Canada Reads 2020: Reading, Reviewing and Discussing

Canada Reads is a yearly competition where 20(ish?) Canadian authors are selected to compete as the one book all of Canada should read. Those books are narrowed down to 5 to meet the years theme: One book to bring Canada into focus. This is clearly a very vague description, but I suppose it isn’t meant to be very specific. Still, the goal is to have them defended in a public debate setting. Note: the debates have been postponed pending the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

A friend shared the announcement of this with me back in January. I had just started my YouTube channel, and I got super excited at the idea of doing a video about them! I’m a graduate student from the States living in Canada. I’ve been here for nearly four years, and I thought it would be fun to familiarize myself with more Canadian authors.

I decided to treat this like a “readathon” where my goal was to read them all in the first week of March. In the end, I think it took 8 or 9 days, but that was good enough! Above, you can watch my vlog of the experience where I discuss my thoughts as I read them as well as my overall thoughts on who I think should win. It was a fantastic experience. I loved all of these books, and I am so glad I decided to read these. Part of me worried that this type of literary competition might consist of very cerebral books that might be a bit taxing to read in one week (back to back). Overall, I don’t think they were.

I found most of these books to be very accessible and a delight to read. I’m going to provide a review of each below with some context as to how well I think they satisfy the “theme” of the year. Then I’ll do a final discussion of who I think should win at the end of the blog.

Alayna Fender defending Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles

This is a story about a small town in Newfoundland (I think). It centers around a group of people who work or go to this restaurant in the town. The long and the short of it, this is a novel about toxic masculinity, gas-lighting, and other forms of mental and physical abuse. It touches on blame and mental health and the effect our actions have on those around us.

This was the hardest novel I read for this challenge. I found myself being as intrigued as I was infuriated. The writing was so weird and confusing at first. Coles uses the local dialect which is not the easiest to understand. I keep doubting that I read something the right way, and eventually I had to accept reading more causally, not fixating on every weird phrase and hope it comes together (which it did). I stopped noticing it eventually.

The structure is also weird. She essentially starts by focusing on our characters state of minds from the start. Except, she does it without any real context. We’re basically diving into a story midway, and we have to figure out what it is that’s going on. We eventually get the context. Although, it is a fascinating, if confusing, way of telling the story. Cole’s basically starts this by saying, this book is about the mental state and health of our characters. That is the most important aspect.

I really enjoyed the book. I gave it 4/5 stars, but that was a close call. It was actually the only book I considered giving less than 4 stars (spoilers for those reviews). However, I will say that it probably was the most thought provoking book because of how challenging it was.

Akil Augustine defending Radicalized by Cory Doctorow

This was a very fun read. It was a thought provoking set of science fiction novellas. The first is about a capitalist “dystopia” where the poorest pay even to use their own appliances. It was weird story that grew on me. It introduced me to Doctorow’s writing style (which is weird and I like it). The second (I think) was about a superhero (basically Superman) who basically tries to solve the problem of racism and police brutality. I thought this was a fantastic discussion of the idea of a “white savior” and the role of alleys today and in history. The third one was dark. It was a story about people who commit acts of terror against the healthcare system. This walked a fine line between critical critique of our healthcare system and encouraging acts of violence and fear to make change, which really bothered me. The last story was a dystopia about a plague of some sort. It is obviously very poignant given the news. I thought it was a great. It explored the power dynamic of that type of situation.

Overall, I gave this 4/5 stars. I really enjoyed the book, but it felt more American than it did Canadian. It seemed like a giant VOTE BERNIE SANDERS book. I don’t see that being relevant to Canadians. What’s more, even if this was for American’s, if we are looking to inspire a movement, we need a book that raise awareness and change minds. This book is great, but it is speaking to the choir. I don’t see this changing anyone’s beliefs. Does it really fit here? I think not.

Kaniehtiio Horn defending Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

Son of a Trickster is a fiction book about a young indigenous teen in an unstable home who begins to learn about his connections to his heritage. This is a fantasy contemporary book, and I loved it. Eden Robinson is herself indigenous, and I assume uses that to build the dynamic we see in the book. I thought was a good domestic story, and I was really intrigued by the mythological side as well.

Personally, I think this deserves attention. It isn’t just a fun read, it is educational. It brings attention to indigenous issues, but more importantly, it explores of one of the mythological story of the indigenous people. I don’t mean to assert this novel is a complete representation of indigenous people. However, I think it would be good for Canadians to be better familiarized with the culture of the people who were here before. One of the most fundamental traits of a culture is it’s mythologies or religions.

Overall, I think it is a great candidate and a great book. 4/4 stars.

Amanda Brugel defending We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib

I loved this memoir because I felt that I connected with it in a lot of ways. This is about a queer Muslim woman’s experience growing up in Pakistan before moving to Canada. This was a fantastic exploration of life as a woman in very conservative Muslim countries, but it also did a great job exploring what it must be like to be queer. I grew up in a much more privileged position than Habib. However, I too grew up queer in a very religious family. It creates feelings of doubt and confusion.

This is her story of finding peace in her religion. While I hold a much more negative view of religion, I did enjoy hearing her perspective as a queer woman trying to shape Islam to be what she needs it to be. This was also a story of acceptance, and again I found myself relating to her attempts to find acceptance from her family. Our situations are not perfectly aligned (obviously). Although, it was to the point that I was really able to connect with Habib’s story in a way that I could not for any other story. 5/5 stars

George Canyon defending From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle

The last book is another memoir about the life of Jesse Thistle (the author). He is an indigenous Canadian who grew up in a broken home, and this story tracks his life as he tries to grow up with these struggles. It details how these have life long effects on the choices he makes and the places he ends up. This is a dark tale of drug abuse and homelessness, and I felt it was perhaps the most poignant story for that reason. Another thing that stood out to me was the presence of religion in his life. Never do we see him turn to religion, but it was the kind of redemption arc that is easy to believe happens. Although, I feel those types of stories miss out on the true struggle that the person has to go through to recover their life.

This is a full reveal of his life, and I can only imagine how taxing it must have been to reveal some of the things he discusses in this memoir. I really enjoyed it overall. My only complaint was that the writing wasn’t my taste. 4/5 stars.

Who should win?

When we think about which book all Canadians should read it becomes a very complicated question. I’ve already said that Radicalized is not focused on Canadian issues let alone told in a way that would be effective to get people in focus.

Small Game Hunting touches on a world wide issue that has only grown in recent year. That is, issues of gender, patriarchy, and rape culture. I thought it was fantastic. It was probably the most thought provoking, and it is the kind of thing that, even now, not enough people are thinking about. Sadly, I am again forced to ask the question on effectiveness. I thought this novel was difficult to read, and I am not convinced the majority of people would actually stick with it long enough to hear what it has to say. I think we need to focus on a book that every Canadian will consume (or are more likely to).

We Have Always Been Here is much more direct with its message. My issue here is a subjective one. I should be clear, I am no Canadian, merely a graduate student in Canada. What’s more, I am white cis gender male atheist. I am not one to decide which issue outweighs another. However, in my assessment, I don’t think Habib’s memoir brings attention to the area most in need. That is to say, religious and queer freedoms have made great strides.

Personally, I would narrow it down to Son of a Trickster and From the Ashes. I think Robinson’s book is a better book from a writing perspective. It also still focuses on indigenous issues as well as drug abuse (which, to be clear, I am saying is a shared theme between the books not necessarily in the entire community). It also touches on the concept of gender and sexuality in a way that From the Ashes does not. If I had to pick one Canadian to read, it would probably be Son of a Trickster. It is an immersive book that familiarizes Canadians with Indigenous mythology and some of the struggles they have to endure. It is the type of thing I feel would make great foundation for Canadians, perhaps in the classroom.

However, I have to address the fact that this year’s theme is “bring Canada into focus.” What I have done is make an assessment on what I think is most important for Canadians (again, I recognize this isn’t my place), but the theme does restrict exactly what it is they want to accomplish. While it is vague, I can’t help but gravitate to From the Ashes when I think about bringing Canadians into focus. Robinson’s work is the type of background material I think every Canadian should have about the culture that preceded theme. Still, for today’s issues, From the Ashes brings attention to poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, and more. For that reason, it seems like the clear winner.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel ⭐️⭐️⭐️½

I was granted an e-ARC of The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel by the publisher on NetGalley to provide a fair and honest review.

Emily St. John Mandel’s novel is a fictional story that spans decades as we follow a series of characters trying to live their best life. At the center of all of them is the hotel featured in the title, but the moral of the story is one of redemption and second chances. We see our characters dealing with issues around drugs, relationships, and financial issues. In this review, I won’t be going any deeper into the plot; I will only convey my feelings about the book. Although, I will discuss the writing and the structure of the plot.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, but I did not love it. The best thing about the book was St. John Mandel’s writing. I spent the first quarter of the narrative trying to figure out exactly where the story was going. Who are the characters that matter, and what role do the people we are meeting play in the bigger picture. Around ~a third of the way in, our characters begin to piece together. Although, there is still a mystery as to what the issue of the story is all about. Not much later, that too begins to be revealed, and it becomes a bigger look at the implications.

Up to this point, I was engaged and intrigued at the possibilities that awaited us. Although, intricate story telling can only take you so far. When it finally comes together, it all left me feeling wanting. It was like, this is it? This is what everything lead to? It all felt so mundane and trivial. That is to say, the plot just isn’t compelling. The writing made the story more compelling, but that doesn’t save a boring plot.

The character work is great. The way she tells the story is by focusing on each character and letting the plot form around them. That is, we follow them at different points in there life, in a not entirely linear fashion, and it is on the reader to piece together the bigger picture. The act of discovery is exciting. What’s more, it produces well written characters, and even as the mediocre plot came to an end, the character endings were still satisfying. That doesn’t stop there being a disconnect between interesting character stories and a cohesive and compelling story at large.

I go a bit more in depth in my Vlog (post at the top), so you can watch that if you would like more details. Although, that is mostly repeating what I have said here, and the spoilers are mostly contained to a couple minutes. As I said at the start, I enjoyed reading this. I still can’t say it was worth it though. My enjoyment of parts was outweighed by my being bored by the overarching narrative. 3.5/5 stars.

Rating Break Down
Writing Style: 8/10, Plot: 6/10, Characters: 9/10, Ending: 10/10, Engagement: 8/10, Enjoyment: 7/10, Comprehension: 8/10, Pacing: 8/10, Desire to Reread: 0/10, Special: 3/10, Calculated Rating: 3.49/5, Final Rating: 3.5/5
Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance to calculate a final score that is rounded to the nearest half.

Blackathon Book Tag (and Challenge)

The Blackathon Book Tag is a tag created by Jesse at Bowties and Books where you talk about seven books, one of each of the following tags:

  1. Mirror Image: Cover recreation or homage
  2. Slept On: a book no one talks about
  3. Call and Response: A Community Recommendation
  4. #BlackBoyJoy: A lighthearted comfort read
  5. #BlackGirlMagic: SFF with a black protagonist
  6. POSE: Black LGBTQIA+ author or character
  7. My Kitchen: Book covering black mental health and/or disability

This was created for YouTube, but I’ve decided to do a blog post for it as well. Part of the reason I am doing that is because I also used this as my own reading challenge/readathon. The idea is you would pick a book to satisfy each challenge above, and I just used that as the framework for a readathon. Where instead of talking about books I had already read, I choose books too read that I thought would fit.

My goal was to read these 7 books over the course of one week. That didn’t actually happen. My initial plan ended up spanning ~2.5 weeks, and it led to me falling behind in my monthly reading plans. However, I still pushed through and finished the challenge. Below I’ll give a brief review of each book (rather than make a unique post for each.

Mirror Image: Cover recreation or homage

Lagoon was the first novel I read by Nnedi Okorafor, and I absolute loved it. This is the story of an alien visiting Earth in Legos Nigeria. The story was a unique take on the alien invasion/contact idea. What’s more, Okorafor makes use of the Nigerian culture to provide a compelling backstory outside of the main plot. Part of that was the connection of spirituality between our characters, the alien, and life itself. Sometimes, religion can be heavy handed in science fiction, but I thought it was handled well here.

Really the only flaws here was I didn’t absolutely love the characters. It wasn’t a major issue, but some of them were one dimensional. To be clear, I loved the book overall, and I highly recommend it.

Rating Break Down

Writing Style: 9/10, Plot: 8/10, Characters: 8/10, Ending: 9/10, Engagement: 8/10, Enjoyment: 8/10, Comprehension: 8/10, Pacing: 7/10, Desire to Reread: 3/10, Special: 3/10, Calculated Rating: 3.78/5
Final Rating: 4/5

Slept On: a book no one talks about

Let’s Play White was one of my most anticipated books of 2020. It is a collection of horror short stories that explore race in a variety of different ways. That was the best part of this collection, but even with that new look a lot of these stories still felt unoriginal. What’s worse, most of them weren’t scary or creepy (with a couple exceptions). Most of them were just fine.

You might still consider reading this because I don’t think enough horror stories cover the topic of race. Plus, there are good stories, and those that aren’t so good aren’t terrible. I will still be keeping an eye out for more works by Burke because I’m hopeful that maybe her next work might be more consistent throughout.

Rating Break Down

Writing Style: 7/10, Plot: 7/10, Characters: 7/10, Ending: 6/10, Engagement: 7/10, Enjoyment: 7/10, Comprehension: 9/10, Pacing: 7/10, Desire to Reread: 0/10, Special: 0/10, Calculated Rating: 3.345/5

Final Rating: 3.5/5

Call and Response: A Community Recommendation

I loved this book. When I first heard about this concept I was very intrigued. During the Jim Crow (1900’s) thousands (10s?) of black Americans migrated from the south to the north and west to escape segregation and racism. This is a story that does not get told. It is one of (if not the biggest?) migration of Americans in our history, yet it is ignored in our history classes.

That is probably because it reflects on the racism in this time and the harm it and segregation had on black Americans. Wilkerson follows 3 different families as she details these travels. They are meant to represent the different types of people that migrated and the experience they each had. I thought that approach worked really well. We got a diversity of views on how this migration can and did effect families, but it also gave us a few individuals to connect to directly to really relate.

The result is a compelling and fascinating read that I highly recommend to everyone.

Rating Break Down

Writing Style: 10/10, Content: 10/10, Structure: 9/10, Summary: 9/10, Engagement: 8/10, Enjoyment: 8/10, Comprehension: 10/10, Pacing: 8/10, Desire to Reread: 10/10, Special: 10/10, Calculated Rating: 4.6/5
Final Rating: 4.5/5

#BlackBoyJoy: A lighthearted comfort read

Sadly, this was a very disappointment read. Angelou’s first two memoirs were poetic and moving, but her third memoir loses a lot of the charm. Her writing didn’t feel as poetic. What’s more, the story lacked much substance. I don’t want to dismiss her experience; she is still a single black mother trying to make a life for her and her son. However, the story focuses less on her relationship with her son than on a period of her life where she joins a traveling dance act.

It builds nicely on the last memoir where she explores her love of dancing, and the actual main story isn’t that bad. The issues I had was that it was still bland, and the ending felt abrupt. It ends with her leaving the job to return to her son. However, she never really touches on her feelings of being away. It felt like an excuse to change the story. It seems like the kind of thing that should be a more overarching theme. If it was there, clearly it didn’t stand out as a big part of the story.

There are still 3-4 more memoirs in her series, and from what I’ve read, this one is her worst. I’m hopeful for a return to her poetic style in books to come.

#BlackGirlMagic: SFF with a black protagonist

In the first book in Okorafor’s Binti trilogy of novellas, a Nigerian women leaves her home to explore what the galaxy has to offer. I really like this book. Okorafor is a creative science fiction writer who does a great job writing science fiction in a way that is accessible to pretty much anyone. Whats more, she’s written a character that is equal parts intelligent and curious. she makes for a fantastic and strong female protagonist. I can’t wait to read the rest of the books in the series (and her books outside it!).

Rating Break Down
Writing Style: 9/10, Plot: 8/10, Characters: 8/10, Ending: 8/10, Engagement: 10/10, Enjoyment: 9/10, Comprehension: 8/10, Pacing: 8/10, Desire to Reread: 4/10, Special: 0/10, Calculated Rating: 3.91/5, Final Rating: 4/5
Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance to calculate a final score that is rounded to the nearest half.

POSE: Black LGBTQIA+ author or character

This is a classic novel about a young black women who grew up with an abusive father then husband. As she slowly grows to learn more about herself she falls in love with anther women her husband and her are taking care of. It was a poignant narrative from a unique perspective. It’s also set in my home state of Georgia. However, I did struggle to connect with the story and stay engaged. I read this while traveling, and that may have effected how well I retained what I was reading. Overall, I enjoyed this novel. Update June 2020: I’m updating this to a 4 instead of 3.5 star.

Rating Break Down
Writing Style: 8/10, Plot: 8/10, Characters: 10/10, Ending: 9/10, Engagement: 6/10, Enjoyment: 7/10, Comprehension: 7/10, Pacing: 7/10, Desire to Reread: 3/10, Special: 8/10, Final Rating: 4/5
Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance to calculate a final score that is rounded to the nearest half.

My Kitchen: Book covering black mental health and/or disability

This book wasn’t what I was expecting. This is a memoir about a black man who grows up overweight. He eventually loses the weight, but we see how it shapes his mental state well into his adulthood (as well as the troubles associated with being a black man already). His story was profound and well told to boot. 4.5/5 stars.

Rating Break Down
Writing Style: 9/10, Content: 10/10, Structure: 9/10, Summary: 8/10, Engagement: 9/10, Enjoyment: 9/10, Comprehension: 9/10, Pacing: 8/10, Desire to Reread: 5/10, Special: 7/10, Calculated Rating: 4.41/5 Final Rating: 4.5/5
Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance to calculate a final score that is rounded to the nearest half.

Jesse at Bowties and Books doing the Blackathon Book Tag

Not That Bad/Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I loved this collection of Essay’s. This is a powerful set of personally stories that forces the reader to recognize the harm of various actions people often think are essentially “not that bad.” Every story is unique from the last, but one thing is consistent throughout. Every narrative evokes a vivid picture of what each of our writers has gone through. This will likely end up on my top ten books of the year as a beautiful and emotionally fraught book that is guaranteed to strike the reader to the core.

From a personal experience, I left it contemplating my own choices and the effect I have on others. What’s more, it has helped me better live my own life in the choices I make around the things I say and do. For that reason, I loved this book. Because this is a collection of authors writing their own very personal story, I did not break this rating down. Nevertheless, I can only think of positive attributes, and I think these stories really speak to an immense level of courage. 5/5 star

Similarly, I really enjoyed Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. This one felt a lot more lighthearted. There are plenty of serious topics explored here, but Gay’s cavalier way in which she writes is witty, immersive, and at times just down right funny. It has been about half a month since I’ve read it, so sadly a lot of the details are leaving me. Nevertheless, I highly recommend the book. The fact that the details are not coming to mind means I need to reread it! Part of that relates to the wide range of topics she explores.

This is as much a memoir as it is a political statement on a number of different topics. From what I recall, I found myself agreeing with pretty much everything she had to say (or rather no disagreements come to mind).

Writing Style: 10/10
Content: 10/10
Structure: 10/10
Summary: 10/10
Engagement: 8/10
Enjoyment: 10/10
Comprehension: 9/10
Pacing: 8/10
Desire to Reread: 8/10
Special: 10/10
Calculated Rating: 4.78/5
Final Rating: 5/5
Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance to calculate a final score that is rounded to the nearest half.

February Wrap Up & March TBR | 2020

Books I Read in February

  1. The Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
  2. Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
  3. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (Blackathon Cont. Challenge) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
  4. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (Reread) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
  5. Beloved by Toni Morrison (Blackathon Scifi Challenge) ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
  6. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  7. Not That Bad edited by Roxane Gay ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  8. The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  9. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
  10. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (Blackathon Cont. Challenge) ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
  11. Heavy by Kiese Laymon (Blackathon Cont. Challenge) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
  12. Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor (Blackathon Scifi Challenge) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  13. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Blackathon Scifi Challenge) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  14. Lagurdia by Nnedi Okorafor (Blackathon Scifi Challenge) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  15. Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas by Maya Angelou ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  16. March by John Lewis et al. ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
  17. The Color Purple by Alice Walker ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
  18. Let’s Play White by Chesya Burke ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2

This was a great month, I enjoyed all the books I read with a few that were a little disappointing. However, there was a large fraction of 4-5 star books which prove it was an objectively good month of quality reading. If you look back on my February TBR post, you’ll see another ~5 books or so that I wanted to read, and it is disappointing that I wasn’t able to read all of them. Moving forward, I am going to try and take it a bit easier on my plans because I don’t like stressing about the books I want to read. This is meant to be fun.

March TBR

  1. The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
  2. Still: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Motherhood by Emma Hansen*
  3. Female Husbands by Jen Manion
  4. Conjure Women by Afia Atakora
  5. The Other People by C.J. Tudor
  6. The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal
  7. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
  8. Her Bodies and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
  9. Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor
  10. I Crawl Through It by A.S. King
  11. Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire
  12. The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel
  13. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman 
  14. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
  15. Inferno by Ellen Datlow (Backlist readathon)
  16. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (Backlist readathon)
  17. Wenjack by Joseph Boyden (Backlist readathon)

Provided by NetGalley and publisher for a fair and honest review.

*Provided directly by publisher, 

This month, I have several e-arcs that I want to tackle before they are published. I’m also doing a reading challenge of 5 more books (to be released), but I still made this list with the intent of being more conservative. The total number of books I’m aiming to read are ~20 books, but many of them are very short. After this month, I am going to try very hard to read even less. I want to feel a bit less pressure to read so I can spend more time writing my blog posts and doing YouTube videos. I have fallen behind on my blog.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️½

Read 2/6/20 and Reread 2/6/20 – 2/7/20

After reading this, I immediately stopped and started it over again. Toni Morrison is an author I have wanted to read for years, and the only reason I never got around to it was a fear of not being able to comprehend these complicated works of literary fiction. Luckily, I really enjoyed this book. By the end of my first read through, I will admit I felt like I missed some details. I was able to ascertain the overarching points and narrative, but I was still confused a bit by whose who but more so the structure of the novel. The book is presented at points in first person by a seemingly side character. Later, it gives another first person perspective, and a lot of the book in between is third person.

As you might imagine, that was difficult to follow and keep up with. While it may be a disappointing to my past literature teachers, I choose to review some readings aids after I finished the first time to figure out the things I was missing. After I did that, it made a lot more sense. My improved understanding coupled with a genuine desire to get as much as I could out of this novel motivated me to reread the novel. Admittedly, I listened to the audiobook, so it made it easier but also likely made it harder for me to catch all the details the first time around. Although, I think the beauty of audiobooks is that, if you have the time and enjoy the experience (which I did), rereading can be both fun and a great way of retaining more and more details about the books.

The book itself is written beautifully. I could appreciate the poetry in her Morrison’s words even if I struggled to pull all of the meaning, and rereading it helped me better ascertain the meaning. That kind of writing really lends itself to this kind of story. That is to say, a dark narrative about the pain induced by racism and how it can decay a person’s mental health. In this book, we focus on a young black girl whose desperate desire is to have the blue eyes of the white girls she sees being so admired. This is brought on by racism but also hatred and bullying by other minorities for her perceived status and family “ugliness”.

In my video review, I discuss how this racism is still alive today. Despite being set in the great depression, the novel feels all too modern in its content. It is a hard novel to read both mentally and emotionally. Nevertheless, I highly recommend you check it out. There is a reason this novel is so well regarded. It touches on major societal issues in a way that hits you to your core. I highly recommend to everyone.

In the end, I gave the book 4 stars the first time and 4.5./5 stars the second time.

Rating Break Down
Writing Style: 9/10
Plot: 8/10
Characters: 10/10
Ending: 10/10
Engagement: 8/10
Enjoyment: 9/10
Comprehension: 8/10
Pacing: 9/10
Desire to Reread: 3/10
Special: 10/10
Calculated Rating: 4.255/5
Final Rating: 4.5/5 (3.5-4/5 originally)
Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance to calculate a final score that is rounded to the nearest half. 

Battlecry of Freedom by James M. McPherson ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️½

Read 1/31/20 – 2/4/20

The Battle Cry of Freedom is a nonfiction book by James M. McPherson. Coming in at just under 900 pages, it is a massive, one volume outline of the Civil War. The book was fascinating, engaging, and unbelievably informative. I recognize how easy it is to approach this book with a little bit of trepidation. Even ignoring the size, this Pulitzer Prize winner is the 6th in the Oxford History of the United States, and it isn’t hard to imagine all the ways this kind of story could be told in a dull and disengaged manner. McPherson earns the praise, however, as this is amazingly structured and written book.

For me, the biggest flaw was focus on the finer battles throughout the war, but this is a narrative of the Civil War. It is only reasonable that as a piece of the story. I still loved the book because so much time is taken to explore the societal and political changes that lead to the war. Then, he kept the narrative grounded by tying the battles to the greater picture at large. The result is a complete picture of the United States at that time and an depth analysis of the time.

I talk about the details in my Vlog (see above), but I do want to summarize it here. I choose read this book after buying it maybe five years ago when the confederate flag (and monuments) was such a major issue (at least in the south) in the news. As a Georgian, I have always felt I have an obligation to truly understand, remember, and appreciate the past for how it is. It is a common argument from many southerners that honoring the confederacy, its soldiers, and its flag is about heritage and states rights, not slavery.

One doesn’t have to be a historian to figure out that is revisionist history. Nevertheless, I wanted to able to speak on the subject with a more complete background on the topic. The size and content has kept me from reading it, until now, and I am really glad I did because it makes so very clear how the confederacy was entirely about slavery and white supremacy. Hence, we have sects of white supremacy that has pushed to survive since, like a bacteria trying to fight against the antibiotics.

I read this, and made the blog, as a way of reaching out to fellow southerners in hopes of communicating the harm they do when honoring the confederacy. The ways in which racism persists can be subtle, and it requires conscious effort by us to overcome. I read a fascinating article by Toni Morrison briefly after the election of Donald Trump about how white supremacy fueled his election that really illustrates how past racial biases can persist so strongly still today.

I can’t stress enough how impact this book was on me or how important it is that you read it as well. We have to remember history and learn from it. I can’t wait to check out the other books in the Oxford History Series, and I hope you consider checking this one out too (the audiobook was great!).

Rating Break Down
Writing Style (7%): 8/10
Content (15%): 10/10
Structure (15%): 9/10
Summary (1%): 8/10
Engagement (5%): 9/10
Enjoyment (25%): 8/10
Comprehension (20%): 8/10
Pacing (2%): 9/10
Desire to Reread (5%): 8/10
Special (5%): 10/10
Calculated Rating: 4.31/5
Final Rating: 4.50/5
Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance to calculate a final score that is rounded to the nearest half.

January Wrap up & February TBR | 2020

Books I Read in January

  1. Miracle Creek by Angie Kim ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
  2. Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  3. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  4. Robin by Dave Itzkoff ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️½
  5. Scythe by Neal Shusterman ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  6. Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
  7. Underland by Robert Macfarlane ⭐️⭐️
  8. How We Know What Isn’t So by Thomas Gilovich ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  9. If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won’t) by Betty White ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
  10. Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  11. The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  12. The Road by Cormac McCarthy ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  13. Strange Exit by Parker Peevyhouse ⭐️⭐️½
  14. Yes Please by Amy Poehler ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  15. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
  16. The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  17. In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️½
  18. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy ⭐️⭐️
  19. Wilder Girls by Rory Power ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  20. Something Deeply Hidden by Sean Carroll ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  21. The Girl from Nowhere by Eliska Tanszer ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️½

Provided by NetGalley and publisher for a fair and honest review.

This was a great month, but I was worried. I started off slow while I traveled. Then I got the flu for a week. January AYearAthon really saved me (getting me back in the pattern of reading). I think I had a pretty good spread of books. If you saw my 2020 ongoing post, you’ll know I am trying a new rating scheme, and I think it is helping me rate books more concisely. I really like thinking about each piece of it as I think about the score it deserves.
Now, I did DNF two books this month, Underland and The God of Small things. I am still counting them because I was over 70% through them; it was enough. This is another sign of a good start to the year because I can really struggle to DNF a book I am not enjoying or getting into. On top of that, I hit 500 likes on my blog, so exciting! I also started Josh’s Bookish Voyage, my new Booktube channel. I talk all about that in my 2020 reading log as well.

February TBR

  1. The Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson
  2. Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
  3. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (Blackathon Cont. Challenge)
  4. Beloved by Toni Morrison (Blackathon Scifi Challenge)
  5. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
  6. Not that Bad edited by Roxane Gay
  7. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
  8. Joplin’s Ghost by Tananarive Due
  9. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
  10. The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle
  11. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
  12. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (Blackathon Cont. Challenge)
  13. Heavy by Kiese Laymon (Blackathon Cont. Challenge)
  14. Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor (Blackathon Scifi Challenge)
  15. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (Blackathon Scifi Challenge)
  16. Lagurdia by Nnedi Okorafor (Blackathon Scifi Challenge)
  17. Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas by Maya Angelou
  18. March by John Lewis et al.
  19. Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories by Jean Humez
  20. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

You can hear all my thoughts in my video above, but these are the books I am reading this month. I didn’t mention The Color Purple in the video because I ordered it and forgot to mention it. I have made a very ambitious goal this month, especially since it is a short month. Of course, it is Black History Month. I talk all about that in my video and how I am participating in #Blackathon2020. Check out the link to learn more. In doing that, there are some challenges I will be completing. I am identifying as team science fiction; I’ve marked the books I am reading for that in red above. However, I am reading enough books to satisfy some of the contemporary team (Cont.) which I’ve marked in blue. I will be one short sadly.

I’m aiming for 3 audiobooks a week which I think is my normal speed. On top of that, I will be completing the Blackathon book-tag and Instagram challenge where I am going to plug seven books. I’ve decided to treat that like a week long “readathon” where I will try to read these all over the course of one week. I will be doing it the week before the actual Instagram challenge due to personal things.

That comes out to 9 audiobooks (3 weeks) plus 7 for the “Readathon” week. That comes to 16 audiobooks (the exact number of audiobooks I have above). My physical reading assumes I can finish each book with reading on the bus plus a bit of personal time. If I don’t complete a book, that is really where it is most likely to happen. However, I only have two real books with two comics to enjoy. If you want to hear more about my thoughts for each book, check out my YouTube video above!

The Road by Cormac McCarthy ★★★★★

Read 1/20/20 – 1/22/20

Cormac McCarthy is one of those authors that I’ve always been intimidated by. As such, I have avoided his books. I will do so no longer. I adore his writing. He crafts a gripping narrative of a boy and his father trying to survive in a world that is destroyed. This form of dystopian story seems like it has been done so much, but this book isn’t about the world. It’s about the characters in it. In developing this story, McCarthy constructs what seems like the barest of settings where the details are slim. All we know is an epidemic occurred. It is their struggle to survive that we care about.

McCarthy creates characters that are real, damaged and all. It is very bleak take on life in such a world, and it is one that I can really connect to. Perhaps that is because it is the most likely type of story for us. Now, I am not saying how the story ends, so don’t mistake this for a spoiler. I merely mean that it is clear that life is nearly impossible in this barren wasteland.

I mentioned my concern of McCarthy at the start, so I want to talk about how wrong that was. The story was equal parts emotional as it was easy to read and enjoy. Of course, enjoyment with this is like the enjoyment you might get from a sad song you hear on the radio. It hits you hard, and all you want to do is listen to it over and over again. 5/5 stars

Rating Break Down
Writing Style: 10/10
Plot: 10/10
Characters: 10/10
Ending: 10/10
Engagement: 10/10
Enjoyment: 10/10
Comprehension: 10/10
Pacing: 10/10
Desire to Reread: 8/10
Special: 5/10
Final Rating: 4.825/10
Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance (see blog for more details).

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi ★★★½

Read 1/24/20 – 1/26/20

I hate giving this book three stars because that feels so harsh, but it isn’t quite four stars either. This book was very well written, and it follows three very interesting characters. If I was going to be told, I’d rate this 3/3.5 stars, I might not have read it. Although, this is one of those rare cases where I still enjoy a book despite having other problems with it. I came into this not knowing anything. I did not realize Boy, Snow, Bird were names. I don’t know what I was expecting, but this was not it. Luckily, that is okay.

This is the story of women (Boy) who becomes a step mother (to Snow) and later has a child of her own (Bird). This is all in the synopsis, so it isn’t a spoiler. It is basically the dynamic between the three of them. Each of them are interesting on their own, and together they make an interesting family dynamic. Oyeyemi basically has the frame work of a great book here. The problem comes from the same thing that makes Oyeyemi so unique and interesting and that is her abstract approach to storytelling.

The story-line is hard to follow. The book ends with plot points that are seemingly left unaddressed. Don’t get me wrong, I apprecaite a good ambigious ending, but Oyeyemi leaves too much up to the reader. It’s as if she gives us the idea and we have to write it. With that said, I probably would enjoy rereading this because I may make connections I didn’t before. In any case, I enjoyed it well enough. 3.5/5 stars

Rating Break Down
Writing Style: 9/10
Plot: 7/10
Characters: 10/10
Ending: 0/10
Engagement: 8/10
Enjoyment: 6/10
Comprehension: 5/10
Pacing: 7/10
Desire to Reread: 5/10
Special: 6/10
Final Rating: 3.385/5
Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance.

Wilder Girls, by Rory Power ★★★★

Read 1/28/20 – 1/30/20

I really enjoyed this. If you’re following me regularly, you may know that I often don’t like young adult books, so I think a 4 star for this is really good. It was well written in dark dystopianesk setting which I enjoyed. I had a bit of trouble following what exactly was happening at first, but I think that was intentional as everything became revealed with time. The story was fun and exciting; it was a good plot. The conclusion was the best part for me. I think my biggest disappointment (which isn’t that big) is that we didn’t have a darker fast paced start.

I appreciate the need to build to a big reveal, but I thought it was a little too mundane in its school girl like plot early on. I still really liked it though, and Rory Power is now another YA author I will seek more of. More thanks to Books and Lala for yet another great recommendation! Honestly, I am really impressed when I think about how this is a YA novel. It can be really hard to develop a believable science fiction or horror story, in my opinion, when you use a young adult approach. My prime example of that would be Strange Exit by Parker Peevyhouse. Both of those genres require a delicate approach to avoid it seeming cheesy or underdeveloped.

I wish I had more to say about this, but I think that should speak to why I gave it a 4. I know Books and Lala gave it 5 star, and I find we have similar tastes, but for me, my enjoyment didn’t reach the level of love and excitement I’d like to see in a 4.5 or 5 star. Nevertheless, I think this is a great book! 4/5 star

Rating Break Down
Writing Style: 9/10
Plot: 9/10
Characters: 8/10
Ending: 10/10
Engagement: 9/10
Enjoyment: 8/10
Comprehension: 9/10
Pacing: 7/10
Desire to Reread: 3/10
Special: 3/10
Final Rating: 3.985/5
Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance.