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tech, teaching, and books

The Mermaid from Jeju by Sumi Hahn

In the tradition of Yangsze Choo's Night Tiger and Min Jin Lee's Pachinko comes a magical saga that explores what it really means to love.

This should be a 5 star read for me: historical fiction, set in Korea, set in war-time. It just didn't put all the pieces together very well for me.

They compare the book to Pachinko which is not at all correct in my opinion. Pachinko is a layered, multi generational saga, with a rich description of the time period it is in, while The Mermaid from Jeju feels a bit flat. Hahn does not really set the scene very well of the time-period. She covers over this by including a timeline of events at the beginning of the story which is helpful, because if you don't keep that in mind, you might forget you are in post-WW2 Korea.

The characters were interesting in this novel. I liked Junja, the main character. She was well described and written. The male characters were OK. I didn't like how it kept jumping back and forth between the past and the present. It felt like a cheap trick. I didn't feel it was necessary or added much to the plot.

The whole book felt like it got bogged down once it got to the end where it picks up the story of two Nationalist soldiers who help Junja flee Jeju island. This is where the book started jumping back and forth between past and future and got confusing quick.

When I read historical fiction, I don't only read for the character development, but to learn about the time-period. It felt pretty bare bones in this one. The author is writing a book about Korea, but hasn't lived there extensively. It feels like she mostly relied on the oral history of her family members and others. It doesn't feel well researched, and that shows in the scanty time she pays to building up the setting.

It's a quick read, so I won't be too harsh on my rating. Just remember, this is not Pachinko, and shame on the editor who thought that was an apt comparison. Shame.

Rating: ★★★ Book #95 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #books #HistoricalFiction #SumiHahn #Jeju #SouthKorea

Extraordinary Insects by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson

A whirlwind look at the exciting world of bugs, the extraordinary ways they live, breed, eat, and die. It also explains why bugs are so important on this Earth. This is the perfect book for anybody who thinks bugs are just pests and should all be eliminated.

The chapters are short and concise. I almost wish the author went into more detail in every chapter, as they often feel too short. She gives us tantalizing morsels of data about a type of bug, and then she's off and telling us about another one. This isn't a genre of books I'm very familiar with but it seems I need to read more books about bug!

Also, you will want to keep your phone at hand as you read through this book and look up pictures of these incredible bugs she's talking about. You may fall down a rabbit hole of watching Youtube videos of the bugs – you have been warned!

Rating: ★★★★ Book #94 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #books #bugs #AnneSverdrupThygeson #NonFiction

A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa

“This is a female text, composed by folding someone else's clothes. My mind holds it close, and it grows, tender and slow, while my hands perform innumerable chores.

This book's exploration of a historical poem, Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire, (The Keen for Art O’Leary), sucked me in. The poem is about an Irish noblewoman who finds her husband murdered and composes a poem on the spot after drinking some of his blood. It's passed on from woman to woman for many years and eventually is written down. This book is also about the author, Dorieann Ni Ghriofa, and her lifelong obsession about with the author of the poem, and her life. This is part biography, part poetry, and part translation. It is truly a unique work, and difficult to describe.

The first part of the book focuses on the events in the life of Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, up until her husband is murdered and she 'writes' her poem. The second portion of the book is more about Ghriofa's quest to learn more about Eibhlín, her life, and about her relations.

The first part of the book was amazing, but it sort of derailed a bit in the second portion for me. I don't regret reading this, it's such a lovely exploration of womanhood, and the connection between these two women who lived hundreds of years apart, but it was not exactly what I was expecting.

Rating: ★★★★ Book #93 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #DoireannNíGhríofa #Ireland #poetic #NonFiction #women #poetry #motherhood

This Place: 150 Years Retold – Anthology

Explore the last 150 years through the eyes of Indigenous creators in the graphic novel anthology, This Place: 150 Years Retold. Beautifully illustrated, these stories are an emotional and enlightening journey through magic realism, serial killings, psychic battles, and time travel. See how Indigenous peoples have survived a post-apocalyptic world since Contact.

This is one of the 200 exceptional projects funded through the Canada Council for the Arts’ New Chapter initiative. With this $35M initiative, the Council supports the creation and sharing of the arts in communities across Canada.

This was an intense experience. It was depressing, and enraging to see how Canada has consistently tried to steal the land of the Indigenous Peoples, and used force to try to destroy their languages, their family ties, their traditions, and their connection to the land. It was also sad to reflect upon how little of these stories I were familiar with. The school system needs to do better to telling these stories. Canada needs to learn from its mistakes.

There are no filler stories in here. Every story was incredibly drawn, and a gut punch of a story. At the beginning of the story is a note from the author. There is also a timeline of events that explain the context of the story. In the back of the book are also references, so people can go find the news articles about these events.

It feels to me there will always be animosity between the State and Indigenous people. The State knows they exist on stolen land and keep trying to legitimatize this theft through 'treaties', apologies, and rewriting of history. What is the path forward? Every Nation State is built upon the bones of Indigenous people, and on their stolen land.

Too many authors/illustrators to list in the title of this review: Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Chelsea Vowel, Katherena Vermette, Jen Storm, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, David Alexander Robertson, Richard Van Camp , Brandon Mitchell, Sonny Assu, Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley, Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, Alicia Elliott(Foreword), G.M.B. Chomichuk (Illustrations), Scott B. Henderson (Illustrations), Tara Audibert (Illustrations), Natasha Donovan (Illustrations), Kyle Charles (Illustrations), Scott A. Ford (Illustrations), Donovan Yaciuk (Illustrations), Andrew Lodwick (Illustrations), Ryan Howe (illustrations)

Thank you to all the creators of this anthology and sharing your stories. We need to remember this history, not just the 'official' history of Canada. I shall share these stories when my daughter.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #92 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #GraphicNovel #Canada #NativeAmericans #anthology #comics #Colonialism #historical #IndigenousPeoples #Metis #inuit

A Few Notes on the Culture by Iain M. Banks

Firstly, and most importantly: the Culture doesn't really exist. It's only a story. It only exists in my mind and the minds of the people who've read about it.

Looking for a void to fill my Culture shaped hole in my soul, I stumbled upon this essay written by Banks that explains many different parts of the Culture that are only mentioned briefly in different books: culture of the Culture, their philosophy, their tech, more info about orbitals, and their politics.

This is for anyone seeking to gain a deeper understanding of the Culture, and the Mind, Banks, who put it all together.

A short but brilliant read that caps off my completion of reading the whole Culture series from 1-10.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #91 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #IainMBanks #SciFi #ScienceFiction #TheCulture #essay

The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks

(Culture #10)

“One should never mistake pattern for meaning.”

The last novel in the Culture series. It's over and I'm feeling a bit sad it's over, but thankful for the ride I've been on over the past year or so. This novel published in 2012 was the last Culture novel as Mr. Banks died in 2013. Enough about my feelings of sadness, onto the novel!

This novel focused on a the Gzilt civilization just about one month before the date they will Sublime. As with most things in the Culture universe, things do not go smoothly. There is a message delivered to the Gzilt, but it is destroyed and not passed on to the population. There are military factions contesting the Sublimation. There are also the scavenger species waiting to pick over the carcass of the Gzilt and find pieces that can improve upon their own civilization.

This novel wasn't as exciting as some previous novels. There were moments of brilliance, but also many long points where we had ship to ship communication about planning what they should do to interfer, 'help', with the investigation into the happenings around Gzilt. There is also lots of traveling around the universe looking for someone who may have information that could unravel some of the mystery of the message that was supposed to be delivered to the Gzilt.

“One should never regret one's excesses, only one's failures of nerve.”

This was still a Culture novel, and I ate it up, but I only rate it 4 stars because standing beside other Culture novels it fails to shine brightly.

Rating: ★★★★ Book #90 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #IainMBanks #SciFi #ScienceFiction #TheCulture #Sublime #Gzilt

Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks

(Culture #9)

Now this was a quite strange one, even by The Culture standards. It all begins with a powerful man who kills one of his slaves. Their are other civilizations fighting for the right to have virtual Hells, inside hell. And all the story lines connect at the end, fairly standard Iain M. Banks stuff right?

“Don’t you think it’s hilarious when people think they’re being terribly clever? I know I do. Just as well some of us genuinely fucking are or we’d be in a hell of a fucking state.”

The heart of this book is great, what if some civilizations had a virtual Hell? We even get to 'see' inside this virtual Hell through the eyes of some of the characters of the book. I am very happy with the ending of this book. Their is a Special Circumstances Mind who doesn't really play by the rules that helps one of the characters get some sweet revenge.

“The truth is not always useful, not always good. It’s like putting your faith in water. Yes, we need the rain, but too much can sweep you away in a flood and drown you. Like all great natural, elemental forces, the truth needs to be channeled, managed, controlled and intelligently, morally allocated.” —

I really love The Culture series. I have already jumped into book 10. Sadly, book 10, Hydrogen Sonata, is the last book in the series. What will I read when that is finished? I guess some of the other hundreds of books on my bookshelf, and loaded on my eReader.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #89 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #IainMBanks #SciFi #ScienceFiction #TheCulture #hell

Matter by Iain M. Banks

(Culture #8)

“Even galaxy-spanning anarchist utopias of stupefying full-spectrum civilisational power have turf wars within their unacknowledged militaries.”

This was an incredible Culture novel. Iaian M. Banks still manages to surprise me a little in each new iteration of The Culture series. In this book, we follow the fortunes of the royal court of a low-tech civilization, the Sarl, at war with another similar sort of civilization, Deldeyn. While this sounds rather hum drum, we later learn that these civilizations are on separate levels of a shell world, Sursamen, a mechanical planet with multiple layers all overseen by other more technologically developed civilizations. The conflict is first about the succession of the king, and the war effort. Then it changes once the sister of the successor to the king gets involved, and guess what, she's part of Special Circumstances.

This was a long setup for a short battle at the end. It wasn't the most satisfying ending I could've imagined. The whole effort seemed a bit rushed when we got near the end, but the setup was wonderful. If you like getting lost in the details of the civilizations, and races of The Culture, you will like this novel. If you are easily confused by complicated names of many different aliens, this one will most likely leave you scratching your head.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #88 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #IainMBanks #SciFi #ScienceFiction #TheCulture

The Complete Far Side by Gary Larson

1278 pages of my beloved comics from my childhood, The Far Side. The comic that was weird, quirky, and with a healthy streak of dark humour. The comic that wasn't afraid to poke fun at torture, God, the Devil, and other things humans hold sacred.

One of my favorite comics is one where God is 'cooking' up Earth. Behind him there are bottles of ingredients like dark-skinned people, light skinned people, birds. He's just about finished making the earth and he is shaking one more bottle on the Earth. A big bottle of 'jerks'. He thinks to himself 'And just to make things interesting...“. This is the kind of humour that won Larson praise, and many angry letters from people.

I'm glad that Larson made this monumental collection of all his work. He was a master. He could make you laugh with one frame, and a caption. I see he's updated his website so go check it out if you're unfamiliar with his work.

This box set lays out all his comics in roughly chronological order. At the start of every year, he has written an essay about his work and what it was like making comics. I really enjoyed some of the angry letters he put into the book too. Some of the comics have an angry letter, or a letter of praise beside it. They are a delight to read.

I am a tad sad I did not spring for the hard-cover of this box set, but I am still glad I now have this on my bookshelf. Anytime I'm feeling a bit down, or angry at this crazy world, I'll take it down from the shelf and laugh.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #87 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #GaryLarson #comics #boxset #humour

The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

This was an uncomfortable read about a girl who is anxious about the death of her brother, the stability of her mother & father's relationship, and her body. I am a stalwart follower of the Man Booker International book prize, and have discovered some amazing authors and books by reading books from the long list. I usually read the almost all the books on the short list and most certainly the eventual winner, but with this book (the 2020 winner!) I held off on reading it for a long time. I'm not sure if it was the dour subject matter, or the equally foreboding book cover. I finally resolved to read the book once I realized this was the only Man Booker International winner I had not read yet.

I tore through this book as it ripping off a band aid from a scabbed over womb. It was at times gross, tantalizing, and erotic. This book tackles unvarnished, and uncomfortable subjects. The death of the brother really affects everyone in the family different. The parents seem to be burying their pain deep while the main character, 10 year old Jas, is worried her parents are drifting apart. She becomes obsessed with sex, because she believes if she can get her parents to 'lie on top' of each other, they will stay together. The oldest brother kills animals, and suggest sexual 'games' that Jas and him can try. They sometimes bring in the neighbor girl Belle too. When we were all teenagers, we all experimented with sex and our new forbidden body parts, but Jas and her brother, and younger sister take it to extremes. This book perfectly captures the doubts, anxiety, and fears of a young child who is trying to understand death, and is going through puberty, too.

There was lots of discomfort while reading this book, but I don't think I will be able to easily forget it. This was a book that will be seared on my brain for some weeks to come.

Rating: ★★★★ Book #86 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #death #cows #MariekeLucasRijneveld #Netherlands #farm #ManBookerInternational2020