Serena’s Review: “Things Not Seen”

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Book: “Things Not Seen” by Monica Boothe

Publishing Info: Peniel Press, January 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: from the author!

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

Book Description: 17-year-old Kristin has selective blindness. She can’t see, hear, feel, or smell, her brother. This doesn’t stop them from becoming best friends, turning his unique invisibility into a game, but when the two of them are stranded alone during a blizzard, it doesn’t feel like a game anymore. Kristin will do everything she can to keep her little brother alive, but she’s the least qualified person in the world to do so.

Review: I always enjoy supporting lesser known authors when I get the chance. And after Boothe send me an excerpt to this book, I knew I wanted to check out the entire thing. The concept alone sounds very unique, and it was clear from even the first few chapters that the author had a solid foundation for her main character and the relationship she has to her invisible brother that forms the basis for this story. Add in a snow storm, and you have a primed set! Let’s dive in.

Kristin knows she has a younger brother. She just can’t see, hear, or feel him. But everyone else can, so she has had to find unique ways to connect and exist with this invisible sibling. Through these extra hurdles, however, the two have formed a particularly close relationship largely managed through texts and the small context clues that Kristin uses to locate her brother out and about in the world. But when a snow storm strikes while Kristin and Josh are home alone, an entire new set of circumstances highlights the challenges of their unique relationship.

I really enjoyed this YA novel. As I’ve mentioned before, I really like books that focus on sibling relationships, as I think there are a lot of interesting dynamics to be mined there. Here, we see two very close siblings, but their relationship is largely defined by the challenges of Kristin not being able to see, here or feel Josh. As the story is told from her perspective, we see how this loss has shaped her every thought and action. Everyone else around her can see Josh, and it is decided that she as what is called “selective blindness” where he is concerned. The book wisely doesn’t get too far into the weeds on this condition, but instead uses it mostly as a platform for the plot and the character work.

For Kristin’s part, we see how this condition has lead her to increased levels of anxiety about the dangers she could pose to her brother. But equally, we see how defined her life has become by this relationship, especially considering the extra work that has been necessary to create and maintain their connection. As she faces decisions about college, these anxieties and changes to how she must order and center her new life would be very relatable to many teen readers, regardless of the fantastical circumstances of the invisible brother.

I also really liked that we got to understand a bit more about how this relationship has affected Josh. For him, it is largely like having a deaf and blind sister. But as the story is told from Kristin’s POV, these realizations, that her condition affects Josh just as much as it does her, are slow to come and hard won.

As I’ve just spent two paragraphs talking about the characters and their relationships, I think it will come as no surprise when I say that the strength of this story really comes down to how well-drawn these characters are. Kristin’s voice is very approachable and relatable. And I fully drawn in to the complexities and turmoil of this sibling dynamic. It all felt very real and natural (or as much as it can with an invisible character at play!).

When it came down to some of the more factual bits of the story, I struggled a bit more. I grew up in northern Idaho and currently live in Minnesota. So I’m very familiar with blizzards and large quantities of snow. A central portion of this story is defined by Kristin and Josh trying to deal with a blizzard and a power outage. And…I just really struggled with some of the details here. Blowing snow, yes, can make visuals difficult and reduce sight lines. But unless you’re in a completely new location, this isn’t going to have much of an affect on travelling short distances. In this book, Kristin is walking (not even driving at any kind of speed where visibility needs to be far reaching) outside her family home. I just couldn’t buy the fact that she would get this disoriented or lost. We are also told at one point the specific amount on the ground (I believe it was around 8 inches or so) and this is just not much at all, in the grand scheme of things. But, again, this probably only stood out to me so much due to my own very specific experiences with snow (let me tell you later about having to snowmobile 3 miles to our house all winter) and also my, admittedly annoying, over-fixation on accuracy in survival situations (re: all the my past reviews of survival stories where I go crazy over the stupidest little details or inaccuracies).

Overall, I think this was a very strong book about the joys and challenges of sibling relationships. I was really impressed by the way the author had thought out the ins and outs of her central premise, that one sibling can’t see/feel/hear the other. Kristin was also a very relatable teenage character, and I think she will speak to a lot of teenage readers. Yes, I struggled with the snow storm stuff. But I still came away from it having really enjoyed my read.

And don’t forget to enter to a win a copy of this book!

Rating 8: An intimate and relatable portrayal of sibling relationships with a a compelling and sympathetic teenage protagonist.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Things Not Seen” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be onYA Contemporary Books with Great Portrayals of Relationships.

Giveaway: “Things Not Seen”

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Book: “Things Not Seen” by Monica Boothe

Publishing Info: Peniel Press, January 2023

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

Book Description: 17-year-old Kristin has selective blindness. She can’t see, hear, feel, or smell, her brother. This doesn’t stop them from becoming best friends, turning his unique invisibility into a game, but when the two of them are stranded alone during a blizzard, it doesn’t feel like a game anymore. Kristin will do everything she can to keep her little brother alive, but she’s the least qualified person in the world to do so.

Giveaway Details: Monica Boothe reached out to me about reviewing her upcoming book “Things Not Seen” a few months ago. After reading the excerpt, I was very excited to check out the entire novel! The voice of the teenage protagonist, Kristin, was immediately catchy and relatable. Add that to a very interesting concept, that of a sibling relationship where the sister has never been able to see/hear/feel her brother, and you have yourself a very compelling novel! Per the usual, my full review (spoiler: I really liked it!) will go live this Friday. Until then, don’t forget to enter to win a copy of “Things Not Seen!” The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and runs through January 24, 2023.

Enter to win!

Kate’s Review: “Wash Day Diaries”

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Book: “Wash Day Diaries” by Jamila Rowser & Robyn Smith (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Chronicle Books, July 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

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

Book Description: Wash Day Diaries tells the story of four best friends—Kim, Tanisha, Davene, and Cookie—through five connected short story comics that follow these young women through the ups and downs of their daily lives in the Bronx.

The book takes its title from the wash day experience shared by Black women everywhere of setting aside all plans and responsibilities for a full day of washing, conditioning, and nourishing their hair. Each short story uses hair routines as a window into these four characters’ everyday lives and how they care for each other.

Jamila Rowser and Robyn Smith originally kickstarted their critically acclaimed, award-winning slice of life mini comic, Wash Day, inspired by Rowser’s own wash day ritual and their shared desire to see more comics featuring the daily lived experiences of young Black women. Wash Day Diaries includes an updated, full color version of this original comic—which follows Kim, a 26-year-old woman living in the Bronx—as the book’s first chapter and expands into a graphic novel with short stories about these vibrant and relatable new characters.

In expanding the story of Kim and her friends, the authors pay tribute to Black sisterhood through portraits of shared, yet deeply personal experiences of Black hair care. From self-care to spilling the tea at an hours-long salon appointment to healing family rifts, the stories are brought to life through beautifully drawn characters and different color palettes reflecting the mood in each story.

At times touching, quiet, triumphant, and laugh out loud funny, the stories of Wash Day Diaries pay a loving tribute to Black joy and the resilience of Black women.

Review: It’s that time of year again, when the Goodreads Choice Awards showcase a number of well loved books, and I am confronted with titles that I had either never heard of, or titles that I had seen in passing but had forgotten about for one reason or another. “Wash Day Diaries” by Jamila Rouser falls solidly in the latter category, as I am certain that it had crossed my path once or twice before I clicked open the ballot for Best Graphic Novel. So given that I like to try and catch up on popular titles, and given that my current goal is to read more graphics (as they fell by the wayside a bit this year), I snagged an eBook of this for my Kindle and read it in about an hour one afternoon. And I definitely understood why it was on the ballot this year!

Overall I thought that this was a fun and incredibly charming collection of stories about four Black friends who are all dealing with various ups and downs in their lives as seen through their hair care days. I think that slice of life stories can be hard to do, especially when they are on the shorter side, but Rowser overall does a good job of letting the reader get to know each character and really get a feel for who they are with each entry. Be it Kim, who is setting aside all her time and other worries (namely an aggressive ex lover), or her roommate Cookie who is working through issues with her grandmother, or Nisha who has found herself in a love triangle, or Devene who is battling mental health issues, “Wash Day Diaries” looks at four Black women on their hair washing days and gives us an idea of who they are, and how much they all care for each other. All of the stories are short, and they have varying degrees of action to them, but they all paint a clear portrait of modern day Black womanhood for these four friends who are ride or die for each other.

There are always going to be limitations with slice of life stories such as these, ones that I myself tend to feel more just because I really love details and a wide breadth of exploration in stories, but for the most part I wasn’t put off by these things when I think in other contexts I might have been. It just goes to show that Rowser had a clear idea and overarching theme that connected through them all, and having a huge part of that being the vast experiences within Black womanhood and Black joy was really positive. Lord knows there need to be more stories about these things.

And I really enjoyed the artwork by artist Robyn Smith. I liked the designs of all the characters, I really liked the color palate, and I highly enjoyed the details that came out when focusing on the different Black hair styles that our characters had.

I highly suggest checking out “Wash Day Diaries”. It’s a quick read that has a lot of heart, and I am very interested in seeing what Jamila Rowser does next.

Rating 8: A slice of life collection built upon multiple arcs of four best friends, “Wash Day Diaries” is a tribute to Black hair, Black womanhood, and Black friendship.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Wash Day Diaries” is included on the Goodreads lists “Black Alt/Indie Comics”, and “Plus Size & Mid Size Rep: Comics and Graphic Novels”.

Book Club Review: “Interpreter of Maladies”

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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: “Interpreter of Maladies” by Jhumpa Lahiri

Publishing Info: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 1999

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

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

Book Bingo Prompt: A book with AAPI main characters.

Book Description: Navigating between the Indian traditions they’ve inherited and the baffling new world, the characters in Jhumpa Lahiri’s elegant, touching stories seek love beyond the barriers of culture and generations. In “A Temporary Matter,” published in The New Yorker, a young Indian-American couple faces the heartbreak of a stillborn birth while their Boston neighborhood copes with a nightly blackout. In the title story, an interpreter guides an American family through the India of their ancestors and hears an astonishing confession. Lahiri writes with deft cultural insight reminiscent of Anita Desai and a nuanced depth that recalls Mavis Gallant.

Kate’s Thoughts

It’s not often that book club takes on a literary tale, so this time around we were stretching our limits with Jhumpa Lahiri’s well beloved short story collection “Interpreter of Maladies”. I’m someone who does try to tackle literary fiction every once in awhile, and this had been on my list, so I was excited to finally check it out, short stories aside. As we all know, short stories and I don’t always get along, but I like to think that I am game when it comes to book club! And overall I definitely appreciated the acclaim this book has, and how important it was when it first came out.

As always, I will focus on the stories I liked best. The first one that really stood out to me was “When Mr. Pizada Came to Dine”. This one is told from the perspective of a little girl whose family opens up their dinner table to a man named Mr. Pirzada, who is in the U.S. for research and away from his wife and daughters who are still in Pakistan. As our narrator gets closer to Mr. Pirzada, she learns about the conflict he left at home, as well the divides between India and Pakistan, and the Civil War and ongoing conflict going on between Pakistan and India that leaves Mr. Pirzada wondering how his family is doing. This one is through the eyes of a child, but definitely conveys the emotional conflict that the family friend is going through, as well as conveying a coming of age understanding about a life that she has never known, but is happening across the world. I was very invested in Mr. Pirzada and his family, and thought that the emotional beats were well achieved. The other story that really stood out was “This Blessed House”, which is the story of Sanjeev and Twinkle, newlyweds who are settling into their new home in Connecticut. As they look through the house they keep finding Catholic symbols and objects, and while Twinkle is tickled, Sanjeev is more and more frustrated with her fixation. I thought this one had some very funny moments, but I also liked the examination of a newly married couple who are still getting to know each other, and perhaps realizing each other’s foibles.

There were other well done stories in this collection, and I found Lahiri’s writing style and gifts for imagery to be stark and very engaging. It has a lot of difficult themes, from family strife to racism to trauma and loss, but they all come together in the end to make a well realized and melancholy collection of experiences of Indian Americans from all backgrounds and back stories. While I still have a hard time with short story collections based on my own personal biases wtih the format, I thought that “Interpreter of Maladies” did a really good job of stringing them together even without making direction connections. I’m glad that we tackled it, because it gave me the push to actually check it out!

Rating 8: A well written and melancholy collection of stories about love, loss, culture, and identity, “Interpreter of Maladies” is lyrical and powerful.

Book Club Questions

  1. Do you have a favorite story in this collection? What was it about that story you liked?
  2. This book has a lot of themes involving love and marriage. What were your thoughts on the different romantic relationships in the various stories?
  3. The immigration theme in this book has a focus on struggle and difficulties to adjust to a new culture and home. Do you think that a lens of struggle is seen as much in stories about the immigrant experience these days as opposed to twenty years ago?
  4. What did you think of the writing style in this book? Did you feel that it connected the stories together well?
  5. Who would you recommend this book to?

Reader’s Advisory

“Interpreter of Maladies” is included on the Goodreads lists “South Asian Fiction by Women”, and “Immigrant Voices (Fiction)”.

Next Book Club Pick: “Travellers Along the Way” by Aminah Mae Safi

Joint Review: “Rules of Engagement”

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Book: “Rules of Engagement” by Selena Montgomery

Publishing Info: Berkley Books, September 2022

Where Did We Get this Book: ALA!

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

Book Description: Dr. Raleigh Foster, an operative for a top-secret intelligence organization, knows that her undercover work has its risks. So she doesn’t hesitate when asked to infiltrate Scimitar, the terrorist group that has stolen lethal environmental technology. But when she’s assigned a partner–brooding, sexy Adam Grayson–to pose as her lover, Raleigh discovers that the most dangerous risk of all…is falling in love.

Adam blames himself for the botched mission that got his best friend killed by Scimitar, and he believes that Raleigh may have contributed to the man’s death. But the closer he works with his alluring partner, the more his suspicions turn to trust–and intense desire. Now, as he and Raleigh untangle a twisted web of secrets and lies, the tension mounts between them…until their masquerade as a couple proves too tempting to resist.

Serena’s Thoughts:

Kate and I nabbed ARCs of this book during a preview panel at ALA. While I don’t typically read this sort of romance novel (I tend to stick within my genres, even with romance and am much more likely to pick up a fantasy or historical romance before a contemporary story), the plot synopsis of this one did stand out to me. Who can not be interested in undercover agents falling in love?

And there were things to enjoy as far as this premise goes. I liked the action scenes and the build up of tension during some of the undercover moments. The story was also written in an approachable, fast-paced manner and I was able to blow through it pretty quickly. I think readers of this sort of romance will likely very much enjoy it.

However, it is also very much of its time (originally published in 2001), and there were far too many times when I became frustrated with the interplay between the main characters, as well as their portrayals as individual characters. The hero, Adam, was probably the biggest issue I had with this book. He was very hot and cold, but not in a sexy way. More like a strangely aggressive obtuse inability to understand that Raleigh was also an under cover agent who would make the decision to keep her own secrets. I was also not a fan of some of the terms that were repeatedly thrown around to describe Raleigh, terms like “childlike,” “vulnerable,” and “fragile.” Ummm…she’s clearly a supremely competent under cover agent, given her success rate and her age. I don’t think “fragile” is the term I’d use to describe this type of person. But, again, much of this just feels more of a different time anything else.

Overall, this book is a bit dated, but I think it will likely still appeal to contemporary romance fans. Especially for romance readers who enjoy political intrigue and under cover operations.

Kate’s Thoughts:

As some one who has been very impressed by and a huge fan of Stacey Abrams, not only for her political maneuvering but also her unabashed geekiness (her perspective on the Buffy/Angel/Spike love triangle is PERFECTION), I was pretty eager to try out her first romance novel when it was presented to us at ALA. And by first I mean this was, as Serena said, a reissue of her debut from 20+ years ago. Even though romance is pretty hit or miss with me, I was more than willing to give this one a go.

And I have to echo a lot of what Serena said. Even though I’m not someone who really enjoys spy stories in general, I liked the espionage shenanigans in “Rules of Engagement”. It felt part Black Ops, part “James Bond”, and I enjoyed seeing Raleigh slip into characters while also balancing her real life, be it dealing with her attraction to Adam, or with her fun best friend Alex. I also mostly liked Raleigh, as her complexity felt real and believable while also fitting into the role of a super spy (who still manages to be SUPER young, but hey, that’s fine!).

But, also like Serena, the biggest downside for this book was the dynamic between Raleigh and Adam. I just didn’t like how he treated her, infantilizing her one moment, raging against her and nearly despising her another moment, then going full on protective star crossed lover ANOTHER moment. Whiplash! Whiplash I say! I agree that it probably worked better twenty years ago, but as a reader today I didn’t find it terribly sexy. And I say this as a person who generally likes enemies to lovers tropes!

It’s fun seeing Stacey Abrams alter ego’s first story in action! I may see if I can find some of her later romances to see how they compare, as “Rules of Engagement” had some pluses, but minuses as well.

Kate’s Rating 6: I liked the espionage stuff and I liked Raleigh for the most part, but the dynamic between her and Adam was not my cup of tea.

Serena’s Rating 6: Not for me, as I disliked the hero and had a negative reaction to some of the descriptions of the heroine as well. But this is also a very subjective opinion and fans of the genre will likely enjoy it!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Rules of Engagement” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but it should be on Spy Romances.

Serena’s Review: “Spells for Forgetting”

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Book: “Spells for Forgetting” by Adrienne Young

Publishing Info: Delacorte Press, September 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

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

Book Description: A deeply atmospheric story about ancestral magic, an unsolved murder, and a second chance at true love.

Emery Blackwood’s life changed forever the night her best friend was found dead and the love of her life, August Salt, was accused of murdering her. Years later, she is doing what her teenage self swore she never would: living a quiet existence on the misty, remote shores of Saoirse Island and running the family’s business, Blackwood’s Tea Shoppe Herbal Tonics & Tea Leaf Readings.

But when the island, rooted in folklore and magic, begins to show signs of strange happenings, Emery knows that something is coming. The morning she wakes to find that every single tree on Saoirse has turned color in a single night, August returns for the first time in fourteen years and unearths the past that the town has tried desperately to forget.

August knows he is not welcome on Saiorse, not after the night everything changed. As a fire raged on at the Salt family orchard, Lily Morgan was found dead in the dark woods, shaking the bedrock of their tight-knit community and branding August a murderer. When he returns to bury his mother’s ashes, he must confront the people who turned their backs on him and face the one wound from his past that has never healed—Emery.

Review: I’ve been a big fan of Adrienne Young from the start. I think I’ve read all of her YA fantasy to date? But I believe this is her first foray into adult fantasy, so I was really excited to see what changes in storytelling we’d see from her in this new target demographic. Some authors can managed the switch back and forth, while others struggle. Given her general high quality of writing, though, I was never really in doubt that we’d get anything other than a success from this book. And low and behold, how right I was!

Two tragedies in one shocking night. A fire in the apple orchard that provides the primary source of tourism to the remote island of Saiorse. And worse, the murder of a teenage girl right on the verge of starting her life. But while these tragedies might be in the past for some, for Emery and August, their lives have never been the same. After being accused of the murder, August is only now returning to his island home after a decade of exile. And while Emery remained on the island, her close connection to her accused boyfriend August has left her dealing with mistrust and sideways glances her entire adult life. But August’s return has forcibly dragged the past into the present, and old forces on the island are beginning to awake again.

A lot of the promotional blurbs for this book mentioned the word “atmospheric” and likened the feel of the story to “Practical Magic.” And I am here to attest to the fact that both of those descriptions are spot on! This is the type of fantasy story where the magic to be found is very mystical, more to be seen in the fluctuations of nature, the small changes of animal behavior. To be enacted by a very few and in very specific, restricted ways. In that way, the magic of this story was mostly to be found in the misty, mysterious island of Saiorse. From the get go, the sense of place was strong in this book. And as the island itself serves as such a backbone to the story that is being built up, this immediate feeling of familiarity and wonder instantly drew me into the book.

But more than just the beaches and forests that make up the island itself, Saiorse is a place with history. And that history was slowly, oh so slowly, unspooled for the reader as the story continued. Outside of our primary two narrators in August and Emery, we would get sporadic chapters from the perspectives of the other side characters who play such an important role not only in the events we are trying to piece together from the past, but in the mystery of the current day. These interwoven lives and each character’s different understanding of their own place in this community added such a level of depth to the story; it was fantastic.

I will say I was able to predict a few of the major twists of the story, which, at times, left me feeling anxious to speed through the book so our main characters could begin to piece things together, too. But I think this instinct to rush undermined the true beauty of the book which was to be found in the slow, ratchetting up of tension and dread. Even guessing a few pieces of the puzzle, there was no escaping the feeling of immanent doom careening towards our main characters. In a similar vein, the romance is a slow burn as well, with Emery and August drifting around each other in ever tightening circles for much of the book before finally coming back together at last. And as tense as that was, waiting for them to get their acts together, their romance was one of the strongest parts of this book for me. I liked what we were given in the present portion of this book, but I also loved the insights into their doomed teenage romance. It’s the kind of teenage relationship that every romantic young girl wishes for and one that even older, married women can still sigh over.

I really enjoyed this book. It only gets marked down from a ten due to some of the pacing issues regarding the reveals of certain mysteries and a couple of questions I had regarding the way the murder wrapped up. I’ve watched a few too many crime dramas to not be suspicious of some of the conclusions that were being reached about what could and couldn’t be actually prosecuted. But crime drama this is not, and once I firmly turned off that portion of my brain, I was able to fully sink into the lovely reading experience that was this book.

Rating 9: Beautiful and heart wrenching, the story revolves around a romance and mystery that draw the reader in and won’t let go until the final moment.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Spells for Forgetting” can be found on this Goodreads list: Spooky Season Reads.

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: “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”.

Book Club Review: “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine”

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 “Award Winners”, in which we each picked a book that has won an award of some kind.

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: “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman

Publishing Info: Pamela Dorman Books / Viking, May 2017

Where Did We Get this Book: An audiobook from the library; print book from the library.

Award: Costa Book Award

Book Description: No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: she struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding unnecessary human contact, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen, the three rescue one another from the lives of isolation that they had been living. Ultimately, it is Raymond’s big heart that will help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one. If she does, she’ll learn that she, too, is capable of finding friendship—and even love—after all.

Kate’s Thoughts

I am the type to try and spread my literary interests across multiple genres, and because of this I usually find myself reading buzzworthy or hyped books from contemporary and literary fields. But somehow, I missed “Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine”. I mean, I’d seen it around, of course, as it came out right at the tail end of my permanent hours library job where I did a lot of request processing and shelving. But I never really looked into it. So thanks to Serena for picking it for book club, as it landed on my book pile after not being at the forefront of my mind!

And I can see why this was hyped and buzzy, honestly. “Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine” surprised me a bit, as I expected one thing and got something that didn’t line up with those expectations. I thought that Gail Honeyman did a really good job of balancing a lot of things: an unreliable and kind of unlikable narrator (until you get to know her better), a humorous tone, and some really dark themes involving trauma and PTSD. But like I said, with a humorous tone! I think that it may have been a hard task for some authors, but Honeyman had me feeling just utter sadness for Eleanor, but then chuckling to myself about one thing or another, and it wasn’t ever in a discordant way, or a way that felt like the seriousness of the issues at heart was being undercut. Also, I loved Raymond, Eleanor’s first real friend. He is sweet and patient but not a pushover, and I thought he was just a delight (and kind of a fun swap of the usual way this kind of story works: it’s rare that a woman is allowed to be the surly and kind of unlikable protagonist while the man is the warm and caring one who helps the other grow. I liked the reversal). While it didn’t have any moments that totally wowed me or spoke to me overall, I enjoyed my time reading it.

Another thanks to Serena for picking “Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine” for book club! I thought that it was completely fine and a little bit more.

Serena’s Thoughts:

I must pass the thanks on, as it was my mom who raved about this book to the point that I selected it for book club. Unlike Kate, I rarely read outside of the three main genres I enjoy (mostly because I can’t keep up with books I want in even those genres, let alone more!), so this book was completely out of my wheelhouse. But in the end, my mom was completely right, and I really enjoyed this read!

I read the audiobook, and, if it’s available, I highly recommend checking that version of the book out. The narrator has a Scottish accent that does wonders to really bring Eleanor to life and ground the book in its setting. And as Eleanor is such a unique character, the narrator’s voice helped humanize some of her more odd antics and perspectives.

Like Kate mentioned, one of the most impressive things about this book was the balance the author was able to strike between humorous moments (think “Bridget Jones’s Diary”) and some really tough, grim topics. I was not at all prepared for how dark this book really got at times. But that said, when I closed the story, it left a hopeful, fun aftertaste, even more surprising considering some of these topics. I also really liked the exploration of mental health and therapy. Most books that deal with therapy have it happen off-page or don’t really go into how it really works for the character. Here, we get a very good look at an excellent therapeutic setting and outcome.

The book was also peopled with excellent characters. Eleanor herself is unlike any character I’ve ever read, and she makes a few friends along the way who stand out as well. I was also pleased that the story didn’t take a few of the more predictable turns, and on top of that, there are a number of fairly major surprises (or less surprising for some, our book club was a bit half/half on who predicted what).

Kate’s Rating 7: A nice story that balances a tragic foundation with humor and heart.

Serena’s Rating 9: I really liked this book! It was surprising in many ways and addressed some important topics without being overwhelmed with a grim tone.

Book Club Questions

  1. What did you make of Eleanor in the beginning of the book? How (or did) your opinion of her change as the story went along?
  2. This book tackles some dark subjects. How do you think it handled these?
  3. What did you make of Eleanor’s relationship with Raymond? Where do you think it will go in the future?
  4. There are some surprises towards the final third of the story? Were you able to predict any of them? What clues were given early on that pointed to these outcomes?
  5. Many people around Eleanor shaped her journey through this book. Which ones stood out to you and why?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” is on these Goodreads lists: 2017 Librarian Recommended Books and Best Up Lit (uplifting reads).

Find “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” at the library using WorldCat or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Next Book Club Book: “Take A Hint, Dani Brown” by Talia Hibbert

Serena’s Review: “Wildwood Whispers”

Book: “Wildwood Whispers” by Willa Reece

Publishing Info: Redhook, August 2021

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Book Description: At the age of eleven, Mel Smith’s life found its purpose when she met Sarah Ross. Ten years later, Sarah’s sudden death threatens to break her. To fulfill a final promise to her best friend, Mel travels to an idyllic small town nestled in the shadows of the Appalachian Mountains. Yet Morgan’s Gap is more than a land of morning mists and deep forest shadows.

There are secrets that call to Mel, in the gaze of the gnarled and knowing woman everyone calls Granny, in a salvaged remedy book filled with the magic of simple mountain traditions, and in the connection, she feels to the Ross homestead and the wilderness around it.

With every taste of sweet honey and tart blackberries, the wildwood twines further into Mel’s broken heart. But a threat lingers in the woods—one that may have something to do with Sarah’s untimely death and that has now set its sight on Mel.

Review: I don’t often much magic realism fiction (or women’s fiction…not sure how I feel about that even being a subgenre category…), but the book description for this book was giving me major “Practical Magic” vibes, so I thought it was worth checking out. The cover art was also beautiful, and my mood fit well for a more quiet, reflective read. This one wasn’t a perfect fit for me, but I think it’s a solid entry for fans of these genres.

Growing up bouncing around in the system, Mel could never find her home. That is until she met Sarah, a young girl who had recently been orphaned. Together, the two made a home for one another in their enduring bond. Years later, Mel once again feels the sand shifting beneath her feet when Sarah dies. To fulfill a promise, she travels to Sarah’s childhood home. There, she discovers there was much more to Sarah than she had understood. And as the dark woods whispers and family secrets swirl through the town’s quiet streets, Mel begins to see a new place for herself.

I liked the idea of this book more than the book itself, in the end. Those familiar with the blog will know that I love a sisters book, which this is. I also really liked the imagery of a small, quiet town in the mountains, having grown up in one myself. There’s something compelling about the quirks and histories that come out in places like this, strange to all but those who have grown up with them. Mel’s exploration of the two, people, and woods was particularly poignant for me in this way.

I also liked Mel herself, especially the brief flash we see of her as a child when she first meets and bonds with Sarah. She was definitely started out on a strong note here, a defiant loner who discovers kinship with a younger girl. But the adult Mel was more difficult for me to handle. The flashes of defiance and strength seemed muted, and there were many early moments between characters that left me scratching my head. Mel comes to the town, a complete stranger, and then strikes up some really bizarre conversations with various locals. I couldn’t figure out what was going on here. Was it poor writing that made these portions of dialogue read as odd? Was it on purpose? Either way, it hurt Mel’s characterization as I couldn’t understand her lack of human reaction to these weird happenings.

I also struggled to identify with several other plot elements. The antagonist was easily spotted from the beginning of the story (even if the motives were left murky for a bit longer). And the romance felt tacked on and, again, unnatural. I didn’t feel any real chemistry between these characters other than the fact that the author simply designed them to be together, so they were. r

I liked the magical elements that were interspersed throughout the book, but was left wanting more. This is a point that is particular to my taste, however, as a lot of magical realism stories are light on the magic. The exploration of grief, family, and home had moments of depth, but, again, never struck any real chords for me. Ultimately, it was a bit too sentimental for me.

Readers who enjoy quiet, thoughtful books and magic realism will likely enjoy this story. If you’re looking for a fast plot, strong romance, or strong characterization, this might be more of a disappointment. I don’t regret reading it, but it’s enough to prove that a little goes a long way for me with this kind of stuff.

Rating 7: Decent for what it is, a sentimental story of a woman processing her grief and discovering a new sense of self and roots.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Wildwood Whispers” is on these Goodreads lists: Fantastic Women’s Fiction with Magical Elements and August 2021 Book Releases.

Find “Wildwood Whispers” at your library using WorldCat or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

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