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.

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.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant ★★★★

Read 1/13/20

The Red Tent is a well written story that gives insight to the lives of women that are largely treated as props in the Bible. It follows Dinah the daughter of Jacob and sister of Joseph (not the husband of Mary mother of Jesus). At the core, this is a story about women and their relationships as mothers and daughters. It spans the length of Dinah’s mother’s birth to Dinah’s death, and we gain a look at what it is like to be a woman during this time. The story starts strong in an intriguing and engrossing manner. By the end, I lost some of my initial excitement, but I leave it with an overall positive outlook.

Diamant gives Dinah new depth, expending on a story but also redefining it. I loved that the women of this story had more strength than I ever imagined during Biblical times. Don’t get me wrong, the patriarchy was strong in this time, and that is ever present. Nevertheless, Diamant writes these women with strength and resilience. The Red Tent is representative of that. The tent is for the period of mensuration and birthing because there is a strong stigma against men observing such things. This was a key part of their custom.

The custom was another thing that I really appreciated. I went into this expecting it to be a much more christian story, but instead, the customs Diamant describes feels completely alien to my expectations of religious custom, even during that time. What’s more, the story never mentions Jehovah explicitly. There are times where the god of one man or another is referred to, but it is treated as no different or better than the gods of Dinah’s or her parents. This is not a christian story. At the same time, it never feels that detached from christianity either. That is important because the customs feel so archaic and ancient, and it’s easy to forget many of the customs of the old testament are the same way.

In the end, this was a well written story that makes you appreciate your mothers. Perhaps the most effective piece of the story was Dinah’s relationship with her son. A mother’s love is so fundamental, and I think it’s easy to forget what we mean to our mothers. I appreciate the reminder. 4/5 stars.

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy ★★★★☆

Reading for A Very Merry Readathon

I am so excited for this book. It is one of my most anticipated reads of December and of this readathon. It is about a woman who is in an insane asylum because she thinks she sees and can communicate with the future. The trick is, she can. This has hints of dystopian, time travel, and feminism. These are probably among my most favorite sub-genres, time travel certainly. You can find this book in a lot of the lists for the best feminist fiction books even though it isn’t talked about as much as others (The Color Purple, Handmaids Tale, etc.).

Read 12/16/19 – 12/17/19

I enjoyed this book, but I think I am still a little disappointed by it. Let me be clear, it is pretty much everything I wanted it to be. This is a deep analysis of how women have been treated as well as how doctors and asylums have operated. Much more than that, it is a visceral attack on many of the issues that we deal with today (most stemming from capitalism), and it is a dark look at what might be if we are not careful as well as what could be if we push ourselves.

I don’t have a definitive reason why it wasn’t as exciting a read as I had hoped. I just know I found myself getting disinterested at a lot of the futuristic visions our main character is seeing. It is a key, not to mention fascinating, analysis on what the future might be and what would shape it to be so. Nevertheless, I found myself disinterested at times. I also found the pseudo-anarchist utopia a little preachy more than convincing at time. I recognize utopia is subjective, and over all Piercy does a fantastic job thinking about how a lot of these issues we deal with today could be resolved.

I wish more of the novel was spent in the modern day because it’s as a commentary against modern medicine and the treatment of women that this book is most effective. In the intro to this, I presented the premise as if we know she sees the future, but I suppose it is possible we have an unreliable narrator. That is also an intriguing thought. However, I think we are meant to believe her sane. That is because she plays a key role in conveying all the injustices done against women.

Overall, I highly encourage this book. It is not only an informative commentary but a fairly engaging and entertaining read. 4.25/5 stars.

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King ★★★★☆

Read 12/8/19 – 12/13/19

I absolutely adored this novel. First, the way the story was told didn’t feel like I was reading a YA novel. Of course, I may have a misconception of what it means to be YA (Ariel Bissett definitely has a more broad definition), but to me, YA is way of looking at the world. We are looking at the world through Glory’s viewpoint. That allows us to see how she perceives the world. In a way, that will be a contorted frame of reference, but what I liked about the story was that what we saw of the real world felt real. It felt like the adults were acting like adults. All the while, Glory is trying to understand them, but that doesn’t stop them from acting in adult ways. All that is to say, King doesn’t hold back. She gives us a complete and real world.

The story is about a young girl who is graduating high school, all the while living with her mothers death at a young age. In comes the dead bat, this weird thing that changes Glory’s life forever. I won’t go any deeper on the plot because it is best to go in knowing less. Although, I don’t think it is a spoiler to say that this a story about coming of age, the symmetry of history and the tragedies of the future. In a way, it is a dystopian novel about what the world could become.

The beauty isn’t just the fascinating premise but the philosophies that King is able to explore with it. Now, imagine that through the eyes of a teenage girl. It is profound and makes you think. It is weird. You don’t know what is real and what is imaginary, and that creates a dark fear for Glory and for the reader about whether or not Glory is of sound mind. All of that alters how she approaches this phase of her life. What’s more, it will decide if and what her future will be.

I loved this book, and I look forward to reading more A.S. King. The subject, premise, and form of story telling is just the kind of weirdness I want to read about. It feels different from the average novel, and I think that can be seen by some of the negative feedback on Goodreads. That said, the weirdness inevitably holds it back from resonating quite as deeply as a more traditional story. I don’t know if it is fair to dock it stars for that because I love that this weirdness exists. Still, I leave it feeling like it isn’t quite a 5 star read. It’s still the best YA I’ve read all year and one of my new favorites. 4.5/5 stars, rounding down.

Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ★★★★★

Read 11/21/19 – 11/24/19

The 15 Suggestions

  1. Be a full person.
  2. Do it together.
  3. Teach her that ‘gender roles’ is absolute nonsense.
  4. Beware the danger of what I call Feminism Lite.
  5. Teach Chizalum to read.
  6. Teach her to question language.
  7. Never speak of marriage as an achievement.
  8. Teach her to reject likeability.
  9. Give Chizalum a sense of identity.
  10. Be deliberate about how you engage with her and her appearance.
  11. Teach her to question our culture’s selective use of biology as ‘reasons’ for social norms.
  12. Talk to her about sex and start early.
  13. Romance will happen so be on board.
  14. In teaching her about oppression, be careful not to turn the oppressed into saints.
  15. Teach her about difference.

This is one of the books I chose to read for Buzzwordathon 5.0, and you can read more about why I choose Dear Ijeawele there! I originally intended to make this a summary of the fifteen suggestions, but I decided not to do that about halfway through. It’s why I didn’t finish the book in one day; I was trying to discuss it as I listened.

Needless to say, I scrapped everything I had written. I did that because I realized it wasn’t necessary. This is a very short book with pages the size of my palm. Some of these suggestions are a page or less long. None of this is a bad thing. In fact, I think it is perhaps the biggest reason for everyone to read it!

I really enjoyed this book. It is a collection of suggestions that Adichie is giving her friend or cousin (I don’t remember which) on how to raise her daughter to be a feminist. Some of it may seem obvious, but Adichie frames each point in a very persuasive and easy to understand way.

You don’t need to be Nigerian to read this. You don’t need to be a mother or even a parent. These suggestions convey why everyone should be a feminist. It reminds us why we do this, and it offered me a clear guide to strive toward. I highly recommend it to everyone.

I will be buying it as Christmas gifts for several people in my family. I can see them scoffing at first, but I think it is short enough and open enough that hey might actually pick it up and learn something. Reading the list above isn’t enough. The context she provides is worth studying. I’ve already reread half of the book and intend to continue it to completion. Needless to say, it gets a solid 5/5 stars.

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes ★★★★☆

Read 11/18/19 – 11/24/19

This is the first book I chose to read for Buzzwordathon 5.0, and you can read more about why I choose A Thousand Ships there!

11/20/19, Page 134

I’m making good progress on this. It is early Wednesday morning and I’m already over half way to my daily goal (50 pages/day). The novel is well written and easy to enjoy. I am not entirely sure who our narrator is. We are getting excerpts from Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, and she keeps referring to the “poet” recording this epic. I wonder whether this is the poets narrative, whether that be Haynes or Homer, or if this is the epic directly from Calliope as told to Homer. Early in the novel Calliope refers to the story and the poet:

I’m giving him the chance to see the war from both ends: how it was caused, and how its consequences played out. Epic in scale and subject matter…It’s not her story…It’s their story.

Calliope, Chapter 5, Page 40-41, Natalie Haynes

That quote really encapsulates the story. It seems to be a collection of stories about women on both sides of the war. They’re tales from before, during, and even after. Haynes approach of jumping from perspective and time is surprisingly effective. Alone, it’s easy to get lost in any one story, but as a whole, they all come together naturally.

At one point, the Calliope becomes irked by the poet as if the story is too tragic. This is in fact a story of loss, on all sides, but why is it that a man’s death is considered an epic but a women’s is a tragedy? To understand the price of war, we have to understand more than those who die (the “heroes”), but those who live as well. Soon after the fall of Troy, the women are captured and described as follows:

None of the women wept. The dead husbands, fathers, brothers and sons were fresh wounds to them all… But all knew that they would never know solitude again. When a war was ended, the men lost their lives. But the women lost everything else.

Chapter 3, page 33-34, Natalie Haynes

It is easy to sympathize with the Trojans. Although, that doesn’t make the Greeks the monsters of this tale because the pain doesn’t stop with the Trojan women. That is how it is so easily to mistake this epic for a tragedy, but that doesn’t mean they can ignored.

It does hurt, I whispered. It should hurt. She isn’t a footnote, she’s a person. And she – all the Trojan women – should be memorialized as much as any other person. Their Greek counterparts too.

Calliope, Chapter 12, Page 109, Natalie Haynes.

“Their Greek counterparts too” is a key part of the story as well. The pain extends to the winners and losers, so who is the villain here? Only time will tell for sure. However, it certainly seems as though the villains are the men so lost in their jealousy, greed and anger. There is one part where the king of the Greeks Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter to Artemis for wind (this is Greek retelling, so I don’t consider this a spoiler). It comes right after these statements by Calliope and after so much time is spent on the pain of the Trojan women. This the perfect illustration of how well Haynes has structured this story to reveal what is already known in a light.

Finished 11/24/19

I really enjoyed reading A Thousand Ships. It brought life to a story that I am only loosely familiar with, and I leave it feeling not only inspired to try other retellings, but with an improved understanding of the story as a whole. Haynes acknoweldges how she takes some creative licenses where necessary. However, that is for the outermost parts of the story, so it probably stands well as a true telling of the Trojan War.

What it does different is re-frame our perception of the war and the people in it. What does it mean to be a hero? Cleary, the men who fight, win or lose, are often seen as heroes, depending on your perception. What Hayne’s does is try, and I think succeeds, to convey the heroism of the women. Whether they won or lost, everyone suffered. It is in how we handle this suffering that heroes can be found. It’s so easy to disregard the women, but it seems as though they’re story is the more harrowing one.

Many of the women in this story convey the loss that is so easily overlooked in these tales. We see the winners and losers in war, but it is through the women that we see the true extent. That is why I think this is such an effective story. Considering the scope, it is a difficult task to tell this story, but I think Haynes did it well, overall.

It almost reads like collection of short stories interlaced (forgive me if I mentioned this earlier, I don’t remember), but it flows rather seamlessly. Each story is told, not necessarily linearly, as it comes to the forefront. At times that involves going back in time to give context. This is all being told by the Muse goddess, Calliope. I don’t have a problem with this; it works well as a way of structuring the narrative. However, I can’t help but feel it becomes a little heavy handed. It is as if we aren’t capable of piecing together the greater narrative without the author, through Calliope, holding our hand through it.

You can see what I mean from the quotes I give before, and the novel ends with a note from the author Calliope to bring it to a close:

I have sung of the women, the women in the shadows. I have sung of the forgotten, the ignored, the untold…They have waited to have their story told, and I will make them wait no longer.

Calliope, Chapter 43, Page 339

The question becomes how much is too much, and does this type of narration take away from the story? For me, it felt like a bit much, even though I did enjoy Calliope’s snarky attitude toward the poet. That said, it isn’t a major issue I have with the novel. My only other issue, again, comes from how Hayne’s structured the story.

Hayne’s method of telling Penelope’s story as a series of letters of her “talking” to Odysseus. In doing so, we get her reaction to Odysseus’ journey (AKA his story) as told by the bards. While I enjoy her quippy commentary, this read less like Penelope’s story and more like a retelling of Odysseus. This story is spread out in a series of letters over the ten years it takes Odysseus to get home after the war end, and every time, I can’t help but ask if this is necessary. Am I getting Penelope’s story or just exciting filler? That sounds harsh, but I have to believe there was a more effective means to tell her story than just having her narrate the same old story we know about Odysseus.

I love Penelope as a character, so perhaps that is evidence of it doing what it was supposed to. Nevertheless, I’m left wanting more. It is very likely I read Margaret Atwood’s retelling of her story, the Penelopiad. I’m also intrigued by Odysseus, so I will probably explore other stories about him (perhaps Ullysses by James Joyce or just watch the film by the same name, which I realize is not an adaption of the book.

My desire to keep the mythology going hopefully shows that I did love this book, despite my stated issues. 4/5 stars.

Buzzwordathon #5: November 18-24

Buzzwordathon #5 Announcement

Buzzwordathon is a series of readathons that chooses common buzzwords used in book titles. Then readers choose books with that buzzword and tries to read as many as possible. The goal of this readathon is to read books you have been putting off, but most of my choices are new books I’ve wanted to read. It’s happening November 18-24.


  1. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
  2. Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  3. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  4. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  5. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  6. Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  7. The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

The only books here that I have owned for a while is the Thirteenth Tale. I have been pushing it off because I am not a fan of Victorian settings, but I love the concept of the book. The others are books I’ve heard great things about on Booktube. A Thousand Ships is the only book I will be physically reading. It is decidedly longer than White is for Witching which I read last month for Spookathon. I am eager to read it, and this is the perfect excuse!

I am a little worried about the size of the list. This is about 300 more pages than I read for spookathon, but my estimate is it will only take ~6 more hours of my time. It is okay if I don’t get to the last book or if I have to finish it after the readathon ends. I feel confident in my ability to read the first 6. Last time I estimated my listening and reading was ~49 hours. With my physical read being a bit longer, I estimate this to take ~52 hours. It’s more but still manageable. I also read two 500+ page books for Spookathon.

Honestly, it was really hard to pick books for this. It isn’t a buzzword for no reason. I wanted to read Slaughterhouse Five because that is a classic I’ve been putting off merely due its revolving around war which I am not a big fan of. I also considered both The Fifth Season (a reread) and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms because I’ve been wanting to try give N. K. Jemisin another try after not really loving The Fifth Season.

Then there’s The People’s Future: 15 stories about the future of the United states which features a lot of diverse authors I’ve been wanting to give a try, but I ended up dropping that for the same reason as The Three Body Problem. I think I will enjoy those more if I give them more time. I think I am more likely to get through more reading if I limit myself to a majority of fun quick reads that don’t too much thinking. Not that I don’t want that, but there is a balance!

End of Readathon Commentary

This was a fairly enjoyable readathon. It got me to try a few books I didn’t feel all that excited for. I still feel iffy about Taylor Jenkins Reid, but I really enjoyed Evelyn Hugo. I didn’t think I’d love Evelyn Hardcastle, but that was massive fail. I really disliked it. The others were good, but most none of them became all time favorites. That’s excluding Dear Ijeawele which was great, but in a different way.

My stats come in at a total of 2335 pages of reading. 1983 pages of that was on audio, and 352 pages was read via my hardback copy. I’m a PhD student, so my time is limited. That means most of my reading has been done via multitasking (travel, chores, tedious tasks). One day, maybe I’ll try a readathon without a single audiobook.

I may not be so aggressive on my next readathon because I did struggle in the end. Although, I think part of that blame lies on the low quality of Evelyn Hardcastle. I at least had the forethought to place it last in my reading plans, but I need to work on allowing myself the freedom to DNF a book. Overall, this readathon got me to try new things and read a book I had put off a very long time. Plus my read pile for November just doubled!

Discussing my TBR

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes


I’m really exited to read this! Of course, I am excited for all of these, but I am glad I am reading this one physically. It was not my plan originally. It is only availble on CD and at ~$40 USD, so I decided this would be my physical read of choice. It’s length is daunting. That is okay because I think I am really going to enjoy it assuming the writing style isn’t too out there.

This is the story of the Trojan War, told from the perspective of the women that are largely ignored in the Greek myths. I enjoy greek and roman mythologies, but it isn’t a big thing I read about. Hopefully, this and Circe will change that (as well as Jean Bookishthoughts who studies ancient history and has lots of recommendations).

Finished 11/24/19

You can now see my review of a Thousand Ships!

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid


This is a fictional story about a band in the 70s or 80s and their experience. It is supposed to be an emotional roller coaster which isn’t something I usually seek out in books, but I am here for it. This book has gotten so much praise on Booktube. It is probably the most talked about book on Booktube. No pressure Taylor Jenkins Reid! I’m sure I’ll enjoy it; the question is: will it make me love it?

Finished 11/21/19

You can now see my review of Daisy Jones and the Six!

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield


This book has been on my shelf for so long. I even bought it on Audible way back hoping I’d read it. In the end, I never did out of fear of for the Victorian setting. Now I have the perfect excuse to choose it despite my hesitation. To be clear, I love the concept: a story about stories and books. It is very similar to Setterfield’s most recent novel, Once Upon a River which I struggled with but loved overall. I hope the same is true for the Thirteenth Tale.

I choose Once Upon a River originally to be during this readathon, stretching “once” as a number, but my hesitation for her Victorian settings couple with its near 500 page count motivated me to read it sooner. I am glad I did! I think I am really going to enjoy it if it’s anything like Once Upon a River.

Finished 11/19/19

You can now see my review of the Thirteenth Tale!

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel


This is a semi post-apocalyptic story about people preparing to go to space to survive. That is all I know. I am reading this because BooksandLala loved it. I tend not to like high science fiction, and I think this type of moderate science fiction is what I like. The story was a nominee for several awards. Plus, my one of my favorite books this year was a semi-apocalyptic story about getting to space (Calculating Stars).

Finished 11/20/19

You can now see my review of Station Eleven! Also, it turns out this wasn’t about space. I was way off on that one.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid


This is a story about a woman who had a lot of husbands. Booktube says it is well told, so I think it will be a fun contemporary read. Again, like Reid’s other story, it isn’t what I normally read. However, I think I’ll enjoy it. I don’t have this in my picture above because the copy I bought was in the US and sent it to my mom’s to save on shipping. I’ll be listening to the audiobook, so it doesn’t matter anyways.

Finished 11/21/19

You can now see my review of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo!

Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


There are a lot feminist collections I’d like to read. I just haven’t for whatever reason. I almost didn’t include this one because I hate the idea of rushing through it, but it is very short and likely not that much work. I also want to read Roxanne Gay. If I don’t get to her soon, I’ll definitely be including her in my February Black History Month TBR.

Finished 11/24/19

You can now see my review of Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions!

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton


This is my lowest in expectation. I want to read this because the concept sounds intriguing. I love time travel and time resets. There is nothing special about as far as what I’ve seen. It’s just a book I think will be fun, but if I have to drop a book, or finish one later, it will be this one.

Finished 11/24/19

You can now see my review of The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle!

Girls Burn Brighter, by Shobha Rao ★★★★★

This may be one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read. It’s almost the opposite of fairy tale where nothing goes right and everything only ever gets worse. The saddest part of all is the reality of the fictional circumstances we read about. We follow two women who grow up in the same village. The novel jumps between the two characters, almost as if they each have their own novel of their life. The story begins with them as children as they learn the way of the world (in India) and the place of women there. They eventually form a bond with one another, and when they are separated in young adulthood, every bad thing that follows motivates them to find one another again.

I did not know a lot of about this novel going in. It was somewhat disconcerting at first, listening to the narration of the story going from two different characters to two different series of chapters (going 1, 2, 3, 1, 2 etc.). I wasn’t sure if I was that lost or if there was something more going on. When I finally picked up the book and realized the structure of the book, it all made much more sense. Alas, it did effect my enjoyment of the book at first.

Luckily, there was plenty of story that followed that was effective at getting me to care and empathize with the two characters. It is hard not to be infuriated by the things they have to endure. What’s more, it might be easy to judge India for their society, but it is important to remember we are not that far ahead of them when it comes to women’s rights and other human rights. The story reminded me of the Handmaid’s Tale. Gilead, like India, was a very authoritative and hierarchical society where women had little to no rights. Even in regular day life, they are objects and subjects to act and do what is expected of them. There are a never ending supply of injustices inflicted on our characters. Then there is the instinct to escape, or, more aptly in Rao’s novel, an instinct to reunite with the only person they ever truly felt safe with.

The connection with the two characters was a signature part of their relationship. I wish Rao had explored the extent of their connection more fully (I won’t dig too deeply into this to avoid spoilers). This friendship is what the novel revolves around, yet the amount of time we get with them together feels so short. Then when we finally reach the ending, the conclusion was abrupt and even a little ambiguous.

I can see why Rao might choose the type of ending we have; this isn’t a exactly a fairy tale. Not knowing what is to come is simply the reality of life, but I was still left daunting. All there is is hope, something these characters get so little of. 4.5/5 stars, rounding up.

The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal – ★★★★★

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Introductory thoughts (8/22/19)

I just started this, and I am already a quarter of the way through this 400+pg book. There is so much to love.

Let’s start with Mary Robinette Kowal herself. She narrates the audiobook. I am not usually a fan of self narrations. While an author knows better than anyone how they perceive a character expressing a line, I don’t think they’re as effective as (some) professionals (e.g. Stephen King). Kowal is an exception. I was very happy to learn she is a professional narrator. In fact, she is a part of the duo who narrates the Devil and the Deep that I have been reading. That makes transitioning into this story far easier.

The story itself is amazingly engaging. I don’t always like historical fiction because I can get lost in the details (see To Say Nothing of the Dog). Then there are instances where the details are beautifully integrated into the story and around interesting characters (e.g. 11/22/63, one of my favorite books of all time). I also find the concept amazingly intriguing. An asteroid collides with the Earth, hitting right around Washington in the 1950s. Politics aside, it is fascinating to think about the geologic effects of such a real threat. In Calculating Stars, Kowal puts us in a world where an extinction level impact event takes place, altering the course of history. The reality of this situation (an impact event effecting the globe) is all too real. Kowal takes us through the moments of the impact, detailing what distinguishes it between an impact event and an atom bomb. What’s more, she takes on a journey of scientific discovery as our characters determine just how severe the damage is. Let it be known, an extinction event does not happen over night. It takes time, but not always as much time as we would like. The level of realism here makes me think about the distinction as “Science fiction and of Margaret Atwood’s famous novel, A Handmaids Tale, that is often classified as Science Fiction even though Atwood disagrees.

I like to make a distinction between science fiction proper and speculative fiction. For me, the science fiction label belongs on books with things in them that we can’t yet do, such as going through a wormhole in space to another universe; and speculative fiction means a work that employs the means already to hand, such as DNA identification and credit cards, and that takes place on Planet Earth. 

Margaret Atwood, The Guardian, 2005

So, how much science fiction really exists here? Speculation, sure, but the event this revolves around is all too real. This work is a prequel to Kowals 2012 short story, The Lady Astronaut of Mars. That suggests there will come a point that science of the Calculating Stars transitions from existing to futuristic, and it will be an interesting line to follow. A lot of what we need for space exploration exists. Although, there still exists significant barriers to colonization and human transport to and from Mars. It is still fascinating to think about how this type of event would expedite the process. I look forward to seeing how Kowal takes us on this journey. At this point, I am all in.

Image result for the lady astronaut of mars
The prequel short story that sets up the world Kowal now seeks to create in her Lady Astronaut Series, where Calculating Stars is but the first.

Some Additional Thoughts

I was worried coming into this. There is a certain part of me that feared this story was made to benefit from the current zeitgeist that has evolved from works like Hidden Figures or the rise of #metoo. Perhaps that is not a bad thing, even if it were true, but often this is used as an excuse to redo what as already been done and reclaim it as your own. Or, it is just a blatant money grab. That isn’t the impression I am getting. I think this story has the potential of contributing to the dialogue rather than leech off of it. I am hoping for a new look at women in history and a glimpse of what might have been and hopefully still can be. What’s more, the fact that this builds on an existing short story suggests it isn’t just reactionary.

Update 8/25/2019

I’m nearly 2/3rds of the way through the book, and I am still loving it. I think it may even be one of my favorite books of the year, up there with The Fifteen Lives of Harry August. There is definitely plenty to say about it.

First, I’d like to discuss it as a historical work of fiction. Overall, I would say it doesn’t excel all that great. While I do worry about getting lost in details, I feel as though this story could stand a bit more details about the time we are in. Obviously, there are points of world building to put is in the time, but it feels superficial. I still love the story. I don’t see this as a major disadvantage, nor do I feel I am being taken too far out of the story. It just takes away from the realism. On that not, I want to change focus to the discussion on the current cultural zeitgeist influencing this story. I think it is very apparent that it is the case. However, I don’t think it does that in a bad way. The author takes very relevant and important issues of today and applies them to the past in ways that are justified. My issue is that the way the issues are resolved feels a little optimistic. Again, it takes away from the realism. This may just be a function of my own pessimism, but it is still interesting to think about.

The reason this story is so intriguing is that it essentially uses a entirely realistic event (asteroid impact) to facilitate the requirement of decades of progress (and more) for the sack of humanity. That means we have to deal with climate change, racism, antisemitism, sexism and so much more. The author is presenting us with a world where humanity is able to make use of the tragedy to achieve the progress they need to survive. That is very optimistic, but the inherent speculation involved is enough for me to still enjoy the story. Because, at the core, this story is one of hope. It presents us with modern problems being solved in a world where they are objectively harder to solve. Despite that, there is a clear path to doing these things. That, is inspiring and fascinating to consider. For that, I absolutely love this novel. I am lucky enough to still have a third of the book left, but let there be no doubt, you should read this book.

Finished 8/28/2019

This is tied for my favorite novel of the year next the Fifteen Lives of Harry August–maybe I like it even more. I don’t have much more to say since my last update. It maintains the tone and excellent story telling. The one thing I want to do is backtrack, if only slightly, on the book being overly optimistic. I will avoid details, so as to prevent spoilers, but there is plenty of shitty moments in this story. Our characters are often put through the ringer, and Kowal does not shy away from making the issues of that time (and still today in some fashion) very prominent in the story. The biggest issue with getting to space is never about technology; it is about the human race holding itself back. This is ultimately a story of whether we will overcome our own flaws. It does not happen easily, nor does it happen uniformly. Nevertheless, this story presents a mindset where it is possible with the right motivations.

Perhaps that is what makes the story such a thrill to read. It is a blessing not to read a dystopian novel with hope. All I want to do is keep reading. The fact that there is a sequel already out is torturing me. It would be so easy to put myself into the next book, but I am going to try not to just yet. 1) It is time for Halloween therefore horror galore, but 2) when I am done, I’m done. Then its an indefinite wait for the next one. This is a chance to pace myself and enjoy.

Finally, I want to touch on the only other issue I had with the book. This question of historical detail. I don’t want to be berated with complaints saying I am misrepresenting the book, so let me be clear that there are plenty of examples of us being grounded in the times. Personally, I’d love a deeper dive into the politics of the time. Then again, this book feels perfect, so me yearning for more, detail and story, may just be another example of how great it is. What’s more, I recognize this story is meant to follow our main character. For that reason, our perspective is somewhat limited to her own. Branching out beyond that would risk losing some of that cohesion.

Read the book. READ IT 5/5 Stars, rounding up!