February Month in Review

February Month in Review

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

February posed a challenge when it came to staying on top of reading and blogging. I was travelling and offline for seven days of that short month. Plus, I found myself a full time job! ūüôā I am now working as an educational assistant in my local school division. Even with all the distractions, my posting goal didn’t suffer too much (only one post short). My reading goal took more of a hit. I’m currently 3 books behind. I plan on making up for February’s lost time¬†with some middle grade and some (hopefully) unputdownable reads!

Books Finished

  • When the Sea Turned to Silver¬†by Grace Lin
  • Neverhome¬†by Laird Hunt
  • The Uncommon Reader¬†by Alan Bennett
  • Shadowshaper¬†by Daniel Jose Older
  • The Bear and the Nightingale¬†by Katherine Arden

Books Reviewed

  • Middle Grade feat. Animals (from the Cybils middle-grade fiction nominees):
    • Pandas on the Eastside¬†by Gabrielle Prendergast
    • When Friendship Followed Me Home¬†by Paul Griffin
    • Wish¬†by Barbara O’Connor
    • The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs¬†by Cylin Busby
  • You Will Not Have My Hate¬†by Antoine Leiris
  • When the Sea Turned to Silver¬†by Grace Lin
  • Middle Grade feat.¬†Multiple Narrators¬†(from tje Cybils middle-grade fiction nominees):
    • Two Naomis¬†by¬†Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and¬†Audrey Vernick
    • Ms. Bixby’s Last Day¬†by John David Anderson
    • Slacker¬†by Gordon Korman
  • Son of a Trickster¬†by Eden Robinson

Words and Pictures

  • A Silent Voice Vol. 1A Silent Voice Vol. 1¬†by Yoshitoki Ooima – It’s been a long time since I read manga. I checked out this series¬†on Neko Neha‘s recommendation. The first volume depicts what unfolds¬†when Shoko, a girl who is deaf, enters a six grade classroom and becomes¬†the bullying target of Shoya, the narrator. I taught sixth grade occasionally when I was in Japan. The students were generally on their best behaviour for me (I think because my time in their classroom was rare) so I didn’t see any bullying. Of course, I know¬†bullying like what’s¬†depicted in this volume occurs, as I heard tragic stories about 12 year olds committing suicide and schools refusing to discuss it, let alone acknowledge that bullying was probably a significant factor. Bullying is one issue. The treatment of students with disabilities is a whole nother one. Suffice it to say they are often more stigmatized than in western society. So,¬†A Silent Voice¬†begins as a sad story, but one that is important to share, especially in Japanese society. Vol. 1 reads a bit like a prologue. The rest of the series fast-forwards six years to Shoya trying to make amends with Shoko. I’m curious to see how that will pan out, so I will keep reading this series!

Features

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Upcoming in March

Star-Crossed The Beast is an AnimalAmina's Voice

  • 7 Mar – Publication of¬†The Beast is an Animal¬†by Peternelle van Arnsdale (YA dark fairy tale)
  • 14 Mar –¬†Publication of¬†Star-Crossed¬†by Barbara Dee (MG featuring a protagonist who learns about her bisexuality after developing a crush on girl at school during a production of Romeo and Juliet) and¬†Amina’s Voice¬†by Hena Khan (MG contemporary about a Pakistani-American girl navigating her identity)
  • 14 Mar – Local launch of¬†Will I See? by David Alexander Robertson, GMB Chomichuk, and Iskwe (graphic novel about missing and murdered Indigenous women).
  • 20 Mar¬†– Start of Pages Unbound‘s 2017 Tolkien Reading Event
  • 25 Mar¬†– “All Who Wander”, an evening of¬†dramatic readings and a capella renditions of music from¬†The Lord of the Rings.
  • 28 Mar –¬†Publication of¬†Radio Silence¬†by Alice Osman (YA contemporary LGBTQA+ diverse characters and a male-female friendship(!)) and¬†Triangle¬†by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen (picture book by an excellent duo)

February whirled by for me! How was your month? Did you read any great books?

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Review: Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose OlderAuthor: Daniel José Older
Title: Shadowshaper (Book 1)
Format/Source: Hardcover/Library
Published: June 2015
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine
Length: 297 pages
Genre: YA urban fantasy
Why I Read: Heard DJO reading
Rating: ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ
GoodReads | Indigo | Indiebound | Book Depository

I don’t read urban fantasy. That was my main reason for not checking out¬†Shadowshaper. I could see why people would like it, but despite the awesome cover¬†and the positive reviews, the premise didn’t catch my interested. Then I attended NerdCon. Daniel Jos√© Older read from¬†Shadowshaper. His vivid¬†reading convinced me to finally check out his book.

Sierra Santiago, the Afro-Latinx (Puerto Rican) teen discovering her¬†shadowshaping abilities, shines as the protagonist. She’s my favourite part of¬†the book. Here are some reasons why: On the first page, she’s painting a mural of a dragon on the side of an abandoned building. I love that she¬†doesn’t hesitate to call out Robbie (her crush and¬†guide to the world of shadowshaping) when he’s not making sense. Robbie’s not the only one Sierra calls out. I was cheering for her in the scene where she shuts down her aunt. Sierra has to deal with too real situations of racism and sexism. She takes ownership of her power. She’s confident in her own skin. She steps up for her friends even when she’s afraid.¬†I can see Sierra inspiring a lot of young women.

“You ever look at those old family albums Mom keeps around?” Sierra went on. “We ain’t white. And you shaming everyone and looking down your nose because you can’t even look in the mirror isn’t gonna change that. And neither is me marrying someone paler than me. And I’m glad! I love my hair. I love my skin. I didn’t ask your opinion about my life and I don’t wanna hear it. Not now, not ever.” (151-152)

If Sierra’s my favourite part of Shadowshaper, Older’s world building comes in a close second. He fuses his magical world of shadowshaping with the real world of Brooklyn in such a way that his story reads true. Shadowshaping (the ability to bring one’s art to life by channeling spirits through it) is a pretty cool concept.¬†Older has created a fast-paced and action-filled story by providing just the right amount of information on shadowshaping¬†– no info dumping or leaving out key details here. He leaves room to expand on the concept and community in future books.

Shadowshaping¬†comes to life in the setting Older creates. This story could not be set anywhere other than Brooklyn, where Older lives and spent years working as a paramedic. The setting, in turn, is brought to life by its characters. Sierra isn’t the only cool kid in this story. Her friends, integral to the story, are just as well-defined as Sierra. I could imagine any one of them starring in their own story (I was excited to learn there’s a novella from the perspectives of girlfriends Izzy and Tee). The conversations between all characters (not just Sierra and her teen friends)¬†flow so realistically, I felt like I was eavesdropping.

There are a lot of great things going on in this novel and I feel like I’ve only superficially scratched the surface. Whether you’re looking for a creative contemporary fantasy or for a young adult novel that¬†doesn’t back down from topics such as¬†racial identity and white supremacy,¬†Shadowshaper is an excellent read.

The Bottom Line:

Shadowshaper¬†finally has me hooked on an urban fantasy series! A fast-paced story built on a¬†cast of a diverse characters,¬†I’m looking forward to what Sierra gets up to in the forthcoming sequel Shadowshouse.¬†

Further Reading:

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This book was my pick for February (POC/ Biracial/ Multiracial Main Character/Lead – Afro-Latina)
Read Diverse 2017
This review counts towards the Read Diverse 2017 challenge!

A Champagne Birthday Celebration

Champagne Birthday Celebration

Inspired by Lianne @ Eclectic Tale’s birthday giveaway from last year.

This weekend is my champagne birthday! A champagne birthday occurs when you turn the age of your birthday. In my case, I am 25 on the 25th. I love the symmetry of 25. I feel like at 25, I’m starting to make good progress with my life. I am so happy with everything I’ve achieved thus far. A few highlights just from the recent years include road tripping to two Cloud Cult concerts, graduating from university with a specialization in a field I love, moving to Japan to teach for a year, WWOOFing in Ireland and New Zealand, and of course, keeping up with reading and writing this blog! I haven’t been home for my birthday the past two years (in fact, I am out of town this weekend so hopefully I’ve scheduled everything correctly :P). I am excited to celebrate with friends and family in the upcoming weeks.

To commemorate this occasion on the blog, I’ve decided to share 25 of my favourite books.¬†These are all books that quickly came to mind when I asked myself, “What are some books I love? What are some great books I’ve read recently?” I created this list off the top of my head, without too much thinking, so this is by no means a definitive or prioritized list of my favourites. (Creating this list actually made me realize I should update my favourites shelf on Goodreads…) Links to reviews where applicable.

if you’ve got an opinion on any of these books, I’d love for you to share in the comments. Now onto the celebratory part – the giveaway! I am giving away one book of your choice from the above list (up to $25CAD value) via The Book Depository. The giveaway is open internationally to members of the online book community. A winner will be randomly selected and announced via Twitter on Friday 3¬†March (you do not need to have a Twitter account to participate). I will contact the winner via e-mail. They will have 48 hours to respond; otherwise I will draw again.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Have you ever celebrated a champagne birthday? Do any of my favourite coincide with yours? Which of these books are you curious about? Thanks for celebrating my birthday with me! ūüôā
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Brief Thoughts: Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

Son of a Trickster

Everyone knows a guy like Jared: the burnout kid in high school who sells weed cookies and has a scary mom who’s often wasted and wielding some kind of weapon. Jared does smoke and drink too much, and he does make the best cookies in town, and his mom is a mess, but he’s also a kid who has an immense capacity for compassion and an impulse to watch over people more than twice his age, and he can’t rely on anyone for consistent love and support, except for his flatulent pit bull, Baby Killer (he calls her Baby)–and now she’s dead.

Jared can’t count on his mom to stay sober and stick around to take care of him. He can’t rely on his dad to pay the bills and support his new wife and step-daughter. Jared is only sixteen but feels like he is the one who must stabilize his family’s life, even look out for his elderly neighbours. But he struggles to keep everything afloat…and sometimes he blacks out. And he puzzles over why his maternal grandmother has never liked him, why she says he’s the son of a trickster, that he isn’t human. Mind you, ravens speak to him–even when he’s not stoned.

You think you know Jared, but you don’t.

‚ėÖ‚ėÖ‚ėÖ¬Ĺ|¬†Goodreads | Chapters¬†

I received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

  • My thoughts on Son of a Trickster mostly focus on¬†the perils of basing expectations for one book on another book.
  • Two things drew me to this book:¬†Eden Robinson (Haisla First Nation author) + magical realism. I previously read and enjoyed Robinson’s¬†Monkey Beach.¬† Son of a Trickster¬†stars¬†teenage boy Jared, who differs greatly from Monkey Beach’s adult woman Lisa¬†(what an astute observation, Jenna). I didn’t realize how much my enjoyment of Monkey Beach¬†depended on Lisa until I started Son of a Trickster. Jared is a great character¬†but not one with which I personally connect.
  • When I read Monkey Beach, I did not anticipate¬†any magical realism. Only when¬†I finished the book and participated in a group discussion did the term come up to describe the story.¬†I personally wouldn’t have described the book as magical realism, although technically that’s what it was (to me it was a lot more real than magical). I only remembered all this when I looked back on my review a few minutes ago. ūüėõ¬†In contrast, I had high expectations for the magical realism in Son of a Trickster. I lifted expectations for Son of a Trickster¬†from¬†Monkey Beach¬†without considering¬†the obvious differences between the books.
  • The jacket description above describes spot-on the content of Son of a Trickster. It’s my bad for expecting more magical realism in this tale. A virtual footnote in the summary translates to a relatively minor role in the story. Jared’s ‘magical’ abilities start to have a serious impact on the story about two thirds of the way in. I liked exploring particular Indigenous beliefs and culture through Jared’s eyes, as he learns bit by bit about what he can see and about his family’s background (Jared is “part ‘Namgis, part Heiltsuk”).¬†I would definitely describe Son of a Trickster as magical realism, in a way that I wouldn’t describe¬†Monkey Beach.¬†But Jared’s story is really about family relationships. The ‘magic’ is just a means to explore that topic. And I suppose that’s generally how you might describe magical realism (you could argue Monkey Beach¬†is the same way), but I’m always hoping the magical elements will be more of a focus. Honestly, as I type this out, I can imagine someone who’s read this book being aghast and saying the magic plays a lot more significant role, but that’s how it felt to me. I have the impression that the next books in the trilogy will delve more into Jared’s family background and abilities.¬†Son of a Trickster does have something of an introductory story line vibe to it.
  • To summarize, Son of a Trickster¬†did not match¬†my misguided expectations, but it is by no means a poor book. Here are some reasons you might enjoy it:
  • Jared is an engaging main character. I kept reading because I wanted to know what he would do next. He really is just a kid trying to make do with an awful situation. Like the description says, he “has an immense capacity for compassion”. Most of the adults around him are disasters, often causing me to grit my teeth and roll my eyes (ugh, his Mom). He’s not an angel, but despite his poor circumstances, Jared remains a good kid, guided by good intentions. There are some moving moments in the story where I found myself thinking, “Geez, he really is just a 16 year old kid” despite the partying, drinking, etc. he gets into. If you love reading about dysfunctional families – you will love this book.
  • My favourite strength of Robinson’s is her ability to created vivid and believable settings. She does an excellent job of translating her personal experience and knowledge of real world places onto the page. (Son of a Trickster¬†is set in¬†her hometown of Kitimaat, in northern British Columbia, with many scenes also taking place on the nearby reserve).
  • The book contains many specific cultural¬†references, so much so that you can easily pin down the time period of the story. Examples include Idle No More protests, songs such as Red Skin Girl and Like A G6, and debates over the best Doctor in¬†Doctor Who. The text message exchanges between Jared and various characters felt real, not constructed. Sometimes specific references irk me. In this case, I found they added realism to the story.
  • The Bottom Line:¬†Overall, this book is a solid addition to the field of Indigenous literature. The representation of Indigenous youth like Jared and his friends¬†is something the field could always use more of. The magical realism aspect of the story adds another layer of culture and intrigue to something that might read too bleak.¬†Recommended for fans of Indigenous literature, dysfunctional families, or kids trying to do their best they know how. I’d also recommend this for teens -there’s a lot for them to enjoy here.

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Read Diverse 2017
This review counts towards the Read Diverse 2017 challenge!

Cybils Nominees Feat. Multiple Narrators ( + Winners Announced!)

Cybils 2016From October to December of last year, I read just over 50 middle-grade fiction books in my role as a round one judge for the Cybils. To share some of the Cybils nominees I’ve read, I’ve decided to create a few lists grouping books by similar characteristics. All of the books meet the Cybils nominating criteria, which means they were published in English in Canada or the US between 16 October 2015 to 15 October 2016. Today’s list features¬†four books told in alternating first person chapters.

Two Naomis by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick

Cover of Two NaomisOther than their first names, Naomi Marie and Naomi Edith are sure they have nothing in common, and they wouldn‚Äôt mind keeping it that way. Naomi Marie starts clubs at the library and adores being a big sister. Naomi Edith loves quiet Saturdays and hanging with her best friend in her backyard. And while Naomi Marie‚Äôs father lives a few blocks away, Naomi Edith wonders how she‚Äôs supposed to get through each day a whole country apart from her mother. When Naomi Marie‚Äôs mom and Naomi Edith‚Äôs dad get serious about dating, each girl tries to cling to the life she knows and loves. Then their parents push them into attending a class together, where they might just have to find a way to work with each other‚ÄĒand maybe even join forces to find new ways to define family. .

I think Two Naomis¬†has such a cute cover. I love how the greenery frames the girls. The images on the cover distinguish the girls much better than the words in the book, however. Although it’s told in alternating chapters from a first person perspective, their voices are not distinct enough from each other. I had to keep checking back to remind myself which girl was speaking. I wonder how the book was co-authored. Did each author write one of the Naomi’s chapters, or did they write everything together? The parent’s actions seemed a bit over the top. Why did they have to keep so many secrets? I found the girls’ reactions to one another, and growing relationship over the course of the story, more realistic. I appreciated that even though they were reluctant to attend a computer game programming class together, the activity eventually grew on them.

Review @ Ms. Yingling Reads | Review @ Random Musings of a Bibliophile | Add to GoodReads

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day¬†by John David Anderson

Ms. Bixby's Last Day

Everyone knows there are different kinds of teachers. The good ones. The not-so-good ones. The boring ones, the mean ones, the ones who try too hard. The ones you‚Äôll never remember, and the ones you want to forget. But Ms. Bixby is none of these. She‚Äôs the sort of teacher who makes you feel like the indignity of school is worthwhile. Who makes the idea of growing up less terrifying. Who you never want to disappoint. What Ms. Bixby is, is one of a kind. Topher, Brand, and Steve know this better than anyone. And so when Ms. Bixby unexpectedly announces that she is very sick and won‚Äôt be able to finish the school year, they come up with a plan. Through the three very different stories they tell, we begin to understand just what Ms. Bixby means to Topher, Brand, and Steve‚ÄĒand what they are willing to go to such great lengths to tell her.

Topher, Brand and Steve narrate this one. Each boy has their own, unique reason for wanting to give Ms. Bixby a special ‘last day’. The story does an excellent job at conveying how a great teacher can make such a positive difference in a kid’s life. There are some fun action/adventure elements that are a touch over the top – but this is middle grade fiction. I expected the story to be more sad than it was. I didn’t cry until the epilogue ūüėõ I came away thinking, “Man, we need more teachers like Ms. Bixby”.

Review @ KinderLit | Review @ Ms. Yingling Reads | Add to Goodreads

Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan

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.

My sister and I reviewed this book for my Family Reads series. Joe and Ravi narrate the story. I wrote the Cybils shortlist blurb for this one: “Joe has lived in New Jersey his entire life. Ravi has just moved to New Jersey from Bangalore. As they start grade five, both face new challenges. Ravi discovers he is no longer a star pupil as he was in India. His attempts to befriend Dillon Samreen (an American-born Indian) don‚Äôt go over as he expects. Joe‚Äôs best friends have moved away and his mom now supervises lunch, giving Dillon an additional excuse to pick on Joe beyond his auditory processing disorder. Over the course of one hectic week, Joe and Ravi move beyond misunderstandings and snap judgements to overcome their common challenge ‚Äď Dillon. Narrated in alternating chapters by the very real voices of Ravi and Joe, Save Me a Seat offers a fresh take on bullying and friendship narratives.”

Review @ Puss Reboots | Review @ Ms. Yingling Reads | Add to Goodreads

Slacker by Gordon Korman

Slacker by Gordon kormanCameron Boxer is very happy to spend his life avoiding homework, hanging out with his friends, and gaming for hours in his basement. It’s not too hard for him to get away with it . . . until he gets so caught up in one game that he almost lets his house burn down around him. Oops.¬†It’s time for some serious damage control–so Cameron and his friends invent a fake school club that will make it seem like they’re doing good deeds instead of slacking off. The problem? Some kids think the club is real–and Cameron is stuck being president. ¬†Soon Cameron is part of a mission to save a beaver named Elvis from certain extinction. Along the way, he makes some new friends–and some powerful new enemies. The guy who never cared about anything is now at the center of everything . . . and it’s going to take all his slacker skills to win this round.

Slacker¬†is primarily Cameron’s story, but a variety of characters narrate different chapters. It had been a long time since I read something new by Gordon Korman. I adored his hilarious books in grade five, when my teacher read them aloud to the class. Slacker¬†was kind of fun, though the writing and characters didn’t stand out to me. I didn’t find it was as funny as, say, the Macdonald Hall Books, but I am perhaps biased from having read those books when I was actually 10 ūüėČ A recommended book for a reluctant reader.

Review @ Ms. Yingling Reads| Review @ Puss Reboots | Add to Goodreads

Cybils Winners

ICYMI – This past Tuesday (14 February) the Cybils winners were announced!¬†Ghost¬†by Jason Reynolds won in the middle grade fiction category. No surprise there ūüôā Of course, any of the books we shortlisted could have won and I wouldn’t have been surprised. When the shortlist was announced, I wrote this about¬†Ghost: “I have never been a reader of ‚Äėsports book‚Äô, but here is a book that will appeal to sports fan and non-fans alike ‚Äď even if the feature sport is track. Ghost¬†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‚Äôve read by Reynolds. Now I can see his appeal!” Congratulations to Reynolds and all the other Cybils nominees.

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