Wrapping Up 2016, Looking Forward 2017

Welcome to my seventh annual ‘Wrapping Up, Looking Forward’ post. In this post, I like to take a general look back at how I did with my goals in 2016, and set some new goals for 2017.

I posted 62 times. This number falls just two short of my goal of 64. Although I didn’t follow the schedule I had dreamed of (8 posts/month, one review/week), I am satisfied with the posts I did write. I’m going to keep this goal – min. 8 posts/week, including one review or brief thoughts.

I read 114 books, smashing my goal of 84. My success can be largely credited to my participation in the Cybils as a round one judge for middle grade fiction. I believe this is the first time I’ve read 100+ books in a year. When I started 2016, I set my reading goal with the expectation that I would read very little during my four months of travel in New Zealand. I actually read 29 books while travelling. Most of the books I read were whatever my hosts happened to have lying around. Between travelling and Cybils, I had just four months to freely read and borrow from the library whatever I felt like. I am looking forward to taking charge of my reading choices in 2017. Hopefully I will make a better dent in my TBR list!

 

2016 Reading Challenge

2016 Reading Challenge
Jenna has
read 63 books toward
their goal of
84 books.
hide

I didn’t make my reading challenges a priority during the middle part of the year, when I had ample reading time and no other obligations. Thus my poor performance . I am less bitter about this than last year, though, as travelling Middle-Earth and participating in the Cybils were wonderful experiences that I was happy to prioritize over reading. I started to recap my challenges, but the numbers are so low, best to pretend I just didn’t have any. Instead let’s move right on to my personal challenges for 2017! 😀 I have three goals with specific numbers, but also a number of undefined goals (i.e. read more than in 2016).

  • 6 books by Indigenous Canadians
  • 4 books about Japanese spirituality
  • 5 books about/by J.R.R. Tolkien (not including re-reads)
  • Read more picture books and graphic novels (esp. ones people assume I’ve already read…)
  • Read more classic middle grade and speculative fiction middle grade
  • Read more non-fiction
  • Reread more!

This year, I also want to participate in some ‘official’ challenges. I don’t have any specific goals, but I hope these challenges will help me expand my reading horizons. Diversity Bingo originated on Twitter. Naz @ Read Diverse Books is hosting a reviewing diverse books challenge that complements the bingo. I found another bingo (apparently I like concept of bookish bingos) for Canadian literature, which feels especially appropriate given that it’s Canada’s 150th anniversary this year. This one is hosted in the Goodreads group Canadian Content.

Read Diverse 2017

2017 Canadian literature bingoDiversity Bingo 2017

That’s it for my 2017 goals! I may adopt additional challenges throughout the year. I haven’t yet planned to participate in any events, but I’m sure I will. Now that I have a couple years of book blogging under my belt, I don’t feel the need to plan out my year in much detail. I think I know enough to wing it 😛 How was your 2016 reading year? What goals or challenges are you undertaking in 2017?

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Cybils 2016 Finalists

Cybils 2016

I am excited to share that Cybils 2016 (Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards) finalists have been announced! From October to December, I served on a panel of five judges who read through the 100+ nominees in the middle grade fiction category. I had a great time discussing books with Karen, Sarah, Mindy, and Ryan. We had a lot of strong books to choose from this year. Without further ado, here are the middle grade finalists and a few of my thoughts on each:

Slacker by Gordon kormanMs. Bixby's Last Day

Full of Beans by Jennifer HolmSome Kind of Happiness In the Footsteps of Crazy HorseGhost by Jason Reynolds

  • Slacker by Gordon Korman – Slacker is Korman in his element, writing a hilarious tale about Cameron, who just wants to play video games. He creates a fake school club (the Positive Action Group) to convince his parents that he’s participating in extracurricular activities. His plan backfires as other students become interested in joining the club. I grew up reading old editions of the Macdonald Hall books, so it felt a little strange for me to read a Korman book where kids are playing PC games and using cell phones. Regardless of the time period, Slacker is classic Korman.
  • Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan – Check out my Family Reads post on this one.
  • Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson – A humorous yet moving story about three students who plan a special day for their favourite teacher, who has an aggressive form of cancer. Narrated in alternating chapters from the perspectives of the three boys, the reader learns about the friendship between the boys and why Ms. Bixby was such an important teacher to each of them.
  • In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall III – Jimmy McLean, a Lakota boy, undertakes a road trip with his grandfather. They visit historical locations with connection to Crazy Horse. As they travel, Jimmy’s grandfather tells him stories about Crazy Horse (which sometimes differ from the official White versions of the history). This is a great story about an important Indigenous historical figure, grandson-grandfather relationships, Indigenous identity, and American history.
  • Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand – I would have loved this book as a kid. Finley has depression and anxiety, but she doesn’t know that. When she has to spend the summer at her grandparents house with a bunch of family she’s never met, she takes to writing fantasy stories about the woods around the home. What’s the story behind the burned out home in the forest? Some Kind of Happiness deals beautifully with the struggles of mental illness that some children face.
  • Full of Beans by Jennifer Holm – My first impression of this book was “historical fiction for kids as it should be”. Set in 1934 Key West, Florida, money is short and Beans Curry (marbles champion) wants to help his mother out. He strikes up a working deal with a local smuggler. What could go wrong? A fun tale with a unique setting.
  • Ghost by Jason Reynolds – I have never been a reader of ‘sports book’, but here is a book that will appeal to sports fan and non-fans alike – even if the feature sport is track. Ghosts is a story about a kid finding something he loves doing, and learning how to push himself and be better. This is the first book I’ve read by Reynolds. Now I can see his appeal!

You can read more about each book in blurbs written by my fellow panelists on the Cybils website. The awards process will now move onto round two, where another group of judges will select a single winner from this shortlist. Winners will be announced on February 14. I think these are all excellent books and I’m glad I didn’t have to choose just one! There are 12 other categories (including picture books, young adult, and audiobooks) so be sure to check those out too.

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End of Year Book Survey

2016 End of Year Book SurveyHosted by Jamie @ Perpetual Page Turner, I like how this survey delves into the specifics of books read. I did remove some of the questions that don’t apply to me, so be sure to visit the original post if you’d like to complete the survey. My annual overview will go live on January 2nd as I want to wait until the Cybils shortlist is announced.

2016 Reading Stats

    • Number of books read – 114. I smashed through my goal of 84 (largely due to my role as Cybils round one panelist). I’ve also never read 100+ books in a year. So proud of myself~
    • Number of re-reads – 5 (White is for Witching, A Darker Shade of Magic, Charlotte’s Web, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, The Lost Flower Children)
    • Genre you read the most from – I don’t keep track by genre, so here’s the middle grade/young adult/adult/non-fiction split: 56 (49%) MG, 12 (11%) young adult, 27 (24%) adult, 19 (17%) non-fiction. I read more non-fiction than I thought, and less ‘adult’ than I had initially planned.

Best in Books

    • Best books read in 2016 – Last year I broke this down by genre. This year I’m just going to pick a bunch 😛
      1. Uprooted by Naomi Novik (fantasy)
      2. The Witches of New York by Ami McKay (magical realism/historical fiction)
      3. The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (middle grade fantasy)
      4. George by Alex Gino (middle grade contemporary)
      5. What is Not Yours is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi (short stories)
      6. Solving the Procrastination Puzzle by Timothy Pychyl (non-fiction)
      7. The North Water by Ian McGuire (historical fiction)
      8. The Ice Master by Jennifer Niven (non-fiction)
    • Book you were excited about and thought you were going to love more but didn’t – The Shadow of the Wind. Totally fell flat for me. Wasn’t really what I was expecting/hoping for.
    • Most surprising book read –  I enjoyed Allie, First at Last, a lot more than I expected (nominee for the Cybils middle grade fiction).
    • Favourite author discoveredKelly Barnhill. Looking forward to more of her middle grade fantasy!
    • Best book from a genre you don’t typically readThe North Water
      is from a genre that I sometimes enjoy (historical fiction) but it was hyper-masculine, which is not something I typically look for in my books.
    • Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable bookScythe is the newest release from Neal Shusterman, one of my favourite authors. There’s something about his prose that makes me want to blaze through his work.
    • Most likely to reread next yearUprooted by Naomi Novik
    • Favourite cover – I read a lot of books with great covers this year. My instinct answers The North Water, The Witches of New York, and Two Naomis.
      Cover of The Witches of New YorkCover of Two Naomis
    • Most memorable character – Eleanor St. Clair from The Witches of New York. I love all the ladies in this book, but Eleanor struck me as someone I would connect with.
    • Most beautifully written – I can actually think of a few different books that could be described as beautifully written this year. The girl Who Drank the Moon probably tops the list.
    • Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2016 to finally read – I started The Silmarillion…
    • Shortest bookFantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl (96 pages)
    • Longest bookThe LotR aside, A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab (509 pages)
    • Most shocking bookThe North Water for its graphic descriptions
    • OTP of the year (you will go down with this ship!) – Don’t really have one this year. Perhaps Adelaide and Dr. Brody in The Witches of New York.
    • Favourite non-romantic relationship – Also have to go with The Witches of New York for the camraderie between Adelaide, Eleanor, and Beatrice.
    • Favourite book read by an author you read previouslyWhat Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
    • Best book read based solely on a recommendation from somebody else/peer pressure –  The Girl Who Drank the Moon. I believe I read this after reading Briana’s review.
    • Newest fictional crush – Dr. Brody from The Witches of New York. What a gentleman! *-*
      Best 2016 debut  A Song to Take the World Apart by Zan Romanoff (I think it’s the only 2016 debut I read…)
    • Best world-buildingScythe. I always enjoy how Neal Shusterman works world-building into his novel, especially how he modifies language.
    • Most fun to read Insert Coin to Continue by John David Anderson. Boy wakes up one day to find his life now resembles a video game.
    • Book that made you cry – Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by, coincidentally, John David Anderson. That epilogue!!
    • Hidden gem – Based on a low number of Goodreads ratings (110), The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw

      Your Bookish Life

    • New favourite book blog discovered – I will pick the one that was mostly recently updated at the time of drafting this post and go with Les Reveries de Rowena.
    • Favourite review on your blogThe Evolution of Alice by David Robertson
    • Best event that you participated in (real or virtual) – Attending bookish panels at NerdCon: Stories, including one on mental health in YA literature.
    • Best moment of bookish/blogging life – How about meeting picture book illustrator/author Jon Klassen with my best friend of the same name? That was an excellent moment.

    • Most challenging thing about blogging/reading life – Maintaining a regular blogging schedule when the rest of my life doesn’t have a regular schedule.
    • Post you wished got a little more love6 Books on Dying in Modern Times
    • Completion of challenges/goals – Well. Nevermind that haha. (More on completion of goals in my January 2 post).

Looking Ahead

  • Book you are most anticipating (debut)The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • Book you are most anticipating (sequel) A Conjuring of Light (ADSOM conclusion) by V.E. Schwab
  • One book you didn’t get to in 2016 but will make a priority in 2017 – Don’t want to break with tradition, so I have to say  Tolkien on Fairy Stories 
  • Book you are most anticipating (non-debut)Borne by Jeff Vandermeer
  • One goal for your reading/blogging life –I’ll post more about goals in a couple days, but I would love to read 100+ again next year.
  • 2017 release you’ve read and recommend – I have three ARCs of 2017 releases that I haven’t read yet…I’m most looking forward to Minds of Winter by Ed O’Loughlin.

And that’s a wrap on 2016! I finished off the reading year with White is for Witching, my favourite book. Now I’m off to a New Year’s Eve dinner and party. See you all on the other side 🙂

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Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

The Girl Who Drank the MoonAuthor: Kelly Barnhill
Title: The Girl Who Drank the Moon
Format/Source: Hardcover/Library
Published: August 2016
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Length: 388 pages
Genre: Middle grade fantasy
Why I Read: Liked the description
Rating: ★★★★
GoodReads | IndieBound | Indigo | The Book Depository

 

This is going to be one of those ‘reviews’ where I just gush about what I love without much critical thinking. The Girl Who Drank the Moon is my favourite kind of middle grade fantasy. In fact, it’s pretty much my favourite kind of any book. I had an easy time brainstorming why reasons why I liked this book. In no particular order:

  • Adult characters with a young female protagonist
  • Misunderstandings between good people that are reasonably resolved
  • A curmudgeonly yet caring creature who is more significant than he appears (but it doesn’t really matter)
  • A young child fulfilling a ‘destiny’/coming into their own
  • A twist on a dragon!
  • An isolated forest setting
  • An unusual feature of the landscape (volcano)
  • A woman fighting for her child
  • Straightforward but evocative fairy tale prose that feels like it was written just for me

The only truly safe passage across the forest for an ordinary person was the Road, which wa ssituated on a naturally raised seam of rock that had smoothed over time. The Road didn’t alter or shift; it never grumbled. Unfortunately, it was owned and operated by a gang of thugs and bullies from the Protectorates. Xan never took the Road. She couldn’t abide thugs. Or bullies. And anyway, they charged too much. Or they did, last time she checked. It had been years since she had gone near it – many centuries now. She made her own way instead, using a combination of magic and know-how and common sense. (19)

  • Simple yet structured and creative magic system
  • Short interludes of a mother telling bedtime stories
  • A sweet loving old lady (bonus for being a witch)
  • A forgotten/confused past that slowly comes to light
  • Bonus: A lovely cover and a title following the structure of ‘The [Noun] Who [Did Thing]’

Need I say more? By now you can probably tell if this is the sort of book you’ll love or hate. This was one of my favourite reads of the year. It reminded me of some of my childhood favourites (Inkdeath and Into the Land of the Unicorn come immediately to mind).

Some reviews on Goodreads (1 | 2) commented on its suitability as middle grade.  Generally when I review books here I’m doing it for my own personal enjoyment and recommending to people in a similar position as me (i.e. adults not children). Are there some parts of this book that could be consider too ‘grown up’ or ‘boring’ or ‘political for middle schoolers? Perhaps, yet that’s the sort of story I enjoyed as a child and it’s still the sort of story I enjoy now. As I apply to grad school for pursue my dream of becoming a librarian, I wonder if I should shift perspective in my reviews – to reviewing books for their intended audience, rather than for my own personal enjoyment. For now, this blog remains a personal hobby and I think I will keep it that way for a little while longer. But that’s really a topic for another post!

The Bottom Line:

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a beautifully written tale, with elements that add up to make it my favourite kind of fantasy story. I hope you will enjoy the adventures of Luna, Xan, Antain and the others as much as I did.

Further Reading:

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Family Reads: Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan

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 Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan’s Save Me a Seat

Ash (my sister) and I had originally chosen The Queen of Blood for this month’s Family Reads. She tried reading it for a few weeks and couldn’t get into it. I suggested she choose a book from my Cybils reading stack instead. She chose Save Me a Seat because it sounded cute.

Joe and Ravi might be from very different places, but they’re both stuck in the same place: SCHOOL.

Joe’s lived in the same town all his life, and was doing just fine until his best friends moved away and left him on his own.

Ravi’s family just moved to America from India, and he’s finding it pretty hard to figure out where he fits in.

Joe and Ravi don’t think they have anything in common — but soon enough they have a common enemy (the biggest bully in their class) and a common mission: to take control of their lives over the course of a single crazy week.

Our Discussion

The authors write in first person, alternating chapters between Ravi and Joe. We have both had bad experiences with co-authored novels, but Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan have struck the right balance in Save Me a Seat. A reader might assume that Weeks wrote Joe’s chapters and Varadarajan wrote Ravi’s chapters. Though each boy has their own voice, the writing styles don’t differ hugely between them. The chapters flow nicely from one to the next. We both prefer this type of co-authoring (where you can’t especially tell who wrote what, and the style remains consistent throughout the book).

We both appreciated how realistic the story seemed. According to the author bios in the book, Weeks  was “born and raised in the United States […] and teaches in [an] MFA program in NYC”, while Varadarajan was “born and raised in India […] and now teaches second grade in Princeton, New Jersey.” Does that qualify this book as an own voices narrative? Ash and I think that it is at least safe to guess that the authors’ own experiences have informed their writing. Ash especially pointed out the frustration Ravi experiences when people cannot correctly pronounce his first name (rah-VEE, not RAH-vee), let alone his last name (Suryanarayanan). One might imagine Gita Varadarajan has encountered similar experiences.

Accents

I asked Ash if she ‘heard’ Ravi’s voice in an Indian accent. She said that she didn’t; that she never hears characters unique voices – it’s always just that ‘voice in her head’. I asked her that question because, although it’s usually the same for me (no differentiation in character voices), I actually did hear Ravi’s voice with an Indian accent. I wondered if this was because I’d  been tutoring an Indian student for about 10 hours a week and I was more ‘in tune’ to the accent. His voice was very clear in my head when I started reading. Some features of Ravi’s language that I noticed were the use of continuous tense (ex. “am playing”, “will be going”) and a slightly more formal vocabulary. After awhile, though, I stopped hearing his accent and he settled into my generic middle grade voice.

I note this observation because one of Ravi’s challenges throughout the book is that (apparently) nobody can understand his accent. When I finished the story, however, I started to think that was an assumption made by his teachers and friends. They weren’t really listening to him; they just assumed they couldn’t understand what he was saying because he had an accent.

Storyline

Joe and Ravi do not really interact throughout the story. This surprised me, as I imagined the book follow a structure of them directly arguing and fighting in the first part, then begrudgingly teaming up to take down the bully in the second half. Ash expected Joe and Ravi would defeat the bully in a stereotypical or negative way (ex. he would turn out to be a misunderstood new friend or they would bully him back). We liked how the alternating perspectives revealed how Joe and Ravi misunderstood each other (and other characters), and how they learnt about the problems with making assumptions. Overall, we enjoyed the plot of the novel, and we were happy with the conclusion.

Reading and Recommending Middle Grade

Ash doesn’t usually read middle grade. At the start of our discussion, she asked if she is judging the book for herself, or for other people (children or adults) who might read it. I explained that I generally evaluate a book for how it satisfied my taste, while making some general comments about aspects that other readers may or may not enjoy. At the end of our discussion I returned to this point, asking Ash if she thought this would be a good read for the intended audience (children 8 to 12 years old). She said, “A lot of the things I said I like will apply, I think, to kids as well and other adults. Especially in our current culture where there is a lot of immigration and many ESL learners in classrooms. The story is cute and interesting, not cliched.

Final Thoughts

We liked a few other components of this book. Non-English words are not italicized. “Ravi’s Glossary” (ex. tennikoit, Ovaltine) and “Joe’s Glossary” (ex. index card, tofu) can be found in the back. There are also two recipes – one for the cookies Ravi brings his teacher and one for apple crisp. Finally, Ash pointed out that the title (Save Me a Seat) can refer to the story’s conclusion, creating a full circle from the cover to the last page.

Save Me a Seat impressed us both with its storyline and well-written characters. Have you read Save Me a Seat or any similar middle grade books? What do you think about co-authored books? 
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