Fatty Legs by Margaret Pokiak-Fenton & Christy Jordan-Fenton

Read: 17 July, 2017

Olemaun desperately wants to learn how to read. So, despite her sister’s warnings and her father’s fears, she demands to go to the Outsider’s school.

The story of Olemaun is told in a very straightforward, factual manor. There are the hardships and the bullying from a nun nicknamed ‘the Raven’, but there are also sweet moments, such as her few interactions with the nun nicknamed ‘the Swan’. It’s a very human story.

With its simple narrative style and many illustrations (including a number of photographs), this is perfectly suited to early chapter book readers. This would make a perfect introduction to the issues surrounding residential schools and cultural genocide.

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    Two Old Women by Velma Wallis

    Read: 18 July, 2017

    This was a beautiful little story about two old women who are left to die during a famine, but who work together to survive and thrive.

    It’s a well written story with great flow. The two old women have distinct personalities and the narrative does a great job of bouncing them off each other. My only nitpick is that the two old women had to prove their worth by surviving in harsh conditions in order to buy back their place in their tribe. While they came to be respected for their wisdom after this, the underlying idea that their wisdom should be valued because they managed to survive implies that their accumulated wisdom and experience would not have had worth if they had been but a little older or a little sicker.

    But values aside, this is a lovely story of resilience and mutual support, and the moral lesson at the forefront is that all members of the tribe are valuable – not just the “productive” ones.

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      The Witcher #1: The Last Wish by Andrej Sapkowski

      Read: 16 June, 2017

      When I decided to start reading this series, I picked up the book with a helpful “1” on the spine. Well, that turned out to be Blood of Elves – chronologically the third book. To get Geralt’s story from the beginning, I actually had to go to the book with “Introducing the Witcher” on the spine.

      Go figure.

      I do wish that I’d read this in order, because this is the book that sets the scene. Why is Ciri Geralt’s responsibility? How did Geralt get involved with Yennifer? This is where these questions are answered.

      The format of the book is a bit different. There’s a bit of an overarching story, but it’s really more of a frame to display a handful of short stories. These read very much like side quests in Witcher 3 – even to the point of Geralt stumbling on two bodies in the woods and going in search of the related quest line (something that I’ve done more than a few times in the game).

      There’s a bit less politics, though Geralt still manages to tumble into a royal court or two. Mostly, it’s down-to-earth Geralt, riding around and philosophising as he deals with monsters (including the human kind).

      I’m not sure if this book has a different translator or if I was just in a different frame of mind, but the prose seemed to flow quite a bit better than in Blood of Elves and Time of Contempt. I read this one very quickly, and it’s definitely my favourite so far.

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        Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

        Read: 10 July, 2017

        Maya has Cystic Fibrosis, so her family has to move to be closer to a specialist for her. This, of course, makes her older sister Cat feel all sorts of complicated and uncomfortable feels. To make matters worse, they’ve moved to a down where the boundary between the living and the dead isn’t particularly strong…

        This is a story primarily about the relationship between the two sisters, complicated by the younger’s illness. Cat feels responsible for her little sister, and understands that her sister’s needs are important, but she also resents her for it. She understands why they had to move, but still feels angry about it. It’s tricky and nuanced and messy and Telgemeier approaches it beautifully.

        The titular ghosts themselves are just there to force the two sisters to face their demons, but they do so well. Their reliance on “the essence of the world breathing around them” mirrors Maya’s own shortness of breath. And the fact that they are ghosts obviously works with Maya’s shortened life expectancy.

        I see some people complaining about the authenticity of using Hispanic culture – particularly the Dia de los Muertos – as a backdrop for the story, but that’s really out of my area of expertise. It’s clear, however, that it’s done with reverence. And while the Dia details are a little fudged, I read that as having to do with the particular nature of the setting – the celebration takes place at the mission because the mission is where contact is strongest.

        In all, I found it to be a sweet story that has a surprising amount of depth for such a quick read.

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          Genghis Khan and the Mongol Horde by Harold Lamb

          Read: 6 July, 2017

          Another entry from my mother’s biography collection from the 1950s (the first being William the Conqueror).

          This, along with the one about Odysseus that I’m sure I’ll be reading eventually, were my childhood favs. As I was reading this book to my son, I was surprised by how many of the stories and pictures were carved into my memory.

          That said, it isn’t terribly great. The writing style is a bit clunky, and the scenes themselves aren’t nearly as evocative as they could be. I had hoped to infect my child with some of my enthusiasm for the Mongols, but this book failed to capture his interest (even when I tried to supplement it with a Crash Course History video!).

          Still, it’s not a bad primer for interested kids, especially in a market that has so little world history offerings for the early/middle readers.

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            The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale

            Read: 5 July, 2017

            In the summer of 1895, thirteen year old Robert Coombes murdered his mother.

            I loved The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, which used the murder of a three year old boy as a narrative structure to look at how police and detectives functioned in Victorian society (particularly where the process of investigation of upper class households by lower class detectives ruffled class sensibilities).

            The Wicked Boy doesn’t have the same impact. At first, I thought it was looking at the scandal of ‘penny dreadfuls’, then it look at the criminal justice system, then it looks at the treatment of mental illness, and then it veers off entirely to go over Australia’s participation in World War I.

            I enjoyed every part of The Wicked Boy, but it didn’t have the same satisfying impact without the broader point. It ended up just being about this one boy, with broader issues only mentioned as interesting asides.

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              A Queer and Pleasant Danger by Kate Bornstein

              Read: 30 June, 2017

              As the front cover puts it, this is “the true story of a nice Jewish boy who joins the Church of Scientology and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today.” Phew, talk about a rollercoaster!

              There’s a lot in this book to offend. While Bornstein seems to have loved her time as a Scientologist, her criticisms of the Church are biting. She talks casually, even somewhat positively, of her eating disorder and her self-harm, of her smoking and binge drinking. She discusses seeing herself as a “transsexual” rather than a woman, and her disagreement with the idea that trans women belong in women-only spaces. She describes, in a fair bit of detail, her sexual conquests as a man, and her submission in an S&M relationship. There’s something in this book to offend nearly anyone.

              But Bornstein’s writing style is so warm, so friendly… it’s hard to stay mad. Even when she’s at her hot messiest, she just seems so vulnerable and trusting that it’s difficult not “agree to disagree”.

              Hers is a valuable and thoughtful voice, and I’m glad to have stumbled upon this book.

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                Creating Your Best Life by Caroline Adams Miller & Dr Michael B. Frisch

                Read: 26 June, 2017

                I find that there’s a certain way to read self help books – skimming, and with a great big grain of salt. And this book is no exception.

                Like so many of the genre, Creating Your Best Life throws out many facts to sell itself as The Answer, but without a whole lot of backing. So in between some interesting life advice, we get a section on how millenials lack self-control.

                But, in the middle of that, there is some interesting advice. I would have apprecated a little more hand holding in writing goals that aren’t about travel or sports.
                In any case, it’s a quick read that may or may not have some helpful tips. It’s worth checking out from the library.

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                  Greed, Lust & Gender by Nancy Folbre

                  Read: 24 June, 2017

                  This is the story of economic theory, tracing it from its pre-enlightment proto-forms, right up into the modern era.

                  It’s also a criticism of that history through a feminist lens. If I had to summarize the main thesis of the whole book in a single sentence, it would be: “But what about the women?”

                  Over and over again, we see theories of beneficial self-interest and individual economic agency that use the language of universality while, at the same time, footnoting exceptions for women (who, of course, must continue to keep the houses and raise the children of these economists, and to do so for free).

                  This is a bit of a heavy book, with very few soundbites or easy takeaways. It took me three weeks to read because I had to keep putting it down to process. Because of this, it doesn’t work too as a primer (which I think I would have benefitted more from), and it’s ideas were sometimes a little inaccessible.

                  But it’s an excellent book full of little epiphanies. And if reading it was a bit of a challenge, the challenge was worthwhile.

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                    The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina

                    Read: 22 June, 2017

                    In a post-apocalyptic world, civilization has reformed around a a collection of rules – strict regulations govern mining, weapons, technology… and citizenship. Those who develop special abilities are suppressed and imprisoned in detention centres, unless they can escape.

                    Ashala is written in the standard first person YA voice. It’s done well, but the voice isn’t a particularly strong one.

                    The plot is your average “main character is the leader of an underclass group that is rebelling against the status quo” format, and the main character is your standard “her strength is that she is just such a good leader, but she struggles with her desire for revenge” character.

                    It’s all fairly bog-standard, but it’s well executed. The twists are somewhat predictable, but the reveals are fun. I would have liked some more time with a few of the side characters, but I suppose that’s what sequels are for.

                    All in all, this book follows the YA template fairly faithfully, which fans of the genre will appreciate and haters will dislike. But while Ashala isn’t bringing much new to the table, the execution is solid. If you want to read YA, this is an excellent choice.

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