Feminist, Fictionista, Foodie, Francophile

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Flesh Bone Water

This book is definitely one for the TBR pile. The cover caught my eye and the description makes it sound like a big, juicy, summer read:

From an exciting new voice in literary fiction, a seductive, dazzling, atmospheric story of family, class, and deception set against the mesmerizing backdrops of Rio de Janeiro, the Amazon River, and London.

André is a listless Brazilian teenager and the son of a successful plastic surgeon who lives a life of wealth and privilege, shuttling between the hot sands of Ipanema beach and his family’s luxurious penthouse apartment. In 1985, when he is just sixteen, André’s mother is killed in a car accident. Clouded with grief, André, his younger brother Thiago, and his father travel with their domestic help to Belem, a jungle city on the mouth of the Amazon, where the intense heat of the rainforest only serves to heighten their volatile emotions. After they arrive back in Rio, André’s father loses himself in his work, while André spends his evenings in the family apartment with Luana, the beautiful daughter of the family’s maid.

Three decades later, and now a successful surgeon himself, André is a middle-aged father, living in London, and recently separated from his British wife. He drinks too much wine and is plagued by recurring dreams. One day he receives an unexpected letter from Luana, which begins to reveal the other side of their story, a story André has long repressed.

In deeply affecting prose, debut novelist Luiza Sauma transports readers to a dramatic place where natural wonder and human desire collide. Cutting across race and class, time and place, from London to Rio to the dense humidity of the Amazon, Flesh and Bone and Water straddles two worlds with haunting meditations on race, sex, and power in a deftly plotted coming-of-age story about the nature of identity, the vicissitudes of memory, and how both can bend to protect us from the truth.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Thank you Patrick Farley

Artist Patrick Farley is making his awesome Science March posters available for free download. And if you're looking for more posters, click here.

Unicorn Books

Unicorns are suddenly everywhere, from Starbucks' color-changing drinks, to Coachella couture. I started thinking about unicorns and realized the only book about unicorns I could name was Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn. (The unicorn ponies of My Little Pony don't count.)

 I knew there had to be more so I turned, as I often to, to Good Reads, which did not disappoint with a list of 68 unicorn books.

I'm probably the only fantasy geek on the planet who never read The Chronicles of Narnia, so I didn't know that the seventh book in the series, The Last Battle, has unicorns. They're also in A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the third book in Madeleine L'Engle's classic A Wrinkle in Time series. (I never warmed to that series either.)

But as I browsed the list, I found one I'd read and forgotten, Tanith Lee's Black Unicorn. Terru Brooks also wrote a unicorn book as part of his "Magic Kingdom" series but I find combinations of fantasy and  humor a bit hard to take. I don't mind comic relief, but I tend to like my fantasy taken seriously.

Writer Fuyumi Ono has an epic series ("The Twelve Kingdoms") that features unicorns heavily, and Mary Stanton has a multi-part Middle Grade series ("The Unicorns of Balinor") that sounds interesting. Other than that, I really wasn't tempted by what I saw on offer. but I kept Googling around and eventually I ran into Kathleen Duey's "Unicorn's Secret" books. Duey is a friend of a friend, and somewhere along the way, I'd read the first in the series, Moonsilver.  I went back and read it again and then I read on.

This series is a classic fantasy and very satisfying. It's also listed as MG (ages 7-10) but like the best fairy tales, it's timeless.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

A personal reading list for Earth Day

If you Google "best books to read for Earth Day," the first hits that come up are for children's books (including The Lorax by Dr. Seuss). That's great, because environmental education needs to start early before the habits of careless consumerism become ingrained and careless disregard of Mother Earth becomes a way of life. t's the adults who are okay with the dismantling of the EPA, or are okay with rollbacks of protections on clean water, and clean air who honestly believe that "global warming" is a hoax invented by China. The people who dismissed Al Gore's thoughtful documentary An Inconvenient Truth are not going to pay attention to True Activist's list of "Worst Man-Made Disasters of 2016 You've Probably Never Heard Of."

The thing is, climate change deniers really aren't going to be persuaded by logic or argument. But there are subversive ways to send a message. And books are the best delivery system for this message. Here are the books I recommend recommending to anyone who's still not onboard with saving the planet. (See the Atlantic Monthly's article on "Climate Fiction," which asks the question, Can books save the planet?

1.  Zodiac by Neal Stephenson. This was his secondnovel and it's the story of a charismatic jerk of an environmental activist who discovers that something has gone terribly wrong in Boston Harbor. It's laugh-out loud funny (and also short, which most of his more recent books have not been), and there's a sobering message about meddling with Mother Nature underpinning the hijinks. (You can read a synopsis of it here.)

2. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest. This steampunk/science fiction story takes place in an alternate, 19th century  Seattle where a massive industrial accident (think Bhopal) has poisoned the air in the city's center and turned people into zombies. The novel was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula Awards and won the Locus Award for best science fiction novel.

3.  Lilith's Brood by Octavia Butler. This is actually a trilogy--Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago. In the book, the environmental disaster is nuclear, the result of an all-out war between the United States and the Soviet Union. The book was published 30 years ago and remains a frightening cautionary tale while also delivering a thrilling science fiction epic.

4.  The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.  Two words:  Dust Bowl. Most people are introduced to Steinbeck via his novella, Of Mice and Men, but this book, which won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer, is his masterpiece. My parents were born into the Depression and it shaped their lives. They collected scrap metal for the war effort in the 40s and even in the country's post-war boom, they lived frugally. (My maternal grandmother cross-stitched a sampler with her motto:  Use it Up, Wear it Out, Make it Do, or Do Without.)

5. The World in Winter by John Christopher. In this "new ice age" of a book (think Day After Tomorrow), a winter no one predicted coming just never ends after a very long and harsh season. For those who have lived through increasingly savage winters of "Polar Express" weather and snowfalls that last well into spring, this story will be particularly frightening.

6.  The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert. Give this book to horror fans because that's exactly what it is--a brilliant examination of just how badly humans have messed up. They will WISH it was fiction when they're done. This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015 and it should be on the bookshelf of anyone who cares about environmental issues. Donate a copy of this book to your library. Send it to your relatives. If nothing else, it might motivate a few donations to some environmental causes. And God knows, they can use all the private help they can get right now.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

An Eccentric Easter Reading List

I've always wondered why Shakespeare didn't take a crack at writing a play about Jesus. Perhaps because it would have been seen as heretical. After all, D.H. Lawrence got plenty of criticism for his short work, The Man Who Died some three hundred years later. (If you've never read that, it's available from Project Gutenberg online.) Imagine the fallout there would have been had he kept the book's original title, The Escaped Cock.

 Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (1990).  I'm not a huge Terry Pratchett fan. I tend to think his whimsical humor is heavy-handed. I do like Neil Gaiman's work, though, and this novel--about two angels trying to prevent the apocalypse--is a romp through pop culture and religion and you name it.

Good Omens makes a good companion piece to Christopher Moore's Lamb. I loved, loved, loved christopher Moore's Practical Demonkeeping and also liked Coyote Blue quite a bit. I've read pretty much everything he's written and while Lamb is not my favorite, it's a lunatic piece of work detailing Jesus "lost years" as told by his friend Biff.

The Gospel, According to the Son by Norman Mailer (1997). One of my English professors, Reynolds Price, was a biblical scholar and he was pretty scathing in his review of Mailer's novel, which he didn't think was "inventive" 'enugh. (One of my other professors, Buford Jones, used to make fun of Price for his heavy-handed allegory in the novel A Long and Happy Life.)

King Jesus by Robert Graves (1946). Graves is  the man who gave us I, Claudius and Claudius the
God. He also wrote The White Goddess, a book on poetic mythmaking that was required reading, along with Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces when I was just starting out as a writer. The book views its title character as a philosopher rather than a messiah.

The Silver Chalice by Thomas B. Costain (1953). I read this book when I was in high school and liked it a lot. (I also loved the author picture, which depicted Costain and his very fluffy white cat.)
It's about a Greek artisan named Basil who crafts a silver chalice to house the Holy Grail. I don't remember it being a "prequel" to the Arthurian legends of the Holy Grail, though, so I may re-read it.

reading Road Trip...Illinois

You could probably read one Illinois-related book a day and go for years. for poetry, you've got Carl Sandburg and next to his line about "the fog coming in on little cat feet," the poem every school kid in America had to learn was "Chicago." Who could ever forget the first lines?

    Hog Butcher for the World,
   Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
   Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
   Stormy, husky, brawling,
   City of the Big Shoulders.

"City of Big Shoulders."   That's such an elegant line. And then there's Chicago-born John Dos Pasos, whose monumental USA Trilogy really is "the great American novel" times three. (And he also infuenced E. L. Doctorow, whose books I devoured in high school.)

Illinois is a complicated state and the three books I most associate with it are Richard Wright's Native Son, Sandra Cisneros' The House on Mango Street, and Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine. It is also the setting for Erik Larson's brilliant book about H.H. Holmes, America's answer to Jack the Ripper--The Devil in the White City. Anyone who has trouble wrapping his/her head around #BlackLivesMatter needs to read Wright's novel, which is a searing character portrait and a time capsule of life in Chicago in the 1930s. "Bigger Thomas " is one of the most compelling characters ever created.

Cisneros' novel is a coming-of-age story that should be as widely read as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. (Am I the only person who never really liked that book? Maybe I read it when I was too old.) The heroine and narrator of The House on Mango Street is Esperanza Cordero, and she is a sympathetic and believable girl.

Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury's semi-autobiographical novel, is an idyllic portrait of the same sort of America that painter Norman Rockwell chronicled. It's a book that evokes a childhood so (mostly) happy that it almost seems like a fairy tale.

I read The Devil in the White City for a client and loved Erik Larson's writing. What really entranced me about the story was not the true crime it detailed, though. I fell in love with the idea of the Chicago World's Fair that was its backdrop. The World Columbian Exposition of 1893 was well-documented in photographs and drawings and I was fascinated by the temporary buildings and wonders put up for the occasion. I so wish some of them had been left behind, the way the Seattle Space Needle is a permanent reminder of the 1962 World's Fair.)  If time travel were possible, that's a place I would have loved to go.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Reading Road Trip ... Idaho

I drove to Sun Valley once with my roommate, a former professional ice skater. We were going there to see an ice skating competition. The mountains were lovely, but I chiefly remember that trip because we stopped to get gas along the highway and a couple of yahoos tried to convince us that some random part of the car was so worn down it was a danger. 'I wouldn't let my daughter get on the road with a car in that shape." We chose to ignore the warning but I was completely paranoid that the guys had done something to the car that would cause it to break down. (I know, I've seen too many horror movies.) But as it turned out, we were fine and there was no problem with the car. I haven't been back to Idaho since, although a friend of mine used to live in Boise and loved it there, despite the extreme weather both summer and winter. (Idaho's a red state but it Boise mayor Dave Bieter sounds pretty progressive. But somehow Idaho is a state that feels like it has a dark underbelly. The Boise Weekly used to have a Historical True Crime feature and the stories in it were fascinating.

The best book I've read set in Idaho is C.J. Box's taut thriller Blue Heaven. (You can read the first chapter here.) Blue Heaven was a stand-alone novel--Box writes the popular "Joe Pickett" series, and won the Edgar in 2009. The story revolves around two kids who have seen four retired cops commit murder. They're on the run in the Idaho wilderness and their only hope for safety is a rancher on the brink of losing everything. Good characters. Great local color. A smart plot (if somewhat farfetched) plot. Blue Heaven is a great read.