Book Review: Mirror in the Sky by Aditi Khorana

25802922.jpgMirror in the Sky

Aditi Khorana

4.5/5 stars

Release Date: June 21, 2016

Publisher: Razorbill

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

For Tara Krishnan, navigating Brierly, the academically rigorous prep school she attends on scholarship, feels overwhelming and impossible. Her junior year begins in the wake of a startling discovery: A message from an alternate Earth, light years away, is intercepted by NASA. This means that on another planet, there is another version of Tara, a Tara who could be living better, burning brighter, because of tiny differences in her choices.

As the world lights up with the knowledge of Terra Nova, the mirror planet, Tara’s life on Earth begins to change. At first, small shifts happen, like attention from Nick Osterman, the most popular guy at Brierly, and her mother playing hooky from work to watch the news all day. But eventually those small shifts swell, the discovery of Terra Nova like a black hole, bending all the light around it.

As a new era of scientific history dawns and Tara’s life at Brierly continues its orbit, only one thing is clear: Nothing on Earth–and for Tara–will ever be the same again.

Review:

This won’t be a very detailed review, more a recommendation and why this book is so important.

So I’m really sad this has such a low average rating on Goodreads but at the same time I’m not surprised. I think I may have misinterpreted the synopsis or something because when this book became more contemporary than sci-fi (what I was really interested in), I had to set it down/read it in-between other books. The sci-fi aspect is still a very big part of this book but it’s not the focus. If you want to read this because of the sci-fi element and not the contemporary you won’t like it. I’m still going to recommend MIRROR IN THE SKY to everyone because this book is so, so important! Don’t just write it off as “high school angst” – MIRROR IN THE SKY is so invaluable to teen and young adult readers. This is OwnVoices for an Indian MC; the main character is biracial but I’m not sure if that is also OwnVoices.

So many important topics/themes are covered: the pressure placed on teens to get good grades, join a fair amount of clubs/do extracurricular activities, work or support your family, make a decision/career choice that will impact your entire future at a very young age (16/17); peer pressure, bullying, racism, micro-aggressions, tokenism, misogyny. Finding yourself and just fitting in. Khorana creates a very authentic voice in her main character, Tara as well as her friends and family – it never felt like the author was introducing too much to the reader. There were so many things I could relate to, having experienced them when I was a teen and even as a young adult.

Khorana’s writing is incredibly beautiful! As the novel progresses and Tara experiences new things, some good and some bad, the narrator [Tara] talks about these events with such wisdom. They’re the kind of lines you find yourself quoting over and over again because they’re so beautiful and memorable. For fans of Sarah Dessen and Jenny Han.

Important things to consider before reading/recommending (spoilers below):

One of the secondary characters is outed as gay by a friend to her other friends. The scene wasn’t exactly positive (happened during a big fight) so it could be harmful to LGBTQIA readers.

Another secondary character may have had an eating disorder – I use the word “may” because this character denied it but most of her friends agreed?said? she had one.

I haven’t been able to find any reviews that discuss these two things or the rep of either characters.

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Book Review: Beyond the Red by Ava Jae

29282402Beyond the Red

Ava Jae

5/5 stars

Release Date: March 1, 2016

Publisher: Sky Pony Press

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Alien queen Kora has a problem as vast as the endless crimson deserts. She’s the first female ruler of her territory in generations, but her people are rioting and call for her violent younger twin brother to take the throne. Despite assassination attempts, a mounting uprising of nomadic human rebels, and pressure to find a mate to help her rule, she’s determined to protect her people from her brother’s would-be tyrannical rule.

Eros is a rebel soldier hated by aliens and human alike for being a half-blood. Yet that doesn’t stop him from defending his people, at least until Kora’s soldiers raze his camp and take him captive. He’s given an ultimatum: be an enslaved bodyguard to Kora, or be executed for his true identity—a secret kept even from him.

When Kora and Eros are framed for the attempted assassination of her betrothed, they flee. Their only chance of survival is to turn themselves in to the high court, where revealing Eros’s secret could mean a swift public execution. But when they uncover a violent plot to end the human insurgency, they must find a way to work together to prevent genocide.

Review:

BEYOND THE RED by Ava Jae is a thrilling ride from start to finish. With highly advanced aliens, a deadly planet and compelling characters, I was left wanting more. Whether or not you’re a fan of sci-fi, Jae’s writing has the power to engage every type of reader. The world, the characters and the non-stop action are incredible!

This book doesn’t feel like a debut. There are some really great debuts out there but there’s always something about them, something that lets you know it’s a debut. It feels like Jae has spent 10 years polishing her craft and knows her writing inside and out. I’m a huge sci-fi reader so I knew I’d like this, but BEYOND THE RED will also interest readers who don’t usually read or even like sci/fi. The writing reminds me of THE HUNGER GAMES – it just has that ability to captivate the reader. Every reader will find themselves relating to this book in one way or another.

I absolutely loved Eros and Kora. This book is a dual POV and I usually find myself favouring one POV over the other, but that wasn’t the case here. I loved both characters equally as well as their perspectives. I loved these characters, they sometimes annoyed me with their actions, and I was rooting for them to win every step of the way. I’d also like to add, I usually read books with female protagonists over male, their POV just interests me more. However, with Eros I was completely engaged and I was never dying to read Kora’s POV over his.

Oh my goodness, the world-building is incredible. I’m still trying to figure out how Jae does it. We get to see all the different aspects of the Sepharon – from social to political to economic. Their advanced technology was really out of this world. It was also great seeing how an advanced [alien] civilization puts their advanced technology to – mostly – good use (ex. growing crops, eradicating disease, advanced medicine). Jae also delves into things like discrimination and prejudice. This alien world is really fantastic in the way it informs the reader but doesn’t overwhelm.

The action and suspense may have been the best part. I’d get to the last 100 pages and go, “oh no, oh no, oooohhhh nnnnooo!!!!”. I usually read really slow but I was speeding through those pages, trying to get to the end and just hoping my favourite characters would be alright. Jae does not hesitate to destroy the reader’s heart! I have to say, during those last 100 pages I wasn’t sure if there was enough space to wrap things up – it was so suspenseful!

BEYOND THE RED is one of my favourite books of 2017 and I’m seriously dying to read the sequel! Please add this book to your TBR immediately. You could absolutely hate sci-fi and this book would change your mind. If you love sci-fi, BTR will become one of your favourite series. I’m not sure how I’ll survive until Fall 2017 (when the sequel comes out). Also, I’d buy this book for the hardback alone. That cover is gorgeous, but there’s also a map and a glossary/pronunciation guide?!

I read an advance reading copy of this book. This has in no way altered my honest opinion of the book.

Book Review: Frostblood by Elly Blake

27827203Frostblood (Frostblood Saga #1)

Elly Blake

4/5 stars

Release Date: January 10, 2017

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

The frost king will burn.

Seventeen-year-old Ruby is a Fireblood who has concealed her powers of heat and flame from the cruel Frostblood ruling class her entire life. But when her mother is killed trying to protect her, and rebel Frostbloods demand her help to overthrow their bloodthirsty king, she agrees to come out of hiding, desperate to have her revenge.

Despite her unpredictable abilities, Ruby trains with the rebels and the infuriating—yet irresistible—Arcus, who seems to think of her as nothing more than a weapon. But before they can take action, Ruby is captured and forced to compete in the king’s tournaments that pit Fireblood prisoners against Frostblood champions. Now she has only one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who has taken everything from her—and from the icy young man she has come to love.

Review:

Maybe a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

FROSTBLOOD by Elly Blake is such an original take on elemental magic – in this case fire and ice. Although I can’t specifically remember books that only had the elemental powers of fire and ice (compared to books with water, earth, fire and air), I’ve read books with this theme of fire vs. ice, summer vs. winter and I think it’s really easy for it to feel overdone. Blake turns it into something fresh and exciting.

I recommend this for readers wanting a small-scale fantasy world with tons of action. The world-building gets a pass from me but I would have liked more. I personally love fantasy books with a huge world, filled with all kinds of different stories. This is great for readers who get overwhelmed by those big fantasy worlds and just want a little magic, some action and fast paced writing.

The protagonist Ruby is very likeable and I loved being in her head. Although she isn’t quite on my list of favourite YA heroines, I can see her getting there after book two. I liked the romance between Ruby and Arcus, another main character. I was pretty much neutral about them in part one and ended up really shipping them at the end of part two.

This book is divided into two parts and I loved part two so much more than part one! There was so much more action, big fight scenes, and I loved the exchange between Ruby and King Rasmus, the Frost King – it was really intriguing! I just love when authors delve into these darker moments with their characters. Part one was good and it drew me in, but some of the chapters felt like “first book syndrome”. In the beginning the protagonist would travel around in all sorts of different directions and it ended up feeling like an excuse to add world-building or to share important information with the reader. I also felt like the cast of main characters was very small – there was a greater focus on Ruby and Arcus. Secondary characters felt more like minor ones because we didn’t really get to know them, other than maybe a talent of theirs or a hobby.

I definitely recommend FROSTBLOOD and plan to read the sequel! I hope the author expands on the main cast and the world-building in book two. An original take on elemental magic with fast paced writing and a strong, likeable protagonist.

Book Review: A Tail of Camelot by Julie Leung

23384425A Tail of Camelot (Mice of the Round Table #1)

Julie Leung

4/5 stars

Release Date: October 4, 2015

Publisher: HarperCollins

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Young mouse Calib Christopher dreams of the day when he will become a Knight of Camelot like his father and grandfather before him. For generations, Calib’s family has lived among the mice that dwell beneath the human Knights of the Round Table, defending the castle they all call home. Calib just hopes he will be able to live up to the Christopher name.

Then, on the night of the annual Harvest Tournament, tragedy strikes. The mice suspect the Darklings are behind the vicious sneak attack, but Calib has his doubts, so he sets off on a quest for the truth. Venturing deep into the woods beyond the castle walls, Calib and his friend Cecily discover that a threat far greater than the Darklings is gathering, and human and animal knights alike are in grave danger.

With help from a host of unlikely new allies, including a young human boy named Galahad, Calib must get the Mice of the Round Table and the Darklings to put aside their differences and fight together. Only then will they be strong enough to save Camelot.

Review:

Maybe a 4.5. Slight spoilers in review.

At first glance, A TAIL OF CAMELOT by Julie Leung sounds like a cute MG novel – a retelling of King Arthur and Camelot set in the POV of small, anthropomorphic animals. While this is true, it turned out to be so much more – the rich detail and world-building reminded me of REDWALL and the in-depth characters and humour made me think of THE BLACKTHORN KEY. Leung wowed me with her debut novel – add her to your auto-buy list!

Leung really brings Camelot – the court of the legendary King Arthur – to life. I didn’t just imagine a castle with mice dressed in armour, I saw a court of dedicated knights (mice, larks, squirrels), I could taste the food (elderberry wine, soup served in hollowed-out acorns), and I could feel the setting (i.e. sea breeze). This retelling is set during King Arthur’s reign, and while there are similarities between the humans and the animals sworn to protect Camelot, Leung gives the main characters their own past, present and future. Something I absolutely loved, becoming a knight (for the animals) is not gender-specific (something we usually see in historical and/or fantasy books) and there’s no mention of “why is this character becoming a page/squire/knight, she’s a girl” nonsense. The Second-in-Command (and later Commander) is Sir Kensington, a female mouse. We did see a bit of this with the humans. King Arthur is away, so Queen Guinevere proposes a plan to defeat the enemy and the Knights of the Round Table basically refuse to listen to her. One might argue it’s because she didn’t have the sword in the stone – the knights will listen to anyone who pulls it out – but the fact that they’d rather listen to a 12 year old boy (age may be wrong) who’d pulled out the sword rather than an adult was slightly annoying and maybe even unnecessary.

Calib Christopher was a very likeable character, I could immediately get into his head. He’s one of those characters who’s shy, doesn’t have a lot of confidence in himself and just needs that extra push to realize he is brave and smart. Calib being a likeable character didn’t make him stand out though, he felt a bit like an insert-yourself character, which I’m not the hugest fan of. This sort of character, while easily likeable, doesn’t completely challenge the reader.

Most of the chapters are in Calib’s POV but we also see the perspective of the humans. Told through a 12 year old boy, Galahad comes to Camelot to become a page or squire (can’t remember which). He’s the son of Sir Lancelot, who he’s never met, so there’s a lot of pressure and expectations on him. Galahad wasn’t my favourite character – he struck me as a bit of a stereotype. Luckily, chapters with Galahad were shorter than Calib’s, although it was funny to see how the humans reacted when they witnessed odd animal behaviour. I did like that Leung tries to balance out the male-dominated POV’s by introducing Cecily as a main character and someone who helps Calib save Camelot. She was a fun, bold character. Also, the names were the best thing ever and really helped with the world-building (ex. Sir Owen Onewhisker, Devrin Savortooth, General Gaius Thornfeather).

There are some underlying themes of prejudice and discrimination. In the beginning, the animals of Camelot and the Darklings (animals living in nearby woods) are enemies, despite the truce between them. Rumours surrounding the Darklings have basically taken on a life of its own. I loved that as the book progressed, Leung presents a different side to these animals. This isn’t too prominent, you really have to be looking for it, but it’s something that could be discussed more in the sequel. However, I would have liked to see the POV of the Saxons and weasels, and maybe less of the adding physical traits with negative connotations to the enemy i.e. rotten teeth.

While I found the plot a bit predictable, maybe because I’m familiar with this sort of archetype, MG readers will be delighted at the sort of plot twists Leung lays out for them. A TAIL OF CAMELOT is a must-have for MG readers and I cannot wait to read the sequel. Perfect for fans of REDWALL, this is a great book for introducing readers to historical fantasy and the myth of King Arthur and Camelot.

Book Review: Alice in Wonderland High by Rachel Shane

23111784Alice in Wonderland High

Rachel Shane

3.5/5 stars

Release Date: April 18, 2015

Publisher: Merit Press

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Sixteen-year-old Alice just can’t find a way to be free. Her parents are environmental activists whose cringeworthy public protests might involve chaining themselves to a fence and pleading with passersby to “Save the World. Save Alice!” It’s not that Alice doesn’t believe there’s work to be done. But after a petition to start a farmers’ market meets with more snickers than signatures, she figures she should shut up instead of speak out. At least, that is, until she can find something that feels real. Then along comes Whitney Lapin, a girl who speaks in cryptic riddles and spends her free time turning abandoned warehouses into beautiful gardens. Charismatic Whitney leads Alice on a rabbit trail into the underground—a.k.a. secret society—of Wonderland High.

Curiouser and curiouser. Alice is in wonderland! Even though Whitney’s group of teenage environmental vigilantes operates on the wrong side of the law, with them, Alice is finally free to be herself. She stomps on her good-girl image by completing a series of environmental pranks to impress the new group: flooding the school and disguising a pig as a baby in order to smuggle it out of a testing facility. She wants to trust them, and she especially wants to trust (or maybe kiss) Chester Katz—a boy with a killer smile, a penchant for disappearing, and a secret that will really turn Alice’s world backwards. But then one of the young vigilantes tries to frame Alice for all the pranks, and she must figure out their secret before she ends up in front of a jury that’s screaming, “Off with her head!”

Review:

So I actually read this book back in early 2016, but I found some old journals of mine and I’ve been writing mini-reviews on books I read some time ago based on notes in those journals. This review is shorter than my usual ones but I still wanted to share it. I think it’s good to bring back backlist titles every now and then. There are so many books published each year, it’s inevitable that you’ll miss a few.


ALICE IN WONDERLAND HIGH was an enjoyable read, with writing I immediately connected with and a good retelling of Alice in Wonderland, something we haven’t quite seen before in YA. I loved the protagonist Alice, she was smart and likeable, but also flawed. I also loved the other characters, they were an entertaining bunch – funny and mysterious! I wasn’t quite into the plot, I think the book was a bit underwhelming in that sense. The plot was solid but I wasn’t 100% into it.

I think when it comes to retellings I might stick to fantasy, I just prefer that over contemporary. I recommend this for YA contemporary readers looking for a solid retelling.

I did love the slight reference to Neverland at the end, that was really intriguing. I loved thinking about how my favourite characters from Peter Pan were retold in the author’s book world!

Book Review: Seriously Wicked by Tina Connolly

tinaconnollySeriously Wicked

Tina Connolly

4/5 stars

Release Date: May 5, 2015

Publisher: Tor Teen

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

The only thing worse than being a witch is living with one.

Camellia’s adopted mother wants Cam to grow up to be just like her. Problem is, Mom’s a seriously wicked witch.

Cam’s used to stopping the witch’s crazy schemes for world domination. But when the witch summons a demon, he gets loose—and into Devon, the cute new boy at school.

Now Cam’s suddenly got bigger problems than passing Algebra. Her friends are getting zombiefied. Their dragon is tired of hiding in the RV garage. For being a shy boy-band boy, Devon is sure kissing a bunch of girls. And a phoenix hidden in the school is going to explode on the night of the Halloween Dance.

To stop the demon before he destroys Devon’s soul, Cam might have to try a spell of her own. But if she’s willing to work spells like the witch…will that mean she’s wicked too?

Review:

Seriously Wicked by Tina Connolly is such a fun and original take on magic and witches in the modern world – I loved this from start to finish! I can’t wait to read the next book, it’s a very entertaining and well-written series.

I loved Cam and immediately connected with her. Her sense of humour was perfect for this story and this book was so well-written! On the surface, there’s lots of humour and fun but at the same time, there’s some serious character development. I loved that the author was able to weave those two things together. The serious side of this book I wasn’t expecting (a pleasant surprise) and it’s one of the main reasons I’m continuing onto the next book.

I was also happy with the fact that no romance occurred between Cam and the demon living inside Devon’s body, which was something I half expected and was worried about. Considering the demon is trying to destroy Devon’s soul (so as to remain on earth permanently) it’d be a bit problematic. There was romance between Cam and Devon which I found super cute and awkward (first loves/crushes) – and I loved every moment of it.

I think teens who were adopted or are really conflicted/unsure about their place in their family will find solace in this book. Cam was adopted and ends up confronting her adopted mother, the “Wicked Witch”. Their relationship has so many cracks, especially when it concerns Cam’s adoption. Seriously Wicked is told in Cam’s POV and it ends up being a case of an unreliable narrator because even though Cam wholeheartedly believes she was adopted, the Wicked Witch says the opposite. This was one of the more serious aspects of the book and a very important thing for Cam and her mother to overcome.

This is great for contemporary readers who want a bit of magic in their lives and fantasy readers who are in the mood for something light and funny. I recommend this series for those wanting humour, heart and a diverse cast of characters.

Book Review: Windwitch by Susan Dennard

29939390Windwitch (sequel to Truthwitch)

Susan Dennard

5/5 stars

Release Date: January 10, 2017

Publisher: Tor Teen

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Sometimes our enemies are also our only allies…

After an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak—which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed.

When the Bloodwitch Aeduan discovers a bounty on Iseult, he makes sure to be the first to find her—yet in a surprise twist, Iseult offers him a deal. She will return money stolen from him, if he locates Safi. Now they must work together to cross the Witchlands, while constantly wondering, who will betray whom first?

After a surprise attack and shipwreck, Safi and the Empress of Marstok barely escape with their lives. Alone in a land of pirates, every moment balances on a knife’s edge—especially when the pirates’ next move could unleash war upon the Witchlands.

Review:

WINDWITCH by Susan Dennard was incredible from start to finish. Filled with action, heartache and some of the greatest moments of character development I’ve ever read, this book is sure to become a favourite of 2017. The world-building is so rich, it practically leaps off the page. Enemies become allies and allies become enemies in this stunning sequel to TRUTHWITCH.

I want to take a moment to talk about the writing. It was so beautiful that I’d take the time to analyze every paragraph, every sentence, and every word. I feel like, in a way, Dennard’s writing can be compared to the gorgeous, imagery-like writing of Laini Taylor. I’ve never really considered this before, but the world-building and character development is so complex, so rich, it’s reached that level. This is the best Dennard book to date.

Like in TRUTHWITCH, this novel is told in 3rd person, multiple POV’s. We have characters already familiar to us: Merik, Safi, Iseult, and Aeduan. However, Dennard adds a 5th voice: Vivia Nihar, Merik’s older sister. Having this many voices in one book can go really wrong, but Dennard is flawless. In fact, WINDWITCH is one of the best examples of a book told in multiple POV’s. The transitions were so smooth, that when character A’s POV ended, even though I wanted to know more about character A, I was satisfied enough to continue on with character B. There have been times when I’m reading a book with only two different POV’s and the voices weren’t different enough. I understood that these two characters had different personalities, traits and ambitions, but the voices sounded too similar; as if I were reading a book with 1.5 POV’s rather than 2. I’m really astounded at how flawlessly Dennard pulls this off.

Moreover, Dennard usually followed a specific pattern that helped make these transitions smooth. The first couple chapters had only 1 POV per chapter but eventually a POV would change mid-chapter. These POV “pairings”, as I’m calling it, were usually Merik and Vivia, Iseult and Aeduan, or Merik and Safi. Merik and Vivia, and Iseult and Aeduan were usually in the same location or general vicinity, so it made sense to have pairings like these. Like I said, this is one of the best books with multiple POV’s and if you’re writing a book like this or planning to, I’d recommend you study Dennard’s style. I think it’d be really helpful for writers to see why this style worked for Dennard and whether or not it could work for you.

The character development is so amazing, along with the sort of relationships we see between different characters. This book is Merik’s arc and the focus is mostly on him. He has so much rage and grief and regrets, that it’s funnelled into a new identity: the Fury. There’s also a focus on Vivia, and Merik & Vivia’s relationship as siblings/rivals. This relationship was the most prominent and I loved every moment of it!

Iseult/Aeduan fans will be very happy with this book. These two create a temporary alliance and start traveling together in the Contested Lands. Their chapters ended up being my favourite, mainly because Aeduan is my all-time favourite character! There was the makings of a slow burn romance and I mean slowww, but this book starts them off as could-be-friends and allies, which is something I’m really happy about.

Some readers might be a bit disappointed because, in a way, that strong friendship between Safi and Iseult, the one that drew readers to TRUTHWITCH isn’t as prominent. Safi and Iseult are definitely fighting to reach each other in WINDWITCH but it ends up more about how these two fight for survival without the other. These two characters are so strong together, but how do they fare without the other to lean on? Some very tough and heartbreaking decisions are made in this book. The reader ends up seeing a different side of the relationship we first encountered in TRUTHWITCH and I really liked that. WINDWITCH takes the characters we loved from the first book and has them forging new, exciting and sometimes difficult paths.

I was slightly confused at the beginning because a character death (that happened in TRUTHWITCH) is mentioned and I honestly couldn’t remember it happening. This was more on me than the book. I did read book #1 about 1.5 years ago.

The last couple of chapters, the POV’s would change three or four times in one chapter and my heart was actually racing. All I could think about was getting to the end, it was so good! I’m very excited for book #3 BLOODWITCH – which happens to be Aeduan’s arc 🙂 – and now plan to re-read TRUTHWITCH. I cannot recommend this series enough.

Also, because of something that happened near the end of the book I feel like I know what book #4 will be called. Okay, I’m not totally sure on the exact title but I kind of felt a foreshadowing of events to come in book #4. Dennard mentioned in a chat I think, one of the Witchlands novels was supposed to be called THREADWITCH (Iseult’s arc) but B&N wouldn’t accept that title so she had to change her plans. This ended up worrying me because I started thinking “Oh no! Everyone gets a book named after them except Iseult?!”. However, I am not worried anymore 🙂

Book Review: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

5983694Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Grace Lin

4.5/5 stars

Release Date: July 1, 2009

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis:

Grace Lin, author of the beloved Year of the Dog and Year of the Rat, returns with a wondrous story of happiness, family, and friendship. A fantasy crossed with Chinese folklore, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a timeless adventure story in the classic tradition of The Wizard of Oz.

In the Valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli spends her days working hard in the fields and her nights listening to her father spin fantastic tales about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon. Minli’s mother, tired of their poor life, chides him for filling her head with nonsense. But Minli believes these enchanting stories and embarks on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how her family can change their fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest.

Review:

WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON by Grace Lin is the story of Minli, a young girl who lives with her Ma and Ba in the Village of Fruitless Mountain, who decides to find the Old Man of the Moon and change her fortune. This was a beautiful fantasy novel, filled with Chinese folklore and illustrations (by the author I believe) that every middle grade reader should have on their shelf.

This book is filled with stories and that really spoke to the past child-me who wanted to learn about every myth, legend and historical event of a book’s world. INKHEART by Cornelia Funke will forever be my favourite childhood book for this reason. To clarify, there would be the story of Minli, what I’d call the main text and then there were the stories the characters would tell each other. These stories were given a different format – italicized font, a title separating it from the main text – so it felt like a story within a story. These stories would either be inspired by Chinese folklore and the author’s imagination or were only slightly embellished (Lin 294). What I loved most about these stories, they were all connected in one way or another. For example, a main character of one story might be a minor character in another. After a story has been told, a character of it might be mentioned in passing, so you start picking up on that. How these stories were connected with each other and the main text really depended on the character telling it and where that character lived. Truly stunning!

I loved every character in this book – from Minli to her parents to the minor characters and even the villains/antagonists in the stories the characters told to each other. However, the characters aren’t as impressive as the characters of other middle grade books. This is not to say the characters are underdeveloped but this book is basically a book of fairytales, so the characters aren’t meant to be that complex. I’m worried a MG reader might get bored, when thinking about characters of other books. I would also say this book might be a hit or miss for people that don’t usually read middle grade. I loved this for the stories, but if you don’t enjoy them, I’m not sure if the characters can tide you over.

I was never bored with the plot and I think Lin is a born storyteller. The things the author would come up with and how Minli & other characters overcame those odds were incredible. I found myself being able to easily guess what would happen next, but that didn’t deter from the story for me. I think this was done on purpose and fit with the whole fairytale format. I wasn’t familiar with any of the folktales but being able to still guess what would happen in most cases helped me connect with those stories and characters. I also loved that Ma and Ba regularly had chapters told in their POV. Usually in fairytales, the parents are absent but this was a nice and realistic change.

I would 100% recommend this book. The originality of the stories and the people and creatures Minli meets on her journey was absolutely amazing! Talking fish, dragons, beautiful illustrations and greedy monkeys?! What more could you ask for? I can’t wait to read more of Lin’s works.

Book Review: These Are My Words: The Residential School Diary of Violet Pesheens by Ruby Slipperjack

29913356Dear Canada: These Are My Words: The Residential School Diary of Violet Pesheens

Ruby Slipperjack

4/5 stars

Release Date: August 30, 2016

Publisher: Scholastic Canada

Purchase: Amazon | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

Violet Pesheen is struggling to adjust to her new life at Residential School. She misses her Grandma; she has run-ins with Cree girls; at her “white” school, everyone just stares; and everything she brought has been taken from her, including her name—she is now just a number. But worst of all, she has a fear. A fear of forgetting the things she treasures most: her Anishnabe language; the names of those she knew before; and her traditional customs. A fear of forgetting who she was.

Her notebook is the one place she can record all of her worries, and heartbreaks, and memories. And maybe, just maybe there will be hope at the end of the tunnel.

Drawing from her own experiences at Residential School, Ruby Slipperjack creates a brave, yet heartbreaking heroine in Violet, and lets young readers glimpse into an all-too important chapter in our nation’s history.

Review:

These Are My Words: The Residential School Diary of Violet Pesheens by Ruby Slipperjack tells the story of 12 year old Violet (Pynut) and her experience at a residential school during the years 1966 and 1967. Like previous Dear Canada books, the novel is told in a diary-like format. If you’re unfamiliar with the Dear Canada series, they are books published by Scholastic Canada with the purpose of introducing middle grade readers to Canadian history through fictionalized diary entries, along with an epilogue, historical note and (usually) real photographs and maps. Most of the books are written by different authors but the format is always the same.

The diary-like format has always been my favourite thing about this series and THESE ARE MY WORDS is no exception. The diary entries help with bringing the reader back in time and makes Violet seem all the more real.

I could immediately get into this book and the story itself was fantastic, but Violet’s characterization fell a bit short for me. She didn’t seem to have much of a personality and I couldn’t get a strong sense of the emotions she was feeling. I understood she felt angry, scared, anxious and on occasion joy, but it was more told than shown. I thought at times maybe we didn’t fully see her personality because of the way residential schools were; Violet would have gotten in serious trouble for the things she wrote. I also thought that, this being a diary, she could have at the same time poured everything she had into it. Residential schools did drain children in every possible way, mentally, emotionally, and physically, so it’s also possible that at the end of the day Violet didn’t have a lot to share.

The first couple pages were very powerful, showing the horrific ways Indigenous children like Violet were treated. One of the worst was when Violet was given a number. Being reduced to #75 really made an impact. Unfortunately, the last couple pages didn’t have the same effect and it didn’t feel like an ending. I didn’t really feel like Violet’s story was over, unlike other books in this series.

THESE ARE MY WORDS is really great for introducing middle grade readers to the history of residential schools and Canadian history. Like other Dear Canada books, this novel was outstanding and I read it from start to finish. I recommend that all teachers, librarians and parents buy this for their MG readers. I don’t think many people realize how close to us residential schools have existed. The author mentions in the historical note that the last residential school closed in 1998. 1998! That’s only an 18 year difference from this book’s publication date. I haven’t read this series for years so I’m really happy this was the book that brought me back into it.

Book Review: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

21414439Truthwitch

Susan Dennard

5/5 stars

Release Date: January 5, 2016

Publisher: Tor Teen

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Chapters/Indigo.ca | B&N | Kobo

Synopsis on Goodreads:

In a continent on the edge of war, two witches hold its fate in their hands.

Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home.

Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she’s a rare Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden – lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult’s true powers are hidden even from herself.

In a chance encounter at Court, Safi meets Prince Merik and makes him a reluctant ally. However, his help may not slow down the Bloodwitch now hot on the girls’ heels. All Safi and Iseult want is their freedom, but danger lies ahead. With war coming, treaties breaking and a magical contagion sweeping the land, the friends will have to fight emperors and mercenaries alike. For some will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

Review:

I love reading an author’s second series because of books like TRUTHWITCH. Dennard’s writing is gorgeous, and her characters fresh and original. The world of TRUTHWITCH is huge and it’s because of Dennard’s experience as a writer that the reader is never overwhelmed by it all. This is the book that will be talked about for years to come, a book that deserves every bit of hype.

TRUTHWITCH is the tale of two threadsisters and Dennard is able to perfectly balance their stories, so that it never feels like one is more significant than the other. This is a multi-POV book; told in the POV’s of Safi (our Truthwitch), Iseult (Threadwitch), Merrik (Windwitch), and Aeduan (Bloodwitch). In a lot of cases, this is a big undertaking because there needs to be enough space given to each character. Dennard is absolutely perfect when it comes to this. The switch between POV’s is smooth and I felt like I got enough time with each and every character.

I loved all four of our main characters. Safi was funny and ambitious, someone who acts before she thinks. Iseult was my favourite, mainly because I felt our personalities were very similar. She was introverted and calm, and I felt like she was very selfless, in the sense that she’d give up everything if it meant her friends and family were happy. Merrik is someone who would do anything for his country and is desperately fighting for its survival. He also has a lot of rage, which fits so well with his witchery. Then there’s Aeduan, the infamous Bloodwitch. Like Iseult, he was another favourite and I can’t wait to find out more about him. He’s very mysterious and a bit of an anti-hero, but that kind of makes me love him more haha. The characters go through some serious character development and I especially loved the actions of Safi at the end – it showed her growth.

I usually mention this in my reviews, but world building is my absolute favourite and Dennard did not disappoint. If you’ve seen a map of this world, you might have noticed that it looks like an alternate version of Europe. I loved that! Dennard is so strong when it comes to giving the reader a good visual of her world. There are so many different cultures, but again we are never overwhelmed. We’d glimpse the world through the characters actions, through music and poetry, myths and legends. It was also great seeing both the good and bad of the world. For example, we experienced the discrimination of the Nomatsi through Iseult, which is her ethnicity.

I actually think if you liked Avatar: The Last Airbender, you’ll like this. The world is based upon elemental magic and the scale of the world (very big!) is about the same. I also sensed a bit of Zuko in Aeduan, which was great.

Dennard is truly a Wordwitch when it comes to writing. With magic and suspense at every corner, TRUTHWITCH is a must-read. The writing is visually stunning and the world equally so. Dennard has created a beautiful start to a fantastic, new series.

Disclaimer 1: I won an advanced readers copy from the author, this has in no way altered my honest opinion of the book.

Disclaimer 2: I wrote this review about a year after reading it, but I based it on notes written immediately after finishing it, so everything in my review is accurate.