Thursday, February 26, 2015

Three Books for Children by Shaila Abdullah

Saffron Dreams by award-winning Pakistani-American author Shaila Abdullah holds a special place in my heart.  Not only is it an incredibly poignant and profound novel, it's also the first book I received in the mail to review, sent to me by Shaila's agent at the time, Kristine, in June of 2009.  Soon after that, I interviewed the author, and also read and reviewed Beyond the Cayenne Wall, a collection of short fiction by Shaila Abdullah.  Today, I'm very pleased to present mini reviews for three children's books from the Growing With Love series by Shaila Abdullah, published by Loving Healing Press.  Each book is written from the perspective of a child, and each deals with a different challenge in a sensitive, original, and appealing manner.

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"And although she cannot stand, walk, talk, or play, I love her all the same!"
~ My Friend Suhana, Shaila & Aanyah Abdullah

The cover of this book makes me smile.  Published in 2014, My Friend Suhana: A Story of Friendship and Cerebral Palsy by Shaila Abdullah and her daughter, Aanyah, is a darling book that will touch your heart.  When Aanyah was in second-grade, she and her mother started to volunteer at a community center where they helped special needs children.  This book was inspired by an essay Shaila's daughter wrote about her friendship with a girl she met there who has cerebral palsy.

The narrator in the book is an unnamed 7-year-old girl, who says that her friend Suhana "is like no other girl that I know".  Suhana has cerebral palsy, which makes it hard for her to move and learn like other children.  Each week, Suhana's friend visits her at the community center where she and her mom go to help out at a special needs class.  She comforts Suhana by rocking her in her arms, and brings her pictures she has made of Suhana's favorite things, such as flowers.

I loved this picture book, and think it will delight children. The illustrations are bright, cheerful, and friendly.  The book talks about cerebral palsy and special friendships in a manner that young children will understand.  My Friend Suhana will help children learn the value of being compassionate to those who face physical challenges, and may encourage them to care for and make friends with children with special needs.

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"And for once, Rani did not ask why.  Families ran in different directions.  Rani's friends were running behind their own families in a sea of color--red, blue, pink, and yellow.  In their hands, they clutched what little they could save from the floods--a book or two, a favorite doll, a change of clothes."
~ Rani in Search of a Rainbow, Shaila Abdullah

Published in 2014, Rani in Search of a Rainbow: A Natural Disaster Survival Tale
by Shaila Abdullah and illustrated by Bijan Samaddar is based on the 2010 floods that affected 20 million people in Pakistan, which displaced over 8 million children.
Rani in Search of a Rainbow tells the story of this devastating natural disaster through the eyes of 8-year-old Rani.  Terrible rain comes to Rani's village in Pakistan, causing rivers and creeks to overflow, and Rani's grandma, Daadi, says that they must leave.  In fact, everyone in the village must leave, with only a few possessions.  Rani's family is rescued by helicopter and flown to a refugee campsite with hundreds of others, who now live in tents.

Although Rani is living in a tent, she has a positive attitude.  She yearns to be helpful to others, and when her mother helps deliver babies, Rani joins her.  After Rani and a boy, Juju, accidentally tear an orange and white striped blanket in half, they become friends.  This book features their friendship, and a special celebration of Eid, with small (but much appreciated) portions of haleem (a kind of stew), and popsicle treats afterward. 

With simple words and colorful illustrations, Rani in Search of a Rainbow will teach young children about this natural disaster, and about the ways of another culture.  It features a short glossary of Urdu words.  The story is uplifting and hopeful, even though the flooding was a terrible disaster in Pakistan that displaced millions of people. 

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"He is one of those children who should have come with a manual.  You know, those handbooks that tell you how something (or in this case somebody) works."
~ A Manual for Marco, Shaila Abdullah

A Manual for Marco: Living, Learning, and Laughing with an Autistic Sibling, published in 2015, is the newest book, written and illustrated by Shaila Abdullah, and also illustrated by Iman Tejpar, a very talented 12-year-old artist.  Additionally, background art for this book was provided by 10-year-old Sophia Pirani, 11-year-old Aanyah Abdullah, and 2-year-old Aaliyana Abbdullah.  The design and illustrations of this book are absolutely remarkable--it is hard to believe that children helped create them!

This fabulous picture book is dedicated to the Ali family, who inspired the author to write this book.  A Manual for Marco is mostly written from the point of view of 8-year-old Sofia, Marco's younger sister.  In the book, Sofia describes the things she likes, and the things she dislikes, about her autistic brother.  The book lists things that are special about Marco, such as his exceptional ability in math, and things that are "not-so-special", such as his restrictive diet (he cannot have anything with wheat or dairy in it) which affects the whole family.  It mentions that the family uses lists to help Marco, and the book itself features several lists.  A Manual for Marco is loving and clever, and funny, at times.

Suitable for young children, A Manual for Marco would be helpful to children with autistic siblings, who may struggle at times with their feelings.  There are tips for parents by Dr. Salima Ali at the end of the book, as well as a list of online resources for families.

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Many thanks to Victor from Loving Healing Press for sending me this wonderful trio of books.

Thank you for reading!  Your comments are welcomed.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Last Good Paradise: Review and Giveaway

“Absinthe is the only decent drink that suits an artist.”
~ Paul Gauguin 


Having read two other books by best-selling author  Tatjana Soli, The Lotus Eaters (2010) and The Forgetting Tree (2012), I was excited by the prospect of reading her new novel, published this month, The Last Good Paradise.  As is often the case when I read a new book by a tried and true author, though, I keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best, because I "worry" that I may not enjoy it quite as much as the previous ones I've read. 


"She took a huge breath, closed her eyes, and dreamed that soon her life as a painter would start, or her life as a mother, or as co-owner of a successful restaurant, even if she kept her law day job, which was really a day-and-night-and-weekends job. "
~The Last Good Paradise, Tatjana Soli

In The Last Good Paradise, Ann is a lawyer in Los Angeles, a "lowly associate" at Flask, Flask, Gardiner, Bulkington, Bartleby, and Peleg.  She feels insignificant and unfulfilled as a lawyer, as if she's not living the life she was meant to live.  Ann wants to have a baby and to go to art school and to show her art in galleries, but she's postponed her own dreams for the sake of her husband's dream.  Her husband of ten years, Richard, is about to open a restaurant with his partner, Javi.    The three celebrate Ann's thirty-eighth birthday, and look forward to the restaurant's opening.  But this joy is short-lived.  Due to Javi's financial recklessness, his ex-wife, Inez, has just sued him, and has filed an injunction to freeze the restaurant's account, which is actually Ann's and Richard's life savings, meant to pay for the entire first year of restaurant expenses.  Panic-stricken, Ann rushes to the bank and quickly withdraws all of the money out of the account, before the court order arrives at the bank.  She and Richard escape this financial fiasco by flying to Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia.  On Papeete, they meet Loren, who runs an "unplugged", pricey resort, Tahitian workers Titi and Cooked, and another American couple, rockstar Dex Cooper (from Prospero) and his attractive young "muse", Wende.

I enjoyed many things about this novel, especially the enticing emphasis on cooking and food.  Gradually, we learn more about each of the main characters--Ann, Richard, Javi, Dex, and Wende, Loren, Titi, and Cooked--who are searching for love, peace, and purpose, to varying degrees.

Tahiti photo from Wikipedia

While reading The Last Good Paradise, I was whisked away to the warm, tropical setting of French Polynesia (where Gauguin settled in later years to paint).  There are surprises throughout the book, and it held my attention quite well, most of the time.  A few parts of this book left me puzzled and wondering.  (Pardon my little spoiler, but does Wende really need to punch Dex in the nose?  Ouch!)  The story became a bit "blurry" to me in certain parts of the book (the last fifth or so).  But, I was reading an ARC of this book, so perhaps the final edition is more polished and clear. 

Overall, I found this novel to be rather intriguing, and I looked forward to my time reading it.  Tatjana Soli writes beautifully.  She's a very talented contemporary writer, in my opinion, one of the best.  The Last Good Paradise is about finding your purpose and passion, and the courage to pursue it.  Perhaps this is how we create our own positive, private paradise.  I think this is what Tatjana Soli does as an author.

Thanks to the author and TLC, I'm pleased to offer a giveaway for The Last Good Paradise (U.S.A. /Canada).

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or indicate that you're already a follower.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter.
  • For one more chance, let me know what book you would bring with you to a tropical island such as Tahiti.

Enter by 5 PM PDT on Monday, March 9.  One winner will be selected randomly and announced on Tuesday, March 10.  Good luck to all!

Special thank to Lisa from TLC for providing a copy of this book. For more reviews and other features, please visit the other stops on TLC's book blog tour for The Last Good Paradise.

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