serious virus that kills and dramatically alters society. It’s surprising how many books there are bout deadly plagues and virus, but I think the This Moral Coil series is one of my absolute favs and is always one I love recommending to students.

This Vicious Cure follows on from the conclusion of the second book. The characters (and readers) have been through so much since the first book. Honestly, a happy ending seems a little unlikely. The action starts up again almost instantly. Please be aware this review may contain spoilers for the first and second book. You should read the series in series order. This Mortal Coil is perfect for fans of science fiction, dystopian novels, action, a touch of romance, strong female lead characters, coding, technology and the absolute terror of humans and society.

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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: Sisters of Sword and Song

Sisters of Sword and Song – Rebecca Ross – HarperTeen – Published 23 June 2020

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Synopsis

After eight long years, Evadne will finally be reunited with her older sister, Halcyon, who has been proudly serving in the queen’s army. But when Halcyon appears earlier than expected, Eva knows something has gone terribly wrong. Halcyon is on the run, hunted by her commander and charged with murder.

Though Halcyon’s life is spared during her trial, the punishment is heavy. And when Eva volunteers to serve part of Halcyon’s sentence, she’s determined to find out exactly what happened. But as Eva begins her sentence, she quickly learns that there are fates much worse than death.

My thoughts

Sisters of Sword and Song is a new book by Rebecca Ross. It is not part of the same world or series as her previous two books. Magic combine with legend of gods and relics infused with power. Hand combat joins magic woven in song to wage war against the evil powers that hold the Queen captive. It is a book about the love between sisters. It is a book about powerful women. It is a story about honour and devotion. It feels as if it has been taken from the pages of history.

Sisters of Sword and Song is set in a world that is reminiscent of Ancient Greece. From the dress and the legends of gods and myths to the rocky setting with olive groves and mountains and the fighting and legions of hoplites, everything feels decidedly ancient. Halcyon and Evadne are sisters. They are due to be reunited when Halcyon, long been training and serving in the army, is set to return to their home. But Halcyon arrives a day early and asks Evadne to help her outrun the commander who follows her and seeks justice for the murder of his son. As Halcyon runs and Evadne learns more about the path that Halcyon has trod, she is drawn into a dangerous war involving magic, battles, spies and deceit and a journey to retrieve ancient, powerful relics.

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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: The Archer At Dawn

The Archer At Dawn – Swati Teerdhala – The Tiger At Midnight Trilogy #2 – Katherine Tegen Books – Published 26 May 2020

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Synopsis

The Sun Mela is many things: a call for peace, a cause for celebration, and, above all, a deadly competition. For Kunal and Esha, finally working together as rebel spies, it provides the perfect guise to infiltrate King Vardaan’s vicious court.

Kunal will return to his role as dedicated Senap soldier, at the Sun Mela to provide extra security for the palace during the peace summit for the divided nations of Jansa and Dharka. Meanwhile, Esha will use her new role as adviser to Prince Harun to keep a pulse on shifting political parties and seek out allies for their rebel cause. A radical plan is underfoot to rescue Jansa’s long-lost Princess Reha—the key to the stolen throne.

But amid the Mela games and glittering festivities, much more dangerous forces lie in wait. With the rebel Blades’ entry into Vardaan’s court, a match has been lit, and long-held secrets will force Kunal and Esha to reconsider their loyalties—to their country and to each other. Getting into the palace was the easy task; coming out together will be a battle for their lives.

My thoughts

The Archer at Dawn is the second book in the Tiger At Midnight trilogy. It’s packed full of intrigue, planning, action and court politics. There are secret kisses, secret alliances and big secrets revealed. It’s also slightly torturous  as it seems the closer Esha, Kunal and the Blades move toward their goal the more obstacles there are in their paths and the further they are from achieving anything.

As I was drawing near the conclusion of the book I wasn’t sure I was going to be up for reading the third book. So much of this book’s plotting and scheming seemed about to come to nothing. But, at the last minute, one final reveal that comes out of nowhere had me hooked again and wanting to know what comes next. There’s a lot happening in in this book but I was a little disengaged as it seems like the characters aren’t going to achieve anything.

I like the characters. Esha and Kunal are exploring a new romantic relationship, while also testing the boundaries of their alliance and trust, introducing Kunal to the Blades and relying on him and his new found powers to help them complete the next part of the plan for reclaiming their country.

There is also a slight love triangle and Esha is torn between her new feelings for Kunal and the old, unrequited feelings for Harun. Esha is also torn between her desire for revenge on the people who killed her parents and the safety of the Blades’ mission. It means she makes some silly choices, but you can’t deny the depth of her hurt and yearning for recompense.

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Book Review: Nowhere on Earth

Nowhere on Earth – Nick Lake – Knopf Books for Young Readers – Published 26 May 2020

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Synopsis

16-year-old Emily is on the run. Between her parents and the trouble she’s recently gotten into at school, she has more than enough reason to get away. But when she finds a little boy named Aidan wandering in the woods, she knows she needs to help him find his way home. But getting home is no easy matter, especially with Emily finds out that Aidan isn’t even from Earth. When their plane crashes into the side of a snowy mountain, it’s up to Emily to ensure Aidan and their pilot, Bob, make it off the mountain alive. Pursued by government forces who want to capture Aidan, the unlikely team of three trek across the freezing landscape, learning more about each other, and about life, than they ever thought possible.

My thoughts

Nowhere on Earth is one part sci-fi, one part adventure story. I really enjoyed this story of survival – both against the elements and against the bad guys. Rugged terrain and the beauty of an icy Alaska backdrop brings a sense of harshness and danger to the story, while the mystery of Emily’s past and who and what exactly Aidan is, draws the reader in.

Emily is on a mission to save her brother. They have snuck aboard a plane heading from nowhere Alaska to Anchorage. Emily has been wanting to escape since her parents dragged her to Alaska and away from her friends and ballet, wanting also to escape the trouble she is in at school. But when the plane crashes, she, Aidan and the pilot must depend on each other to survive. Emily will do anything to protect Aidan, even if it means fighting off the men who come after them. Because Aidan isn’t from Earth and they want to prevent him from being able to go home.

It’s funny, the fact that there are aliens, spaceships and ‘people’ from another planet is almost a side story in this book, one that isn’t overly explored. Details of how or why or what aren’t explored. If you want to know everything about the aliens, where they come from, what they want, how their technology works or where they live, you won’t find it in this book. Emily readily accepts that Aidan is from another planet, though his spaceship is kind of hard to dispute.

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