Amazon Burning by Victoria Griffith

by Angie Hilbert
( October 21st, 2014 )

amazon buringIt’s getting cold. Time to read about warm places. Brazil! Amazon Burning by Victoria Griffith comes along just in time for an armchair escape from the looming winter. I have been hearing a lot about this new genre of “new adult”. With the popularity of young adult fiction reaching across to adult readers, authors have embraced the formula of the young but tough girl coming of age. But there are still taboos in place about what you can and cannot put in a book marketed to minors. “New adult” is the answer! You still get a fresh young protagonist, she is just 20-25 instead of 14-19. This translates into many of the same coming of age issues you find in young adult literature but in this age bracket, publishers don’t shrink from adult issues like sex, drinking, drugs, or crime. You can raise the stakes while reaching much of the same audience. I was interested in checking it out.

Emma has to get away for a while. Her college career is in jeopardy and lawyer advises her to get out of town to avoid the scandal. She heads off to Rio on the pretext of taking a journalism internship with her reporter-father. There she does anything but lay low. A famous environmentalist, and friend of her father is murdered. While attending the funeral, Emma finds herself championing the indigenous tribes, defending the environment, foiling a poaching operation, and ultimately solving the murder of her father’s friend. Not bad for a semester off.

What wander~readers will love:

  • Victoria pulls off that delicate balance of showing you her setting for what it is, warts and all, while clearly loving the land she talks about. No false idealism or romance about the land or it’s local people. She talks about the high crime rate and shows how the characters have to negotiate it. She talks about the hopelessness of making any lasting difference in a corrupt system while still empowering the protagonist to take action. Victoria clearly loves Brazil for what it is. Not for some ideal tourist fantasy of it.

  • While there is a romantic interest, it’s presented in a thoroughly modern way. It’s not swoony and has just enough of a hint of machismo to ring true to the culture but still fully respect Emma agency. The romance is not pivotal to the plot though it does provide a reason for the guy to hang around and keep working with Emma.

  • Amazon Burning puts you there. You get a brief overview of Rio, you realistically navigate the Brazilian transportation system. You spend several days in the jungle. You hang out in a small hotel in a jungle town. You even visit a tribal village. Which brings us to the next point and my most favorite thing about Amazon Burning.

  • The book lets you get to know the Yanomami tribe. There are several indigenous and half-indeigenous characters  that are fully three-dimensional. Victoria gives them significant roles to play and complex cultural issues to navigate. I get so sick of the cliche of the noble savage being protected by the great white champion. Victoria grants a level of self efficacy to several native characters you don’t often see in genre fiction.

So, after reading Amazon Burning (and you really should) you might be curious about the Brazilian rain forest and the Yanomami people. Here are a few suggestions for your follow-up reading. (I know I’m not the only wander~reader to do follow up non-fiction reading after a novel brings me somewhere as interesting as this!)

Brazil: The Troubled Rise of a Global Power

This discusses the historic and economic contributions of Brazil and how the Rainforest is both provider of of and victim of it. If you are curious about the complexities of saving the rainforest, this is the book for you.

Into The Heart: One Man’s Pursuit of Love and Knowledge Among the Yanomami

I suspect this man was largely Victoria’s inspiration for writing her novel. The murdered environmentalist and his family in Amazon Burning bear a striking resemblance to the story of this anthropologist. Of course (spoiler alert) you’ll be happy to know Kenneth Good is still alive!

The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman

As you might have gathered from this post, I’m a strong believer that people should speak for themselves. The Falling Sky is a Yanomami shaman speaking to us rather than some anthropologist explaining him to us.

What are your favorite Amazon books?

Read ~ Write ~ Wander


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Avoiding For profit Colleges While Stuck at the Airport of Life

by Angie Hilbert
( September 27th, 2014 )

the for profit college questionAirports are a weird limbo to me. You’re pretty much helpless there waiting. Waiting in the security line, waiting for them to announce your flight, waiting for your shuttle or taxi to arrive. Nothing is happening but you have the potential energy of something about to happen. Get on with it, already!

It hasn’t always been like that. I used to go to the airport and feel the same kind of feeling you get when you open a new book. A new adventure awaits. Who knows who you might meet, what you might experience or see. You  can’t wait to start a new chapter. The excitement and anticipation and the opening of myself to new experiences.

I had that same feeling of vastness the late summer of 1986 when my parents drove me off to college. Back-to-school season was always special to me but that first semester of college exploded my imagination with excitement. I felt it again when I returned to college as a non-traditional student after raising my my daughters to school age themselves. We shared so many wonderful first-day-of-school days in those years. All three of us full of excitement, potential, and possibility.

back to schoolAll that was some 20 years ago. Now I face going back to school for a second degree. It wasn’t easy navigating the seedy world of online, for profit colleges. I’m lucky, I found a non-profit college with a reputable distance-learning program. My career has taken me on a wonderful adventure. I am where I never dreamed I would be in my professional life. Now I need the educational credentials to back it up. Unlike getting my first degree, I’m not going to school to prepare for my future. I’m going to school to back-fill the credentials and education I somehow made it to my future without. And I don’t like it, it’s uncomfortable. I have my nursing degree and a curriculum vitae as long as my arm full of literature, music and biology. But as a clinical learning consultant at an international company, that’s no longer enough. It’s time to cobble those 108 credit hours into a degree of some kind. If I take a full-time course load (and do nothing else but work and go to school) I can finish a BA Humanities concentrating in communications by this time next year.

School, as a non-traditional student, feels like being stuck at the airport of life. Waiting at the gate. Going through the stress of carrying a career’s worth of baggage through the narrow isles of classes focused on specialized topics. Nebulous degree requirements fade in and out of focus as quietly as TSA rules. I don’t have that delightful sense of discovery just the exasperation of negotiating a delayed flight. Still, it must be done to eventually get wherever I’m going.

For Profit College SpiritI successfully avoided the for-profit quagmire but now that I’m an enrolled student, I long to recapture that erudite “back-to-school” excitement. I got a cardigan with the college name and logo over the left breast and a skirt and scarf in the school colors. I even got matching argyle socks. My school girl get-up may look a little silly on a 47 year old woman. It’s more like an early Halloween costume than a statement of school spirit. But it helped me cultivate a little inner excitement about going back to school. It was kind of fun to let my inner co-ed out to explore.

So now I’m asking you for ideas. I need help. My inner school girl has been bullied by the corporate world and needs to recapture that sense of intellectual adventure. What advice do you have for a middle aged woman going back to college for a second degree?

Read ~ Write ~ Wander


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Ned Stark was more Machiavellian than Littlefinger

by Angie Hilbert
( August 22nd, 2014 )

Machiavelli and Ned StarkHaving been consumed with a sudden interest in medieval Italy, I found myself reading The Prince, Machiavelli’s political work of instruction for a new ruler advising him to be successful through cunning and ruthlessness. When suddenly it hit me… Niccolò Machiavelli was a lot like Ned Stark. Yes- the  honorable character in George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones.

No, really, just hear me out. I know Littlefinger is usually the Game of Thrones character described as Machiavellian, but Ned Stark’s story more closely follows the truth of the Machiavellian life. Both Niccolò and Ned were on the loosing side and history is written by the victors. The official historical narrative in Game of Thrones is that Ned Stark coldly betrayed his friend and king for personal gain by committing treason upon the king’s death and conspiring to take the throne from his son. Readers know the truth, of course, and the unfairness of it is a bitter blow to fans of the book series. So it is with the truth of Machiavelli’s life. Click on the vcast below and I’ll tell you all about it.

Read ~ Write ~ Wander


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