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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Review: Asian Children's Favorite Stories: Folktales from China, Japan, Korea, India, the Philippines and Other Asian Lands

Asian Children's Favorite Stories: Folktales from China, Japan, Korea, India, the Philippines and Other Asian Lands by David Conger
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars

Illustrations- 4 stars
Stories- 3 stars

I'm a huge fan of folktales as regular readers of the blog know, and I started reading Asian fairy tales with my mother when I was in Kindergarten. I've read quite a few stories from different cultures and have also read some fabulous retellings (Eugie Foster's "The Girl Who Drew Cats" is a standout and I remember my youngest asking to hear Demi's "Liang and the Magic Paintbrush" again and again). Reading new folktales to children is always a delight but the selection of the stories so that the child reader/listener relates is crucial. I felt there was a bit of unevenness in the selection and adaptation. I also found that some younger children resisted the first story "What Cats and Dogs Don't Get Along," a title which prompted a friend's five year old to say "that's silly, they do get along!" (Their position was unswayed after hearing the story.) Some tales enchanted ("The Mousedeer Becomes a Judge") while others seemed to lack the luminous language of other adaptations I've read ("Liang and his Magic Brush," and "The Crane's Gratitude").

Overall this is a book that might entertain a child interested in folklore from around the world, and parents looking for less commonly seen stories. A number of the illustrations (particularly the snowy scenes for the Japanese story) are lovely, and they will appeal to young children.

I received a pre-publication copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Poison Bed

The Poison Bed The Poison Bed by E.C. Fremantle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Poison Bed is a historical fictional account of the murder of Sir Thomas Overbury, the most infamous scandal of the Stuart era in English history. Robert Carr, the Earl of Somerset, and his Countess wife, born Lady Frances Howard, along with four others, were charged with poisoning Overbury, who had been Carr's friend. It was a salacious and shocking event bourne of bitter dislike between Carr and Frances Howard, a deathbed confession of murder on the part of the man who supplied the poison, and multiple attempts to kill Overbury with everything from arsenic to mercury. It's a gruesome tale; however, Fremantle's goal is to make Frances, the confessed murderer/lead planner relatable and sympathetic. Along the way, we see James I's purported bi- or homosexuality as a factor in his relationship with Carr, Carr's purported pansexuality (Fremantle postulates he was involved with not just James but also Overbury, but drawn to Frances Howard), and Frances's being a mere pawn, albeit occasionally a scheming one, in her uncle's grand plan for position at Court. I wasn't convinced of the accuracy or the character voicing (Frances and Carr alternate chapters), and the occasional gross anachronism (whether language or fact) bounced me out of the story entirely.

I received a Digital Review Copy from NetGalley and Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

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Sunday, March 17, 2019

Review: The Witch's Kind

The Witch's Kind The Witch's Kind by Louisa Morgan
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars

I want to like this book so much more than my intellectual reaction to it. It wasn't the book I thought it was going into it, though I grew to love the two protagonists, Aunt Charlotte and her niece Barrie Anne Blythe. I also enjoyed Willow and Emma. My main question is... Is this really a book about witches? I'm not 100% sold on the idea.

I found the historical aspect of the story (post- WWII) to be of interest (how people recover from war), and I liked the slow revelation of witchery and the lesbian aspects (really, how many people are in total denial about their spinster aunts, I wonder?) but some of the secondary characters, in particular, Will, are just so two-dimensional and obvious that I occasionally felt annoyed. (You could see Will for who he was from the very beginning! No depth!)

I've seen some reviewers compare this novel to Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, and that's just a disservice to Morgan's writing here. While she explores relationships, magic, and love, the strongest aspect was the alien aspect for me, rather than any conventional witchcraft theme. It's not the X-Files exactly, but I'm not sure that readers picking up this book are going to get what they anticipated. Not that that's always a bad thing... Yet the story flows and I found the interrelationship between Barrie Anne, Charlotte, Willow the Dog and Emma to be a moving one.

A pleasant read if you don't go into it expecting some intergenerational family witchcraft story by Alice Hoffman!

I received a Digital Review Copy from Redhook Press in exchange for an honest review.

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Friday, March 15, 2019

Review: The Deepest Blue

The Deepest Blue The Deepest Blue by Sarah Beth Durst
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

4.5 Stars

Deepest Blue is the latest installment in The Queens of Renthia series of novels which give us moral heroines who find unique ways to make peace with nature in the form of various elemental spirit entities (fire, air, water, earth, ice, wood, etc.) In this installment, Durst explores an island region of Renthia, Belene, and the harsh fate that awaits those with the power to control the spirits who are charged with the duty of protecting their region of Renthia in spite of any alleigiance to family or loved ones. In this fourth book in the Renthia series we meet Mayara, an oyster diver in Belene who saves her community and loved ones from a storm driven by the malicious ocean spirits that surround Belene on her wedding day. This novel gives us more of an established set of relationships and commitments and lets us feel the impact on heirs to the various regions of Renthia. Much as the reader felt the plight of Daleina in the Renthia trilogy, Deepest Blue elaborates on the theme of communal welfare versus personal commitment.

I continue to enjoy this series in which Nature fights back against the human transgression. Durst gives us a world in which all the successful leaders are those who find a way to create a sense of equilibrium or meaningful co-existence with Nature. That's an optimistic world view that I enjoy. Mayara's story is another fine installment in the Renthian world.

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

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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Review: The Bird King

The Bird King The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars

The Bird King is an unusual story in which Fatima, a Circassian concubine in the court of the last Sultan of the Emirate of Granada (on the Iberian peninsula, around 1491) and Hassan, a gay palace mapmaker, try to escape the religious persecution of the Inquisition of Los Reyes Católicos, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Fatima loves her friend Hassan and plots their escape through Hassan's secret magical gift, his ability to draw maps that rearranges reality. That gift, combined with who he is attracted to, poses a great risk to his safety. Over the course of 400+ pages Hassan draws a map of an Island, Con, where he and Fatima and other outcasts can be safe, but because the map has been drawn, others can find their haven or breach it.

While there were things I found to like in the imaginative story, including its lush evocation of the last days of the Sultan Boabdil's magnificent Alhambra, the story moved at a very, very slow pace. The idea on which the story is built- the creation of a safe haven by literally drawing one- is a lovely one, but the execution at times left me struggling. The relationship between Fatima and Hassan is a beautiful friendship that is tempered by a fulfillment of that love that Fatima can never have. But she's a loyal friend who sticks by Hassan, though he cannot love her as she might wish he could. I also felt that some of the secondary characters felt too flat in comparison to the central two. Their escape from the Inquisitor Luz, and her ultimate reformation, also felt rushed and somewhat unrealistic.

This book has piqued my interest in reading Wilson's Alif the Unseen.

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

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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Review: We Must Be Brave

We Must Be Brave We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 Stars

We Must Be Brave follows on the heels of some powerful WWII fiction that has released in recent years. From All the Light We Cannot See to The Nightingale to the recently released The Huntress we have seen books capturing the complex relationships and moral ambiguities of the times. We Must Be Brave follows the course of a childless woman taking in a young child who appears to have been abandoned or orphaned and from the opening chapters the reader knows that Ellen Parr, the protagonist, is going to be in for some serious heartbreak when the child she comes to love is inevitably returned to biological relatives.

This is a quiet story but that for me doesn't pack the emotional power of some of the books mentioned above. The evolution of a heart (Ellen never wanted children) is explored but the book's narrow focus on Ellen and the effect Pamela has wrought on her life, an effect that mirrors to some extent the way the world, from her perspective, is changed by war, never affected me the way some of these other recent books have. The slow pacing of the novel was also a challenge for the reader.

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

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Monday, March 4, 2019

Review: The Pioneer

The Pioneer The Pioneer by Bridget Tyler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars boosted because of the way cultural/species sensitivity issues are handled.

The Pioneer is a science fiction novel aimed at young adults/teens. It sort of loosely falls into the space opera genre owing to its taking place in another solar system, its spirit of adventure (pioneering!) and light melodrama aspects. It's not tech-heavy sci-fi. There's a bit of handwaving about the way travel from earth to Tau Ceti e is accomplished, and the young pilots charged with shuttling people and cargo are all teens who got their PhDs and MDs at a very early age. (In that sense, The Pioneer is quite aspirational, viewing teens as intellectually capable of fulfilling important roles in pioneering in space.)

Jo Walton is a young woman who was a hotshot pilot until an accident in space robbed her of her brother, her health, and her pilot's health clearance. She's a civilian on her mother's expedition to Tau Ceti e but her natural curiosity leads her to discover some troubling facts about what was supposed to be a planet without sentient beings. Soon the Waltons, their team, and two different sentient races are embroiled in ethical conflicts about humans' right to colonize the planet.

I enjoyed this book but wasn't enamored of the cliffhanger ending and its implications. The potential for melodrama in the sequel seems high. But Tyler has offered young adults some important topics for thought on the issue of cultural interference and integrity and the moral role that space explorers are bound to play. Very much in the vein of Star Trek (Next Generation and Voyager, particularly). Overall, I enjoyed it and enjoyed the positive female and teen role models.

This would be an good book for summer reading for teens.

I received a Digital Review Copy from Harper Teen via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: The Wolf and the Watchman

The Wolf and the Watchman The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An evocative historical murder mystery that reminded me not just of Patrick Süskind's Perfume but also in some ways of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose in its sense of history and place, and a dogged search for truth. Set in 1793, this was the time of the French Revolution and a period of political and economic tumult in Sweden. The year before King Gustav III had been assassinated and the restlessness of the European Royal Houses had destabilized Europe. The people of Stockholm were struggling in poverty. Mickel Cardell, a war veteran and amputee who is working as a watchman, and Cecil Winge, an investigative attorney for the Stockholm police who is dying from tuberculosis, make it their goal to find the murderer of a mutilated young man Mickel has fished out of Larder Lake. Though they call him Karl Johan, who was he and why was he so brutally killed (trust me when I say brutal, okay)? Other characters who seem to be involved in the mystery include Kristopher Blix and Anna Stina Knapp, both equally unhappy.

Natt och Dag has created a stunning debut that seems to blend both the Scandinavian love for crime noir and a pitch perfect historical setting. Not for the faint hearted (this is truly a gruesome murder we're talking about) this one comes with abundant trigger warnings. But if you love historical mysteries and crime shows like The Bridge (Bron/Broen) or Forbrydelsen, you're going to be just fine.

TW: murder, mutilation, violence, sexual assault


I received a Digital Review Copy of this book, along with a paper review copy, in exchange for an honest review.

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Sunday, March 3, 2019

Review: That Ain’t Witchcraft

That Ain’t Witchcraft That Ain’t Witchcraft by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you've been digging deeper and deeper into Seanan McGuire's InCryptid world, both with this series and her Rose Marshall/Ghostroads series, you've probably begun to have a lot of questions about the Crossroads, both as a place and an entity. Well, do we have a book for you. You may not have all your questions answered in this outing- you won't be getting Thomas Price back for Alice Healy-Price- but you're going to find some satisfying answers in this eighth book in the InCryptid world.

When we last left Antimony Price in Tricks for Free she was on the run from the Covenant of St. George. She escaped with her life and that of her boyfriend Sam (a fûri), and friends Cylia (a jink) and Fern (personal density changing sylph), after making a dicey bargain with the Crossroads, with the help of her ghost babysitter Mary Dunlavy. Knowing the Price family as we do, it should seem only natural that Antimony should follow the gradient to more danger rather than less. And that's how the four of them end up in a nice small town in Maine called New Gravesend (you read that right), meeting a nice ice sorcerer named James, an all-too-familiar ghost named Bethany, and that eldritch terror called the Crossroads. If that isn't stressful enough, what will the quartet (quintet? sextet?) do when when none other than Leonard Cunningham, heir apparent of the Covenant, shows up, crossbow in hand, thanks to that awesome tracking spell he has for tracking Antimony? Over the past two books we've seen that Annie is at her best when the chips are down. Or, well, maybe she's just at her craziest. Whatever it takes, she's going to get her team through the evolving disaster that is a Crossroads bargain. If the Crossroads have any sense at all, they'll pack up and go back to whatever dimension they belong to. You know what? Maybe Leonard should go home, too. Antimony Price is just done with them.

This was a wonderful conclusion to Antimony's story arc. I'm hoping Mindy and also Mork will get an accurate accounting of the events, which were delightful fun if you don't mind a bit of mad terror. I continue to enjoy Annie and have grown very fond of Sam. James is a fine addition to the madcap world.

This novel is also bound with a novella titled The Measure of a Monster featuring Alex and Shelby, and Alex's cousin Sarah, a cuckoo, who will be the main character of book nine in the series.


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

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Review: The Vela

The Vela The Vela by Yoon Ha Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Vela follows in the footsteps of a number of recent Serial Box series, with a group of terrific writers authoring episodes of a series that releases week after week. If you aren't familiar with Serial Box, the platform allows you to read as well as listen to serialized books that are then occasionally bound into a print version. While Amazon's Kindle platform explored a similar concept, Serial Box is unique in that it allows you to listen, as well as read. As episodes release, just like on TV, you can get a quick recap, to make sure you're all caught up with the story. What kind of stories does Serial Box offer? Serial Box is a platform that is exploring classics, like Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, and cutting edge sci-fi and fantasy. I started reading Serial Box productions a while back because some of my favorite writers of sci-fi and fantasy have written for Serial Box, including Max Gladstone, Amal El-Mohtar, Mur Lafferty (check out Bookburners, a fantastic fantasy in which a detective joins a Vatican-backed black ops anti-magic group that tracks down black magic "trapped" in ancient texts) Sarah Gailey (The Fisher of Bones), Fran Wilde (The Witch Who Came in from the Cold), Malka Older (Ninth Step Station), and now, in The Vela three of my favorite sci-fi writers, Yoon Ha Lee, Becky Chambers, and Rivers Solomon, are writing in concert with S. L. Huang  (Zero Sum Game), a writer I am now keen to read!

As a space opera, The Vela is very much in keeping with themes examined by the three writers whose works I have read- Lee, Chambers and Solomon. We meet Asala, a deaf Hypatian refugee who uses audio implants to aid her in her work as a mercenary, searching for a missing refugee vessel, The Vela.  Niko av Ekrem is the non-binary (they/their) son of the president of Khayyam, a planet that is trying to deal with a refugee crisis stemming from the mass exodus of people from a solar system with a dying sun. We also meet General Cynwrig a visiting dignitary from the planet Gan-De, whose approach to refugees is not quite as charitable. The Vela explores tough topics in looking at environmental disaster and refugee crises. The authors manage to deftly capture the effects of mass migration and cultural displacement even in simple ways like Asala's reminiscing about the foods, inflection, scents and sounds of her home world of Hypatia, which has fallen into a dangerous and endless winter. And reader, they really had me at the dangerous gravitational perturbations of wormholes.

This was a highly enjoyable yet thought provoking read, with passages that are quite lyrical in nature ("My heart collects the ice of years, stored to melt when next we meet.") Readers concerned about any sense of disjuncture from one installment to the next with different writers will find that the story flows smoothly. There are no easy answers here however, no one rousing battle that will solve all the problems. This is a rich story that gives us diverse characters, cultures, and realistic cultural frictions that arise from refugee issues. It was a rewarding read.

The first episode of The Vela releases on March 6th. Look for it at www.serialbox.com.

I received a Digital Review Copy of the full serial directly from SerialBox in exchange for an honest review.

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