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review 2017-11-22 20:20
Surprisingly entertaining Canadian & Cree First Nations read about overcoming your past and owning your power.
Strangers - David Alexander Robertson

Disclaimers: I'm reviewing an uncorrected proof ebook version acquired via NetGalley, I'm choosing to leave an unbiased review, and I'm not qualified to comment in-depth on aboriginal representation.

 

More disclaimers: Um, so I just want to note for the record that I already named characters Cole and Ash in BLIND THE EYES before I read this book. No plagiarism. I guess Canadian authors just think alike? lol.

 

I loved this WAY more than I expected to. To get a few critiques out of the way, the cover looks a little off to me (more indie or MG maybe?), so I wasn't expecting a lot of polish. The first few pages are also a little disorienting, because the author launches with a different perspective from the main POV, incorporates supernatural elements immediately without explanation, and references past events without backstory at first. All of which turns out to be great in the scope of the story, but it feels like jumping in the deep end.

 

This is the story of a 17yo Cree First Nations teen who left his rural home community in elementary school and is attending high school in Winnipeg at the time the story opens. A supernatural being is trying to lure him back to his hometown. His aunt and grandmother don't want him to return for reasons that aren't explained at first, but we discover that there's past trauma and bullying to contend with. Cole also has some superior abilities that may be more than natural. There's a lot going on in the plot:

 

-trickster spirits, ghosts, unexplained supernatural/paranormal phenomena
-murder mystery/thriller
-romance? maybe?
-bullying, trauma & clinical anxiety (incl. struggles with medication)
-rural vs. city enmities/tension
-First Nations/aboriginal experience (on/off reserve, resourcing, discrimination)

 

As a Canadian, and as someone who actually lived in Winnipeg during her childhood, there was a lot that felt familiar in this, including issues raised that I'm not sure if a foreign reader would pick up on or not. The author (based on his Goodreads bio) does live in Winnipeg and is a member of a Cree First Nation, so this is an #ownvoices book with (to the best of my knowledge) good representation.

 

I liked how the struggles that First Nations people experience within Canadian society were included within the scope of the story, but that the focus was on the characters and their experiences. It can be hard to write good fiction that represents real-world issues without breaking character or bogging down/diverting the plot (see: preachy dystopias for one), so I thought Robertson did an excellent job of including accurate world-building in service of the story. For instance, there are medical emergencies in the scope of the story, and it's referenced a few times how help is requested but the government takes a long time to respond, ignores the pleas, or doesn't send the help needed in a timely manner. Remote communities struggle for resources and lose people to the cities where there's more opportunity, jobs etc.

 

Some Cree words are used (and translated in place), some ritual and beliefs are incorporated, but the narrative doesn't suffer at all from the exoticisation of aboriginal culture. (Though maybe American readers will feel like it's "exotic" Canadian culture?) If anything, the hockey-playing, tiny-remote-community, one-restaurant-in-town setting felt so recognizable to me that it would have been boring if not for the strong character writing and murdery-plot.

 

Cole and his friends are relatable as teenagers struggling with a variety of issues: tragic pasts, tension with childhood friendships left behind, current identity and past identity, sexual identity and relationships, trust issues with adults who're keeping secrets . . . Also, the writing of "Choch" the trickster-spirit was hilarious. That's probably what tipped this story from a good read to "when's the sequel coming out?" for me. His clowning felt instantly recognizable and, at times, laugh-out-loud hilarious. It was a great counterpoint to the dark thriller plot that could have headed into way more emo territory without him.

 

I'm totally down for reading a sequel/series about a Canadian First Nations teen with superpowers and his trickster spirit sidekick/tormenter/guide/whatever.

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review 2017-11-06 17:46
Dragonfly Song - Wendy Orr

This was kind of a hard book to review, mostly because it almost falls between genres. It's classed as an upper Middle-Grade historical fantasy, which, that's not wrong . . .

 

I felt like it had more of a classic children's fiction feel to it. It's coming-of-age, and also a sort of epic hero's journey, straddling children's lit and YA in a way that's often done more by adult literary works. It touches on many 'big ideas': deformity, religion/society, acceptance, adoption, trauma, bullying, disability, purpose/identity, fate . . . The format is creative and unique. The story arc stretches from the MC's birth to age 14 and is told in omniscient third person varying with passages in verse.

 

I'm not sure if there was a meaning to the alternating styles; at some points, I thought the dreamlike verse passages were meant to show the MC's perspective in a closer, almost experiential or sensory format as an infant, a toddler, a mute child . . . but then that didn't necessarily carry through, so perhaps it was more to craft an atmosphere for the story.

 

The setting is the ancient Mediterranean, and the story picks up on legends of bull dancing. The world feels distinct, grounded and natural, without heavy-handed world-building. It's a world of gods and priestesses, sacrifice and death and surrender. Humans seem very small within it, and as a children's book, it's challenging rather than comforting. There's death and violence and loss, handled in a very matter-of-fact manner, so I'd recommend it for maybe ages 10+, depending on the child. It's not gratuitously violent or graphic, but it's a raw-edged ancient world where killing a deformed child, having pets eaten by wild animals, beating slaves - including children - and sacrificing people as well as animals to the gods is just part of life. 

 

I was very kindly sent a hardcover edition via the Goodreads Giveaways program, and the book production is lovely. It has a bold, graphic cover with some nice foil accents, a printed board cover (which I prefer for kids books due to the durability), fully illustrated internal section pages, and pleasant, spacious typesetting.

 

Confident, mature young readers will find this an engaging, challenging and meaningful read with an inspiring story arc and some lovely writing. Hesitant readers and very young readers will probably find it a struggle. I'd give it 5/5 as a product, 4/5 as a literary work and 3/5 as kid's entertainment.

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review 2017-10-29 20:47
The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't by Robert I. Sutton
The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't - Robert I. Sutton

In this book, Sutton 1) defines workplace assholes, 2) describes the damage they can do to their workplaces and to themselves, 3) outlines how workplaces can try to implement a “no asshole” rule, 4) describes how you can keep from being an asshole, 5) provides tips for dealing with workplace assholes if your workplace isn’t making a concentrated effort to keep them out or deal with their behavior in some way, 6) and describes some of the benefits of occasionally being an asshole and/or having one around. And probably a few other things I forgot to list.

Sutton’s workplace assholes are basically what other books call workplace bullies, although I agree with Sutton that “asshole” is probably a better word to use. I think the average adult would probably connect with it more.

I started reading this in the hope of learning more and better strategies for dealing with workplace assholes. Unfortunately, although this was an engaging read that I largely agreed with, it didn’t really give me what I’d hoped for.

It started off promisingly. I loved that, in his introduction, Sutton never once said that people dealing with workplace assholes should probably just quit. Quitting isn’t an option for a lot of people. Maybe you’re tied to a particular geographic area because of your family, spouse, kids, etc. and there are few or no similar jobs in the area. Maybe the job market is terrible. Maybe your finances are tight and you can’t afford the uncertainty of a job search or possibly having to move somewhere else. Maybe you prefer the “devil you know.” What it comes down to is that there are lots of reasons why people might not want or be able to leave a bad workplace situation. I was hopeful that Sutton would have some good suggestions.

I agreed with a lot of the stuff that came after that. Yes, people with good leaders are more likely to admit they've made mistakes - there’d be less fear that they’d be punished for them, so they could admit them and then try to rectify them instead of hiding them. Yes, workplace assholes tend to make more enemies than they know. Yes, their employees waste a lot of time complaining about them and trying to work around them. Yes, a workplace where assholes aren’t tolerated is more likely to run smoothly and have better morale.

There were a few examples that made me wince. There was one organization that went to the effort of determining the TCA (Total Cost of Assholes) for one particularly nasty high-performing employee. Although he was considered a high-performer, he’d also cost the company when his company-provided anger management courses and high assistant turnover were taken into account. The total amount he’d cost the company was determined to be around $160,000, although in reality it was probably higher than that if the effect he had on everyone who had to work with him was taken into account. Management sat him down and told him that $96,000 of this total would be taken out of his year-end bonus. I was incredulous. From the sounds of things, a demotion, an actual cut in pay rather than just his bonus, or possibly even firing him would have been more appropriate.

To be fair, Sutton also thought that the company went too easy on the guy. I wished that he’d been able to do some kind of follow up. It would have been nice to know if the guy’s bad behavior had continued and he’d eventually been fired, or if this apparent slap on the wrist had somehow managed to serve as a wake-up call for him.

There are other things that made me raise an eyebrow, though. At one point, Sutton talked about how Southwest Airlines strived to create an asshole-free workplace by hiring people who fit their culture. Specifically, employees needed to be warm and friendly to both passengers and fellow employees. Unfortunately, not everyone wants to be friends with their coworkers. In Sutton’s anecdote, one particular employee who felt this way was told that he might be happier elsewhere, and he eventually did get a job with another airline. This entire anecdote bothered me because it wasn’t really about a workplace asshole - it was just a guy for whom his job was just a job.

Also, as a book reviewer I took issue with another one of Sutton’s examples. Near the end of the book, Sutton talked about how workplace assholes will sometimes be nasty towards others in front of senior management because it can make them seem smarter than their targets and those around them who are quieter and kinder. In order to explain this, Sutton brought up an article in which perceptions of “nice” and “nasty” book reviews were compared. “Amabile found that negative and unkind people were seen as less likable but more intelligent, competent, and expert than those who expressed the same messages in kinder and gentler ways.” (161) I haven’t read the article in question, but I very much disliked the way Sutton made use of it. There’s a vast amount of difference between book reviews and people talking to colleagues in front of senior management.

The two chapters that seemed like they’d be the most helpful were Chapter 3, which discussed implementing a “no asshole” rule in your workplace, and Chapter 5, which included tips for individuals faced with workplace assholes. Chapter 3 was actually pretty decent...except that it required the entire workplace, but especially upper-level management, to be committed to an asshole-free workplace. Saying that your workplace is committed to open communication and friendliness is nice, but it means nothing if, say, employees are permitted to make biting remarks about each other in public with apparent impunity. And besides, what do you do if your workplace assholes are your upper-level management?

I was excited to see what sorts of suggestions Sutton would include in Chapter 5, but I was ultimately let down. He didn’t quite come out and say it (at least not until the last couple pages of the book), but it was clear that most of the suggestions were aimed at surviving your workplace until you could finally leave. The suggested strategies included things like: remember that the abuse isn’t your fault, lower your expectations (hope for the best but expect the worst), develop indifference and emotional detachment, try to limit your exposure to workplace assholes, build support networks in your workplace, and look for small ways to seize bits of control over your workplace life. There were a few helpful tips here and there, but most of them were things that people dealing with workplace assholes are probably already doing. Several of them were things that even Sutton admitted could potentially make the situation worse.

This wasn’t a bad book - it just didn’t have much of what I was looking for. If you’re currently dealing with a workplace asshole (or several of them) who’s above you on your organizational chart, I’d say it’s pretty safe to just skip to Chapter 5 and see if you can get anything helpful out of it. If you’re in a truly terrible situation and are in a position where getting a job somewhere else is a possibility for you, reading the whole book might give you the push you need. If you're upper-level management at an organization or if you supervise a lot of people, Chapter 3 could be very useful to you. In the end, though, don't expect this book to be some kind of magic bullet, and be prepared for some of it to be a bit contradictory.

 

Rating Note:

 

I struggled with rating this. My disappointment with Chapter 5 and my frustration with the book's sometimes conflicting advice made me want to give this 2.5 stars, but overall I decided it was more of a 3-star book. It did at least have a few helpful nuggets of info.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-09-09 22:07
Book Review of Zombie Baker by J S Rumble
Zombie Baker - J. F. S. Rumble

Fred is one of those rare boys that actually likes going to school… well, he did until now. He started getting picked on for something he has no control over… being a zombie. 
Most people think of zombies as mindless creatures that roam the world searching for others to infect, in fact that couldn’t be further from the truth. All Fred wants to do is bake! 

He dreams of opening his very own cake shop one day, but pastry school is extremely expensive! Then an opportunity comes along that could help his dreams become reality.

 

Review 5*

 

This is a charming children's chapter book. I loved it!

 

Fred is a fantastic character. I really liked him. He is a kind and loving boy (not sure of exact age but think around eleven or twelve). He also loves to bake and dreams of owning his own bakery one day. Unfortunately, he has to deal with school bullies.

 

This story is told in a memoir style through Fred's eyes and takes the reader on a journey of discovery. Fred may be a zombie, but he has the same emotions as the rest of us. He gets excited, happy, sad, angry and frustrated by most of the same situations as ordinary humans.

 

This book is ideal for children with short attention spans as it's only 66 pages long. This story tackles the issue of bullying and shows that it's okay to be different, and with hard work you can attain your dream (whatever it may be). There are some interesting characters introduced and I really liked Fred's friends, Ervin, James and Ben, as they stand by him even though he's different to them. They like him just the way he is. I did feel sorry for Ervin during one scene though. He had to trust Fred even though he was terrified, but it made me like him even more and wish he was my friend too. There is action and adventure, with enough excitement to keep a young reader's attention. I love baking too, so reading about the cake Fred baked made my mouth water. So much so that I ended up baking a cake for myself later. I must admit that I would have loved if the story was longer, but then it wouldn't be a chapter book. Nevertheless, I was sad to reach the end even though it ended satisfactorily.

 

J.S. Rumble has written an entertaining chapter book that I thoroughly enjoyed. I love her writing style, which is not particularly fast paced though easy enough for children to follow whether reading on their own, or being read to by their parents. The flow is wonderful too. This is the second book I've read by this author and I would definitely consider reading more of her books in the future.

 

I highly recommend this chapter book to young children aged 5-10, and to adults looking for a chapter book to keep their little ones entertained. - Lynn Worton

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review 2017-09-05 07:31
Daphne's Book by Mary Downing Hahn

When I first read this book, I must have been a pre teen or in my early teenage years. I remember enjoying the book, but I doubt I fully grasped everything in the story. When I was younger, I might have been on Daphne and Hope's side, thinking Jessica should keep their secret, but as an adult, I know how wrong that would be.

I loved the imagination the girls showed in this story as they wrote their book and how they let the younger sister play with them and didn't shun her, as big sisters sometimes do. I believe the story handled bullying well, and Jessica and Daphne's reactions to it were realistic. I also think it handled the mental decline of the grandmother well, though I have no personal experiences with it to know if it was a correct representation.

Some of the words and actions of the grandmother toward Daphne and Hope broke me. I can understand why Jessica was terrified of her and also cringed every time the grandmother and Jessica interacted. As a child reading this, I probably would have disliked the grandmother as I wouldn't fully understand about her illness, but as an adult, I just feel sorrow and fear to know her condition is what happens to some of us as we age. It is sad, but a fact of life.

I do feel like the ending was a bit rushed. I wish there were more at the end, showing us how everyone is a few weeks, months, or even years down the road. Did Jessica keep in contact with them? Did they ever see their dream come true of being a writer/illustrator team? Did Jessica ever find her missing mouse?

Over all, I think this was a wonderful book and I hope many people of all ages get to enjoy it.

 

 

 

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