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



Safiyya: This month, Hailey and I read Mary Hoffman’s Stravaganza: City of Masks, a childrens’s lit/YA novel filled with fantasy adventure, parallel worlds, and political intrigue.


The city-state of Bellezza lives peacefully under the reign of the Duchess Silvia, and her magician-advisor Rodolfo intends to keep it that way. But when a young boy named Lucien travels through space and time from the 21st century England into Bellezza, he inadvertently sets off a series of events that count change the future of Bellezza. Meanwhile, Lucien discovers a strange notebook, and to his amazement, it carries him to a whole different parallel world, where Italy is Talia, Venice is Bellezza, gold tarnishes and silver is prized, and magic is in the air. He befriends a Talian girl named Ariana, falls under the mentorship of Rodolfo, and embarks on the adventure of a lifetime.


I really enjoyed City of Masks, and I’m curious to see where the rest of the Stravaganza series goes. I loved following all the parallels between the two worlds — de Medici becomes di Chimici, etc. — and I loved all of the elaborate political intrigues. Fantasy and historical fiction are individually book-catnip for me. As such, the combined genres in this book were tremendously fun.


Mary Hoffman’s world-building, writing style, and characters were all incredibly compelling. In particular, I was impressed with the complexity and agency of the adult characters. Many authors of children’s literature or YA novels have a tendency to focus entirely on their young protagonists, relegating adults to two-dimensional stereotypes or inactive background décor. By contrast, Silvia and Rodolfo are fascinating, active, and awesome characters, propelling much of the plot with their endless machinations. I also really liked Lucien as a protagonist. He was warm-hearted and curious, quick-witted and compassionate. It’s very easy for the audience-proxy character to become a very boring means of exposition, but Lucien remains compelling throughout the novel.


Pretty much the only major issue I had with this book is the character of Ariana. When she is first introduced, I absolutely loved her. She was ambitious! She was clever! She was a rule-breaker! She saved Lucien’s life before she even knew his name! Unfortunately, the character peters out to a two-dimensional damsel in distress from then on. I kept waiting for Ariana to take charge and demonstrate her agency again, only for her to burst into tears and wait around for a rescue, or forgive Lucien for some trifling annoyance without even telling him about her concerns. It was an annoying and jarring note in a book filled with fascinating women — the duchess Silvia, the lace-making grandmother, Lucien’s mother, the decoy girl Giuliana. When even the midwife who appears for a single scene is more interesting than one of the book’s lead characters, that’s a problem. On the other hand, Duchess Silvia more than makes up for it. She is deliciously devious, brilliant, witty, charismatic, and altogether wonderful.


I would encourage anyone to read this book, regardless of age. Although the book is aimed toward a 9-12 or YA market — and to be clear, I enjoy reading 9-12 or YA books as well — it is a fun adventure that any reader could enjoy.













Some time ago, a traveller came from your world to mine. It was hundreds of years ago in your time, though not in mine. He was the first to discover the secret, the first member of the brotherhood I belong to. He was the first Stravagante.

Mary Hoffman



An Indigenous Canadian boy with a streak of white paint on his cheek against a dark blue background

Safiyya: In July, Hailey and I read Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves, a dark, dystopian novel about a Canada which we are chillingly close to seeing in real life.


Content Warning: this review discusses the Indian residential schools, sexual violence, child abuse, and institutional racism.


The Marrow Thieves is set in Canada, about a hundred years in the future. Earth has been ravaged by diseases, earthquakes, rising sea levels, and wars for scarce resources. People have been experiencing a strange illness which affects their ability to dream, and eventually drives them to madness. Yet for some reason, this disease does not seem to affect people of Indigenous descent. As such, government officials in white vans have been taking Indigenous people away to “schools” and subjecting them to unspecified horrors, alleging it is for the good of humankind.


Frenchie, aka Francis, a sixteen-year-old boy of Métis descent, is on the run from government Recruiters in this rundown version of Ontario. Alone after his brother Mitch sacrificed himself, Frenchie joins a ragtag group of survivors making their way north, including:

  • Miig, an older man and one of the group elders
  • Minerva, another senior member, a gentle and sweet-natured elderly lady
  • Chi-Boy, a seventeen-year-old boy
  • Tree and Zheegwon, twelve-year-old twin boys 
  • Slopper, a nine-year-old boy
  • Wab, an eighteen-year-old girl
  • Riri, a little girl somewhere between five and seven
  • Rose, a sixteen-year-old girl and the group’s newest addition

Together, these people create a foster family: protecting each other, passing on skills and knowledge, sharing stories, and holding true to their cultural heritage. Frenchie and his companions hope to escape the government’s reach in the far north, but they will first have to survive the wilderness, the government’s vicious Recruiters, their own past horrors, and betrayal.


Sometimes you risk everything for a life worth living, even if you’re not the one that’ll be alive to see it.

– Cherie Dimaline


As you might imagine, this book hit me like a gut punch. In our real world, we are dealing with cataclysmic effects of climate change, a widespread, mysterious disease that took out a huge portion of the global population, and the exposure of mass graves at the sites of former Indian residential schools. The Marrow Thieves was written in 2018, pre-pandemic, but it could not have been more prescient.


In our discussion of this book, Hailey pointed out that this book defies categorization. The story follows a teenage boy, but it does not follow the conventions of the YA category. It is a dystopia, but it draws on real, historical events as its background. It is incredibly accessible, a book that could be read by anyone of any age group or background, but it is also rich with symbolic meaning and layers of fascinating detail that could be analyzed for days.


I’m currently in the midst of an online class on Indigenous Canada, and I think that made a huge difference as far as being able to pick up on some of the deeper meanings and references that Dimaline wove into her story. For instance, here are some of the things that struck me on my first read-through:


  1. Oral Traditions: Dimaline very deliberately places a higher value on oral evidence over written words. For some context, certain Indigenous nations within Canada have a deep-rooted tradition of oral history and storytelling. This became a real challenge when various Indigenous peoples tried to establish their legal rights in court, because a hearsay story passed down through generations was considered less credible than a written document dating back several centuries. (Check out the Delgamuukw decision here and here for more information on that front.) But Dimaline flips the script in her novel. Oral narration is given a primacy and value through traditions like Story, whereas written words prove to be unreliable.
  2. The Role of Elders: Dimaline has no interest in restraining herself with YA conventions. The adult characters are as significant to the story as the teenagers, having just as much agency, value, and (without getting too spoilery) playing as central a role in the major plot events. Just as importantly, the teenage characters respect and admire their little group’s elders, valuing the well of knowledge and experience that they can provide.
  3. Real Traumas: Dimaline incorporates several past and current traumas faced by Indigenous people into her fictional world’s horrors. Residential schools, mass graves of children, resources stolen and stripped from Indigenous peoples, over-criminalization, gendered violence – each of these issues is reproduced within the world of the book. You cannot visit this world and then step back into our own, having had a nice feeling of escape; not when our own world has all the same horrors.


I could go on and on about The Marrow Thieves, but I will leave off with three more things for now. First, I alternated between reading a text version of the book and listening to the audiobook version. The latter experience was a fantastic way to really immerse myself into the oral storytelling tradition woven into the fabric of the story, so I would recommend that format for readers who’d enjoy that kind of experience. Second, Cherie Dimaline is releasing a sequel to the book later this year. If you are worried about starting an as-yet-incomplete series, in my opinion, the first book stands on its own well enough to satisfy the reader.


Finally, and this is a very important factor to consider — it was very difficult to read this book. In fact, there were a few times where I had to stop and set it aside before I could continue. Some people may find it too disturbing to read through The Marrow Thieves, and that is okay; you have to take care of your own mental health and comfort level. However, if you can handle it, you will find a brilliant, rewarding, rich text about family, and society, and the everyday dystopias that we do not question enough.



PS: As a disclaimer, neither of us are experts on Indigenous literature or on the Indigenous cultures of Canada. If you want a list of recommended Indigenous literature by more informed people, you can try here, or here , or here. I also highly recommend the American Indians in Children’s Literature blog, established by Dr. Debbie Reese, which provides detailed discussions on the representation of Indigenous peoples in children’s literature; you can find it here.


If you want to learn a bit about some of the Indigenous cultures and history of Canada, there is a free course online through the University of Alberta, which you can check out here . You can also see the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s reports on the residential schools and some of the horrors faced by Indigenous peoples in Canada here.



Cover page for A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher; gingerbread man holding a sword

Safiyya: This month, Hailey and I read T. Kingfisher’s A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, which is about as delightfully kooky as it sounds.


The story follows Mona, a teenage girl with a very unique gift: she can make baked breads come to life. Unfortunately, after Mona stumbles across a dead body in her aunt’s bakery, her special talent draws unwanted attention from a serial killer who is targeting magical people in her city. Mona is unwillingly launched into an adventure of political intrigue, prejudice, heists, murder and mayhem, along with her sidekick gingerbread man, her sourdough starter Bob, and a street-wise urchin named Spindle.


When you’re different, even just a little different, even in a way that people can’t see, you like to know that people in power won’t judge you for it.

– T. Kingfisher


You may or may not have noticed that the world is on fire, and indeed, it has been in this sad state for quite some time. I have a large extended family living in India, and the daily barrage of horrible news is….a lot to deal with. All of which is to say, for whatever reason, I was in exactly the right headspace to read an absurdist fantasy-comedy about a teenage girl with a gingerbread man sidekick.


Reader, I really enjoyed it. I liked Mona, and Spindle, and Bob. I liked the army of evil gingerbread men. I liked the creativity with which Mona used her unusual gift to resolve her problems. I liked the deeper themes about prejudice and scapegoating against a minority group, institutional violence, adults’ responsibilities toward children, and social inequity in a society of plenty. I liked the way that Mona came to understand and cope with the fact that societal institutions and people in power are not always interested in protecting the ones they rule.


This book is very much a classic coming-of-age story. I loved watching Mona’s character evolve as she has to step forward to save the city, when no one else was able or willing to do so. I also loved the weird specificity of her magical talent, which tapped into my unspoken musings about what happens to the X-Men who don’t have battle-oriented talents. (Hailey has informed me that there are, in fact, comic arcs about members of the X-Men who do not have the most tactically useful of abilities.)


I did have a couple complaints, the biggest of which relates to the tone of the writing. As mentioned above, this is an absurdist story, and it is very funny as a result. Unfortunately, the constant use of flippant humour also undercuts the story’s urgency. In theory, there are major consequences at stake here – for instance: the disappearance and death of people with magical gifts, corruption within the city’s highest levels of government, an impending invasion from an outside force. Yet it is hard to really take these issues seriously when the story’s narration doesn’t seem to take them seriously either.


Another complaint is the fact that some of the minor characters come across as somewhat flat, especially Mona’s aunt and uncle. These two characters serve a role in moving along the plot of the story, but they are quickly sidelined in order to generate higher stakes for Mona to overcome, and to allow her greater independence. A good example is what Hailey and I termed as the “Spare Room of Requirement”. Early in the story, we learn that even though Mona is only fourteen, she lives on her own because there is simply no room in her aunt’s house for another person to stay. Much later in the book, Mona drags Spindle back to her aunt’s place rather than leaving him to fend for himself on the streets. Mona’s aunt then insists that Spindle should stay in the never-before-referenced spare room, which was apparently sitting unused in her home while her fourteen-year-old niece lived alone in the city.


But at the end of the day, these complaints were not nearly enough to ruin my enjoyment of the book. It is also worth noting, T. Kingfisher intended to write this book for a younger audience of readers, maybe aged 9-12. She was thwarted by her publishers’ concerns about exposing children to discussions about serial killers, racial prejudice, and institutional injustice (which is nonsense, given that children aged 9-12 are very capable of understanding these things.) As such, it makes sense that the tone of the writing made light of some of the more disturbing material, and that the authority figures get short shrift so that the younger heroes have their moment to shine. In this manner, the book is closer to T. Kingfisher’s novel Minor Mage than it is to her more adult stories such as The Twisted Ones or The Hollow Places.


I found A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking to be a delightful, magical, and unapologetically absurdist journey, with some surprisingly deeper themes and ideas. I would particularly recommend it for readers who are looking for a magical adventure in the vein of Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain stories, or for anyone who just needs a fun and enjoyable break.






Hailey:  Ok, so difference in opinion here.  I really wanted to love this book but it fell a quite flat for me.  I felt a bit like I was reading a first draft of a potentially interesting story that hadn’t been “polished” yet.  There were so many brilliant ideas and social commentaries waiting to be further developed, it just didn’t reach the mark yet.  As Safiyya mentioned, many of the side characters felt one-dimensional which is always a pet-peeve of mine.  Also, at one point Mona’s uncle is referred to by a completely different name, so clearly a bit more editing was needed.  As for the “Spare Room of Requirement”, that nearly drove me … well, spare.


I love middle-grade books so that wasn’t the issue for me, I just felt like there was something lacking.  I really had to trudge through the book to complete it by our book discussion date – I was very easily distracted and did not feel immersed in the story in the way I’d want to with a fantasy book.  To me it felt a bit like a poor imitation of a Terry Pratchett novel, but in A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking the irreverent tone was more distracting than humourous.  Ostensibly, a storyline about a magician-targeting serial killer should be pretty riveting, but to me it didn’t really feel like there was much at stake and I was left fairly ambivalent. 


I did really enjoy Mona’s pint-sized gingerbread familiar and plucky street urchin Spindle, they kept me pushing through the story (to be honest, I was more concerned about the safety of the little cookie than any of the other characters!)  Bob was also one of the funniest parts of the book but he has certainly put me off sourdough bread for the foreseeable future (yikes!)


So at the end of the day, this definitely was a miss for me.  However, one book not resonating with me is not sufficient evidence for me to form an opinion on an author’s writing.  I’d actually been wanting to read Paladin’s Grace before Safiyya had picked this buddy read so I’m going to give T. Kingfisher another go in the future.


Until next time readers!


After a minute, I said, “I never wanted to be a hero.”

His face was solemn. “Nobody ever does.” 

– T Kingfisher



To be perfectly honest I was sold as soon as I saw the gorgeous cover art. Then I read the blurb which only heightened my excitement. I snatched this book up as soon as it was released and it not only lived up to my expectations but blew them out of the water.

I’ve never read anything by Alexandra Bracken before, but I’ve been madly in love with Greek mythology since childhood. I’m the type of annoying classics fanatic who cringes when people use the phrase “Pandora’s box” (it was either an urn or Pandora herself!) and no matter how amazing the soundtrack is, “Hercules” always irks me with how ridiculously off the mark it is (the least of its sins is the Romanization of Herakles). Suffice it to say, as eager as I was to read the book, I had no prior experience with the author so I was slightly concerned about how the mythos would be represented. I was pleased to learn that the book had been so well researched in term of both the mythology and Greek language. It was fun to learn that Bracken drew upon her own Greek heritage and her passion for the subject matter was so palpable throughout the entire novel.

I loved the whole premise of the Agon, it was such a wonderful way of reimagining Greek legend in a modern setting while maintaining the integrity of the original myths. Lore was the exact kind of strong and fierce female protagonist that I love to see and there was a diverse cast of supporting characters all intriguing in their own ways.

Bracken makes a powerful statement about the corrupting nature of power and prestige, as well as how history is often willfully misinterpreted to further certain agendas. To quote John C. Maxwell, “In most cases, those who want power probably shouldn’t have it, those who enjoy it probably do so for the wrong reasons, and those who want most to hold on to it don’t understand that it’s only temporary.” The entire structure of the Agon was so fundamentally flawed, yet the families were so desperate for power, for honour, for a lasting legacy that they did not care how fleeting their time in the sun was, nor how much violence or destruction was wreaked in order to obtain it. The fact that the families dictated that only men could ascend as new gods, even though members of the nine original gods were female, also illustrates how tradition and skewed interpretations have been used as tools of oppression against women throughout history.

This was such a brilliant book! Riveting, action packed, thought provoking and deeply emotional. I’m so glad I read it and I highly recommend it to fellow mythology lovers!

– Hailey





It’s not always the truth that survives, but the stories we wish to believe. The legends lie. They smooth over imperfections to tell a good tale, or to instruct us how we should behave, or to assign glory to victors and shame those who falter. Perhaps there were some in Sparta who embodied those myths. Perhaps. But how we are remembered is less important than what we do now.

Alexandra Bracken