Book – Joshua Davis’ Spare Parts, expands on his 2005 WIRED article “La Vida Robot” to delve deeper into the lives of four undocumented immigrants whose ingenuity led them to a surprising victory at the prestigious MATE 2004 robotics competition. These four young bright students, Lorenzo Santillan, Oscar Vazquez, Cristian Arcega, and Luis Aranda found acceptance and encouragement from two dedicated teachers, Allan Cameron and Fredi Lajvardi.
Davis does an excellent job describing how the boys assemble their underwater robot “Stinky” out of spare parts, junk, humble in all respects, in the middle of a desert and without access to a pool. He also describes the daily struggles in the lives of the teens, how they lived in constant fear of violence and deportation. The book’s bittersweet ending shows the reality of being a bright yet undocumented student. Despite these young men’s incredible potential, their future is stagnated in poverty as their undocumented status bars them from access to engineering programs, academic funding and military service. However you might feel about the current political discussion on immigration you can’t deny that these young men, and others like them, can teach us something worthwhile about resilience and the American dream.
The film Spare Parts, is based on award winning Carl Hayden robotics team, stars George Lopez and Jaime Lee Curtis. The film isn’t bad, it’s great in fact. My only issues are the predictable, feel-good happy ending, that George Lopez’s character is an amalgamation of Allan Cameron and Fredi Lajvardi and that the more poignant events following the boys’ success at the robotics competition covered in Davis’ book, is ignored.
Spare Parts is available on OverDrive for digital download on Kindle and other electronic devices.
Book– I grabbed this audiobook for my commute to work. I was instantly hooked! The wonderfully talented, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, a Ghanaian-born Brit, brought the main character to life.
Peter Grant, Probationary Police Constable (rookie cop for us stateside) with London’s Metropolitan Police Services is having a rough time. His policing skills are found to be lacking by his superiors and is easily distracted and fancy’s hotshot PC, Lesley May who unlike Peter, is on the fast track to the Murder Team. Peter is resigned to join the pencil pushing ranks of the Case Progression Unit. Nothing can possibly make his life any worse! That is, until he is rudely introduced to a ghostly chap while on duty watching a murder site. Peter is not convinced ghosts are real; the supernatural is all just mumbo-jumbo! Yet, this ghost is real enough and Peter soon finds himself assigned to the charming C.I. Thomas Nightingale of the Economic and Specialist Crime. Nightingale takes an instant shine to Peter and his magical potential. Peter soon finds out that not only are ghosts and magic real, they have an established history in the city, and that he can have a part in this world. I won’t spoil the rest of the plot, but suffice to say this is a contemporary urban fantasy with aspects of mystery and magic, not to mention a very interesting London police procedural. Adult fans of Harry Potter will enjoy Aaronovitch’s grown up magical world.
Midnight Riot is Book 1 of the London River series.
Book – When the weather cools and the air turns crisp, I am ready for some spooky reads. I grew up watching Sabrina the Teenage Witch on ABC’s TGIF so I was immediately intrigued to see a more grown up version of a childhood favorite. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Vol. 1 is a re-imagining of Sabrina’s origin story. Sabrina isn’t the bubbly and wholesome witch I grew up with, there are no funny magical mishaps nor life lessons learned in this graphic novel rendition. Sabrina and her terrifying aunts, Hilda and Zelda, are dark, vicious and callous. The Spellman family show little compunction to bloody murder and satanic worship. But don’t be scared away by this! Aguirre-Sacasa lends an interesting plot to this intense read and the artwork matches the intriguing plot. The story is set in New England in the 1960s, a nod to the original Archie comics where Sabrina was introduced back in 1962. Sabrina’s 16th birthday is upon her and she must decide if she wants to become an immortal witch and join the coven or to be simply a normal teenage girl. Unfortunately for Sabrina, her tragic and grisly origin will literally come back to haunt her making her decision rather bleak.
If you’re looking for a spooky read to welcome the Halloween season you won’t be disappointed. Can’t get enough of Aguirre-Sacasa’s spooky retellings? He also wrote the graphic novel Afterlife with Archie, available through Hoopla! Also, keep an eye out for the television series based on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina coming later this fall.
Book – The millennial generation is the largest living cohort in recent history. They are high in debt, low on jobs, and full of so-called ‘entitlement’. It’s no wonder millennials are so uncomfortable talking about money or the lack of it. Because my personal goal for this year is to set up and successfully fund an investing account, I have been reading a great deal of personal finance books. Erin Lowry’s book Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together is by far the best I’ve read so far.
Erin Lowry’s book does a good job of helping readers identify and work around their money hang-ups and take control of their personal finance. Erin lays out her chapters in a DIY guide format that gives you the option to read only the sections that are applicable without making you feel like you skimmed half the book. The majority of the issues she presents will be pertinent to the millennial generation. She dedicates an entire chapter on how to cope with student loan debt— an inevitability today—without going mad. She presents solid money saving and budgeting techniques and doles out advice on how to enact a plan to rid yourself of debt. A strong point for this book is the easy to understand language. You definitely won’t feel like you are being talk down to and you’ll appreciate Erin’s humor as she shares her own financial woes.
This book will definitely resonate well with the 20-30 year old crowd who are confused about money and aren’t quite ready to admit they’re not doing so well in the finance department. It will also benefit those who are doing just fine (those with an existing budget and savings account) and are ready to do more with their hard-earned cash.
Book – Growing up is hard. Growing up in a poor werewolf family is even harder.
Mongrels written by Stephen Graham Jones is the coming of age story of a young nameless narrator. Steeped in werewolf lore this story bares its fangs and sinks it teeth into you. It’s an inventive take on the werewolf that gets under your skin—in a good way. It’s not a simple horror book but a cleverly disguised social commentary on the impoverished American south. The book follows our young protagonist, an orphan raised by his aunt Libby and uncle Darren. The boy grows up hearing wild and at times gruesome tales from his grandfather. Theirs is a family of werewolves; at least that’s what his grandfather has led him to believe. It’s why his family is always on the run, living at the edges of society, outcasts, transients, wandering the south in a beat up trailer with no destination in mind, scouring for loose change to buy hotdogs. Libby and Darren take up odd jobs always trying to stay two steps ahead of the law and those who hunt their kind. His family is as dysfunctional as anyone else’s, and he always feels like an outsider waiting for something to happen. He desperately longs to fit in, convincing himself it’s for all the right reasons, but he hasn’t turned and if he hasn’t turned by his late teens, he never will. He’s close to it, he can feel it, can scent the coppery stench of blood in the air, he just knows it.
While episodic books might not appeal to some, if you enjoy creature books, I urge you to give this book a try. Dark themes abound in each page and I found myself unable and unwilling to put this book down.