Category Archives: Contemporary

Review: Joined at the Joints Marissa Eller

Joined at the Joints by Marissa Eller

Joined at the Joints
Marissa Eller
Holiday House
Published July 2, 2024

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About Joined at the Joints

When baking-obsessed Ivy meets a super-hot boy who shares her rare diagnosis, sparks fly outside of the kitchen for the first time in her life!

Chronically ill seventeen-year-old Ivy has stayed in watching the Food Network all summer—pies are better than people, and they don’t trigger her social anxiety. So when her (also) chronically ill mom and sister cook up a plan to get Ivy out of the house and into a support group, Ivy doesn’t expect to say more than a few words.

And she certainly doesn’t expect Grant. Grant is CUTE: class-clown cute, perfectly-messy-hair cute, will-always-text-you-back cute. There’s an instant connection between them. He has the same diagnosis as her–juvenille rheumatoid arthritis–and he actually understands Ivy’s world.

But just because he understands Ivy’s pain doesn’t mean he can take it away. And she wishes he could—because it’s getting worse. Ivy has always tried her best to appear pain-free, but between treatment plans, symptom management, and struggling with medical self-advocacy, being sick feels more and more difficult. Will Ivy’s delicious new romance pan out? Can she keep up the façade, for him and for the world… or should she be brave and let it go?

Marissa Eller serves up a sweet, satisfying romcom that tackles the realities of chronic illness—and coming-of-age milestones from friend breakups to first kisses—with wry humor, tons of heart, and a huge helping of honesty. Nuanced, poignant, and deeply enjoyable, readers will fall for Eller’s voice in this compelling debut that offers all the right ingredients.

My Review

This is such a sweet book. I loved that because both characters understand rheumatoid arthritis, there’s not a lot of one character educating the other. Both Ivy and Grant have some similarities and differences in their experiences, and they share enough common ground to offer support to one another when it’s needed.

Ivy is a great character. I love stories about baking or cooking, so the scenes in which she prepares food were great. When a character’s love language is food, I find it easy to connect with them. I also liked her relationship with her sister, Caroline. They look out for one another but give each other space and autonomy, too. They have a great balance. The descriptions of their younger brother, Ethan, made me laugh, too. He felt like such an energetic character, even when he was just in the periphery of a scene.

The relationship between Grant and Ivy is great, too. They like each other from the start, but it didn’t feel too insta-love-y to me. Maybe because Ivy is so shy and takes so long to admit that she likes him and that he seems to like her, too. I liked the progression of the relationship and how they leaned on one another.

In terms of a summer romance, Joined at the Joints hits all the right notes. It’s sweet, thoughtful, and full of fun. Definitely a good one for a weekend read.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Ivy and Grant have juvenile idiopathic arthritis (rheumatoid arthritis). Ivy also has social anxiety. Ivy’s sister, Caroline, has celiac disease. Her mom has lupus. Caroline and Ivy join a support group for teens with chronic illnesses.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
F-bombs used infrequently. Strong profanity used somewhat infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violent Content
A baseball strikes a character, leaving an ugly bruise. Ivy experiences growing pain in her joints that becomes increasingly debilitating. Some references to ableist comments.

Drug Content
Just the drugs prescribed by Ivy’s doctor.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: Andy and the Summer of Something by Jessica Foster

Andy and the Summer of Something (Andy and the Extroverts #2)
Jessica Foster
Winding Road Stories
Published July 16, 2024

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About Andy and the Summer of Something

It’s been a year since Andy Stevens attended leadership camp and changed her whole perspective. Now, she’s back at camp Follow the Leader as a counselor with the optimistic goal of helping campers just like she was: timid, withdrawn, and in need of a confidence injection. She’s even brought along her new
boyfriend Eric.

But when she arrives to find Lucas from last summer in a matching counselor vest, her plans go up in campfire smoke. Lucas helps her to lead her wild pack of extroverted campers, but he has an ulterior motive: to rekindle their romance and win Andy back.

Now she’s torn between the boy who stole her heart and the boy who is trying to fix it.

My Review

There is nothing like a fabulous summer camp book to really make me feel like I’m living the best parts of summer. I loved getting to go back to Camp Follow the Leader with Andy and see all the ways she’s grown and changed since the first book.

I like that the girls in Andy’s cabin aren’t all the quiet, meek girls she expected to have. Instead, she winds up with assertive girls who talk over one another and barely stop to listen to her. This means she has to figure out how to lead in a way they respect and understand while challenging them to listen to one another.

I kept forgetting that some of the girls in Andy’s cabin were only a year younger than she was. For some reason, I kept picturing middle school kids and being surprised that they were high schoolers. I don’t know why I kept making that mistake– possibly I just expected an age gap. Andy was a camper the year before this book takes place, so it does make sense that the kids would be only one year younger.

Andy has some fun moments in which she is hilariously not self-aware. In one scene, she mentally pats herself on the back for being a great listener and immediately tunes out what the camp director is saying. As she navigates her feelings for Eric and Lucas, she runs into more than one moment in which others seem to recognize her feelings before Andy herself.

In the first book, I found Andy’s anxiety and introversion incredibly relatable. This time around, her difficulty understanding her own wants and feelings and her awkward leadership faux pas had me remembering feeling those exact same emotions and making very similar choices and mistakes.

This was a fun summer book. I loved getting to revisit the camp and getting to see Andy figure out where her heart would lead her.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Most major characters are white. One is Asian American. One character is Black. One minor character has panic attacks.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Strong profanity used very infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. One scene leads up to characters having sex, but doesn’t show it.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violent Content
Andy slaps a boy in the chest.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: Unbecoming by Seema Yasmin

Unbecoming
Seema Yasmin
Simon & Schuster
Published July 9, 2024

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About Unbecoming

Two Muslim teens in Texas fight for access to abortion while one harbors a painful secret in this funny and heartfelt near-future speculative novel perfect for fans of Unpregnant .

In a not-too-distant America, abortions are prosecuted and the right to choose is no longer an option. But best friends Laylah and Noor want to change the world. After graduating high school, they’ll become an OBGYN and a journalist, but in the meantime, they’re working on an illegal guide to abortion in Texas.

In response to the unfair laws, underground networks of clinics have sprung up, but the good fight has gotten even more precarious as it becomes harder to secure safe medication and supplies. Both Layla and Noor are passionate about getting their guide completed so it can help those in need, but Laylah treats their project with an urgency Noor doesn’t understand—that may have something to do with the strange goings-on between their mosque and a local politician.

Fighting for what they believe in may involve even more obstacles than they bargained for, but the two best friends will continue as they always together.

My Review

The book begins with a note from the author explaining that she began writing this story about a dystopian future in which girls and women could not access birth control or abortions before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. I don’t know how that change in the law impacted her journey writing the book, but I imagine there were some big, complicated feelings.

This was a hard book for me to read, but I think the author does an amazing job balancing the hard parts of the story with lighter parts, such as Laylah’s Bollywood blackouts. (I kind of wish there were more of those, honestly.) There are also lots of scenes showing baking and celebrating the joy of preparing and eating food together. The book also lifts up the power of support women offer other women. Most of the story’s central characters are female.

Unbecoming also shows the messy side of activism. It’s easy for anyone to believe claims that echo what we already believe to be true and to do harm by perpetuating unverified information. It’s also easy for us to reduce our understanding of people to one idea or one virtue/vice. And it’s easy amid fear and turmoil to forget that we need each other; we need community and a support network.

Though this story left me feeling more somber than many others I’ve read lately, I think it raises some really important questions and offers valuable insights about friendship, activism, and community.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 16 up.

Representation
Laylah and Noor are both Muslim. Noor is pansexual and in a relationship with a girl. Laylah’s little brother has Down Syndrome.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
F-bombs appear somewhat frequently with other profanity used here and there.

Romance/Sexual Content
References to sex. Kissing between girls.

Spiritual Content
Noor recalls attending events at the mosque and why she stopped going. Laylah is still connected to the mosque community and prays at different times of day.

Violent Content
References to the death penalty. References to police brutality against protestors.

Drug Content
Birth control and hormone therapy of any kind are outlawed in the book. Medications that cause an abortion or are used for IVF are also illegal.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Rockstar Book Tours Review: The Legendary Mo Seto by A. Y. Chan

The Legendary Mo Seto
A. Y. Chan
Publisher
Published June 4, 2024

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About Legendary Mo Seto

A fast-paced, high-kicking debut that’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets Stand Up, Yumi Chung as a young taekwondo artist uses an ancient book to help save her dreams—and her father.

Twelve-year-old Modesty “Mo” Seto dreams of being a taekwondo champion. Even though her mom disapproves, Mo can always count on her dad, who is her number one fan and biggest supporter. Lately, Mo has been on a losing streak, and it doesn’t help that she keeps losing to her archnemesis, Dax, who’s much bigger than her. If only she were faster, stronger, not so petite. Mo can’t even lean on her dad like usual with how distracted he’s been lately.

When Mo learns about the chance to audition to star alongside her idol and legendary martial artist and movie star Cody Kwok, she knows this her chance to prove to her dad, to the world, and to herself that she can compete with anyone, no matter her size. Unfortunately, Dax is auditioning, too. As Mo and her nemesis progress to callbacks, someone attempts to sabotage the movie set and Mo’s dad disappears—and both events seem linked to a mysterious book, the Book of Joy.

The book contains information on a secret dance-like martial art developed by Mo’s ancestral grandmother. Armed with these powerful moves and an unexpected ally, Mo embarks on a high-octane adventure to rescue her father, save the movie, and discover an unexpected joy in being small.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

My Review

Reading this book took me back to watching Jackie Chan movies back in the day. I loved the energy of the scenes showing martial arts sparring or competition. Mo is a great character, too. She has goofy, awkward moments, but she is also incredibly sincere and passionate about everything she does.

I liked the relationship she has with her mom. Really, she struggles to understand both of her parents and believes they don’t see her for who she is or don’t value her for the things about herself that she cherishes. As the story progresses, Mo’s understanding of her parents changes, and she begins to see them in different ways.

Her relationships with others evolve as well. Mo and Nacho cling to their close friendship even as sparks begin to fly between them. There are hints at a possible romance, but their feelings remain on the sidelines as Mo deals with more urgent problems like her missing dad and the audition sabotages.

This story has a lot of pep in its pages, making it a lot of fun to read. I think readers who enjoy books about martial arts, movie auditions, or exploring relationships with family and close friends will find lots of reasons to love this book.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.

Representation
Mo and her family are Chinese American. There are other characters whose families are from other parts of Asia.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
None.

Romance/Sexual Content
Mo and another character seem attracted to one another.

Spiritual Content
Mo begins to learn moves for a secret form of martial arts. When she executes the moves, she feels happy inside.

Violent Content
Situations of peril. Some scenes show Mo sparring with opponents. Someone sabotages the movie auditions in increasingly dangerous ways. Two people kidnap others. Mo fights people dressed in black.

Drug Content
None.

About A. Y. Chan

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

A. Y. Chan grew up in Canada’s Greater Toronto Area reading all the middle grade and young adult books she could get her hands on. To this day, those remain her favorite genres. After achieving her black belt in Taekwondo, she explored other martial arts, such as Wing Chun, Hapkido, and Muay Thai. These days, she continues her martial arts training some mornings, writes in the afternoons, takes long walks to muddle out plot points, and falls asleep reading.

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Review: The Ballad of Darcy and Russell by Morgan Matson

The Ballad of Darcy and Russell
Morgan Matson
Simon & Schuster
Published May 7, 2024

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About The Ballad of Darcy and Russell

Darcy believes in love at first sight. Even though it’s never happened to her, she’s spent her whole life waiting for that magical moment, hoping that when she meets the right guy, everything will fall into place perfectly.

But right now, her life is anything but perfect. Heading home from a music festival, engine trouble means she’s stranded at a Nevada bus station until morning. Even worse, it’s the day before she leaves for college, her phone is dead, and she has no cash. Darcy’s convinced nothing good can come of this night…but then she meets Russell. Cute, nice, funny, and kind, this is the guy—and the moment—she’s been waiting for. As they walk and talk, the two connect, and Darcy is able to put aside all her fears and doubts about the future to focus on this perfect guy.

Over the course of one fateful night, Darcy and Russell discover things they never imagined about each other and themselves. But can you really know someone after only a handful of hours? Is it possible to fall in love in less than day? Before they part, both their lives will be changed, and Darcy and Russell will have to decide if it’s worth saying hello when you know you’re destined for a goodbye.

My Review

Until this book, I’d never read anything by Morgan Matson, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The swoony storytelling reminds me a bit of Kasie West, but with a little bit more physical romance. The Ballad of Darcy and Russell features big, blended families and complicated relationships with parents as Darcy and Russell transition from high school to college.

The only part that really gave me pause in the story is near the beginning, when Darcy and Russell meet and leave the bus station together to look for a phone charger. If Darcy were my friend, I would have encouraged her not to leave the bus station with someone she’d never met, especially if she didn’t have the ability to use her cell phone. At first, I thought they left the bus station at night, but then I think it turned out to be late afternoon.

I wanted to enjoy the romance blossoming between Darcy and Russell, so I put all that aside as the story progressed. Their exchanges over puns and fun facts were cute and highlighted their well-suited relationship. The information reveals happened at great moments, and Darcy’s reaction made a lot of sense. Her response to unexpectedly meeting a large group of people made sense, too.

The descriptions of everyone hanging out together and the ease between them despite the nature of some of their relationships felt genuine. It made me want to hang out with a group like that. Those scenes really captured how inviting that crew was and how much Darcy longed for connections, even if she didn’t recognize it at first.

All in all, this was a fun summer romance. It’s exactly right for a beach or poolside afternoon.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
A few minor characters are BIPOC. Two girls (minor characters) are in a relationship. Lots of sets of twins mentioned or appearing in the book.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
A small number of F-bombs scattered throughout. No other swearing.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. A couple swims in their underwear and kisses. One scene shows a couple tumble into bed and then fades to black after clarifying that each partner checks in with the other and makes sure they’re okay at every phase of the encounter.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violent Content
References to a bus station in Vegas at night not being the safest place for a girl traveling alone.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: Ready or Not by Andi Porretta

Ready or Not
Andi Porretta
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Published July 2, 2024

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About Ready or Not

An anxious teen hopes that a summer of adventure and offbeat dares will keep her friend group together after graduation in this luminous coming-of-age graphic novel with the feel-good vibes of Booksmart and Morgan Matson’s Since You’ve Been Gone.

With senior year finally behind them, Cassie and her three best friends are on their way to what’s next. Like their parents, the crew has always been there’s Marcy, the artist, for whom style is self-expression and sarcasm is a love language; Aaron, the future lawyer, whose good humor balances out his competitive streak; Nico, the musician, whose flirtatiousness, obliviousness, and recent interest in a rising senior are becoming increasingly unbearable to Cassie; and of course, Cassie herself, the only one who doesn’t have her future all figured out.

This summer is their last chance to make memories together in New York City before everyone but Cassie scatters across the globe for college—and she’s determined to make the most of it. Her plan? They’ll spend August playing the game of dares and risks they invented as kids! From adventurous to outrageous, these dares will definitely make for an unforgettable summer. Even better, Cassie is hopeful they’ll help the group stay friends no matter what…because she is not ready for a future without them.

My Review

The tricky thing about this book is that it centers around four friends, who all appear in the opening pages. Because they appear before we learn their names, I found it a little hard to keep track of who was who. One of the things I really like, though, is that each character’s speech bubbles appear in a different color, which helps readers track who’s speaking even when they’re not on the page. (A lot of conversations happen via text message.)

Once the group agrees to play the game they call Risky Slips, the story starts to move more quickly, and I felt more connected to the characters. The four of them invented the game as kids. It involves tearing up a kids’ menu from the diner where Cass works. They each write dares on the slips of paper and put them into a cup. One by one, they draw a slip of paper with a dare on it. Then they have 24 hours to complete the dare or they’re out of the game.

It really energizes the group and gives them something to look forward to each day. This helps them celebrate the bond of their friendship and helps Cass push off her anxiety about the fall for a bit longer.

I enjoyed the connections between the characters. There are some great scenes that really show when someone feels hurt, and it goes unnoticed by the other person or there’s a miscommunication. The staging (if I can call it that) of the scenes is nicely done.

All in all, Ready or Not is a fun summer read, perfect for a sunny afternoon by the pool or at the beach.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Cass and her friends are a diverse group.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
A few F-bombs. Some strong profanity used somewhat infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between two boys. Kissing between a boy and girl.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violent Content
A girl slaps another girl across the face. A boy punches another boy. A girl says some cruel things to another girl. Someone steals a sign from a neighbor’s yard.

Drug Content
Teens drink alcohol. Brief reference to smoking.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.