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

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

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: “The Raven Mother”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

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

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

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”.

Book Club Review: “The Ten Thousand Doors of January”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  
Read the full disclosure here.

We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Book Bingo” where we drew reading challenges commonly found on book bingo cards from a hat and chose a book based on that.  For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “The Ten Thousand Doors of January” by Alix E. Harrow

Publishing Info: Redhook, September 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

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

Book Bingo Prompt: A book with a misleading title

Book Description: In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

Kate’s Thoughts

We’re back to a familiar statement from me during a Book Club post and discussion: I am not really a fantasy reader outside of a few specific exceptions, be it titles (“The Lord of the Rings”; “The Neverending Story”) or sub-genres (dark fantasy). So going into my review of “The Ten Thousand Doors of January”, you need to take all of this with a grain of salt. Maybe a teaspoon or two. I am almost never going to be able to vet a fantasy title super well because as a genre it’s not my bag, baby (a phrase that was tossed around in book club during the discussion).

What I will say about this book that I did like was the way that Harrow incorporated social issues of the time period into the book. We see the struggles of life in Edwardian-era England for not only women, but also women of color within a certain social stature. While January is somewhat shielded from some of this because of her placement with Locke, she is still kept in a gilded cage, and eventually put in an asylum under guise of hysteria when in actuality she is more inconvenient for Locke and his contemporaries when she becomes a perceived threat. And then once she is more outside of Locke’s ‘protection’ (you can’t REALLY call it that), her race is suddenly something she also has to contend with in a more direct and overt fashion. I also liked the way that Harrow addresses aspects of Imperialism and Colonialism through the character of Jane, a woman born in Africa who was being subjected to a missionary school, and eventually finds a door that helps her find freedom. And really, her door, where she encounters a world with a matriarchal cheetah society, was SUPER interesting! But we didn’t really get to see much of that. We didn’t get to see as many doors as I anticipated.

So yeah, I liked the social aspects of this book, as it’s great to see fantasy address these themes. But it’s still fantasy, which just isn’t my genre. So this is very much a ‘your mileage may vary’ situation.

Serena’s Thoughts

Don’t worry fantasy lovers! As the resident fantasy reader, I am happy to step up to vet titles in this genre. And, all told, I found a lot to like in this book. This is definitely one of those fantasy novels that leans heavily on subgenres like historical and literary fiction. While there is definite magic involved in the story and it is surely a portal fantasy, the pacing and overall feel of the book falls more in line with literary fantasy and historical fiction than anything else. As Kate mentioned, the book focuses a lot on the realities of life in this time period for both women and people of color. Even though there are fantastical doorways into different worlds, there is no magic wand to wave away the very real challenges facing many during this time.

The pacing of this book is also on the slower side, spending much more time developing the overall feel of the story and the realities that January is facing. But to balance this slower pace, the story is broken up into two primary stories: one that of January herself, and the second following another young woman born a few decades before January who also found doorways and used them to redirect the pathway laid before her. I really enjoyed the way these two stories came together. I was also surprised by a few twists and turns that were given a long the way. For all the dire circumstances and reality that makes up so much of January’s life, the story includes a hefty dose of hope right when things could begin to feel a bit too bleak.

Overall, I really liked this book. It’s definitely on the slower side and errs towards the lyrical over the action-packed. Like some book club members pointed out, for a book about a thousand doorways between worlds, the story spends most of its time in our old familiar world. But I think that worked for the balance that was being struck between fantasy story and a larger reflection on this period of history and its people.

Kate’s Review 6: It’s fantasy. I liked some of the social themes presented and the small tastes of some of the worlds. But it’s just not my genre.

Serena’s Review 8: A lyrical fantasy novel that makes up for its slower pacing with its lovely character work.

Book Club Questions

  1. What were your thoughts on January as a protagonist of this book? Did you connect with her as a main character?
  2. Did you find it to be a nice change of pace when the book would transition to the Adelaide story arc?
  3. Which side characters did you find the most compelling in this story? Were there any side worlds through the doors you liked reading about?
  4. What were your thoughts on how this book tackled and addressed various social aspects like imperialism, racism, and sexism?
  5. Were there any moments that stood out in particular in this novel?
  6. Who would you recommend this book to?

Reader’s Advisory

“The Ten Thousand Doors of January” is on these Goodreads lists: Portal Fantasy Books and Best Books with a Month in the Title.

Next Book Club Book: “Old Man’s War” by John Scalzi

Kate’s Review: “A Blanket of Butterflies”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

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”.

Serena’s Reivew: “The Monsters We Defy”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “The Monsters We Defy” by Leslye Penelope

Publishing Info: Orbit, August 2022

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Washington D. C., 1925

Clara Johnson talks to spirits, a gift that saved her during her darkest moments in a Washington D. C. jail. Now a curse that’s left her indebted to the cunning spirit world. So, when the Empress, the powerful spirit who holds her debt, offers her an opportunity to gain her freedom, a desperate Clara seizes the chance. The task: steal a magical ring from the wealthiest woman in the District.

Clara can’t pull off this daring heist alone. She’ll need help from an unlikely team, from a jazz musician capable of hypnotizing with a melody to an aging vaudeville actor who can change his face, to pull off the impossible. But as they encounter increasingly difficult obstacles, a dangerous spirit interferes at every turn. Conflict in the spirit world is leaking into the human one and along D.C’.s legendary Black Broadway, a mystery unfolds—one that not only has repercussions for Clara but all of the city’s residents.

Review: I was super excited when I received a copy of this book from the publisher. Not only is the cover very eye-catching, but it looks to be covering a unique time period and perspective for historical fantasy. I’ve read a million and one Regency fantasy novels (not that I’m complaining, I’ve read three excellent ones just this summer!), but it’s always refreshing to see authors pushing the boundaries on what we expect from this particular sub-genre. On the other hand, heists with a quirky group of people has also been done to death. So….I let’s see what this book had to offer!

Anyone pestered by spirits would be a little testy. And Clara, cursed/gifted with this ability for her entire life, has only barely begun to reign in her fiery temper. But she can’t stop herself from getting involved when people begin to act strangely and then go missing. Together with a band of other magically-afflicted individuals, Clara must work to pull off a heist to steal a magical ring. But the spirits won’t go easy, and they all will need to band together to pull of this feat!

I’ve read several other books by this author before, but they’ve all been second world fantasy, complete with magic systems and long, epic histories of warring gods. So I was curious to see how she would handle this change of pace. However, it is always a bit steadying to go into a new book knowing that, at the very least, the author has the writing chops to pull of her story. Whether this change in subgenre would work or not, I knew that Penelope would craft a well-told, descriptive story. And I was definitely right about that! I really enjoyed this version of Washington, D.C. in the 1920s that she imagined. There was enough recognizable history and culture to center the reader in the setting, but the introduction of magic and cultural folktales layered over it all to bring us something fresh and new.

Clara herself was an excellent character. I enjoyed her spirit (ha, bad pun) and determination to break through all of the barriers placed before her. But as this is a heist story, we, of course, also have a band of other players to follow as well. Penelope did a good job of laying out each of their histories and motivations in such a way that, for the most part, I felt invested in all of their individual outcomes. I will say, my initial reaction to large casts of characters is typically hesitance, as it’s not my preferred reading style. So while I personally wasn’t blown away by all of these characters, the author did a better job than most in introducing them and using them in such a way as to retain my interest.

The author includes an excellent note at the end about the history of the young woman who served as an inspiration for Clara (a young black woman who spent two years in prison for manslaughter after killing a policeman who enter her home and began shooting). She also explains her use of African American folktales through out the story. It was clear that this book was well-researched, and I think it was an exciting new entry of historical fantasy fiction, which, all too often, can begin to blend together with similar-sounding stories.

I’m running a giveaway for an ARC of this book, so don’t for get to enter! The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends Aug. 31.

Enter to win!

Rating 8: A fresh, new historical fantasy story that introduces an excellent cast of characters and highlights African American folklore.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Monsters We Defy” is on this Goodreads list: Can’t Wait Sci-Fi/Fantasy of 2022.

Serena’s Review: “Longshadow”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Longshadow” by Olivia Atwater

Publishing Info: Orbit, August 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: The marriageable young ladies of London are dying mysteriously, and Abigail Wilder intends to discover why. Abigail’s father, the Lord Sorcier of England, believes that a dark lord of faerie is involved – but while Abigail is willing to match her magic against Lord Longshadow, neither her father nor high society believe that she is capable of doing so.

Thankfully, Abigail is not the only one investigating the terrible events in London. Mercy, a street rat and self-taught magician, insists on joining Abigail to unravel the mystery. But while Mercy’s own magic is strange and foreboding, she may well post an even greater danger to Abigail’s heart.

Review: I’ve been having a blast this summer working my way through Atwater’s historical fantasy romances. I was so blown away by “Half a Soul,” and then the follow-up, “Ten Thousand Stitches,” was just as fun. That being the case, I wasted no time in picking up this book once my ARC arrived. And, while it probably is my least favorite of the three, it was still a solid, fun read.

Abigail has never felt a keen interest in dancing with the gentlemen at the various balls and parties she attends with her family. However, she recognizes that it holds appeal for many of the other marriable young ladies. But then those same ladies begin to mysteriously die, and Abigail discovers that while dancing may not be her thing, solving a murder mystery sure seems to be. When she teams up with self-taught magician who comes from a very different rung of society, Abigail begins to understand that she may not know herself as well as she thought.

Much of the appeal from the first two books was present again here. The writing was fun, clear, and fast moving (even if the plot was less so at times). In a word, these books have all been very “readable.” It was also a blast getting to see several of the characters from the first two books as well. I love it when authors manage to write stand alone stories but then weave in familiar faces in follow-up works. You get the returning-faces-appeal of sequels without having to forfeit a new main character and new overall story. It was nice to see these characters, but the balance was also appropriate, as it remained Abigail and Mercy’s story throughout.

However, didn’t find myself quite as attached to either of these characters as I did the ones in the first two books. I think in some ways this was just my own preference for the type of characters/romances that I most enjoy. The first book, especially, had the exact sort of romance I love. Here, while I enjoyed the uniqueness of Mercy and Abigail’s story, I didn’t find myself swept away by their romantic arc. Mercy had a few reveals later on that added to her story, but overall, she wasn’t the sort of love interest that I most enjoy.

I did like the murder mystery, overall. This definitely falls over several of my preferred genres. But again, here, I found the pacing of the story and mystery to be a bit more off than in the first two books. The story takes a decent amount of time to really get going. And by the time we get to the reveals around the mystery, it begins to highlight the fact that for the reader, the mystery was pretty much unsolvable. Again, there’s a delicate balance to be found between making a mystery so obvious that the reader immediately guesses the solution before the sleuth themselves does, and going to far the other way, where the mystery is totally unsolvable on its own.

Overall, this book delivered on much of what I expected from it: a fun story, a slow-burn romance, and a lovely balance of fantasy and history. That said, it’s probably my least favorite of the three. But fans of the first two will likely still enjoy this one and should definitely give it a go!

Rating 8: A bit slower than the first two books, but still a fun beach read that is sure to be a hit, especially for those looking for a sapphic love story in historical fiction.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Longshadow” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but, like the others, it should be on Regency Fantasy Books.

Serena’s Review: “Wildbound”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here

Book: “Wildbound” by Elayne Audrey Becker

Publishing Info: Tor Teen, August 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: With the assassination of Telyan’s king, the time for peace has passed.

Determined to make up for his failure to procure the stardust, Helos finds work as a healer at Fendolyn’s Keep, the military garrison to which Telyan’s exiled royals–and half its civilians–have fled. Racing against the Fallow Throes’ ticking clock, he endeavors to repair his relationship with Prince Finley and fight off the gathering shadows in his head, as the base around him prepares for war.

Half a continent away, his sister Rora is doing everything she can to reawaken the land and end Eradain’s slaughter of magical beings. Still reeling from the revelation that Eradain’s violent monarch is her half-brother, she journeys to the kingdom determined to infiltrate his court in disguise–and finds the seeds of rebellion are already stirring.

With a magical illness running rampant and the continent arming for battle, the three realms’ long-feared destruction seems inevitable. But the two shifters they believed would bring about Alemara’s ruin may in fact hold the key to its survival.

Previously Reviewed: “Forestborn”

Review: This book has been on my “most anticipated” list pretty much from the minute I finished the first book, “Forestborn.” It was a surprise read for me, as I went in with very few expectations. But now the situation is reversed, and I had tons of expectations for greatness when I picked this one up. And, while it didn’t quite reach the highs of the first book, it definitely didn’t let me down. Let’s get into the review.

The two shifters, prophesied to bring death to the land years ago, have been separated. Rora has gone north to try and gather intel and help form a resistance to the tyrannical leader (who happens to be their half brother) who is trying stamp magic out of the land. For his part, Helos is eager to return to his work as a healer. But soon enough he finds that he is unable to so easily slip back into his quiet life. Instead, with the knowledge that he and his sister are potentially in line for the throne in the north, Helos is beginning to see a very different future for himself.

I was a little hesitant when I opened this book and realized the POV was split between Rora and Helos. For one thing, I was very happy in my single-POV perspective in the last book. And for another thing, in that book at least, Helos was kind of an unreasonable grump who I didn’t foresee needing tons of time with going forward. But I’m happy to say that I was proven wrong! Not only were Helos’s chapters very good, but as it stands, Rora’s own story was so simple that this book couldn’t have existed if it had focused only on her events. Frankly, there were a few times when I felt the story lagged due to the slowness of her storyline.

For his part, Helos’s story focuses a lot on inner growth. Not only does he need to process the torture that he underwent in the first book, but we also see his struggles with finding a place for himself in the world. Where Rora was already comfortably working for the royal family, Helos was always floating in a more mixed role, working as a healer but also deeply in love with the youngest prince. On top of that, here he is beginning to come to grips with a future as a monarch himself. His story is very much one of having to find balance and a way forward when you have two extremes with regards to helping others: on one hand, a healer literally touches the people and provides care, and this can be incredibly rewarding. But is there a responsibility to take on the role of leader to help the greater good, even if that means a loss of the instant gratification that comes from being a healer? It’s all very good stuff and I think handled in a way that acknowledges the intricacies of these types of choices.

As I said, Rora’s story, unfortunately, is where the pacing of the book got held up. And the reason this book’s rating had to drop a bit for me from the first book’s place. Her story feels both very fragmented, with her jumping from one group and mission to a different group and mission and again with very little natural transition. Beyond that, she doesn’t have much of a personal arch, which just makes her story a bit harder to become truly invested in.

That said, I was still much more interested in Rora and Wes’s romance than in Helos and Finley. Even spending more time with Finley here, I couldn’t shake my impression that he came across very much as a “manic pixie dream boy,” without much true personality to come by, other than being this perfect, charismatic bean. Which, frankly, I’m just not that interested in. And then, due to the nature of the story, Rora and Wes are apart for much of the book. I kept anxiously awaiting them to be reunited, and it was completely worth it in the end. But I do think this long delayed reunion contributed to my struggles with the pacing of the book in the first half of the book.

Ultimately, I did find this book to be a good conclusion to the duology and a solid read on its own. I don’t think it quite lived up to the high of the first book, but it definitely didn’t detract from that in any way. And it did resolve and nicely tie up the loose heads left hanging from that book. Also, I still love the romance between Rora and Wes, and the payoff there was well worth the wait. Fans of the first book should definitely check out this conclusion!

Rating 8: The pacing stumbled a bit and Rora’s own character lacked a direct arch, but I enjoyed Helos’s story a lot more than I expected and the romance was still on point!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Wildbound” can be found on this Goodreads list: YA Novels of 2022

Serena’s Review: “Soul Taken”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Soul Taken” by Patricia Briggs

Publishing Info: Ace, August 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: The vampire Wulfe is missing. Since he’s deadly, possibly insane, and his current idea of “fun” is stalking Mercy, some may see it as no great loss. But when he disappears, the Tri-Cities pack is blamed. The mistress of the vampire seethe informs Mercy that the pack must produce Wulfe to prove their innocence, or the loose alliance between the local vampires and werewolves is over.

So Mercy goes out to find her stalker—and discovers more than just Wulfe have disappeared. Someone is taking people from locked rooms, from the aisles of stores, and even from crowded parties. And these are not just ordinary people but supernatural beings. Until Wulfe vanished, all of them were powerless loners, many of whom quietly moved to the Tri-Cities in the hope that the safety promised by Mercy and Adam’s pack would extend to them as well.

Who is taking them? As Mercy investigates, she learns of the legend of the Harvester, who travels by less-trodden paths and reaps the souls that are ripe with a great black scythe. . . .

Previously Reviewed: “Moon Called,” “Blood Bound,” “Iron Kissed,” “Bone Crossed,” “Silver Borne,” “River Marked,” “Frost Burned,”and “Night Broken” , “Fire Touched” , “Silence Fallen”,  “Storm Cursed” and “Smoke Bitten”

Review: I’m always happy when I see another “Mercy Thomson” book coming my way. I’ve always preferred this series to the “Alpha and Omega” companion series, and it’s been running on a high note for the last few books. Plus, I’m really getting pretty desperate about my urban fantasy situation. I’ve tried out a few things here and there, but how many of those reviews have you seen on this blog? Yeah…I think that says it all. Anyways, on to my tried and true!

Something is going on with the vampires. A sentence no one wants to hear, especially not Mercy and her pack of werewolves who are responsible for the lives of everyone in the Tri City area. The powerful and eccentric vampire, Wulfe, is missing and his mistress is also behaving strangely, tasking Mercy to find her lost vampire. At the same time, an urban legend of a powerful, dangerous weapon wielded by a being called the Harvester is beginning to sound like a bit more than a myth. On top of that, secrets in the pack are coming to a head. All just in another day for Mercy Thompson!

I really liked this entry into the Mercy Thompson series. For one thing, I was glad to see that we, again, experienced the book through Mercy’s eyes, with only a few the interruptions of chapters from Adam’s perspective. While there wasn’t a lot of character growth for either main character or changes in their relationship, this is hardly surprising considering we’re on, what, the 13th book? There was a bit of discussion around the continuing challenges of the secondary, beast form that Adam has been cursed with. I liked some of the exploration around this form being an extension of long-repressed PTSD from his time as a soldier before he became a werewolf.

For Mercy’s part, we see her continue to grapple with her understanding of her mentor/quasi-father figure, Zee, a powerful Fae being. The mystery of this book dives deeply into Zee’s own past, and we see Mercy again have to confront the darker sides of her friends. As she spends most of her time surrounded by “monsters,” this type of grappling with finding the good in beings who, in some form or another, routinely deal with death, has always been a compelling part of the story.

Beyond Zee’s story, we also get more background into Bran and his family. I was still left wanting a bit more here, but it’s always interesting when we can add layers on top of this complicated character and his sprawling history as the leader of the werewolves. Mostly, however, the book focused in on the history of the vampires we know well: Marsilia, Stephen, and, most especially, Wulfe. There was a lot of great history to be found here, and I really liked how their story was tied into the other mystery of the Harvester and how that had become an urban legend in the first place.

For everyone who enjoys this series, this was definitely a solid entry. It doesn’t advance Mercy’s own story in any significant ways, but it also continues the tradition of finding clever ways to use her shifter affinity with death magic to solve otherwise impossible situations. We also got a good amount of information about the vampires and their twisted histories and relationships. Fans of the series will likely be very happy with this one.

Rating 8: A clever use of Mercy’s magic, a nice addition to the lore of this world, and a fun story all around!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Soul Taken” can be found on these Goodreads lists: Most Anticipated PNR 2022 and Trickster Gods.

Kate’s Review: “Shutter”

This post may contain affiliate links for books we recommend.  Read the full disclosure here.

Book: “Shutter” by Ramona Emerson

Publishing Info: Soho Crime, August 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC of this novel at ALAAC22.

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

Book Description: This blood-chilling debut set in New Mexico’s Navajo Nation is equal parts gripping crime thriller, supernatural horror, and poignant portrayal of coming of age on the reservation.

Rita Todacheene is a forensic photographer working for the Albuquerque police force. Her excellent photography skills have cracked many cases—she is almost supernaturally good at capturing details. In fact, Rita has been hiding a secret: she sees the ghosts of crime victims who point her toward the clues that other investigators overlook.

As a lone portal back to the living for traumatized spirits, Rita is terrorized by nagging ghosts who won’t let her sleep and who sabotage her personal life. Her taboo and psychologically harrowing ability was what drove her away from the Navajo reservation, where she was raised by her grandmother. It has isolated her from friends and gotten her in trouble with the law. And now it might be what gets her killed.

When Rita is sent to photograph the scene of a supposed suicide on a highway overpass, the furious, discombobulated ghost of the victim—who insists she was murdered—latches onto Rita, forcing her on a quest for revenge against her killers, and Rita finds herself in the crosshairs of one of Albuquerque’s most dangerous cartels. Written in sparkling, gruesome prose, Shutter is an explosive debut from one of crime fiction’s most powerful new voices.

Review: Thank you to Soho Crime for giving me an ARC of this novel!

Before I went out to the ALA Annual Conference this summer, I made a list of books that I wanted to look for in potential ARC form. I also sat down and tried to figure out which publishing house was where on the map so I could be the most efficient in finding said potential books. There were some that I put little stars next to, denoting that these were the books I was most excited for, and “Shutter” by Ramona Emerson was one of those books. I had stumbled upon the description of this book online, and it just called out to me. An Indigenous author combining a gritty detective procedural with a story of a woman who can see ghosts at the crime scene she photographs? In Albuquerque, when New Mexico is one of my favorite states?! HELL YES I WANT THIS BOOK! And I was so thrilled when it was available. I finally sat down to read it about a month after the conference, and let me tell you, I was not disappointed.

The first big thing is that, as we all know, I am a HUGE sucker for stories with people who can see ghosts. I love the idea of a person communicating with the dead, and so help me, if it helps solve a crime and gets tangled up in a procedural setting, I am going to be SO ON TOP OF THAT. And Emerson nails that entire concept here with a really likable medium protagonist, a well established psychic connection to the dead, and how that can both help and hinder her (and it’s mostly hinder her) in her professional and day to day life. I love the idea of the dead not being at all chill about finding someone they think can help them, and then becoming so obsessed with her that THAT is one of the scariest things. In so many stories like this the medium just assists the ghosts because that’s just the right thing to do. In “Shutter”, the ghost in question, Erma, is a complete psychotic asshole who is making Ramona’s life a living hell, and watching it escalate is creepy and scary. I also liked the kinder and gentler interactions between Ramona and ghosts, mostly those from her childhood where her deceased grandfather would come to visit. But along with all that, I also LOVED how Emerson brings an Indigenous perspective to this, and how for Ramona as a Navajo woman seeing the dead is incredibly taboo and something that makes those in her community wary of her, as well as worried for her. Because of this, she cuts herself off from her culture in some ways, and it reflects a lot of the tragic ways that Indigenous people can lose grasps on their identities in a reality that doesn’t involve ghosts.

But this is also a solid procedural thriller, that mixes in gritty detective drama, cartel threats, and a very real and malevolent undercurrent of police corruption that is rotting at the systemic level. While it is true that Erma is a pain in the ass and genuinely creepy at times, the real threat to Ramona is getting too close to not only dangerous drug runners, but also realizing that the supposed ‘good guys’ that she works with can be just and threatening, as law enforcement has its own problems with violent, dangerous people working within it. Emerson also addresses how Rita, as an Indigenous woman, had bad run ins with police as a kid, where she tried to use her powers to help solve a murder, but then was zeroed in on as a potential suspect as opposed to someone with information. Sometimes procedurals get lost in the idea of good police working against the odds, and maybe address a smattering of bad cops here or there while being sure to show that the hero cops are righteous and true. I always kind of like it more these days when stories about law enforcement, even those that follow detectives and police, are more honest about the serious problems law enforcement in this country has in regards to racism and corruption, and “Shutter” addresses it very well.

If you love a good detective story, and if you love a good story about people who talk to ghosts, absolutely pick up “Shutter”. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Rating 8: Heavy, creepy, and suspenseful, “Shutter” is an awesome horror twist on a procedural mystery.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Shutter” isn’t on any Goodreads lists as of yet, but I think it would fit in on “Not the ‘Normal’ Paranormal”.

%d bloggers like this: