The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Dan Gemeinhart
Genres: Middle Grade, Fiction
Pub. date: Jan. 2019 (read Nov. 2019)

Middle Grade is such an underrated genre and there are so many quality books out there. Even though I generally enjoy it, I don’t read that much middle grade unless it’s by an author I already know and like, but I always pick something out from the Goodreads Choice Awards every year to read in November. The book that appealed to me most in the long list was The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise, which I was pleased to see also made it into the shortlist.

Coyote has been travelling America with her dad, Rodeo, in a refurbished school bus for the last 5 years. They’ve been having a great time exploring all over the country, but there is a certain loneliness that comes with always being on the move. Coyote is 12 years old, but she hasn’t really developed any lasting friendships and the only ongoing relationship she has is with her grandma, who she calls once a week on Saturday.

Coyote and Rodeo never talk about it, but they share a secret; they’re both trying to outrun the grief of having lost 3 other family members 5 years prior. The entire topic of their family is a “no-go” with Rodeo and Coyote is fine to go along with that, until she receives a call from her Grandma that really makes her want to return to her hometown, and in a hurry. But she knows Rodeo would never go for it and deceives him on a separate mission that will take them in close proximity to their old home. They’re both on a journey they don’t even really know they’re on and along the way they pick up some individuals who finally start to challenge their lifestyle and make them confront the demons they’ve been running from for 5 years.

It’s a book about grief, but the author balances the story with lots of humour and fun characters. Coyote has a lot of spunk and I loved how the cast of characters kept growing with each new plan Coyote hatches to try and get her closer to home. I love how children’s lit is able to tackle such emotional themes without being dark or upsetting, while also being super perceptive and comforting. Coyote still struggles with losing her mother and sisters, but it’s Rodeo who is really running away from the past. I liked that it’s a book about how a young girl deals with her grief, but also about how she helps her father to finally deal with his grief too.

Lands of Lost Borders

Rating:
Author: Kate Harris
Genres: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Travel, Canadian
Pub. date: Jan. 2018 (read Aug. 2019)

This was a really excellent book! It wasn’t really at all what I was expecting, but Kate Harris is a wonderful writer and I ended up really liking it.

Lands of Lost Borders primarily tells the story of Kate’s almost year long bike ride across Central Asia on the “Silk Road” an ancient trade route used by Marco Polo. But Kate also shares a little of her childhood and formative university years with us as well, which surprisingly ended up being some of my favourite chapters of the whole book.

I’m not sure what I was expecting Kate’s character to be like, but so many of these travel-type memoirs are from hippie types, teens on a gap year, or people wealthy enough to be able to go on extended vacations. I don’t want to say Kate’s not a hippie, but I didn’t really think she fell into any of those categories.

Kate is a Rhodes scholar and MIT graduate whose livelong obsession with Mars drove her to become a modern day explorer. She’s incredibly smart and accomplished, but she isn’t driven by fame, money, or accolades. She’s driven by a desire to get out into the unknown and explore. She’s a wonderful writer and she had a good blend of interesting facts, philosophical thoughts, and funny anecdotes. Although I did think the story started out stronger and declined a little bit when she starts writing about the silk road. She does get a bit bogged down sometimes in the historical and scientific facts, when I would have loved a few more stories and anecdotes from her time on the silk road and what it was like day-to-day.

After finishing the book I went to Kate’s website to learn a bit more about her and discovered that she has a ton of albums from the trip on the website. I would say that photos are the one thing missing from this memoir and I wish I’d discovered them earlier because it would have been lovely to look at each country album as I progressed through the book. So if you decide to read this one, I’d recommend following along with the photos on her website.

Overall though, this was a really strong debut novel and I would definitely be interested in reading more about Kate’s adventures. This was definitely a part of the world I haven’t read very much about and I think most travellers tend to pass over the “stans” in favour of other countries like India, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue


Rating:
 ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, LGBT
Read: July 2017

 

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue was wonderful! I haven’t been reading a whole lot of young adult novels lately because the genre seemed a little tired and everything felt more or less the same, but the genre has definitely been growing and tackling a lot of issues around race and gender identity that general fiction sometimes seems hesitant to address.

Bravo to Mackenzi Lee for this book! The story is set in the 18th century and focuses on 18 year old Monty and Percy as they set off on a “grand tour” around Europe before preparing to settle down and begin their adult lives. Monty sees the trip as a last hurrah before being forced to take over his father’s estate and plans to gamble and drink his way around Europe with his best friend Percy, who he just happens to be in love with.

The trip quickly goes sideways and Monty, Percy, and Monty’s sister Felicity find themselves being chased all over Europe after an encounter with honest-to-god highway men. This book is hilarious and wildly fun, but it also tackles a lot of tough issues and does it without feeling preachy or forced. Monty is extremely privileged and totally oblivious to his privilege. He blunders around making bad decision after bad decision, but I loved watching him grow and be challenged.

Somehow this book manages to address race, disability, gender equality, sexual orientation, and class privilege. It had the added intrigue of tackling all these issues during the 18th century, where I can’t even begin to imagine what it might be like to be a gay, black, epileptic man. There was a lot going on, but the novel had a lot of depth and was quick-paced.

The characters were all fantastic, but I’m thrilled to discover that Felicity will be getting her own novel next year because she was by far my favourite character. She was so badass – my favourite line of the entire book had to be when she informs Monty and Percy that “Ladies haven’t the luxury of being squeamish about blood”. I loved how all the characters challenged the boxes that 18th century society tried to place them in and how they grew as individuals and in their relationships.

So I would absolutely recommend this as a fun read, but fortunately it’s not a frivolous one and I really think you will be better for having read it. It’s a large print book and it definitely does not feel like 500+ pages – I breezed through it!