The Statues that Walked: Unraveling the Mystery of Easter Island by Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo

statues that walkedWhen archaeologists Carl Lipo and Terry Hunt began field work on Rapa Nui — called Easter Island by its first European visitors — they knew the prevailing theory about its history:  that the labor-intensive construction and transportation of the island’s famous stone statues led to clear-cutting forests, and that the resulting environmental destruction caused the population to dwindle.  Yet as they carried out their research, Lipo and Hunt continued to find clues that subverted this long-held theory, and their discoveries led to a completely new understanding of the island’s technology, culture, and history.

Drawing on well-explained scientific research and historical documents, The Statues that Walked is a fascinating look at the island of Rapa Nui and the ingenuity of the people who created the hundreds of statues that line its shores.

Quote:
“Mention Easter Island to just about anyone and ‘mystery’ immediately comes to mind.  The Mystery of Easter Island is the title of untold books and modern film documentaries.  The mystery surrounds how so few people on a remote, treeless, and impoverished island could have made and transported hundreds of eerie, gargantuan statues — called moai — for which the island is so famous.  The awe-inspiring, multi-ton stone statues, some standing nearly forty feet high and weighing more than seventy-five tons, were carved out of the island’s quarry of compacted volcanic ash and then somehow transported several miles over the island’s rugged terrain.  Not all of them survived the journey.  Many lie scattered across the island, some broken, never to take their intended places on platforms along the shoreline or elsewhere throughout the island.  To see these statues, many of them situated on equally impressive platforms called ahu, is to sense a hidden drama of compelling human proportions calling out for explanation.  Facing inward, rather than out to sea, they seem to be gazing back in a vain search for the noble society that created them.”

Authors:
Terry Hunt has spent 35 years conducting archeological research in the Pacific Islands.  He lives in Hawaii, where he works as a professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.  Carl Lipo teaches archaeology at California State University Long Beach; he also lives in Long Beach, California.

Published:  2011
Length:  237 pages
Set in:  Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Chile

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Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey

wife of the godsWhen a bright young medical student is found dead outside the small village of Ketanu in Ghana’s Volta region, Detective Inspector Darko Dawson is called from Accra to consult in the investigation.  A loving father and sometimes overzealous officer, Dawson has personal ties to the town — it is where his mother disappeared many years ago after visiting family.

When he arrives in Ketanu, Dawson must juggle a stubborn local police chief; several unlikely suspects; accusations of witchcraft; and an unsettling religious custom in which families give their teenage daughters to priests to become wives of the gods.  As the case deepens and the suspect pool narrows, Dawson struggles to maintain both his subterranean temper and faith in his own investigative skills.

Quote:
“On the way again, Dawson noticed how the vegetation began to change from open bush with isolated skyscraper trees to denser semi-deciduous forest, but that in turn gave way to buildings as Dawson approached Ketanu.  He passed a sign announcing YOU ARE ENTERING KETANU and slowed down over the brain-rattling speed strips.  If Ketanu had been an impressionist painting, it would have been dots and daubs of tan and brown.  Buildings were a cream color or darker, and the rusted tin roofs exactly matched the color of the ground.  Tro-tros and taxis plied the streets, and shops and trading kiosks lined the roadside with entertaining appellations like Nothing but Prayer Electrical Goods and God Is Great Hair Clinic.  Dawson loved these names.” 

Author:
Kwei Quartey is a physician and author of crime novels, including Wife of the Gods, Children of the Street, and Death at the Voyager Hotel.  Raised in Ghana, Quartey now lives and practices medicine in Pasadena, California.

Published:  2009
Length:  311 pages
Set in:  Accra and the Volta region, Ghana

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Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt

becoming nicoleWhen Kelly and Wayne Maines adopted twin baby boys, they named them Wyatt and Jonas.  From an early age, there were clear personality differences between their sons:  Jonas was shy and gravitated toward sports and other stereotypically masculine interests, while Wyatt was more assertive and loved dressing up as the Little Mermaid and playing with dolls.

As they grew older, Wyatt expressed discomfort about his body, asking repeatedly when he would turn into a girl and pleading to wear skirts instead of pants.  The Maineses — especially Wayne — struggled to accept the fact that Wyatt was transgender, but they gradually threw their full support behind their child’s true identity as Nicole.  And when Nicole began to face discrimination and bullying at school, they fought fiercely for her rights to be treated as any other female child — pursuing a legal battle that made headlines nationwide.

Written with compassion and insight by Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist Amy Ellis Nutt, Becoming Nicole is the remarkable portrait of a family confronting widespread prejudice and emerging victorious.

Quote:
“Kelly and Wayne could tell Wyatt was moodier than Jonas; he would occasionally lash out at his brother as if frustrated just by his presence. There was something else, too. At night, when she bathed the boys, Kelly would catch Wyatt staring into the long mirror hanging on the inside of the bathroom door. As she pulled off Jonas’s clothes and plunked him into the tub, she’d notice Wyatt standing naked and transfixed in front of the mirror. What did the two-year-old see? Himself? His identical twin brother? It was impossible to know, and impossible to ask Wyatt, of course. But often it seemed as if the little boy was puzzled by his reflection, unsure of the image staring back. There was some inscrutable pain behind his eyes. He seemed tense and anxious, as if his heart was in knots and he didn’t know how to untie them.”

Author:
Amy Ellis Nutt is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist and author.  Her books include Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family; The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Gide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults; and Shadows as Bright as Glass: The Remarkable Story of One Man’s Journey from Brain Trauma to Artistic TriumphShe currently lives in Washington, D.C., where she is a science reporter for The Washington Post.

Published:  2015
Length:  279 pages
Set in:  Maine, United States

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An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine

an unnecessary womanIn a quiet apartment in Beirut, Aaliya Saleh lives alone, surrounded by her books.  Every year, she begins to translate a favorite into Arabic, and, when she is done, she hides the translation away in a box, never to be read by another soul.  Her solitude is only occasionally interrupted by the other women in her building — whom she calls “the three witches” — and by the bothersome demands of her estranged family.  As the days pass, Aaliyah walks the streets of Beirut, reliving her memories and reveling in the words of writers she admires above all others.  And when an unexpected and tragic event intrudes on her peaceful life, she must confront the consequences of her self-imposed isolation.

In An Unnecessary Woman, Alameddine has conjured a vivid portrait of a woman retreating gently into her later years, unconcerned by the strictures of society.

Quote:
“Whereas most people will tell you that they prefer the city on spring afternoons when she fills her lungs with briny air, when bougainvilleas, purple and crimson, and wisterias, lavender and white, begin to bloom, or during summer sunsets, when the water is decked with a panoply of gold and hyacinth so vibrant that the city practically rocks on her promontory, I prefer her in this subdued light, under roiling gray clouds, rain-filled but not raining, when the neutral air gives contrast to the authentic colors of the city.  These clouds prevent me from seeing the brilliant new white on the mountain peaks, but they offer spectacular city sights as compensation.”

Author:
Rabih Alameddine is the author of Koolaids; I, the Divine; The Hakawati; An Unnecessary Woman; The Perv; and The Angel of History.  He grew up in Lebanon and Kuwait, and now divides his time between Beirut and San Francisco.

Published:  2014
Length:  291 pages
Set in:  Beruit, Lebanon 

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Arrowood by Laura McHugh

ArrowoodWhen Arden inherits the large, historic mansion called Arrowood on the Iowa banks of the Mississippi River, she is both thrilled and apprehensive to claim it as her home.  Though she lived there happily with her family until she was eight, the house was also the site of her two younger sisters’ disappearances.

Taken from the front yard while Arden was supposed to be watching them, her sisters’ abduction has haunted her for almost two decades.  And when she moves back into Arrowood, the creaking house itself seems to be urging her to seek out the long-buried family secrets that may hold the key to Tabitha and Violet’s fate.

A modern-day Gothic mystery with a perfectly eerie atmosphere, Arrowood is page-turner until the last chapter.

Quote:
“It was strange, crossing into Iowa, that I could feel different on one side of the bridge than the other, yet it was true.  Each familiar sight helped ease a bone-deep longing: the railroad trestle, the cottonwoods crowding the riverbank, the irrigation rigs stretching across the fields like metal spines, the little rock shop with freshly cracked geodes glinting on the windowsills.  I rolled down the window and breathed the Keokuk air, a distinct mix of earthly floodplain and factory exhaust.  The Mississippi lay to my right, and even though I couldn’t yet see it beyond the fields, I could sense it there, deep and constant.”

Author:
Laura McHugh is the author of The Weight of Blood and Arrowood.  She currently lives in Missouri.

Published:  2016
Length:  270 pages
Set in:  Keokuk, Iowa, United States

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The Girl Who Slept with God by Val Brelinski

girl who slept with godIn the insular community of Arco, Idaho in 1970, 13-year-old Jory Quanbeck’s life seems to be perfect, if a little strange to outsiders.  She’s close to her two sisters, younger Frances and older, pious Grace.  Her father is a well-respected college professor who teaches his children about astronomy.  Her mother is a homemaker, churning out endless supplies of nutritious yet tasteless lentil loaf between prolonged bouts of headache and exhaustion.

But one summer can change everything.  Jory strikes up a strange friendship with the charming driver of their neighborhood ice cream truck, and Grace returns from a mission trip to Mexico several months pregnant, claiming the baby is a gift from God.  Frightened and embarrassed, their parents pull both Jory and Grace from school and exile them to a small farmhouse on the outskirts of town.  There, free from parental supervision and the rigidity of their childhood home, Jory and Grace each begin to reexamine the things they’ve always accepted as truth.

Spellbinding and quirky, The Girl Who Slept with God is an engrossing coming-of-age novel and a perfect tribute to the complexity and strength of sisterhood.

Quote:
“In the silence, Jory thought she could hear a moth’s wings battening against the searing heat of the streetlight bulb.  It would be like flying into the sun, the thought.  Like turning your face into the brightest, whitest, most brilliant light.  Like deliberately diving into a beautiful, self-obliterating pool of fire.  Would that be such a terrible and foolish trade: a moment’s pure and incandescent joy in exchange for an eternity of darkest nothingness?  She closed her eyes tight and tighter, and for almost a second allowed herself to imagine that she still knew how to pray.”

Author:
Val Brelinski is the author of The Girl Who Slept with God, her debut novel.  Raised in Nampa, Idaho, she now lives in California and teaches creative writing at Standford University.  Her work has appeared Salon, Vogue, The Boise Weekly, and The Rumpus, among others.

Published:  2015
Length:  368 pages
Set in:  Arco, Idaho, United States

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Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

infidelAyaan Hirsi Ali’s memoir Infidel spans multiple continents — from Somalia and Kenya to the Netherlands and the United States —  and traces her life from her first memories to her controversial political career as an adult.

Born in Somalia, Ali was raised in a rigid form of Islam and underwent the horrific practice of female genital mutilation as a young child.  As the daughter of a leading figure in the Somali civil war of the 1980s and 1990s, she spent years living abroad in Saudi Arabia and Kenya, before returning to Somalia.  In her early 20s, Ali fled to the Netherlands to escape an arranged marriage to a man she barely knew, and sought refugee status there.  In the years that followed, she resumed her education, began a career in Dutch politics, grappled with her dwindling faith, and received death threats for her public criticisms of Islam.  Written with both courage and candor, Infidel is an important and riveting story.

Trigger warning: contains graphic descriptions of female genital mutilation. 

Quote:
“It was Friday, July 24, 1992, when I stepped on the train.  Every year I think of it.  I see it as my real birthday: the birth of me as a person, making decisions about my life on my own.  I was not running away from Islam, or to democracy.  I didn’t have any big ideas then.  I was just a young girl and wanted some way to be me; so I bolted into the unknown.”

Author:
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a former Dutch politician, author, and humanitarian activist.   In 2007, she founded the AHA Foundation to support women’s rights and fight against forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and honor killings.  Her books include Infidel; Nomad: From Islam to America; and The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam.

Published:  2006
Length:  353 pages
Main Settings:  Mogadishu, Somalia; Nairobi, Kenya; the Netherlands
Secondary Settings:  Mecca, Saudi Arabia; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Boston, Massachusetts, United States

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In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero, with Michelle Burford

in-the-country-we-loveOne day when Diane Guerrero was 14, she returned home from school to find her family’s Boston home deserted.  Her parents, undocumented immigrants from Colombia, had been taken away by immigration officials and locked up to await deportation.  As a U.S.-born American citizen, Guerrero could stay in the states and finish high school, but she had to rely on the kindness of family friends for a place to stay.  Separated from her family by thousands of miles, she struggled with depression and substance abuse.

Eventually, she pursued acting — a passion she had nurtured for years but discarded as too risky — and earned roles on successful shows like Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin.  Her memoir In the Country We Love is both a thoughtful coming-of-age story and powerful testimony in the current debate on immigration in the United States.

Quote:
“With just about every script, in almost every corner of the set, I was faced with the truth: This was my parents’ life. My mother had sat in handcuffs; my father had once worn an orange jumpsuit like the dozens that sat folded in our wardrobe department. For the other actors and me on our show, this was all fantasy, the re-creation of a world we knew little about; for Mami and Papi, it could not have been any more real or painful.”

Author:
Diane Guerrero is an American actress, and is best-known for her roles on Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin.  Guerrero grew up in Boston, and remained in school there after her family was deported; as an adult, she is an outspoken activist for immigration reform.

Published:  2016
Length:  272 pages
Main Setting:  Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Secondary Settings: Colombia;  New York City, New York, U.S.

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Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

crazy-rich-asiansWhen Rachel Chu, a Chinese-American economics professor, is invited by her boyfriend Nick Young to visit Singapore and meet his family, she hesitantly accepts.  Her first clues that all is not what seems about her mild-mannered beau: their flight’s swanky first-class cabin and the fact that his grandmother’s home is a sprawling, glittering palace.  As Rachel tries to adjust to living among Singapore’s richest families, she faces gossip, drama, and threats from all sides — including from Nick’s own mother, who is determined to prevent him from marrying Rachel.   Crazy Rich Asians is a fast-paced, endlessly entertaining debut novel that both illuminates and skewers Singapore’s wealthiest.

Quote:
“Astrid wasn’t attractive in the typical almond-eyed Hong Kong starlet sort of way, nor was she the flawless celestial-maiden type. One could say that Astrid’s eyes were set too far apart, and her jawline — so similar to the men on her mother’s side — was too prominent for a girl. Yet somehow with her delicate nose, bee-stung lips, and long naturally wavy hair, it all came together to form an inexplicably alluring vision. She was always that girl stopped on the street by modeling scouts, though her mother fended them off brusquely. Astrid was not going to be modeling for anyone, and certainly not for money. Such things were far beneath her.”

Author:
Kevin Kwan is the author of Crazy Rich Asians and its sequel, China Rich Girlfriend.  He was born in Singapore, moved to the United States at the age of 11, and currently lives in New York City.

Published:  2013
Length:  416 pages
Main Setting:  Singapore
Secondary Setting:  New York City, New York, U.S.

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The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez

book-of-unknown-americansSet in the Redwood Apartments, a low-income complex in Delaware, The Book of Unknown Americans tells the stories of its many residents.  The novel opens with Alma and Arturo Rivera’s arrival from Mexico with their beautiful teenage daughter Maribel, who suffered brain damage after a tragic fall.  The Riveras become fast friends with the Toros, but when 15-year-old Mayor Toro and Maribel form a close friendship, fear and violence begins to tear their families apart.  Interspersed with their narrations are the voices of their many neighbors, who hail from Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Panama, Mexico, and Guatemala — and form a vibrant chorus of immigrant experiences. 

Quote:
“English was such a dense, tight language. So many hard letters, like miniature walls. Not open with vowels the way Spanish was. Our throats open, our mouths open, our hearts open. In English, the sounds were closed. They thudded to the floor. And yet, there was something magnificent about it. Profesora Shields explained that in English there was no usted, no tu. There was only one word — you. It applied to all people. No one more distant or more familiar. You. They. Me. I. Us. We. There were no words that changed from feminine to masculine and back again depending on the speaker. A person was from New York. Not a woman from New York, not a man from New York. Simply a person.”

Author:
Cristina Henríquez is the author of The Book of Unknown Americans, The World in Half, and Come Together, Fall Apart: A Novella and Stories.  Her work has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, and The Oxford American, as well as several anthologies.  She lives in Chicago.

Published:  2014
Length:  286 pages
Main Setting:  Delaware, United States
Secondary Setting: Mexico

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