Kate’s Review: “Returning to the Yakoun River”

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Book: “Returning to the Yakoun River” by Sarah Florence Davidson, Robert Davidson, and Janine Gibbons (Ill.)

Publishing Info: HighWater Press, September 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from the publisher.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | HighWater Press| Indiebound

Book Description: Based on author Sara Florence Davidson’s childhood memories, this illustrated story captures the joy and adventure of a Haida fish camp.

Every summer, a Haida girl and her family travel up the Yakoun River on Haida Gwaii, following the salmon. While their father fishes, the girl and her brother spend their time on the land playing and learning from Tsinii (Grandfather).

Review: Thank you to HighWater Press for sending me an eARC of this book!

We are wrapping up this HighWater Press event with a bit of a rarity on this blog. We don’t usually review children’s picture books, for a litany of reasons, and that general rule is one that we rarely stray from. But “I’m making an exception for this event, because goodness knows that “Returning to the Yakoun River” Sarah Florence Davidson is the perfect place to end this series, as it has a focus on generational traditions being shared with children of today, and to me that seemed like a good place to wrap up.

“Returning to the Yakoun River” is a simple story about a Haida girl and her family going fishing on the Yakoun River during the salmon season, and while her father fishes she and the other children spend time with their Tsinii (grandfather) at the fish camp. Throughout this time she learns about how to help set up for the cooking, plays with her cousins and brother on the river, and watches as her Tsinii prepares the salmon that is caught for eating in a traditional way. It’s a very simple story based on memories from Sarah Florence Davidson’s childhood, with memories of her father (who collaborated with her on this) and her grandfather during a visit to the fish camp. It’s a nice slice of life tale that highlights the way that children can learn from their elders, and how traditions from the past change and yet are maintained over the years. Given that Davidson is an educator who has a focus on the importance of intergenerational learning, it’s a simple story that has a lot of heart and a lot to say about these things, while also being tailored specifically for a younger age group. We also have a helpful map of the area where this story takes place, and some background on Davidson’s grandfather, whose role as a leader in the community, artist, and fisherman are laid out to show the reader who the Tsinii is based upon.

And the artwork is just fantastic. I am not certain the medium that Janine Gibbons used for the art, but it looks like some kind of paintwork and it is so lovely and artistic. It also somewhat, to me, conveys the dreaminess of memories in the design and aesthetic.

(source: HighWater Press)

“Returning to the Yakoun River” is a gentle and placid story about intergenerational learning and the importance of passing that learning down through the generations. I really enjoyed it, and found it to be a poignant way to wrap up this month long spotlight on Indigenous voices and stories.

Rating 8: A lovely story about a family respecting and practicing traditions of genertions past, “Returning to the Yakoun River” has a sweet plot and gorgeous illustrations.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Returning to the Yakoun River” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but I think that it would be complementary if you liked “On the Trapline” and would fit in on “Multicultural Children’s Books”.

Kate’s Review: “Motherthing”


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Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Motherthing” by Ainslie Hogarth

Publishing Info: Vintage, September 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: A darkly funny domestic horror novel about a woman who must take drastic measures to save her husband and herself from the vengeful ghost of her mother-in-law.

When Ralph and Abby Lamb move in with Ralph’s mother, Laura, Abby hopes it’s just what she and her mother-in-law need to finally connect. After a traumatic childhood, Abby is desperate for a mother figure, especially now that she and Ralph are trying to become parents themselves. Abby just has so much love to give—to Ralph, to Laura, and to Mrs. Bondy, her favorite resident at the long-term care home where she works. But Laura isn’t interested in bonding with her daughter-in-law. She’s venomous and cruel, especially to Abby, and life with her is hellish.

When Laura takes her own life, her ghost haunts Abby and Ralph in very different ways: Ralph is plunged into depression, and Abby is terrorized by a force intent on destroying everything she loves. To make matters worse, Mrs. Bondy’s daughter is threatening to move Mrs. Bondy from the home, leaving Abby totally alone. With everything on the line, Abby comes up with a chilling plan that will allow her to keep Mrs. Bondy, rescue Ralph from his tortured mind, and break Laura’s hold on the family for good. All it requires is a little ingenuity, a lot of determination, and a unique recipe for chicken à la king…

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

I am very thankful to say that I have a pretty good relationship with my mother in law. I’ve known her since I was a teenager, which probably helps, but she has always been very kind and supportive and has been perfectly fine keeping healthy involvement and boundaries when it comes to the family my husband and I have built. That said, I am always down for some juicy literary drama regarding in laws from hell, and based on the description “Motherthing” by Ainslie Hogarth should have fit the bill. We have a toxic mother in law, a harried wife, and the promise of a funny domestic horror story involving a haunting perpetrated by a terrible woman, with a daughter in law determined to stop it. That is what I thought this book was going to be.

Well. I didn’t think it was most of those things.

We’ll start with the good. It was funny! When we meet our first person protagonist Abby we have a stressed and damaged daughter in law whose mother in law Laura has just killed herself, possibly one last manipulation directed at Abby’s husband Ralph. From the jump it is clear that Abby has a lot of mental and emotional issues, and said issues aren’t just because of Laura. But her stream on consciousness narration is at times incredibly humorous, like laugh out loud so, especially if you are into dark humor. And I also applaud how Hogarth has attempted to tell this story in a unique narrative style, flipping from first person narration, and sometimes to stage directional narration styles, as combined it does get the point across that Abby is becoming more and more unhinged as the story goes, and as she is feeling haunted by her dead mother in law in a literal sense while also being haunted by her neglected childhood and her desire to have a mother figure in her life (as well as have a baby so she can be the perfect mother). All of this worked for me.

What didn’t work for me as much was how everything kind of played out. Unique writing to be sure, but it is also very stilted and very strange. I am sure that it is deliberate and to make the reader feel as disoriented as Abby and to convey her mental state, but I found it aggravating as the story went on, and it felt rather repetitive as well. And to be quite honest, the description of this book makes it sound like we are dealing with a quasi comedic ghost story involving a toxic mother in law and the beleaguered daughter in law who has to play ghostbuster. But instead we get more of an exploration of a woman on the brink of complete mental and emotional breakdown, and boy oh boy does it go to very out there places. I do think that the problem is how it is described as opposed to the actual execution, because if my expectations had been a little more in line with what was presented it possibly would have gone over better. But as it was, I didn’t know what I was getting into and it soured the entire experience. I want to know if something is going to go surreal so I can get in the right mind frame. Going into this thinking it’s a domestic horror comedy isn’t going to manage expectations properly.

“Motherthing” didn’t click for me. If you like weird fiction elements to your horror it may click for you!

Rating 5: While it had some very funny moments, it was a little too weird for me and didn’t really deliver on what it was promising in the description or marketing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Motherthing” is included on the Goodreads list “Birmingham Feminist Book Club”.

Kate’s Review: “The Raven Mother”

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Book: “The Raven Mother” by Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Hudson), & Natasha Donovan (Ill.)

Publishing Info: HighWater Press, September 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from the publisher.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | HighWater Press | Indiebound

Book Description: Hoarders. Scavengers. Clever foragers. Bringers of new life.

Ravens have many roles, both for the land and in Gitxsan story and song. The sixth book in Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (Brett D. Huson)’s Mothers of Xsan series transports young readers to Northwestern British Columbia, where they will learn about the traditions of the Gitxsan, the lives of ravens, and why these acrobatic flyers are so important to their ecosystem.

Follow along as Nox Gaak, the raven mother, teaches her chicks what they need to survive with the help of her flock.

Review: Thank you to HighWater Press for sending me an eARC of this book!

Maintaining my stereotypical Goth girl at heart aesthetic, I have always been a huge fan of corvids of all types. Living in Minnesota that means that crows are the corvids in my backyard, but when my husband and I went to London for our honeymoon I was DESPERATE to see the Ravens at the Tower (I also bought a stuffed raven that still sits on my nightstand). When my parents went to Alaska a few years ago my Mom sent me pictures of ravens any time she caught one on her camera. So yeah, give me any and all corvid content. THEREFORE, I was particularly interested in “The Raven Mother” by Hetxw’ms Gyetxw (aka Brett D. Hudson) in this HighWater Press series that I’m doing this month. And it didn’t disappoint!

“The Raven Mother” is an educational middle grade book that puts the ecological and cultural significance of ravens in British Columbia, Canada, specifically through the context of the Gitxsan People. The story is pretty straightforward as a mother raven tends to her chicks with the help of the ravens in her community. It’s easy to understand and has a lot of good information that’s presented in a way for the audience that I felt worked really well. We not only get Gitxsan words and language interspersed in the narrative, we also get definitions of those words as well as definitions to relevant words that may be unfamiliar to younger readers. We also get a great introduction to the concept of ecosystems and ecology, with talk of seasonal changes, animal movements and migrations, and the way that animals, specifically ravens, connect to the environment they inhabit, and how that can have an effect on other things within the ecosystem. And seeing it through the seasons of a raven and her babies as they grow and change was definitely a good way for the audience to connect to it. If science was presented in such a way when I was a kid I would have really connected to it more, I think.

I also really loved the historical notes in the back of this book, as they give great context for the Gitxsan People and the areas they inhabited during the time that this book is set. The lists of the seasonal moons and the drawn map of the area where the various four clans were placed were easy to follow and the brief history is easy to understand, as well as forthright about the colonized land and space as it is defined by ‘official’ geography today. Again, it is all very approachable and I would have loved to encounter information presented in such a way when I was the target age for this book. And I really can’t stress enough how important it is to have these voices and perspectives amplified as much as possible.

And I am going to gush about the artwork in this book. I absolutely loved it. I loved the design of the animals, landscapes, and people. I loved the colors and how they pop off the page. I loved the way that everything felt like it flowed and connected across pages. I really really loved everything about it, so major props to Natasha Donovan.

I mean just look at this. GORGEOUS! (source: HighWater Press)

Filled with accessible information about ecosystems and culture, “The Raven Mother” is an enjoyable read that will be a great teaching tool for the target audience. I quite enjoyed reading it and will definitely be sharing it with my own child when she’s older.

Rating 8: An educational story about ecosystems, ravens, food webs, and how they all connect to each other, “The Raven Mother” is some solid middle grade science as well as cultural exploration.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Raven Mother” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think it would fit in on “Non-Fiction: Crows and Ravens”.

Kate’s Review: “Daphne”


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Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Daphne” by Josh Malerman

Publishing Info: Del Rey Publications, September 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: It’s the last summer for Kit Lamb: The last summer before college. The last summer with her high school basketball team, and with Dana, her best friend. The last summer before her life begins.

But the night before the big game, one of the players tells a ghost story about Daphne, a girl who went to their school many years ago and died under mysterious circumstances. Some say she was murdered, others that she died by her own hand. And some say that Daphne is a murderer herself. They also say that Daphne is still out there, obsessed with revenge, and will appear to kill again anytime someone thinks about her.

After Kit hears the story, her teammates vanish, one by one, and Kit begins to suspect that the stories about Daphne are real . . . and to fear that her own mind is conjuring the killer. Now it’s a race against time as Kit searches for the truth behind the legend and learns to face her own fears—before the summer of her life becomes the last summer of her life.

Mixing a nostalgic coming-of-age story and an instantly iconic female villain with an innovative new vision of classic horror, Daphne is an unforgettable thriller as only Josh Malerman could imagine it.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!

Let me set the scene. It was 2003. I was a senior in high school. One afternoon in the senior lounge during the school day ‘X period’ (aka a free period where clubs could meet or kids could talk to teachers or you could just dick around for a bit), some other girls and I started talking about Bloody Mary. We decided it would be fun to go to the locker rooms by the gym and play, as it had been FOREVER since we all had. I went with this group of girls, none of whom who were my friends, per se, just classmates whose orbits I generally wasn’t around, but bonded by nostalgia for an urban legend. We turned off the lights, said ‘I believe in Bloody Mary’ three times, and expected nothing of it. So imagine our surprise when there was a loud BANG in the darkness of the locker room. We tore out screaming, only to find out shortly thereafter a gym teacher was tidying up and that was the bang, and we had scared her to death with our terrified shrieks. I kept thinking about this story while I read Josh Malerman’s newest book “Daphne”, a horror novel about an urban legend that slasher kills her way through a high school girls basketball team. Mostly because of the urban legend factor. But also because this deeply disturbing horror novel also touches on the undercurrent left unsaid in this memory: that of teetering between youth, and adulthood, and the things we grapple with in between.

First and foremost, yes, “Daphne” is a very unsettling horror story, and I expected nothing less from Malerman. I’ve enjoyed the other books I’ve read of his, and I think that this one is probably the scariest yet for me. He knows how to slowly build a strangling dread as our cast of characters, a group of high school basketball players with WNBA dreams and interests, are picked off one by one by a brutal urban legend called Daphne after her story is told at a sleepover. We mostly focus on star player Kit, a girl who loves her teammates and the game, but is also plagued by her own struggles with severe anxiety, even before she starts obsessively thinking about Daphne and those around her start dying. Malerman does a fantastic job of slowly pacing the tension in this story so that the reader goes through similar beats as the characters. General unease slowly morphs to gear morphs to genuine dread. The characters find themselves thinking of Daphne, and then she comes for them in truly grotesque, slasher-y ways, and I was basically freaking out every time we got to a kill scene. It’s brutal and very splatter-y, but the tension is top notch psychological suspense to give it more oomph. We slowly start to get the real story behind the urban legend, and we start to care about these characters and invest in them even know we know that terrible things at the hands of this ghost, or monster, or SOMETHING are going to happen to them. It’s unnerving as hell and it really got under my skin. I think that I would have liked a bit more come down at the end, as all the tension has to go somewhere and I didn’t feel like there was enough room for it by the conclusion. But ultimately this book delivers on scares. EVEN THE GODDAMN COVER JUST FUCKS WITH MY HEAD.

But along with the scares is the very relatable undercurrent of Kit’s anxiety, anxiety about not only Daphne, but also of the unknown aspects of life itself. I’m someone who has been grappling with anxiety my entire life, and one of the worst times was in high school because of how much was unknown. I had no idea what life had in store after I left the very familiar life I was leading, with my parents and my friends and my family being left behind. As someone who had panic attacks, a good amount of them in late high school, I really, really related to Kit, and I loved that Malerman wanted to explore her mind even beyond that of a slasher killer’s potential victim, but also a girl who is battling her fears of the unknown as they manifest into panic attacks and buzzing dread without obvious cause. Perhaps it doesn’t get to this level for all teens, but Kit battling her mind to try and keep Daphne out is just as much Kit battling her mind to keep fear itself out. It hit home in a way I wasn’t really expecting, and just felt like it really captured that unease about what comes next when you are about to leave the life you’ve known for eighteen years. And really, the way that Daphne creeps up on you until you can’t stop thinking about her, and then completely wrecks you? That’s anxiety in a nutshell. Daphne crushes her victims, just as anxiety crushes those that it affects.

“Daphne” is going to stay with me awhile. It’s deeply fucked but also bittersweet. And like the titular character, I don’t see myself being able to stop thinking about it for awhile.

Rating 9: Disturbing, unnerving, and in some ways bittersweet, “Daphne” is a horror novel that won’t leave a reader’s thoughts for awhile after reading it.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Daphne” is included on the Goodreads list “Horror to Look Forward to in 2022”.

Kate’s Review: “Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw” and “Amō’s Sapotawan”

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Books: “Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw” and “Amō’s Sapotawan” (The Six Seasons Vol. 1 & 2) by William Dumas, Leonard Paul (Ill.), and Rhian Brynjolson

Publishing Info: HighWater Press, August 2020 (Vol.1) & September 2022 (Vol.2)

Where Did I Get These Books: I received eARCs from the publisher.

Where You Can Get These Books: WorldCat (1) (2) | Portage and Main Press (1) (2) | Indiebound (2)

Book Descriptions:

“Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw”: In 1993, the remains of a young woman were discovered at Nagami Bay, South Indian Lake, Manitoba. Out of that important archeological discovery came this unique story about a week in the life of Pisim, a young Cree woman, who lived in the Mid 1600s. In the story, created by renowned storyteller William Dumas, Pisim begins to recognize her miskanow – her life’s journey – and to develop her gifts for fulfilling that path. The story is brought to life by the rich imagery of Leonard Paul, and is accompanied by sidebars on Cree language and culture, archaeology and history, maps, songs, and more.

“Amō’s Sapotawan”: Rocky Cree people understand that all children are born with four gifts or talents. When a child is old enough, they decide which gift, or mīthikowisiwin, they will seek to master. With her sapotawan ceremony fast approaching, Amō must choose her mīthikowisiwin. Her sister, Pīsim, became a midwife; others gather medicines or harvest fish. But none of those feel quite right.

Amō has always loved making things. Her uncle can show her how to make nipisiwata, willow baskets. Her grandmother can teach her how to make kwakwāywata, birchbark containers and plates. Her auntie has offered to begin Amō’s apprenticeship in making askihkwak, pottery.

What will Amō’s mīthikowisiwin be? Which skill should she choose? And how will she know what is right for her?

Reviews: Thank you so, so much to Lohit Jagwani from HighWater Press for sending me eARCs of these books!

We are on our second week of my month long HighWater Press Blog Series, and we shift from traditional graphic novel to look at the first two books of a Middle Grade historical fiction series called “The Six Seasons” by storyteller and asiniskaw īthiniw Knowledge Keeper William Dumas. These books are part of a greater project known as the Six Seasons of the Asiniskaw Īthiniwak, which hopes to work towards preserving Indigenous languages and knowledge bases of the Asiniskaw Īthiniwak, or Rocky Cree. Honestly it sounds like a fantastic project (read more HERE), and part of it is this series, with the first two books being “Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw”, and the second being “Amō’s Sapotawan”. Both books follow teenage girls who are going on journeys of self discovery, while also teaching kids about life and culture of the Rocky Cree before significant European contact.

I’ll start with the first in the series, “Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw”, which follows a teenage Rocky Cree girl who is learning the ways of becoming a midwife. As her family group an community is preparing to journey to a communal gathering, Pīsim is trying to determine if she has the skills and drive to be a midwife. As the community travels to the Spring Gathering, stories are shared, bonds are strengthened, and Pīsim finds herself having to use her skills and knowledge in an unexpected situation. I really loved watching this young woman connect with those around her and hear the various stories that everyone tells, and how she rises to the task of delivering a baby on her own when she and her uncle and pregnant aunt are separated from the rest of the group during a storm on the water. But what stands out the most in this book (and similarly in “Amō’s Sapotawan”) are the rich and intricate details about all types of aspects of Rocky Cree life and culture. We get translations of various vocabulary, maps of the water that Pīsim and her family are traveling upon for the Spring Gathering, and various facts about life for the Rocky Cree during this time period. I was very, very enthralled by the great information and how detailed it was, and my former historical society employee heart was all aflutter. There is such good information in this book, and it’s incredibly accessible to the audience it is catered towards. I really enjoyed seeing the story of Pīsim come into her own.

“Amō’s Sapotawan” is another story about a young girl, though this time it is in summer and this time we follow Pīsim’s sister Amo. In this story, Amō is a teenager who is trying to decide on her mīthikowisiwin, her craft that she wishes to hone, as her ceremony to celebrate that gift, or her sapotawan, is about to happen. Coinciding this is the berry picking that the community does in the summer, as well as an ever present threat of wild fires that tend to kick up during this time of year and that can drive a community to have to flee on a moment’s notice. As Amō contemplates what she wants to choose, she experiences fairly typical moments in what the culture and life was like for the Rocky Cree, though there are, admittedly, some significant beats that may help drive her to choose her ultimate gift. I liked this story a lot as well, and like Pīsim’s story before there were a lot of great notes and facts interspersed within the story.

In terms of the artwork, the stories are accompanied by two different artists and two different styles. Leonard Paul provided the art for Pīsim’s story, while Rhian Brynjolson did for Amō’s. I think that of the two I preferred that of Paul, as that kind of style just speaks to me more, but they are both aesthetics that match the tales at hand pretty well, and I think that they would both connect with a middle grade audience as they read these books.

The importance of knowing the life and culture for the Rocky Cree pre-significant European contact can’t be stressed enough given the genocide Indigenous and First Nations peoples were (and still are) subjected to, and I think that these books by William Dumas are such rich resources and tools to help preserve this knowledge, and very necessary. I greatly enjoyed both “Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw” and “Amō’s Sapotawan” as great information resources and coming of age tales.

Rating 8: Incredibly rich in detail, historical notes, and culture, “Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw” and “Amō’s Sapotawan” are both great introductions to Rocky Cree history and culture as well as gentle, heartwarming stories about finding oneself.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Pīsim Finds Her Miskanaw” and Amō’s Sapotawan” are not on many Goodreads lists, but I think they would fit in on “Indigenous Children’s Literature”.

Kate’s Review: “I’m The Girl”

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Book: “I’m The Girl” by Courtney Summers

Publishing Info: Wednesday Books, September 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher at ALAAC22.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: The new groundbreaking queer thriller from New York Times bestselling and Edgar-award Winning author Courtney Summers.

When sixteen-year-old Georgia Avis discovers the dead body of thirteen-year-old Ashley James, she teams up with Ashley’s older sister, Nora, to find and bring the killer to justice before he strikes again. But their investigation throws Georgia into a world of unimaginable privilege and wealth, without conscience or consequence, and as Ashley’s killer closes in, Georgia will discover when money, power and beauty rule, it might not be a matter of who is guilty—but who is guiltiest.

A spiritual successor to the 2018 breakout hit, Sadie, I’m the Girl is a masterfully written, bold, and unflinching account of how one young woman feels in her body as she struggles to navigate a deadly and predatory power structure while asking readers one question: if this is the way the world is, do you accept it?

Review: Thank you to Wednesday Books for giving me an ARC of this novel!

Ever since I read “Sadie” by Courtney Summers, I knew that she was going to become one of my must read authors. “Sadie” kicked me in the gut, but I loved every minute of it because of it’s rawness. I was lucky enough to snag her newest book “I’m The Girl” at the Annual ALA Conference (well, Serena snagged it for me on our first night strategic ‘split up and find all the ARCs’ mission), but I knew that I would probably drag my feet on reading it for a bit. Just because I knew that she wasn’t going to pull punches in her newest thriller. She never does, you see. But I also knew that this one, with its haunting cover and somewhat vague description, was going to be something else. And when I did finally sit down and read it, it had my attention, even if it was another kick in the gut.

I will first and foremost say that this book, like most of Courtney Summers’s books, is a rough one. We do not shy away from pretty bleak but realistic issues, like grooming, sexualization of children, trauma, and rape, and it makes for a book that is filled to the brim with content warnings that should be heeded by those who have sensitivities. I am a fairly steely reader for the most part, but even this one had me deeply uncomfortable at a number of moments. But I think that it’s also important to be frank and candid about these things, especially if they are handled in a way that isn’t exploitative or titillating, and I think that Summers achieves that. If we are going to explore beauty as power and how, in turn, powerful people wish to exploit and own beautiful things and people, it’s important to look at what all that means, and I think that we do that here. Even when it’s dark and very disconcerting to do said exploration.

The mystery is the main artery of this story, as our protagonist Georgia stumbles upon the dead body of thirteen year old Ashley James, who was the missing daughter of the local deputy sheriff, after she herself was hit by the car of the potential perpetrator. George is recruited by Ashley’s sister Nora to help solve what happened, but there is a lot more to this story than a teenage murder mystery, and the complexity is deftly handled. George is also hoping to start working at the small town’s elite resort and social club Aspera, where celebrities, politicians, and other big wigs come from far and wide to experience the luxury provided by Matthew and Cleo Hayes and their done up employees, the women known as ‘Aspera Girls’. George’s mother was an Aspera girl until a scandal left her without a job, and while George has always been beautiful her mother, now deceased, always told her she wouldn’t belong. George is a very complicated character, whose foray in amateur detective-hood is overshadowed by her quest to fit into the opulence of Aspera, no matter the cost and no matter the sacrifice. Summers takes her time in unveiling bits and pieces of the plot, be it the mystery of what happened to Ashley, or the reasons that George is so desperate to join Aspera, and what she has tried to do to make herself stand out from the crowd in an effort to wield her beauty as the only power she feels she has. I did like the mystery overall, and I liked seeing George delve into the secrets of Aspera in connection to Ashley as she worked there, given that small town secrets are always okay in my book as a theme, and mysterious organizations are as well. I kind of figured out what was going on in regards to Ashley, but ultimately that isn’t the point of this book. This is more an exploration of the ways that girls are told they can be powerful, but how those in power can also take that power away in insidious ways. Especially if there is wealth and disenfranchisement involved between the players. And it all set me on edge, even as I tore through it over the course of a couple nights.

“I’m The Girl” is another triumph by Courtney Summers that looks into the void and doesn’t sugar coat what it sees. People will need to steel themselves for this one, but I think it’s powerful reading all the same.

Rating 9: Dark, powerful, and gritty to the bone, “I’m The Girl” is another unnerving YA thriller from Courtney Summers.

Reader’s Advisory:

“I’m The Girl” is included on the Goodreads lists “If You Love Veronica Mars… YA Books”, and “#MeToo”.

Kate’s Review: “A Blanket of Butterflies”

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Book: “A Blanket of Butterflies” by Richard Van Camp, Scott B. Henderson (Ill.), & Donovan Yaciuk (Ill.)

Publishing Info: HighWater Press, September 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC and a print copy from the publisher.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | HighWater Press | IndieBound

Book Description: No one knows how a suit of samurai armour ended up in the Fort Smith museum. When a mysterious stranger turns up to claim it, Sonny, a young Tłı̨chǫ Dene boy, is eager to help.

Shinobu has travelled to Fort Smith, NWT, to reclaim his grandfather’s samurai sword and armour. But when he discovers that the sword was lost in a poker game, he must confront the man known as Benny the Bank. Along the way, Shinobu must rely on unlikely heroes—Sonny, his grandmother, and a visitor from the spirit world. Together, they face Benny and his men, including the giant they call Flinch.

Will Shinobu be able to regain the lost sword and, with it, his family’s honour? Can Sonny and his grandmother help Shinobu while keeping the peace in their community?

Review: Thank you so, so much to Lohit Jagwani from HighWater Press for sending me an eARC and print copy of this graphic novel!

So today I am starting an ongoing series that is going to happen through the rest of September. I was approached by HighWater Press, and imprint of Portage & Main Press that focuses on Indigenous stories and voices by Indigenous authors, and it was decided that I would read and review a number of their graphic novels and middle grade books. So for the next few Thursdays there will be a decided theme, and honestly I am so excited to talk about and amplify these stories. So thanks again to Lohit Jagwani and to HighWater Press for this amazing opportunity! We are starting this series with “A Blanket of Butterflies” by Richard Van Camp, an author that I am familiar with due to not only the graphic novel collection “This Place”, but due to the picture books “Little You” and “We Sang You Home”, both huge hits with my toddler. I was very excited to check this graphic novel out, as I like Van Camp’s stories, and I was VERY intrigued by the premise of a Japanese man traveling to Canada to try and get his family Samurai armor back.

The plot to “A Blanket of Butterflies” is pretty simple and straightforward. A Japanese man named Shinobu has tracked down a family heirloom of Samurai armor and sword to a small community in the Northwest Territory in Canada, but when he arrives to reclaim it the sword has been lost in a poker game to a local heavy and his underlings. After he confronts Benny the Bank, he is beaten to a pulp, and is taken in by a boy named Sonny and his grandmother. I think that in a traditional Western tale, there are certain expectations as to how this would go, and I myself had my own thoughts on how this was all going to come together. But what I really loved about this book is that Van Camp takes these expectations and turns them on their head, instead focusing on Shinobu’s healing at the hands of Sonny’s ehtsi, and the things that he learns from her and how it shapes the rest of the story. I really liked how Van Camp did a lot of showing versus telling, whether it be regarding Shinobu’s tattoo’s to imply his dark past, or to use metaphorical visions in reference to the NWT’s involvement in the Manhattan Project. And, again, I enjoyed the more introspective way that the final conflict is approached, and how the examination of connections across families and cultures and the power of both can show similarities that may make us think twice about succumbing to more violent outcomes.

The most interesting part of this story, howeer, was the extensive bits of notes left at the end, talking about the experiences of Indigenous peoples in the modern and 20th century NWT, but also that of Japanese Canadians during WWII. I know a lot about the American Incarceration of Japanese Americans, but had no knowledge of the similar conditions of Japanese Canadians during this time. I really, really loved having the context there to explain how a Samurai armor and sword would be in a random possession of a Canadian person, and how the traumas of both Indigenous Canadians and Japanese Canadians intertwine a bit in this story because of colonialism, systemic disparities, and the Canadian government’s racist policies.

And finally, I really liked the artwork in this story. It has a realism to it, but it also has vibrant use of colors and tones, which makes it pop on the page.

Source: HighWater Press

I really liked this graphic novel. Richard Van Camp has a wide appeal across ages, and “A Blanket of Butterflies” moved me and explored other ways to solve conflicts for those who have been beaten down by conflict their whole lives. It was very enjoyable.

Rating 8: An informative but also moving story about connection, conflict, and shared thematic histories, “A Blanket of Butterflies” is a lovely graphic novel from Richard Van Camp.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Blanket of Butterflies” is included on the Goodreads lists “Canadian Indigenous Books”, and “Graphic Novels & Comics By The Aboriginal, Indigenous, and Native Peoples of the World”.

Kate’s Review: “The Weight of Blood”

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Book: “The Weight of Blood” by Tiffany D. Jackson

Publishing Info: Katherine Tegan Books, September 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: When Springville residents—at least the ones still alive—are questioned about what happened on prom night, they all have the same explanation . . . Maddy did it.

An outcast at her small-town Georgia high school, Madison Washington has always been a teasing target for bullies. And she’s dealt with it because she has more pressing problems to manage. Until the morning a surprise rainstorm reveals her most closely kept secret: Maddy is biracial. She has been passing for white her entire life at the behest of her fanatical white father, Thomas Washington.

After a viral bullying video pulls back the curtain on Springville High’s racist roots, student leaders come up with a plan to change their image: host the school’s first integrated prom as a show of unity. The popular white class president convinces her Black superstar quarterback boyfriend to ask Maddy to be his date, leaving Maddy wondering if it’s possible to have a normal life.

But some of her classmates aren’t done with her just yet. And what they don’t know is that Maddy still has another secret . . . one that will cost them all their lives.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

I’ve reviewed Stephen King’s “Carrie” on the blog before, and in my review I mentioned how much I love that book. Like, I LOVE it and have loved it since I was in middle school. I have also come to love the books of Tiffany D. Jackson, one of my favorite YA authors writing today, as her stories are always rife with well done tension as well as great examinations of social issues about race in the U.S. So when it was announced that Jackson was going to write a book that was a reimagining of “Carrie”, I just about lost my mind with glee. Suffice to say, I had been looking forward to “The Weight of Blood” ever since the publishing notice fell across my Twitter feed. When I finally sat down to read it, I told myself to go slow and savor it… and immediately burned through it in two days time. She’s done it again, folks, and this time she took one of my favorite horror novels along for the ride.

I really, really enjoyed this book, so buckle up for a long review.

First and foremost, this is a “Carrie” re-telling/re-imagining, and Jackson really does a good job of making it her own while still drawing clear connecting lines to the original plot, themes, and characters. But I really love how she takes it a few steps further and bolder and makes it not only a story about bullying, but racial bullying and systemic racism that fosters and creates environments where racial bullying thrives. Maddy is our protagonist, who is a biracial teenage girl that has been able to pass as white in her small southern town, mostly due to her fanatical father and his insistence that she do so. Once she is outed as Black due to a rain storm having a reaction with her hair, her white classmates, already using her as a target because of her social awkwardness, amp up the bullying in ways that become far more vicious. It’s biting commentary and it works really, really well, as plot points from the source material are tweaked to take on more complex meanings. The Prom that Maddy ends up going to (to disastrous results of course) is the first desegregated Prom the high school has ever had. Her tyrannical parent this time is her white father, and his zealotry is as much Christian Evangelism as it is worshiping at the altar of whiteness in America. Our Sue Snell analog, Wendy, is a white girl with a Black quarterback boyfriend named Kenny, and her motives for getting Kenny to take Maddy to Prom are more a white savior complex at work than a nice girl feeling bad about being an accessory to bullying. And so forth. It all feels like “Carrie” but it goes further and feels like a different kind of gut punch as racism is at the forefront, and it works incredibly well.

The story is told through a third person narrative between a few different characters, as well as podcast transcripts, official police reports, and articles and book excerpts, and they all come together in ways to slowly show not only what disaster happened the night of Prom, but also to show the racist history of Springville, and how the town has been fostering racial animosity and inequity up through the events of the book. I really liked learning about the town and the people in it in this way, as it really does drive home the greater point that the the ugly truths about race and racism have rotted the town through, and by the time we get to the story at hand, it all comes to a head on Prom night. Again, a direct line to the story that the book is paying homage to with the transcripts and interviews, but expanding upon it to make the story at hand all the richer.

And finally, and this is probably one of the less important points of this re-telling (mild spoiler alerts here too), but I loved, LOVED that Jackson fully leans into the romance between Maddy and popular quarterback turned prom date Kenny. I have always been a huge proponent of the Tommy Ross and Carrie White romance, as the book and both movies make it clear, at least to me, that had the Prom not ended up with Carrie burning it all down and Tommy being killed by a falling bucket, they absolutely would have ended up together PROBABLY FOREVER, OKAY? So when it became clear that Maddie and Kenny were absolutely falling in love with each other, I was hooting and hollering, and then, of course, preparing for the worst given how the source material ends for them both. Though, all that said, Jackson definitely makes this tale her own in spite of the great homage, and that is all I am going to say about THAT, so….

Did I put my kindle down for a moment during my read just to rewatch the ‘Someone Like Me’ scene in this movie and then cry a little bit to myself? You’re DAMN RIGHT I DID! (source)

“The Weight of Blood” is a great remix of one of my favorite books, and Jackson knows how to draw the comparisons out while making her own points and plot. I really enjoyed this one as a fan of her work, and a fan of “Carrie”. Just stupendous.

Rating 10: A fantastic re-imagining of “Carrie” that takes on social issues of racism and bigotry that are, unfortunately, still all too relevant, “The Weight of Blood” is another page turner from Tiffany D. Jackson!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Weight of Blood” isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but it would fit in on “Popsugar 2022 #33: A Social Horror Book”.

Kate’s Review: “You’re Invited”


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Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “You’re Invited” by Amanda Jayatissa

Publishing Info: Berkley Books, August 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: From the author of My Sweet Girl comes a dangerously addictive new thriller about a lavish Sri Lankan wedding celebration that not everyone will survive.

When Amaya is invited to Kaavi’s over-the-top wedding in Sri Lanka, she is surprised and a little hurt to hear from her former best friend after so many years of radio silence. But when Amaya learns that the groom is her very own ex-boyfriend, she is consumed by a single thought: She must stop the wedding from happening, no matter the cost.

But as the weeklong wedding celebrations begin and rumors about Amaya’s past begin to swirl, she can’t help but feel like she also has a target on her back. When Kaavi goes missing and is presumed dead, all evidence points to Amaya. However, nothing is as it seems as Jayatissa expertly unravels that each wedding guest has their own dark secret and agenda, and Amaya may not be the only one with a plan to keep the bride from getting her happily ever after

Review: I always look forward to seeing what Book of the Month has in store for the monthly picks, and while I am egregiously behind in keeping up with my BOTM picks, I will prioritize ones that look especially interesting. So naturally, when I saw that one of the picks this summer was “You’re Invited” by Amanda Jayatissa, I was pretty stoked. I had mostly enjoyed “My Sweet Girl”, her previous thriller, and while it had stumbled in some ways I liked Jayatissa’s voice and perspective. And honestly, the idea of a lavish wedding being thrown into upheaval due to a bride going missing, possibly due to a jealous ex friend, is just too good to pass up. I LOVE A GOOD WEDDING MESS!

We all know I love drama, and wedding drama is a special kind of drama. (source)

Jayatissa has once again given us a protagonist who makes a lot of questionable choices and is clearly hiding something not only from those around her, but also from the reader. This time it’s Amaya, a woman born in Sri Lanka who is now living in the U.S., and seems to be on the verge of emotional collapse. When she finds out her former best friend Kaavi is getting married to her ex boyfriend Spencer, and having a lavish wedding in Sri Lanka, Amaya is dead set on stopping the nuptials. Amaya clearly has things bubbling beneath the surface, as it is clear she is damaged and unstable in a lot of ways, and I just couldn’t wait to see just what was going on. Because obviously there’s a bit more to it than a potential backstabbing from people she used to know (though admittedly on paper that sure does sound infuriating). In terms of the mystery itself, I enjoyed the way that it was set up and slowly unveiled, through both first person POVs (namely of Amaya and Kaavi, jumping through the timeline a bit between them) and also transcripts of the official police interviews as they investigate Kaavi’s disappearance. It’s a good way to get a lot of different perspectives not only on the mystery itself, but also on our protagonist and the potential victim that she may or may not have been entangled with right before the disappearance. It makes for a mix of unreliability AND clarity, depending on how the pieces fall into place. I found myself able to guess some of the twists, but was genuinely surprised by others, and the pacing was quick and snappy so that I was propelled forward and fully engaged in the plot and how it was all going to turn out.

All that said, I did think that some of the twists were a little haphazard and cobbled together to make for higher drama when there probably didn’t need to be as such. One of them was even the kind that I just don’t like in that it was thrown in basically at the las moment, as one final shock to the narrative. I’ve complained about this kind of thing in the past, and I’m pretty sure that I had that gripe with Jayatissa’s previous novel “My Sweet Girl”. What I will say about this one was that it wasn’t so involved that it completely changed the outcome of the story in the last few paragraphs, but sometimes that’s even more frustrating because then what even is the point of doing such a thing outside of just being able to say ‘well maybe I gave you one last shock’. I don’t really need one last shock so close to the end, and unless you REALLY earn it, it’s usually going to be the kind of thing that leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

Sour taste aside, “You’re Invited” was entertaining, soapy, and suspenseful enough that I enjoyed my time reading it. Amanda Jayatissa is definitely going to be one of those authors I want to read, and I am very interested to see what her next book is going to be!

Rating 7: A couple twists felt out of left field and unearned, but overall I found this to be engaging and entertaining.

Reader’s Advisory:

“You’re Invited” is included on the Goodreads lists “Wedding Mysteries & Thrillers”, and “Books by Sri Lankan Authors About Sri Lanka”.

Kate’s Review: “Suburban Hell”

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Book: “Suburban Hell” by Maureen Kilmer

Publishing Info: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, August 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: A Chicago cul-de-sac is about to get a new neighbor…of the demonic kind.

Amy Foster considers herself lucky. After she left the city and moved to the suburbs, she found her place quickly with neighbors Liz, Jess, and Melissa, snarking together from the outskirts of the PTA crowd. One night during their monthly wine get-together, the crew concoct a plan for a clubhouse She Shed in Liz’s backyard–a space for just them, no spouses or kids allowed.

But the night after they christen the She Shed, things start to feel . . . off. They didn’t expect Liz’s little home-improvement project to release a demonic force that turns their quiet enclave into something out of a nightmare. And that’s before the homeowners’ association gets wind of it.

Even the calmest moms can’t justify the strange burn marks, self-moving dolls, and horrible smells surrounding their possessed friend, Liz. Together, Amy, Jess, and Melissa must fight the evil spirit to save Liz and the neighborhood . . . before the suburbs go completely to hell.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book!

I gotta say, back when my husband and I were looking to buy a house (gosh, almost ten year ago), I had a very firm line I didn’t want to cross: we had to stay in the city limits. I wanted to make sure that we were bonafide city dwellers, not living in suburbia and all of the baggage and shady history that comes with it. Well, it became pretty clear pretty quickly that if we wanted an affordable house that was spacious, suburbia it was gonna have to be. And I do love my house and my neighborhood these days, with parks, a library, and a lot of nature within a mile of my house. But the baggage is still there at times, as it’s still suburbia, and sometimes that can feel isolating. Because of this, I was VERY interested in the horror book “Suburban Hell” by Maureen Kilmer. That and the fact it sounded a bit “Desperate Housewives”-esque with a healthy dose of demonic possession.

“Suburban Hell” has a similar aesthetic and tone as “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires”, in that it follows some unlikely exorcists who have to do battle with an angry entity that has possessed their friend, all because of unsettled soil due to an in process ‘She Shed’. These suburban women juggle their kids, the neighborhood relationships and the supportive (and sometimes not so supportive) men in their lives, and provide support for each other. Our main character is Amy, an out of work social worker who first realizes that Liz, She-Shed owner and kind nurse, is acting off. The usual fare when it comes to possession novels starts to tick off: weird smells coming from Liz’s vicinity, dead animals popping up unexpectedly, otherwise inanimate objects becoming threatening, all while Amy and friends Melissa and Jess think there has to be a rational explanation, until there just isn’t one. It’s pretty standard and straight forward horror fare, and it’s admittedly pretty light on the scares. That isn’t to say it isn’t enjoyable, as I did find it to be a breezy and fun read, even if it wasn’t particularly scary.

The thing that was the most effective for me in “Suburban Hell” was the depiction of suburban ennui and the highs and lows of being a stay at home mom. I loved that between the moments of demon battle and research, we got to see Amy cope with a life that she does love, but doesn’t fulfill her as much as she would like it to. The side comments about the way that her children would get into trouble, or the longing for a return to a life where she was working full time in the city, or the way that her loving and supportive husband just sometimes didn’t GET it, all of it really rang true to me, as did the themes about how important having friends who do get it can be. Lord knows that I have those moments where I will be taking my toddler to the park and having a ROUGH GO of it, but know that my neighborhood friend (also with a toddler in tow) is going to be there and we can commiserate, which makes it a little better. This was the kind of connection that made Amy’s dogged pursuit of trying to save Liz super believable, even when faced with supernatural threat to herself. The friendship at the heart of the book is the good vs evil conduit, and I love seeing a possession story be less about religion and more about the power of inner goodness of anyone from any background.

“Suburban Hell” may not provide the scares that an avid horror fan wants, but it is still very fun and entertaining. I think that it would be a great choice for someone who is looking for a little bit of ‘horror lite’ with the upcoming Halloween season, at certainly for the people in your life who are trying to navigate the intricacies of suburbia and the ‘horrors’ that can be found beneath a veneer of contentment.

Rating 7: Relatable and filled with humor, “Suburban Hell” is lighter on the scares, but still has a lot of fun, devilish moments.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Suburban Hell” isn’t on many Goodreads lists as of yet, but you would find a solid companion in “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires”.

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