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Search tags: Contemporary-Fiction
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review 2018-04-16 14:18
The Elizas
The Elizas: A Novel - Sara Shepard

Budding novelist Eliza Fontaine has a complicated past and things become even more complicated when she is found at the bottom of the pool at the Tranquility resort in Palm Springs. Eliza's family believes the worst, another failed suicide attempt, just like the previous attempts before her brain tumor was removed. However, Eliza is positive that she had been pushed this time. No one seems to believe her except for her rescuer, Desmond who thinks he saw someone fleeing the scene. Eliza desperately tries to put the pieces together from her night at the Tranquility, but she has severe memory lapses. The more she tries to dig, the more pieces she finds missing. With the impending release of her novel, The Dots, Eliza keeps finding more similarities between herself and her main character, Dot, and has trouble separating the fact from fiction.

The Elizas is a thrilling, addictive mystery that dives into the mysteries of the mind and memory. From the beginning Eliza is presented as an unreliable narrator, however that didn't stop me from sympathizing with her cause and rooting for her to untangle the web of lies and foggy memories that surrounded her. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to read both Eliza's narrative as well as her book, The Dots. The story line playfully and ingeniously bounced back and forth between the two plots interweaving Eliza's and Dot's story in the reader's mind just as they had become entwined in Eliza's. At first The Dots seems like a nice bonus story, although as the book progresses, I found that The Dots offered more insight into Eliza's character than her own narrative. Overall, a tantalizing story with intriguing characters that will keep you on your toes. 

This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

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review 2018-03-30 00:04
White Tears, by Hari Kunzru
White Tears - Hari Kunzru

It was difficult to read the first half or so of this book because the protagonist (Seth) and his best (and only) friend (Carter) are aggravatingly ignorant of their appropriation of black culture. They're even more offensive for thinking they're woke or genuine in their fetishistic consumption of the rarest blues, at least in Carter's case. Seth is less than sympathetic in his own distinct way; he's such a follower that he barely has a personality of his own. As little as I could bear the privileged Carter, Seth is consequently even harder for me to care about given that he follows Carter like a puppy. I don't know what to make of the fact that both have or have had mental health issues. And I don't know what to make of Seth's thing for Carter's sister.

 

I patiently waited for these guys to get some sort of comeuppance. When it came, it was a whirlwind of genres, a mishmash of past and present, a blurring of identities. Formally, stylistically, this novel took off, grabbing me by the collar. It was hard to put down. I hadn't known what to expect at the beginning, which is a gift for a reader. I do think at times the cues or signals were overdone; we could have been better trusted to follow the shifts in time and perspective. But what a ride.

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review 2018-03-17 00:02
Catarina's Ring
Catarina's Ring - Lisa McGuinness

Catarina Pensebene grew up in Italy's farming country.  Her life was filled with olive groves, hard work, good food and a large, loving family.  When Catarina is put to work as a maid for another family, she attracts the attention of the husband and is almost raped.  Salvation comes in the form of a letter from the United States.  A family friend is asking for Catarina's hand in marriage for their son, Franco.  Catarina gains the courage to leave her home and her family in order to travel to America and marry a man she only knew in her youth.  Making the best of the life she now leads, Catarina finds love with Franco and his family, she dutifully passes on her life lessons along with the ring Franco made for her to her daughter and granddaughter.  Years later, Catarina's granddaughter, Juliette decides to escape to Italy after a tragedy.  Juliette calls upon the strength of her grandmother to get through heartbreak and find the courage to follow her dream and open her own Italian restaurant. 


Beautiful scenery and intriguing plot immersed me into both Catarina and Juliette's stories.  I am a sucker for dual time stories and I loved that I knew the connection between Juliette and Catarina from the beginning, but not the full importance of the ring.  I felt a strong connection to each character; I experienced the struggle of Catarina's decision as she weighed leaving her home for a new land and fiance, as well as her resolve in being happy and making love grow.  Juliette's experience began in tragedy, however Italy was a wonderful place to recuperate.  I was brought into the sights, smells and food as Juliette cooked her way to recovery.  I enjoyed that Juliette also found solace in her Grandmother's letters, the shared experiences through time and the bond of the ring deepened their links. Overall, an emotional and enchanting story of love, lessons, loss and family.


This book was received in exchange for an honest review. 

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review 2018-03-15 17:29
Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko - Min Jin Lee

It took me almost four months to read Pachinko. As I read, I began wondering about my slow pace. My fall semesters are busier, yes, but I still manage to finish most books in what's a timely manner for me. It certainly wasn't because I found the book hard to read in terms of comprehension or engagement. As I got closer to the end, I realized: it was because I was so invested in the characters and storytelling I had to take time to process the intense feelings the novel evoked. There are also regular gaps in time that take place between chapters where characters' situations change significantly; I needed mental space before diving into the story again. I can't think of another novel that required this sort of reading from me.

 

In addition to Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh, Pachinko has served to establish that "family sagas" can engage me, or at least when another culture is involved. Through the family portrayed here, I learned more about Korea, but it never feels like a history lesson. Everything comes from the characters. The novel also provokes thought about national and racial identity.

 

There were moments I dreaded, as with the return of a less sympathetic character, though not in a way that made me dislike the novel or its author. There were moments that shocked me to the point of gasping. There are many scenes that easily and vividly come to mind when I recall my reading, which I finished more than a month ago.

 

I would love to teach this novel. I have the feeling I may reread it some day, regardless. For me, that's a rarity, a compliment, and a sign of deep gratitude. 

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review 2018-02-28 23:58
Survivors' Dawn
Survivors' Dawn - Ashley Warren

Brooke Flanagan is ready for the college experience.  She has been raised in a conservative, religious household and is ready to breakout.  Lauren Le is the daughter of an immigrant and has always balanced her party lifestyle with good grades.  Nikki Towers is their cool and confident Resident Advisor who is trying to figure out what to do with the rest of her life.  Colin Jordon is a wealthy, privileged, smug,  college senior who has easily rolled through life. He takes joy in having sex with women against their will and making them believe it was their idea.  Colin Jordon is a sexual predator that has always gotten his way because of who he is; this is, until he sexually assaults Brooke, Lauren and Nikki.  The three women believe that there is no hope, but together, they find that they are stronger.


This is a very timely and important book that not only shows how anyone can be sexually assaulted, but how you can survive the trauma of sexual assault with support and bring justice to your accuser no matter how powerful they believe themselves to be.  With that, it did take me a while to get into this book, the first half of the book details the three women's interactions with Colin, how he gained their trust, acted as a perfect gentlemen, even suggested that they slow down at points.  I think what threw me is that the voices of the characters and the dialogue did not quite seem to match that of a college-aged women.  The writing at the beginning seemed to be aimed more towards adult parents than college students. There was just something slightly off about it, like the fact that they were calling their down to earth resident advisor, 'Cool RA.' Or when Colin was described as "...a thief in the night, a modern-day cat burglar pursuing jewels of a different sort.." Something about the language just threw me.  After the assaults, when the women were dealing with the emotions of being raped and assaulted and trying to figure out how to band together and fight back, was when the intensity picked up for me.  It was great to see Colin sweat and the women gain strength instead of feeling like they had to hide their attack.  The most intriguing parts for me were the friendships gained, the support groups and the actual hearings for Colin's behavior.  The best advice comes in the epilogue as well, how to help someone who might be assaulted and how to help yourself. 


This book was received in exchange for an honest review. 

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