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review 2018-01-22 00:49
Review: A Daughter's Courage by Renita D'Silva
A Daughter's Courage - Renita D'Silva

Published by: Bookouture (26th May 2017)

 

ISBN: 978-1786811783

 

Source: Netgalley 

 

Rating: 5*

 

Synopsis:

1929. When a passionate love affair threatens to leave Lucy in disgrace, she chooses a respectable marriage over a life of shame. With her husband, coffee-plantation-owner James, she travels to her new home in India, leaving her troubled past behind her.

Everything in India is new to Lucy, from the jewel-coloured fabrics to the exotic spices. When her path crosses that of Gowri, a young woman who tends the temple on the plantation’s edge, Lucy is curious to find out more about her, and the events that lead her to live in isolation from her family…

 

Now. With her career in shatters and her heart broken by the man she thought was her future, Kayva flees from bustling Mumbai to her home town. A crumbling temple has been discovered in a village nearby, and with it letters detailing its tragic history – desperate pleas from a young woman called Gowri.

 

As Kavya learns of Gowri and Lucy’s painful story, she begins to understand the terrible sacrifices that were made and the decision the two women took that changed their lives forever. Can the secrets of the past help Kavya to rebuild her life?

 

Review:

Wow. What a myriad of emotions A Daughter's Courage evokes. I am feeling so many different things right now! This book is so touching, heartbreakingly sad yet uplifting and heartwarming. This isn't a book that I'd typically pick up and read, it was recommended to me by my very good friend, and fellow book blogger, Jules (who I'm so pleased to see get a mention in the book acknowledgements :))

 

The three main characters, Lucy, Gowri and Kavya are all so well written. They are such distinct personalities and so different from each other. I defy anyone not to fall in love with Gowri, her soul shines through. Lucy is so different from Gowri and I just couldn't wait to find out where the story would go next. When the two women meet, the interaction is so brilliantly described, it really felt as if I was stood right there, breathing in the rich Indian aromas as I witnessed the meeting. Kavya is different again and thoroughly modern. I really enjoyed how the threads of their individual stories intertwined and then came together.

 

India really came to life from 'the pages' (my kindle) as it was just depicted in such a wonderful way. The colours, from the jewel brights of the saris to the dirty brown of the mud, everything felt as though I was actually seeing it myself. Renita D'Silva has such a fantastic way with words. I also loved all the descriptions of the food that Gowri and the others were preparing; I've taken notes! A Daughter's Courage may have been the first of the author's books that I've read but it certainly won't be the last! Thanks to Bookouture and Netgalley for the ARC, and to Jules Mortimer for another great recommendation.  

 

 

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review 2018-01-22 00:15
Deep dive into cult life
The Boundless Sublime - Lili Wilkinson

 Disclaimer: reviewing a pre-publication digital proof via NetGalley.

 

Ruby's mother is no longer functioning. Her dad's in prison. For killing her baby brother in a drunk driving accident. She's holding it together on the outside, not so much on the inside. When she makes a connection with innocent, sheltered, cult-raised Fox, she gets drawn into the supportive, seemingly open-minded and health-conscious public branch of a local cult. When she follows Fox into the inner enclave, things take a turn for the weird.

 

Extremely well-written story by a new-to-me author. I wasn't sure what to expect going in, and mostly requested the galley based on that awesome cover (isn't it cool? so atmospheric!) But there's a lot to like in the storytelling as well. Ruby's in a bad place, and the way the author explores her thinking and how she moves step-by-step deeper into the land of crazy is really illuminating.

 

While I think most of us would agree on how insane the choices Ruby and others in the book make, the reality is that people around us are pulled into real-world versions of this, and get drawn into radical thinking and extremist behaviours every day. I have friends who've gotten really into things like Landmark (a leadership program with cult-like practices), CrossFit (an example of extreme fitness trends that can inspire cultlike devotion, also see: SoulCycle) and even things like detox cleanses or mindfulness programs that ride the line of eating disorders and abuse. The relatability and plausibility of the characters that Wilkinson draws out is impressive. Many people - maybe everyone - are looking for answers, for meaning, for a way to gain control over their lives. This story explores how someone could, out of a place of brokenness and searching, go down a route they never would have imagined for themselves.

 

I love how this story conveys a sense of empathy. You learn about others, and maybe yourself, in a way that's engaging, fast-paced (it's not a preachy dissertation on the evils of cults or anything), solidly in-character (Ruby's perspective feels natural, age-appropriate, and allows for some great reveals and twists at the end), and balanced. You come away with a clear understanding of why people behaved as they did, even if that behaviour was absolutely insane. Potential trigger warnings for various things like debilitating depression/suicidal thoughts, abuse and eating disorders. There is some sexuality and language that might make this better suited for older teens and adults - parental guidance recommended - but it's not pronounced or explicit (e.g. there is weird sex stuff in the cult, but it's not salacious or described in detail).

 

Highly recommended read that bridges entertainment and discussion-group-worthy literature.

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review 2018-01-21 15:39
Fruit of the Drunken Tree -- A Luminous novel of girlhood, class, tragedy, empathy and Colombia
Fruit of the Drunken Tree: A Novel - Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Fruit of the Drunken Tree broke my heart a hundred times and fully restored it almost every time.

 

by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Available July 31, 2018

 

 

When I was young, I was frequently chastised for being "too sensitive." I wasn't a wimpy sort of kid; I just felt everything -- deeply. If I was happy, I was practically delirious. When I really felt something, I was frequently accused of being melodramatic. I truly was not trying to get attention. I was just a little different from my very tightly-wound family. I projected thoughts and feelings onto everything from animals to bedsheets. I remember the weighty impact certain realizations made on me when I became aware of them: the vast number of people in the world each living their own life of which I was completely unaware, the horror of being homeless, my cousin Katie who died in a household accident before I ever knew her and who still remains six dressed in a plastic halloween costume in my mind -- that's the picture I had seen.

 

Maybe this is why the luminous story of Chula Santiago and her much-coveted friend, Petrona, resonates so deeply for me. Chula is a child who believes in ghosts and communicates her feelings to cows via impassioned "moo" sounds. She is also a girl who watches, listens and reads the adult world around her. Chula feels everything -- deeply.

 

Despite being set in Bogotá during the Pablo Escobar saga, this book is not Narcos. It is a "normal" yet strange and magical childhood taking place amid extremely unusual circumstances. Two girls from two very different worlds form an unusual bond while the world around them shapes each in her own way. It takes us on a trip from exuberant child in Bogotá to a refugee shadow in East L.A. and shows us how need or suffering can bend and transform anyone. Despite all of that, this is no sad tale.

 

The story opens when Chula's mother is looking for a new "girl" to serve as a maid in their middle-class Bogotá household. The maid, Petrona, is in actuality a 13 year old girl who has to work rather than go to school because her family has been through its own horrors as the result of the narco-war and now lives in a sort of shanty-town of pervasive poverty. As the oldest girl of nine children, Petrona has largely become maid and mother figure to her own family and now must become the breadwinner, which brings her to the Santiago household.

 

Petrona is a mystery to Chula and her sister Cassandra, who hunt the neighborhood for the Lost Souls of Purgatory and play "ding-dong-ditch" all the while trying out the adult words that swim in their minds. They wonder if she is a poet, saint, witch or possibly under a spell. Passionate Chula is impressed with how little Petrona speaks and counts every syllable that comes from her mouth. She is a mystery in their otherwise conventional lives.

 

Behind all the childrens' silliness is the very real war of Pablo Escobar with the Colombian and US governments. In Chula's voice Escobar is both a television star and an entirely inhuman monster, an ever-present source of questions and gossip who serves as an entrée into the grown-up world. The Santiagos work around Escobar's war in the most mundane ways. He is an unusual inconvenience for a family that wants to go to the mall or a movie until events and the news press their way into Chula's consciousness.

 

The book overlays a story onto a real timeline of Colombia. True historical events happen in the fictional story. It's done with a deft grace and while it's not a history book, there are events in this book that even I, an American 'tween at the time, still remember.

 

Real heart runs through all of the characters in this story. From the always-working Papá and his observation that the cows may have recently read Sartre to Mamá's advice on dealing with men and other beings to Petrona's thoughts and private worries and the two Santiago sisters who are strong-willed each in her own way.

 

Eventually, after the Santiago family has welcomed Petrona as much as they ever will and Chula gets her wish of a real bond with Petrona, the country's horrors force their way through the Santiago's door and Chula is forced to begin to grow up -- differently, though correspondingly -- to the way Petrona had before the two ever met.

 

Ingrid Rojas Contreras gives us a very authentic child's voice with laugh-aloud moments and devastating truths sometimes in the same sentence. Chula is haunted by images and events in the way only children can be -- simple and profound all at once. I've been asked not to quote, but I found this a welcome rendering of a fascinating girl that took me back to the magical kingdom of childhood.

 

And then it dumped me, along with Chula and Petrona and all the other characters into the confusing world of adulthood with all its cloying tragedy, but we are all still alive.

 

The novel deals deftly with class differences and the way having enough or far too little molds children. It does a commendable job at showing the way tragedy can morph a confident and spirited child into a anxious mute, squelching any room for passion or flights of fancy. The only thing I want now is to know what became of these two young women after the book ended. I do so wish I could quote the final sentence, uttered in Petrona's voice...

 

My copy has so much highlighting noted as "beautiful" or that made me giggle at Chula's strong spirit, the highlights became useless. Fruit of the Drunken Tree broke my heart a hundred times and fully restored it almost every time. So good, though I've read it, I finished and immediately pre-ordered a hardback copy to keep for myself and read again.

 

magical realism:

2 : a literary genre or style associated especially with Latin America that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction (from Merriam Webster)

 

The book isn't being marketed, at least in its advanced review copy, as magical realism, and I don't really think it is. But since the story is told through the eyes of a child, and children live in their sometimes magical imaginations perhaps especially children raised in the Catholic religion, this broadly fits the category and would probably appeal to anyone who can immerse themselves fully in the world of a lusciously-written character on a page.

 

I received an advanced reader's copy of Fruit of the Drunken Tree from NetGalley and this is my honest review.

 

A few interesting Colombia/Author things:

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photo 2018-01-21 11:00
Calliope Jones and The Forests of Mist by Haylie Machado Hanson

A book from my Netgalley TBR list.

 

~

 

"When seventeen-year-old Navigator Calliope Jones and her robot World Diver leap into a whirlpool gateway to escape her nemesis, Shadowmancer Nathaniel Ormonde, she has no idea the world she discovers on the other side will be just as deadly as her enemy. 

Nebelwald is a land full of skyscraper-sized trees, man-eating monsters lurking through the forest, and mysterious, swirling Mist, a dangerous fog that swallows everything it touches. Just when it seems like she might be out of luck and lost for good, Callie meets a new friend, Soren Rykerson, a young Guide harboring secrets of his own. 

Can Callie and Soren beat Nathaniel in the race against time to find Nebelwald’s hidden thread of light, before he hunts her down a second time? Will she ever find a Seer, the only person who can help her and the World Diver make their way home? Or will she be stranded forever, surrounded by Mist, monsters, and small-town intrigue rivaling her worst high school drama?"

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review 2018-01-20 20:45
Undercover Princess
Undercover Princess (Rosewood Chronicles) - Connie Glynn

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

There were good ideas in there, and I was fairly thrilled at first at the setting and prospects (a boarding school in England, hidden royals that looked like they’d be badass, etc.), but I must say that in the end, even though I read the novel in a rather short time and it didn’t fall from my hands, it was all sort of bland.

The writing itself was clunky, and while it did have good parts (the descriptions of the school, for instance, made the latter easy to picture), it was more telling, not showing most of the time. I’m usually not too regarding on that, I tend to judge first on plot and characters, and then only on style, but here I found it disruptive. For instance, the relationship between Ellie and Lottie has a few moments that border on the ‘what the hell’ quality: I could sense they were supposed to hint at possible romantic involvement (or at an evolution in that direction later), but the way they were described, it felt completely awkward (and not ‘teenage-girls-discovering-love’ cute/awkward).

The characters were mostly, well, bland. I feel it was partly tied to another problem I’ll mention later, namely that things occur too fast, so we had quite a few characters introduced, but not developed. Some of their actions didn’t make sense either, starting with Princess Eleanor Wolfson whose name undercover gets to be... Ellie Wolf? I’m surprised she wasn’t found out from day one, to be honest. Or the head of the house who catches the girls sneaking out at night and punishes them by offering them a cup of tea (there was no particular reason for her to be lenient towards them at the time, and if that was meant to hint at a further plot point, then we never reached that point in the novel).

(On that subject, I did however like the Ellie/Lottie friendship in general. It started in a rocky way, that at first made me wonder how come they went from antipathy to friendship in five minutes; however, considering the first-impression antipathy was mostly based on misunderstanding and a bit of a housework matter, it’s not like it made for great enmity reasons either, so friendship stemming from the misunderstanding didn’t seem so silly in hindsight. For some reason, too, the girls kind of made me think of ‘Utena’—probably because of the setting, and because Ellie is boyish and sometimes described as a prince rather than a princess.)

The story, in my opinion, suffers from both a case of ‘nothing happens’ and ‘too many things happen’. It played with several different plot directions: boarding school life; undercover princess trying to keep her secret while another girl tries to divert all attention on her as the official princess; prince (and potential romantic interest) showing up; mysterious boy (and potential romantic interest in a totally different way) showing up; the girls who may or may not be romantically involved in the future; trying to find out who’s leaving threatening messages; Binah’s little enigma, and the way it ties into the school’s history, and will that ever play a part or not; Anastacia and the others, and who among them leaked the rumour; going to Maradova; the summer ball; the villains and their motivations. *If* more time had been spent on these subplots, with more character development, I believe the whole result would’ve been more exciting. Yet at the same time all this gets crammed into the novel, there’s no real sense of urgency either, except in the last few chapters. That was a weird dichotomy to contend with.

Conclusion: 1.5 stars. I’m honestly not sure if I’ll be interested in reading the second book. I did like the vibes between Lottie and Ellie, though.

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