Miles Morales (A Spider-Man Novel) by Jason Reynolds

It's Jason Reynolds! 

I'm such a fan I would probably pay to read his grocery list. 

Thank you Netgalley, for letting me read this book in exchange for an honest review. 

I figured it would be a snap, but at first it didn't work for me. I struggled and kept starting and stopping, starting and stopping. 

Jason Reynolds excels at creating genuine, true to life characters. As you read his words, they come to life seamlessly. You believe they exist beyond the pages of the book. It's this ability that finally allowed me to focus on the story and revel in his writing. 

So what the heck was the initial problem? I've been wondering if it had to do with reading on my device. It isn't the first book I've had trouble with there. That light is hard on my aging eyes. And truthfully, I'm easily distracted, so device reading can be deadly. Perhaps I just had too many books on the go. Of course it might be that I had a hard time in the first place because I'm not really a superhero fan. 

It was when I finally committed myself and sat down and finished the book that I was blown away. I went back to reread the beginning. After shuffling off my biases and letting myself embrace these characters and the story, I really fell head over tail in love.

At one point I went to Wikipedia to research Spider-Man. (I told you I was easily distracted.) It helped. The last time I paid any attention to superhero comics, was when my sons were reading them. They are now 33 and 36, so that was quite some time ago. I discovered that Miles Morales came onto the scene in 2011. He is an Afro Hispanic teenager with the same abilities as the original Spider-Man. Background knowledge is important. 

In this novel, based on that character, Miles, an A student, attends an elite school, Brooklyn Visions Academy, on scholarship. Miles has loving parents who have his back at the same time as they take him to task for any misbehaviour. I appreciate the way Reynolds captures their neighbourhood in an array of beautiful, damaged characters who never really had a chance to fulfill their potential. He shows us that the story of a black skinned Spider-Man can't be told without understanding the context of being black in America.  

At school Miles rooms with his Korean American best friend, Ganke. Their relationship is brilliantly, lovingly authentic. Ganke often gets them into some kind of mischief where Miles is forced to use his super powers. Afterwards, his conscience fills him with anxiety and regret. I appreciated Miles' ambivalence and the dilemma he faces over using his special powers. He's conflicted between saving the world and saving himself. He tells Ganke, "to have the time to be a Super Hero, you got to have the rest of your life laid out. You can't be out there saving the world when your neighbourhood ain't even straight. I just got to be real about it."

Miles is lucky to have mostly stellar teachers at school. The one exception is his history teacher, Mr Chamberlain. Mile's spidey-sense is triggered regularly in this class. The racist Mr. Chamberlain is truly creepy. In Ganke's words, "he keeps talking about how the Civil War was like this beautiful, romantic thing.… He was going on about how, depending on how you look at it, slavery was kind of good for the country." There are a lot of important lessons on power relationships, how to engage in activism, resist oppression, and act collectively that emerge from the time spent in that class. 

Part of what wowed me in this book was the integration of Sijo poetry. The examples in the book are spectacular, like the one Alicia, Mile's romantic interest, shares in their English class, on the theme of love:

A romantic mountain top view of the world is love for most
Being that close to clouds strips them of form, turns them to fog
Perhaps the real beauty is on the way up, where like it is.

Here's one Miles wrote while thinking about his family. 

What I Hate
I hate my father's face when he tells me my block is my burden
Like my job is to carry a family I didn't create
Like my life is for fixing something I didn't even break

Miles loved his Uncle Aaron and visited him regularly against his parents' wishes. It was because of Aaron's criminal endeavours that Miles was bitten by the radioactive spider that gave him his powers. Miles' dreams are haunted with the same recurring nightmare: a battle to the death with him. He's terrified that his uncle's taunt, "You're just like me," is true.

At the school's Halloween dance, Miles discovers an insidious conspiracy designed to destroy the lives of black students. He realizes that he is only one of many individuals who have been victimized across time and space. It's up to him, on his own, to stop them.

This is a book I wish I could read out loud to a group of students. I envision many thoughtful conversations about how we use power, about what it means to be a person of colour, about how we can be manipulated by others based on our preconceived assumptions. Writing our own Sijo poems would have to be part of the experience. I expect students will clamour for teachers to read just one more page. 

I know of at least a dozen students I would hand this book over to. 

The release date for this book is August 1st. You are going to want to preorder a copy and read the book yourself to see how good it is. 

#IMWAYR July 17, 2017

#IMWAYR time again, when readers share what they have been reading and find out what others have been up to in the past week. Kathryn hosts the adult version of this meme at Book Date. Jen at Teach MentorTexts and Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers host the kidlit rendition. Whatever you are looking forward to in your next great read, these are fabulous places to start your search.

We are here in our house in Oliver, a small town in the Okanagan Valley. It's hot enough to make us extremely thankful for air conditioning. I'm missing my grandbabies a lot, but know that my children need time on their own with their new family. Besides, they send me pictures daily. 

In the middle of visiting family and friends, I'm managing to write everyday as part of Teachers Write. I'm not ready to share what I have been writing, but my goal for this summer is to just get into writing every day. So far, I've succeeded. 

Did I mention that we are eating the absolutely best cherries in the world?


Shelter by Céline Claire & Qin Leng (Illustrations)


5 stars
Shelter by Céline Claire & Qin Leng (Illustrations) (Netgalley)

I picked this book because it's Qin Leng. I will read anything at all that she is involved with. She didn't let me down this time.  While admiring her images here, I became enchanted with the story itself. Animals in a forest refuse aid to two strangers looking for shelter from a blizzard. This is a book about kindness and generosity, and how we can all end up dependent on one another. Go read my full review and look at Leng's art. I will still be here when you are done.
Don't forget to pre order your copy.

4 stars
Gifts from the Enemy by Trudy Ludwig & Craig Orback (Illustrations)

This book tells the story of Alter Wiener, a Polish Jew whose family and friends were killed by the Germans during the Second World War. Alter survived because a German woman smuggled food to him for 30 days in a row. Her actions helped him to understand that "there are the kind and the cruel in every group of people. How those you meet in life treat you is more important than who they are."
There is one segment in this book that sent a chill down my spine, given that it portrays a reality I fear is emerging in our times.

5 stars
Little Red Hood by Marjolaine Leray, Sarah Ardizzone (Translator)

Thank you Myra at Gathering Books for heads up about this book. I adore it. 
How I wish I knew about it before I retired and was still teaching critical literacy through storytelling and fairy tales.This smart Red Riding Hood is undaunted by the wolf and manages to trick him. Gotta love that last page. I laughed out loud many times and ordered a copy for myself even though I won't be teaching.

4 stars
The Girl In Red by Aaron Frisch & Roberto Innocenti (Illustrator)

This is another title I have to thank Myra at Gathering Books for introducing me to. It's Roberto Innocenti, so it's guaranteed that the illustrations are just stunning. This interpretation of the classic fairy tale is set in a busy city, and is dark and disturbing. The interesting thing about the ending is that it provides for two different possibilities.


3 stars
Zinnia and the Bees by Danielle Davis & Laura K. Horton (Illustrator) (Netgalley)

Zinnia had been looking forward to her summer, but on her return home from the last day of school, discovers that her brother, Adam, has disappeared without a trace. This is doubly hard because her emotionally absent mother, Dr. Flossdrop, seems unable to offer comfort or even care. Then to make matters worse, a hive of bees sets up home in her hair. 
There is a lot I really liked about this book. First off, Zinnia, our protagonist, is a knitter! The yarn bombing bits are fun. I liked Birch, the boy who has come to visit his uncle for the summer, and befriends Zinnia. He's full of kindness and patience. I liked the quirky inserts revealing the perspective of the bees, who have settled on Zinnia's head. I liked that mostly the adults were positive characters. 
My problem is that it just didn't all come together for me. Zinnia and her mother's reconciliation seemed too pat. I finished up wondering about those bees and why they were there in the first place. It's possible that I couldn't connect to this story as much as I thought I would because of how long it took me to read it, but then, maybe it took me so long because I couldn't connect. 

4 stars
Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin & Kathleen McInerney (Narrator)

I liked this book a lot more than I thought I would. I was really worried it would be another one of those sad and dreary books where a character dies. Thyme and her family have to move to New York City so that her younger brother, Val, can participate in a drug trial that they hope will destroy his cancer. Thyme isn't happy about having to go to a new school and misses her best friend. Even so, she manages to settle in, make new friends, and even experience her first romance. 
The situation is made more complicated than it should have been because of the parent's secrecy about the gravity of the situation, and the details about the duration of their stay. 
Aside from that, the book is filled with authentic, complex, characters dealing with exceptionally hard challenges. I adored Mrs. Ravelli, the woman the family hires to look after them while during this time. 

3.5 stars
Matylda, Bright and Tender by by Holly M. McGhee & Jenna Lamia (Narrator)

When her best friend dies while saving her from a dog attack, Sussy grieves deeply, and enters into a time of magical thinking. She imagines that if she can only love their pet lizard, Matylda, enough, she won't really have lost Guy. In the process, Sussy ends up losing her moral compass for a time. McGhee has created fabulous characters in Sussy, Guy, and their supportive parents. I enjoyed this book, but was happy when it was over. In spite of the moments of joy and sweet reconciliation at the end, this book was too sad for me. 

I'm still reading Miles Morales by Jason Reynolds. I will finish it before I read anything else with my eyes! Otherwise, I have just started reading a hard copy of Posted and begun listening to Hallelujah by Anne Lamott. 

I've got two more Netgalley titles I'm determined to finish next week, Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke, and Elsie Mae Has Something to Say by Nancy J. Cavanaugh. I'm starting Rose's Run by Dawn Dumont as my next hardcopy text. 

#MUSTREADIN2017 16/36 


50 Books by Canadian Indigenous Authors 21/50

Chocolate Lily (CL) 51/51

Big Book Challenge 3/6

Goodreads Reading Challenge 228/333


Shelter by Céline Claire & Qin Leng (Illustrations)

I picked this book from Netgalley because of the illustrator, Qin Leng. Her soft ink and watercolour illustrations are the highlight of this book for me. Honestly, they are gorgeous, and impart a vintage feel reminiscent of the original Winnie the Pooh and The Wind in the Willows books. While I was in the middle of admiring Leng's images, I became enchanted with the story itself.

Families of animals in a forest are having an ordinary day, when word comes that a blizzard is on its way. 

They get to work preparing for it and then settle snugly into their little homes. 

When two bears, strangers to them, arrive in the forest, they wonder who they are are and why they are here. 

When the strangers go from home to home searching for shelter, the animal families lie and send them on their way. Only a young fox offers them a lantern to guide them. 

As the snow piles up, the strangers fashion their own shelter. When the heavy snow collapses the fox den, they end up searching for shelter themselves and find it with the strangers in their snow den.

This book will be an important contribution to collections about immigration and refugees, but is significant on its own for what it teaches readers about generosity and kindness.

#IMWAYR July 10, 2017

#IMWAYR time again, when readers share what they have been reading and find out what others have been up to in the past week. Kathryn hosts the adult version of this meme at Book Date. Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers host the kidlit rendition. Whatever you are looking forward to in your next great read, these are fabulous places to start your search.

Family from out of town came to visit on Sunday. My partner cooked up a pan of paella. The rest of us created tapas to accompany it. There were pitchers full of sangria. We compared favourite books and solved the problems of the world. Babies were held and passed around. Love abounded.

I'm trying really hard to get back on track with my reading goals for this year. I'm doing pretty good so far with respect to my #MustReadIn 2017 nonfiction titles, but I figure I am at least five or six behind schedule with my #MustReadIn2017 fiction list. I also need to focus on reading Canadian Indigenous authors so I manage to reach my goal of at least 50 titles this year.

But apparently, I don't have enough reading goals in my life and have joined Sue Jackson in the Big Book Challenge. I'll get a post up about this sometime this week. 



4 stars
The Seven Teachings Stories by Katherena Vermette & Irene Kuziw

I planned to read just one book from this series, Amik Loves School. I picked it from Netgalley because of the author. I forgot about it and then it expired from my device. In order to review it, I ended up finding a copy at my library. The next thing I knew, I collected almost all of this series of readers to look at and review. The books feature Anishinaabe children in an urban setting. Each title highlights one of the sacred teachings. If you want to know more, go and read my blog post.


4 stars
Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi & Anjali Singh (Translator)

I think I might have enjoyed this second installment in Marjane Satrapi's memoirs more than the first. When my partner worked with an Iranian film maker for a while, we got to know a bit about the Iranian community here in our city, as well as learning a lot about the revolution. It was very interesting to experience that time vicariously through the intimate perspective of a young girl. During the war, Marjane's parents sent her away to school in Austria. When she returned neither she nor Iran were the same. It was fascinating to see the dichotomy between how people acted in the street and what went on behind closed doors.


4 stars
At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson 

When I am asked what kind of gift I want, I often ask for a book that that person loved. My oldest son gave me this last Christmas, so I was eager to read it. I ended up reading some of it with my eyes and listening to other parts. 
Bryson takes us through his Victorian parsonage room by room while regaling us with historical details and characters connected to each space. He primarily focuses on British and American reality, although does occasionally wander off into other places. He looks at how technology and culture have changed and influenced us over time. Some parts were more interesting than others. I liked the stories about individual events and people best. One section that stuck with me most profoundly has to do with all the creatures we share our living spaces with. I'm now terrified of flushing the toilet without the lid down. I'm trying to convince my partner that he should do all of his business sitting. I've put bleach in spray bottles in the bathroom and kitchen and spray my toothbrush, my counter tops and dishcloths with it vigilantly. I've replaced pillows. I've turned the mattress. The section on childbirth was pretty horrific too.


4 stars
This Would Make a Good Story Someday by Dana Alison Levy

After reading Dana Alison Levy's novels about the Family Fletcher, I was excited about this book as soon as I found out about it. 
I expected it to be good. 
I was right.
 A part of me missed that Fletcher crew, but I soon became enamoured with Sara Johnston-Fischer and her family. What a collection of marvelous characters! The story is told through Sarah's journal; postcards written by her youngest sister, Ladybug; notes written by her older sister, Laurel; and ideas penned by one of her mothers, Mimi. This coming of age novel is set on trains travelling across America after Mimi wins a trip for the whole family. The only catch is that she has to write about it, and that, much to Sara's dismay, means she wants them to tell her their thoughts, feelings, and impressions. They travel with another family whose father, another writer, also won a trip.
Levy manages to integrate considerable historical information into this entertaining read. Some of it is revealed in fun facts; others in not so fun facts. It's through the latter that readers are exposed to the darker underbelly of the history.


4 stars
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore & Fisher Stevens (Narrator)

If you enjoy speculative fiction filled with humour, this might be the book for you. The title pretty much describes the trajectory of the novel. An angel brings Levi, also known as Bif, back to life so that he can write about his time as best friend to Christ, known as Joshua in the novel. Imagine two teen aged boys, one who is the son of God, and the other, his horny best friend, travelling across the far east in search of knowledge as to how to become the messiah. Throw in Demons, Yeti, and plenty of sexual encounters to get a sense of what it is about. I enjoyed it at first, but then some of the humour became redundant, and I wasn't looking forward to the end. I mean, we all know how that story finishes.


I'm listening to Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin. I really need to get to get back to these two netgalley titles, Zinnia and the Bees by by Danielle Davis and Miles Morales by Jason Reynolds. I keep forgetting about them. I've started reading with my eyes, The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch, the most recent in the Rivers of London series. I'm having a difficult time because the font is so small and I have old eyes. I need to read with a spotlight on the text.


I will get to Posted by John David Anderson as soon as I have finished The Hanging Tree. I have 4 more audiobooks downloaded and ready to listen to. At least one of them, Do Not Say We Have Nothing is one of my #mustread titles. I just picked up Rose's Run by Dawn Dumont and am not sure how long I can hold out without getting to it. My next nonfiction title will be The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King.


#MUSTREADIN2017 15/36 - 1 in progress


50 Books by Canadian Indigenous Authors 21/50

Chocolate Lily (CL) 51/51

Big Book Challenge 3/6

Goodreads Reading Challenge 220/333