Monday, May 20, 2019

Review: The Scent Keeper

The Scent Keeper The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars

Have you ever suddenly smelled something and been transported to a place of memory? The Scent Keeper addresses this and more. Focusing on the life of Emmeline, we follow her for a time, idyllic childhood on an island where she lives with her father and the revelation that so much that she believed about her family was wrong/ a lie.

Who hasn't found that something in their parents' lives isn't quite impartial or.... accurate? What secrets are there in your family? This novel gives us a protagonist who finds the story she has been raised with isn't the full truth. But where does she go from there? With that in mind, this novel is an exploration of family (chosen and born) and memory. A very evocative story.

I received an Advance Review Copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Saturday, May 18, 2019

Review: The House on Mango Street

The House on Mango Street The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sandra Cisneros' wonderful narration of her short novel The House on Mango Street illuminates her character Esperanza and the community of friends and families she lives in on the fictional Mango Street. This is a seemingly simple novel that today seems more important than ever for young people to read, as it captures the Chicano experience through the eyes of children. Cisneros, born in Chicago, developed her unique voice after feeling dissatisfied with trying to emulate creative writing styles that were more accepted. She describes her fiction as conversational in style and this certainly captures Esperanza's story. Growing up poor and seeing the limiting choices faced by many girls, along with the indifference of adults to abuses of girls, Esperanza, just like the meaning of her name, which disappoints her, hopes for more.

In her introduction to the novel, Cisneros says that she is often asked if she herself is Esperanza. She says her reply is that everyone is Esperanza. We all hope for more.

This is a short novel, which won the American Book Award in 1985, is often recommended for middle graders. It should be on everyone's reading list.

This was my 2019 Classic Read for the month of April. And yeah, I know it's the middle of May. Sigh.

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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Review: Salt in My Soul: An Unfinished Life

Salt in My Soul: An Unfinished Life Salt in My Soul: An Unfinished Life by Mallory Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Right in the middle of my move across the country, I was contacted by a friend of Mallory Smith, asking me to read Mallory's memoir for review. I downloaded the Kindle and audiobook version and promptly, in keeping with this entire move, lost the friend's email for a time. I very much wanted to read Mallory's story because I, too, had a friend who had cystic fibrosis, like Mallory.

Cystic Fibrosis, which is a progressive genetic disease, is cruel in that it worsens as a person enters what should be the prime of their lives. It is a disease that is a great challenge to live with and that is in part what made Mallory, who loved sports and the beaches, so unusual. For so many years, until the cusp of adulthood and her admission to Stanford, Mallory was undaunted by her CF. She wanted to simply live a happy life. Her observations of living with her illness can in some ways be generalized to the day to day struggles of anyone living with a serious, life-threatening disease. From understanding what it's like to be a young person who is continually having to readjust their expectations from life, to advice about what not to say to someone who is seriously ill, Salt in My Soul offers readers a chance to walk in Mallory's shoes.

This is a poignant story about battling Cystic Fibrosis and closes with some promising developments in treatment for one of the serious types of bacterial infections (Burkholderia cepacia) that can cause rapid clinical deterioration due to antibiotic resistance. My understanding from Mallory's friend is that all proceeds from this book will be donated to CF research.

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Review: Cinderella Liberator

Cinderella Liberator Cinderella Liberator by Rebecca Solnit
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well-known feminist author Rebecca Solnit (Men Explain Things to Me) has given us a fairy tale retelling of Cinderella for modern times. Less judge-y about Cinderella's stepsisters, giving mice and rats and lizards a choice in the matter of transformation, and realizing the poor idea of marrying a prince you barely know (look what happens in Into the Woods for instance?), this is unquestionably an all new take on Cinderella. Some little girls may be disappointed that Ella doesn't want to be a princess, but other little girls are going to be thrilled that she becomes a small business owner (a bakery) and can ride her beautiful horses any time she wants. And her sailor mother comes home, to boot!

While I enjoyed this retelling, I'm not sure I felt the Rackham illustrations (though I love them) feel harmonious with this modern heroine. Solnit's writing is beautiful, though, and who wouldn't want a dress that looks like a starry night?

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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Review: The Candle and the Flame

The Candle and the Flame The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Candle and the Flame tells the story of Fatima Ghazala, a human/ifrit young woman. The book opens with child Fatima being rescued by a dying ifrit woman, Ghazala, who transfers her fire (effectively her soul or consciousness) to Fatima to save her. Fatima is taken in by an adoptive family but her adoptive parents die in a later battle with chaotic djinn, and her adoptive older sister Sunaina becomes responsible for her. Fatima's relationship with Sunaina is not without its rough spots, although the sisters truly love one another. Through her work as a messenger, Fatima meets Firdaus, an elderly ifrit bookseller who is titled the Name Giver. Firdaus is/was Ghazala's father and recognizes his deceased daughter's fire in Fatima and takes her under his wing, providing lessons in history, literature, and language. But nothing is as simple as it seems and when Firdaus is murdered with a book that Fatima delivers to him, his death portends hard times ahead, including explanations to the ifrit Emir of Noor, who was friendly with Firdaus.

One of the riches of this book is the number of positive female friendships between Fatima and the three Alif sisters (hat tip to Alif the Unseen, Nafiza? ) Adila, Azizah, and Amirah, who are Fatima's friends and neighbors. Similarly, Fatima's relationship with her adoptive sister Sunaina, and adoptive grandmother Laali are well drawn and sometimes quite poignant.

While the scaffolding of this novel is Fatima Ghazala's story, the city in which she resides, Noor, is also at the heart of this story. Noor is a diverse city where humans, ifrit, and other djinn create a place of safety. We see Muslims, Hindus, and Han Chinese (several possible faiths) living cooperatively, in a sometimes delicate dance of co-existence. Though Muslim, Fatima and her friends joyously celebrate Deepavali (Diwali) with the Hindu community. The differing boundaries of faith seem to be respected rather than merely tolerated. The community is not idyllic, however, and frictions exist between the races. As a biracial character, we see the occasional discomfort Fatima Ghazala engenders in others, and how she must struggle to find her place, her purpose, and answers about her complex nature.

According to my paper ARC edition of this book, Scholastic intended this to be a Middle-Grade novel. I feel pretty firmly that it is not, however. The cultural vocabulary even with the glossary at the end of the book might be too much of a challenge for the average 7th to 8th grader. Additionally, the book doesn't have action throughout, one of the somewhat lamentable hallmarks of current Middle-Grade fantasy. I do feel that it is well suited to 9th-grade students and above since its exploration of cultural diversity and co-existence are vital messages to offer young people in the present day.

I've followed Nafiza Azad's Twitter and reviews on Goodreads for a while and it's been a delight to enjoy her debut novel.

I received an Advanced Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review.

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