Blog Tour Stop: Jennifer Honeybourn’s Wesley James Ruined My Life!

Welcome to the last stop on the Raincoast Books blog tour for Jennifer Honeybourn‘s contemporary YA debut, Wesley James Ruined My Life! Read on for my thoughts on the book as well as a short Q & A with Jennifer!

Wesley James Ruined My Life by Jennifer Honeybourn
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Publication: July 18, 2017 by Feiwel & Friends
Book Description:

Sixteen-year-old Quinn Hardwick’s having a rough summer. Her beloved grandmother has been put into a nursing home, her dad’s gambling addiction has flared back up, and now her worst enemy is back in town: Wesley James, former childhood friend and life ruiner.

So when Wesley is hired to work with her at Tudor Tymes, a medieval England-themed restaurant, the last thing Quinn’s going to do is forgive and forget. She’s determined to remove him from her life and even the score for once and for all-by getting him fired.

But getting rid of Wesley isn’t as easy as she’d hoped. When Quinn finds herself falling for him, she has to decide what she wants more: to get even, or to get the boy.

Jennifer Honeybourn’s debut novel, Wesley James Ruined My Life, is a contemporary young adult title that blends teen romance and comedy with some more serious issues. From the first-person narrative of sixteen-year-old Quinn, readers are taken into her world, where her once-best-friend/crush and now mortal enemy, Wesley James, has returned to town.

Quinn, as we learn, already has enough on her plate: trying to save up money for a band trip to her dream city- London, England- Quinn is balancing work at a medieval England-themed restaurant, dealing with the aftermath of her parent’s separation, her father’s gambling addiction, and her beloved grandmother’s seriously declining health. Into all of this walks Quinn’s once-upon-a-time former best friend and perhaps crush, Wesley James. Back in town after a few years, and suddenly everywhere Quinn turns, Wesley James is infuriatingly inescapable- and charming, sweet, kind, and stirring up feelings that Quinn does not want to have. In an intriguing turn, readers learn that Quinn’s now years-long despisement of Wesley stems from her holding him responsible for the break-up of her parent’s marriage. As the book description hints, Quinn turns her focus to try and make Wesley pay – somehow- for the perceived damage he has caused her; but, as we can guess, things don’t quite work out or reveal themselves the way Quinn anticipates!

While on the whole a lighter, often frothy and fun (and very cute) read, Honeybourn fortifies and freshens the more traditional rom-com story in a few ways. Namely, with a genuinely likable and cognizant protagonist/narrator in Quinn (Wesley is also very likable); weightier storylines in terms of family matters; and a peculiar, funny, and memorable story point with the themed Tudor Tymes restaurant. Likely to appeal to readers who enjoy YA rom-coms, and those who like the writing of authors such as Leila Sales, Jessica Brody, Sarah Ockler, or Huntley Fitzpatrick, Wesley James Ruined My Life makes for fun, yet rooted YA reading. Overall, Jennifer Honeybourn has done a very good job with her debut YA, crafting an endearing and self-aware protagonist with a sweet romantic element and thoughtful story.

Question & Answer with Jennifer!

Q: One aspect of the novel I really appreciated- and think made the novel stronger!- was the combination of fun and romance with more serious issues. Was there ever a version of Wesley James that did not include more serious subject matter- i.e. Quinn’s father’s gambling addition or declining grandparents? Or did you always set out to write a rooted, real contemporary YA romance that delved into some harder issues?

A: The bones of WESLEY JAMES RUINED MY LIFE were always there, even from the first draft. I don’t think I set out to write about specific issues, they just sort of presented themselves along the way, as I was drafting and learning more about the characters. I wanted romance to play a large role, but not be the only focus of the story, because I felt like there was more to Quinn’s life, things she was grappling with, and that made her more real to me.

 

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review and for the purposes of this blog tour. All opinions and comments are my own. Q & A organized by Raincoast Books. Thank you!

Coming up: Blog Tour for Jennifer Honeybourn’s Wesley James Ruined My Life

Coming up on the site: the Raincoast Books blog tour for Jennifer Honeybourn‘s debut young adult novel, Wesley James Ruined My Life stops here on Sunday, July 23! You can take a look at the blog tour postcard below to see which awesome bloggers/reviewers are participating and when; the tour for this Canadian-authored title starts on Monday, July 17, so take a peak at some of the stops along the way to Sunday:

Blog Tour Stop: Danika Stone’s Internet Famous!

 

Welcome to the last stop on the Raincoast Books blog tour for Canadian author Danika Stone‘s Internet Famous! Danika is the author of the YA contemporary novel All the Feels, as well as the author of adult fiction titles including Edge of Wild. Today, I am sharing a special guest post from Danika as well as an excerpt from Internet Famous, Danika’s recently released contemporary YA romance. Enjoy!

Internet Famous by Danika Stone
Publication: June 6, 2017 by Swoon Reads, Feiwel & Friends
Book Description:

An engaging and relatable novel for the digital age that perfectly captures the complicated interaction between what goes on in our real lives and what we say online.

Internet sensation Madison Nakama has it all! Her pop-culture rewatch site has a massive following, and fans across the world wait on her every post and tweet. And now Laurent, a fellow geek (and unfairly HOT French exchange student!), has started flirting with her in the comments section of her blog. But Laurent’s not the only one watching for Madi’s replies…

Internet fame has a price, and their online romance sparks the unwanted attention of a troll. When Madi’s “real life” hits a rough patch, she feels her whole world crumbling. With Laurent’s support, can Madi rally her friends across the globe to beat the troll, or will he succeed in driving her away from everything—and everyone—she loves?

Internet Famous is a fresh, contemporary young adult romance for the iGeneration from Danika Stone, author of All the Feels.

Writing with a Soundtrack by Danika Stone
If there’s one truth about writing it’s that somehow, someday, no matter how dedicated you are to scheduling writing or working through the stress, you WILL experience writer’s block. For me, it was the aftermath of a rough grad school thesis meeting. I was mentally burned out, physically exhausted. I finished my thesis, but when I tried to return to my beloved fiction, I found—
Nothing.
The words simply wouldn’t come.
I’d open the project and stare at it with baleful eyes. Where were the voices of my characters? What had happened to the plot I’d so carefully crafted? As days stretched into weeks, I knew that I had to get my writing juices going. And with this in mind, I decided to create a soundtrack.
This was my breakthrough moment!
A soundtrack is the voice of your story. It breathes the lives of your characters and the choices they make, it provides an auditory link to scenes and setting, it IS your story without the words. When writing is tough, putting together a series of songs can make the difference between breaking through the hurtle of writer’s block and getting stuck in the quicksand of self-doubt.
Since that long-ago day, I’ve made soundtracks for every one of my books. I don’t always play them while I write, but I use them when I feel the rush of words slow to a trickle. For Internet Famous, this group of songs was it:


“New Slang”, The Shins
This song captures the unique language of the internet. I love how many phrases that appear in Internet Famous are words that have developed in the last year or so.
“Shyer”, London Grammar
Madi has a great, outgoing personality online, but the jump to real life friendship is terrifying for her. This song matches the feelings of uncertainty that happen before she moves from the internet famous blogger of the MadLibs blog to “Madi” herself.
“Here”, Alessia Cara
I don’t there there’s a single one of us who hasn’t been lost at a party. This song evokes the feelings of Madi when she’s caught up in the MadLibs crowd in New York.
“Nicest Thing”, Kate Nash
I love Laurent! The purity of Kate’s voice really captures the feeling of his relationship with Madi.
“Wreck of the Day”, Anna Nalick
I struggled a bit with what song fit for the troll. (I don’t listen to a lot of ANGRY music. Ha ha!) But this song felt like the aftermath of an attack to me.
“Dreams”, Beck
Madi’s dream for herself is one of the driving forces behind the plot. I love the idea that we all have the chance to live our dreams if we just have the strength and determination to make the leap.
“What Kind of Man”, Florence + The Machine
Madi has a personal crisis in the book when she finds herself questioning everyone and everything she knows. This uncertainty – not trusting yourself – is key to her finally taking a stand against the troll.
“Tether”, CHVRCHES
The connection between Madi and her sister, Sarah, is one of my favorite parts of the book!
“Gold Guns Girls”, Metric
I love the energy of this song even more than the words. It captures online energy!
“Happy Idiot”, TV on the Radio
Of all the songs on this list, this one really shows the distance between where Madi and Laurent start and where they (for a time) end up. I love the idea of “ignorance is bliss”.
“Roses” (feat. ROZES), The Chainsmokers
Any kind of conflict gets to have a reunion scene (in my opinion) and this 80’s movie worthy last scene is one of my faves!
“Happy”, Pharrell Williams
I won’t lie, “happily ever after” is always end-game for me. This song just GETS it!
So how about you? What songs are the go-to for your current work-in-progress? Do you have other tricks of the trade? Give YOUR answers in the comments below!

…after the break…an excerpt!

Continue reading

Coming up: Blog tour for Internet Famous & other things

I have been away on a brief blogging hiatus due to a myriad of factors and life being generally frenetic, and perhaps unsurprisingly am behind on reading and writing reviews. But somehow- mysteriously!-  more books have made their way onto my must-read list! Besides reading comics- which is my go-to comfort reading when things are bumpy- there are a few books I have managed to start in the last week. The first is a graphic novel called Invisible Emmie by Terri Libensen- I’m about halfway through and really enjoying it. Great mix of humour with aches and pains of middle school…This is a perfect read to recommend to any Raina Telgemeier and Victoria Jamieson fans out there! The second is a contemporary YA title by Canadian-based author Jennifer Honeybourn called Wesley James Ruined My Life. Due out in July, this is, so far, a delightful, frothy read, reminiscent of Lindsey Leavitt and Jessica Brody. I haven’t talked much lately about contemporary/romantic YA- it is unfortunately a genre that has fallen a bit off my radar. But having had the chance meet Jennifer at a recent event and getting to hear more about her writing, Wesley James, and her process to publication really cinched it for me as a YA title I wanted to dive into.

Also coming up this week- more YA! The Raincoast Books blog tour for Canadian author Danika Stone‘s young adult novel Internet Famous stops here on Friday, June 16th. You can take a look at the blog tour postcard to see which awesome bloggers/reviewers are participating and when!

Must Read Monday (64): YA from Vicki Grant, Alice Kuipers, Susan Juby & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction!

This week: all young adult! There are new YA titles coming out from always-read Canadian authors (and personal favourites) Susan Juby and Alice Kuipers; Canadian author Vicki Grant has a fantastic-sounding contemporary YA called Short for Chameleon that has been recently released; Mackenzi Lee’s The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue– which is getting rave reviews- is coming out in June; and last, but not least, two new-to-me authors, Mary O’Connell and Karen McManus, have very intriguingly described titles coming out soon. Let’s take a closer look!

 

Short for Chameleon by Vicki Grant
Publication: March 7, 2017 by HarperTrophy

Embarrassed by your brother? Estranged from your uncle? Then you might need some help from Almost Family Surrogate Agency. Cam Redden and his dad are rent-a-relatives, available for hire to anyone looking to upgrade.

Cam’s job is all about being whoever other people want him to be. Then two new clients come along. Albertina is an old lady with a big mouth, a bigger wig and a serious mission. Raylene is a beautiful girl with a nose ring, a wonky eye and a painful secret. Now to get to the bottom of the tragic mysteries that fuel them both, Cam may finally have to be himself.

 

Me and Me by Alice Kuipers
Expected publication: April 11, 2017 by HarperTrophy

It’s Lark’s seventeenth birthday, and although she’s hated to be reminded of the day ever since her mom’s death three years ago, it’s off to a great start. Lark has written a killer song to perform with her band, the weather is stunning and she’s got a date with gorgeous Alec. The two take a canoe out on the lake, and everything is perfect—until Lark hears the screams. Annabelle, a little girl she used to babysit, is drowning in the nearby reeds while Annabelle’s mom tries desperately to reach her. Lark and Alec are closer, and they both dive in. But Alec hits his head on a rock in the water and begins to flail.

Alec and Annabelle are drowning. And Lark can save only one of them.

Lark chooses, and in that moment her world splits into two distinct lives. She must live with the consequences of both choices. As Lark finds herself going down more than one path, she has to decide: Which life is the right one?

 

Dear Reader by Mary O’Connell
Expected publication: May 9, 2017 by Flatiron Books

For seventeen-year-old Flannery Fields, the only respite from the plaid-skirted mean girls at Sacred Heart High School at is her beloved teacher Miss Sweeney’s AP English class. But when Miss Sweeney doesn’t show up to teach Flannery’s favorite book, Wuthering Heights, leaving behind her purse, Flannery knows something is wrong.The police are called, and Flannery gives them everything—except Miss Sweeney’s copy of Wuthering Heights. This she holds onto. And good thing she does, because when she opens it, it has somehow transformed into Miss Sweeney’s real-time diary. It seems Miss Sweeney is in New York City—and she’s in trouble.

So Flannery does something very unFlannery-like: she skips school and sets out for Manhattan, with the book as her guide. But as soon as she arrives, she meets a boy named Heath. Heath is British, on a gap year, incredibly smart—yet he’s never heard of Albert Einstein or Anne Frank. In fact, Flannery can’t help thinking that he seems to have stepped from the pages of Brontë’s novel. Could it be?

With inimitable wit and heart, Mary O’Connell has crafted a love letter to reading, to the books that make us who we are. Dear Reader, charming and heartbreaking, is a novel about finding your people, on the page in the world.

 

The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby
Expected publication: May 23, 2017 by Viking Books for Young Readers

Charlie Dean is a style-obsessed girl who eats, sleeps, and breathes fashion. John Thomas-Smith is a boy who forges metal sculptures in his garage and couldn’t care less about clothes. Both are gunning for a scholarship to the private art high school that could make all their dreams come true. Whoever wins the fashion competition will win the scholarship–and only one can win.

Told in the alternating voices of Charlie’s and John’s journals, this hilarious and poignant YA novel perfectly captures what it’s like to have an artistic drive so fierce that nothing–not your dad’s girlfriend’s drug-addicted ex-boyfriend, a soul-crushing job at Salad Stop, or being charged with a teensy bit of kidnapping–can stand in your way.

With black and white art custom-created by fashion and beauty illustrator Soleil Ignacio, the book is a collector’s item, perfect for anyone with a passion for fashion.

 

One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus
Expected publication: May 30, 2017 by Delacorte Press

The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars, One of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.
Pay close attention and you might solve this.
On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.
Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose? Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

 

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
Expected publication: June 27, 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books

An unforgettable tale of two friends on their Grand Tour of 18th-century Europe who stumble upon a magical artifact that leads them from Paris to Venice in a dangerous manhunt, fighting pirates, highwaymen, and their feelings for each other along the way.

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men. But as Monty embarks on his grand tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy. Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

Witty, romantic, and intriguing at every turn, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a sumptuous romp that explores the undeniably fine lines between friendship and love.

Must Read Monday (60): YA from Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, Paula Stokes, Simon Mason & more!

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction!

This week is all about young adult fiction! Even whittled down, there are piles of tremendous-sounding YA titles on my TBR list! Here is a selection of eight: some have been waiting a while (I am sorry, dear books), others are new and forthcoming, some from authors I adore, and some I have read rave reviews for:

 

25733927The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Publication: February 23, 2016 by Wendy Lamb Books
Book Description:

Alaska: Growing up here isn’t like growing up anywhere else.

Ruth has a secret that she can’t hide forever. Dora wonders if she can ever truly escape where she comes from, even when good luck suddenly comes her way. Alyce is trying to reconcile her desire to dance with the life she’s always known on her family’s fishing boat. Hank and his brothers decide it’s safer to run away than to stay home—until one of them ends up in terrible danger.

Four very different lives are about to become entangled. This is a book about people who try to save each other—and how sometimes, when they least expect it, they succeed.

 

26156199Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes
Publication: May 17, 2016 by HarperTeen
Book Description:

No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when Maguire is around. Like that time the roller coaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time the house next door caught on fire. Or that time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash—and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch.

It’s safest for Maguire to hide out in her room, where she can cause less damage and avoid new people who she could hurt. But then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star. Jordy is confident, talented, and lucky, and he’s convinced he can help Maguire break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for Jordy is to stay away. But it turns out staying away may be harder than she thought.

 

28691938Running Girl (The Garvie Smith Mysteries #1) by Simon Mason
Publication: August 30, 2016 by David Fickling Books (first published 2014)
Book Description:

Meet Garvie Smith. Highest IQ ever recorded at Marsh Academy. Lowest ever grades. What’s the point? Life sucks. Nothing surprising ever happens. Until Chloe Dow’s body is pulled from a pond. Garvie’s ex-girlfriend.

Inspector Singh is already on the case. Ambitious, uptight, methodical, he’s determined to solve the mystery–and get promoted. He doesn’t need any “assistance” from a notorious slacker. Or does he?

Smart, stylish, and packed with twists and turns from start to finish, Running Girl introduces an unforgettable new character to the world of crime fiction–so lazy he’d only get out of bed for murder.

 

27414423Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig
Publication: October 4, 2016 by Feiwel & Friends
Book Description:

Flynn’s girlfriend has disappeared. How can he uncover her secrets without revealing his own?

Flynn’s girlfriend, January, is missing. The cops are asking questions he can’t answer, and her friends are telling stories that don’t add up. All eyes are on Flynn—as January’s boyfriend, he must know something.

But Flynn has a secret of his own. And as he struggles to uncover the truth about January’s disappearance, he must also face the truth about himself.

 

28954189Scythe (Arc of a Scythe #1) by Neal Shusterman
Publication: November 22, 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Book Descsription:

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

 

32075671The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Publication: February 28, 2017 by Balzer + Bray
Book Description:

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend, Khalil, at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, Khalil’s death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Starr’s best friend at school suggests he may have had it coming. When it becomes clear the police have little interest in investigating the incident, protesters take to the streets and Starr’s neighborhood becomes a war zone. What everyone wants to know is: What really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could destroy her community. It could also endanger her life.

 

23447923The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Expected publication: March 7, 2017 by Clarion Books
Book Description:

From the multi-award-winning author of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe comes a gorgeous new story about love, identity, and families lost and found.

Sal used to know his place with his adoptive gay father, their loving Mexican-American family, and his best friend, Samantha. But it’s senior year, and suddenly Sal is throwing punches, questioning everything, and realizing he no longer knows himself. If Sal’s not who he thought he was, who is he?

This humor-infused, warmly humane look at universal questions of belonging is a triumph.

 

30653853The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
Expected publication: April 11, 2017 by Balzer + Bray
Book Description:

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker, Reid. He’s a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him.

Right?

 

Review: The Other F-Word by Natasha Friend

dcover-584Review: The Other F-Word by Natasha Friend
Source: ARC courtesy of Raincoast Books. Thank you!
Expected publication: March 7, 2017 by Farrar Straus & Giroux

Book Description:

Hollis Darby-Barnes has never met her father, but she hates him.  For making her feel like a lab experiment, a half-person, a freak.  Sometimes she fantasizes about tracking the guy down, setting up a time and a place to meet, and then—right after she says, “Hi, I’m Hollis”—slapping him across the face.

Milo Robinson-Clark has never met his father, but he wants to.  He’s memorized the profile: Height (six feet).  Eyes (hazel).  Hair (dark, thick, and curly).  Does he need to cut it every four weeks to avoid looking like a mushroom?  Does he also have dark, thick eyebrows?  What about body hair?  These are the things Milo wonders about.

When Hollis and Milo met on a seesaw in Brooklyn a gazillion years ago, in some weird sperm donor/lesbian mom reunion, neither of them thought twice.  But when they reconnect as teenagers to find the man who gave them life, everything changes.  Only together can Hollis and Milo discover that family—in all of its weird, messy, freakish permutations—is the only thing that really matters.

Natasha Friend is an author whose work I have been reading and enjoying since I first picked up her YA novel, My Life in Black and White. Her recent middle grade novel, Where You’ll Find Me, is a terrific read and made my Best of 2016 Children’s Fiction list. In her latest contemporary YA novel, The Other F-Word, Friend takes on family– the other f-word- and all of its complicated, thorny, wonderful, heartbreaking and awesome parts.

The novel follows two protagonists (in alternating third-person narratives) through the course of the story: fifteen year old Milo and fourteen year old Hollis. Milo and Hollis met years before as children, when their respective moms connected via a sperm donors group. Now teenagers, Milo and Hollis are essentially strangers and have not been in touch since that fuzzy childhood meeting. The only connection they currently share is DNA: they have the same sperm donor as their biological father. Milo attempts to reconnect with Hollis due to medical reasons and his own frustrations of having to live such a protected, restricted and careful life: from childhood, he has been suffering from severe (some near-fatal) allergic reactions, and his doctor floats the possibility of learning more about his half-sibling’s health history and his biological father’s as a way to do more progressive/advanced allergy testing and trials on Milo.

The opening chapters  of The Other F-Word are a wee bumpy in parts, but do give it time to settle in as once it finds and gets into its quick, witty and heartfelt rhythm, it is a winner. As noted, the early few chapters of the novel come across as a little hasty: the voices of both Milo and Hollis seem a but rushed, Hollis reads as much older than fourteen, and the medical reason for Milo reconnecting with Hollis arguably feels a wee tenuous. However, as Hollis and Milo begin their first steps in messaging, emailing and talking, and sharing their lives, the story takes on tremendous meaning. With great thoughtfulness, Friend takes on subjects such as: same-sex marriages and partnerships; rights (and lack thereof) afforded to same-sex couples; and what connotations and emotional weight (and pain) terms such ‘biologically related’ or ‘non-biologically related’ can bring to families. Once Milo and Hollis find their half-sibling circle is even larger and possibly stranger than previously thought, their intertwined story opens up even more, leading up to an incredible reunion of family.  As the roster of characters grow, Friend does a wonderful job in keeping the increasingly engaging and bustling story moving along smoothly. In tandem, Friend ably keeps Milo and Hollis’s distinct voices and senses of humour running well, and the expanding role of Milo’s best friend JJ is a superb addition to the story.

Overall, The Other F-Word is a well-written, surprising and insightful contemporary YA story. While a funny read with laugh out loud moments of wackiness and sweetness, Friend also meaningfully writes about significant contemporaneous issues as related to family, and pulls off some emotional moments that are tender and so lovely. Already picking up steam with starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist, I do hope The Other F-Word gets read and enjoyed by a wide and appreciative audience. Readers who enjoy YA lit by authors ranging from Hilary T. Smith to Susin Nielsen or from Julie Halpern to Lindsey Leavitt, or those who like any unique YA that tackles real-life, family-centred issues with a great dose of humour and compassion, might especially adore The Other F-Word.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Raincoast Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Review: Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen

9781770497825Review: Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen
Source: ARC courtesy of Susin Nielsen and Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Expected publication: February 21, 2017 by Tundra Books
Book Description:

Petula’s funny, and a crafting genius, but no social star at high school, and it doesn’t help that she’s isolated herself after her adored toddler sister died. Petula feels responsible for this death, though her parents say it was a tragic accident. No one’s fault. Now, Petula sees danger everywhere: every activity and every bite of food could kill you. Then a new boy, Jacob, joins Petula’s group in the school’s lame art therapy program; he has a prosthetic arm and darkness behind his sunny surface. Petula and Jacob become friends, then, something more. But a secret behind why he’s in the group could derail them.

A heartbreaking yet humorous first YA from award-winning author Susin Nielsen, Optimists Die First continues Susin’s tradition of creating memorable characters and genre-bending narratives.

Governor General Award winning author Susin Nielsen has written some of my favourite children’s titles: Word Nerd, Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom, We Are All Made of Molecules, and last, but absolutely not least, The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen. Nielsen’s novels are ones I recommend time and again to kids (and their caregivers) in my work as a children’s librarian, and I have also often mentioned Nielsen’s work in top ten lit lists. So, needless to say, as soon as I saw/read/heard about a new book from the author- a young adult debut, no less- I was there. And I have been an extremely lucky reader indeed to have had the opportunity to read Nielsen’s already multi-starred (!) YA debut Optimists Die First.

In Optimists Die First, we follow the first-person narrative of Petula De Wilde. Petula is, as other protagonists of Nielsen’s novels, imminently likable, wonderful and slightly (or intensely) hurt in some way. Whether working through or surviving family tragedy, loss, life-change…Nielsen’s characters might be some of the most tenacious, stubborn, lovely, and brave kids or teens you will meet. Here, we have Petula: shaken to her core, reshaped since a horrifying and fatal accident forever altered her and her family. Now constantly fearful, experiencing debilitating panic and anxiety, and exhibiting compulsive behavior, Petula is forced to attend an art therapy group for emotional troubled kids as well as talks with her watery-eyed but exceedingly patient and kind principal. Through circuitous circumstances, a new student at her school- who Petula has nicknamed Bionic Man- Jacob, joins her art therapy program and takes an interest in getting to know her.

Jacob, as we learn, is also suffering- and more intensely than Petula realizes. He and Petula are both dealing with tremendous scars of aftermath, regret and guilt; but once their tentative connection in and out of art therapy begins, it grows into something tangible. Nielsen writess Petula and Jacob’s relationship as such a beautifully aching, fluttery, strange and hazy-happy first-love; it sincere, genuine, and unforced, and something that clicks naturally and necessarily (as we see) with the arc of each character’s story. Lest you wonder whether Nielsen has taken the route of ‘troubled teens meet, fall in love and quickly heal’ (which can be grating and oft-abundant in YA…), I can assure you that it is not the case. The author works Petula and Jacob’s relationship from the very beginning as something that occurs within and among the chaos of their internal voices and immediate surroundings, which means that while Petula’s psychological traumas about her family and school life might ebb and flow, they simply do not heal due to first-love (Jacob does not magically heal, either). I do not want to give away too much more of the story’s intricacies here, as I hope for readers to get to experience it for themselves…but I will say that Optimists Die First offers some terrifically surprising and wonderfully weird moments à la Breakfast Club, intense heartache and rawness (think Judy Blume), as well as loveliness mixed with hope and possibility- all in Nielsen’s incredible style.

Overall, Optimists Die First is a gorgeously written, funny and heart-rending read. As with Henry K. Larsen, my reading experience with Optimists Die First was one ranging from belly laughter to tears and everything in-between. Nielsen takes a sensitive and thoughtful approach to covering serious, raw subject matters in all of her novels and that consideration always comes forth in her writing- this novel is another great example of that. I cannot recommend Nielsen’s novels enough, and would highly encourage readers new to Nielsen to check her books out. I loved meeting and spending time with Petula, her family, and Jacob, and I hope you get the chance to as well.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of the author and publisher. All opinions and comments are my own.

Must Read Monday (57): YA from Nina LaCour, Robin Roe & Katie Kennedy

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday!

This feature is where I spotlight older, recent, or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction!

This week: new and upcoming young adult fiction titles on my radar! Since reading Nina LaCour‘s Hold Still and absolutely loving it, the author has been on my must-read- and I have adored all of her books. I’m eagerly anticipating We Are Okay; it has been receiving some terrific reviews from review journals as well! Next up is A List of Cages by Robin Roe– another YA title that’s been receiving some incredible praise from journals and love from YA book bloggers I follow. Last but not least is Katie Kennedy‘s Learning to Swear in America– a title that came up as a recommended read on Goodreads, if I recall, and immediately hooked me with its great, stand-out description. All three look like stellar YA reads!

 

28243032We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
Expected publication: February 14, 2017 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Book Description:

“You go through life thinking there’s so much you need. . . . Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother.”

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

 

25613472A List of Cages by Robin Roe
Publication: January 10, 2017 by Disney-Hyperion
Book Description:

When Adam Blake lands the best elective ever in his senior year, serving as an aide to the school psychologist, he thinks he’s got it made. Sure, it means a lot of sitting around, which isn’t easy for a guy with ADHD, but he can’t complain, since he gets to spend the period texting all his friends. Then the doctor asks him to track down the troubled freshman who keeps dodging her, and Adam discovers that the boy is Julian—the foster brother he hasn’t seen in five years.

Adam is ecstatic to be reunited. At first, Julian seems like the boy he once knew. He’s still kindhearted. He still writes stories and loves picture books meant for little kids. But as they spend more time together, Adam realizes that Julian is keeping secrets, like where he hides during the middle of the day, and what’s really going on inside his house. Adam is determined to help him, but his involvement could cost both boys their lives…

 

23018259Learning to Swear in America by Katie Kennedy
Publication: July 5, 2016 by Bloomsbury
Book Description:

An asteroid is hurtling toward Earth. A big, bad one. Yuri, a physicist prodigy from Russia, has been called to NASA as they calculate a plan to avoid disaster. He knows how to stop the asteroid: his research in antimatter will probably win him a Nobel prize–if there’s ever another Nobel prize awarded. But Yuri’s 17, and having a hard time making older, stodgy physicists listen to him. Then he meets Dovie, who lives like a normal teenager, oblivious to the impending doom. Being with her, on the adventures she plans when he’s not at NASA, Yuri catches a glimpse of what it means to save the world and save a life worth living.

Prepare to laugh, cry, cringe, and have your mind burst open with questions of the universe.

Review: If This Is Home by Kristine Scarrow

9781459736504Review: If This Is Home by Kristine Scarrow
Source: ARC courtesy of Dundurn Press. Thank you!
Canadian Publication: January 28, 2017 by Dundurn Press
Book Description:

When her mom is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Jayce searches for her estranged father, hoping he can fix everything.

Jayce Loewen has had to take on a lot of responsibility over the years. Her single mom works two jobs and long hours, leaving Jayce in charge of her four-year-old sister most of the time. When her mom is diagnosed with cancer, Jayce decides to track down her long-absent father in the hope that he will be able to make everything okay again.

Looking for her dad was one thing, but when she actually finds him, Jayce is in for a real shock. When everything in her life seems to be going wrong, Jayce has to figure out who her family really is, and how to live with the possibility of losing the person she loves most.

Canadian author Kristine Scarrow’s sophomore young adult novel, If This Is Home, is a contemporary story covering everything from terminal illness, complex teen friendships, sibling love and difficult family history. Taking place in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Scarrow’s compact novel embraces much of what I personally love about Canadian YA: the overwhelmingly fluid, uncluttered, quiet yet potent writing; rooted protagonists and secondary characters that read as genuine and free of veneer; and the presentation of unidealized concepts of teenagers and ‘the teenage years’.

In If This Is Home, we follow the first-person narrative of sixteen year old Jayce Loewen- known as J.J.- as she and her four year-old sister Joelle deal with beyond devastating news: their mother is sick with lung cancer. A tight-knit family of three, with a long-absent father and long-estranged grandparents, J.J.’s mom has been her everything. When a doctor gently states an unspeakable prognosis, J.J. is overwhelmed but determined that she and Joelle stay strong and stay together. In the midst of high school chaos with her less-than-considerate best friend, and worried about what might happen if they lose the only parent they’ve ever known and had, J.J. goes in search of her father. With the help of a boy she meets in detention, a teen named Kurt, J.J.’s life begins a complicated roller coaster of major revelations and disappointments.

In a plot move I really appreciate, Scarrow grows the relationship between J.J. and Kurt as platonic and heartfelt. Perhaps due to the more serious nature of the crux of the story- that of J.J.’s intense love and protectiveness for her sister and mom and the threat of it being torn apart- Scarrow decided to keep that story element more neutral. Arguably a more unconventional route to take in a teen novel, yet one that works so well here with the direction the story takes. Scarrow also writes and develops the relationship between J.J. and her mom and sister, and- later- another family member very well. I would have appreciated more by way of introduction and background to J.J. herself, Kurt (I feel he was introduced and then suddenly so involved with the family), and more about the Loewen’s family history. Certain aspects of the story came across as rushed or a little surprising, or in need of elucidation: as a whole, If This Is Home is absolutely moving and interesting, but I feel as though more detail would have been of benefit to add even further richness and depth to the story.

Overall, If This Is Home is a moving read, deftly written, propelled by a solid, well-written protagonist. As noted above, I would have liked more exposition about Kurt, as well as background exploration into J.J.’s mom and grandmother to add more foundation to the story, but in all, I truly enjoyed this read. Readers who enjoy contemporary Canadian YA lit, or readers who enjoy authors such as Susin Nielsen, Robin Stevenson or Sarah N. Harvey (all write so beautifully on family and serious subject matters), might especially appreciate this lovely book. Scarrow has published one YA title prior to If This Is Home called Throwaway Girl; it is one title I’ve seen in local bookshops and am now inspired to pick up.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Dundurn Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.