This April, Sophie and Scott picked up a varied selection of books including the conclusion to a series that has spanned nearly 20 years, the latest novel from David Duchovny, and a fascinating memoir by an MIT astrophysicist. They hope you find something to enjoy from this month’s reviews.
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Rebel Girls Climate Warriors by Rebel Girls
The Rebel Girls franchise has grown from a single book to multiple volumes plus games, jigsaws, and more. Rebel Girls Climate Warriors is part of a recent spin-off series exploring women who have changed the world in a specific area, this one naturally focused on the environment and climate change.
The book introduces 25 women from around the world. Many familiar faces are included like Greta Thunberg, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and Rachel Carson, but there are also less familiar activists like Danni Washington, Esohe Ozigbo, and Hu Weiwei. Each person gets a two-page spread with a short biography exploring their contributions and a full-page illustration—with all those illustrations created by different female artists. Obviously, with only one page per person, these biographies aren’t particularly in-depth, but all of them pack a surprising amount of detail into their few paragraphs. The illustrations too are amazingly vivid and packed with color and detail.
This isn’t the first book of this type that Sophie has read and she found it broadly similar to many other short-biography collections aimed at young readers, but that isn’t a criticism. Anyone who has read a similar book in the past may find that Rebel Girls Climate Warriors retreads familiar old ground, but for the young target audience this collection will hopefully be filled with interesting and inspiring new information.
The Reservoir by David Duchovny
Have you ever reached the end of a book and struggled to know if A) you’re just too stupid to understand it or B) the book really is just a load of pretentious nonsense? For Sophie, one of those books was The Reservoir by David Duchovny.
Originally released exclusively on Audible and narrated by the author, The Reservoir is now being released as a short novella and at just 121 pages—short really is the keyword. At the beginning of its few pages, we meet Ridley. Ridley lives alone in his New York City apartment that overlooks the area of Central Park known as the Reservoir. Covid is ravaging the city and Ridley has isolated himself away from the danger, but when he sees lights flickering on and off from another building, he can’t help but respond in kind. This simple gesture sends Ridley on a strange adventure into the park itself where he tries to find the person he has been signaling and meets with others including the men who linger in the bushes of the Ramble in hopes of an anonymous encounter.
Part fever dream, part… who knows what. The Reservoir covers conspiracies, loss, loneliness, grief, family, and the connections found between humans during that bizarre period of isolation we all found our own ways through. Unfortunately, it does so in a style that perfectly suits a book that largely takes place in an area known as the Ramble. It was hard to know exactly what was going on. How much was real, how much was the product of exhaustion or of an imagination running rampant with fever? The overall weirdness detracted from what started out as an interesting story and the whole thing ended up feeling like more of a confusing mess than a work of covid-inspired genius. Or maybe Sophie just simply isn’t smart enough to “get” this one?
The Smallest Lights in the Universe by Sara Seager
Sophie has recently discovered that she rather enjoys memoirs. Given that she also has a lifelong love of astrophysics, The Smallest Lights in the Universe by Sara Seager was a must-read when she heard about it, even if it did take her two years to finally pluck it from her TBR…
The Smallest Lights in the Universe follows the life of Sara Seager, an MIT astrophysicist on the autistic spectrum who has been involved in the search for exoplanets (planets that orbit stars other than the sun) for many decades. We follow her career from the first time she truly saw the stars while out on a camping trip in the wilderness as a child, through work with NASA and across numerous prestigious institutions to her finally receiving the MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant” in 2013. The book explores the technicalities of searching for exoplanets in a down-to-Earth way that all readers will be able to appreciate, no matter how little expertise they might have in the subject, and all readers will no doubt walk away with a new appreciation for both how and why we hunt for planets outside our solar system.
However, Seager’s career is only half the story. We also follow her family life, beginning with meeting her first husband, Michael, at a young age. The pair had two children but Michael passed away from an aggressive form of cancer shortly after, leaving Seager widowed at forty and floundering as Michael had managed most of the family’s home life, allowing her the opportunity to pursue her career. By chance, Seager met members of a local group calling themselves the Widows of Concord—a collection of other women who had also lost their husbands young—with whom she and her sons made their way through one of the darkest times in her life. The Widows helped Seager to regain control of her life and eventually find the confidence to look for love again, leading to what she calls a “one-in-a-billion match” with an amateur astronomer.
The Smallest Lights in the Universe is a difficult book at times—Sophie had to pause it halfway through and go read something happier—but a wonderful one. There is also a lot of comfort among its pages. The sadness of reading about Seager watching her husband fade away is tempered by the positivity that comes from the powerful friendships she forms with the other young widows she meets. The poetically written descriptions of her frequent canoe trips into the wilderness also add a sense of beauty to the book, and made Sophie want to hike into the arctic in the future, even if she knows full well that she wouldn’t last a day!
The Smallest Lights in the Universe is probably not a book you want to read if you’re in a difficult place right now, especially if you’re feeling lost yourself after the loss of a loved one. But if you’re looking for a book that will help reel you in after a long time lost at sea, then this may well be the one calling your name.
Yasmin the Detective by Saadia Faruqi
Sophie absolutely loved A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi when she read it in 2020, but she had never picked up any of the author’s now 24-book strong Yasmin series until now. Yasmin the Detective is the latest title in this early reader series about a Pakistani-American second-grader finding her place in the world.
In Yasmin the Detective, Yasmin’s Nani is confused when her things start going missing: first a thimble, then a button, and her glasses. Yasmin is determined to solve the mystery, just like the star of one of her favorite cartoons, Detective Hoo. After learning about birds at school, Yasmin comes up with a suspect and gets her family involved in finding out who is behind the disappearances.
This was a sweet and beautifully illustrated book that packed a whole lot of story and education into its 25 pages. With just three short chapters, Yasmin the Detective is a perfect read for those ready to take their first steps away from picture books, and it can be read without having picked up any previous books from the series. Sophie especially loved the extra features at the end including a guide to the Urdu words used by Yasmin and her family, fun facts about Pakistan, and a guide to making your own binoculars from toilet paper rolls and string.
This will be a brilliant series for parents looking to branch out from picture books and encourage diverse reading at the same time. While Yasmin the Detective isn’t published until August (alongside Yasmin the Ice Skater and Yasmin the Doctor), you can pick up any of the other titles today.
Wolfbane by Michelle Paver
Wolfbrother, the first book in Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series, was published back in 2004 with the initial six-novel series running through to Ghost Hunter in 2009. After a decade-long hiatus, Paver returned with Viper’s Daughter in 2020 and Skin Taker in 2021. Scott recently read book nine, Wolfbane, which is the final book of the critically acclaimed and commercially successful series.
Set 6,000 years ago in prehistoric northern Scandinavia after the Ice Age and during the Stone Age when that region was one vast forest, the series follows an orphan named Torak, who meets a lone wolf cub (Wolf) and a girl (Renn) both of whom Torak befriends. The story arc of the series then follows the three friends’ quest to defeat a group of mages called Soul Eaters who want to control and destroy all life in the forest that the companions and their clans live in. Over the course of the books, the three main characters travel to many different locations (forest, mountains, islands, etc) and across different seasons, meeting with various peoples and clans—some friendly and some not.
As part of the research for the series, Michelle Paver spent a lot of time at a wolf preserve to understand their behavior. She also trekked forests in Finland using tools and clothing that would have been available 6,000 years ago as well as sleeping in traditional huts and sleeping bags and eating only the foods that Stone Age hunter-gatherers would have eaten which to modern tastes are sometimes rather grisly and stomach-churning—raw-still-warm bird heart or liver, anyone? This attention to detail and accuracy is one of the factors which have made the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness so engaging to read over so many years, alongside the imaginative plots and stories that mix the harsh, brutal realities of Stone Age life with magic and mysticism of mages, and the commune and synergy with nature and the world around.
Wolfbane concludes the series to the standards that fans have come to expect. While chasing a demon-possessed mage intent on devouring his souls, Wolf is swept out to sea on drifting ice during a spring filled with sudden storms and fracturing ice flows. Torak and Renn must race to find their lost wolf-brother before a demon-possessed Soul Eater catches up with him and eats his souls, severing forever the bond between Torak and Wolf, and releasing the demon into the world.
Fans will love this final book that pulls no punches in its physical and emotional impact on both the beloved characters and the readers. (Scott suggests having tissues handy if you’re really invested in the series.) Wolfbane is written in such a way as to give a satisfying conclusion after nine books but also leaves open the possibility of further books in the future if Michelle Paver ever decides to revisit this ancient, captivating world.
If you’ve never read any of the previous books in this series then Wolfbane is written in such a way that you can enjoy it as a standalone novel. However, Scott heartily recommends trying Wolfbrother first—you can then thank him nine books later after the rollercoaster of a ride you’ll have been on.
GeekMom received copies of these titles for review purposes.