Book Chat: KonMaring My TBR Shelves & Letting Go of Books

This was a long time coming, but I have reached the stage where I am frustrated by the amount of books I own. As my husband and I prepare to move and paint the house we are currently living in, we have been going through all of our stuff and trying to figure out what is staying and what is going. It’s been taxing, emotionally draining, but it needs to be done.

Going through my books has been an eye-opening experience. I am starting to see how much my reading tastes have changed and more over, how I have less of a desire to keep most of the books I own anymore. The reality I am facing is that I don’t do a lot of rereading, and I tend to simply keep books that have left an emotional impression on me or something I know I want to loan to friends. I used to be a huge fantasy reader, and as I’ve aged, I’ve become more of a contemporary reader now. I still love fantasy and I still read it, but it used to be 80% of what I would read for the longest time.

I used to feel this need to keep every book I received over the years, only to realize that it wasn’t viable. Space for books is always at capacity and sometimes finding space for more book shelves isn’t exactly an option. It also doesn’t help that my husband is as much a book hoarder as I am.

Story of our lives.

Frankly, I am realizing I have less desire to own books unless I like them. I’d rather get a book from the library I work at and if I truly love it after reading it, then at least I can go and buy a copy after the fact. The more I work for the library system I am in, the more I realize how much stuff we have and how accessible a lot of the stuff I want to read is. So I’ve been going through books I “kinda want to read” (the ones that still make me curious) and seeing if my work has them. If we do, I put it on my “For Later Shelf” and get rid of the physical copy, and if we don’t, I keep it in case that inkling is there.

Supporting the library has become more important to me as I’ve gotten older because circulation numbers matter and taking stuff out from the local library and showing the demand means a better chance for a budget increase, and frankly it just means that the books I am borrowing are “vacationing” at my house and are not staying with me indefinitely. When I teach books that way, I have less of a desire to hoard them and more of a desire to have less, which is my ultimate goal here.

Having a lot of stuff has become an exhausting thing. I want to just keep having less if I can keep at it. Once we move, I am going to take a picture of my Shelf of Shame for you all again to give you an idea of how much was purged/read. I’m excited to see if I’ll have actual space on shelves that will be less for TBR and more for other things. We shall see!


ARC Review – Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson

Title: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach

Author: Kelly Robson

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Discover a shifting history of adventure as humanity clashes over whether to repair their ruined planet or luxuriate in a less tainted pass.

In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from worldwide ecological disasters. Minh is part of the generation that first moved back up to the surface of the Earth from the underground hells, to reclaim humanity’s ancestral habitat. She’s spent her entire life restoring river ecosystems, but lately the kind of long-term restoration projects Minh works on have been stalled due to the invention of time travel. When she gets the opportunity take a team to 2000 BC to survey the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover the secrets of the shadowy think tank that controls time travel technology.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Walking around the Ontario Library Association Super Conference, I tend to pick up a lot of random titles. While I was stopping over at Raincoast, Kelly Robson was beginning to sign her latest, Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach. I had zero idea what it was about and I had to know what tis “lucky peach” was. I also didn’t realize that Kelly Robson was married to a sci-fi author I love, A.M Dellamonica.

This delightful piece of candy reading is about time travel, octopus, and an ecological crisis. Minh, our protagonist, is tasked with reclaiming humanity’s ancestral habitat, Earth. Earth is no longer as habitable as it once was, and her group of merry companions are the last hope in changing the world for the better. For such a short novel, I loved how it was written. It had a great pace, the characters were fairly entertaining given how little time is spent on each one. The story next felt confusing or bloated, and it moved at such a brisk pace.

I liked that there were two stories at work and I enjoyed how they both connected in the end. The story at the beginning of each chapter with the battle between gods and monsters was just so interesting, and part of me wishes we had that story on it’s own as well. The other half, Minh’s story is very technology focused, and Robson’s take on time travel is a lot of fun.

I am crazy glad I read this, and knowing that Robson has other short stories to check out as me very excited. There was a lot to love in this story given how short it was, and the journey to finding out “the lucky peach” was pretty fun in itself. I would highly recommend checking out this novella, especially if you like time travel stories, when it releases in March.

ARC Review – Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson & Emily Carroll

Title: Speak: The Graphic Novel

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson & Emily Carroll

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: “Speak up for yourself-we want to know what you have to say.” From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless–an outcast–because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. Through her work on an art project, she is finally able to face what really happened that night: She was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. With powerful illustrations by Emily Carroll Speak: The Graphic Novel comes alive for new audiences and fans of the classic novel.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Speak is one of my all-time favourite young adult novels. It’s a book that has stuck with me for so many years, offering a raw and open look at what it means to be a victim of sexual assault and the challenges of speaking up. This graphic novel version by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll transplants this powerful story using a whole new medium.

This graphic novel version of Speak has such breathtaking artwork throughout, and I feel like Emily Carroll did an amazing job capturing Melinda’s story through her art, showcasing the torture and sadness in a way that readers will easily be able to relate to. I loved the way the art captures the sections where Melinda is working on her trees for Mr. Freeman’s class, or how demonic Andy Evans is portrayed in the artwork. The artistic layering is woven perfectly with the story, and you can feel the passion of both the writing and the art working together.

I also appreciate how well the story translated into a graphic novel. I loved how well condensed the story was from the original. The writing was constantly on point, never missing a beat, and for such a large graphic novel, it’s not bloated in any way. You can sense all of Melinda’s emotions, you feel her pain, and that is why Speak is still relevant years later.

If you’ve never read Speak before, I implore you to do it. Read the original, watch the movie, read this version. Speak is such an important story that has continued to stay relevant, and I love that this graphic novel exists, if only to add a new layer to this already powerful story. Definitely check this out.

Late to the Party ARC Review – The Greatest Gift (Heartwood Hotel #2) by Kallie George & Stephanie Graegin

Title: The Greatest Gift (Heartwood Hotel #2)

Author: Kallie George & Stephanie Graegin

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Mona the mouse has finally found a place to call home, the cozy Heartwood Hotel, where she works as a maid and sleeps snuggled up in a room with her best friend. Following the festive St. Slumber celebration, most of the guests have settled in to hibernate, and the staff is looking forward to a relaxing winter. But disruptions abound, from a difficult duchess to a mysterious midnight snacker. As the snow stacks higher, Mona will have to gather friends both old and new to keep the peace, finding help in some of the most unexpected places.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I read Heartwood Hotel books one and two back to back. This sequel, The Greatest Gift is a much more gentle book compared to the first one. Mona has now found a place to call her own, and the true villain of this story is winter. I think we can all relate to that, at least here in Canada!

I think The Greatest Gift continues to show the strengths of the first book, focusing on themes of friendship and learning to rely on others for help. This book read so quickly, and compared to the first book I thought the story wasn’t as strong here. It’s enjoyable, but it also just felt like it ended too fast? I’m not sure.

This series is sweet, adorable, and fluffy. I am really happy I read this sequel just so I could read more about Mona and Tilly’s adventures. This continues to be a great middle grade series, and I hope more people will check them out.

Late to the Party ARC Review – A True Home (Heartwood Hotel #1) by Kallie George & Stephanie Graegin

Title: A True Home (Heartwood Hotel #1)

Author: Kallie George & Stephanie Graegin

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: When Mona the Mouse stumbles across the wondrous world of the Heartwood Hotel in the middle of a storm, she desperately hopes they’ll let her stay. As it turns out, Mona is precisely the maid they need at the grandest hotel in Fernwood Forest, where animals come from far and wide for safety, luxury, and comfort. But the Heartwood Hotel is not all acorn souffle and soft moss-lined beds. Danger lurks, and as it approaches, Mona finds that this hotel is more than a warm place to spend the night. It might also be a home.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Heartwood Hotel is such a cute series, and this first book was such a delight. Mona is such a sweet little heroine who starts out homeless and then stumbles open a beautiful hotel in the forest. I wanted to cuddle Mona throughout the story because she is so kind, but is full of determination. She’s a great role model character for younger readers. Each character is so charming, though! I LOVED bossy Tilly, though she somewhat reminded me of my own mother.

This first book is just so comfortable, warm and cozy. It’s the kind of book that you want to snuggle with a warm blanket and a hot drink. While there is some danger in the story, it’s nothing too frighting, but it teaches children about finding strength in unlikely situations and how friendship can help solve bigger problems.

I also want to praise the illustrations by Stephanie Graegin, which I feel accompany the story so beautifully. I loved having the pictures side-by-side with the text, and I can only imagine how beautiful the artwork looks in the finished edition. This first book is so charming, and it’s definitely one I will be recommending to younger readers when the opportunity arises.

ARC Review – Blood and Sand by C.V. Wyk

Title: Blood and Sand

Author: C.V. Wyk

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Roma Victrix. The Republic of Rome is on a relentless march to create an empire―an empire built on the backs of the conquered, brought back to Rome as slaves.

Attia was once destined to rule as the queen and swordmaiden of Thrace, the greatest warrior kingdom the world had seen since Sparta. Now she is a slave, given to Xanthus, the Champion of Rome, as a sign of his master’s favor. Enslaved as a child, Xanthus is the preeminent gladiator of his generation.

Against all odds, Attia and Xanthus form a tentative bond. A bond that will spark a rebellion. A rebellion that threatens to bring the Roman Republic to its end―and gives rise to the legend of Spartacus…

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I wasn’t sure what to make of Blood and Sand when I started reading it. I loved the idea that it was a lady!Sparticus story, but if I am being honest, this one took me awhile to get into. The writing wasn’t my cup of tea from the start and I had a hard time connecting with Attia, which I recognize was somewhat the point at the beginning.

This is a book that needs to build, so there’s a lot of information at the start about the world that Attia inhabits. Once she’s in the arena, this book turns on in a great way. The action sequences are clearly this book’s strong suit, as Attia is quite the lady badass. However, I couldn’t stop drawing parallels to Lesley Livingston’s The Valiant as I was reading this book, and I’ll admit, I liked that one a bit better just because the pacing and writing in Livingston’s book had a good push to it. I recognize that this and The Valiant have their differences, but at times I couldn’t stop thinking about what made them similar.

I will say that I wasn’t fond of the romance between Attia and Xanthus. A lot of the time Xanthus’ behaviour just rubbed me completely the wrong way. Again, I don’t mind a romance formed by an unlikely bond, but there I just couldn’t get into their romance and found myself skimming those sections because I really just wanted to go back to the political intrigue and the battle scenes.

Blood and Sand is a decent debut, but not without its ups and downs. I think once the world was established, the book truly hit its stride for me and I was enjoying the politics and struggles that Attia had to overcome, but parts of the book just fell short for me. I think this will appeal to readers who love bad ass ladies (which I do love) and who don’t mind a slower build up. The mix of fantasy and historical fiction is interesting, but I don’t think I’ll be continuing on with the series.

ARC Review – American Panda by Gloria Chao

Title: American Panda

Author: Gloria Chao

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.

With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can’t bring herself to tell them the truth–that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

Huge thank you to Simon Teen Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

American Panda has a misleading cover. From first glance, it seems like this book would be a cute, fluffy read — and it is in parts. This book also at times takes a bit of a darker tone, which is rather unexpected. Even with that tonal shift at times, I happily want to recommend this book.

This book follows the story of Mei, a Taiwanese-American girl who has very strict parents. Her family wants her to be a doctor, marry someone who is Taiwanese and also aspiring to a similar career. Under no circumstances is Mei allowed to date someone who is not Taiwanese or approved by her parents. In fact, her parents already have Mei’s life plotted out for her.

This was such a difficult read for me at times as I found myself sympathizing with Mei a lot. I recognize that I am not Asian and have never had this experience, but I was a former ESL teacher whose main clientele were all Asian, and on numerous occasions I would have conversations with my students about their home lives and parent’s expectations. It broke my heart a lot of the time given many of the teens I dealt with just wanted to be understood by their parents, and you definitely see that here with Mei. She wants her parents approval, but she still also wants to be her own individual with her own choices being made. There is a huge tug-and-pull between following traditions and choosing your path in this story, and it makes for an interesting story, if one I’ve heard many times before.

Some of my favourite parts of this book were Mei’s interactions with her disowned brother, Xing. Xing and Mei’s re-connection is one of the strongest parts of this story as it gives you a lot of insight into just how important certain traditions to older generations. Being Italian, I oddly can understand this given many Italian parents only want their children to marry other Italians. I really just loved how close the siblings became given the circumstances involving Xing’s becoming disgraced.

One area where this book didn’t quite work for me was some of the humour. I found it to be pretty hit-or-miss, and oddly found myself loving the book more when it was about the family relationships and less about Mei’s interest in Darren (though I’ll admit, they were very cute!). I really felt for Mei’s mother in the story, regardless of how overbearing she was.

American Panda is a story I’ve read before, but one I still very much enjoyed. I found Mei’s perspective very informative and her feelings were completely worn on her sleeve. She’s a girl I definitely found myself connecting with even though our circumstances are so different. Don’t let this fluffy, cheerful cover fool you — Gloria Chao doesn’t shy away from punching the reader in the feelings.