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.

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!

Book Review: That Inevitable Victorian Thing

victorianThat Inevitable Victorian Thing
by E. K. Johnston
Fiction/Alternate History
327 pages
Published 2017

Representation, bitches! This book features a bisexual, intersex young woman. (I say woman, because she is female-presenting and uses female pronouns.) It also features a not-quite-love-triangle that turns into something more like polyamory. (Sorry, that’s a bit of a spoiler, but you can see it coming from a mile away, and the cover description heavily implies the same.)

It’s not realistic in the least – everything falls together nicely and it’s a bit of a “princess saves the day by virtue of being a princess” kind of plot. But the twist on the history is a very pleasant one – and making the British Empire an Empire that values diversity and the melding of cultures and not looking down on anyone because they’re different is a really nice change of pace. It’s a WONDERFUL bit of escapist fantasy given today’s world, I have to say.

I’d actually really like to see the darker side of this same world explored. One of the main plot points in the book is that there is a computer database of genetics. Everyone in the British Empire, when they turn 18, is encouraged to have their DNA sequenced and entered into the computer to find good genetic matches. They then have the opportunity to chat with those matches and eventually meet them. It’s accepted custom, and you’re definitely viewed as odd if you choose NOT to do it, though Helena’s parents were a love match and never had their DNA matched through the computer. Helena’s love interest is a boy she grew up with, she really only ran her DNA through the computer for kicks. So it’s not mandatory – except for royals. But that this computer and database exists leaves room for a darker side. What about genetic modification? Forced marriages for certain genetic outcomes? That has to be happening somewhere. That Inevitable Victorian Thing really only looked at the fun, light-hearted, good uses of this technology. I’d love to see the other side.

Oh – while the book definitely has a Victorian flavor, it’s definitely set in modern day, or perhaps a little past. It’s not Victorian era.

Fun little book. A good escape from a racist, homophobic world to a more diverse, accepting one. But a little TOO fluffy bunny for my personal tastes.

The book is set entirely in Ontario, making it part of my Read Canadian Challenge. You can find the rest of my Read Canadian books here:
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. this book!
9. All The Rage
10. The Clothesline Swing
11. Saints and Misfits
12. Tomboy Survival Guide
13. The Wolves of Winter

From the cover of That Inevitable Victorian Thing:

Set in a near-future world where the British Empire never fell – a surprising, romantic, and thought-provoking story of love, duty, and the small moments that change people and the world.

Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the Empire, a descendant of Queen Victoria I. The traditions of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage and a life of duty. But first she’ll have one summer of freedom in a far corner of the Empire. Posing as a commoner in Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the Empire’s greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir to a powerful shipping firm besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and raucous country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an extraordinary bond and maybe a one-in-a-million chance to have what they want and to change the course of history in the process.

Book Review: Next Year, For Sure

nextyearNext Year, For Sure
Zoey Leigh Peterson
Fiction
241 pages
Published 2017

(WARNING: SPOILERS AT THE END OF THE REVIEW)

I’ve been procrastinating on this review because I’m not 100% sure how I feel about this book. I liked it – but I didn’t. It was not at ALL my normal style of book, but it is about a topic near and dear to my heart. It was very realistic but also relied heavily on a stereotype.

So first off, Next Year, For Sure is about a couple opening up their relationship. Not just to casual sex, but to actual other relationships. (It’s called polyamory, though the word is never mentioned in the book.) Kathryn and Chris have been together for 9 years and have what everyone would call the perfect relationship. And they really do. But then Chris gets a crush, and Kathryn encourages him to follow up on it. The rest of the book is the year following this event, and how it affects their relationship.

I’ve mentioned previously that I am polyamorous – coincidentally, we opened up our relationship almost nine years in, but not because he had a crush. It was mostly because my husband is bisexual, and I wanted him to have the freedom to explore that. We’d been introduced to the concept by some friends of ours, and had discussed it for almost three years before officially opening up. So we had a lot more communication and preparation than the couple in the book did. However, the emotions that Kathryn goes through as Chris explores his new relationship are very, very accurate. We did not have the same end result as the couple in the book do (Spoiler: that’s a good thing!) but the feelings and thoughts that Kathryn has for a large part of the book I am intimately familiar with. Even down to the time she spends very, very sick when her husband is out of town with the other woman. That actually happened to me. I could have called him home (he was a three hour drive away) and on later reflection, all parties concerned agreed that I SHOULD have. (He did not realize how sick I was until he got home a few days later.) So it was really interesting watching all this play out in the book when so much of it felt so familiar.

I was, however, extremely disappointed with how the book ended. I feel a bit like I’m missing the last third of the book. I don’t feel like there was any closure, more like the author simply got tired of writing and just – stopped.

Quick digression before getting to the spoilers: the author is Canadian, so this book is part of my Read Canadian Challenge. You can find the rest here:
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. this book!
8. That Inevitable Victorian Thing
9. All The Rage
10. The Clothesline Swing
11. Saints and Misfits
12. Tomboy Survival Guide
13. The Wolves of Winter

(SPOILERS FOLLOWING)

Another thing I was extremely disappointed by is Peterson falls back on the stereotype that opening up doesn’t work – that the first relationship doesn’t last in poly. Chris and Kathryn break up, though they remain friends. That bothers me. Some of the most solid relationships I know of are poly couples – one is actually a triad, and has been for several years. At least two others are LONGtime couples, where each partner has other partners. My husband has been with his other partner for almost four years now. We’ve had a couple of rough spots, ironing out how this works for us, but we’ve never come close to breaking up. So it’s frustrating to see a novel that treats poly in an otherwise positive light relying on an old stereotype of breaking up the founding couple. It just feeds into “obviously something is wrong in the relationship if they’re looking elsewhere.” So while the portrayals of emotions involved in opening up are SO. SPOT. ON. I find it really hard to recommend this book because of how it ultimately misrepresents something that has so little representation in media to begin with. I kind of wanted to throw the book across the room, to be honest.

Final verdict – it’s good. It’s probably worth reading, especially if you’re poly. But the ending SUCKS.

In typing the jacket description up, I was reminded of a few other things. One: the book alternates between Kathryn’s perspective and Chris’s perspective, but never gives us Emily’s perspective, and that’s a problem. There are three people in this relationship, not two. Also I’m a bit peeved at the last line of the description – it implies that true openness and transformation require the breakup at the end of the book, and that is not at ALL true. Again with the bad stereotypes!

From the cover of Next Year, For Sure:

After nine years together, Kathryn and Chris have the sort of relationship most would envy – warm and loving and deeply intertwined. But, as content as they are together, an enduring loneliness continues to haunt the dark corners of their relationship. When Chris tells Kathryn about his attraction to Emily, a vivacious young woman he sees often at the laundromat, Kathryn encourages him to ask her out on a date – certain that her bond with Chris is strong enough to weather whatever may come.

Next Year, For Sure tracks the tumultuous, revelatory, and often very funny year that follows. When Chris’s romance with Emily evolves beyond what anyone anticipated, both Chris and Kathryn are invited into Emily’s communal home, where Kathryn will discover new possibilities of her own. In the confusions, passions, and upheavals of their new lives, Kathryn and Chris are forced to reconsider their past and what they thought they knew about love.

Offering a luminous portrait of a relationship from two perspectives, Zoey Leigh Peterson has written an empathic, beautiful, and tremendously honest novel about a great love pushed to the edge. Deeply poignant and hugely entertaining, Next Year, For Sure shows us what true openness and transformation require.