Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup Aug. 31–Sept. 4, 2020

Book of the Day Roundup image for August 31-September 4, 2020

A Very Big Problem

Book Cover
Amy-Jill Levine
Sandy Eisenberg Sasso
Annie Bowler, illustrator
Flyaway Books
Hardcover $18.00 (40pp)
978-1-947888-11-1
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

With the biblical story of creation as their backdrop, each new natural element boasts that it is the best and the most loved, turning the peaceful garden upside down. Quarrels erupt between land and rain, plants and sun, and between children, too. In keeping with the book’s midrash style of storytelling, children are encouraged to imagine, question, and reflect on the world around them, while colorful illustrations (and a note to adults) complete the experience.

PALLAS GATES MCCORQUODALE (August 27, 2020)

The Four Profound Weaves

A Birdverse Book

Book Cover
R. B. Lemberg
Tachyon
Softcover $14.95 (192pp)
978-1-61696-334-7
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

R. B. Lemberg spins a world of singing gods, desert nomads, and magic humming in the wind in The Four Profound Weaves, the first novella set in their Birdverse universe.

Uiziya, a transgender woman in her sixties, is an aspiring master weaver studying under her aunt, Benesret, to learn the Four Profound Weaves: wind, sand, song, and bone. These components create cloths of change, wanderlust, hope, and death, respectively. But Uiziya’s training was cut short when Benesret was driven out of the Surun’ nomads’ society forty years ago. Torn between fear and loyalty and, above all, tired of waiting, Uiziya enters the Burri desert to seek Benesret with the hope of learning to weave from death.

A nameless man, after leaving his oppressive society behind and using a cloth of wind to transition into a man, is also searching for Benesret. He hopes she will give him a name to accompany his new body, as she provided the cloth for his change. He accompanies Uiziya into the desert. But Benesret is not as benevolent as Uiziya’s memories suggest, and the nameless man strikes a bargain for Uiziya’s life: he will steal back Benesret’s only cloth of song from The Collector, the corrupt ruler of Iyar who murdered his lover decades earlier.

Impressive world building renders the shifting hues of the desert sands and the cold stone of The Collector’s palace in tight prose. Social structures and customs are relayed with the same deft hand; the free, accepting atmosphere of the desert and its people ends at Iyar’s stifling walls.

In The Four Profound Weaves, the nameless man and Uiziya are compelling, complementary leads—both stubborn, loyal, and struggling to decide where their loyalties lie. Though external battles raise stakes—a palace torturer wields a weapon filled with trapped and tormented spirits, for example—it is the twin leads’ internal progress that arrests the most. They search for identity and hope amid the rubble of youthful expectations and regret.

DANIELLE BALLANTYNE (June 27, 2020)

The Lying Life of Adults

Book Cover
Elena Ferrante
Ann Goldstein, translator
Europa Editions
Hardcover $26.00 (336pp)
978-1-60945-591-0
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

The pain of adolescence is complicated by family secrets and persistent grudges in Elena Ferrante’s devastating novel, The Lying Life of Adults.

For thirteen-year-old Giovanna, her father’s side of the family has always been a mystery. A desperate curiosity compels her to arrange a visit with her aunt Vittoria, who has been blacked out in every photo her parents own. Enticed by Vittoria’s conviction and bluntness, Giovanna starts to pull on the threads of her family tapestry, unaware of how quickly and how thoroughly her life will unravel.

Giovanna’s narration is complex and emotional, combining a young adult’s rebellion with a child’s insecurities. She tries to keep her interest in Vittoria’s story a secret. In the end, she can’t close her eyes to the terrible realization that the adults she has looked up to her entire life are no better—and are in some ways worse—than the relatives they have always maligned. Just because every story has two sides, she realizes, doesn’t make one side right and the other wrong.

The effects of Vittoria’s words slither outward to spoil every aspect of Giovanna’s life. She falls into a spiral of self-destructive behavior, alternately lashing out and retreating into a private, angry world of her own. Rebellion leaves her feeling hollow in the long run, while attempts at mature acceptance are met with more lies. Giovanna, feeling powerless and frustrated by the consequences of her elders’ actions, also struggles with the more ordinary dilemmas that come with growing up. She must forge her own path to adulthood if she is ever to find peace.

The Lying Life of Adults is a gripping novel about coping with change and creating the closure you need to move forward.

EILEEN GONZALEZ (September 1, 2020)

One Summer up North

Book Cover
John Owens
University of Minnesota Press
Hardcover $17.95 (32pp)
978-1-5179-0950-5
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Shoulders slumped and arms crossed, a sullen girl embarks on a wordless outdoor adventure with her parents. Inspired by Owens’s fond memories of exploring the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northern Minnesota, the book’s paneled landscapes overflow with wildlife and nature. The girl gradually embraces the beauty and potential all around her with increasing enthusiasm for fishing, hiking, and stargazing. Children will be scrambling to dust off their tents and oars to create their own memories, too.

PALLAS GATES MCCORQUODALE (August 27, 2020)

A Ritchie Boy

Book Cover
Linda Kass
She Writes Press
Hardcover $24.95 (224pp)
978-1-64742-007-9
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Told as a series of interconnected stories, Linda Kass’s captivating, based-in-truth novel A Ritchie Boy is about assimilation, hope, and perseverance.

When he was fifteen, Eli and his parents escaped war-torn Austria, which had become more hostile to its Jewish citizens, for America. They moved from New York City to Columbus, Ohio, where they established a home and assimilated into American culture. Eli attended university, was later drafted, and became a Ritchie Boy because of his command of the German language. Ritchie Boys, the novel reveals, were WWII military intelligence officers who aided Allied forces, in part by interrogating German prisoners of war.

Eli is the book’s common thread, and his stint as a Ritchie Boy is only one point of focus. The book’s stories begin when he is still a boy in Austria; they conclude with his marriage in the US. Eli’s story is documented via the people central to his life, including his mother’s Christian friend from home, who pleads with a prominent Jewish businessman to sponsor Eli’s family to come to America; Eli’s Ritchie Boy cohorts; a young immigrant who meets Eli through friends; and the photographer at Eli’s wedding. The standalone stories about him are delightful as they make room for these perspectives to emerge, resulting in a thorough picture of Eli’s life and the events that shape who he becomes.

The book is replete with rich historical details, including a firsthand account of the antisemitism that Eli experiences on a school ski trip just before Hitler rises to power, and, in another story, his compassion for a prisoner of war. The interwoven stories of A Ritchie Boy are captivating, showcasing a group of German and Austrian nationals who utilized their language skills to help the Allies win the war.

HILARY DANINHIRSCH (June 27, 2020)

Barbara Hodge

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