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.

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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: Binti

“But he read my astrolabe as fast as my father, which both impressed and scared me.” page 14

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor.
Tom Doherty Associates, Tor, New York, 2015.
Adult sci-fi novella, 96 pages.
Not leveled.
NOTE: This is the first book in the Binti trilogy.

Binti is one of the Himba people, noted for their mathematical ability, never leaving their homeland, and for the clay mixture that they use for their skin and hair.  She is also the first Himba ever accepted into the home of galactic intellectualism, Oozma University, and she’s decided to attend.

Binti cover
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor.

This relatively short book covers only the journey, although she speaks about her home life and decision to apply, so we get a small taste of what her world was before this momentous journey.

If you have even the mildest interest in diverse speculative fiction, I’m sure you’ve already heard of Nnedi Okorafor.  The Binti trilogy is especially well-known as it’s won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards.  The paperback copy I picked up was the 17th printing of a book less than 4 years old.  So between the critical acclaim and popular interest, you can probably guess this is a well liked book.

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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: Down Came the Rain

“Chris and I were suddenly alone with a brand-new baby, and we weren’t sure what to do. We stared at each other for a while and then tried to settle in.” page 61

Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression by Brooke Shields.
Hyperion, New York, 2005.
Memoir, 226 pages.
Not leveled.

Actress and model Brooke Shields writes a very personal story about her experiences with infertility, postpartum depression, and more.

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This is not your typical celebrity memoir.  The few references to famous people or media are because they are directly relevant to Shields’ life and her theme.  The book actually does not start with postpartum depression.  It starts with her long and difficult journey through infertility and miscarriage and her father’s death.

After chasing the dream of motherhood for so many years, Shields was originally loath to admit that anything was wrong, even as she was spiraling into darkness.  She also doesn’t seem to have had the best support or encouragement from the medical team – some members were good but her birthing experience was scary and discouraging.

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Review: Little Book of Life Hacks

“Getting your most important (or tedious) task out of the way will create a powerful momentum for the rest of your day.” page 187

The Little Book of Life Hacks: How to Make Your Life Happier, Healthier, and More Beautiful by Yumi Sakugawa.
St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2017.
Nonfiction, 200 pages.
Not leveled.

An illustrated guide to a wide variety of diys, life-hacks, how-tos, and helpful tips.

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It seems to be a pattern that I discover famous people and trends through reading.  This was a random pick at the craft store – however not chosen to be diverse (like my Target Picks), just a book I grabbed on a whim because the artwork was so cute.

The cover is really appealing although it doesn’t photograph well.  The gold elements are shiny and there is a lot of texture.  This book is easy to pick up, read a few pages, and put down, although I read through it traditionally the first time.  One element I disliked, is that while there are page numbers, only about half of the pages are numbered.  So it was difficult to refer to a specific page.

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Review: Yes, Chef

“When I had my own restaurant someday, I thought, I would never rule out someone based on race or sex or nationality. I wouldn’t do it because it was egalitarian, I’d do it because cutting people out meant cutting off talent and opportunity, people who could bring more to the table than I could ever imagine.” page 160

Yes, Chef: a memoir by Marcus Samuelsson.
Random House, New York, 2012.
Autobiography, 326 pages.
Not leveled.

The life story of Marcus Samuelsson, a chef across three continents.

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This was a random find that was enchanting.  I’ll admit that I was first drawn in by the appealing cover, and then after the generosity of the friend who gave this to me, I had to at least start reading it.  What I found between the covers kept me up all night until the book was finished.

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Middle-Grade Reads for Adults

Maybe you just want a short read for the weekend.  Maybe you’re looking for a read-aloud for your family, something to read alongside a child, or a book for your students that might hold your interest too.  Here are five fiction and five nonfiction middle grade books that can hold the interest of an older reader – whether a teen who needs a less challenging read, adult who wants to finish a book quickly, or a family wanting to read together.  Continue reading “Middle-Grade Reads for Adults”