Books I Read for ReadEHthon!

Monday, August 10, 2020

I've always wanted to visit Canada. The natural beauty, the promise of snow, was everything a Texas girl could dream of. So of course I wanted to participate in the ReadEHthon, hosted by some great Canadians and one of my favorite booktubers, Kayla at BooksandLala. To go along with my reading I decided I would make a classic Canadian treat - the matrimonial cake! Sandwiched between two layers of slightly salty and sweet crumble is chewy date paste. I followed this recipe from Lois at Polish Housewife, but made it Gluten-Free by using Red Mill's 1-to-1 Baking Flour and Gluten-Free Quick Oats instead! It turned out wonderfully. Without further ado, here are my reviews.

I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl's Notes from the End of the World by Kai Cheng Thom
Length: 150 Pages
Genres: Essays, Nonfiction and Poetry
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Prompt: Read a Book with Nature on the Cover

"I want to live in love and believe in love. If I have to die, I want to die in love. This whole world might be coming to its end, or it might be in the midst of an enormous and terrifying change that leads to something better. Either way, I want to through it in love with the people I love."

Trigger Warnings in this book for Suicide, Depression, Mental and Physical Abuse, Death, and Rape

This book by Kai Cheng Thom put so many of my own thoughts into words in a much more eloquent and moving way than I ever could. This slim volume tackles everything from Cancel Culture to the #MeToo movement to Rape and Childhood Abuse all interspersed with her fiery poetry and shocking wit. Kai Cheng Thom's intelligence jumps off the pages along with her wry sense of humor, which made this hard to put down, despite the hefty topics it covered. My favorite parts were "Chronicle of a Rape Foretold" in which she discusses the supposed safety within the LGBTQ community and the abuse she endured at the hands of a member of that community and how people, friends and mentors, blindly stood by. Another one was "Melting the Ice Around #MeToo" in which she discusses how a white, cis gay man was accused of rape and how little was done about it versus when a Trans woman of color was called out for emotional manipulation and how she was hounded until she was forced to exile herself from all social media. And yet another one was "A School for Storytellers", which examines what do stories really mean, the impact they have on us, and the responsibilities we have as storytellers.

I think this books of essays is required reading for anyone - Trans, Straight, White, Republican, Democrat or neither - and you certainly don't have to agree with it all. I didn't. But there is still so much to be learned and this is just a small stepping stone, one full of compassion and love, along the way.

Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers
Length: 294 Pages
Genres: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Prompt: Read a Book With a Loving Relationship

"Laure blows out the candle and rests her head on her arms. Her dreams are strange in Canada. They are filled with the screams of the forest."

I was really excited to dive into this novel by Suzanne Desrochers simply because I find the subject, and the time period, so fascinating. And I think if you're interested in those things too, then this novel holds merit for you. However, if you're looking for an exhilarating piece of Historical Fiction then I suggest you look elsewhere.

Bride of New France takes up the mantel of telling a fictional account of one of the filles du roi, or "The King's Daughters", French women chosen to sent to Canada in order to be wives to the settlers there. 800 women would be sent to Canada, or "New France" as they called it then, from 1663 to 1673. They had dowries paid for by the King, and chief among their duties was to produce as many children as they were able. We experience all of this through the eyes of the protagonist, Laure, who has lived in the Salpêtrière, a place that housed everything from the mad to infants who lost their mothers in birth, ever since she was taken from her parents as a child. She is one of the Bijoux, girls who make lace and have hopes of one day leaving for a better life. After a letter intended for the King slips into the wrong hands, Laure is chosen as one of the girls to be sent to Canada. While there she learns about true hardship, endures the worst winter of her life, and finds companionship with an Iroquois man named Daskeheh. 

The sights, sounds, food, clothes, and living conditions of the time period were fascinating and obviously lovingly researched, nevertheless, I was let down by this book. When I finished the book and read the acknowledgements in the back I learned that this book started off life as the author's thesis, and it shows. We are told everything - Laure's thoughts, what she does, conversations she has, etc. The entirety of the novel is exposition, and because of that I didn't really connect with any of the characters. Laure's most meaningful relationship was with her friend, Madeleine, and when something tragic happens to her I had already forgotten by the next chapter, it had so little impact on me. I also was put-off by the descriptions and characters of the Indigenous people in the book, even though Daskehah was far and away the most intriguing person in the story. They were painted as noble savages, and the women were decried as seductresses who took the French men from their good French wives. It certainly left a sour note. I wish this could have been better, because it such an interesting subject and one that has very little written about it!

The Body of the Beasts by Audrée Wilhelmy
Length: 192 Pages
Genres: Literary Fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Prompt: Read a Book by a Canadian Publisher (Arachnide Editions, an Imprint of Anansi Press)

"Let's summon the butcher to skin the creature.
Who said when he saw her, 'There are no words...
This doe's hair is blond, her breast but a girls.'
Then he pulled out his knife and he quartered her."

Trigger Warnings in this book for Incest, Pedophilia and Dubious Consent

I've struggled to rate this, waffling between 2 and 3 stars. The writing was beautiful, lyrical, and it coupled with the story reminded me of one my favorite authors of all time, Angela Carter. This book is a dark little fairytale, a story of a family with branches so criss-crossed they confuse even the members. They live in a lighthouse, Osip and Benedikt-Sevastian, the only remaining children of the Old Woman. Benedikt-Sevastian has a woman, the wild Noé with strange scars and sea-tangled hair. Osip is satisfied at first with just watching them - he's been a voyeur since he was child, starting out with his mother - but then he too wants to have some of  Noé. She births Mie, who can enter the minds of animals, and three others, all boys. Mie tries to understand her mother who sews together animals that only exist in her mind, a bat-winged fawn that represents her daughter, and others. She doesn't speak to anyone, not directly, and her children yearn for her.

Even though I thought the writing was beautiful I didn't enjoy the aspects of incest and pedophilia. Osip with his mother, and Mie who longs for him at age 12. Every part of this book is permeated with sex, some consented to and some not, and it left me feeling disturbed. I don't know if I would recommend this, I can't really even put my feelings on it into words. It was a strange one for me.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
Length: 231 Pages
Genres: Young Adult, SciFi, Dystopian
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Prompt: Read a Book by an Indigenous Author

"We go to the schools and they leach the dreams from where our ancestors hid them, in the honeycombs of slushy marrow buried in our bones. And us? Well, we join our ancestors, hoping we left enough dreams behind for the next generation to stumble across."

Trigger Warnings for Death, Racism, Mention of Torture and Rape

I originally ordered "Moon of the Crusted Snow" by Waubgeshig Rice for this prompt, on the recommendation of Kayla, but it (much to my chagrin) didn't arrive in time. So I picked up another one of her recommendations - The Marrow Thieves - and I'm so happy I did. It turned out to be my favorite book I read.

In a future North America destroyed by global warming, white people have lost the ability to dream. Madness follows, until they find a shocking solution in Indigenous people. They have held onto that ability to dream and now they're being hunted for it. Just like Residential Schools of the past, where they wanted to "kill the Indian in the child", they have set up new "Schools" for one express purpose - to extract marrow.

Francis, "Frenchie" has lost his parents and his older brother but won't give up. Eventually, he finds a place among the found family of Miigwans, a man full of stories and heartbreak. With him is Wab, who has a scar down one side of her face, Chi-Boy who loves Wab, twins Tree and Zheegwon, children Slopper and Riri, Elder Minerva, and later on, the beautiful Rose who Frenchie grows to love. All of these characters were important to me and I cared for them all so much. Along the way we learn of some of their "Coming To" stories, how they got where they are, the horrors they went through to become the people they are now.

This story questions what it takes to become a monster. Are we born that way, with some sort of evil always lurking just under the surface? Or are we forced to become one? I loved this story so much and was so pleased with the ending. It gave me so much hope and made me feel there was hope for the world I'm living in right this very minute.

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