Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon Master Post (April 2017)

Somewhere in Hour 3

In a pleasant twist of expectations, I woke up well-rested shortly after 7:00AM. I finished A Conjuring of Light in bed. Then I got up to do my usual morning chores and eat breakfast. After breakfast, I read Amina’s Voice in one sitting, in my cozy reading spot. It has occurred to me this will be my last read-a-thon in that spot :O Now I’m taking a little break to complete the introductory survey and check out some mini-challenges.

  1. What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
    • Winnipeg, Canada. Primarily snuggled up in my bedroom.
  2. Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
    • I have a lot of good choices in my stack today, but I was most looking forward to Amina’s Voice which turned out to be just as good as I’ve heard.
  3. Which snack are you most looking forward to?
    • Rootbeer – it’s been ages since I’ve drank some.
  4. Tell us a little something about yourself!
    • Hm, what random fact can I throw out this time…I am in love with my diffuser from Saje. I don’t know if I buy into aromatherapy, but I can appreciate a pleasant scent while I’m reading 😛
  5. If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? 
    • Last October I had already had a bunch of plans on read-a-thon day, so I didn’t get to read as much as I wanted to. Today I hope to read twice as much as last time.

Preparation

Good morning! Today is Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon. I can’t believe this is my seventh time participating. I will update this post a few times throughout the day, but I will be most active on Twitter. I have had a hectic week and I am looking forward to indulging in reading today. For the first time ever, I have curated a TBR that I think I could actually get through today). I focused on middle grade and short non-fiction.

  • Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan (197 pages, middle grade fiction) – My hold finally came in from the library a few days ago (just in time for read-a-thon!)
  • The Luck of the Karluk by L.D. Cross (137 pages, non-fiction) – I’ve read three books about the Karluk (two non-fiction, one fiction) and am hoping for a more objective perspective from this book published in 2015.
  • Wednesdays in the Tower by Jessica Day George (225 pages, middle grade fantasy) – I read Tuesdays at the Castle, the first book in this series, exactly two years ago during a previous read-a-thon. I think these books are a good choice for today.
  • From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (162 pages, middle grade fiction) – A classic middle-grade that I’ve been meaning to read.
  • Icemen: A History of the Arctic and its Explorers by Mick Conefrey and Tim Jordan (180 pages, non-fiction) – I found this book while waiting for somebody at the library. I’m hoping it’ll brush up my overall knowledge of Arctic exploration (I only really know about the Franklin expedition and the last voyage of the Karluk). Not sure I’ll be in the mood for two Arctic books, though.

I still have a number of books from my TBR stack that I could also read. Perhaps I will finally finish A Conjuring of Light…My goal for today is 10 hours of reading. I think I’ve got enough to keep me interested!

On the snack front, I made an apple scone today and my mom also baked, so there are many treats to sustain me throughout Saturday! I have also done some prep to make a Thai soup for lunch. There’s a two litre of rootbeer open in the fridge, so that will be my ‘indulgence’ of the day.

I am sleeping in today, so who knows when I’ll start reading ^^; Are you participating in the Read-a-thon? Hope everyone has a great day! 

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Celebrating Elizabeth Goudge

Hosted by Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

Back in March, Lory announced she would once again be inviting readers Elizabeth Goudgeto celebrate the birthday of Elizabeth Goudge by reading one of her works and sharing their thoughts. I hadn’t heard of Goudge, so I ventured over to Wikipedia and learnt that one of the works she is most known for is called The Little White Horse, a children’s novel I would classify as a mix between historical and fantasy. Although this book won’t appeal to everyone due to its particular tone and simple plot, I found it a comforting read.

When orphaned young Maria Merryweather arrives at Moonacre Manor, she feels as if she’s entered Paradise. Her new guardian, her uncle Sir Benjamin, is kind and funny; the Manor itself feels like home right away; and every person and animal she meets is like an old friend. But there is something incredibly sad beneath all of this beauty and comfort—a tragedy that happened years ago, shadowing Moonacre Manor and the town around it—and Maria is determined to learn about it, change it, and give her own life story a happy ending. But what can one solitary girl do?

This book kept me grounded this week. I had just begun to take my apartment search to the next level by scheduling a few viewings. I had always known this would be the most stressful part of the ‘getting into grad school’ process. Starting the search made that really sink. The point being, I read The Little White Horse when my mind was all abuzz with concerns of practical adult life. Although I found it difficult at times to focus, this lovely little tale kept me grounded by being the just what I needed to put my head in the clouds. 😉

Despite the title, the ‘little white horse’ plays only a small role in the story. The conflict stems from historical family feuds, with Maria stepping into the role of the one who can finally set everything right. That story is simple enough and resolved relatively easily. What I enjoyed most about this book are the descriptions of the Kindgom of Moonacre. Maria finds herself in a wonderful world, tucked away in its own corner of England. I think many lovers of fantasy would be happy to trade places with Maria, to experience the decorated manor, homecooked meals, and beautiful woodlands would appreciate the scenes depicted in this book. Illustrations by C. Walter Hodges compliment the mood of the story. I particularly liked the map of Moonacre Manor.

Some aspects of the story feel dated. 10 year old me, accustomed to the middle grade fantasies of the nineties, probably wouldn’t have enjoyed this book.  There is some emphasis on God, and womanly duties (though Maria certainly isn’t constrained by them – I think she exemplifies how a character can be feminine and still a hero). The talk of marriage between Maria and Robin felt a bit out of place. But these things all gave the book a unique sort of charm, different from the sorts of contemporary fantasies I read today.

I’m glad I picked up this book. This is one of those little gems I wouldn’t have stumbled upon without book blogging. Goudge has a number of other novels, including more children’s. I wonder how her other works compare to this one… Have you read anything by Elizabeth Goudge? Check out Lory’s blog tomorrow (Friday) for a wrap-up of Goudge Reading Day posts. 

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Returning to Cambodia in Vaddey Ratner’s Music of the Ghosts

Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner

Music of the GhostsFormat/Source: eBook/Netgalley
Published: 11 April 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Fiction/historical
Rating: ★★★★½
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I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Leaving the safety of America, Teera returns to Cambodia for the first time since her harrowing escape as a child refugee. She carries a letter from a man who mysteriously signs himself as “the Old Musician” and claims to have known her father in the Khmer Rouge prison where he disappeared twenty-five years ago.

In Phnom Penh, Teera finds a society still in turmoil, where perpetrators and survivors of unfathomable violence live side by side, striving to mend their still beloved country. She meets a young doctor who begins to open her heart, immerses herself in long-buried memories and prepares to learn her father’s fate.

Meanwhile, the Old Musician, who earns his modest keep playing ceremonial music at a temple, awaits Teera’s visit with great trepidation. He will have to confess the bonds he shared with her parents, the passion with which they all embraced the Khmer Rouge’s illusory promise of a democratic society, and the truth about her father’s end.

Vaddey Ratner, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime of 1970s Cambodia, has penned an extraordinary tale in Music of the Ghosts. She writes with grace about “questions of responsibility, atonement, forgiveness, and justice in the more everyday settings in which survivors find themselves(from the afterword). In exploring such questions, Teera, the Old Musician, and young doctor Narunn reflect on personal identity in the face of immeasurable loss. They have been shaped by survival, when so many of those whom they loved did not survive. Music of the Ghosts is a moving tale of resilience and reconciliation.

I have not read Ratner’s first book, In the Shade of the Banyan Tree, but I am certain this book must be a worthy successor. The first aspect of this book that struck me was the vivid prose. Ratner writes with a particular cadence that soothed me from the beginning, despite the subject matter. She does an excellent job at setting a scene. One small scene in particular stood out to me. She described two young monks practicing English at a temple, with a storm approaching. I could hear the sounds she described – rarely do I find prose that successfully reaches beyond the visual to the auditory for me.

The characters are what really gives life to the prose. I found Music of the Ghosts to be a deeply powerful and moving tale. Teera in particular tugged at my heartstrings and brought a few tears to my eyes. She felt like a real woman to me, not a stone cold caricature of a ‘strong’ one. I adored Narunn, a sincere man trying to do the best with what he has. These characters will draw out your compassion. Teera’s dealing with the complexities of survivor’s guilt moved me. In one scene, she wants to stop her car and give money to numerous beggars on the street, in a location so far from anything she can’t imagine how they’re surviving out there. I felt as Teera did in this moment – how can I have so much when others have so little?

The character’s past connections to the Khmer Rouge (as either perpetrators or victims) demonstrate how good and evil cannot be simplified to black and white. The lines between victim and perpetrator can blur. A person can easily shift from being one to the other. Partway through chapter three, I already found the story to be very intense in this manner. Later on in the book, I had a moment of, “Imagine if everyone listened.” What if we listened to voices other than our own? If everyone heard the voices that are too often silenced or ignored? Reading a good story, like this one, can so easily teach empathy to an open mind. Through reading, we can learn about what we didn’t know we didn’t know. This concept, I think, is part of the reason why reading own voices is so important.

I have one mild criticism of the book. The story feels a bit dry at times. I wondered when Teera’s story would pick up again. I set the book aside for a few days, not feeling any rush to finish. But the haunting tale pulled me back as I wondered what the Old Musician would reveal to Teera.

The Bottom Line:

On her website, Ratner notes that Music of the Ghosts address universally significant questions such as, “How do we account for the crimes we have committed knowingly, and for the suffering we contribute to perhaps without knowing? What does it take to atone? What is possible to forgive?” Music of the Ghosts clear and emotional take on these questions make it a read worth your time.

Further Reading:

Read Diverse 2017

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TBR – On the Side Table

I have a little table in my reading nook where I pile up my high priority TBRs. This pile is usually two or three books high. Mostly it consists of new releases I’m excited about or library books due back soon. Lately, the pile has grown faster than I can keep up with it so I thought I’d do a run down of what’s waiting for me. The stack in the photo below is sorted by source: borrowed (from a friend), borrowed (from the library), and owned.

April on the side table

  • When Breathe Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (friend) – I’ve been interested in this book since it was released. I think it will add another unique perspective to the books I’ve read on mortality and death.
  • Birdie by Tracey Lindberg (friend) – Added to be my TBR because it’s Indigenous Canadian literature and was a choice for 2016 Canada Reads.
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (library) – A book I really need to get around to reading.
  • The Midnight Sun by Cecilia Ekbäck
    (library) – New release from the author of Wolf Winter! My library has labelled this Canadian…not sure how accurate that is? I know the author lives in Alberta now.
  • The Anchoress by Robyn Cadwaller (library) – This has been on my TBR for awhile because I heard it has a similar atmosphere to Burial Rites. Recently I’ve been in the mood for a story like that.
  • If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (own) – One of two books I bought the day my sister had 40% off at work. An own voices narrative about a transgender teenager.
  • A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab (own) – The final book in the Shades of Magic trilogy. I received this for my birthday at the end of February ^^; My bff has finished it and wasn’t overly enthusiastic about it, so I’m not feeling very motivated…
  • When the Moon Was Ours by Anne-Marie Mclemore (own) – This book received a lot of praise in the book blogging community and I am excited to check it out (magical realism + Pakistani trans MC + gorgeous purple cover). I won a copy from Monika @ Lovely Bookshelf.
  • Drift & Dagger by Kendall Kulper (own) – Companion novel to Salt & StormI won an annotated copy from Kendall back in October. Then Cybils happened and I kept having other reading priorities these past few months. I think I can promise to finish before the end of June….
  • Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan Mcguire (own) – The other book I purchased on my sister’s discount. Another book I’m excited to read because of blogger buzz, a gorgeous cover and an ace MC.

Which books would you prioritize out of this list? How are you managing your physical TBR at the moment?

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Will I See? A Graphic Novel about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

Will I SeeAuthor: David A. Alexander Robertson
Illustrator: GMB Chomichuk
Title: Will I See?
Format/Source: Paperback/Purchased
Published: March 2017
Publisher: Highwater Press
Genre: Graphic novel
Rating: ★★★★
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May, a young teenage girl, traverses the city streets, finding keepsakes in different places along her journey. When May and her kookum make these keepsakes into a necklace, it opens a world of danger and fantasy. While May fights against a terrible reality, she learns that there is strength in the spirit of those that have passed. But will that strength be able to save her?

How many graphic novels have been written about missing and murdered Indigenous woman (MMIW)? I am aware of two, both written by local Cree author David A. Robertson. Highwater Press published Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story in 2015. Helen was 19 years old when she was violently abducted and murdered in the 1970s. Robertson has commented, “Her story is one of the first times that, as a country and as a province of Manitoba, we became aware of things that were happening with our Indigenous women” (HuffPost). Now Robertson has collaborated with one of my favourite local comic illustrators, GMB Chomichuk, to create a graphic novel based on a story by IsKwé (a singer with Cree, Dené and Irish roots).

I attended the book’s Winnipeg launch last month, where I learnt a lot about the book’s collaborative creation. IsKwé contacted Robertson because she was interested in an illustrated video for one of her songs, and the collaboration eventually grew to a graphic novel. Two songs by IsKwé inspired Will I See?. She wrote the songs in response to the 2015 murder of Tina Fontaine, a young Indigenous girl. I had the privilege of hearing IsKwé perform “Nobody Knows” at the launch. You know when a friend goes on and on about how some song is so great, they loved it, it’s the best, and you say “Sure, I’m sure it’s nice”, but you think to yourself it’s probably just the same as any other good song? That’s how I felt listening to Robertson and Chomichuk discuss “Nobody Knows”. But then I heard IsKwé perform it and whoa. I was blown away. The power and emotion that came out of her was incredible. I don’t think I’d ever heard another song like it.

 

Chomichuk’s gritty black and white images suit the story’s mood. He is known for more fantastical illustrations, often featuring monsters you’re glad don’t exist in real life. There are still monsters to illustrate in Will I See?, ones that are more terrifying because they do exist. Chomichuk touched on this in discussion at the launch. How do you illustrate real life monsters? Those monsters, the men, are never depicted too clearly. Red is used sparingly to great impact throughout the gray scale pages. Will I See‘s images pack a punch and though they can be disturbing, I think/hope most readers will not find them too graphic.

I don’t have much to say about the story itself that the description above doesn’t cover. This is a short story, and I don’t want to spoil it with too many words. The story is naturally dark because of its subject matter. The narration style and panel layouts meant it took me a few reads to feel like I really understood what the story was about. It doesn’t offer false hope (the tragedy of MMIW will not be resolved over night), but there is positivity in the relationship between May and her kookum (grandmother).  Notes in the back provide details on spirit animals, the seven teachings, and medicine bags. For readers who may just be beginning to learn about MMIW, a more detailed afterword may have been helpful.

The Bottom Line:

A graphic novel about missing and murdered Indigenous women is not going to be your easiest read. But Will I See? offers a vivid story and a strong way to open up discussion of a topic that should not be ignored.

Further Reading:

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Read Diverse 2017
This review counts towards the Read Diverse 2017 challenge!