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

Girls of Paper and Fire Review

Girls of Paper and Fire Review

By Natasha Ngan

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson Books

Print Length: 385

Release Year: 2018

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Avg. Goodreads Rating: 3.82

Available on Amazon, B&N, or you local library/ Libby

In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest.
Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge. (Goodreads)

This review was originally published on my personal blog (crystinaluna.com)

It’s been a while since I’ve read this book, and though my memory of it is beginning to fade I still remember it fondly. It was the first book I had read in a while that I really enjoyed, and was one of the first fantasy books I’ve enjoyed in a few years. I’ve never really been a huge fan of fantasy (until recently), but yet this book had me utterly enthralled in the world. So much so, there were times it overwhelmed me and I was forced to set the book down for a short time. 

There are many great things about the book, but what made it stand out to me (other than the LGBT representation) was the exceptional world-building. I found the caste system in this book particularly interesting, with its heavy ties to species dictating the hierarchy. An allegory for race, that was inclusive and relatable to all readers. The real surprise was how well-developed and easy to understand it was upon first reading. It was easy to catch on the customs of this society without the book becoming lengthy to the point of absurdity. YA has a reputation for underdeveloped world building, the focus often put on the characters and the situation. While this book is very character heavy, it does a very good job of creating a realistic and understandable world. Not so fantastic that it’s unimaginable, but fantastic enough to allow the reader to escape the clutches of reality. The only downside is, especially at the beginning, the story seemed very info-dumpy. After reading the first few chapters I found my brain a little tired from absorbing so much. Regardless, I enjoyed the world.

The true downside of the story, for me, was the characters. They were not bad, in the sense that I enjoyed reading about them, but they were not the best. The protagonist particularly often came off as inconsistent. She constantly went back and forth between being empowering and annoying in her indecisiveness. To be entirely honest, I found her love interest far more interesting, with a backstory more prone to action and with a certain amount of finality in her decisions and fate. Lei, the protagonist, on the other hand, lacked this. And though I understand why the author chose to focus the story on her, I struggled to relate to her constantly going back and forth between deciding to try to live happily and rebel. It is not an easy decision, I understand, but her belief that she had no hope of escaping her reality made her indecisiveness all the more annoying.

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The Darkest Minds Review

The Darkest Minds Review

By Alexandra Bracken

Publisher: Disney Hyperion

Print Length: 488

Release Year: 2012

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Avg. Goodreads Rating: 4.19

Available on Amazon, B&N, or check your local library/Libby

When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something alarming enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that gets her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that’s killed most of America’s children, but she and the others have emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they cannot control.

Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones.

When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. Now she’s on the run, desperate to find the one safe haven left for kids like her—East River. She joins a group of kids who escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can’t risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents.

When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at a life worth living. (Goodreads)

Superpowers. Sounds fun right?

Well, when you have to survive an unknown and extremely deadly disease in order to get these powers only to be segregated from society and essentially kept in concentration camps is far from fun.

Bracken’s The Darkest Minds Series begins with a very X-Men-esque scenario, as described above. After an unknown disease kills off the majority of the State’s children, only a relatively small percentage are left, but there were after effects to this illness. Those who survived would develop one of a five of abilities ranging from telekinesis to powerful telepathy. These abilities are assigned colours, which are later used to segregate its users, separating them into groups based on their potential threat level. Greens (those with enhanced intelligence) are considered the least dangerous, while the most dangerous include the Red (those with pyrokinesis) and the Orange (telepaths). The most dangerous of the group were often killed on the spot. 

The follows an Orange, who against all odds, has survived many years in a “rehabilitation” camp under the guise of a Green. Upon rescue from the camp, she not only realizes just how much the outside world has changed, but she realizes for any true change to occur there are hard decisions ahead of her. 

I enjoyed this book, for the most part, though I often found it to be a slower than usual read for a YA novel. This book also differs quite a bit from other dystopian YA in that it tends to take a bit more of a political standpoint on the subjects it presents, while still pandering to the action-filled expectations of its intended audience. With many parallels to the ever so popular superhero genre, this book does a good job setting itself apart from other superhero-based stories and succeeds in creating characters who are multi-dimensional. The book spends a lot of time on character development, a lot more than you would expect from a YA novel coming at what some may consider the current fall from grace of Dystopian Sci-Fi. 

As I’ve already sort of alluded to I found the book to be a little slow at times with scenes that I did not find entirely necessary (though they did achieve what they were meant to.) My most notable problems with the book are subjective: because when it comes down to it I simply did not find many of the characters likeable. I often found that the protagonist tended to be inconsistent. The inconsistencies are, for the most part, excusable due to the circumstances of the driving plot. Regardless, I often became a little annoyed because the character seemed to have sudden unexplained bursts of a newfound confidence that didn’t quite seem appropriate. 

This book was a pretty good book but to be honest I ultimately enjoy it as much as others. I’m glad I read the first book, but as of right now I don’t intend to read the rest of the series.

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I’m Not Okay with This Season 1 Review

I’m Not Okay with This Season 1 Review

Now streaming on Netflix. Rated TV-MA.

I’m not quite sure what compelled me to watch this series, but in retrospect, I’m glad I did. As a big fan of superheroes and their lore, I was immediately brought in by the prospect of a young woman developing telepathic abilities. The opening scene that introduces the film added to my interest as it is reminiscent of the horror classic Carrie. In many ways, there are a lot of parallels between I’m Not Okay with This and Carrie, as well as X-Men (and I’m sure many related works that I’m not thinking of at the moment of writing this).

I’m Not Okay with This is a charming coming-of-age story full of angst and sarcasm. We follow as the characters in the series go through very real struggles, and– in the case of our protagonist– mysterious struggles as well. Additionally, we get a considerably accurate depiction of depression, anxiety, and grief. The characters seem very real, as none of them is perfect and their imperfections are beautifully portrayed by the actors flawlessly. 

This show also boasts some pretty impressive special effects that, to me, are reminiscent of the ingenious effects used in films like Chronicle. It’s subtle and seamless, and the sparse use of it is perfect for the tone the show maintains throughout. 

The story is fast-paced and easy to follow, and with only eight 30 minute episodes this is a quick watch. The story, which you can probably infer from what I’ve written thus far, is very much character-driven which culminates into an emotional ride. As the season progresses we are given a glimpse into what this series can become as small details are revealed and questions are raised only to be left unanswered. The questions interesting enough to warrant interest in a second season.

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Last Cloudia Review

Developer: ADIS Inc.

Age Rating:12+

Size: 214 mb

Price Range: Free (with in-app purchases)

Available on iOS and Android

With a classic 8-bit aesthetic Last Cloudia seems like a promising anime-inspired RPG. Its gameplay doesn’t stray far from the norm for the sub-genre but with a clunky hard-to-navigate user-interface and a storyline that takes a considerable amount of grinding to make any substantial headway. The game adds a poorly executed gacha system that isn’t easy to understand for RPG novices. As of writing this I do not recommend this game, as I found it overall considerably tedious and subsequently boring. 

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Alita: Battle Angel (2019) Review

Alita: Battle Angel (2019) Review

Directed by Robert Rodriguez

Written by James Cameron, Laeta Kalogridis

Starring: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly

Rated: PG-13

Run-Time: 2h 2m

Genre: Science Fiction

Rotten Tomatoes: 62%

Available on Hulu and HBO Max

A cyborg uses her prodigious fighting skills to take on corrupt authorities in a future dystopia. (Hulu)

It’s not every day that a film introduces its titular character in what may very well be their lowest of lows. When we are introduced to the cyborg Alita she is, for all intents and purposes, long discarded trash. Regardless of this her brain, as well as her core power source, are still in prime condition. It takes the work of one Dr. Ido to restore her into working order. With a new body and new life, Alita, who remembers nothing, is forced to adjust to her new surroundings while trying to remember her obscure past. Dr. Ido, who becomes a father figure to Alita, and a young man named Hugo, her love interest, help her along the way. 

I didn’t know what to expect from a movie based off of a manga, let alone a film based on such an extensive and well-written manga. When the trailer first came out, I must admit I was concerned; especially since it follows the disappointing 2017 Ghost in Shell adaption. Like most viewers, I was taken aback by Miss Salazar’s exaggerated eyes. When first exposed to the imagery, I admit that the effects of the uncanny valley were strong. This detail can be somewhat ignored after you take into consideration that the manga makes a point to give Alita exaggerated features, though, if I recall it was originally her “large” lips. This detail would prove to be the only character design decision I found myself continuously questioning. 

My main qualm with the film is that there were often times the CGI was poorly executed. As a result, there were scenes in which I found myself being pulled out of the film, solely due to the poor integration of computer-generated backgrounds with the live-action actors. Additionally, the digital augmentation of Alita’s face often came off as awkward, most notably in the scene in which she tries chocolate for the first time. Otherwise, the film was beautiful and fully embraced the cyberpunk aesthetic.

For the most part, I have minimal complaints with the film. I was pleasantly surprised by the character development as well as the overall execution. I wouldn’t call the film your run-of-the-mill origin story. For what it’s trying to achieve in regards to its source material, I would call it successful. Many may say there isn’t really a plot, but as a introductory film to a potential franchise, the film gets the job done. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, which was not what I expected.

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The Half of It (2020) Review

The Half of It (2020) Review

Directed by: Alice Wu

Written by: Alice Wu

Starring: Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer, Alexxis Lemire

Rated: PG-13

Run-Time: 1h 45m

Genre: LGBTQ, Comedy, Drama

Rotten Tomatoes: 97%

Availability: Netflix

She’s a gifted introvert. He’s a sweet jock. Both are smitten with the same girl. Friendships– and first loves– can be complicated. (Netflix)

In my opinion there hasn’t been a teen movie that falls among the ranks of the classics for quite a while, but The Half of It might just fit the bill. Not only does the film include relatable romance, but it has an emphasis on friendship and platonic love, something we honestly need more of in both film and books. 

The film is a heartwarming examination of friendship and young love, as well as the struggles of immigrants, their children, and LGBT youth (especially in the midwest). It vividly illustrates the growth of romantic and platonic love on a number of levels, something we don’t often see in teen films. The film avoids the cliche of the relationships in the film becoming diluted by an overdone love-triangle. Rather we watch the blooming romance between two people, and the growth of a close friendship. Romance takes the back seat to the emphasis on friendship, which is exceptionally refreshing. And with the addition of including the struggles of the film’s protagonist as an immigrant only adds a realistic depth to the film. For viewers who immigrated to the States at a young age, as well as viewers whose parents are immigrants, the main character is exceptionally relatable.

This is one of those films everyone needs to watch and it’s one of those films you can watch more than once. Be warned though, you’ll probably be crying by the time the credits roll.

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Dog Shelter Rescue Review

Developer: Sleutech Inc.

Age Rating: 4+

Size: 105.3 MB

Price: Free (with in-app purchases)

Available on iOS and Android

Dog Shelter Rescue is a fun twist on the idle game concept for dogs lovers. Rescue twenty different breeds of dog from the streets, decorate their living space and care for them until they’re ready to be adopted. A simple concept, simply executed.

The game isn’t anything fancy, but it’s easy to tell that there is love behind it. The user-interface is a little clunky, but not hard to intuit. The game is overall very simple and doesn’t demand attention the way some idle games tend to do. The game is free to play, and very true to that, but like most games there is the option to make in-app purchases (doing so is entirely unnecessary though). Additionally, the game provides resources to raise awareness for animal rescue organizations and related information. It’s evident that this game is made with a cause.

For dog lovers, this game may be a worthwhile way to pass the time while in a line for coffee or during a transit stop.

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MonsterCry Eternal Review

Developer: Nyuo Inc.

Age Rating: 12+

Size: 362.5 mb

Price: Free (in-app purchases)

Available for iOS and Android

Good CCG (collectable card games) are hard to come by, but MonsterCry is one of those great finds. There are an abundance of cards to collect, all with beautiful art. The strategy required to play the game is not hard to learn, plus the game has the added bonus of auto-play! The game is easier to navigate than many of the CCG’s of a similar caliber, with a well organized menu and minimal clutter. The gameplay and menu follow what has become the standard for games within the genre. 

The main downfall of the game is there is a paywall. It’s not a solid paywall, but there is definitely a point where advancing is a lot harder than it was before. The game is still playable without in-app purchases, but for many the paywall is enough to look the other way. But for those who like to work hard and enjoy farming mechanics, this might not bother you. For fans of CCG’s and RPG’s this game is definitely worth checking out.

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The Beast Player Review

by Nahoko Uehashi, Cathy Hirano (Translator)

Publisher: Pushkin Press

Print Length: 512 pages

Genre: YA Fantasy

Release Year: 2018 (US)

Avg. Goodreads Rating: 4.14

Available at Amazon, B&N, or check you local library/Libby

Elin’s family has an important responsibility: caring for the fearsome water serpents that form the core of their kingdom’s army. So when some of the beasts mysteriously die, Elin’s mother is sentenced to death as punishment. With her last breath she manages to send her daughter to safety.

Alone, far from home, Elin soon discovers that she can talk to both the terrifying water serpents and the majestic flying beasts that guard her queen. This skill gives her great powers, but it also involves her in deadly plots that could cost her life. Can she save herself and prevent her beloved beasts from being used as tools of war? Or is there no way of escaping the terrible battles to come? (Goodreads)

I would like to put in a formal request for Studio Ghibli to make this into a film; because the whole time I was reading it I continuously visualized it animated in that style. Ah— it would be a dream! 

The Beast Player is a beautifully crafted story full of whimsy and wisdom. The story tackles issues such as animals being raised in captivity, favouritism in an educational setting, and the effects of the loss of tradition (both negative and positive). In such a short time we are introduced to such a beautiful world and with realistic characters, and a story that spans a decade. Readers are given a view of the world often clouded by modernity, and are given a chance to view nature and it’s beasts for they are: magnificent. 

For some reading this book may not come easily for a number of reasons (none of which— I believe— should dissuade you). The most evident and unique being the world-building. The Beast Player utilizes soft world-building with expertise comparable to Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. This lends to the whimsy of the book, as much of the world is left to the reader’s imagination, guided by a skilled hand that only shows us the details we must know. Additionally, being a translation of a book originally published in Japanese, The Beast Player often reads a little odd to native English speakers. Of course, this is a result of inherent differences between the two languages, English being much more literal than Japanese. This is easily ignored, as the story is so beautiful and I can only give the highest praise to the translator who took on the challenge of translating such a masterwork. The end result is still a coherent and cohesive story with what I would consider above-average writing. 

I would honestly recommend this book to anyone, even those who have yet to read a translated book. If fact, I would recommend it with much fervor to those in that situation as the book is just that good. 

Please note: There is, in fact, an animated adaptation of this series titled Erin, as well as a manga adaptation.

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