Magical Readathon

READ THE WORLD – Gabon: The Fury and Cries of Women by Angèle Rawiri

Translated by Sara Hanaburgh.

Trigger warnings for death of a child, animal abuse, and discussions of miscarriage and infertility.

Emilienne completes her university studies in Paris; marries a man from another ethnic group; becomes a leader in women’s liberation; enjoys professional success, even earning more than her husband; and eventually takes a female lover. Yet still she remains unsatisfied. Those closest to her, and even she herself, constantly question her role as woman, wife, mother, and lover. The tragic death of her only child accentuates Emilienne’s anguish, all the more so because of her subsequent barrenness and the pressure that she concedes to her husband taking a second wife.

The Fury and Cries of Women is set in the 1980s and it’s one of those stories that seems as relevant today as when it was first published in 1989. Emilienne has a good job (that earns more than her husband) and she’s educated but all society and those closest to her seem to care about is her ability to have children – and she’s not immune to those thoughts either.

The Fury and Cries of Women can be a tough read at times because Emilienne puts up with so much from everyone around her including her parents, her sister, her husband and her mother-in-law that it’s surprising to takes her so long to snap at them when I got so mad at them when just reading about it. Her mother-in-law is especially awful as she thinks Emilienne is not good enough for her son and she conspires to end their marriage, even reaching out to her son’s mistress. Meanwhile, while the things they say are still bad, at least it’s still clear that Emilienne’s family cares about her.

I feel like The Fury and Cries of Women would be difficult read for any woman who doesn’t have children, whether by choice or because they have their own fertility issues and heartbreak. The things characters say about women who don’t have children (never considering the fact they may not be able to) are incredibly harsh and are along the lines of “a woman’s purpose is to be a mother”, “you’re not a real woman if you don’t have children”, “it won’t be your husband’s fault if he leaves you because the role of the wife is to produce an heir” etc. Emilienne wants to have more children but ever since her daughter she’s not been able to carry a pregnancy to term in years. In fact, the opening chapter has Emilienne going through a miscarriage alone in her bed and she struggles to clean herself and hide the evidence from her husband of what she deems as another failure. Emilienne feels like a failure and when everyone around her is pretty much saying the same it’s not a surprise.

Her husband Joseph is pretty much absent from their marriage. He stays for days or weeks at his mistress’s house, moving clothes out of his marital home, ad constantly lies to Emilienne about where he’s been and who with, sometimes making her doubt her own mind. Joseph seems to have a sense of obligation to Emilienne but at the same time refuses to be the one to ask for a divorce and possibly give her a chance to be happy. Likewise, Emilienne refuses to ask for one because all the failures of their marriage would be placed at her feet.

The Fury and Cries of Women is a quick and engaging read even though it can be tough, seeing all the emotional and verbal abuse Emilienne. Also, it has a very abrupt ending and not a particularly satisfying one as none of the various conflicts in Emilienne’s life are solved. The Fury and Cries of Women doesn’t tie everything up neatly – or at all – which perhaps shows how true to life this story is. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Azerbaijan: Ali and Nino by Kurban Said

It is the eve of World War I in Baku, Azerbaijan, a city on the edge of the Caspian Sea, poised precariously between east and west. Ali Khan Shirvanshir, a teenage Muslim schoolboy from a proud, aristocratic family, has fallen in love with the beautiful and enigmatic Nino Kipiani, a Christian girl with distinctly European sensibilities. To be together they must overcome blood feud and scandal, attempt a daring horseback rescue, and travel from the bustling street of oil-boom Baku, through starkly beautiful deserts and remote mountain villages, to the opulent palace of Ali’s uncle in neighbouring Persia. Ultimately the lovers are drawn back to Baku, but when war threatens their future, Ali is forced to choose between his loyalty to the beliefs of his Asian ancestors and his profound devotion to Nino.

Ali and Nino is set in between 1914-1920, and as they live in Azerbaijan and have familial connections in Georgia and Iran it’s another story where you can see a different side of the First World War and its effects on people. There’s also an Armenian character that faces hatred from some characters who can’t even explain why they hate Armenians so much – that was an interesting historical note after reading Armenian Golgotha.

I have such mixed feelings about Ali and Nino and a lot of the mixed feelings are probably because the book is successfully doing what it set out to do. So much of it is about the culture clash between Ali and Nino. They may love each other, but they both have different ideas about how a home should be run or how marriages work that they often struggle to understand one another. It’s a love story that questions if love really does conquer all when you’ve got people who have religious and cultural ideals that often seem to be in conflict. It’s the first third or so that made me the most uncomfortable but as Ali and Nino both started to mature, I could understand both their view points and their conflicts a lot better.

The religious aspect of how other male characters consider Nino and how women and wives should be treated is something that made me feel uncomfortable when reading. Ali doesn’t necessarily share the same views, but he’s young and was raised with those ideals so there’s often times you can see them there at a subconscious level. One memorable quote is a friend of Ali’s saying that “We have a proverb in our country – A woman has no more sense than an egg has hairs.” It makes my skin crawl even though based on the time period/culture it’s set in there’s a good chance that that was a common thought. When they’re in Persia, Nino chafes against the rules of the society. She can’t leave her home without wearing a veil, she can’t talk to any male guests who visit their home even if they’re her friends too, she can’t go walking around town side by side with her husband – all these customs she’s unused to and it makes her miserable.

Nino is quite a modern young woman thanks to her upbringing – or rather instead of modern, the term should be probably Western. Because that’s where a lot of Ali and Nino’s conflicts lie. Azerbaijan is a country that straddles on the border of Asia and Europe, the East and the West, and Ali and Nino are representations of that divide. As Ali says, “For me it would be just as impossible to live in Europe as it was for you to live in Asia. Let’s stay in Baku, where Asia and Europe meet.” The city of Baku seems like the perfect mix of cultures, religion, and ideals, and the description of the city paints a vivid picture. The novel is solely from Ali’s point of view and his love of his home, the city and the surrounding desert, shines through.

Azerbaijan is one of the many countries I knew nothing about before my Read the World Project – to be honest, Azerbaijan was one of those countries I only really knew of because it competed in Eurovision – and I really enjoyed seeing it through Ali’s eyes. The fact that it is such a blend of cultures due to where its situated makes it so unique and I’d be interested to learn more about what the country is like today as Ali and Nino is set 100 years ago and ends just as Azerbaijan’s independence is threatened by Russia’s expansion.

Ali and Nino is a love story but it’s so much more than that. It can be dark at times with honour killings but there’s also a lot of light to it too. The conflict over cultural ideals and the sense of belonging each character has is thought-provoking and makes their relationship all the more interesting. They both hurt each other, intentionally or not, but there’s something about their relationship that makes you hope for the best and they’ll find a middle ground on the things that threaten to push them a part. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Panama: The Golden Horse: A Novel About Triumph and Tragedy Building the Panama Railroad by Juan David Morgan

Translated by John Cullen.

Many people know the story of the Panama Canal, but few know that of the Panama Railroad: the first transcontinental railroad of the Americas that was built during the California Gold Rush. From 1851-55, a handful of adventurers and inventive engineers drove the enterprise to tame the unexplored jungle wilderness that would soon become the first inter-oceanic railroad, link the US to Central America and change Panama forever. Thousands of people died during the construction of the railroad, succumbing to tropical diseases and natural disasters. Despite the danger, the lust of gold fever and the challenge of conquering the wilderness drove the protagonists through the perils of torturous journeys, cutthroat competition, ruthless outlaws, savage jungles, the most ferocious extremes of the tropical frontier, and violent cultural clashes, but not without the thrill of romantic adventures, the wonder of human inventiveness, and rugged determination to succeed.

I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed The Golden Horse. The subject matter wasn’t something I was that interested in (like many books for my Read the World Project, the priority is finding a book/writer from a country rather than choosing one I think I’d enjoy) and as it’s set in the 1800s, I thought the language used might make it a bit of slog to read. Happily, that wasn’t the case and The Golden Horse was very readable and the characters and the various hardships they faced were compelling too.

This is a fictionalised true story so there are real people as main characters as well as imagined ones that fill in the gaps and it was fun to google various characters to see if they fell in the real or made-up category. Either way, these people did something extraordinary in creating a working railway line across jungles, rivers and swamps. The fact that thousands of people – most of them poor and people of colour – died to make it happen and that The Golden Horse doesn’t shy away from that and the terrible conditions these people worked in makes the story better. It gives a voice to those who perished while still allowing you to marvel at a feat in engineering. Black people were shipped in from the Caribbean, the Chinese were lied to and thought they were being sent to work in America, then there was the Irish and the native Panamanians who came to work on the railway too. All these people allowed for the rich white American shipping magnets to finance and construct the railroad.

It’s somewhat unsurprising that not much has changed in 170 years as companies and shareholders would look for the cheapest option rather than the safest or more fruitful one in the long term. It was frustrating at time as more often than not the perspectives were that of those working on the railroads like the engineers who were on the ground and knew of the conditions and what would or wouldn’t work. Then the big bosses would send someone who promised to do part of the job cheaper who thought they knew best and didn’t listen to the wisdom of those who had been in Panama far longer. It’s always satisfying when those kind of people are proved wrong.

The Golden Horse is told in in a mixture of prose and diary entries. The diary entries are from John Llyod Stephens, a travel writer who became one of the representatives of the shipping company in Panama, and Elizabeth Benton Freeman, a woman who is first travelling to San Francisco to meet her military husband there but soon becomes connected to the railroad employees and captains of the ships she travels on. The proses is from a variety of different characters perspectives and you get to see pretty much every possible point of view on a subject or incident. I liked how characters mentioned in the beginning of the story came back throughout the novel. The Golden Horse spans over a decade as while the construction of the railroad is the focus, there’s investigations in the viability of such a venture year’s beforehand and it’s interesting to see how characters who you think were just mentioned in passing, or were just used as an example of some sort of event, ended up playing a bigger role than you could’ve imagined. It really is a cleverly plotted book.

The Golden Horse was another book of a snapshot of history that I knew nothing about. The characters and the various relationships are all compelling and I even liked the inclusion of a romance that I thought was doomed at the beginning but ended up being something quite sweet and lovely. Overall, The Golden Horse was an enjoyable and interesting read and one that I read far quicker than I thought I would. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Madagascar: Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo

Translated by Allison M. Charette.

Fara and her father’s slave, Tsito, have been close since her father bought the boy after his forest village was destroyed. Now in Sahasoa, amongst the cattle and rice fields, everything is new for Tsito, and Fara at last has a companion. But as Tsito looks forward to the bright promise of freedom and Fara, backward to a dark, long-denied family history, a rift opens between them just as British Christian missionaries and French industrialists arrive and violence erupts across the country. Love and innocence fall away, and Tsito and Fara’s world becomes enveloped by tyranny, superstition, and fear.

Beyond the Rice Fields is the first novel published in Madagascar to be translated into English. I’ve had a lot of firsts in my Read the World Project but learning how so few works are translated into English (or any other language than the one it was written in) from various countries never ceases to surprise me.

You know the phrase “Never assume – it makes an ass out of u and me”? I definitely felt like that as I read Beyond the Rice Fields. My assumptions came over the race of Fara and Tsito. As it was a story of a slave owners’ daughter and her relationship with a slave, before reading Beyond the Rice Fields I presumed that Fara was white while Tsito was Black and it’d present a lot of extra problematic elements and power imbalances in a relationship like that. This wasn’t the case though as while naturally there was a power imbalance as Tsito was a slave, Fara and her family were also Black. There’s also the fact that they were both children when Tsito was brought into Fara’s home. Fara was seven and Tsito was nine, meaning that while Tsito certainly had jobs around the home to do they grew up together and he was treated more like family by Fara and her mother and grandmother, than just a slave. It’s a different look at the dynamic between slave and master compared to what I’d seen before, and seeing Tsito’s affection grow not just for Fara but for the other women in the family was sweet.

Beyond the Rice Fields is told from the perspectives of both Fara and Tsito and each perspective has a distinctive voice. It’s interesting how the chapters from Tsito’s point of view feature a lot more discussions on politics than Fara’s early on, though perhaps that’s to be expected as he’s a slave and has to be aware and consider the rules of society a lot of more as he tries to learn different skills in order to earn his freedom. With Fara, her chapters and perspective are a lot more focussed on emotions, she makes mistakes that Tsito never would as he’s had to be a lot more aware of the world than she has.

I think Beyond the Rice Fields spans almost twenty years as Fara and Tsito grow up together, grow a part and start to come back together. Naturally a lot of characters are mentioned throughout this time, some drop in and out of the story and as some have similar sounding names it can be hard to remember who is who especially as the novel doesn’t offer any context clues. It’s also difficult at times to judge how much time has passed and how old the characters are supposed to be. Sometimes a chapter begins with something along the lines of “that continued for ten yeas” which can be jarring as you suddenly need to age up the characters in your mind.

One of the most interesting yet also sometimes frustrating thing in Beyond the Rice Fields was the clash between religion and tradition. Beyond the Rice Fields is set in the 1800’s and as Christian missionaries attempt to convert the people; the backlash is extreme. The rituals that people have to go through to prove their innocence to any sins they’re accused of seem to be in such a way that they are doomed to fail. People are pretty much poisoned and if they can expel the poison that means they’re innocent? Those scenes are graphic and frustrating as it’s pure chance whether someone’s body can withstand the things it’s put through but the results are seen as concrete proof of someone’s innocence or guilt.

Beyond the Rice Fields is an interesting and compelling read. I enjoyed the dual perspectives as they both offered a lot of different ideas and experiences. The ever growing romance between Fara and Tsito was believable too and they were a relationship that I couldn’t help but root for even when a lot of things were working against them.

Magical Readathon: Autumn Equinox TBR

It’s the most wonderful time of year – meaning it’ll soon be August and Magical Readathon time! The Magical Readathon is the brainchild of Gi at BookRoast on YouTube and it’s time for the seconf lot of exams. Previously the Magical Readathon was based on Harry Potter and its exams but Gi has now created her own magical world and university and it’s truly impressive. Like the previous iteration of the Magical Readathon, the aim is to read books that fill the prompts for the subjects you need to pass in order to be able to do the magical career of your choice. Gi’s announcement video explains it all and she has a variety of documents that can guide you. This round of the Magical Readathon, the Autumn Equinox exams, is a month-long readathon through the entirety of August.

In these exams/readathon instead of reading one book per subject, there’s now three levels – Ordinary, Qualified, and Distinguished – and depending on what qualifications you need for your chosen career you might have to read one, two or three books for a subject.

As I keep forgetting what my character’s biography is I’m going to make a note of it here and now. I am a human from the urban area of Kerador. I’m in the Archivists Guild, my Legacy is Aitvaras which is the Phoenix God of Sky and Riches, and my conduit is bone – I like to think I have a bracelet made of bone.

Originally the career I was aiming for was Moon Warden (and that will still be my priority) but I’m also interested in being an Illusionist Rogue. For Moon Warden I need a Qualified in Astronomy and Restoration and an Ordinary in Elemental Studies and Spells & Incarnations which totals to six prompts/books. That’s definitely doable for me so I’m going to throw in the exams to become an Illusionist Rogue for an extra push. Those are a Distinguished in Art of Illusion, Ordinary in Psionics & Divination and Shapeshifting making it five more books/prompts.

Astronomy: Ordinary – Letter “L” in the title
A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska
Set in 1984 A Spare Life follows twins who are conjoined at the head, their life as they grow up considered freaks by even their family, and how they struggle to decide if they want to be surgically separated from one another.

Astronomy: Qualified – Books featuring archers/rangers
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
I’ve been rereading the Hunger Games books via audio from my library and I’m looking forward to finishing the series. Katniss is most definitely an archer so I’ve held off starting Mockingjay until August as it was the perfect book for this prompt.

Restoration: Ordinary – Single object the main focus on the cover
I, the Supreme by Augusto Roa Bastos or Foxfire, Wolfskin and other Stories of Shapeshifting Women by Sharon Blackie
My first choice was I, the Supreme which is a fictionalised account of the nineteenth-century Paraguayan dictator José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia but the pdf version of that looks a bit hard to read (formatting is all over the place) so if I don’t get another version before I need to read the prompt, I’ve got a short story collection of myths and fairy tales.

Restoration: Qualified – Oldest book on your TBR
Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo
Technically I probably have some books that have been on my TBR longer but as I’m trying to prioritise my Read the World Project books, I’m counting Beyond the Rice Fields as I got the ebook in August 2020 which was a while ago now. Beyond the Rice Fields is set in the nineteenth century and it’s about the relationship between a slave and his master’s daughter.

Elemental Studies: Ordinary – Start a book with a drink
Saga Volume 7 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
This could really be any book but as I reread volumes 1-5 of Saga in the Spring Equinox part of the Magical Readathon, I thought it’d be nice to carry on with the series during this readathon. I’ve previously read up to Volume 7 and it’s been nice revisiting this world and the characters and I’m looking forward to continuing.

Spells & Incarnations: Ordinary – Pick a book based on a random colour (blue)
Ali and Nino by Kurban Said
I used a random colour generator I found online and the colour it chose was blue which features heavily on the cover for Ali and Nino which is romance between a Muslim Azerbaijani boy and Christian Georgian girl in Baku in the years 1918–1920.

Shapeshifting: Ordinary – Book with wings on the cover
Saga Volume 6 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
Most volumes of Saga feature a character who has wings but only a few of them can you see the wings on the cover. This is the next volume I need to read and you can see Alana’s wings.

Art of Illusions: Ordinary – Book you don’t know much about
The Fury and Cries of Women by Angèle Rawiri
My read for Gabon is definitely one I don’t know a lot about. I think it follows a woman’s life through university, to marriage and motherhood and how she deals with all of that.

Art of Illusion: Qualified – Book under 300 pages
Saga Volume 8 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
Again, it’s always a good idea to have short books/graphic novels/comics during a readathon and this volume will be all new to me.

Art of Illusion: Distinguished – Book based on a prompt from the Spring Equinox
Unpregnant by Jenni Hendriks and Ted Caplan
I went for the Artificery prompt which was Earth setting. So, a contemporary YA about two ex-best friends going on a road trip so one of them can get an abortion fits the bill.

Psionics & Divination: Ordinary – Book featuring time travel
The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
I don’t think I have any time travel books on my shelves but I searched my library and found The Psychology of Time Travel is available on audio. I usually can get through a couple of audiobooks a month so once I finish Mockingjay I’ll borrow and listen to this one.

Are you taking part in the latest Magical Readathon? If so, what’s on your TBR and what career are you aiming for?

READ THE WORLD Timor-Leste: From Timor-Leste to Australia: Seven Families, Three Generations Tell Their Stories edited by Jan Tresize

A collection of stories and poems from seven families who recount their lives in Timor-Leste and how events like the Japanese invasion during WWII, being a Portuguese colony for almost 500 years, civil war between different political parties once Timor-Leste is decolonised, Indonesia invading, and finally the country gaining its independence after the people vote for it in a referendum in 1999.

Like many countries I’ve read about in my Read the World Project, Timor-Leste is one that I didn’t know anything about so From Timor-Leste to Australia was a real eye-opening and informative read. For each of the seven families there’s at least two people telling their story; sometimes their siblings, or more commonly it’s a parent and then a child. That way the reader can see how these huge events affected different generations as sometime the children were ten years old or younger when they were forced to flee their homes and move to countries far from home so for some it seemed like an adventure and the realities on their situation was lost on them.

Having members of seven different families share their experience is a good way to get a broad idea of what happened to the Timorese people. Some families were wealthier or had connections to the government while others were poor and had little support, but often they all ended up in similar situations, running from their homes and uncertain of what the future held. Those who stayed in Timor-Leste throughout the Indonesian invasion naturally had different experiences to those who managed to get to other countries. So many people still wanted to get back to their home country though, and how some of these people described what they feel is their nationality was interesting. Some now are Australian residents but feel more Portuguese because they spent their formative years there, others feel Timorese first and foremost but still feel at home in Australia or Portugal.

It was interesting to see how these families got displaced with some being separated by loved ones for years and how they adapted to their new countries. One family was in Mozambique for a time as that was also a former Portuguese colony before the revolution there forced them to flee to Portugal. A lot of the families ended up in Portugal for years, sometimes over a decade or more. This was because Timor-Leste was a form Portuguese colony and some of the families had Portuguese parents or grandparents so had connections in the country that could vouch for them. Others ended up there as it was where was deemed to be safest, living in refugee camps for years.

By the end of each of the families’ stories, most of them had ended up settled in Australia, where communities of Timorese people had begun to thrive. This was due to the Australians fighting against the Japanese in WWII and Timorese people would often hide and protect Australian soldiers when the country was occupied by the Japanese.

From Timor-Leste to Australia was quite a sad read at times as so many people in these families were imprisoned, killed, or separated from loved ones for years. People wen through such hardships and nearly every time it seemed like things would get better for the Timorese, something else would happen. The relief and joy when the people of Timor-Leste successfully voted for their country’s independence was palpable in every family member’s recollection. But the resilience of these people and how families managed to stay connected even across oceans was impressive – especially as lot of this happened from around 1942-1999, a time where phones and technology to keep in touch were not how it is today.

READ THE WORLD – Mauritania: The Desert and the Drum by Mbarek Ould Beyrouk

Trigger warning for rape and loss of a child.

Translated by Rachael McGill.

Everything changes for Rayhana when foreigners with strange machines arrive to mine for metal near her Bedouin camp. One of them is the enigmatic Yahya. Her association with him leads Rayhana to abandon all that she has ever known and flee alone to the city. But when her tribe discover she has stolen their sacred drum, they pursue her to exact their revenge.

I feel like I’ve learnt a lot during my Read the World Project and had a lot of firsts and The Desert and the Drum is another one as it’s the first novel ever to be translated into English from Mauritania. It’s a pretty short and easily readable story with a character that you can’t help but empathise with.

Rayhana is a part of a nomadic tribe that’s big on tradition and honour. As her mother is the tribe leader’s sister, she feels she has a place of importance and honour and will do anything to protect it, even if that means hurting her daughter. While the Bedouin camp is completely different to what I have experience, the whole “keeping up appearances” thing is so universal it was sad to see the way Rayhana was treated by those who supposedly cared about her just to save face.

The chapters tend to alternate between the present when Rayhana is running away, meeting new people, and going into the city for the first time, and the past where she was a part of the tribe, taken advantage of by Yahya and then shunned by her mother. From these chapters in the past, you get to understand more of why Rayhana hates he mother so much but the reasons why she wants to hurt the tribe by stealing their sacred drum are more blurred. I think it’s because she sees her mother as a product of the tribe’s rules and culture so feels everyone is to blame and should suffer but I’m not sure. Are the traditions wrong when only one person is slighted but the others are content with what’s around them?

The Desert and the Drum does end quite abruptly and gives neither the reader nor Rayhana any sort of closure. It’s a bit of a sad story really, and though Rayhana does find help from some people (mostly women) she never truly feels safe as she’s so naïve by how things work in a town or city and some of the men she meets appear to have ulterior motives.

REVIEW: Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road by Kyle Buchanan

A full-speed-ahead oral history of the nearly two-decade making of the cultural phenomenon Mad Max: Fury Road – with more than 130 new interviews with key members of the cast and crew, including Charlize Theron, Tom Hardy, and director George Miller, from the pop culture reporter for The New York Times, Kyle Buchanan.

While I generally love films and learning titbits about how they were made, there’s very few that I’d read a whole book on. In fact, Blood, Sweat & Chrome is only the second book I’ve read about a film’s journey to the big screen. The first was The Frodo Franchise: The Lord of the Rings and Modern Hollywood by Kristin Thompson which I read when I was at university and thoroughly enjoyed. I think the reasons I sought out, read and enjoyed these two books are pretty much the same. The Lord of the Rings is one of my favourite films of all time and a formative influence as I saw the first one when I was 10 years old and while I haven’t watched Mad Max: Fury Road as many times, it’s a film that blew me away when I first saw it and every time I rewatch it I’m even more impressed by its attention to detail. They are both films that in some ways shouldn’t exist, or if they did, they have almost no right to be as excellent as they are, so hearing from the people who were involved with making them, sometimes for years, even decades, is just fascinating.

Blood, Sweat & Chrome is a book I got in the post on Saturday and if I’d started it earlier that day, I would’ve read it all in one sitting. From the get go it was just so interesting and incredibly readable. Buchanan adds context and description where needed but mostly the story of how this film was made is told from various people’s perspective. Just about everyone is interviewed for this book, cast and crew, including the kind of people you’d never normally hear from like VFX data wrangler Shyam “Toast” Yadav.

So many times, I found myself with a smile on my face as the stories about the ingenuity of the crew who were making these huge vehicles or the stunt team as they worked with the cast and crew to make things look as real as possible. The fact no one was killed or even seriously hurt during the production is a testament to the director and the stunt team as while they wanted these magnificent and ridiculous stunts, they also wanted to make it safe for everyone.

Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road is a great book for anyone who enjoyed Mad Max: Fury Road and wants to learn more about it, but I also think it’s a great book for people who are introduced in the film industry in general. It’s not shy about how studio interference can cause conflict between the director and their vision, or how long a film can take to be made and all the setbacks that a cast and crew can face. 5/5.

Magical Readathon: Spring Equinox TBR

The Magical Readathon is the brainchild of Gi at BookRoast on YouTube and now we’ve completed the Novice Path, we are in our first year of exams. Previously the Magical Readathon was based on Harry Potter and its exams but Gi has now created her own magical world and university and it’s truly impressive. Like the previous iteration of the Magical Readathon, the aim is to read books that fill the prompts for the subjects you need to pass in order to be able to do the magical career of your choice. Gi’s announcement video explains it all and she has a variety of documents that can guide you. This round of the Magical Readathon, the Spring Equinox exams, is a month-long readathon through the entirety of April. The Autumn Equinox exams/readathon will take place in August.

The career I want to work towards is Moon Warden (though it was so hard to choose) which means in this round of the Magical Readathon I need to read 5 books for the prompts Art of Illusion, Astronomy, Elemental Studies, Restoration and Spells & Incantations. As usual though, I’ve had a look at my TBR and tried to find a book for each of the 14 prompts so I can read as much as possible and then give me more choice when it comes to my magical career path.

TomeTopple hosted by Sam at Thoughts on Tomes is happening in April as well (from 15th-29th and the aim is to read books over 500 pages) so that will be some extra inspiration for at least one of the prompts.

As usual with readathons I try to have a mixture of genres and include as many books for my Read the World Project as possible. One of the only rules with the Magical Readathon is that you can’t double up on prompts so one book = one prompt. However, as you’ll see below, I sometimes have multiple suggestions for a prompt and some books can fit more than one prompt but I promise I won’t use a book for more than one prompt.

Art of Illusion – book with a trope you like
The Ivory Key by Ashaya Raman or The Fortunes of Wangrin by Amadou Hampâté Bâ
The Ivory Key is the first book in a fantasy duology and a book I got in a subscription box. The fact that in the author’s note it said she was a fan of the film National Treasure and was inspired by that is what made me most interested in this book. I love that film and adventure/puzzle stories. On the blurb of The Fortunes of Wangrin it describes the titular character as a “rogue and an operator, hustling both the colonial French and his own people” and I do love a morally grey character.

Astronomy – top of your TBR
Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo
I’m using my latest Top Ten Tuesday post as inspiration for this prompt, so really any of the books there could be what I end up reading. Beyond the Rice Fields is set in the nineteenth century and it’s about the relationship between a slave and his master’s daughter.

Elemental Studies – Book under 100 pages
The Desert and the Drum by Mbarek Ould Beyrouk
OK I am cheating slightly here as the kindle edition I have is 111 page long but I can not find a book on my TBR that has less than 100 pages. Gi’s always saying it’s fine to tweak prompts to fit (and it’s not like she’d know) so that’s what I’m doing here.

Spells & Incantations – a collection of short stories/essays or an individual short story/essay
From Timor-Leste to Australia: Seven families, Three Generations Tell Their Stories edited by Jan Trezise
I have this on my kindle which is a collection of stories and poems from East Timorese families living in Melbourne whose experiences belong to that long history of human tragedy created where violent conflict of power, land and resources takes place, inevitably visiting on ordinary people, disruption and loss.

Restoration – book featuring healers
Angel Mage by Garth Nix or A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross
I wasn’t sure if any of the books on my shelves featured healers but thanks to recommendations on the Magical Readathon Twitter I discovered I had a couple on my shelves. Out of the two I’m more likely to read Angel Mage as it’s a standalone and I’ve previously read and enjoyed a lot of Garth Nix’s other work.

Alchemy – read a book featuring romance
Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales or Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen
I don’t tend to read a lot of romance books but I have a few on my shelves, and to be honest, a lot of books feature some form of romance so this isn’t too hard a prompt to fill.

Animal Studies – a quick read
Chaka by Thomas Mofolo (and probably any of the books for the Alchemy prompt)
Chaka is less than 170 pages so that definitely has the potential of being a quick read. Plus, I tend to find YA contemporary stories pretty quick to get through so they’d work for this prompt too.

Artificery – Earth setting
Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas or The Fury and Cries of Women by Angèle Rawiri
This is one that’s pretty easy to fill as the vast majority of my Read the World books are set on Earth. Concrete Rose is the prequel to The Hate U Give which I loved and I’ve been wanting to read it for ages. I believe The Fury and Cries of Women follows Emilienne’s life through her university studies, marriage, children, work, and how she tries to search for what feminism means to her while dealing with cultural expectations and the taboos of sex and motherhood.

Conjuration – source of light on the cover
QuixotiQ by Ali Al Saeed
This is a book I’ve already started once but struggled a bit with but as it’s less than 200 pages long it’s the perfect time to give it another go for a readathon, and as you can see, it has the sun on the cover.

Demonology – word “shadow” in the book/series title
A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
A Gathering of Shadows is the only book I have on my TBR that has “shadow” in the title but it has been six(!) years since I read the first book, A Darker Shade of Magic, so I’d need to reread that in order to carry on with the series. I’m not sure if A Darker Shade of Magic fits into any of these prompts so I may just have to scrap Demonology as a subject/prompt and any careers that need it.

Inscription – an intimidating read
The Golden Horse by Juan David Morgan or Armenian Golgotha: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide, 1915-198 by Grigoris Balakian
I find both these books intimidating as they are rather chunky and, in the case of Armenian Golgotha, I think it’s going to be a tough read.

Lore – mythology-inspired book
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
This is an Arthurian retelling and as the sequel is out later this year, this is the perfect time to read a it – and I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.

Psionics & Divination – book set in the future
This is the one prompt I do not have any books that can fill it. I don’t have any sci-fi books on my shelves, which are usually the most obvious books set in the future, and nothing else I’ve read the blurb of makes it seem it’s set in the future. Looks like any careers that needs Psionics & Divination won’t be in my future.

Shapeshifting – creature with claws on the cover
A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan or She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
Both books have a dragon on the front cover which definitely has claws and A Natural History of Dragons would be an audiobook read.

And that’s my Spring Equinox TBR! Are you taking part in the Magical Readathon? If you’ve read any of these books, I’d love to hear what you think of them. As for Tome Topple, of the books mentioned here, Angel Mage, Legendborn and Armenian Golgotha are over 500 pages so I may try and read them when Tome Topple is happening. Also I do have the A-Z in April Challenge next month too. I already have over half the posts scheduled so hopefully that won’t take up too much of my reading time.

READ THE WORLD – Qatar: The Girl Who Fell to Earth: A Memoir by Sophia Al-Maria

A funny and wry coming-of-age memoir about growing up in between American and Gulf Arab cultures as Al-Maria shares the struggles of being raised by an American mother and Bedouin father while shuttling between homes in the Pacific Northwest and the Middle East.

The Girl Who Fell to Earth begins with the story of Al-Maria’s parents. Of how her father came to America and how they met, fell in love and were happy for a while. Then in goes to Al-Maria’s childhood and the start of feeling like she belonged in two places and none at all. Growing up she and her young sister spent years with her mother and grandmother in her home on a small farm, then they moved with their mother to Doha to live in a large apartment their father had though they rarely saw him, instead spending time with all the women on their dad’s side of the family; aunts and cousins.

Al-Maria in part doesn’t seem to know who she is because she moves between America and the Middle East at major milestones in her life. As a young teen in America, she tries to express herself but the things she’s interested in (fashion and music) disappoint and sometimes anger her mother. When she goes back to the Middle East as a teen she discovers new restrictions on her life, especially once she starts her period and she’s no longer allowed to go to certain parts of the house where the men are.

Al-Maria grows up in the 80s and 90s and she’s at university in Egypt when 9/11 happens. Her university is an international school with a whole mixture of Americans, Europeans, and Arabs from different countries, so after the attacks you feel the repercussions on all these people in a different way that white Western people did.

The Girl Who Fell to Earth is really interesting because it seems like Al-Maria not only has a culture clash but a personality clash with her parents, her mother especially. It’s like she’s expected to know how to act in both societies but there are things she’s never taught and neither side of the family rarely think they should – she’s just expected to know things. Her not knowing where she belongs, how she feels like an alien when people can’t easily classify “what” she is based on her looks or her level of English or Arabic, comes out in anger, confusion and just general teenage angst.

The Girl Who Fell to Earth doesn’t offer any simple or easy answers to Al-Maria’s turmoil. Her childhood and upbringing weren’t easy and while as an outside perspective you can think of what you’d have done differently in her position, or even in her parent’s position, these were the choices she made. Sometimes they were reckless or thoughtless while sometimes they were a conscious decision.

The Girl Who Fell to Earth is told with a wry sense of humour. There are things that happen in Al-Maria’s life that are sad or shocking but they are told with a degree of distance to them. It’s is as because she doesn’t feel connected to either part of her heritage, it’s difficult for the reader to connect with what she experienced. 4/5.