Review: A Better Place

“I didn’t feel safe in crowds near my home because the person ringing up my groceries could be the person who shot my son.” page 140

A Better Place: A Memoir of Peace in the Face of Tragedy by Pati Navalta Poblete.
Nothing But the Truth, LLC, San Francisco, California.
Memoir, 255 pages.
Not leveled.
NOTE: I received a free copy of this book.  See review for more details.

The story of one mother’s life after her son was a victim of gun violence.

A Better Place cover resized

When I get interested in a topic, one of the things I like to do is to read a variety of books that talk about the same subject from different angles.  This past winter I wanted to look at incarceration, gun violence, and forgiveness (as well as several other topics that aren’t related).  Among the books I’d purchased or put on hold at the library there were several friends gave to me or recommended.

However, this was mailed to me and I originally thought my prison volunteer friend sent it, but it came with a mug and he knew nothing about it.  Looking back through my emails I didn’t find any that mentioned this book either, so if I’ve accidentally deleted or missed one then my apologies!

I took some time before reading, since it seemed pretty intense emotionally.  Indeed, this title walks you through Poblete’s experiences, starting at the joyous moment when she and her fiance of several years finally booked a venue for their wedding… only to receive the call her son was murdered.

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Review: In a Rocket Made of Ice

“And I think, what must it be like to be raised by well-meaning strangers who may love you but who do not speak your language, or know who you are, or have anything but an outsider’s intellectualized and generalized understanding of your culture and people, and of your life for that matter.” page 76

In a Rocket Made of Ice: the Story of Wat Opot, a Visionary Community for Children Growing Up with AIDS by Gail Gutradt.
My edition Vintage Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2015 (originally published 2013).
Nonfiction/memoir, 322 pages.
Not leveled.

Traveling retiree Gail Gutradt made a chance connection that sent her to volunteer in this community with an initial five-month commitment.  The experience was so moving that she returns again and again, finding a deep love for Cambodia and a personal passion for improving the lives of children affected by HIV/AIDs.

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In a Rocket Made of Ice by Gail Gutradt.

Notice I say “children affected by”, not “children with”, because that’s one of the interesting parts about Wat Opot – the community is open to any children and many adults whose lives have been affected, whether they themselves are positive, a sibling or parent is, or if one or both parents have died from AIDs.  That’s an important aspect of this community surviving in Cambodia, where family connections are crucial – families can stay together, dying parents can know that their children are well cared for and gently transition them, and siblings are not separated based on HIV status.

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Review: Ghosts of Greenglass House

“It was a little thing, but sometimes the smallest details were far more important than they seemed.” p. 178

Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford, illustrated by Jaime Zollars.
Clarion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2017.
MG fantasy/mystery, 471 pages including preview of the next book.
Lexile:  800L  .
AR Level:  5.5 (worth 17.0 points)  .
NOTE: This is the second book in the Greenglass House series.

It’s Christmastime at Greenglass House again, and except for one pesky visitor, it seems that this year things will be back to normal – a quiet family vacation for 13-year-old Milo and his parents.  Then the bell rings…

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Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford, illustrated by Jaime Zollars.

Since this is the second book in a mystery series, it will contain some spoilers from the first book.  The synopsis above and my final recommendation at the very end will be spoiler-free.

Kate Milford is back with another successful mystery/fantasy.  This book is far more fantastical than the first installment, although there are still elements of a mystery and secrets to be uncovered.  As previously, there is an ensemble cast, with Milo at the center of the story.  About half the characters are from the previous books, with a whole set of new people descending on Greenglass House from the Liberty, a free space for asylum which some people in the city confuse with a mental asylum.

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Review: Greenglass House

“One of the problems with knowing nothing about the family that you were born into was that you never really stopped wondering about it. At least, Milo didn’t.” p. 53

Greenglass House by Kate Milford, illustrated by Jaime Zollars.
Clarion, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2014.
MG mystery/fantasy, 392 pages (including sneak peek at the next book).
Lexile:  800L  .
AR Level:  5.4 (worth 15.0 points)  .
NOTE: This is the first book in the Greenglass House series.

Milo’s parents run, and live in, a smuggler’s inn – running prohibited goods is popular because Nagspeake is practically run by the Deacon and Morvengarde catalog company, and their place used to be the home of notorious smuggler Doc Holystone.  But even a smuggler’s inn is usually quiet during Christmas vacation in heavy snowfall.  So Milo’s understandably perturbed when a surprise guest turns up, and then another, and then another…

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Greenglass House by Kate Milford, illustrated by Jaime Zollars.

I nearly passed over this book when compiling my diverse fantasy list.  First because before reading, I couldn’t easily tell if it even was diverse.  The cover features the eponymous house, and while the blurb describes Milo as adopted, it doesn’t say anything about his race, so I was doubting if it would be a good candidate for this blog.  But lately I’ve been including some books about adoption, fostering, and kinship care, even if they aren’t necessarily otherwise diverse.  Then I got the book and started reading.

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Review: Aru Shah and the End of Time

“Words did have power. When she said the word Pandava, all the feelings that came from discovering who she really was uncoiled like a spring jumping to life.” p. 33

Aru Shah and the End of Time (Pandava Series #1) by Roshani Chokshi.
Rick Riordan Presents, Disney Hyperion, New York, 2018.
MG fantasy, 356 pages including glossary.
Lexile:  630L  .
AR Level:  4.7  (worth 12.0 points)  .

Aru didn’t mean to bring about the end of the universe.  She was just trying to impress the so-called friends who caught her in a lie.  But then it also turns out that she’s been learning all those old folktales from her mom for a reason.

Aru Shah and the End of Time cover

I’m constantly shocked when I go to look up my review for this book and then realize that I’ve never yet reviewed it, although I’ve been referencing it since this May 2018 review.  We’ve actually read it several times already too.  Clearly it’s past time that I review this novel!

Aru Shah was the story that kicked off the much-anticipated Riordan Presents imprint, so it got a lot of buzz.  The first volume was well-received and by this time the third has been announced.  Beyond the obvious critical reviews, our family has also highly enjoyed reading Aru’s adventures.

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Review: The Girl From Everywhere

“Though the distance from cabin to gangplank wasn’t more than twenty feet, I was protective of the ship. Slate had told me from a very young age not to talk to strangers about Navigation.” page 168

The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig.
Greenwillow Books, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2016.
Speculative fiction, 454 pages.
Lexile:  750L  .
AR Level:  5.2 (worth 13.0 points)  .
NOTE: This book is not suggested for MG readers despite the reading level.

Nix’s father is a Navigator who can travel to any place, real or imagined as long as he has a map for it, but he’s only obsessed with getting back to the one place he cannot reach – 1868 Honolulu, where Nix’s mother died.

The Girl From Everywhere cover

Now having read this book, I can finally fully appreciate why all of the reviews were so maddeningly vague.  This is, unfortunately, the type of book that you can’t discuss with any real depth unless you’ve read it, because to discuss anything interesting is to give away part of the action.

So I apologize in advance that you might find this review to also be maddeningly vague.  In a book where the majority of the setting and even the time frequently changes (and further changes amongst real and imagined places), the focus is rather on both the characterization and the action.  Both are fast-paced!

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Review: Not Exactly the Same!

“Ling and Ting are twins. They are not exactly the same. Now when people see them, they know it too.” page 8

Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same! by Grace Lin.
Little, Brown, and Co., Hachette Book Group, New York, 2010.
Early chapter book, 48 pages.
Lexile:  390L  .
AR Level:  1.8 (worth 0.5 points)  .

Six short stories from the life of Chinese-American twins Ling and Ting.

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It’s extremely difficult to find suitable early chapter books at all, let alone diverse and culturally appropriate ones.  While the availability of novels and picture books are slowly improving, these essential early reader and early chapter book categories remain ridiculously white, able-bodied, etc.

I’ve written about a few we tried back when my last reader was transitioning, but got away from this series of reviews as he turned toward more complex books.  Now that my next child is ready to make this transition, I’m going to try a few new-to-us series (and hopefully complete reviews for the ones we bought last time around).

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