Safiyya: For March’s buddy read, Hailey and I read Firekeeper’s Daughter, by Angeline Boulley, a YA mystery/thriller about an Anishnabe girl who gets pulled into a murder/drug investigation in her community.

 

After eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine witnesses her best friend’s death, she becomes determined to root out the drug ring that has taken hold over her town. After joining forces with an undercover FBI agent, she faces a series of increasingly dangerous challenges as she hunts down source of the drugs and the people masterminding the operation. To solve this case, Daunis will have to investigate her family and closest friends, test her own abilities, and come to terms with her identity as a biracial woman in a colonial world.

 

Readers, we loved it. Daunis is such an incredibly compelling main character, and I was rooting for her throughout the book. She is strong and brave, but that doesn’t prevent her from being vulnerable and flawed. I loved the side characters, from Daunis’s badass aunt to Lily’s badass grandmother. I loved that the adult characters were not infantalized, nor pushed to the margins, as happens in many novels with the YA Publisher’s Generic Gloss (TM). I loved the deeper insights into Anishnabe history and traditions. I loved most of the twists and turns of the mystery (more on that later).

 

Angeline Boulley spent several years working on this novel, and she chose to keep the setting in 2004. Blackberry phones are all the rage, the Internet is still a nascent thing, and meth is the biggest danger facing high school kids. None of this feels dated; the story is simply set at a specific time and place, and it is all the better for that decision. Some of the plot elements wouldn’t work as well in the age of the Internet and social media, and it was refreshing to revisit a different period that still felt contemporary and relatable. Boulley also drew upon her own experiences as an Ojibwe woman, and as such, the story is a fascinating blend of the mystery and coming-of-age genres, with deep dives into Anishnabe traditional history.

 

I am increasingly not a fan of first-person POV in the present tense, which seems to be the default for all YA novels these days. (I generally find this form of storytelling to have a kind of breathless, messy pacing. and I suspect the fell hand of publishers who are still trying to reproduce the Hunger Games series.) All that being said, the first-person, present tense actually worked for me in this book, and all credit should be given to Angeline Boulley for her deft writing style and pacing. I can hardly believe this was Boulley’s first novel; she writes with such confidence and smoothness.

 

If I had one complaint or criticism about the book, it would be that the resolution of the mystery fell a bit flat for me. (Vague spoilers for the ending here; skip to the next paragraph to avoid.) We have this big, corrupt gang of criminals who are in various positions of power within the society, and they are apparently taking orders from a teenager? It seems unlikely, given the specific characters involved, and the book needed a fuller explanation as to how this situation came about. Some of the villainous characters also seemed to regress in their complexity, becoming two-dimensional and uncomplicatedly evil for evil’s sake. On the other hand, the emotional resolution of Daunis’s character arc was handled beautifully, and the final chapters of the book are pitch-perfect. If I had to choose between a satisfying ending for the mystery or the coming-of-age story, I would much prefer the latter.

 

I look forward to reading whatever Angeline Boulley’s next project happens to be, and I would definitely encourage people to check out Firekeeper’s Daughter. Since Netflix has apparently optioned the rights for an adaptation, hopefully we will see an increased awareness and interest in the book.

 

Content Warning: Please be aware, this book portrays drug addiction, sexual assault, racism, suicide, and the effects of the residential school system.

Title page for Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My whole life, I’ve been seeking validation of my identity from others. Now that it’s within my reach, I realize I don’t need it.

Angeline Boulley

 

 

 

 đźĄ‚ Happy New Year, readers! May your books be ever plentiful! đź“š

 

So, it has been a long while since last we posted on the website, because things have been absolutely nuts. But here we are, mostly alive and definitely kicking! We are also still alive and active on our Instagram page, for which the handle is @pageandprosereviews. And in more good news, Hailey and I plan to resume our monthly buddy reads, starting with Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey.

 

2021 has come and gone, and therefore, it is the end of all annual reading challenges for that year. Hailey and I, in and excess of overachieving, made the ambitious decision to complete TWO reading challenges. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to finish either of the list of prompts by the end of the year, but you can see just how far we made it on the Indigo Reading Challenge here, and you can find our 52 Book Club Reading Challenge here. I have to say, we did pretty well, all things considered!

 

Nonetheless, since we did not finish our reading challenges, we must now face a Dire Consequence. And we have every intention of following through with it…as soon as we come up with a Dire Consequence for ourselves.

 

I don’t really like doing top ten lists, or “Best of the Year” lists. There are so many fantastic 2021 books that I haven’t yet read, and so I would always feel that a Best of the Year list was incomplete. Instead, here are a few 2021 books that I absolutely loved, and would whole-heartedly recommend:

 

 

  • A Memory Called Empire and A Desolation Called Peace, by Arkady Martine: Technically, only the latter part of this duology was published in 2021. However, since I am recommending the duology as a whole, it doesn’t really matter. This series tells a beautiful, brilliant, devastating story about colonialism, and identity, and humanity, and also giant space battles. If you prefer action and adventure in your science fiction, the duology has it in spades. If you prefer philosophy in your science fiction, there is plenty of that as well. Really, it is a win all around! (Science fiction)

 

  • Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake, by Alexis Hall: Remember how the wholesome delightfulness of the Great British Bake-Off helped many people through the past two years? This book follows the titular Rosaline Palmer as she juggles competing on a GBBO-type show, raising her precocious daughter on her own, and navigating the various relationships in her life. Oh, and it is absolutely hilarious in a wryly British manner, so that’s a major plus as well. (Contemporary fiction)

 

  • The Witch’s Heart, Genevieve Gornichec: A beautiful, heart-breaking retelling of the Norse mythology around Ragnarok. The story follows a witch named Angrboda, who has suffered betrayal and cruelty at the hands of the Aesir, and wants nothing more than to be left alone now…but the world is not yet done with her. I was sorely disappointed with the sexism in Madeline Miller’s Circe (see my post here for more), and this book was a fantastic antidote to all of my frustrations. PS: Hailey, you should really read it! It is tailor-made for you, and it prominently features Loki! (Fantasy/Norse mythology)

 

  • Longshadow, by Olivia Atwater: The third in a trilogy of loosely connected fairy tales — as in, with literal fairies — set in an alternate history version of Regency England. The story follows a young apprentice magician named Abigail, who is determined to make her adoptive parents proud by solving a string of high-profile murder, with the help of her wits, her magic skills, and a mysterious young woman who keeps appearing in strange places. You can pick up any of these books as a standalone adventure, but I would really recommend reading all three in order, because some of the characters recur over the series. And if Studio Ghibli is looking for new source material, all three of Atwater’s Regency fairy tales would make AMAZING Ghibli movies! (Fairy tale/Alternate history)

Cover for A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

Title page for A Desolation Called Peace, by Arkady MartineTitle page for Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake, by Alexis Hall

Title page for The Witch's Heart, by Genevieve GornichecTitle page for Longshadow by Olivia Atwater

 

 

In some book-related news: my own brilliant, talented, marvelous sister was chosen as one of the authors for for The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2021 anthology, and her short story is the very first one in the collection! I am so incredibly proud of her.

 

Readers, have you read any of the books listed above? And what were some of your favourite books from 2021?

 

 

Wendy Darling’s life was irrevocably altered when she and her two brothers were swept out of their bedroom window and spirited off to an island of pure fantasy. When they returned home to London, John and Michael were able to move on with their lives, but Wendy could not forget Neverland nor the impossible boy that brought her there. Refusing to deny Peter and Neverland has fractured Wendy’s relationships with her family and even resulted in her institutionalization in an asylum.

Many years later, Wendy is married with a daughter of her own and trying to finally put the past behind her. Until one fateful night when a boy who does not age, a boy with no shadow, slips through her daughters bedroom and carries Jane off to Neverland in Wendy’s place. Now Wendy must confront the unsettling truths about her past, in order to save her family and her future.

Wendy, Darling was exactly what I hope for when reading a fairytale retelling. I’ve always thought there was something sinister lurking behind the shiny veneer of Neverland and Peter Pan and A.C. Wise exploits that ominous undertone in dark and delicious ways. Decay, death and eldritch horrors replace mermaids, magic and childhood naivetĂ©.

The book had a wonderful cast of strong and empowered female characters as well as queer and aro/ace rep (we don’t see a lot of this so it was very exciting!) I was also really impressed by the way that the author addressed trauma and trauma recovery in a very raw and realistic manner.

Thank you to NetGalley and Titan Books for providing a copy of this book for review. It was an incredible read that I highly recommend!

– Hailey

 

 

 

You have to stand up, even when you’re scared, because if you let the monsters frighten you and take away the things you love, then they win.

A.C. Wise

 

The Lights of Prague was such a delightful read! The story follows Domek, a lamplighter who secretly protects the city from the monsters that roam the streets at night, and Lady Ora, a wealthy and seemingly eccentric widow. Despite their vast differences in class, the pair are inexplicably drawn to each other, though Domek does not realize that Ora is a pijavica – one of the creatures he is sworn to destroy. While Domek and Ora attempt to keep their secrets from each other, they both become embroiled in foiling a plot that would allow the monsters of Prague to overtake the city.

I love mythology and fairytales of all forms and I had not yet read anything featuring Czech myths so I really enjoyed reading about pijavice, bubáks and vodnĂ­ks. I do wish that there had been a glossary of the mythological creatures at the end of the book that the reader could refer to, however, a quick google search of the Czech terms was easy enough.

I loved how Nicole Jarvis used the history and architecture of Prague as a part of the story – the setting was so vivid that the reader feels completely transported in both place and time. The characters were well written and there were also some plot twists that I had not anticipated. I was fully absorbed by the book and I sacrificed a good night’s sleep so that I could finish reading because I just had to know what would happen next. I haven’t read a vampire novel in a while and I’d honestly thought I was no longer interested in the trope, but The Lights of Prague was a fresh and thoroughly enjoyable take on the genre. I’m excited to see what else Jarvis has in store and I’d definitely read more of her books in the future.

Thank you to NetGalley and Titan Books for providing an eARC of this book for review.

– Hailey

When Domek had first started working as a lamplighter, he had been frustrated by all the people who continued to venture into the night. Didn’t they realize the danger? If everyone stayed home, Domek wouldn’t have to risk his life to protect them.  Over time, though, he realized that life couldn’t be contained to daylight hours. For every human or pijavica that used the dark to prey on passersby, there were a dozen people just trying to make it home. Prague belonged to all of them, and Domek would be damned if they would be made unsafe in their own city.

Nicole Jarvis

 

Sorrowland was certainly an interesting read. At the tender age of 15, flees from Cainland, the isolated compound where she has spent her entire life, and makes a life for herself and her twin children in the woods. The spectre of Cainland and its dark secrets continues to threaten Vern, Howling and Feral even in the wilderness and they find themselves in a fight for their very survival.

I was really taken with the beginning of the book, I was intrigued by Vern’s story and eager to learn the truth about Cainland. I was also incredibly impressed by the diverse representation in the book – albinism, disability, LGBTQIA2S+, BIPOC. I adored the characters especially Howling and Feral, and I was so happy when Vern and her twins built a “found family” with Gogo and Bridget.  Rivers Solomon  created empowered characters that faced racism, abuse, homophobia, transphobia, religious indoctrination, and yet refused to accept oppression or succumb to circumstance. I really wanted to give the book 5 stars … and then the big reveal. 

Warning – Spoilers ahead.

For more than half of the book I had assumed a supernatural/haunting theme to the story and then suddenly the book switches gears and we’re into government conspiracies, human experimentation and hybridization with sentient fungi.  That’s where Solomon lost me, it just seemed very disjointed and I just couldn’t suspend disbelief a as Vern turned into an immortal, psychic, exoskeleton covered fungus creature.  It became hard for me to remain engaged in the story and I almost DNF’d the book. It was unfortunate because Sorrowland had started out so strong. Maybe other people will appreciate the book’s twist, but it simply wasn’t for me. I did really enjoy the author’s rich storytelling and character building though, so I’d still be willing to try reading more of their work in the future.

Thanks to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for providing an eARC of this book for review.

– Hailey

 

She was a girl made of aches and she flung her body at the world in the hopes that something, anything, might soothe the tendernesses.

Rivers Solomon

 

The End of Men was, in a word, phenomenal. I wasn’t sure how I would feel reading a book about a global pandemic whilst in the midst of a global pandemic, but if anything it only made the story more compelling because the worldwide response to the “Male Plague” seemed highly believable. 

In 2025, a startling medical anomaly emerges in a Scottish hospital. Dr. Amanda MacLean tries to alert public health services and relevant branches of the government, but her cries of alarm are ignored and soon a terrifying virus is sweeping across the world – a virus that only affects men. Narrated by various women (and a few men) in the UK and other parts of the world, The End of Men is a thoroughly engaging debut novel that explores family, grief, motherhood, gender dynamics, and how a catastrophic event affects the human race both on a personal and global scale.

The book was an interesting thought experiment about how deeply gender and sex shape our societies and how removing nearly half of the world’s population from the equation truly highlights the lack of equality and balance across the political and professional landscape. In addition the book was so emotionally gripping that you simply can’t put it down. From the incomprehensible grief of suddenly one’s sons/husband/father/brothers all in quick succession, to the relief of having female children that are not at risk of dying, to the guilt of being an asymptomatic female carrier of the virus and unwittingly passing the disease on to your loved ones – there was such raw and palpable emotion that you couldn’t not be moved.

There were however, some aspects of the book where it became difficult to suspend disbelief, namely when it came to “scientific” discourse about the virus. I find it extremely improbable that it would take months of round the clock research by all the world’s greatest scientific minds before someone would realize that a virus that affects individuals on the basis of biological sex might have something to do with XY chromosomes. Honestly, I’m no geneticist or virologist but I thought that as soon as I read the words “male plague”. The explanation about immunity was similarly unlikely, but if you wave away the questionable science it’s still a fantastic reading experience.

I have never felt so powerful. This must be what men used to feel like. My mere physical presence is enough to terrify someone into running. No wonder they used to get drunk on it.

Christina Sweeney-Baird

Could there have been more diversity in the narration? Sure. Most of the key characters are educated and middle-class, and there is minimal racial diversity, however, to give the author the benefit of the doubt this is a fairly accurate reflection of the scientific community and political leaders. Could there have been more commentary on gender vs. sex and LGBTQIA2S+ issues? Perhaps. There was one chapter briefly addressing the affects of the plague on Trans individuals and gay men, and there was some speculation on the nature of female sexuality (women who had never before dated other women doing so after the majority of the male population has died). Again, to give the author the benefit of the doubt, perhaps she does not feel it is her place to speak on behalf of an entire community when she is not an expert. All authors write what they feel comfortable talking about and not every novel can fully address every issue. So, while in the spirit of objectively I have laid out some possible “short-comings”, I thought that the book did a great job of what it set out to do – explore the impact on the human race if a disease only affected one sex.

I thoroughly recommend this book for any fans of The Power or  Y: The Last Man. It’s one of my favourite reads of 2021 so far and I’m very much looking forward to exploring more of  Christina Sweeney-Baird ‘s work in the future.

Thank you to NetGalley and Doubleday Canada for providing an eARC of this book for review.

– Hailey

 

The Space Between Two Deaths had a fascinating premise, very little modern literature focuses on Sumerian culture, religion and mythology. I thought that the story started off very strong with the sack of Uruk by the army of Nippur which throws off the balance between the land of the living and the netherworld. As a result of this imbalance a rift opens up in the earth leading down into the netherworld. Here is where I felt the author missed an opportunity – though the rift did play a role in the lives of the main characters, the larger implications of the rift on Sumerian society was ignored, it was as if no one else was affected by this supernatural event. It had seemed as though the author had set the scene for the dead to rise and overwhelm the living, for mythological creatures or deities to assert their influence, but none of this occurred.

The rest of the novel was, in essence, a family drama. Though some aspects were interesting, I personally found all the main characters to be rather unlikeable and as such I felt it difficult to become emotionally invested in the tale. Temen, Meshara and Ziz were all callous and self-interested without a sense of care or concern for the other members of their family. Temen was violently abusive and lacking in work ethic, Meshara was deeply resentful and happy to abdicate any sense of maternal duty, and Ziz thrilled in carrying out theft and violence with little sense of consequence. Themes of physical and sexual abuse, child marriage, slavery, mutilation and even cannibalism seemed to be casually thrown into the book without much commentary or critique.

I think my favourite parts of the book were the chapters narrated by the crow, who was the least problematic and most interesting character. I did really enjoy the ending, (at least for Ziz and the crow). Overall the book beginning and ending of the book are very strong, its just the muddle in the middle that I’m not sold on.

Thank you to NetGalley and GenZ Publishing for providing a e-copy of this book for review. 

– Hailey

 

 

So much had gone unsaid between them – to tease out one thread risked unraveling the entire tapestry.  Perhaps a story was for the best, one in which the outcome was predetermined.

Jamie Yourdon

 

Cover of Skyward Inn, by Aliya Whiteley

Skyward Inn was certainly unique. I took a few days after I finished reading this book to collect my thoughts and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel. Aliya Whiteley succeeded at creating an engaging novel that captivates the reader. I was thoroughly invested in the story and I didn’t want to put the book down, however, I’m not sure if that’s a credit to the actual writing or simply an indication of how confused I was and much I wanted answers.

We burn history down, over and over, as an act of remembrance. When there are no answers, there is recollection, and repetition.

– Aliya Whiteley

I was a bit irked by the alternating points-of-view (Jem’s was first person, yet Fosse’s was third person) and I thought that some unnecessary elements were added simply to unsettle the reader, when the surrealist nature of the book would have been sufficiently unsettling on it’s own. I really could have done without Fosse’s masturbatory scenes at the farm and the rather distasteful revelation about “brew” and bodily fluids. There was also a sudden and unexplained timeline shift toward the end of the book that didn’t feel all that effective as a plot device.

Initially, the book seemed to be a commentary about colonialism and the exploitation of indigenous peoples, their land and their resources. When the “Kissing Gates” appear on Earth, humans immediately seize the opportunity to mount a military incursion on the planet of Qita. They then take advantage of the Qitan’s peaceful nature in order to appropriate the planet’s resources and bring them back to Earth. Ultimately, it is revealed that the Qitan’s aren’t quite as docile as they appear, and that maybe it isn’t the humans who are the colonizers. So perhaps the story is actually a critique of human arrogance. Either way, it was a stunning twist that I very much was not expecting.  The author also makes a powerful statement about the nature of assimilation and how little choice people are often given in the matter.

Most of the story is set in the Western Protectorate, which seceded from the UK and rejected all modern technology following the appearance of the Kissing Gates. I thought that the Western Protectorate beautifully encapsulated the concept of hiraeth, a Welsh word with no true English equivalent that can be translated as a “longing for a home that no longer exists or never was”. Many characters in the book have an idealized, nostalgic view of the Protectorate that they try to cling to even if change is inevitable. I think that in our rapidly changing world, where technology seems to take precedence, the desire for simpler times will resonate with a lot of readers.

At then end of the day, I do think that Skyward Inn is a worthwhile read. Stylistically, it’s quite different from other books on the market and the content will challenge the reader’s perceptions and leave them thinking long after they finish reading.

Thank you to NetGalley and Solaris Books for providing this ARC.

– Hailey

 

All the Murmuring Bones is a gorgeously written tale about a young woman’s quest for self-determination as she fights to unshackle herself from a fate sealed generations ago, when her family made a deal with the mer. I found Miren to be a captivating protagonist and I so admired her fortitude even as she was faced by overwhelming grief and loss. Though she was consistently underestimated, she proved herself to be more than capable of meeting any challenge head on. The O’Malley family fables woven throughout the book added a rich sense of history and helped elucidate the pressures and expectations on Miren for simply bearing the name.

Although there were mer-folk, ghosts, fae creatures and certain magics in the story, to me, the book did not feel so much a “fantasy” novel, as a story about Miren’s personal journey with folkloric aspects woven in. The character development felt much more advanced than the somewhat sparse world-building, however I found myself not minding as I have a personal preference toward character driven stories and the prose writing was excellent.

Overall, it was a thoroughly captivating read that I didn’t want to put down. I will definitely be looking to read more books by A. G. Slatter in the future, I’m excited to see what other stories she creates.

Thank you to NetGalley and Text Publishing for providing this ARC.

– Hailey

 

 

Whatever soul I might have, O’Malley though I might be, it is mine and I’ll not sell it at any price.

A.G. Slatter

 

I am absolutely in love with this book. I expected it would be a fun read but I was blown away by how incredible it was. While it is marketed as a Middle-Grade book, the story is so well-written and nuanced that it will appeal to children and adults alike.

Discovering hidden worlds is a well explored trope in children’s stories and YA novels, from the Narnia series, to Inkheart to The Magicians for older readers, there are books a-plenty that follow plucky young adventurers through fantasy realms after they mysteriously vanish from our reality. There is a comforting familiarity to these stories that draws us back again and again, even if they are, in essence, just variations on the same theme. Then comes David Levithan, ready to flip the whole paradigm on its head.

The realm of Aveinieu and Aidan’s journey there, is not in fact, central to the tale. Rather, Levithan focuses on the emotional toll that is experienced by those left behind and the general upheaval that accompanies Aidan’s reintegration into his life when he reappears just as suddenly as he had left. The story is told from the perspective of Aidan’s younger brother Lucas, who keenly observes the reactions of everyone around him as he struggles with his own complex feelings. While others pressure Aidan for details about his disappearance, Lucas approaches his brother with a touching level of compassion, choosing to suspend disbelief so that he can offer support.

The book features excellent explorations of trust, betrayal, family, public scrutiny, and the fine distinction between what is true and what is real. I definitely recommend this book to readers of all ages! Fantastic read!

Thank you to NetGalley and Text Publishing for providing this ARC.

– Hailey

 

 

True or not, every story has something it wants you to remember.


True or not, every story has something it wants you to believe.

David Levithan