Book Review: The Wolves of Winter

wolves of winterThe Wolves of Winter
by Tyrell Johnson
Dystopia/post-apocalypse
310 pages
Published January 2018

First off, I love this cover. Second, I am somewhat amused that Canadian dystopias always blame the US for the end of the world. It’s always, always, because the US decided to be stupid. I can’t blame them. It’s perfectly realistic. But it is slightly amusing. In the case of The Wolves of Winter, the US carried its War on Terror too far and started nuclear war. It’s unclear how widespread the nuclear winter is; the book is based in the Canadian Yukon where it’s already cold. There’s a brief mention of farmers farther south, so there is still some warmth somewhere. What really did humanity in, though, was the Asian flu. There’s rumor that it was a biological weapon deployed by the US, that then escaped their control, but no one’s really sure.

Lynn – Gwendolynn – lives in a small compound in the Yukon with her mother, brother, uncle, and uncle’s ward. (The son of his best friend – I’m inclined to believe he’s actually the son of the uncle’s lover, but nothing was actually verified.) The only other human they’ve seen in years is their scumbag neighbor who occasionally steals deer out of Lynn’s traps.

Until one day, while out hunting, Lynn comes across the mysterious Jax and his husky, Wolf. She brings him home for food and to tend his wound, and while her family is initially very wary of him, he starts to fit in. And then, of course, the brown stuff hits the fan.

I really enjoyed Lynn and her family. In flashbacks we see them before the flu, before they had to be survivors. I got the feeling her father always saw this coming, and was preparing her for it long before it actually happened. Lynn’s memories of her father are particularly vivid and help to explain exactly how she’s become who she is now.

I really enjoyed this book and read it in a single sitting, but I really like dystopias and winter settings. Ultimately, it’s a pretty average nuclear winter dystopia.

This is the 13th book for my Read Canadian Challenge, so while I do have more Canadian books I plan to read (I just picked up The Young in One Another’s Arms from the library!) I am actually done with the challenge! This also fits the “book about the outdoors or environment” prompt for my Litsy Booked 2018 challenge.

My other Canadian reviews:
1. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
2. The Red Winter Trilogy
3. Station Eleven
4. The Courier
5. The Last Neanderthal
6. American War
7. Next Year, For Sure
8. That Inevitable Victorian Thing
9. All The Rage
10. The Clothesline Swing
11. Saints and Misfits
12. Tomboy Survival Guide
13. this book!

From the cover of The Wolves of Winter:

In a postapocalyptic tradition that spans The Hunger Games and Station Eleven but blazes its own distinctive path, this captivating tale shows humanity pushed beyond its breaking point and features a heroic young woman who crosses a frozen landscape to find her destiny.

Forget the old days. Forget summer. Forget warmth. Forget anything that doesn’t help you survive in the endless white wilderness beyond the edges of a fallen world. Lynn McBride has learned much since society collapsed in the face of nuclear war and the relentless spread of disease. As the memories of her old life continue to haunt, she’s been forced to forge ahead in the snow-drifted Canadian Yukon, learning how to hunt and trap and slaughter. 

But her fragile existence is about to be shattered. Shadows of “the world before” have found her tiny community – most prominently in the enigmatic figure of Jax, who brings with him dark secrets of the past and sets in motion a chain of events that will call Lynn to a role she never imagined.

A stunning debut novel that delivers unforgettable images, The Wolves of Winter reminds us that when everything else is lost there are still things to fight for.

 

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Book Review: Tomboy Survival Guide

tomboy survival guideTomboy Survival Guide
by Ivan Coyote
Memoir
208 pages
Published 2016

This is the second book I read for my personal 24 in 48 challenge, and it was excellent. Ivan is a natural storyteller – each chapter flows seamlessly into the next, even though each is a separate vignette from their life, and they aren’t chronological. I was never confused about where in the timeline we were; it was just like they were sitting down telling stories about their life, and that naturally ebbs and flows as people are reminded of different things that have happened to them.

It’s not really fully clear whether Ivan is a transman, or simply non-binary, not that it should matter. They use they/them pronouns, and straddle the androgynous line enough that bathrooms and dressing rooms are a constant issue for them, one they touch on repeatedly through the book. Maybe if our bathrooms weren’t so binary-focused, it wouldn’t be as much of an issue when someone is gender-nonconforming!

The book moves between stories of Ivan’s childhood in small-town Canada, their realization they are attracted to women, their experiences in largely male-dominated career fields, and their actual career as an author and public speaker. They talk about how their own family has been supportive of their transition (mostly) and how other parents have written them letters asking how to be supportive of their non-cisgender children. There are scenes of strangers being supportive, and scenes of shocking discrimination and transphobia.

The book is, overall, excellent, and a good introductory look at the life of a non-binary person. Ivan has written several other books, and I definitely want to track down Gender Failure, which they co-wrote with another non-binary person about, well, gender failure!

Ivan Coyote is Canadian, making this one of my Read Canadian Challenge books.

My other Canadian reviews:
1. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
2. The Red Winter Trilogy
3. Station Eleven
4. The Courier
5. The Last Neanderthal
6. American War
7. Next Year, For Sure
8. That Inevitable Victorian Thing
9. All The Rage
10. The Clothesline Swing
11. Saints and Misfits
12. this book!
13. The Wolves of Winter

From the cover of Tomboy Survival Guide:

Ivan Coyote is a celebrated storyteller and the author of ten previous books, including Gender Failure(with Rae Spoon) and One in Every Crowd, a collection for LGBT youth. Tomboy Survival Guide is a funny and moving memoir told in stories, in which Ivan recounts the pleasures and difficulties of growing up a tomboy in Canada’s Yukon, and how they learned to embrace their tomboy past while carving out a space for those of us who don’t fit neatly into boxes or identities or labels.

Ivan writes movingly about many firsts: the first time they were mistaken for a boy; the first time they purposely discarded their bikini top so they could join the boys at the local swimming pool; and the first time they were chastised for using the women’s washroom. Ivan also explores their years as a young butch, dealing with new infatuations and old baggage, and life as a gender-box-defying adult, in which they offer advice to young people while seeking guidance from others. (And for tomboys in training, there are even directions on building your very own unicorn trap.)

Tomboy Survival Guide warmly recounts Ivan’s adventures and mishaps as a diffident yet free-spirited tomboy, and maps their journey through treacherous gender landscapes and a maze of labels that don’t quite stick, to a place of self-acceptance and an authentic and personal strength. These heartfelt, funny, and moving stories are about the culture of difference—a “guide” to being true to one’s self.

Book Review: Saints and Misfits

saintsSaints and Misfits
S. K. Ali
Young Adult
325 pages
Published June 2017

Yet another debut novel that I loved! Saints and Misfits covers a few months in the life of Janna, a Muslim high school student. It opens with her assault by “the monster” as she names him, a well-respected Muslim boy at her mosque. The book covers some normal high school events – finding out her crush likes her back, sneaking up to the roof of the school to talk to her best friend, struggling with her parents not understanding her – but also involves things unique to her experience. She has to exist in the same spaces as her assailant, and she’s better at it some times than others. She has to find a way to deal with leaked photos of her in gym class without her hijab. (Her gym classes aren’t co-ed, so it’s okay to be without her hijab – it’s not okay for men to see her that way.) Meanwhile, she’s playing chaperone for her brother’s courtship, and being forced to share a room with her mother because her brother is moving back in with them.

It’s an interesting, fairly light read about a culture Americans like to demonize, and a topic that doesn’t get enough attention. I enjoyed Janna’s personality and determination, and her relationship with the senior citizen she helps take care of down the hall.

I liked the ending. It showed her slowly building up the courage to confront her assailant, and then doing so. While we didn’t get a concrete resolution, it was strongly implied, and I’m okay with that.

S.K. Ali is based in Toronto, so this book is part of my Read Canadian Challenge.

My other Canadian reviews:
1. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
2. The Red Winter Trilogy
3. Station Eleven
4. The Courier
5. The Last Neanderthal
6. American War
7. Next Year, For Sure
8. That Inevitable Victorian Thing
9. All The Rage
10. The Clothesline Swing
11. this book!
12. Tomboy Survival Guide
13. The Wolves of Winter

From the cover of Saints and Misfits:

There are three kinds of people in my world:

1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least, I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.

2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me–the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand-new family or in the leftover one composed of Mom and my older brother, Mama’s-Boy-Muhammad.

Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, Janna and Jeremy sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds.

But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?

3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories.

Like the monster at my mosque.

People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody has seen under the mask.

Except me.

Book Review: The Clothesline Swing

clothesline swingThe Clothesline Swing
Ahmad Danny Ramadan
Fictional Memoir?
288 pages
Published April 2017

I had to force myself to finish this book. It was okay at the beginning – I was hoping it would get better, and it did not. The Clothesline Swing is the the story of two gay Syrian refugees. It’s an interesting framework; the narrator, one of the two, is telling stories to his husband to keep him in the world of the living. (The husband is dying from an unnamed illness.) There’s a catch, though – Death is also with them, as an actual presence that can be talked to and interacted with. He smokes a joint with the narrator at one point, and tells stories of his own – even plans a party – at another point. The story flicks back and forth between their past and their present with some unpredictability as the narrator tells his stories.

Because of the presence of Death, and the kind of hazy, in-between space that the stories reside in (between life and death, between awake and asleep, between fantasy and reality), the entire book is a little dream-like. I don’t particularly enjoy ever-shifting books that don’t have some kind of solid foundation for me to start on.

The book did a good job of showing the dangers of being gay in middle-eastern society, and also showed how hard it is to be a citizen of a country at war with itself. The list of friends who have died in violent ways is threaded through the entire book of stories. She was caught in a crossfire in an alley – he killed himself after being forced to marry a woman – he died when his office was shelled – she died from a car bomb.

I don’t know. It’s a strange book. I’m hesitant to say don’t waste your time, because it covers important topics, but the dreamy quality just ruined it for me.

Ramadan is a Syrian refugee living in British Columbia, making this book part of my Read Canadian Challenge. It’s also my pick for “book about death or mourning” for the Popsugar 2018 challenge, and “unconventional romance” for the Litsy Booked Challenge.

My other Canadian reviews:
1. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
2. The Red Winter Trilogy
3. Station Eleven
4. The Courier
5. The Last Neanderthal
6. American War
7. Next Year, For Sure
8. That Inevitable Victorian Thing
9. All The Rage
10. this book!
11. Saints and Misfits
12. Tomboy Survival Guide
13. The Wolves of Winter

From the cover of The Clothesline Swing:

The Clothesline Swing is a journey through the troublesome aftermath of the Arab Spring. A former Syrian refugee himself, Ramadan unveils an enthralling tale of courage that weaves through the mountains of Syria, the valleys of Lebanon, the encircling seas of Turkey, the heat of Egypt and finally, the hope of a new home in Canada.

Inspired by One Thousand and One Nights, The Clothesline Swing tells the epic story of two lovers anchored to the memory of a dying Syria. One is a Hakawati, a storyteller, keeping life in forward motion by relaying remembered fables to his dying partner. Each night he weaves stories of his childhood in Damascus, of the cruelty he has endured for his sexuality, of leaving home, of war, of his fated meeting with his lover. Meanwhile Death himself, in his dark cloak, shares the house with the two men, eavesdropping on their secrets as he awaits their final undoing.

Book Review: All The Rage

alltherageAll The Rage
Courtney Summers
Young Adult fiction
337 pages
Published 2015

Wow. I finished this book, sat back, and stared at it in silence for a while. This is an emotional wringer of a book that more people should read. It’s also full of trauma triggers, so beware.

Trigger Warning. Rape and Recovery.

All The Rage is about a girl. It’s about rape culture. It’s about her trauma, and the aftermath. The book flashes back and forth a little – it includes a triggered flashback to her rape, and her memories of it. The font choices show how mixed up she is sometimes, and how hard it is for her to tell what’s really happening, what is a memory, and what is a flashback. Her rape is never written about in high detail. One Goodreads reviewer made a good point – the details being scant makes the shadows larger for the devil to hide in. (Her review is is posted in full on her blog, and it’s a powerful one.)

The book was an easy read, technically – I read it in an afternoon – but it was a very hard read, emotionally and mentally. The main character, Romy, talks about how no one prepares girls for this, and she’s right. As a society, we don’t. We tell girls how to avoid those kinds of situations, but not what to do when actually IN them. Or how to determine the best course of action. Because surviving an attack is usually the priority, and screaming and fighting isn’t always the best way to do that. Romy froze, and she blames herself for the failure to fight. But she also blames society for not teaching girls what to do. And once the unthinkable has happened, society abandons the victims. That was one of the hardest parts of the book – the victim-blaming. No one believes Romy. They call her a slut and a liar. Her high school classmates do horrible things to her.

The book is dark, but there are points of light. Leon is a coworker at the diner, and he’s sweet on Romy. The book uses the relationship to show how rape can affect any future intimacy. Romy can’t trust him, because her rapist seemed sweet, too. Until he wasn’t. Romy’s mother and mother’s boyfriend are both supportive, caring, and loving. They don’t understand what she’s going through, mostly because Romy won’t tell them, but they do their best anyway.

All The Rage is a really good book. It’s also a very important book, and personally I think it should be required reading in high school. (That will never happen, it’s too graphic and would offend parents, I’m sure. But it should.) If it’s something you’ve experienced personally, it’s very triggery and should maybe be avoided. But if it isn’t? Read this book. You need to know.

(The author of All The Rage is Canadian, which I didn’t realize until I was reading the blurb on the back, so this counts for my Read Canadian Challenge. Rape Culture is also a major problem facing the world today, so I’m counting this as “A book about a problem facing society today” for the PopSugar 2018 Challenge.)

My other Canadian reviews:
1. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
2. The Red Winter Trilogy
3. Station Eleven
4. The Courier
5. The Last Neanderthal
6. American War
7. Next Year, For Sure
8. That Inevitable Victorian Thing
9. this book!
10. The Clothesline Swing
11. Saints and Misfits
12. Tomboy Survival Guide
13. The Wolves of Winter

From the cover of All The Rage:

The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything-friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her name or her past there; she can finally be anonymous. But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time-and they certainly won’t now-but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear.

With a shocking conclusion and writing that will absolutely knock you out, Courtney Summers’ new novel All the Rage examines the shame and silence inflicted upon young women in a culture that refuses to protect them.

The Canada Reads 2018 Longlist is out!

I’ve been looking for more books to finish up my Read Canadian challenge, and conveniently, the Canada Reads 2018 Longlist came out today, January 8th! There are fifteen books on the list, one of which I’ve already read. (American War by Omar El Akkad)

I just put Saints and Misfits on hold at my local library. It’s about a Muslim teen struggling with being sexually assaulted. The Marrow Thieves is another dystopia, in which most of humanity has lost the ability to dream, but the bone marrow of North American Indigenous people can restore it. So it’s being taken. Forcibly. My library also stocks that one, so that’s on my list! Tomboy Survival Guide is a memoir written by someone outside the gender box – and I love reading books about minorities. My library doesn’t have it, but I did find it in the Marina state-wide network. So it should be getting shipped to my library eventually! I’d like to read Out Standing In The Field, the memoir of Canada’s first female infantry officer, but neither my library nor the Marina network has it. I’ll keep an eye on it. The Clothesline Swing is about a pair of gay Syrian refugees, and Marina has it. I’m also interested in Mark Sakamoto’s Forgiveness: A Gift From My Grandparents, about his grandparents’ lives. One was a prisoner of war in Japan in WWII, while the other was a Japanese-Canadian sent to an internment camp in Canada during the same period. It’s not available through my library, though. Who knows? By the time I finish the ones that are available through the state system, the others might be, too.

The rest of the Longlist:

Several of these sound interesting, too – Seven Fallen Feathers is about racism and First Nations peoples. Dance, Gladys, Dance is apparently a humorous book about a woman and a ghost. The Measure of a Man is about a tailor remaking his father’s suit to fit himself. Scarborough is about a poor neighborhood, Precious Cargo about a man’s experiences driving a school bus of special needs kids. Brother is another book about racism, masculinity, and inner city violence. Suzanne is a portrait of the author’s grandmother, and The Boat People is the story of a boat full of Sri Lankan refugees that lands in Canada.

I’m excited to knock out the rest of the Read Canadian Challenge. I wasn’t really sure what to read next, so the Longlist coming out was EXCELLENT timing!