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text 2018-04-01 05:35
March Reading
The Lost Plot - Genevieve Cogman
Endurance: My Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery - Scott Kelly
Nelvana of the Northern Lights - Adrian Dingle
Medicine Walk - Richard Wagamese,Tom Stechschulte
The Prey of Gods - Nicky Drayden
Out Standing in the Field: A Memoir by Canada's First Female Infantry Officer - Sandra Perron
City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris - Holly Tucker
Ester and Ruzya: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler's War and Stalin's Peace - Masha Gessen
Lavinia - Ursula K. Le Guin
Penric's Fox - Lois McMaster Bujold

Fourteen Books Read:

The Lost Plot - Genevieve Cogman 

Endurance: My Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery - Scott Kelly 

Nelvana of the Northern Lights - Adrian Dingle 

Medicine Walk - Richard Wagamese

Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters - Dick Winters, Cole C. Kingseed 

The Prey of Gods - Nicky Drayden 

Out Standing in the Field: A Memoir by Canada's First Female Infantry Officer - Sandra Perron 

Place to Belong - Claire Boston 

City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris - Holly Tucker

Ester and Ruzya: How My Grandmothers Survived Hitler's War and Stalin's Peace - Masha Gessen 

The Girls in the Picture: A Novel - Melanie Benjamin (DNF)

Lavinia - Ursula K. Le Guin

The Covert Captain: Or, A Marriage of Equals - Jeannelle M. Ferreira (DNF)

Penric's Fox - Lois McMaster Bujold  


Women Writers Bingo: 10/25

(Personal take: Finish 25 books by new-to-me female authors in 2018*)

Finished in March: Nicky Drayden, Sandra Perron, Claire Boston, Holly Tucker, Masha Gessen**


Gender Balance:

Fiction: 7 by women, 2 by men, 0 by non-binary

Non fiction: 3 by women, 2 by men, 0 by non-binary



Paper books that I own: 1

Paper books from library: 4

E-books that I own: 2

E-books from library: 1

Audiobooks that I own: 5

Audiobooks from the library: 1


March Goals:

Read two Hugo nominated novels and all of the short stories.


*Women Writers Bingo Bonus Points:

5 of those books in translation: 1/5

5 of those books are non-fiction: 4/5 (Warmth of other Suns, Out Standing in the Field, City of Light, Ester and Ruzya)


Bingo Companion Round:

5 books by non-binary authors: 0/5


**As per this essay, I'm not completely sure about listing Masha Gessen under female authors, but it seems at the moment the best option.


Previous months:

January Reading

February Reading

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review 2018-03-11 01:43
It's a story beautifully told, but that doesn't make me less tired of it.
Medicine Walk - Richard Wagamese,Tom Stechschulte

(I have to acknowledge that this is pretty well in the "not for me" category, but setting that aside, here we go!)


The writing is gorgeous. It's set in the BC interior in about the 1970s, and it has a fantastic sense of place and time. There are multiple layers of community and place and history, and Wagamese really draws that out. The land is evoked vividly, and sometimes brutally, and it feels like what I've known of those places on a bone-deep level.


The story is about, on a deeper level, how utterly the concept of manhood can be messed up by a lack of positive male role models. Here that story is specifically about how the colonial system worked to strip first nations boys from ever having a chance at knowing their families, let alone their ancestors and traditions, and how adrift that set generation after generation of men. That too is vividly and brutally told.


On the surface level, it's about a man who has messed up and poisoned everything he has ever touched. A hearty dose of alcohol poisoning has led him to the end of his life, and now he has one last chance to reconnect with his teenage son (who had the good fortune of being raised by someone mostly more sensible). The son agrees to go on the Road Trip of Death, to learn about his heritage, and to bury his father in what as far as they can tell is a traditional fashion (though possibly not their own cultural tradition).


Honestly, I think all of these characters would have been better off if the father had just written the kid a long letter with all the info he coughs up on the three or four days of dying in this poor kid's arms. I don't especially care for the idea that a child is morally required to give doomsday chances to their abusive parents. In my opinion, spending your life alternately neglecting your kid and taking him on terrifying drinking binges does not entitle you to emotionally blackmail said kid into comforting you on your deathbed, and I'm tired of stories that imply that. (This one was somewhat saved by the kid continuing to be angry throughout, but nevertheless!)


(There was also a secondary character who knew almost all of the really important bits of this info, but decided it was the father's place to pass it on, not his, to which I call massive amounts of bullshit.)


All of the female characters were either saintly, dead or saintly and dead, with the exception of that one prostitute (the other prostitute was saintly). They are universally cogs in the men's stories, not characters with agency and dreams of their own. I'm also pretty tired of that story. I'm curious if that's a theme in this author's books, of if the story-specific if the fixation on fatherhood/manhood drew it out.


I feel like my dad might like this book? It is gorgeously written, just not for me.

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text 2017-02-20 01:16
Medicine Walk - authentic, complex, brutal in it's truth


Franklin Starlight never knew his mother and the few encounters he's had with his alcoholic father left him hurt and disappointed.


He's been raised on a small ranch in northern British Columbia by "the old man", who's taught him everything he knows about ranching and wilderness survival. He's also taught him about integrity, self-esteem and the qualities of good character.


At sixteen, Franklin's more a man then most.


When he gets a call from his father he's tempted to ignore it, but this time it's different. His father is dying of liver disease and wants Frank to help him travel to remote ridge forty miles out in the wilderness. Once there he wants "a warrior's death", buried sitting upright in the ground facing east "so he can follow the rising sun across the sky to the Happy Hunting Grounds."


As it's his father's dying wish, Frank feels duty-bound to oblige him. Besides, he's longing to know more about his family history including how he came to be brought up by the "the old man".


So begins the journey, from a small mill town into the wilderness, Frank walking and leading a horse his father rides because he is too weak to walk.


As each mile passes Franklin begins to know his father as the man slowly divulges his personal history, Franklin's history.


In Medicine Walk, Richard Wagamese has created a story that resonates on many levels. There's the portrayal of a Spartan way of life defined by hard manual labour, loyalty and integrity as conveyed in the characters of Franklin and "the old man".


Then there's the life Franklin's father has lived - one of never facing up to your demons and using alcohol to keep them at bay.


It's a story of the extremes of human nature - of doing the right thing no matter how tough and painful it is, and doing everything to avoid it.


Wagamese' dialogue is authentic, his characters complex, and his story is brutal in it's truth.





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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-11-01 17:25
Review: Keeper'n Me
Keeper'n Me - Richard Wagamese

Rating: 4.5


Synopsis: All but kidnapped by social workers at age 3, Garnet Raven finds himself growing up in a series of foster homes, leaving him with a confused sense of identity. Eventually, as an adult, he finds himself serving time at a penitentiary. While he is here, he receives a letter from his family inviting him to come home after his release. Nervous, and a little reluctant, Garnet Raven accepts this offer and finds himself on an unique spiritual journey - not only to reconnect with lost family and with his community, but to recover his spirit and cultural identity as he learns to embody the traditions of the Anishanabe people.  


Review & Commentary:


Keepern' Me is an intimate account of spiritual healing. This is not an action-driven novel with a fast-moving plot; but a character study told by two first-person perspectives: those of Garnet and his mentor, Keeper, who struggles to overcome alcoholism. Between these two narratives, Wagamese lets the reader delve into the protagonist's psyche and explore the mysticism of Ojibwe spiritual tradition, reverence for nature, the important role family plays in our lives, the process of healing, and the complexities of reconnecting with family and community after long separation. He takes us on a long, winding journey exploring the impacts of foster care on Garnet Raven, daily life on the White Dog reserve, learning traditional values, and Garnet's intimate relationships with his family.


Wagamese is a wonderful narrator. As I read this novel, I often got the feeling that I was sitting on a plastic chair with sweat sticking my thighs, cracking beers in my neighbour's yard and sharing stories until the sun went down. I could imagine a friend with a big, toothy grin cracking up as they retold a story; then their eyes growing dark and hooded as they shared a more solemn remembrance with me. To stir up such a vivid feeling of confidence exhibits a great use of technique. Wagamese utilizes dialectical speech to help conjure this feeling throughout the novel and does it remarkably well. His humour is quintessentially Canadian and feels both innocent and familiar -  


"I was a homeless Hawaiian for a while there in Niagara Falls. Had these flowered shirts I found at the Sally Ann, mirrored sunglasses on a rope around my neck, brushcut, and even got a beat up old ukulele at a pawnshop. We'd be drinkin' wine in the park and I'd be teaching people how to say things in fictituous Hawaiian and singing these dumb songs on that ukulele. Touching stuff like "KahmonIwannalayya," "Nookienookienow" or "The Best Leis Are Hawaiian" (pg. 22).


His simple, stripped-down writing is vivid, warm, and inviting. Wagamese thus transports his readers easily to wonderful camping spots, traditional breakfasts, and mornings canoeing -


"And what a morning. The sun was just coming up and the purple light was fading off, revealing mist on the bay and the circles of rising fish. There was more birds in the trees than I ever heard before and just beyond the mouth of the bay was a beaver hauling a long branch of poplar to his den somewhere further down the shoreline. The long dwindling Y in the water sent ripples right up to where my camp was. By the time I got the fire stoked up and going again the sun was completely up.


For me, breakfast in the bush is the greatest thing in the world. There's nothing quite like that first big slug of campfire coffee and the smell of bacon and eggs against the cold crispness of the air. I fished awhile and hooked a nice little pickerel from the pool and ate him up right away too" (pg. 240).


Wagamese focuses on the White Dog reserve as the primary setting, and it plays an important role in the novel by symbolizing the contrasts between traditional Ojibwe life and today's mainstream culture, as well as providing a backdrop to explore the difficulties in balancing tradition and spirituality with a fast-paced world. While at times Wagamese's descriptions of reserve life seem a little idealistic, I also found them to be refreshing and uplifting. Real problems do face our reserves, such as lack of clean water or educational facilities, but Wagamese chooses to focus almost entirely on the positive impacts of reserve life, only making subtle suggestions about its hardships. He describes how (when reserves are distanced from mainstream society) they can act as a safe, quiet haven from a busier, more complicated city life; how the closeness to wilderness and the simplicity of life can be balming to an injured spirit; and how the close, connected community provides meaningful support through life's hardships. This departure from the typical doom-and-gloom perspective presented by the media gives the reader a more positive outlook on our reserves and one that I think is much needed. It also serves as an important commentary by the author: that the dominant "white" culture fails to provide young people with spiritual guidance, meaningful supports, and a reverence for nature, leading to problems with addiction, a lack of self-awareness, failure to respect others, and environmental pollution.


Wagamese also uses Ojibwe beliefs to challenge mainstream conceptions of masculinity, demonstrating an alternative that balances masculinity with femininity. One that involves having the courage to cry, ask for help, and seek guidance; one that requires being able to admit to mistakes and weaknesses; one that involves hugging and demonstrating affection and gentleness; and one that is grounded on respect for others, family, tradition, and nature.


Keepern' Me leaves a lasting impression on the reader. It is a novel to pass away cool evenings with a cup of strong tea and a warm blanket. It will have a special meaning to those who have undergone their own healing journeys. It is deserving of its praise, particularly as a debut novel from Wagamese. It leaves something to savour and to reflect on. A worthy read.    


(edited 11/08/16)

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review 2015-06-24 23:11
Definitely a book directed at Canadians
By Richard Wagamese Indian Horse - Richard Wagamese

I knew that children were sent to Australia from British orphanages, I knew that Aboriginal children were separated from their families 'for their own good'. I knew that children of Irish mothers were 'rehomed' without trace. Now I discover that Canadian Indian children were also wrenched from their families and forced to live in barbaric schools. Here they learnt very little and were savagely beaten for minor infringements of the totally unrealistic rules. Their native language was banned and most of their days were spent in cleaning, farming or cooking, serving men and women who should never have been nuns or monks in the first place. Why is this becoming such a familiar scenario? Why are there so many evil people masquerading as Christians?


Saul Indian Horse comes from a loving Ojibway family. His grandparents are from the 'old way' but his parents' generation are Christian, living as their ancestors had, but confused about what they believe. They are, however, determined that Saul and his brother Benjamin will not be stolen away like their elder sister, never to be seen again.


Unfortunately, in spite of their best efforts, Saul finds himself at St Jerome's. Here he survives the loneliness and fear by totally engrossing himself in the game of ice hockey.


This is where the Canadian readers in our book group continued to be engrossed, while the non-Canadians got lost in a continuous description of hockey jargon. I found myself skipping large chunks of detailed descriptions of hockey games, exciting twirls on the back of the blade and bouncing off backboards. It sounds like an horrifically violent sport, but I was totally out of my depth in these passages, which formed a large proportion of the book.


This book had a strong message about survival and endurance and what it takes to overcome a traumatic childhood, and I would surely have been giving it 4 stars if it hadn't been so strongly biased towards ice hockey.

Recommended reading for Canadians.

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