The Last Good Paradise

Book cover: The Last Good Paradise by Tatjana SoliYears of hard work are about to pay off for Richard and Ann. Richard is a chef who’s just weeks away from opening his own restaurant in Los Angeles with his business partner, Javi, a hotshot chef with a flair for culinary experimentation. Ann is also on the brink of professional success. She’s a cutthroat lawyer at a big firm and thinks the time has finally arrived for her to make partner. For years, she’s put in long hours and tried to succeed not only to rise through the ranks of the firm, but to support her husband as he paid his dues. It’s taken a personal toll — she doesn’t even like being a lawyer — but both of them know that the restaurant will give them a new type of freedom.

Overnight, thanks to Javi’s unscrupulous actions, their dream crumbles and they find themselves flying to an island in the middle of the South Pacific to get away from all their troubles. They wind up on a remote atoll run by Loren, a drunken Frenchman. For a couple thousand a day, they get an upgraded Robinson Crusoe experience: a small private hut with no electricity, phone, or internet connection. The only other people of significance on the island are Titi and Cooked, two locals who are betrothed to one another and run the daily operations; Dex Cooper, the aging frontman of the rock band Prospero; and Wende, Dex’s young and attractive muse.

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Ash

Book cover: Ash by Malinda LoWarning: This post is spoilery.

Readers of Malinda Lo’s revamped Cinderella story, Ash, will initially find themselves in familiar territory: Ash’s father unexpectedly dies and leaves her in the hands of her cruel new stepmother. Since Ash is expected to pay off her father’s numerous debts, she becomes a servant in her stepmother’s household and is expected to tend to her two stepsisters’ every need. Gone are all the comforts of home; all she has left of the past is a book of fairy tales that her mother used to read to her. Ever since she was a child, she has wanted the fairies to bring her mother back to life; after her father’s death, she wants nothing more than for the fairies to take her away into their world. When a brooding fairy, Sidhean, appears, it looks like she just might get that wish.

Here is where the story breaks away from tradition and introduces a new twist. There’s still a big ball in which the prince’s heart is stolen by the gloriously dressed stranger no one’s ever heard of. But the prince falling in love with Ash at first sight is all a moot point, because sparks are flying between Ash and Kaisa, the King’s lead huntress. Meanwhile, Sidhean is in agony because he’s been waiting for Ash for years.

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Coffee Will Make You Black

Book cover: Coffee Will Make You Black by April Sinclair“Mama, are you a virgin?”

When readers first meet Jean “Stevie” Stevenson, she’s an innocent Black girl growing up in 1960s Southside Chicago. In the early 1960s, when Stevie is still young enough to do as she’s told without question, she soaks in a lot of different messages about her culture and the way she looks: her hair should be straightened and she mustn’t speak in her peers’ casual vernacular. She gets a little older, and now there are skin lightening creams to consider (there’s also that saying, “coffee will make you black,” to keep kids away from the beverage: the last thing anyone wants to be is dark-skinned). Her mother is strict and religious, intent on keeping her daughter as sheltered as possible so that she can have a shot at moving up in the world; there’s little room for Stevie to explore ideas on her own terms.

Stevie doesn’t have any friends, but when miscommunication occurs and she naively admits to something, she suddenly has the attention of two popular girls that her mother doesn’t approve of. This is the first step in Stevie’s coming-of-age story. The rest is set against a backdrop of rapid social change and political awareness; Stevie and her peers get to experience the Civil Rights and Black Power movements in middle and high school. It’s a nightmare Stevie’s straightlaced mother, who cannot wrap her head around all these radical ideas floating around in her daughter’s head, but it’s an important part of Stevie’s life. Suddenly, Black is beautiful.

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Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights

Book cover: Pro by Katha PollittToday marks the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade; before that, illegal abortions claimed the lives or the fertility of thousands of women around the United States. But though abortion has been safe and legal for decades, the battle over abortion access wages on. In Texas, for instance, there were 41 clinics providing abortion services. After the Texas legislature pushed the abortion omnibus through, we now only have 17, and most of those are only open pending an appeal currently in court; that decision is expected within the coming few months.

In Pro, Katha Pollitt puts her foot down and says enough is enough. All too often, because of pro-choice complacency or weak messaging or whatever, anti-choice narratives have shaped the abortion debate. The debate is all about the hypothetical baby, even though two-thirds of all abortions happen before the eight-week mark of pregnancy (the embryo stage). Women’s voices are only valid if they say they regret abortion — the scientifically refuted Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome (PAS) is often brought up to scare and shame people — while those who are vocal about their abortions bringing them emotional or financial relief are dismissed (they’re in denial but will experience PAS eventually, you know).

In her introduction, Pollitt writes of pro-choice complacency:

For many years, pundits dismissed the notion that abortion would ever be significantly restricted, and mocked as Chicken Littles pro-choicers who warned that both rights and access were at risk, and contraception, too. The conventional wisdom help the Republican Party would not risk waking the sleeping giant that is the middle-of-the-road more-or-less-pro-choice voter. Now we’re seeing the Chicken Littles were right. Where is that giant?…It’s the millions of pro-choice Americans who are so far uninvolved (and still complacent) that will ultimately decide the fate of legal abortion in this country.

It’s past time for the giant to rise.

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Sweetland

Sweetland by Michael CrummeyA community on a remote island of Newfoundland has been in gradual decline for decades. Without any real job prospects or potential for growth, young people move away from Sweetland and build their futures in bigger cities; now, the town is mostly populated by an older generation that is dying away. The Canadian government has offered everyone in the community $100,000 to resettle elsewhere on the condition that everyone in the town must sign the contract and leave. Once they do, the government will cease service to the island; ferry services bringing goods will cease, electricity will be cut off, and homes will be boarded up and left to the elements. A ghost town will be created.

Almost everyone in town immediately agrees to sign the contract. It’s obvious that their way of life is dying. Most of the people have few ties to Sweetland; their children have long since moved to the mainland. There’s only one main holdout: Moses Sweetland, an old fisherman whose ancestors founded the island. Without him agreeing to the resettlement package, no one can receive any money. His stubbornness on the matter doesn’t make him very popular with his neighbors.

In refusing the offer, Moses looks back on his life and the people he’s grown up with (some of whom now shun him). He won’t say why he won’t leave, but the thought of Sweetland becoming a ghost town, its residents and history forgotten, obviously bothers him. He spends his days with his niece, Clara, and her autistic son, Jesse, a curious boy with encyclopedic knowledge of subjects that interest him. They’re the last of Moses’s family, although Jesse’s invisible friend happens to be Moses’s brother, who died as a teenager in a fishing accident that Moses rarely speaks of. It’s on account of Jesse that Moses pushed himself into the twenty-first century; he has a laptop, an internet connection, and a Facebook account in order to communicate with Jesse whenever they’re not together.

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