I didn’t do a January round-up (heck I wasn’t even fully a bookstagrammer/blogger in January!), so I figured I would do a January & February monthly round-up all at once! It also makes me feel a bit better because I finished way less books than normal per month and DNFed waaaaaaay more.
Did anyone else have a slow start to their reading year? Last year it felt like I was reading at the speed of light, but for the first two months of 2021, I have not been able to concentrate on anything! Send me good vibes for March!
Without further ado:
1. Crosshairs by Catherine Hernandez
Trigger Warnings: All the triggers in this one. Racism, homophobia, transphobia, child abuse, suicide, sexual violence and general violence.
Challenges: Popsugar Reading Challenge (a book about social justice issues)
I am on a Canadian fiction bender in 2021 and started the year off strong with Crosshairs. This is a blood-pumping dystopian tale set in Canada (Toronto mainly) in the near-future where “Others” are placed into work-camps and otherwise horrifically discriminated against. I think you can guess who the “Others” are – that’s right, communities of colour, the disabled, elderly and LGBTQ+. There is a reason the book blurb calls it the “terrifyingly familiar near-future”.
This was a five-star read for me (I meant it when I said I started out strong!) I could not put this book down….or stop crying. It was emotional.
2. Punching the Air by Yusuf Salaam and Ibi Zoboi
Trigger Warnings: racism, violence, imprisonment
Challenges: Popsugar Reading Challenge (a book found on a BLM reading list)
Another five-star read! In some ways, I started out the year very strong. On the other hand, I picked up quite a few books only to put them down one or two chapters in.
Punching the Air is a young-adult novel published in verse. I’m really into this right now. Last year I read Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson, a middle-grade book published in verse, and also loved it.
Punching the Air is written by Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five and Ibi Zoboi a prison reform activist. This is a must read, particularly for social workers, teachers and other people working with youth. It is about a sixteen-year-old boy who is wrongfully convicted and sent to prison. It is about his experience in prison, as well as his memories of his life before. The overarching storyline is about the main character fighting institutional bias by searching for truth and finding himself through his art.
3. Betty by Tiffany McDaniel
Trigger Warnings: racism, sexual abuse, child abuse, self-harm
Challenges: Popsugar Reading Challenge (a book that has the same title as a song)
Betty by Tiffany McDaniel was a four-star read. It is a biography written by the protagonist’s Daughter. Betty is half Cherokee and grew up in a racist/impoverished environment, and most of the storyline is about her coming of age in this context. Although Betty faces many struggles, she is curious, imaginative and loving. She is also a prolific writer.
This was four stars because while I really enjoyed the book overall, there were a few times it just a bit long and I found myself skimming through parts.
4. Tilly and the Crazy Eights by Monique Gray Smith
Trigger Warnings: racism, residential school trauma, cancer/sickness
Challenges: Popsugar Reading Challenge (a book by an Indigenous author)
Four stars, and thoroughly enjoyable. This was the lightest read of the past two months. It was filled with joy and adventure. Tilly and the Crazy Eights is about a road trip taken by Tilly and eight Elders to Albuquerque for the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow. There are stories of friendship, love and adventure along the way.
While there are definitely a few trigger warnings in this book (hopefully I didn’t forget any, because I didn’t write them down as I went like I usually do!), ultimately the story is more about healing and love. There is some content about past trauma, particularly residential school trauma, but I found the narrative mostly focused on how those characters moved past the trauma to become who they are today. Although sometimes I felt the characters were a bit simplistic, ultimately I found them loveable with interesting storylines.
After I read this book, I read an article in the Toronto Star that talks about how author Monica Gray Smith received a grant to take a road trip and follow the same route as her characters. I think you can really see the product of that in the detail of the road trip in the novel.
A quote to remember: “Seems to me, Miss Tilly, that everybody’s so busy worrying about themselves. You know always looking at their phones and other gadgets. Few seem to remember that everything we do affects the next generations. Everything belongs to those not yet born.” He looked up to the sky. “The ones that are still the stars”
5. Break Your Glass Slippers by Amanda Lovelace
Trigger Warnings: disordered eating, fatphobia
Source: Purchased, Paperback
Break Your Glass Slippers is part of a poetry series called “you are your own fairytale”. I haven’t read any of the other books in the series but will likely pick them up at some point. I have to admit I have very little educational knowledge about poetry. I just read what I enjoy and I don’t think about it much beyond that.
I rated this four stars. It is a book of poetry about female empowerment, which is right up my alley. The theme of Break Your Glass Slippers is that you are the most important character in your fairytale. Seems simple but easy to forget! I wish I had this to read when I was younger and really needed to internalize some of these lessons.
There are a few narrators in the book, but my favourite and the one I really remember is the fairy godmother. Sometimes it seemed a bit simple and direct but this translates to a quick read that is easy to understand.
A quote to remember: despite what you may have heard, being alone is not this great tragedy everyone makes it out to be. if nothing else, see it as an opportunity to reintroduce yourself to yourself. to relearn who you are today. to dream up all the people you would like to be for every tomorrow to come. above all, find the value that lies in becoming your own best friend.
6. Eat a Peach by David Chang
Trigger Warnings: suicide, depression, drug use/abuse, anger, racism
My recent policy is not to rate memoirs so I will not give a star rating for this one. I will say that I really enjoyed Eat a Peach and was surprised by how much more there was to it than simply a food memoir.
This memoir is by David Chang who is most well-known for his restaurant Momofuku in New York. According to one blurb, he now owns 15 restaurants! The memoir starts out reflecting on Chang’s early childhood and adolescent years before getting into the story of how he became a chef and opened up his own restaurant. I would recommend this memoir to anyone who enjoys Anthony Bourdain’s writing. It is gritty and seemed brutally honest at times. I was pulled in from page one and never lost interest.
A quote to remember: “…it’s really a privilege to expect people to let us fail over and over again.”
1. Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekuyasi
Trigger Warnings: suicide, sexual abuse, pedophilia, drug use, miscarriage and homophobia
Challenges: Popsugar Reading Challenge (a book set in multiple countries); Calgary Expo Reading Challenge (Canadian Badge)
I love Canada Reads season! This was five stars, so good! I love emotional books from the view-point of multiple complex characters. See my full review here.
2. The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk
Trigger Warnings: domestic abuse, misogyny and sexism
Source: Library and purchased
Challenges: Calgary Expo Reading Challenge (fantasy badge)
The Midnight Bargain is another Canada Reads pick. I rated it a 4 out of 5 stars.
It tells the story of Beatrice Clayborn who is a sorceress in a place where women are not allowed to practice magic. When women get married they get locked into a marital collar that cuts off their powers because of the negative effect a pregnant woman’s magic has on their fetus.
The story starts with the beginning of Bargaining Season, a time where young men and women attend events so that their families can negotiate the best marriages for them. Beatrice is valued at Bargaining season because she has strong magic, which is desired by sorcerers so that they can have sorcerer sons. The bulk of the story is about Beatrice attempting to move away from her fate as a collared housewife and includes a romantic storyline for her as well.
Feminism + sorcery + historical fiction/romance vibes made this such an exciting read. I especially loved the underlying commentary about those in power or with privilege (men in this book) grasping on to that power with an iron grip for fear that letting others in (women) will diminish their own privilege.
3. Luster by Raven Leilani
Trigger Warnings: abortion, miscarriage, racism, violence
Challenges: Popsugar Reading Challenge (a book about art or an artist) Calgary Expo Reading Challenge (art badge)
This was an interesting read and I had a difficult time deciding what I thought about it. I think it is a 3 out of 5 for me. Luster is about Edie, a young Black woman, and her relationships with Eric, an older white man in an open marriage, and his wife and young adopted daughter.
Luster is told from one perspective with stream of consciousness style writing, which is usually not my favourite style. I sometimes found myself skimming parts for that reason. Luster is a really great read for the direct and subtle commentary about race issues at a personal and institutional level.
Quote to remember: racism is often so mundane it leaves your head spinning, the hand of the ordinary in your slow, psychic death so sly and absurd you begin to distrust your own eyes.
4. All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
Trigger Warnings: homophobia, heteronormativity, incest, sexual and physical assault, racism
Source: Purchased, e-book
Doesn’t this book have the prettiest cover? All Boys Aren’t Blue is a memoir by George M. Johnson, a journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist. I posted about this book on Instagram previously, stating that I didn’t realize this was a book geared toward young adults. It doesn’t read like a young adult book and I think it would be great for a wider audience.
All Boys Aren’t Blue is a powerful and very honest book about the author’s experience growing up Black and queer in an environment with few similar role models.
Quote to Remember: Gender-reveal parties have become a trendy way to celebrate the child’s fate, steering them down a life of masculine or feminine ideals before ever meeting them. It’s as if the more visible LGBTQIAP+ people become, the harder the heterosexual community attempts to apply new norms. I think the majority fear becoming the minority, and so they will do anything and everything to protect their power.