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review 2017-04-13 10:28
Grief, survivor’s guilt, identity and family relations in a beautifully written book set in Guatemala.
Petals - Laurisa White Reyes

I’m writing this review as part of a blog tour for this novel that I voluntarily agreed to participate in.

From the author’s note, it is clear that this book is a labour of love that has been many years in the coming. This is the first novel by Larisa White Reyes I had read and it is unlikely to be the last one.

The story is told in the first person by Carly Perez, a young girl (almost eighteen) who lost her mother last Christmas Even in a car accident. She was also in the car when it happened and it has taken her a long time to recover, both physically and mentally. We soon realise how precarious this recovery is. Her father, who is originally from Guatemala, insists on going there to visit his family for Christmas and Carly is less than happy. She doesn’t know them, as her father hasn’t visited in the last twenty years, she hardly speaks any Spanish, and a year after her mother’s death, the last thing she wants is to spend time in an unfamiliar (and to her mind backwards and wild) place with a bunch of strangers. Her preconceived ideas of the country and her family will be put to the test and her precarious mental equilibrium will be stretched to the very limit.

Carly is a typical adolescent in some ways, but also an extremely sensitive soul. She is moody because she has to go to Guatemala, instead of staying in California, she argues with her father, she disobeys his rules and gives him the silent treatment at times. She can be grumpy and quick to judge, both the country and her relatives, and she does not know what to think about Miguel, her step-cousin, the only one close to her age and experiences but also reluctant to engage and talk about his problems. Carly is an artist, although she’s had difficulty painting since her mother’s death, and she keeps being tormented by strange dreams, and by the recurrent appearance of a weird man, wrinkled and scarred, who keeps nagging at her subconscious. She is terrified of him but can’t recall where she saw him before. She’s convinced he has come to confront her with something, but she does not know why or what. The combination of her disturbing experiences and the new environment manages to make her remember something that had been hiding inside of her mind, masked by the grief and the medication.

The author excels at showing Carly’s point of view, and how her opinion evolves from indifference and disdain towards her relatives and the country to curiosity and eventually affection and love. One of the reasons why I decided to read the book was because I was intrigued about how a girl brought up in California would adjust to a new family and a completely different environment. The description of Guatemala, the city of Reu, the Mayan temples, Xela … paint a vivid picture of the country, its traditions (including those related to Christmas, religious and otherwise), its food and its people. We get to meet the more traditional older generation (her grandfather, caring and congenial, and her grandmother, always cooking and comforting), her aunt Dora, who also left the country and lived in New York for many years, and Miguel, the youngest one, who was born in the USA and who, although initially reluctant, ends up becoming the closest to her. They share not only age but also similar identity problems, and he’s dark and handsome too, so it’s not surprising that things develop to Carly’s surprise.

There is clean romance, there are some interesting discussions about identity, family, and what makes us who we are (and how difficult it might be to fit in when perhaps you don’t belong anywhere), and also about life, death, guilt and forgiveness. There are very emotional moments, fun and magical ones, and sad ones. Although the discovery Carly makes towards the end wasn’t a big surprise for me, the beauty is in the detail, the visual symbols (the snow, the petals of the title, the man …), the way all the pieces come together, and the final message is one of hope, forgiveness and reconciliation.

In summary, this is an excellent YA book, well written, with beautiful description of places, people and emotions, exploring issues of identity, survivor’s guilt, grief and death, mixed marriages and families, the role of tradition and culture, with an engaging and sympathetic main character and a good cast of secondary ones. This is a clean book with some Christian religious content and questions although that is not the emphasis of the book. It will appeal not only to readers of YA books but to anybody who enjoys well-written first-person narratives, exploring mixed family relationships, identity and grief, set in a wonderful location.

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text 2017-04-07 23:00
Tim Pigott-Smith
Travels With My Aunt - Graham Greene

I just learned of the passing of Tim Pigott-Smith. :(

 

He was a fine actor and I always looked out for audiobooks he narrated as he had a great way with voices.

 

The first audiobook I had of his was Graham Greene's Travels with My Aunt and it is only a fitting tribute that I should repeat that listening experience this weekend.

 

The re-read, or re-listen, is on!

 

(Oh, and Lillelara may have helped with the re-read decision, too ;) )

 

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review 2017-03-21 20:41
The Hope Chest
The Hope Chest: A Novel - Viola Shipman

 

By:  Viola Shipman

ISBN: 1250105072

Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Publication Date: 3/21/2017

Format: Other

My Rating: 5 Stars

 

Master storyteller, Viola Shipman (Wade Rouse) returns following the heartwarming debut, The Charm Bracelet (2016) and nostalgic Christmas novella Christmas Angels with the latest love story— THE HOPE CHEST, poignant and beautifully crafted, a story of hope, faith, memories, second chances, life’s special moments and surprises.

Emotionally rich, heartbreaking, and yet inspiring and warm-spirited— Shipman once again demonstrates the impact of family, history, and friends. Life is precious. Life is a gift. Time. How do we choose to use it? A legacy to be continued through others. To be passed along. You can utilize what time you have, or lose it all in a blink of an eye.

Thought-provoking! One man may be losing his wife, but through her strength—he may discover a new family. From family heirlooms, nostalgia, grief, sadness, to inspiration and hope for the future.

“ . . . Hope is something you carry with you forever, not only this chest but also in your heart. So look inside it and inside yourself when you need hope the most, and it will guide you, and remind you of what was and what is to be. . . “

Set in idyllic and charming small town of Michigan, Don and Mattie Tice have had a happy life. They have been in love since they first met many years earlier. They promised one another, till death do us part. They are approaching their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Don wishes more than anything he could freeze time. Just a little longer.

They had their cottage at Hope Dunes. Their history. However, the house was big and now Don needed help with Mattie. They now required a caregiver. Mattie has ALS— for five years, and now they are forced to move to a smaller place. Are they really ready to give up a big part of their past? What about the future?

Mattie is multi-talented. She was a successful landscape designer, with many famous clients over the years. She was also a painter. Don was an executive at Herman Miller furniture, and they both love the beauty and importance that objects and plants hold in people’s homes and lives.

Now they are left with no children and only a faithful dog, Mabel. What will he do when his loving faithful wife passes on. How will he go on? He is clinging to every moment.

Enter Rose Hoffs, and her charming, "larger- than- life" daughter, Jeri. Rose lost her parents to cancer and her husband left years ago. A divorced single mom, her parents had left her their family home; however, she is struggling to make ends meet.

She needs full-time hours versus part time in order to survive without using all her savings and her inheritance, which was dwindling quickly. She needed to hang on to her family home. She was too young to have no help. She is excited to get an opportunity to work for this couple through the service, There’s No Place Like Home, the senior care group as a caregiver.

Little does she know how she and her daughter’s life will be enhanced by this wonderful caring couple, and the impact she and her daughter will have while based on this newfound relationship.

In the years following Mattie’s diagnosis, Don had been angry, with God and at every person so insinuated that his wife would one day be better off dead. However, Mattie made him aware his anger was misplaced. It was not all about him. She told him he was being selfish and wasting his strength and emotion over something he could not control. Time will march on. Life will continue.

. . . “We get one chance on this earth. One short little stop to get things right, and too few of us do. We focus on everything that is unimportant.”

Special keepsakes. A special hope chest for a special history. Everything has a story. Each of the heirlooms in the hope chest teaches something about one’s self. Past, present, future. Living lessons. A hope chest once filled with hope and now there is none.

From a cedar chest, scents, fragrances of the past. Filled with memories such as scrapbooks, heirlooms, family pictures, teddy bears, family bibles, special mementos, rag dolls, aprons, dishes, jewelry—precious items to be passed along to a family. Connecting the past with the future. Filled with love, hopes, and dreams.

“Hope is only one short letter from home.

H is for Hope Now and for always.
O is for the Overwhelming love I have for you.
P is for the Practical items that will make your house a home.
E is for the Eternal memories this chest will provide every time you open it up.

You are my hope, and my home, in this world, My daughter, my love. . . ”



Beautifully written, I bookmarked so many passages. Shipman has a way with words and vivid descriptions—predict he will be the next Nicholas Sparks! Loved everything about this charming story! Readers will fall in love with the characters, as well as the comforting words to those who have recently lost loved ones or those left behind trying to make sense of their loss. You will smile and cry at the same time. No chance encounters. An ideal book for book clubs and further discussions.

Another element which was nicely done— the way Shipman used the different timelines. Often an author will spend more time with the secondary story than the main one. I liked the fact, Don and Mattie's touching and the timeless story took center stage, as well as their background history. Rose’s life intersected perfectly, without taking away from the couple's journey.

For fans of Nicholas Sparks, Fredrik Backman, Debbie Macomber, Joanne Demaio, Sally Hepworth, Zoe Fishman, and Charles Martin.

Highly Recommend!

A special thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for an early reading copy.

JDCMustReadBooks

 

Source: www.judithdcollinsconsulting.com/single-post/2016/09/01/The-Hope-Chest
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review 2017-03-18 16:35
Review: Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
Allegedly - Tiffany D. Jackson

Initial reaction: Long review coming probably sometime tomorrow when I can meditate on my end thoughts on the novel, which are complex and conflicted. This...may not be a book for everyone to read.

This book had me emotionally shaken and vexed on so many levels, that I don't even know where to begin. *sighs* I will say - to the narrative's credit - that it's well written, emotionally raw, and Mary's experiences come across as very true to life experiences for incarcerated minority youth for much of the book (not all of it, but a good portion). Tiffany Jackson gets the emotional intimacy and connection of characterizations for this book spot on. The tension in this book is so palpable that I found myself caught between putting the book down and picking it back up eager to read what happens in Mary's overarching case. It's a dark read and thought provoking in many places. At first I thought that this narrative would be something akin to reading the narrative "Push" by Sapphire, because the tone of the narrative felt like that to start (and interestingly enough, the narrative mentions Mary reading it at one point.) The aforementioned book was a rough read for me on its own but I appreciated it because of the real horrors and story told in that vein. This book doesn't go in that direction, but the emotional/physical abuse and fear that Mary endures in places is rage inducing and makes you feel for the character.

If you're sensing a lingering "but" to those notations, you would be hitting the needlepoint spot on. I sincerely want to pretend that ending (and certain events close to the ending) doesn't exist. While I don't mind having the rug pulled out from under me in an apt mystery/thriller, this didn't feel like that kind of story for much of the narrative. At the very least, one would think at this ending "Wait...there's an emotional mismatch here - that really didn't fit the rest of the tone of the story. Even if there were multiple unreliable characters here (and there are: fair warning without delving into too many spoilers), it doesn't make sense to go that direction because the story already had a compelling story in one tone. It reveals a pretty gruesome but notable reality for an underrepresented population."

At worst? This book does need a TW on several counts: several notations of homophobia (though one could argue that its influenced by the prejudices of the observed characters), body/sexual shaming (see previous notation), rape/complicit accessory rape/statutory rape (oh, I have a soapbox coming on this very subject matter on so. many. levels.), animal cruelty and dismemberment (I had to stop reading for a bit after that scene because I wasn't expecting it), among other things.

So, yeah, complex emotions. :(

Full review:

My initial rating upon finishing this book was 4 stars, and looks like I'm going to take it down to 3.5 because...MASSIVE caveats. There are brilliant moments in the narrative that really tugged at my heartstrings. I think the essence of Mary's story is true to the brutality that many young people of color experience in incarceration, juvenile pregnancy, power and abuse in the correctional system, power and abuse in personal relationships, gaslighting, among other things. It's true to life on some things, but ultimately not in others, and particularly with the progression up through the ending, this is a mature YA (I question it being YA, but I think teens could still read this and get something out of it) dark horror/thriller.

At first I thought that this was something that abruptly changed for the tone in the ending and I thought "Wait a minute, I wish that the book hadn't gone in that direction, because it was so good establishing what Mary's experiences were and illuminating some tough realities in characters who are like her." But the more I looked back through the story, the more I realized that it actually had foreshadowed this dark and foreboding tone; every single character in this narrative is one you can't trust on the surface because of the ultimate truths that are revealed about them as the narrative presses forward. It's one big nightmare that while I don't always agree with how it used elements to its execution, it also provides a space where I'm thinking about the narrative complexities and points long after I put the book down.

The baseline for this story has Mary as a 15/16 year old young black woman convicted in a juvenile home for troubled youth up until the age of 19. She's accused of killing a white infant which has a ton of media coverage and accounts close to Mary's case (which are brilliantly provided in snippets throughout the text, and it gives the narrative an authentic and complex feel). She's struggling to try to make a better life for herself, trying to get the opportunity to take the SAT, getting an education, confronting what seems to be PTSD surrounding details of the case that she's shut out because she doesn't feel like she has a voice or that people will believe her about what *actually* happened. Things become more complicated when Mary realizes that she's pregnant and the system will take away her unborn child if she doesn't say/do something. Hence begins the ball rolling as Mary struggles through hostile and demeaning/neglectful oversight, stern judgment from superiors and peers, a complete lack of support from her mother (her mother's blind religious hypocrisy and self-indulgence had me seeing red through the entire narrative, I thought in my mind "I've read/known about people who have done this to their children, and I can't deal because they are freaking horrible.") among other things to essentially get out of this entire ordeal. It creates sympathy for Mary's situation while holding back pieces of the actual case, revealing them in snippets as the story progresses.

Mary's baby father, Ted, is 18/19, at first appears supportive of Mary's efforts to get out of the system and be with her for the sake of being with her. Note I emphasize "appears", because once the truth about Ted's past actions comes across, it's...messed up. It's messed up enough that his relationship with her was statutory rape to begin with, but I was legit raging and had to put the book down for a time because of what's revealed about him in further spells. MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD.

No one can tell me to have sympathy for a guy incarcerated because he was complicit in holding down a young woman by her arms to be raped several times. Regardless if he was scared, regardless whether he "let her go", even if he didn't rape her himself, it's clear he was in denial about doing anything wrong and making the excuse he was "young" when it happened. Mary sees the hypocrisy in this and is sickened by it in spells, but exhibits denial about it in others - which angered me. Further reveals of Ted's character showcase him getting extra money by pocketing part of the money that a woman named Letitcia gets from her relationships and him bumming off from others relationships - which Mary uncovers going to visit him. I'm legit horrified by this (as is Mary). Mary attempts to get away from him even on that measure, but then goes back to being in denial about his actions/demeanor in spells. One could probably argue that Mary's demeanor was in constant denial about many, many things because the emotional weight of all that she endures, but this was something that messed me up reading this story.

(spoiler show)



So ultimately speaking, Ted can screw right off as far as I'm concerned. The horrifying part of this book in many notations is that it feels so vivid and realistic that I could actually see it happening from Mary's viewpoint, particularly with the way she wrestles with her reality and relationships more often times than not. I can see it even it there are details which aren't as ironed out as smoothly as they could've been. I think that's one of the things that sucked me into the story: that I believed it was Mary's experience and her voice is attuned to all the people she's surrounded by, fatal flaws and all. She's a compelling narrator, and I definitely felt for her and for many of the characters in the narrative. Hence when I finished "Allegedly", I felt like I could give it credit for the strong assertions, strong protagonist, and illumination of many different measures in a realistic way.

But at the same time, I feel like that even with knowing the narrative foreshadowed these revelations with the characters and case in itself, the transition and translation of that wasn't as strong as it should've been. So I've asked myself "Is this a 4 star read, is this a 3 star read? I'm going back and forth about it because as much as I liked the emotional resonance in it, I didn't like elements within it and how they were used."

So in the end, it's a strong 3.5 star read for me, and I'd encourage others to read this for the strong themes and character resonance, but be warned that the subject matters are mature and triggering.

Overall score: 3.5/5 stars.

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review 2017-03-16 03:54
Review: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
We Are Okay - Nina LaCour

Quick review for a quick read. Leave it to Nina LaCour to tug at my heartstrings every single time I pick up a book from her. For what it's worth, I did enjoy "We Are Okay" though it wasn't as strong for me as some of the author's other narratives (a.k.a "Hold Still"). It's the story of a young woman named Marin who escapes her life after a series of tragedies and has to come to terms with them as her best friend reunites with her over Winter Break while she's in college.

I wasn't surprised by Marin's actions given that I knew she was in a state of denial, grief, and anguish, but it was the reasons behind those emotions that kept me pushing through the novel to see them in full. I'll admit that at times the delivery of these story details is uneven and took me some time to push through, but I always respect and appreciate the genuine way LaCour's able to dig into the raw emotions of her characters. There's much that haunts Marin, and it takes an exploration of the past meeting the present to bring it together (trading between months of memories and present details). I appreciated the range of emotions and coming to terms that Marin shows through the narrative, and felt for her on the note of her relationships with her mother and grandfather, as well as her best friend Mabel and roommate Hannah. The narrative features a prominent character of color and a lesbian relationship with enough moments to feel for the characters even through the events that affect them. I enjoyed getting to know the range of characters in this book and thought it did a fine job of showcasing the dedication of people around Marin to let her know she wasn't lost or forgotten, though her journey after her experiences had her mentally wading through some dark places (some of which I'll admit resonated with me because I've been in that headspace as a result of loss - in more ways than one - before. I don't know if I'd even think to do what Marin did ultimately, but I could see the reasons behind her behavior.)

In the end, it was a solid reading experience for me, a story that I could definitely get behind though it did take some wading through slower, uneven moments in the narrative to get there.

Overall score: 3.5/5 stars.

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