Author Archives: samcmar

ARC Review – Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America edited by Ibi Zoboi

Title: Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America

Editor:   K.E. Ormsbee

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Black is…sisters navigating their relationship at summer camp in Portland, Oregon, as written by Renée Watson.

Black is…three friends walking back from the community pool talking about nothing and everything, in a story by Jason Reynolds.

Black is…Nic Stone’s high-class beauty dating a boy her momma would never approve of.

Black is…two girls kissing in Justina Ireland’s story set in Maryland.

Black is urban and rural, wealthy and poor, mixed race, immigrants, and more—because there are countless ways to be Black enough. 

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Anthologies are always hard to review. As a reader some author’s styles or stories will gel better with you than others, and that is totally the case with Black Enough. This is a wonderful collection by a group of talented black authors, each of them with unique perspectives to share on what it means to be “black enough.”

I have to say some of my favourite stories were “Oreo” by Brandy Colbert (I felt for the heroine in this one, oreo seems like a bit of a cruel term to use, especially for liking musicals!), “Half a Moon” by Renee Watson was a fantastic family oriented story, and “Kissing Sarah Smart”by Justina Ireland was a fantastic look at a young black lesbian learning what it means to capture her sexuality. I also adored “Ingredients” by Jason Reynolds, but I am a sucker for his character banter, and this one had me in stitches because the friendship between the boys was just hilarious and true to life.

And this is why anthologies are hard to rate. There are stories in this book I enjoyed, but didn’t find as memorable. Despite them not being memorable for me, it doesn’t make the collection itself any less valuable, and I know there are going to be so many young black readers who are going to be able to identify with the stories that are represented strongly in this collection. I look forward to sharing this book with the teens in library because I feel like it has so much to teach about race, racism, and what it means to feel marginalized. There is so much truth and value here that I fee like young readers are going to be able to identify issues in these stories and relate.

Black Enough is a great collection of stories by a group of amazing authors, and I think if you can get your hands on it, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Advertisements

Late to the Party ARC Review – Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani & Viviana Mazza

Title: Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree

Author:  Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani & Viviana Mazza

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: On April 14, 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls. Some managed to escape. Many are still missing. A new pair of shoes, a university degree, a husband—these are the things that a girl dreams of in a Nigerian village. A girl who works hard in school and to help her family. A girl with a future as bright as live coals in the dark. And with a government scholarship right around the corner, everyone—her mother, her five brothers, her best friend, her teachers—can see that these dreams aren’t too far out of reach. Even if the voices on Papa’s radio tell more fearful news than tales to tell by moonlight.

But the girl’s dreams turn to nightmares when her village is attacked by Boko Haram, a terrorist group, in the middle of the night. Kidnapped, she is taken with other girls and women into the forest where she is forced to follow her captors’ radical beliefs and watch as her best friend slowly accepts everything she’s been told. Still, the girl defends her existence. As impossible as escape may seem, her life—her future—is hers to fight for.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree is a difficult book to discuss. It’s the story of young women who were kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014. Our narrator, a young girl, tells the story of what life was life before the kidnapping, and what life became after she was forced to become a “wife.”

This book starts out very hopeful; the girl discusses her family, her desire to get an education and how she is supported by her father to do so, and then the kidnappings happen. Reading about the girls who were forced to become Boko Haram’s wives was terrible, uncomfortable and felt all too real.

This was an event I admit I didn’t really follow when it was in the news, but one I feel like I have a better understanding of having read this book. There’s many discussions in this book from cult mentality to rape culture, and it makes you feel a lot of anger for the women who had their lives completely stripped from them.

What’s crazy about this book is that it’s addictive. The writing is engaging, it’s disturbing, but there is shreds of hope that the girl and reader cling to. It’s frightening to think how current this event was and how aspects of this cult mentality to still exist within our world. I feel for those that suffered in this period. Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree is a powerful look at those who survived Boko Haram, and a what it means to be a survivor.

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air, #1) by Holly Black

Title: The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air, #1)

Author: Holly Black

Rating: ★★

Synopsis: Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

Huge thank you to Mando Media for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I used to be a huge Holly Black fan. I also loved how dark and sinister a lot of her stories felt. Then I read The Darker Part of the Forest and something happened — I found a book by her I didn’t enjoy. I thought this would be a one off experience, but The Cruel Prince didn’t capture me at all either.

I just never found myself clicking with the story of the characters. A lot of the issue with books featuring fae is that a lot of authors don’t go beyond the “Ohhhh fae are evil” or “Ohhhh fae are evil but their hearts can be changed.” Fae are awful, but providing depth beyond that seems to be challenging for a lot of authors. A lot of the fae folk in this story were just awful for the sake of awful and they never experienced any better development for the course of the story. Jude aggravated me a lot of the time and I just never found myself connecting with her, either.

I still love and appreciate how atmospheric a lot of Holly Black’s books are. I think what books like The Cruel Prince and The Darker Part of the Forest lack in strong characters, they make up with by having strong worlds that are bold and vivid. There is such a huge experience from Black’s writing that comes through her description, but this story just never grabbed me. Not even a little bit.

Oh and that romance? It made me cringe uncomfortabely the way A Court of Thorns and Roses did. I don’t understand how anyone can find that romance to be, y’know, a romance. Nope nope nope.

I admit, I am just so used to the quirks that come from the fae rep in Dresden Files and October Daye that my brain kept trying to push those versions of the fairy courts. I recognize this is an unfair comparison given those are 10-12 book series. I found at times The Cruel Prince was dragging feet and trying to play coy with me, saying “If you stick around to the end, all the good bits will happen,” and it just never got there for me.

I think if Holly Black goes back to novels like her Cursed Workers series, I’ll be back on the train, but if she keeps doing these uninspired fae books, I’m out for a bit. The hype train on this one may have been just a touch too high for me.

Late to the Party ARC Review – Salt by Hannah Moskowitz

Title: Salt

Author: Hannah Moskowitz

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Even though their parents disappeared during a hunt three months ago, seventeen-year-old Indi and his siblings, Beleza, Oscar, and Zulu, continue to roam the Mediterranean on their sailboat and hunt down monsters–but Indi yearns for a more settled life for his family, and he hopes that his parents’ journal with its tantalizing hints of a treasure, will provide them all with the means of escape from their nomadic and dangerous life before it is too late.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

This was a fun read. There’s not a lot of pirate stories out there, let alone one with a more modernized twist to it. Salt takes a look at a group of siblings who have a strong desire for adventure, as they hit the high seas.

Salt has a fantastic ensemble cast. Each of the siblings has a distinctive voice, each with memorable quirks and personalities. I think the book captures the good aspects of a pirate novel — there’s plundering, adventure, and a desire for independence. I think what also makes this book interesting is that there’s definitely a sense of existential dread that looms over the characters as well. I think what I struggled with though, is that while the characters felt well developed, the story just plodded along and it didn’t feel like a lot happened. I suppose in a way I thought this would be a more plot intensive book, given that most pirate stories are. Perhaps that was the wrong assumption to go into with this book.

I generally have a mixed relationship to Hannah Moskowitz’s books. I either love them to the ends of the earth, or they are just pretty good. Generally, I find I love her contemporary books over her fantasy novels, and that it true of Salt. This book has fantastic characters, but if you’re looking for a plot intensive book, that isn’t what Salt is about. Sadly for me, as much as I loved the characters and found it to be a quick read, ultimately, it’s going to be a forgettable one as time passes.

Late to the Party ARC Review – The House in Poplar Wood by K.E. Ormsbee

Title: The House in Poplar Wood

Author:   K.E. Ormsbee

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: For as long as the Vickery twins can remember, they’ve only ever been able to leave the house together once a year, on Halloween. The rest of the year, Lee and his mother serve Memory, while Felix and his father assist Death. This is the Agreement.

But one Halloween, Gretchen Whipple smashes her way into their lives. Her bargain is simple: If the twins help her solve the murder of local girl Essie Hasting, she’ll help them break the Agreement. The more the three investigate, however, the more they realize that something’s gone terribly wrong in their town. Death is on the loose, and if history repeats itself, Essie’s might not be the last murder in Poplar Wood.

Simultaneously heartwarming and delightfully spooky, The House in Poplar Wood is the story about a boy’s desire to be free, a girl’s desire to make a difference, and a family’s desire to be together again.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I love a K.E. Ormsbee middle grade novel. Would you like to know why I love her books? Her middle grade novels always have a large mystery in need of unraveling, with wonderfully mysterious child characters who often adventure into the unknown and always come out stronger in the end.

Gretchen, Lee and Felix were so memorable. I do want to praise the disability representation in this book as Felix is blind in one eye and Lee is deaf in one ear. It’s done very well and these two characters are portrayed as though its a part of who they are and its very normalized. Felix and Lee are twins and they are intriguing at times because they were separated in a peculiar way that I do not want to spoil. In fact, that particular moment in the novel made me really feel for the boys!

Then there is Gretchen, who is strong-willed and not afraid of much… well, until a bit later in the story. She gets some interesting growth in the novel and while her behavior is not always likable, its makes sense in the process of the story. Actually, a lot of this book is a slow read, but it’s the engaging, mysterious kind of slow that keeps you interested, wanting to understand more and more about the world, the characters, and the murder of local girl, Essie Hasting, which is a huge part of Gretchen’s narrative.

This is very much a fall read, and one that I think will appeal to those who love the idea of a slow burn mystery. This is not a fast-paced middle grade read, but rather the kind of book that takes its time setting its atmosphere and tone, which are a large draw in this story. Ormsbee is a beautiful writer, and I love her worlds so much! If you like peculiar characters and an eerie but interesting world, check outHouse in Poplar Wood.

Where I’ve Been

Hi everyone,

I feel like it has been quiet here. A little too quiet. That’s what happens when you have a health scare and depression bites you in the ass. You just feel loss, unmotivated, or your mind is fixated on other things that become priority. 2018 was one hell of a year, there was a lot going on. I was fighting a lot of bad but trying to find the good. There was many moments of good and great and those are the moments I am treasuring.

2018 was also the year I made some realizations. Particularly about myself, my life and a direction I want to go in. You’ll see more of that on the blog coming up though. I’ve been in a particular mood, the kind where it’s large scale reevaluation. I read a lot this year too, because sometimes I just read my feelings or read to get out of specific feelings.

Here’s what’s going down for 2019 on this blog (or my goals rather…)

  1. I am going to try posting twice a week. I was doing every other week and I found that got to bee overwhelming when life and work were not co-operating. I’m going to try for Tuesdays and Fridays for a bit and see how that goes. I am hoping it will help me stay consistent.
  2. You are going to see a lot more personal posts, as well as bookish posts. I have lots of stuff I want to ta;l about and mini features I am bringing back. I also owe you all a post dedicated to my trip to Japan last September, but I haven’t been in the head space to write it (short answer: I miss Japan).
  3. You will see a lot of back list reviews. I got into a period where I wasn’t in the mood to read any ARCs, so you’ll be seeing a lot of older titles being mixed in with newer stuff. This is a part of my goals this year is to not fall behind as badly as I did towards the end.
  4. Lastly, to give myself the power to say it’s okay if I don’t feel like posting or put a hiatus up without feeling guilt. 2019 is going to be a different, more self-reflecting year for me and my goal is to have more adventures that don’t feel forced (like selling a house or moving).

Here’s hoping I can stay consistent. I hope you enjoy the posts as they start rolling in. Happy 2019, and let’s try to start the year off right!

2019 Personal Goals & My Year of Less

Resolutions are hard to keep, but goals are much more manageable. I am moving towards my own personal Year of Less and I am making goals in my life to become much more aware of what I am purchasing and bring into my home. I am going to do a post about eco-friendly swaps I’ve made, things I no longer buy, and steps towards figuring out what I can do to feel like I have less things dictating my life.

I have three hobbies I love and they are going to be a big focus for me this year (outside of the sustainability goals). Here’s what I am planning to do about the following:

Tea

Those who know me well know I love tea. It’s probably my favourite beverage due to sheer variety (outside of beer). However, I started to realize my basket of tea was feeling somewhat out of control, so to show you all how bad it is, I took a photo. I am sure there are folks far worse than me, but I feel like this still too much to own. I love my reusable tins and my goal is to just have a few reusable tins. My other is to continue to support local businesses once in awhile, but I need to behave myself. Hopefully by the end of 2019 this will be a lot more tame.

Video Games

Backloggery Unfinished Games List

It is no surprise that I love gaming. Usually every year I can knock out at least twenty games from my backlog. I’ve slowdown a bit in favourite of reading, which is not a bad thing. However, having almost 200+ unfinished/unplayed games freaks me the hell out. It got to the point where I had to sit down in December and actually track my unplayed games and it was… not pretty.

This is the personal goal that is going to be a bit harder because games take a lot of time. I love them, and I love savouring them. However, if I finish something this year that I know my husband doesn’t want to play or I’m not going to loan it to a friend, I’m going to take it to my local used game store and get credit or cash with it, just so it’s less stuff. If I do buy games this year, I’m going to try and go digital more often as well. I think this is great in the long run and we’ll see how I do.

Books

This is my to be read shelf and pile. I have books on my floor. That gives me a heart attack.

I kept having this problem after I graduated university where I kept accumulating news books and then the piles would stack up. As many of you know, I work for a public library, so it’s very easy to bring home new books as well. I probably have about two hundred books, unread, in this photo. My goal in 2019 is to give this the ye old college try to read these books that I have. If I love them enough for a reread or I want to lend them to someone, they can stay, but if they are read and I don’t feel the same desire, I will be donating them to schools, or if they are more recent, get some cash for them.

I LOVE getting advance reader copies of things as well, but I actually now consistently donate my ARCs to my best friend who works for a school system. Her teens get a lot of joy from getting these ARCs (whether they are already released or not) and she’s noticed they are happier to be reading more when given the opportunity. This makes me feel amazing knowing that these books are not in the trash or being resold at used bookstores.

Reading goals are hard, but also valuable too. If I can cut this shelf and pile down to 75ish books by the end of 2019, I’d be really excited. I already have two totes full of books that I cannot wait to take to the used book store this coming weekend. My husband and I just don’t have the space for a massive library right now, and truthfully I like having some breathing room from my stuff. We’ll see how this goes.

Here are my basic reading goals for 2019 (outside of the downsizing of my TBR).

  • Read 1 book a month selected by my husband. For January he selected Red Country by Joe Abercrombie (a nice big fat fantasy novel by the King of Grimdark).
  • Read 200 books (I read 473 last year, but I include trade comics and graphic novels)
  • Finished the MPL Reading Challenge (I run system wide a staff wide reading challenge. It would be bad if I didn’t finish this!)
  • Try to participate in a reading challenge of some kind a month (I usually find this helps boost my need to read).
  • Be okay with the idea of not finishing a book if I am not enjoying it. If I am being honest, this will be the hardest challenge of all because I go down with a sinking ship for EVERYTHING.
  • Stop buying books all together and continue to use my local library (and request they buy something I am interested in instead!). I will make exceptions to the rule if a friend publishes something or if it’s an author I already have the series physically for (such as The October Daye series by Seanan McGuire).

I think these goals are pretty modest.

Stuff in General

This year the goal is to spend less on stuff and use my money on experiences or things that make me happy. I love saving money, I’m a lot more thrifty than I once was as well. One of my goals here is to use up things that I have so that way I can then buy eco-friendly or reusable versions of the item, which in the long run, will save me money and help me decrease my personal carbon footprint. Here’s a few swaps I’ve made just to make life a easier (and as I said, I’ll do a full post soon enough).

  • Reusable Cotton Rounds – At this point in time I have a half bag of cotton rounds left, and once they are done, I am going to start using reusable rounds for cleaning my face. My reusable ones come with a little bag that can go in the washing machine and it makes my heart happy.
  • Razors – Once I am done with my small pile of disposable razors, I’m switching to a metal safety razor.
  • Mesh & Cloth Bags – Honestly, I’ve been doing this one for a long while. It just makes grocery shopping a hell of a lot easier and no more little bags when I buy produce. I have mesh ones that again can go in the washing machine when I am done.
  • Travel utensil set & metal straw – Another easy swap. It’s so easy when you get take out to use plastic utensils and straws. No more. I have a little set that stays in my backpack that I can bust out for those moments. Then I go to the bathroom and I clean them. Easy peasy.

Doing a lot of these little swaps (and more) has definitely made like with stuff more manageable. My goal is to pare down more of my physical things as well (see if they can be used other places, donated somewhere, swapped). It can be hard, but I know I can do it. I can’t make others do it (and it’s peace I’ve made), but I like the idea that I am doing good for the earth and my wallet too.

So these are some of the thoughts floating around my head for 2019. 2018 was a hot disaster of a year (though Japan and mini-adventures were swell). Here’s to better health and goals that can be achieved!