The Barren Grounds Book Tour: Review, 15 Thoughts While Reading, and Fan-Art

The Barren Grounds Book Tour: Review, 15 Thoughts While Reading, and Fan-Art

By David Alexander Robertson

Publisher: Puffin Canada

Print Length: 256 pages

Release Year: 2020

Genre: Middle-Grade Fantasy

Avg. Goodreads Rating: 4.25

Available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble (and always be sure to check your local library/Libby)

Morgan and Eli, two Indigenous children forced away from their families and communities, are brought together in a foster home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They each feel disconnected, from their culture and each other, and struggle to fit in at school and at their new home — until they find a secret place, walled off in an unfinished attic bedroom. A portal opens to another reality, Aski, bringing them onto frozen, barren grounds, where they meet Ochek (Fisher). The only hunter supporting his starving community, Misewa, Ochek welcomes the human children, teaching them traditional ways to survive. But as the need for food becomes desperate, they embark on a dangerous mission. Accompanied by Arik, a sassy Squirrel they catch stealing from the trapline, they try to save Misewa before the icy grip of winter freezes everything — including them. (Goodreads)

Special thanks to Puffin Canada and Hear Our Voices Tours for allowing me to participate in this tour.

I don’t often read middle-grade for no particular reason. There are a number of books on my TBR that actually happen to be middle-grade but for whatever reason, I’ve continually put off reading them. The Barren Grounds quickly reminded me how great these books can be, even if they’re intended for an audience much younger than myself. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and am going to get the negative out of the way by saying there is none. This is an amazing book, with amazing character development and world-building. It also serves as an introduction to indigenous culture for those who may not as familiar with it. This book had me in tears at one point, and I was so invested in the world. The books does have some similarities to the classic Chronicles of Narnia, but I personally found this much more interesting and engaging.  

I learned some new things about indigenous culture from this book that sparked an internet deep-dive into the history of many First Nations people, their beliefs and cultural practices. I found my eyes opened to a culture, that I was aware of but never truly saw. This book opens the readers to a fantasy world, yes, but it also opens a part of our world so often forgotten or overlooked. I want everyone to read this book, be moved by the story, and be inspired to learn more. I recommend reading this book, and then going out and finding out more about the beautiful stories that inspired this one. 

Subjective Rating

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Objective Rating

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Final Rating

Rating: 4 out of 5.

15 Thoughts While Reading

  1. I was glad to find that Morgan and Eli seem to have been placed in a truly caring foster home. I understand that that is not always the case, but this particular home has great potential. I also realized how much more meaning this had to me as an adult who is old enough to have children. 
  2. I learned about some First Nations dishes, which lead me to research more about the culture, particularly cuisine. 
  3. It was easy to draw immediate parallels between The Chronicles of Narnia and The Barren Grounds; which the portal to Misewa being opened through a drawing and one of the portals to Narnia being opened through a painting. 
  4. I learned about fishers. Prior to reading this book, I had never heard of such an animal. 
  5. I found myself often relating to Morgan in her feelings of disconnection to her heritage and the anger that made her feel. 
  6. I found myself contemplating the ethical conundrum that Ochek was faced with when he and the children came across Arik. And wondered what I would do in such a situation. 
  7. I noticed the allegory against colonizers in the description of the antagonist. It reminded me how truly wasteful modern society is, and how we take advantage of nature. 
  8. Robertson does a good job setting up a mystery surrounding Morgan’s origin, as well as Eli’s in a sense. I want to know more about how they got in the foster care system, and if it had to do with legitimate concerns or one’s based on discrimination and ignorance. 
  9. I was very interested in the character of Mahihkan, and wanted to know more about him. Especially whether or not his presence held more weight that I may have noticed. 
  10. With the mentions of North and South country, I became more curious about the stories that could be set in this world. So much was set up, with things only mentioned hopefully with the intent to more fully explore. 
  11. I was reminded of how beautiful the indigenous languages are with the book’s inclusion of Cree words. It makes me want to cry knowing that these languages are in danger of dying out. 
  12. Learning one of the stories behind what we call the Big Dipper was a beautiful experience and during this scene in the book, I cried quite a bit. 
  13. Morgan truly grew in this book, that was a beautiful thing to see. She and Eli found a home not only in Misewa but in each other.
  14. The way time worked in this story fascinated me, especially in the final conversation between the kids and Arik. Could they have sat there and talked for a literal eternity?
  15.  The final poem was so beautiful. I read it more than once. 

Fan Art

Portrait of character Arik

Miss Meteor Review, Theme Analysis & TV Recommendations + Fan Art

Miss Meteor Review, Theme Analysis & TV Recommendations + Fan Art

By Tehlor Kay Mejia, Anna-Marie McLemore

Publisher: Harper Teen

Print Length: 320 pg

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, LGBT

Release Date September 22, 2020

Buy this book at Amazon and B&N

Special thanks to HarperTeen and HearOurVoices Tours for providing me with an ARC and allowing me to participate in this book tour.

There hasn’t been a winner of the Miss Meteor beauty pageant who looks like Lita Perez or Chicky Quintanilla in all its history. But that’s not the only reason Lita wants to enter the contest, or why her ex-best friend Chicky wants to help her. The road to becoming Miss Meteor isn’t about being perfect; it’s about sharing who you are with the world—and loving the parts of yourself no one else understands. So to pull off the unlikeliest underdog story in pageant history, Lita and Chicky are going to have to forget the past and imagine a future where girls like them are more than enough—they are everything. (Goodreads)

Lita Fanart

Miss Meteor proves to be a top of the line coming-of-age story with plenty of drama and laughs for everyone. Exceptionally inclusive with a hint of magic, we follow a group of friends who learn probably the most important lesson of them all: about being yourself. The book goes to great lengths to illustrate this common lesson in a way that shows the wide variety of acceptance someone can come to, whether it be on there own or with the help of those around them. Miss Meteor is a feel-good read for anyone who has ever felt other, and for me, one of the very few books I felt represented as a queer Latinx woman. 

I loved this book and felt truly blessed when I realized this is a five-star read (the second of this month!) I related deeply to a lot of the story and found myself rooting for the characters and crying alongside them. This is one of those books you read when you’re not having the best time; cosy up with it under the covers with a cup of warm tea and escape into Meija and McLemore’s version of Meteor(ite), New Mexico. 

Subjective Rating

Objective Rating

Final Rating

As mentioned above, Miss Meteor is full of a lot of important lessons and themes. I’d like to take a moment to highlight a few of the themes explored in this book. All of which are important, and represented masterfully:

Stand-Up for Others (and Yourself) is one of the smaller themes explored in this book with the character of Cole (who, let’s just be honest, is my new book boyfriend). Throughout the book, he stands-up for those being bullied by his sister’s boyfriend, but when it comes to himself he stays considerably silent. As the book continues we see him realize that if he’s going to stand up for his friends, he also needs to stand up for himself. And, in doing so, he puts the book’s bullies in their place in a triumphant scene that had me cheering out loud for him as I read it. 

The Value of Friendship is heavily featured in this book, as we see old friends come together, friendships grow stronger, and relationships metamorphosis. The character of Chicky is probably the one who learns the most from this lesson, as she realizes how much she needs her friends and how important they are to her. We watch as she overcomes personal struggles to preserve her friendships as she realizes that her friends are much too important to lose. 

Self-acceptance is the explicit theme heavily woven throughout this story. Every character has something holding them back, and as the story progresses we follow them as they come out of their shells and learn one of live’s most important lesson. While the focus is mostly on Lita and Chicky, it’s hard to miss the personal growth in Cole and Junior as well. This definitely gave the book a sense of depth that I’m truly amazed the authors managed to put in so few pages.

I don’t want to let go of this book yet. I could re-read it right now if it wasn’t for the fact that I have other things to read. If you share these feelings with me, I hope you enjoy a short list of series I’ve included below that embody some aspect of this book in some way (in order of least related to most related):

Switched

This series is the most different from Miss Meteor, but I wanted to include it because there are definitely parallels in the lessons of this show to that of the book. 

Switched follows a depressed and bullied young woman who decides her only option is to commit suicide. After a series of unexpected events she switches bodies with a popular classmate, the young woman is forced to more closely examine the reasons that lead her to want to end her life.

I Am Not Okay With This

I’ve reviewed this series in the past, and while it is tonally very different from Miss Meteor, it heavily includes themes of friendship and otherness. 

I Am Not Okay With This is a coming of age story following a young woman as she develops telepathic powers. 

Ugly Betty

Ugly Betty shares a lot of themes with Miss Meteor, including those listed above as well as some not mentioned, such as Latinx-culture and queer culture. 

Ugly Betty follows a young woman who, despite a chronic lack of style, lands a job at a fashion magazine.

Always Human Theme Analysis + Fan Art

Always Human Theme Analysis + Fan Art

By Ari North

Publisher: Little Bee Books

Print Length: 256 pages

Release Year: 2020

Genre: Graphic Novel, LGBT, Science Fiction

Avg. Goodreads Rating: 4.38

Available on Amazon and B&N

In the near-future, people use technology to give the illusion of all kinds of body modifications—but some people have “Egan’s Syndrome,” a highly sensitive immune system that rejects these “mods” and are unable to use them. Those who are affected maintain a “natural” appearance, reliant on cosmetics and hair dye at most to help them play with their looks. 

Sunati is attracted to Austen the first time she sees her and is drawn to what she assumes is Austen’s bravery and confidence to live life unmodded. When Sunati learns the truth, she’s still attracted to Austen and asks her on a date. Gradually, their relationship unfolds as they deal with friends, family, and the emotional conflicts that come with every romance. Together, they will learn and grow in a story that reminds us no matter how technology evolves, we will remain . . . always human.

Rendered in beautiful detail and an extraordinary color palette, Always Human is a sweet love story told in a gentle sci-fi setting by a queer woman cartoonist, Ari North.

Always Human is a fun and light-hearted read, but within it is a plethora of deep themes rarely explored in YA Science Fiction, let alone graphic novels. While reading it is an absolute pleasure, you are absorbing concepts that are for many hard to understand. The author, Ari North, does an exceptional job presenting these themes in a way anyone can understand while not losing the overall tone of the story. I’d like to take some time to look deeper into some of the themes I picked up on while reading Always Human and further discuss their representation and lessons. 

Self-Expression is the theme that truly at the forefront of this series. After all, this story takes place in a future where people use technology to enhance their bodies in various ways, including aesthetically. These modifications are implied as being endless and allow the society represented to be much better suited for a wide variety of self-expression. Always Human is unique in that it includes a wide variety of characters with differing sexualities, race, and gender identity. It’s implied that such differences no longer hold the weight they do in our current society, as it’s much easier for one to alter their physical self to better reflect their feelings and personal views. It’s interesting to see how society would view people in a world where you can truly look however you want, and “other” is commonplace. 

Invisible Illness (disability) is the second most important theme as it closely pertains to the protagonist, Sunati’s, love interest Austen. Austen suffers from the fictional Egan’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that makes her unable to use mods, which in many ways leaves her “disabled” in a world where people use mods to help with things such as memorization and illness prevention. Throughout this volume we see not only how this affects her but how people respond and act towards her. North does an exceptional job illustrating life with an invisible illness and how it can often skew other’s perception of someone, as well as how it can negatively affect the person’s mental health and relationships. It’s refreshing to read such an honest representation that manages to stay away from some potentially harmful tropes that often follow characters with a disability. We view Austen’s struggle in a very honest way from both her perspective and Sunati’s which provides a lot of room for learning to the readers. 

Communication is the key to a healthy relationship and is explored at length in this graphic novel. Whether through mistakes and triumph, North presents a realistic representation of communication that is mostly healthy but definitely not perfect. There are things to be learned from the conversations that go well and, of course, lessons to be learned from the ones that don’t. Both are in this book and so well written. 

Humanity in the technological era is a theme often explored in science fiction, and North definitely takes a more literal approach to this one. We are given a society that is very different from ours in a way that could be seen for the better. The amount of self-expression allotted to individuals in this world has opened up peoples mind to many things otherwise considered “other.” At the same time, this leaves some people at a great disadvantage (those with Egan’s syndrome). The way disease is handled is different, and the human body becomes, in a way less organic. The book explores what it means to be human is an area of endless possibility. 

In addition to my analysis, I was to create fan-art for this comic which was an absolute pleasure. This series is truly worth the read and the publication of it is also for a good cause. I highly recommend looking into it and buying a copy of your own. 

Special thanks to Hear Our Voices book tours for allowing me to participate in this tour.

Cemetery Boys OwnVoices Reflection

Cemetery Boys OwnVoices Reflection

By Aiden Thomas 

Publisher: Swoon Reads

Release Date: September 1, 2020

Genre: Young-Adult Paranormal Romance

Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him.

When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.
However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie up some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.

As a reviewer, I consume a lot of content, especially books. I’m not very picky and like to diversity my reading with a large variety of genres, authors and subject matters. But even in doing so, I’ve found it difficult to find books I can see myself in The closest I’ve ever gotten was Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which I first read my sophomore year of high school. It was the first time I read a book with queer Latinx characters, and it was the first time I truly related to a character on such a deep cultural level. Ari and Dante will forever hold a special place in my heart, a place I hope they will share with Yadriel and Julian. 

When I first heard about Aiden Thomas’s Cemetery Boys I was immediately excited at the prospect of reading it. Not only because it will give me an opportunity to enjoy a book that highlights my Latin heritage, but because of it’s positive representation of Brujeria. 

If my more traditional family members knew me for who I truly am, they’d likely disown me for two reasons: the first being that I am queer; the second being the fact that I spiritually identify as an eclectic witch. In they’re very traditional Catholic eyes any form of brujeria is cursed. To see a Latinx novel include it and not have it portray as this horribly bad thing is exceptionally comforting and exciting. And, to be honest, I don’t know much about things like Dia de los Muertos, nor traditional brujeria of the Latin world. The chance that I may learn some about those things, even a little, is so invigorating!

What I am mostly looking forward to is the connection this book will provide me with my culture. I am often burdened by it: the sad truth of being a light-skinned Latina is that it puts me in a place of privilege that has often lead to a cultural disconnect caused by colourism. I often find myself not feeling like I’m a true Latina, but at the same time, I’m not (fully) white. I feel like I don’t belong anywhere really. Throughout my life, I’ve been left out of things because of how I look and what I believe. As a result, books like Cemetery Boys are invaluable to me, as they allow me to connect with my culture without barriers and allow me to learn and experience things I’ve missed out on. These books allow me to feel free and safe as I explore my cultural identity and help me understand what it means to be a member of the Latinx community without fear of being excluded over such stupid things as skin colour and lack of fluency in my native tongue. I’ve spent too long feeling like I’m on the outside, that I’m somehow “other,” but books like this remind me that I’m not alone. 

I can’t wait to read Cemetery Boys, and am patiently waiting for my pre-ordered copy to arrive. If you are interested in reading this book, it is currently available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, The Book Depository, Kobo, and Google. And a special thanks to Aiden Thomas for writing this wonderful book, and Hear Our Voices Book Tours for allowing me to participate in this tour.

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet Cover Reveal

As an aspiring pastry chef, Penelope Prado has always dreamed of opening her own pastelería next to her father’s restaurant, Nacho’s Tacos. But her mom and dad have different plans — leaving Pen to choose between disappointing her traditional Mexican-American parents or following her own path. When she confesses a secret she’s been keeping, her world is sent into a tailspin. But then she meets a cute new hire at Nacho’s who sees through her hard exterior and asks the questions she’s been too afraid to ask herself.

Xander Amaro has been searching for home since he was a little boy. For him, a job at Nacho’s is an opportunity for just that — a chance at a normal life, to settle in at his abuelo’s, and to find the father who left him behind. But when both the restaurant and Xander’s immigrant status are threatened, he will do whatever it takes to protect his new found family and himself.

Together, Pen and Xander must navigate first love and discovering where they belong — both within their families and their fiercely loyal Chicanx community — in order to save the place they all call home. (Goodreads)

Coming in April of 2021 is the beautiful book Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by the sweet Laekan Zea Kemp. This cover is gorgeously designed by the talented Poppy Magda. And let me tell you, I am so excited for this book!

In order to celebrate the cover reveal, I couldn’t help but create a food inspired flat-lay. The description of the book describes the struggles of a young woman wanting to become a baker rather than work for her families Taqueria. So, for the flat-lay, I purchased a beautiful Tres Leches cake and cooked a dish I love to have on a hot summer’s day– okay, let’s just be honest… everyday– Tacos. As a pescatarian, a fish taco to be specific.

The book is currently available for pre-order on LYBR, Indiebound, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Apple, and Google Play.

This cover reveal is in association with Hear Our Voices Book Tours.