REVIEW: Megabat does a Zoom launch party

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada, Tundra Books, and NetGalley for providing both an eARC and a finished copy of this book.


To say things have been rough over the last few weeks is to put it mildly, but one thing that truly cheered me up was receiving a package from the wonderful staff at Penguin and Tundra that contained the third book in my favourite middle-grade series, Megabat! At almost 26-years-old, I am definitely not the target audience, but as the one person in my family that people come to for book recs for readers of all ages, I do enjoy digging into junior readers every now and again, and Megabat is incredible. (You can read my reviews of the first two books in the series here)

In Megabat Is A Fraidybat, Megabat and Daniel learn to conquer their fears as they head off to sleepaway camp. Daniel, who has only ever heard of how horrible sleepaway camp is, is far from excited about going. Megabat, on the other hand, is thrilled at the idea of an adventure and new friends. Once they reach camp, Daniel slowly begins to loosen up as he meets new friends in his cabin and learns that his fears weren’t based on how camp actually is. But after a councillor tells a ghost story, Megabat isn’t feeling so confident anymore…

As usual, I loved this little book from top to bottom. The illustrations are as adorable as ever, and the story tackles fear in a very relatable way for children reading the book to understand. I can see it being a good book to explain sleepaway camp to children who may be afraid of going for the first time, or even just using it to talk about fear in general. Sometimes the things that scare us aren’t always as bad as we think they are. All I know is that if I could find an Ewok bobble-head that looked like Kass Reich’s illustration, I would have a hoarding problem with them, haha!

Now, this installment of the Megabat series was released April 7th, and for obvious reasons, that meant a different kind of launch party. Held over Zoom, Anna Humphrey and Kass Reich talked with the Junior Library Guild about all things Megabat and it was delightful. I will say, it wasn’t the smoothest discussion, but what can you really say when the majority of the meeting is attended by children under the age of 10 who are bored with their parents’ laptops, phones, or tablets? If nothing else, it was funny towards the beginning of the discussion to see little faces popping up to wave hello to Anna and Kass.

Anna opened the meeting with a reading of the new book, followed by a detailed drawing tutorial by Kass, both of which were fun. Following that, a Q&A began that was moderated by a member of the Junior Library Guild (whose name I, unfortunately, didn’t catch). Questions focused mostly on fun little things, like a game of “Would You Rather” and what missaid word of Megabat’s is your favourite, but a few of them went most into publishing.

When asked more about how to go about the illustrations, Kass said that she gets the manuscript and has ideas for what moments should be illustrated, but that it is mostly up to the editor, Samantha Swenson, on picking out the scenes. She went on to say that it’s important to be aware of the spacing of illustrations in a book like this, since the book shouldn’t be overcrowded by pictures nor should there be inconsistent gaps between them. The best question Anna got was about the inspiration for Megabat. She mentioned that after a big move, she and her family were feeling particularly homesick and one night, she discovered an out of place leak on the main floor of her three-story home. Anna continued, saying that she let her fiction-writer brain run and came up with the theory that the leak was a sad fruitbat, crying over his own homesickness.

All in all, a fun way to spend a lunch hour, and a wonderful book for readers of all ages. All three Megabat books are available everywhere, and book four is set for a Spring 2021 release!

 

A Penguin Extravaganza

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Penguin staff Sylvia, Sam, Vikki, and Evan (photo from @penguinteenca on Instagram)

This past Thursday night, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Penguin Teen Social party hosted at the offices of Penguin Random House Canada. I have been blogging about books for almost three years but have only recently been trying to make a serious mark through my blog as well as my Instagram. Still being considerably new to the scene, I had never been to one of these events before and wow was I in for a serious treat.

I spent a lot of the night making some incredible new friends as well as chatting with the lovely publicity agents I’ve been chatting with via email for the last few months. With wine and pizza, I was a very happy camper to just talk about books for once. On a personal note, I don’t have many off-line friends who read like I do and therefore I don’t get much of a chance to really get into things. It was so much fun to talk to other bloggers and book sellers about new releases and old releases and upcoming hype train books. Even laughing and chatting with the Penguin staff was a total blast and the chance to put a face to an email signature.

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Photo thanks to Mallory! (And Jeff, of course!)

But the most magical moment of the night – which my Instagram followers already know about – was the chance to meet Jeff Zentner. Being a party, everyone was mingling and I genuinely feel bad about not interacting with the other authors, but as I’ve said in both my reviews for The Serpent King and Rayne & Delilah’s Midnight Matinee, Jeff has changed my life in so many ways that I can’t even begin to express. It was a spark that reminded me of why books are so special and why writing books is so special. After having been through so much in my personal life lately, it was such a reward to have the time to really talk to him (and get a million pictures with him thanks to Mallory of @readwithmallory on Instagram).

I’m still over the moon – two days later – and so incredibly thankful to everyone at Penguin. Especially staff members, Sam and Evan for tolerating all of my emails, haha! I can’t wait for next year and really hope for the chance to attend more events like this.


The book haul!

As seen in the header image, I got a ton of books from the event so here’s just a quick little list of them all:

  • We Contain Multitudes by Sarah Henstra
  • Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim
  • Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya
  • Life Sucks by Michael I. Bennett and Sarah Bennett
  • Viral: the fight against AIDS in america by Ann Bausum
  • Samplers for The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh and Fireborne by Rosaria Munda
  • A finished copy of Rayne & Delilah’s Midnight Matinee

An Evening with Miriam Toews

All I knew about Miriam Toews prior to the wonderful night I met her, was that she wrote “the chicken book” (more commonly known to people as A Complicated Kindness). However, upon hearing about the content of her latest novel, Women Talking, there was no way I wasn’t going to attend the first stop on her wonderful book tour, hosted by my absolute favourite bookstore, Ben McNally Books.

miriam-toews-april-400x600.jpgThe evening was a pleasant one as people lined up outside the small Toronto theatre, so many had arrive that the line stretched past not one but two subway stops around the block. People of all varieties were there to hear one of many In Her Voice talks hosted by Ben McNally Books showcasing female authors and giving them a larger platform for their voices. Of course, I bought my copy of Women Talking the moment I got through the doors and found a seat with the lovely librarians I had been chatting with in line.

Upon introductions of the two authors present, Toews herself came out to give a brief background on the Mennonite community mentioned in the novel before reading an excerpt not quiet at the beginning of the novel. The excerpt was surprisingly funny and the audience all laughed more than once, showing that despite the heavy content of the novel, it would still be lighthearted and hopeful. Miriam finished the reading and was then joined on stage by Canadian journalist and non-fiction author, Rachel Giese.

Although I was not familiar with Giese’s work, she was a phenomenal – for lack of a better term – interviewer and was on top of the poignant questions regarding how we as “outsiders” see the Mennonite communities and their seemingly backwards ways. Toews had insightful answers about how there are these hyper conservative communities where women are no better than the animals they look after all day, where they are basically slaves to the community they are held by, but not all of them are like that. The discussion went in depth about how sexual assault cases aren’t always black and white, even to the victims of such crimes.

The phrase that rung out hardest with me was when Toews was discussing the death of her sister and how she never thought she would write again. “Sometimes words can save us,” Toews said, “and sometimes they can’t.” Given the loss of my cousin only a few months ago, this hit home for me and is relevant to my life in more ways than I can say.

At the end of the discussion, Giese asked what was going to be coming next from Toews and her answer had us all in stitches. “I feel like a retired cop who’s finally gotten out of the game. But then the phone rings and I’m drawn back in saying, ‘What did the Mennonites do this time?'”* The theatre promptly cleared out as everyone got in line to have their books – new and old – signed and it was a lovely evening all around.

My book has “Keep Talking” written in the front cover now and thanks to Miriam Toews, that’s what I plan to do.

* this has been paraphrased for clarity

In Her Voice with Miriam Toews was held at the The Isabel Bader Theatre in Toronto on August 20th, 2018 with many thanks to the theatre, Ben McNally Books, and Penguin Publishing Canada/Knopf Canada.


And now for the review.

I knew a little bit about Mennonites going into this book, as in my old neighbourhood there were often many wandering about while their children were in the local hospital (I volunteered at a Ronald McDonald House across the street where most of them stayed). Any interactions I had with them were brief, but always delightful. Of course, out of fear of offending anyone, I never asked any questions but was always curious about how their communities worked.

Given the times, and the #MeToo movement, it’s the perfect time for this book to be published. It’s also an incredible way to frame the question of addressing sexual assault. Given that the women in the book – based on the very real people these terrible abuses happened to – are in this kind of hyper conservative, almost anti-woman, community, it brings out how things are far more complicated to the victims than someone may believe.

These women have three options: forgive their rapists and continue their lives in fear, stay in the community and fight for their rights, or leave. These women don’t speak English. These women don’t know where they exist in the world. These women have nothing to their names but the clothing on their backs. It’s not an easy decision to make and that’s what the book is about. The two days they have to make their decision before their rapists return to the village.

As mentioned above, Women Talking is an incredibly real and serious book tackling a very difficult topic for anyone to talk about openly. But it is a book about perseverance, hope, laughter, and love. It gives these women a voice and a way to be angry and scared. It is a story about being strong for those you care about and stay true to what you believe in with all your heart and soul.

I loved this book and am proud to have read it. You don’t need to be religious for this book to speak to you. If any part of you believes in equality, feminism, and justice for the victims of hateful crimes, you need to read this book.


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Author: Miriam Toews
Published: August 21, 2018
Pages: 240
Publisher: Knopf Canada
ISBN: 9780735273962

Synopsis:Based on actual events that happened between 2005 and 2009 in a remote Mennonite community where more than 100 girls and women were drugged unconscious and assaulted in the night by what they were told (by the men of the colony) were “ghosts” or “demons,” Miriam Toews’ bold and affecting novel Women Talking is an imagined response to these real events. The novel takes place over forty-eight hours, as eight women gather in secret in a neighbour’s barn while the men are in a nearby town posting bail for the attackers. They have come together to debate, on behalf of all the women and children in the community, whether to stay or leave before the men return. Taking minutes is the one man trusted and invited by the women to witness the conversation–a former outcast whose own surprising story is revealed as the women speak. By turns poignant, witty, acerbic, bitter, tender, devastating, and heartbreaking, the voices in this extraordinary novel are unforgettable. Toews has chosen to focus the novel tightly on a particular time and place, and yet it contains within its 48 hours and setting inside a hayloft an entire vast universe of thinking and feeling about the experience of women (and therefore men, too) in our contemporary world. In a word: astonishing.