Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

DISCLAIMER: If you are thinking of reading this novel I recommend you check out some more positive reviews, especially ones from #ownvoices reviewers (such as Brandann Hill-Mann’s review). I didn’t hate this book it but I would be lying if I said that it didn’t really, really, really frustrate me (because it did).

I would have enjoyed this more if it hadn’t been for Daunis being the definition of Not Like Other Girls.

Nancy Drew meets Winter Counts in this YA debut. The cover (look at that BEAUTY), the premise, the overwhelmingly positive reception, all lead me to believe that I too would love this. Fifteen-year-old me probably would have (loved it that is) but I am now at a point in my life where I am tired of reading books that elevate girls who are Not Like Other Girls and shame Other Girls.

Firekeeper’s Daughter follows eighteen-year-old Daunis, the daughter to a white mother, who happens to belong to one of the most ‘powerful’ families in her town, and an Ojibwe father. Understandably Daunis has always felt like an outsider as she is not an enrolled tribal member. Daunis feels deeply invested in her Native heritage and throughout the novel, we see her observing many Ojibwe customs and beliefs. Time and again she has to reconcile herself with the knowledge that white people such as her maternal grandparents see her Ojibwe side as “a flaw or burden to overcome”. There are also those within the Sugar Island Ojibwe Tribe who view her as white, not truly part of their community.
After witnessing a murder Daunis becomes entangled in an FBI investigation. Daunis agrees to help their investigation hoping to put an end to prevent drug-related deaths. A coming-of-age tale meets a slow-burn mystery-thriller that touches upon many serious and relevant issues while also including a not so unnecessary romance subplot and Riverdale-levels of drama.

Before I move on to what I didn’t like in this novel I will mention a few of the things that did in my opinion work. Angeline Boulley does a stellar job in bringing to life both Sault Sainte Marie and Sugar Island to life. Throughout the course of the story, Boulley celebrates Native, specifically Ojibwe, practices, beliefs, and history. Daunis is clearly proud of her Ojibwe heritage and this is wonderfully reflected in her narration. There are a lot of terms and expressions in Ojibwemowin, and that made Daunis’ world all the more vivid. I also appreciated that the story doesn’t shy away from showing the ramifications of colonialism, the everyday injustices faced by indigenous individuals and communities, the consequences of substance abuse (without wholly demonising drug abusers), how harmful stereotypes about indigenous cultures and peoples are, and how disrespectful cultural appropriation is. Through the mystery-thriller storyline, the narrative also explores drug trafficking and violence against indigenous women. Additionally, the story had a nice body-positive message which is always a nice surprise. And Granny June. She was cool, probably the only character I liked.

I will take a leaf from Daunis (who is list-obsessed, because like all sciencey people she likes facts & logic) and list my various criticisms ( SPOILERS BELOW ):

1. Daunis being Not Like Other Girls. She excels at science, loves sports (BIG BOY sports like hockey, none of that girly bullshit), hates lipstick and makeup, doesn’t wear skirts (puh-lease, she isn’t one of Those Girls). Daunis is also FLAWLESS. You read that right. And please don’t @ me saying that she makes some mistakes in her investigation. She is not a bloody detective. She’s 18. No one expects her to be Hercule-bloody-Poirot. If she makes any injudicious choices these are nullified by the fact that she is ‘always’ acting from a good place. She cares TOO much (about her community, her loved ones) and wants to protect those around her. How is that a flaw? So she doesn’t trust the two undercover FBI agents and begins running her own investigation. I mean, how is not trusting the law enforcement a flaw? She’s a bit quirky but that makes her all the more special (here we have the love interest saying to her: “I love how you see the world” bleargh). Curiously enough while the story tries to show how harmful misogynistic and sexist attitudes/mentalities are we have our female lead either slut-shaming Other Girls or making incredibly judgmental comments about them. She calls Other Girls, for example, the girlfriends of hockey players ‘parasitic‘: “I won’t be a wannabe anglerfish, trying to latch on to a guy who is already taken.”. Other Girls are vain, they care about their looks, they go after guys who already have girlfriends, they have fake friendships with each other (not like Daunis and Lily), they are catty, superficial, stupid, girly, you name they are it. And at first, I genuinely thought that this would be Daunis’ ‘flaw’. The storyline would have her realise along the way that she is acting just like those men she dislikes so much…but no. Ah. As if. Daunis was right all along, time and again Other Girls are shown indeed to be horrible (we have the basic white girl with her inappropriate dreamcatcher tattoo or cruel Macy who does Daunis dirty). And why does Daunis always blame Other Girls instead of the guys who actually do the cheating? Because her dad cheated on her mum? Give me a break. The same happened to me but I am certainly not out there whining about ‘anglerfishes’. Grow up Daunis. The only person who points this out is a Bad Guy so his comment is moot. How convenient. Worst of all, for all her specialness (Daunis is sciencey and sporty and look now she is involved in an undercover case and falling in love with a handsome and mysterious stranger) she was just such a dull character.

2. The jarring dissonance between the tone of Daunis’ narration (which makes her come across as being 14 rather than 18) and the story’s content (which include murder, drug abuse and trafficking, sexual assault, kidnapping, and many other clearly YA and up things). On the one hand, we have Daunis’ referring to anything related to her role in the FBI’s investigation as Secret Squirrel (the first Secret Squirrel lesson #1 was actually funny, “I am not paranoid, but the men listening to me are”). Secret Squirrel appears 36 times in the book. One too many if you ask me. Anyway, we have this silly squirrel nonsense that seems more suited to a Middle-Grade novel and then we have a rape scene. And don’t even get me started with the Guy Lies. Bah! Sometimes juxtaposing a cutesy protagonist with a story that has mature/serious content can work (I’m thinking of Harley Quinn) but here…it just did not work for me. Daunis’ childish language brought me out of the story.

3. The thriller storyline. It is Riverdale-levels of overblown. And yet also incredibly predictable. Who would have thunk it, the golden boy is not so golden! I am shook. This is the third book I can think of that does a similar not so shocking reveal. The baddies are so cartoonish it was just plain ridiculous. They had their villainous monologues in which they gloat as they explain their scheming to our heroes. Come on. Most of the ‘twists’ were either entirely predictable (Levi) or just OTT (the coach is also involved!).

4. The romance is low-key questionable. Yeah, she’s 18 but the guy, Jamie or whatever his name is, is 22. And an FBI agent. Working on this drug trafficking case. His main quality is that he is hot. He’s got abs, which our Daunis checks him out all of the time (a tad creepy if you ask me), he has a handsome face but no wait, he has a facial scar. Wow. Doesn’t that lend him an air of mystery?! He also pinches the bridge of his nose, all of the time. Their chemistry…wasn’t there. It seemed way too quick, insta-love sort of speed. Daunis acts like she doesn’t like him or trust him but she never shuts up about him or the feelings he makes her feel (butterflies and all that). To be fair, I liked the note the author ended their romance on (Daunis calling out Jamie for ‘needing’ her when the guy clearly needs some alone time). Jamie was boring, a generic YA male love interest (✓ mysterious past ✓ hot ✓ Not Like Other Boys).

6. Daunis’ parents are very…undefined. The mother is sad and sometimes talks to herself (revealing SECRETS). And yeah, the father is dead by the start of the story but it would have been nice to know his character, really know him.

6. The dynamics between secondary characters were vague. Don’t Daunis and Levi share an auntie? Yet Levi and this auntie two never seem to mention each other or have scenes together (and if they do they certainly don’t give us an impression of their relationship).

7. The time period…why was this story set in 2004? I still don’t get it. A way out of having characters use the internet? Search me.

8. Chapters ending in cheesy cliffhangers.

9. The lists.

10. The only gay character is dead. O-k-a-y.


If you liked this novel, I’m honestly kind of jealous. I so wanted to like it. But much about it just did not work for me.

my rating: ★★½

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The Divinities: A Crane and Drake Novel by Parker Bilal — book review

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The Divinities: A Crane and Drake Novel is the promising start to the ‘Crane ad Drake’ series. This events recounted by the narrative take place over the course of a few days which adds a sense of urgency and suspense to the storyline.
We follow two somewhat disgraced figures, the recently demoted Detective Sergeant Calil Drake and forensic psychologist Dr Rayhana Crane. Both have involved with ‘scandals’ of sorts which made them all the more keen to prove themselves (although they might claim otherwise…). Most of the action takes place in a hectic London which thanks to Bilal’s writing buzzes with a barely contained chaotic energy. Be it day or night, we see many of London’s faces…
Against this urban and shifting backdrop Drake—and later on Crane—attempt, in a fight against time, to catch the person responsible for a brutal murder. Drake possesses many of the qualities of the usual noir protagonist: poor lifestyle, works too much, drinks too much, not very social. He reminded me a bit of Strike from The Cuckoo’s Calling. He is the type who does things his own way regardless of what his superiors or the public might think. I was soon fond of him as we see many of the reasons and causes that have lead him to become the person he is now, navigating a city and a country which keeps reminding him that he will never quite belong. Many of the people he encounters in his investigations will tell him to ‘switch’ sides, or downright accuse him as a traitor (since for a period of time he was a devoted Muslim). Crane too has acquired a status of outsider given that within her profession she is considered a ‘rarity’ (as she is a) a woman 2) born in Tehran). So it isn’t surprising that the two become allies of sorts..
It was interesting to see differentiating perspective on the same topics, in a way that never demonises or condemns those who hold that view. There were discussion on terrorism, xenophobia, gentrification, class divide, war, PTSD…in many ways this novel taps into many topical issues but it does so in a realistic and matter-of-fact way.
The storyline closely follows Drake’s investigation, and we follow each step of the operation. Milo and Kelly provided some welcome diversion and gave Drake the opportunity to showcase some ‘warmer’ emotions. The investigations sees Drake and his ‘team’ following different leads, hunches, and testimonies…The ending act was a tad overdone (view spoiler).
Still, I was hooked by the very first page where we are introduced to Drake…who is taking a piss after a drink too many. If you like noir, or gritty crime novels, The Divinities might be the right read for you.

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3.5 stars

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The Lost Night: Book Review

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The Lost Night
by Andrea Bartz

★★★★✰ 3.5 stars

“I remembered that summer, the last one with Edie, how all the bands we saw blurred into a cacophony of synth and Sarah wore that crazy Day-Glo hat everywhere and I was on a vodka gimlet kick. Not pictured: the violent bouts of crying alone, the change in cabin pressure if Edie was unhappy.”

The best thing about The Lost Night is its striking sense of place and time. The story is one you’ve probably read before. There is this group of friends who becomes estranged after one of them dies. Nearly ten years after her best friend Edie’s suicide Lindsay has a nice apartment, two great friends, and a good job as a head fact-checker for a magazine. After a lunch with Sarah, one of Edie’s ex-roommates, Lindsay finds herself going back to the night of Edie’s suicide. Her patchy recollection of the night’s events clash with Sarah’s ones. As Lindsay goes trough old photos and videos, tracing and questioning Edie’s friends and lovers, she becomes increasingly convinced that Edie was murdered.

While the story does scream originality its setting really stood out . Andrea Bartz brings Bushwick—and New York—to life. Funnily enough, I never think of 2009 as being very different from 2019. Bartz made me think twice about that. Like Lindsay I found myself longing for 2009 and for something that in my case I never even experienced. Bartz captures this volatile friendship between five twenty-somethings with perfect detail.
Some might find the rehashing of Lindsay’s ‘lost night’ to be repetitive. I however enjoyed how each member of the group—as well as ‘external people’—remembered something slightly different. Lindsay’s unreliability did not irritate me given that her ‘blackouts’ were caused by her excessive drinking and by her own mental health. As she reaches out to her old friends she becomes increasingly aware of how dissatisfied she feels with her life. Yes, she could be incredibly frustrating, but I was fascinated by her narrative.

Although I found that final section to be a bit over-the-top, I really enjoyed Lindsay’s slow-paced examination of the past. Again, while I was captivated by the narrative, I wouldn’t read this for its ‘mystery’ storyline. It is a homage to a group of young friends, who live recklessly and with happy abandon. It was interesting to see how some of them grow up to become incredibly different from their past selves.
While the dialogues came across as very realistic, there were some phrases that seemed a bit too trying. They felt very…’debut-like’. These usually had to do with Lindsay’s thinking or feeling things: “A new thought, opening like an umbrella”, “happiness rushing up through me like froth”, “The thought blinked on like a lightbulb”.
Still, I think this is a very promising debut novel. The ‘components’ of the story might seem ‘been there, done that’ but they are presented in a both absorbing and evocative way.

I listened to the audiobook format which probably enhanced my appreciation of this novel.

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