Family Reads: A List of Cages by Robin Roe

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Born out of a desire to get a family of book lovers to connect more over what they’re reading, Family Reads is an occasional feature where my mom, dad or sister and I read and discuss a book.

Why we chose Robin Roe’s A List of Cages

A List of Cages

Somehow, this book ended up on Dad’s to-be-read shelf. We picked it because it was readily available at the library and because we had previously talked about reading more YA together.

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…

Our Discussion

Vague spoilers about the conclusion ahead.

What we liked best about A List of Cages is Adam and his friends – a bunch of good eggs. They reminded me more of my high school experience than most YA books I’ve read. I asked Dad if it was strange reading about a modern high school. Was it much different from his experience? He said not really – particular the cafeteria scenes felt familiar.

Adam and Julian narrate the story in alternating first person sections. Unlike other books we’ve read that take this approach, we found the voice of each character was well-distinguished from the other.

Reading about Julian’s experience was certainly heartbreaking at times – especially when we considered that there are real kids who are experiencing abuse like he does. I choked up at the parts where Julian tries to justify Russell’s behaviour, showing he doesn’t know how he’s been manipulated. Roe does an excellent job at showing how kids can come to feel like they deserve what their experiencing, how they can get trapped in an abusive situation.

The ending felt a little abrupt – suddenly, the story became very dramatic. There were tense and painful moments throughout the story, but the conclusion has a lot of fast action.

Final Thoughts

Dad has only read a couple YA novels in general and I had never read a book about a child abused by their guardian, so A List of Cages was a new reading experience for both of us. I wouldn’t have elected to read this book on my own – the subject matter is too sad – but the positive characters and support from friends that Julian receives makes it a good read.  Have you read A List of Cages?  What do you think about reading YA that tackles such real and painful subjects?

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Diversity Spotlight Thursday #3

Diversity Spotlight Thursday
Hosted by Aimal @ Bookshelves and Paperbacks

Read and Enjoyed: Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson

Monkey Beach by Eden RobinsonAs she races along Canada’s Douglas Channel in her speedboat—heading toward the place where her younger brother Jimmy, presumed drowned, was last seen—twenty-year-old Lisamarie Hill recalls her younger days. A volatile and precocious Native girl growing up in Kitamaat, the Haisla Indian reservation located five hundred miles north of Vancouver, Lisa came of age standing with her feet firmly planted in two different worlds: the spiritual realm of the Haisla and the sobering “real” world with its dangerous temptations of violence, drugs, and despair. From her beloved grandmother, Ma-ma-oo, she learned of tradition and magic; from her adored, Elvis-loving uncle Mick, a Native rights activist on a perilous course, she learned to see clearly, to speak her mind, and never to bow down. But the tragedies that have scarred her life and ultimately led her to these frigid waters cannot destroy her indomitable spirit, even though the ghosts that speak to her in the night warn her that the worst may be yet to come.

My original review | Goodreads | Monkey Beach is an own voices (Indigenous author – Haisla) novel by Eden Robinson, originally published in 2002. I loved the book’s atmosphere and the main character Lisa.

 Released but Not Yet Read: Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith

Twelve-year-old Hoodoo Hatcher was born into a family with a rich tradition of practicing folk magic: hoodoo, as most people call it. But even though his name is Hoodoo, he can’t seem to cast a simple spell.        Then a mysterious man called the Stranger comes to town, and Hoodoo starts dreaming of the dead rising from their graves. Even worse, he soon learns the Stranger is looking for a boy. Not just any boy. A boy named Hoodoo. The entire town is at risk from the Stranger’s black magic, and only Hoodoo can defeat him. He’ll just need to learn how to conjure first. Set amid the swamps, red soil, and sweltering heat of small town Alabama in the 1930s, Hoodoo is infused with a big dose of creepiness leavened with gentle humor….

Goodreads | I added Ronald L. Smith’s two books to my TBR because they promise some solid middle grade creepiness.

Not Yet Released: The Red Threads of Fortune by J.Y. Yang

The Red Threads of FortuneFallen prophet, master of the elements, and daughter of the supreme Protector, Sanao Mokoya has abandoned the life that once bound her. Once her visions shaped the lives of citizens across the land, but no matter what tragedy Mokoya foresaw, she could never reshape the future. Broken by the loss of her young daughter, she now hunts deadly, sky-obscuring naga in the harsh outer reaches of the kingdom with packs of dinosaurs at her side, far from everything she used to love.

On the trail of a massive naga that threatens the rebellious mining city of Bataanar, Mokoya meets the mysterious and alluring Rider. But all is not as it seems: the beast they both hunt harbors a secret that could ignite war throughout the Protectorate. As she is drawn into a conspiracy of magic and betrayal, Mokoya must come to terms with her extraordinary and dangerous gifts, or risk losing the little she has left to hold dear.

Goodreads | This book is “one of a pair of unique, standalone introductions to JY Yang’s Tensorate Series”.  Added because it’s a non-Western fantasy with trans and queer characters, written by a non-binary Singaporean author.

What books would you select for Diversity Spotlight Thursday? Leave a link in the comment if you’ve already written about it!
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Review: Bannerless Doesn’t Live Up to its Premise

Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn

BannerlessFormat/Source: eBook/Netgalley
Published: 11 July 2017
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Post-apocalypse/Mystery
Rating:
GoodReads Indigo | IndieBound | Wordery
I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Decades after economic and environmental collapse destroys much of civilization in the United States, the Coast Road region isn’t just surviving but thriving by some accounts, building something new on the ruins of what came before. A culture of population control has developed in which people, organized into households, must earn the children they bear by proving they can take care of them and are awarded symbolic banners to demonstrate this privilege. In the meantime, birth control is mandatory.  Enid of Haven is an Investigator, called on to mediate disputes and examine transgressions against the community. She’s young for the job and hasn’t yet handled a serious case. Now, though, a suspicious death requires her attention. The victim was an outcast, but might someone have taken dislike a step further and murdered him?  In a world defined by the disasters that happened a century before, the past is always present. But this investigation may reveal the cracks in Enid’s world and make her question what she really stands for.

I went into this book hoping for some clever literary fiction exploring questions of population management, bodily autonomy, and maybe some critiquing of environmental and economic policies. I hoped the murder mystery would take a back seat, functioning as frame for those questions. Unfortunately, Bannerless falls short in all those areas. Bannerless instead tells a simple coming of age tale and murder mystery, neither of which are particularly compelling.

The first thing about this book that stood out to me was the repetitive and self-explanatory prose. One aspect that particularly grated on me was the hammering on about how investigators are feared, terrible, powerful. Their brown uniforms symbolize of something awful, but who knows what. We’re told numerous times that the average person disdains investigators, yet the narration never shows why. I don’t like being told something over and over with no evidence. Perhaps its because investigators enforce rules that people don’t like? But we’re never shown effects of that – the system that most people live by functions well and we don’t see or hear about an investigator ruining someone’s life. (One person has an outburst about a household that was split up because an investigator discovered they were doing something illegal, but that has no connection to this story.)

Another related issue I had with the prose is that many sentences felt unnecessary, in that they told me something I could have inferred from the dialogue. It was an odd case of telling instead of showing – at times, the telling happened in addition to the showing. One chapter contains five instances of glaring, by the same two characters. In general, the prose reads amateurish and undeveloped.

This critique about the investigators ties into my main issue with the novel. Where is the dystopia? How does the investigation “reveal the cracks in Enid’s world and make her question what she really stands for”? Enid doesn’t seem to question her role as the blurb hints. The story doesn’t convincingly portray birth/population control as a negative thing, which, given the book’s dystopic tropes, I would assume is the goal. There’s talk of how children born bannerless (i.e. their parents didn’t have a banner and thus shouldn’t have had a child) are discriminated against. Enid encounters people living outside the households and banners structure, but they live desperate lives which enforces Enid’s belief in the banner system (not that she ever questioned the system). Based on what happens in the novel, I support the banner system, which ensures  if you can support a child, then you can have one. Wouldn’t that be the case in an ideal world? That everyone who has a child can support that child? Of course, that’s a simplistic view that should open the door for a more complex exploration of bodily autonomy and other concepts, but Bannerless makes no room for such an exploration.

It occurs to me now perhaps the story is more complex than I’m giving it credit for. Maybe it really is advocating this method of population control, or just trying to start that discussion by showing a positive side of population control. Yet I still feel that the story would have been improved by a more nuanced exploration of the various sides of that discussion. Plus, the book is being marketed as a dystopia so I’m not sure what what Enid was supposed to discover as she investigated the murder.

The story follows two threads – Enid as a teen travelling with musician Dak and Enid as a twenty-something investigating a murder. The murder mystery itself is simple and predictable, and thus pretty boring. The investigation is blah. Enid tries to talk to people, they don’t want to talk to her. She eventually figures it out. Hooray. I did like teen Enid, despite her slow story. She follows her own path. She makes the decision to travel with Dak and she makes the decision to leave him.

The Bottom Line:

Bannerless has the premise of a fascinating story, but the weak plot and dull storytelling make Bannerless one you can skip.

Further Reading:

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2017 Mid-Year Check In

2017 Mid-Year Check InTime for my 2017 mid-year check in. The year’s been clipping along nicely, hasn’t it? Somehow I’ve managed to keep a good handle on my reading and blogging for this first half of the year! I suspect my habits will change when I start an MLIS programme in the fall. I have not modified my goals to reflect the change in lifestyle. We’ll see how it plays out. I will likely take a hiatus in August or September, depending on how many posts I can scheduled ahead. Now let’s take a look at my 2017 personal reading goals (progress on official challenges is documented here).

Personal Reading Goals

  • 54/100 books read – Four books ahead! (At of time of writing on 4 July). I have been at or ahead of my goal for most of this year. I intend to keep ahead until September. After that, no promises…
  • 3/6 books by Indigenous Canadians  – On track. Doesn’t include the Indigenous graphic novel (Will I See?) I read and reviewed.
  • 1/4 books about Japanese spirituality   This goal needs some work. I just blazed through Japanese Pilgrimage last weekend, which reignited my interest in reading about the Shikoku Henro.
  • 3/5 books about/by J.R.R. Tolkien (not including re-reads) – Not bad! I should reach six.
  • Read more picture books and graphic novels (esp. ones people assume I’ve already read…) – Hurrah, I have been doing this! I started reading a manga series (A Silent Voice). I have read all the picture books on my TBR. I noticed I’d been slacking on this goal a bit in the past few months. I’ve been making an effort to pick it up this month. I should especially pick up more graphic novels.

These last three goals have been a bit of wishful thinking…I’m surprised at how much contemporary middle grade I’ve been reading! I will attempt to keep these goals in mind moving forward, but unlike the goals above, I’m not too concerned about pursuing them. I’ll read what I want to read.

  • Read more classic middle grade and speculative fiction middle grade 
  • Read more non-fiction
  • Reread more!

Blogging

I didn’t set any specific blogging goals this year. In the back of my mind, however, I’ve still been aiming for at minimum 8 posts/month, with ideally 2 posts/week (one review, one other). At least I’ve been making the minimum goal! (if you average it out, haha.) I have been putting more effort into book photography and graphics. I’ve also been finding a lot of inspiration from other bloggers for non-review posts. June ended up being a bit heavy on that front. I will try to get the balance right (♫ get the balance riiiiiiiight, whoo Depeche Mode ♫) in the upcoming months.

Ratings Recap

I have done an informal review of the 50 books I read this year,  but I’d still like to take a closer look at Goodreads ratings (as I have in past years). This helps me keep an eye on quality (as opposed to just quantity, which my goals above measure). I have an inkling that the reading’s been particularly good this year. My general goal is to increase the number of 4 and 5 star reads and decrease the number of 3, 2, and 1 star reads – thus improving the over quality of my reading.

  • I’ve read 12 ★★★★★ books.
    • Compared to last year: +4, and doesn’t include any rereads (four 5 star books in 2016 were rereads).
  • I’ve read 31 ★★★★ books.
    • Compared to last year: +12
  • I’ve read 8 ★★★ books.
    • Compared to last year: -1
  • I’ve read 2 ★★ books.
    • Compared to last year: -1
  • I’ve read 0 ★ book.
    • Compared to last year: -1

Not bad!! I’m very pleased with those numbers. I think I’m getting the hang of picking better books (I may also be a little more generous with my 5 and 4 stars than I’ve been in the past…). 2017 is turning out to be a great reading year. Compiling a best of at year end will be difficult. How is your reading going this year? Are you keeping up with any challenges, goals or resolutions?

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June 2017 Month in Review

June 2017 month in review

This post is linked up at the Monthly Round-Up Wrap-Up @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction.

Is summer here yet? The season has been slow to arrive where I live. But if the weather forecast can be relied on, then I should only have to wait a few more days! I finished work on 23 June and move in mid August. In the meantime I’m want to enjoy my last few weeks here as best as I can. This means as maximizing lake time, biking to the library and, in a couple weeks, attending lots of Fringe shows. I’m also going on a four day camping trip with my best friend to a national park I enjoyed as a kid. As for blogging goals, since we’re halfway through the year, I’ll have a post up in a couple days for a check in of my overall yearly progress. June overall was a good month for posts and books read.

Books Finished

  1. The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods
  2. The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell
  3. Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
  4. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild
  5. Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
  6. Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa
  7. When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore
  8. Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee
  9. Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn

Books Reviewed

Features

Shared on Twitter

Upcoming in July

The Library of FatesBannerless

  • 11 July – Publication of Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn (post-apocalyptic story in which households have to earn a banner, giving them the right to have a child. Sneak preview of my forthcoming review: don’t bother with this one.)
  • 18 July – Publication of The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana (“A romantic coming-of-age fantasy tale steeped in Indian folklore […]” I’m willing to ignore that romantic bit because the cover is so gorgeous.)

How was your June? What July events or releases should I check out this month? 

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