Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Review: Riverland

Riverland Riverland by Fran Wilde
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." - Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

My reaction to this book is deeply personal. From its opening passages, which I found excruciatingly familiar, I felt a kinship with the rituals of safety- the house rules, and the magic that these rules invoke for making a fragile home "peaceful." Anyone who knows what it is like to not be able to explain to a friend why they can't come to your house, especially without advance planning. Anyone who has lived with all the rules about what you can say and not say, who you talk to and what you never reveal, will find this book resonates with them. It paints a haunting picture of children's perceptions of domestic abuse.

Riverland is about El and Mike, two sisters who come from an unhappy family. We see the carefully circumscribed world the sisters live in, with all its rules centered on palliating an aggressive Poppa, and their Momma's magic, which holds the home and family together in ways that children will grow to question over the course of the book. But that's only part of this story. Their house, their family, and soon, their magic, is broken, culminating in a mysterious river leaking under El's bed. Since under the bed is a favorite hiding place (again, familiar) it's only natural that when Mike falls in, El dives in after her, taking care of her baby sister, just as she always has done. What they find is another secret world, another one in which agreements and rules were made without their knowledge or understanding. The magic of that world is intimately linked to the house magic of their own world. The alternate world is filled with 'mares (nightmares) and terrifying figures. But is it as bad as the world that El and Mike come home to every day after school? What does it mean when you feel safer in an alt-world than in your own home? The fantasy elements of the story, which in some ways feel more like elements of magical realism (in the tradition of Allende, for example), present the girls with the means to transform their situation.

This is an emotionally complex book that would be the perfect summer reading assignment for middle-grade students. It's a novel about healing hearts, navigating difficult family circumstances, about learning to speak out, upholding agreements, and doing what is right.

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Saturday, March 30, 2019

Review: Face

Face Face by Cecile Pineda
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My Classic Read for March 2019 is Cecile Pineda's Face, a book about identity.

First published in 1985, Cecile Pineda's slim and stunning novel Face was highly acclaimed and has a longevity that places it as a modern classic, an American Academy of Arts and Letters prize winner, and a finalist for the prestigious Neustadt Prize in 2013. Nobel Laureate J. M. Coetzee has called it one of the most haunting books he's ever read. Based on the true story of a man who was disfigured in an accident, we follow the fictional life of Helio Cara (a name that ironically could be taken to mean "sun or day love") a man living in a favela in Rio de Janeiro. Helio rushes, or tries to, to his dying mother's bedside but falls off a hillside (a metaphorical cliff). Surviving his accident, he is rendered faceless in that he is so disfigured that everyone rejects him and his identity, home, livelihood and all his friends, are lost to him. His situation is so dire he cannot go out and cannot bear to be seen. The light of day brings only sorrow, cruelty and rejection. Over time, Helio rebuilds himself, literally rebuilding his face, with needle and thread, and novocaine for pain.

Face remains a landmark in Latin American fiction, with Pineda being one of the first US-based Latina writers to land a contract with a major US publishing house. It is also a stunning novel about what makes us who we are, about how others see us, and how we see ourselves. What defines us? Is it what we do, the choices we make, or the face we show the world? A fascinating novel, as fresh today as it was more than thirty years ago, I cannot recommend this jewel of Hispanic literature highly enough.

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Review: The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Uninhabitable Earth was my non-fiction read for March 2019.

I first heard about this book on PBS News Hour, when Hari Sreenivasan described the book as gripping non-fiction. Having blogged for years about climate on another venue, I was drawn to the book. What would life after warming be like? Wallace-Wells has painted a picture that is frightening but not without hope. Comprising all aspects of global warming- from heat death to hunger to drowning, wildfires, freshwater (potable) loss to dying oceans, the impact of air pollution, plagues of tropical diseases, economic collapse and the immigrant conflicts of climate refugees, we gain a broad view of the impact of climate change and the certainty that much as it is human-caused, the solutions, or more accurately, the staying of further change, are in human hands, as well.

Addressing issues as vast as capitalism's culpability and saving graces to answers to the Fermi paradox from an industrialized civilization paradigm, The Uninhabitable Earth should be on every responsible citizen of this planet's reading list. While Swedish teen political activist Greta Thunberg isn't wrong about realizing your house is on fire, David Wallace-Wells wants this, our near future, to be humanity's finest hour. The political will of major world powers is the essential component to his future view veering from disaster.

Don't avoid this book from fear and thinking it's a negative take. It's a pragmatic take about where we need to focus our efforts. The same approach as the Manhattan Project, focused on climate, could literally save this pale blue dot. Read this book and shout about it.

- Astrophysicist and philosopher Carl Sagan's famous quote,
looking at an image caught by Voyager I as it left our solar system,
and cast a final glance back toward Earth, our home.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Review: Everyday Superheroes: Women in STEM Careers

Everyday Superheroes: Women in STEM Careers by Erin Twamley, Joshua Sneideman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Everyday Superheroes was borne as part of a Kickstarter project. Its goal is to help raise awareness of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields. A picture book targeting primary grades, it offers twenty-six women (cute alphabetical organization) who have made major contributions in STEM fields. Ranging from the well-known (Eugenie Clark) to the less well-known (Lyndsey Scott), each of the women featured has a short biography and an explanation of their field. Twamley also provides a discussion of the gifts that are the hallmark of those who are drawn to the STEM fields- observation, imagination/curiosity, problem solving, collaborative abilities, data-based analytical thinking, and communication skills.

If you have a daughter, a granddaughter, a niece, a goddaughter, or if you simply know a female child who shows an interest in science, building, or technology, this is a wonderful book for her. Twamley and Sneideman show twenty-six women who have achieved success in their fields and who provide an optimistic outlook for the women STEM researchers of our future.

You can check out the book here on Amazon or over on Kickstarter.

I received a Digital Review Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Princess for a Day: A book about kindness

Princess for a Day: A book about kindness Princess for a Day: A book about kindness by P Tomar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The latest installment in P. Tomar's colorfully illustrated (by Giulia Iacopini) Indian culture-inspired Babu and Bina picture book series finds young lady elephant Bina reimagining her life if she was Princess Bina. While the greatness of her royal self is gratifying to her, she gradually learns that she has far more fun if she's just Bina, a girl who helps her grandparents and who plays with her friends.

This is a delightful picture book that invites children to contemplate the benefits of just being yourself.

Princess for a Day and Babu and Bina at the Ghost Party are available on Amazon in hardcover or via Kindle Unlimited.

I received a Digital Review Copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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