Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The Alice Network

After reading both The Huntress by Kate Quinn and D-Day Girls by Sarah Rose, I decided I wanted to read The Alice Network (also by Quinn).  I didn't know much about it except that it involved female spies in the World Wars, so I figured it would be an interesting read after the non-fiction D-Day Girls (plus my dad, who has read both books, kept comparing D-Day Girls to this book).  And I really enjoyed The Huntress, and was just looking forward to an all-around good read.

The Alice Network is the story of two women: Eve Gardiner, who, as a young woman, was recruited to spy on the Germans in France during WWI, and Charlotte "Charlie" St. Clare, a young pregnant American who wants to find her French cousin after WWII.  The only clue Charlie has is the name Evelyn Gardiner.  Hence the two women's worlds collide as they come to realize they may be searching for the same thing.

The Alice Network was an interesting read.  I loved the story that took place in post-WWII Europe (mostly France).  Eve and Charlie were great foils for each other (and I loved the addition of Eve's Scottish driver Finn Kilgore).  The trio are unlikely allies who slowly discover they are more alike than they thought.  I also really enjoyed Charlie coming into her own and figuring out both what she wants and how to work the system as an unmarried pregnant woman during that time (and the difficulties she encountered were eye-opening: she wasn't able to access her OWN savings without the say-so of her father, even though the money was her's).

But I had a much harder time reading Eve Gardiner's spy adventures during WWI.  The slow back and forth between her and Rene Bordelon as she attempted to keep her cover while Bordelon kept drawing her in closer never really held my interest.  And then the scene where Gardiner's hands were destroyed, while I knew that would be coming at some point, was super graphic; I had a really hard time with that.  I was much happier when Eve's story kind of caught up with Charlie's narrative in 1947.

Like in The Huntress, Quinn's characters were interesting.  I also liked how she blended fact with fiction (and I appreciated the extras included at the end of the book, like the letter from Louise de Bettignies).

Overall, I enjoyed this book, but I thought The Huntress was better.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Ukrainian Folk Stories

After reading (and getting depressed from) D-Day Girls, I decided I wanted something totally different. So I decided to give Ukrainian Folk Stories a try.  These stories were written by Marko Vovchuk in the mid 1800's, and translated into English by N. Pedan-Popil in 1983. Unfortunately, Pedan-Popil decided not to translate Vovchuk's stories for children and fables; what's left are the stories on serfdom and family live, which are overwhelmingly depressing!

Most of the stories are relatively short (the longest one, "Instytutka," was about 30 pages).  Many are about the hard life of Ukrainian serfs in the 1800's.  If they were lucky, they had a good master who rarely beat them; unfortunately the majority of these serfs had terrible masters, who beat them and verbally abused them.  There were a few stories about serfs who got their freedom, but even these often had terrible endings (I'm thinking of "The Slacker," where two women of Kozak lineage who shouldn't have been serfs get their freedom, but the daughter, who obtained their freedom, became a drunk in the process and passed away not long after becoming free; "Redemption" talked of the greed involved with masters, but thankfully has a happy ending, with a serf getting his freedom and being able to marry the Kozak woman he loved). Many of the other stories dealt with love, but often in terrible ways.  Take "Mismatched," where a woman's husband falls out of love with her, or "The Spell" (the only supernatural tale of the collection), where a woman who loves someone who does not love her back changes his betrothed into a bird so she can marry him instead (this story, which is pictured on the cover, in ways reminded me of Shadows of the Forgotten Ancestors, at least in terms of how the man marries someone he doesn't love because his true love is gone).

While depressing, these stories give an interesting look at life in 19th century Ukraine. I just wish the fables and children's stories had been translated, too (especially if they weren't as depressing as these tales were)!

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Beyond the Grid


I bought Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Beyond the Grid along with Shattered Grid.  I didn't know anything at all about this story (except that people who bought Shattered Grid often bought this as well). 

Beyond the Grid tells the story of various Rangers (both with and without their Morphin powers) getting pulled into another universe while aboard the Promethea ship. This universe has no access to the Morphin Grid, and so shouldn't exist.  At first they believe the dying universe is empty of life. But then they intercept a distress call.  Sending the last of those who can still Morph to investigate, the Rangers walk into a trap set by a mysterious Purple Ranger living in the Universe, who steals the power from them and their ship.  Who is this mysterious Ranger and how will our Rangers survive (and get home)?

Beyond the Grid is a tough read, particularly in the beginning.  The way the story is laid out, I had a really hard time figuring out what exactly was happening, particularly in the first few chapters (eventually I got the hang of reading it and was able to follow along a bit better).   By the end though, I found myself enjoying the story and quite invested in what was happening; everything came together really well (and pretty much everything that happened eventually made sense, which was another plus). I did have a hard time connecting with the characters though because there were so many of them (and it doesn't help that I didn't follow Power Rangers beyond the initial series on TV years ago, so I couldn't call on prior knowledge of most of the characters to help me here).

All in all, this is a very different story that followed Shattered Grid.  I didn't like it as much, but by the end I found that I did enjoy reading it.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II

I remember my brother mentioning to me a year or two ago that he tries to make a point of reading historical nonfiction about the World Wars for Remembrance Day.  I thought that was a great idea, and so made a point of doing the same this year.  I picked out D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II by Sarah Rose, which tells the story of some of the female spies recruited by Britain to help prepare France for the coming Allied Invasion (D-Day).

D-Day Girls mainly follows three women (as well as a few others), detailing what their lives were like, first in training, and then behind enemy lines.  The book also details the larger historical context, mainly showing the games the British agency (back in London) and the German anti-spy and terrorism agency were engaged in over the years.  I found this quite interesting, as I had no idea women were sent as saboteurs to France while the country was under Nazi control.  The book is also an interesting look at how women were treated at that time: first there was a debate about whether to send them at all (which was hindered by the fact that the women didn't do well in training, which also wasn't surprising as they received less training than their male counterparts), then there were points when men in the field refused to acknowledge their leadership (the particular instance I'm thinking of had the men, who refused to take orders from a woman, leaking information directly to the Nazis, putting everyone in danger), and finally, there was the aftermath where the women's contributions were deemed lesser than the men's even though they all did the same work (because the women weren't deemed military, and so were ineligible for military honours or full military pensions).  But it also celebrates some important firsts, such as the fact that some of these women were the first women paratroopers who dropped into enemy lines.

While interesting, D-Day Girls is unfortunately also a bit of a tough read.  For one thing, the book is largely told, with very little shown; that makes for some very tedious reading (and also made it very hard to connect with any of the people within the book).  It also goes into some detail on torture and the like; I had to stop reading after one torture description (and the ending of one of the ladies, while sparse in detail, was sufficiently disturbing that I actually considered not writing about the book because I didn't want to think about that anymore).

All in all, I am very glad to have read D-Day Girls, especially for Remembrance Day. 

Monday, November 9, 2020

The Prince and the Dressmaker

A friend at work recommended Jen Wang's The Prince and the Dressmaker to me. In it, Frances, a dressmaker working under someone (lol it reminded me a lot of The Gown in that way) makes someone exactly the sort of dress they want, to the consternation of her boss.  When he's reprimanding her, a man comes looking to hire her for a mysterious client, who Frances discovers is the Crown Prince Sebastian of Belgium. Prince Sebastian enjoys dressing in women's dresses and wants Frances to design dresses that everyone will notice and remember. Prince Sebastian starts going out on the town dressed as the Lady Crystallia, and Frances' dresses are indeed getting noticed, to the point where the pair worry people will put two and two together and figure out just who Lady Crystallia really is.

I loved this book.  Wang's art style is perfect (and I'm glad she decided to make them teenagers - she included a sample page of the pair as adults and the art just didn't have the same charm that the final version has).  I also loved how Sebastian's parents supported him in the end, especially his father; I wish that everyone could be as lucky as Sebastian was in this regard.

All in all, The Prince and the Dressmaker is a delightful story about being true to yourself and your friends. I very much recommend it!

Sunday, November 8, 2020

We Have Always Been Here

Someone at the library recommended Samra Habib's memoir, We Have Always Been Here when they returned it.  I forgot what the title was, but came across it a few months later and so signed it out. I didn't realize it at the time (or honestly until after I finished reading it), but it won 2020's Canada Reads! 

We Have Always Been Here is a super quick read (I powered through it in one night). For the most part I really liked Habib's writing style (although I did get annoyed when the narrative seemed to jump forward a bit - I wanted some of those spots filled in more).  I enjoyed her descriptions of places, especially in Pakistan, and smells.  Her story is difficult to read at times - she struggled as both a queer and Muslim woman against the constraints placed on her by her family and community; it has taken her a long time to find her own path.

We Have Always Been Here is very much worth reading, especially in this era of heightened Islamophobia.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Aquaman: Unspoken Water and Amnesty

 I used to buy the Aquaman comic. I'm not going to lie, I was buying it mainly for Mera, because she's awesome.  But I got bored with where the story was going (especially after the long and drawn out stuff when Arthur was crowned king and later presumed dead when King Rath takes over).  That was followed by the story arc of Unspoken Water, which was the last arc I bought.  But then I found it and the next arc, Amnesty, at the library, so took them both out to see what had happened since I'd given up on the comic.  (I also took Unspoken Water out because I couldn't remember if I'd read the entire thing - it turned out I had).

Unspoken Water starts with Aquaman on a mysterious island with no memory of who he is and how he got there (other than I guess presuming he was on a boat that was wrecked at sea).  He's also terrified of the ocean.  He and the odd inhabitants of the island help each other out, but the ocean seems to have turned its back on them, sending them only dead fish, slowly starving them.  And so in desperation, the inhabitants ask Andy, their name for Aquaman, for help.  They are forgotten gods and goddesses of the ocean, and had banished one of their number, who they believed to be killing the waters around them.  They ask Andy to bring the banished one's daughter with him, hoping to appease the banished one with a reunion.  

I remember this story line to be confusing; it was a bit easier to read the second time around.  But it's honestly pretty weird (and only has a little bit of Mera in it, so sad).  But I'm glad I reread it, as Amnesty takes place pretty much right where Unspoken Water ends, with the gods and goddesses fulfilling their promise and helping Andy get his memories back.

This was pretty weird too.  But basically, Aquaman died and this ocean spirit sent him back to help the gods and goddesses.  The spirit freely offers Aquaman some of his memories, but cautions him not to look for others as he may not like what he finds.  Of course he wants to know more, specifically about Mera, and he finds out she was the one who killed him...

...Now, it's been a little bit since I read the comics....but I thought Arthur Curry was presumed dead after Drowned Earth?  Maybe I'm remembering it wrong?  I don't know.

While this took some odd turns, it was enjoyable enough to read.  After regaining his memories, Arthur brings his new god and goddess friends back with him to Amnesty Bay. Queen Mera gets pressured to marry, so she chooses the most unlikely candidate, and uses her wedding plans to achieve her aims of rebuilding the Ninth Tride. There was also some craziness at the end with a sort of almost Lovecraftian-sea monster.  So while crazy, it was interesting enough that I'm willing to read the next graphic novel when I eventually get my hands on it.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Shattered Grid

I played through Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid a few weeks ago.  I'm not a big fighting game fan, but I loved the story! It opens with an alternate universe Tommy Oliver (aka Lord Drakkon) having stayed with Rita Repulsa.  But he decides that she's holding him back, so he kills her and takes over; he then starts hunting through the Power Ranger multiverse for different sets of rangers to steal their morphers.  Well, when I was telling a friend about it, he mentioned that the game was probably adapted from the Shattered Grid storyline from the comics.  So I snagged a copy of it from Amazon, along with Beyond the Grid.

While the basic story-line remained the same, reading Shattered Grid after playing through Battle for the Grid was an interesting experience. For one thing, I felt like I was dropped in part way through the story; the Power Rangers had already fought and beaten Lord Drakkon once; along with the Ranger Slayer (Lord Drakkon's universe's Kimberley, who was brainwashed - she was freed from his control in the game as you play, but in the comics prior to Shattered Grid).  

I also found that the big emotional moments kind of lost their oomph in the graphic novel.  I'm not entirely sure why that was - maybe because the game had voice over, so it was a totally different experience from reading the graphic novel, or maybe because I already knew they were coming.  Either way, I personally felt like some of the story was lost the second time through.

But in other ways, the graphic novel was a good read.  Some of the stuff at the end made a lot more sense than it did in the game (I honestly felt like this world's Tommy Oliver coming back from the dead was just thanks to *magic* in the game). And I felt like I got to know some of the other Rangers who were part of the story (I only really watched the original show, so in the game I had no idea who pretty much any of the Rangers were).  Also, Lord Drakkon actually wins for a bit. I didn't see that coming at all!

So while it was a different experience, I did still enjoy reading Shattered Grid. I'm looking forward to Beyond the Grid (and I'm going to have to figure out which graphic novel(s) introduce Lord Drakkon and the Ranger Slayer so I can see what exactly happened there, too!)

Monday, November 2, 2020

The Gown

I've heard really good things about The Gown by Jennifer Robson, and I finally got around to giving it a read (thanks to my mom for lending it to me!)  

The Gown is the story of the making of Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II)'s wedding gown in post-WWII Britain.  The story is told through three perspectives: Ann, one of the Senior Embroiderers at Hartnell's, Miriam, a French embroiderer who moved to England to start a new life (and who ends up at Hartnell's), and Heather, Ann's granddaughter who is trying to piece together her grandmother's early life after Ann passes away and leaves her some embroidery samples from the wedding gown. The book shows how hard life was for people living in Britain after the war as the country rebuilds; Princess Elizabeth's wedding was an occasion to look forward to in the middle of just trying to survive.

While it took me a bit to get into at first, I really did like The Gown.  I liked Ann and Miriam, and their friendship and how they looked after one another.  I had a harder time getting into Heather's story, which was set in modern times (I was definitely not impressed with how Heather's mother broke the news of her grandmother's death to her), but once she got to London and met Daniel, I started to enjoy that too.  While I was devastated by what happened to Ann (although part of me suspected that something like that *might* happen due to the difference in social class between her and Jeremy - though I did not suspect his motives), I loved what happened to Miriam (and how absolutely perfect Walter was for her, willing to give her whatever time and space she needed).

I also really enjoyed reading the extras at the end of the book. The condensed interview with one of the real-life seamstresses from Hartnell's who worked on the wedding gown was fascinating; I also enjoyed Robson's notes on the research she did (and how difficult it was to do!)

I did find the ending of the book to be a bit lacking though.  The book really culminated in the royal wedding and when Heather finally got to see Miriam's embroideries.  While what happened after that did wrap things up, it all felt largely unnecessary (especially since we already knew that Ann ended up in Canada, so her subdued goodbye to Miriam and Walter was unnecessary; likewise the chapter with Miriam and Walter because we already knew they ended up together). 

But all in all, I really enjoyed reading The Gown.  Once I got into it, I flew through it; I really enjoyed this look at these women's lives in post-war Britain.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The War of the Realms

Back when I was reading the comic series about Jane Foster as the Mighty Thor, the War of the Realms was coming to Midgard....veeeery slowly.  I thought the war would happen during that series, but it didn't (or more accurately, it started, but was raging across other realms).  But that series ended, and though I attempted a few issues of the next series, with Thor Odinson once again the Mighty Thor, I quickly lost interest and forgot about the whole thing (although I did end up reading the aftermath when a friend lent me Jane Foster: Valkyrie). But then a different friend brought The War of the Realms to me at work a few weeks ago; I finally gave it a read today.

The War of the Realms is that story of the war finally getting to Midgard.  Earth's mightiest heroes (who are all but gods themselves but in name) join forces with the gods from the other realms that have already been ravaged by Malekith.But Midgard will fall unless Thor can find a way to answer Malekith's challenge once and for all!

 The War of the Realms is really crazy and fun.  Asgardians join forces with the various defenders on Earth, pooling together their strength and ingenuity to fight off Malekith and his allies (giving you things like blind Daredevil operating the Bifrost after Heimdall was himself blinded, or Odin in an Ironman suit!).  I'm glad I finally read this story ark because I really enjoyed it! :)

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth

Margaret Atwood's Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth was a surprise.  Atwood decided to deliver her 2008 Massey Lecture on debt because it was a topic she was curious about but knew very little.  But rather than talking about debt in a personal finance sense, she takes a very literary look at debt through human history.

Atwood starts by examining the human (and indeed primate) innate sense of fairness.  Debt couldn't exist without this (for who would lend money without it - you would never be paid back).  She then moves into a discussion of how debt has been considered sinful (both for the person in debt and the person lending the money), and how people have gotten around various moral quandaries (such as Christians, who weren't allowed to charge interest amongst themselves, using other religious groups such as Jews to get around this stipulation).  She also goes on to examine the shadow side of debt (and how some debts are moral in nature, and can be satisfied in blood rather than money).  Her third chapter, Debt as Plot, was very interesting: she looked at how culturally the idea of debt has changed; where once it was considered sinful to be frivolously blowing wealth on things, by the time Charles Dickens was writing Scrooge, capitalism had firmly taken root and so it was a sin to be miserly and not spending your money).  

Her final chapter took a bit of an unexpected turn though; she examined what a modern day Scrooge might look like, and tied everything back to the debt humanity's progress now owes Mother Nature (this definitely reminded me of A Short History of Progress...)

Even though the final chapter in some ways felt like a departure from her main topic, I quite enjoyed reading Payback; it is a fairly quick and very interesting read.  I liked Atwood's conversational tone (it seemed rather frivoulous at times, which strangely suited the work as a whole). 

Monday, September 21, 2020

The City of Words

Continuing my current Massey Lecture reading spree, I picked up Alberto Manguel's 2007 Lecture City of Words from the library.  It's a fairly short book, so I thought I'd be able to breeze through it no problem.  But that wasn't really the case; I found myself mostly only able to read one chapter/lecture a night (with the exception of today where I pushed through both the fourth and fifth lectures).  

In his lectures, Manguel examines several texts from different cultures and time periods, looking to see what their creators say about the societies they live(d) in.  He further draws parallels from these texts to our modern day world.

The City of Words was the first Massey Lecture that I've read that honestly felt like a lecture, particularly in the first four chapters where Manguel primarily focuses on dissecting his chosen texts.  I was on board, especially in Chapter 2 when he was discussing The Epic of Gilgamesh (which I quite enjoyed as I read Gilgamesh for fun on my own; it was interesting to read someone else's take on it. Plus, fun fact: Manguel primarily used the same translation that I read back in 2013).  But because it felt more ponderous to read than other Massey Lectures, I found myself having to read carefully and really consider what was being said.  It also didn't help that at times I felt like Manguel made leaps within an individual lecture from one thought to another which were somewhat hard to follow.

But then it all seemed to come together beautifully in the final chapter/lecture.  This was the chapter where Manguel really started examining our modern culture and how everything is being degraded by commercialism, including stories and words.  He brought back topics from the first four chapters/lectures to really drive all of this home, showing how modern North America seems to be headed for a cultural dark age similar to the decline of Latin in the early Middle Ages, thanks to this degradation (and helped massively by our cultural obsession with advertisements and slogans).  While I've suspected this might be the case for some time now, it was shocking and somewhat upsetting to have it all laid out for me so clearly. 

While The City of Words is a somewhat difficult read, it is definitely important and worth reading.  I highly recommend it.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Race Against Time: Searching for Hope in AIDS-Ravaged Africa

I picked up Stephen Lewis' Race Against Time: Searching for Hope in AIDS-Ravaged Africa some time ago,finding it at a used book sale.  I was intrigued because it's a Massey Lecture, but I didn't know anything at all about it (or about Lewis).  It sat on my shelf for quite some time though; I only really became interested in reading it after watching Bohemian Rhapsody (thanks to the AIDS connection there).

Race Against Time is Lewis' look at how and why the world was failing at meeting the Millennium Development Goals the United Nations set in 2000 (which were supposed to be met by 2015).  The goals set by the UN included wanting to cut poverty in half by 2015.  Lewis argues that if the world continues to ignore the AIDS pandemic in Africa, there is no way to meet any of the goals by that date.  He also takes a look at how the developed world is failing the developing world: the rich countries keep setting lofty funding targets then almost immediately reneging on them, making it impossible to really stop this pandemic (or meet any of the other goals involving education and health).  He also looks at how the African continent came to be in such dire financial straits, especially the unfair strings that were attached to loans from the World Bank.

While the message in this Massey Lecture is infuriating and heartbreaking, I was not a fan of how it was delivered.  Lewis has been working with the UN in one form or another for many years and has incredible experiences with Africa and specifically the AIDS pandemic.  Unfortunately he seemed to draw solely from his experiences most of the time, and the first few lectures in particular felt like he was just name dropping.  One of my biggest pet-peeves when reading nonfiction is that feeling of name dropping, so I was not very happy while reading this.  This wasn't as bad as other books I've read (the really bad ones list people who were "there" for something, then those people are never mentioned again - I find it really confusing because you never know who you actually have to pay attention to in the narrative).  There also wasn't a note section, so again this Massey Lecture felt like it was completely drawn up from Lewis' experience without any other facts to back him up (I don't think this was actually the case because he quoted from some sources during the lectures, so I'm really not sure why they weren't included).

But I did discover a Glossary at the end which was quite helpful because Lewis uses a lot of acronyms, particularly for UN committees and stuff. It was hard to keep them straight while reading, so the glossary was very much appreciated.

While I had issues with the way the information was delivered, I do think this was an important book to read.  It is, unfortunately, somewhat dated; the Millennium Development Goals were supposed to be met by 2015, and he was criticizing them in 2005; I'm now reading this in 2020, five years after the deadline of the goals, so the UN is now working on the aftermath of the goals.  But even though that is the case, this was a good book to read for some background on the current state of Africa specifically in relation to the AIDS Pandemic, and definitely encourages further reading.  I just wish there had been a notes section to better point me in the right direction.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Huntress

Both of my parents read The Huntress by Kate Quinn and recommended it to me, so for the long weekend I decided to finally give it a read. :)

The Huntress is told from three different perspectives: Jordan McBride, Ian Graham, and Nina Markova.  Jordan is the seventeen year old daughter of the widowed owner of an antique shop.  She is thrilled (yet admittedly somewhat jealous) when her father confides that he is seeing someone. Annaliese seems wonderful, but after Jordan captures a calculating expression with a chance snap of her Leica, Jordan is left wondering if there is more to Annaliese than meets the eye.

Ian Graham is a war correspondent who worked on the front lines of WWII.  After the war, he's sworn he will not write again, but instead has turned his attention to finding Nazis who have escaped justice with the help of his colleague and friend, Tony.  While they have been successful in their hunts, one person still eludes them: Die Jägerin (The Huntress), the woman who killed his brother.  But thanks to a new lead, and with the help of Ian's wife, Nina (a a Siberian woman who dreamed of flying. She made her way to Moscow and into the Night Witches, an all-female squadron of bombers. Ian married her during the war to keep his brother's promise and get her to England - they planned on divorcing but never got around to it), they're finally on Die Jägerin's tail.

I absolutely loved this book!  The characters were fascinating (and fun - I loved Nina!), and even though you know who Die Jägerin is, the story is riveting - how is she going to slip up?  How will everyone figure out who she is? What's also really neat was that a lot of this is historical fact, just dressed up in fiction...Nina herself was fiction, but a lot of her exploits as a Night Witch actually did happen.  I can't wait to read more from Quinn! :)

Monday, August 31, 2020

All Our Relations: Finding the Path Forward

 I saw Tanya Talaga deliver the first part of her five part Massey Lecture here in Thunder Bay.  I've never heard a Massey Lecture before, so I was curious if it would differ from the book form.

All Our Relations speaks largely to the suicide epidemic in Indigenous communities around the world.  Talaga argues that the inter-generational trauma caused by colonialism is largely at the root of this epidemic. Parents who themselves were traumatized in the residential schools and alienated from their culture are passing their trauma onto the younger generations, who in turn are bereft of their cultural and family ties, and, left feeling empty, are increasingly seeing suicide as the only way to deal with the pain and emptiness.  Indigenous people around the world are marginalized and fighting for their rights, often seen in negative and sometimes derogatory lights by the dominant cultures, and this as well is taking a toll on individuals.  

 Talaga shares some heartbreaking facts throughout the five lectures that comprise this book.  For this reason, All Our Relations is very informative and worth reading, particularly if you are part of the settler culture in places like North America, Australia, and Brazil.  I just wish the book was a little better organized; Talaga kind of goes all over the place with her anecdotes, and at times you are left wishing she had gone into more detail with them.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Truth About Stories

While browsing through the library's Indigenous Knowledge section, I came across the 2003 CBC Massey Lecture by Thomas King: The Truth About Stories.  I was intrigued, so I grabbed it.

The Truth About Stories is a really quick read. Like all Massey Lectures, it is composed of 5 chapters which comprised the 5 lectures in the series (although this one had an added bonus chapter which was not part of the lecture series).  I'm not familiar with King's writing, but I quite enjoyed The Truth About Stories.  It meanders at times within the chapters, but always gets back on point, sometimes in unexpected ways.  His writing is very friendly; I felt like he was literally hanging out and chatting.  

I also really liked how he structured the lecture.  There's a lot of repetition, particularly at the beginning of each chapter (the same story is told, although the details differ a bit), and the ending is very poignant (for example, here's the ending of chapter 1):

Take Charm's story, for instance. It's yours. Di with it what you will. Tell it to friends. Turn it into a television movie. Forget it. But don't say in the years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story.

You've heard it now.

Like the beginning of each chapter, the end differs in the details (there are different stories in each chapter, after all). But they all end with those last two lines.  

I also really liked how King builds to his thesis within the lecture series.  Again, his language and tone are very colloquial, which kind of lulls you into a false sense of security.  But then, again and again within each chapter (and even moreso within the last chapter because that is the end of the lecture series), his meaning hits you almost to the gut (yes, I did find it very visceral).  

This is a book that I want to read again and again.  It strikes me as the type of book that will not only stay with you, but that you will get more from the more you read it.  I'm also very interested in reading more from King as I really enjoyed his writing style.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Network Effect


I completely forgot that Network Effect, the fifth Murderbot Diaries book by Martha Wells, was coming out this spring.  I also forgot that I put it on hold at the library.  So I was pleasantly surprised to get it last week! :)

I wasn't sure where this book would be taking Murderbot.  I thought the story ended quite nicely in book 4.  It starts out with Murderbot being contracted out to provide security for some of Dr. Mensah's family on a voyage.  Everything is going fine until their ship returns to Preservation space and is attacked by what looks like ART (from book 2).  While trying to protect Amena (a teenager from Mensah's family - I'm not 100% sure of what their relationship is as Amena keeps calling Mensah "second mother"), Murderbot and Amena are forced to flee the ship and end up on ART.  Unfortunately, ART is gone and there are strange grey people (possible aliens, or humans who have been modified by an alien remnant) on board.  After admitting to deleting ART, they get more than they bargained for with Murderbot destroying them (they mistakenly thought Murderbot was a human). 

Network Effect took a lot of crazy twists and turns.  Some of the other humans from the Preservation mission got trapped along with them (their ship got pulled into the wormhole that the aliens took ART's ship through). ART hid a backup of himself for Murderbot to find.  Looking for ART's crew leads everyone to the planet where the grey people are from, which was a lost colony with quite a history.  Half of ART's crew were sent down to the planet, while the other half remained on a shuttle as hostages.  ART and Murderbot decide to make Killware as a last resort, which ART ends up deploying onto the shuttle.  The Killware is a copy of Murderbot's personality, and ends up calling itself Murderbot 2.0.  Meanwhile Murderbot 1.0 went down to the planet to save ART's crew but ends up getting captured itself, which leads to a battle against the enemy targetControlSystem.  Luckily Murderbot 2.0 found its way to Murderbot 1.0 to help.

Despite all the fun stuff happening, I had a really hard time reading this book.  The middle, when everyone was trying to figure out what was going on and where the missing crew was, really dragged (as did Murderbot and ART's feud).  Unfortunately it took me a lot longer to read this book as a result (all the other Murderbot books I couldn't put down; this one I had a hard time picking back up).  That being said, it was an interesting story, and I am looking forward to Murderbot #6 (ART asked Murderbot to join it on its next adventure, and Murderbot decided it wanted to, as long as it can come back to Preservation to visit Mensah.  This was the first time Murderbot knew what it wanted).

Also I forgot to mention, Murderbot 2.0 helped another SecUnit hack its governor module on the shuttle to help rescue ART's crew there.  This new SecUnit, which called itself Three, wants to help Murderbot too.  So I'm quite interested to see what happens with a second rogue SecUnit!

Tuesday, July 7, 2020


Wow.  That's all I can say after reading Tara Westover's memoir Educated.  Here's the summary from Goodreads:

Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her "head-for-the-hills bag". In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father's junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara's older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she'd traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one's life through new eyes and the will to change it.

Educated is quite the story.  Not only did Westover manage to educate herself without ever attending elementary or high school, she also did so while dealing with physical and emotional abuse from her brother.  

The book is at times very hard to read (particularly some of the details of what her brother Shawn did to her), but the book itself is well written and overall easy to read.  I loved Westover's descriptions within the book, particularly of her mountain home in Idaho.  The phrases she used were beautiful and very evocative.

This is an incredible story and I'm very glad to have read it!

Friday, July 3, 2020

Who We are: Reflections on My Life and Canada

Elizabeth May's Who We Are: Reflections on My Life and Canada is another book my brother lent me quite some time ago.  May wrote it just before the 2015 election, reflecting on the changes Prime Minister Stephen Harper had enacted since becoming Prime Minister, both in terms of gutting Canada's environmental protections, and in terms of politics (how particularly under him, MPs are no longer representing their constituents, but are instead reprimanded severely for not towing the party line).  May looks at her own life, at what brought her to helm the Green Party of Canada, while also examining what Canada was, and what Canada can be once again.

For the most part I enjoyed May's writing.  But I did find I got bogged down in the middle of a lot of her chapters, often from having to flip back to see either who or what organization she was talking about.  I really wish there had been a listing of people and places rather like a Shakespearean dramatis personae (I have this problem a lot with nonfiction books).  But all in all, I'm glad to have (finally) read Who We Are; it's an eye-opening book into just what exactly is happening to Canadian politics in the modern world.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Creative Visualization: Use the Power of Your Imagination to Create What You Want in Your Life

Just before the pandemic hit, the library got a brand new copy of Shakti Gawain's Creative Visualization: Use the Power of Your Imagination to Create What You Want in Your Life.  I snagged it because visualization is the final part of the meditation method Emily Fletcher shared in Stress Less, Accomplish More; visualization is the part of the method that I feel the most lost with, so I thought a book on it would be worth reading.  I did start it back in like April, but I kind of lost interest; I restarted reading it about a week ago, and finished it yesterday.

Creative Visualization gives you the basics of how to use creative visualization within your life (basically, by changing the way you talk to yourself and believing that the universe is plentiful for everyone, you can start to manifest your desires in your own life).  Gawain then gives you a whole bunch of tools to help you bring creative visualization into your life (through using writing, creating vision boards/treasure maps, using mantras to help you change your negative self talk, etc). 

I found the book a bit tough to get through though.  It's not the type of book that you can easily read from cover to cover in one sitting.  For me, it was like I could only read so much of it before having to go off and do something else (almost like I needed time to really consider what was being said). I did like that she gives you so many different tools to try; you can easily choose one or two that sound interesting to you, and ignore anything you don't like the sounds of.  

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Overlord: The Undead King

After finishing Iraq Under Siege, I wanted to read some fiction.  So I chose to read Overlord: The Undead King by Kugane Maruyama, a Japanese Light Novel (translated) that a friend lent me sometime ago. 

In Overlord, Momonga is one of the last players of a virtual world that is being shut down.  He stays in the game until the last minute, wanting to enjoy all that his guild had built during the game's heyday.  But when the servers shut down, Momonga finds himself still his character in what looks like the game world.  The NPCs who were always silent are now talking and have the backstories and personalities the guild members wrote for them (including the last minute change Momonga made for Albedo, which he feels incredibly guilty of).  Now Momonga needs to figure out where they are and whether or not he can trust all of the NPCs; he must now be the Overlord in truth!

I found Overlord a bit slow going in the beginning, even though it was necessary to set up the game world of Yggdrasil before everything became real.  But once the servers went down and the NPCs came alive, the book became super fun! I loved Momonga's attempts to appear outwardly calm and collected for everyone while internally he was freaking out.  I also loved that Maruyama included an intermission part way through the story that showed what the main NPCs were thinking of Momonga.  The end fight was also incredibly fun, where Momonga is trying to be super cautious but discovers that whatever world this is, he's so much more powerful than everyone.  It's a very fun story, and I'd love to read more!

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Iraq Under Siege: the Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War

Continuing with my reading of books people have lent me, this time I chose Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War, edited by Anthony Arnove. My brother lent this to me quite some time ago, and I admit I had a hard time psyching myself up to read it because I knew it would be pretty heavy.

Iraq Under Siege is a collection of essays from people protesting the lengthy sanctions that were imposed on Iraq by the UN Security Council after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.  Initially the sanctions were going to be lifted after Iraqi forces withdrew from the area, but the sanctions ended up in place until after the Invasion of Iraq in 2003.  Many of the authors visited Iraq during that time (this is the first edition of the book, so prior to 2000 when it was published) and saw firsthand the devastation the sanctions and wars had wrought on the civilian population and infrastructure of Iraq.

While a very interesting and alarming read, I did find the book to be a bit repetitive by the end.  The same statistics and sources were used by many of the authors. 

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Life in a Thundering Bay: Voices from Thunder Bay's Past

My dad lent Life in a Thundering Bay to me a few months ago.  It's a collection of stories by people who lived in Thunder Bay over a century ago.  Right when he gave it to me, I flipped through it and found JC Banks mentioned; I'd read about Banks' experience in the Great Storm of 1893 at work, so it was really neat to see him mentioned (and to actually already know about him!)

This book is a collection of seven stories, one epic poem, and an article about the names of places around Thunder Bay.  The stories are from the earliest days of the then twin cities of Fort William and Port Arthur; the editors chose stories they found particularly intriguing.

The first story is an account by Catherine Moodie Vickers of going to see Kakabeka Falls (from a letter she wrote to her mother).  At that time it was an overnight canoe trip (whereas today you can jump in a car and be there in about 20 minutes from Thunder Bay).

The second story was Fred M. DelaFosse's account of his adventuring days as a remittance man (he was relying on money sent from home to support him).  He set out from England with a friend, who quickly decided this wasn't the life for him, and so remained in Fort William and Port Arthur on his own for a year or two.  He has many adventures in the lumber camps and working on a survey team.  This story sort of reminded me of Bertie from Wodehouse's Jeeves series (if Bertie decided to go off on his own adventuring), esp the last bit "I had started in with an overweening pride of my nationality and in the belief that an Englishman was the superior of any creature on earth. I had discovered...that even in the outer ranges of civilization, there was being reared a race of men who could hold their own in the company of Englishmen or anyone else. I returned home a chastened individual" (42); that last bit about being chastened reminds me of the story in Carry On, Jeeves when Bertie had to survive on his own in a hotel without Jeeves; he learned something of what it must be like to be on your own without a servant.

From there we get a short account about the Northern Hotel by Captain Walpole Roland.  Then there was an excerpt byW.S. Piper about his search for the "Lost Mother Lode" silver mine.  This story was from the book The Eagle of Thunder Cape, which originally captured the editors' interest in these stories.  I wasn't a huge fan of this one (I felt like Piper and his friend, Edward were really just using people - they were solely focused on seeing what help those people could give them for finding the silver mine).  But then about halfway through, Chief Eagle, an Ojibway chief, visits with them in their tent and tells them some fascinating Ojibway stories about their beliefs and the Dog Lake/Thunder Bay area.  I also had no idea about the Dog Lake effigy before reading this story!

Next is a short tale from Eugenie Robin about McKay (the same man that Mount McKay is named after) and his partner Fraser bringing an Ojibway girl to Loch Lomand where she's hoping to find her betrothed.  Then there's the story about Silver Islet, and what William B. Frue did so they could mine it.  I knew some details of this story, but reading it as a whole, it's quite remarkable!  And that brings us to the final story, which is "The Great Storm" by J.C. Banks, which tells of his ordeal through the storm of 1893.

The epic poem"The Legend of Thunder - How Thunder Bay Obtained Its Name" by H.R.A. Pocock was included in a book by Captain Roland (Algoma West); it tells the legend of how how Thunder Bay got its name.  I was so surprised that there was an epic poem written about Thunder Bay!  It was quite a unique read. :)

The final article in this book was Mary J.L. Black's "Place Names in the Vicinity of Fort William."  This was super interesting!  As the editors say, it was a daunting task for her to have tracked down the meanings of some of these Ojibway words!

While the volume as a whole is quite fascinating, as with any anthology-style book, you will like some authors more than others. I also need to mention the odd formatting Tania L. Saj and Elle Andra-Warner chose; some passages were randomly bolded in the text, while others were left in normal typeset, but then bolded and set on their own page elsewhere.

A passage bolded in text.

Passage in the text.

That same passage on its own page.

It was quite distracting when it happened, especially the random bolded sections in the text.

Other than that, I did enjoy reading this book.  And now I know a little more of the history of the area. :)

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Jane Foster Valkyrie: The Sacred and the Profane

The same friend who lent me Invisible Woman: Partners in Crime also lent me Jane Foster Valkyrie: The Sacred and the Profane.  I was quite excited to read this one because I'm a huge fan of the Jane Foster as Thor, Goddess of Thunder run that Marvel ran a few years ago.

After the War of the Realms leaves all of the Valkyrie dead, Jane Foster agrees to take on their mantle and become the last living Valkyrie.  But she is cautioned: being Valkyrie is not the same as being a hero, it's a job.

Aided by Undrjarn the All-Weapon (the remains of the War Thor's hammer), Jane Foster needs to learn just what it is to be Valkyrie.

I liked this story.  Jane is once again trying to balance her heroic duties with her mortal life.  She doesn't want to give up the normalcy of her mortality, so she hasn't told anyone that she is Valkyrie.  But that also comes with a price; she's late to her performance review at the hospital, and, as a result, demoted to morgue assistant.  Her new position is accompanied with less pay, so now she's avoiding her landlord, too.

She also keeps thinking like a superhero, thanks to having wielded both Thor's hammer and later the War Thor's hammer in the War of the Realms (which I unfortunately haven't read).  But being a Valkyrie is different.  Heimdall is the first to help her, telling her she has the eyes of the Valkyrie (which also shows her how close everyone's death is).  She also needs to learn how to trust the part of her that is Valkyrie (but she shies away from it because she's afraid it is changing her).

I loved Mister Horse.  Mister Horse was Brynhilde's winged horse, who was under control of Bullseye (he obtained Brynhilde's sword).  Once the sword was shattered by Jane (another fun moment - the sword was powerful, but only because Jane was seeing it as important - letting it and Brynhilde go allowed her to defeat it), Mister Horse just sort of stuck around with her, helping her ferry Heimdall to his chosen afterlife.

My one complaint was this story got a little monotonous.  Issue two had Jane learning to be a Valkyrie, then that was kind of repeated (though, to be fair, a bit different) in issue 5.  That being said though, I thought this story sets up beautifully for the next arc, which I can't wait to read! :)

Invisible Woman: Partners in Crime

A friend of mine lent me Invisible Woman: Partners in Crime awhile ago and I sort of forgot I had it.  But I saw it on my shelf today and decided to finally give it a read.

Partners in Crime is a fun spy-story with Invisible Woman.  Ten years ago, Invisible Woman worked part-time as a spy for SHIELD, partnered with Aidan Tintreach.  Fast forward to the present and she's brought into the CIA.  It seems that Agent Tintreach has gone missing, and his last message was "Stormy," the name he used to call Sue Storm Richards when they worked together.  While the CIA cautions Sue not to go looking for him because her actions may negatively affect a hostage situation happening in the same part of the world, Sue disagrees; if Aidan needs her help, she's determined to help him!

Aided by Nick Fury and Black Widow, Sue travels the globe for her ex-partner, learning he as she goes that he may not be the man she knew.

This is a super fun story!  I loved how Sue was able to use her powers for espionage, and also her rule of killing no one (plus the rationale for that at the end).  I hope Marvel tells more stories like this with Sue! :)

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Carry On, Jeeves

After finishing A Child of Elvish, I really needed a different sort of read.  So I decided to tackle another P.G. Wodehouse book that my brother lent me (quite some time ago...).  This time it was Carry On, Jeeves, a short story collection that details the adventures of Bertram Wooster and his valet, Jeeves, as they try to help Bertie's friends get out of all sorts of problems.  The solutions are often provided by Jeeves, and usually end up working in a hilarious and round-about way.

I had a bit of a hard time getting into Carry On, Jeeves, in part because it was a short story collection; it felt like, at least for the first few stories, I was just starting to get into the story, then it was over.  It also didn't help that I wasn't really familiar with the characters; I think this would be a better read once you've read some of the Jeeves novels.  But once I got a few stories in, I loved the characters of Bertie and Jeeves (they make an excellent pair) and am quite looking forward to one day reading one of the novels.  :)

I made the mistake of reading my brother's review of Carry On, Jeeves, before writing this; he pretty much says it all, so I recommend reading that if you want to know a little more!