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review 2019-06-13 10:29
An American-Latina Cinderella story and a whirlwind soap opera
The Perfect Date - Holly L Lorincz,Evelyn Lozada

I thank NetGalley and St. Martin’s (MacMillan) for providing me an early ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Although I don’t normally look at the reviews of a book in detail before I read it (I do to decide if I’m interested in reading the book or not, but I don’t want to spoil my enjoyment), because I update my current reading on several book sites, I can’t help but see what the general ratings for the book I’m about to start reading look like. Let me tell you I was alarmed when I saw how many 1 star reviews this book had. I was even more concerned because, based on the description, I had agreed to participate in a Blog tour, and I was worried about having made a serious mistake and having to vow out of it. Luckily, I enjoyed the book (yes, it’s far from perfect, but I wasn’t expecting perfection), and I wonder if having read the reviews and getting a clear idea of what had upset other readers didn’t prepare me for what was to come and helped me not go into it with false expectations.

The cover, I think, can make people expect a “sweet” or “cute” romance. Well, that, it is not. The description hints at the personality of Angel (perhaps more accurately than that of Duke, whom many readers didn’t like at all), but readers might have expected a more standard romance, where the romantic side of things is the main story. I agree with the readers who said this novel has a lot of “drama”. Oh, yes, it does. It is like a melodrama on steroids, rough around the edges, and it feels like a fairly extreme soap opera. People wear their hearts (and rage) on their sleeves, they don’t do stiff-upper-lip or measured emotions, and they throw themselves headlong into life. It might be because I’m Spanish and we are supposed to be “red-blooded” (what other colour our blood would be, I have no idea), “passionate”, and “hot tempered” and those attributes (I don’t think they are always helpful, but I refuse to call them defects) are also expected of Latinos in general, and because I’ve watched and enjoyed Central and South-American soap operas, but I did like the oomph of Angel, the main character, even if she was not always consistent (but hey, I’ve never found characters in romantic novels or chick-lit entirely consistent). In some ways, her part of the story has strong elements of women’s fiction, even if the style of writing is different. A young Puerto-Rican woman, a single mother from a young age, she’s had to fight against the odds to try to make a living for herself and her little boy, Jose, who unfortunately suffers from asthma. Working two jobs at the same time, studying all hours to get her nursing qualification, and relying on her friend Gabriela, the hairdresser with a heart of gold (the interaction between the women sometimes made me think of Steel Magnolias and Fried Green Tomatoes, minus the Southern gentility), being subject to a #metoo kind of situation (well, more than one), she is pushed and pulled in all directions but tries to remain strong and keep her moral compass. Yes, she loses her cool every so often, but I cheered her on more than once.

Hers is a Cinderella story, indeed, one in a more soap operatic style than a gentle fairy tale (not that fairy tales are truly gentle), with over the top villains who seem to be villains just because they are (no justification or exploration of the baddies. In olden times, I’m sure one of them would have worn a big moustache he’d twirl, and the other one would have been a proper witch), and where Cinderella is far from the passive and pretty young girl just waiting for the prince to come rescue her (she actually kicks him out more than once). The love interest, Caleb, “The Duke”, has his own Cinderella story, as they share in their humble origins (although he is African-American rather than Puerto-Rican), but he’s now living the aftermath of the Cinderella story, and realising that the people who surround him are not true friends, and money cannot buy the really important things. Many readers say he is not likeable because he thinks only of himself (well, yes, mostly, although he shows concern for Angel’s boy, puts his own career at risk for him, and he is also outraged when he reads about the lack of appropriate asthma treatment for children from diverse ethnic background). We do learn about his circumstances, he is put through the wringer in the novel, and his character bears some resemblance to the rakes readers of Georgian and Victorian literature are so fond of. (Perhaps he lacks some of the charm, but that might be in part because we see him from his own point of view at times, rather than what tends to happens with the rogues, who tend to remain attractive, mysterious and dangerous men, whose motivations we know little about). He helps save the day in the end, and, although he will not rate among my favourite male protagonists, he isn’t the worst either.

The book includes many side-stories —I’ve mentioned the issue of the lack of treatments for Jose, and the novel makes a serious point about the lack of investment in research, by the pharmaceutical companies, of appropriate treatment for diverse populations. Yes, we are not all young white males and our bodies do not respond the same as theirs to the medication; and we also have difficult family relations, grief, sexual harassment, alcohol and drug abuse… — and it is set in the world of sports (baseball), and of celebrity culture. Considering Lozada’s credentials, I am not surprised she has a lot to say on the subject, and the baseball players’ wives (a bit like the footballers’ wives in other countries) interactions rang true. There are comedic moments, although they are far from subtle and some people might not find them funny, but if you let yourself go along for the ride and get into the spirit of it, this is a fun read, touching and inspiring as well.

The book is narrated in the third-person, alternating the points of view of Angel and The Duke. As I said, I read an early ARC copy of the novel, and I noticed readers complained about there not being a clear distinction between the one point of view and the other, but expect this will have been corrected in the final version of the novel, as will, I hope, some awkward Spanish phrasing at the beginning of the book.

Although this is not a standard romantic novel, the ending does live up to the genre (wish-fulfilment and all) and yes, I enjoyed it. If you’re easily offended or are looking for a genteel and/or gentle romance, this is not the book for you. I’d recommend reading through the sample and being prepared for a full-on whirlwind soap, that stretches the limits of credibility (and for some, perhaps, of good taste), and mixes a lot of other genres. If all that doesn’t scare you, give it a go! It will be a wild ride!

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text 2013-12-28 01:26
a very informative book
Divided Borders: Essays on Puerto Rican Identity - Juan Flores
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review 2013-12-20 03:45
I Really Resonated With This One
When I Was Puerto Rican: A Memoir (A Merloyd Lawrence Book) - Esmeralda Santiago

I loved this book beyond reason, but I admit for very personal reasons. This certainly resonated with me in ways someone without a Puerto Rican background wouldn't share, although that doesn't mean they wouldn't appreciate it. Just that my response to it was so personal I'm aware I didn't have an objective response to it at all. It was hard to see Esmeralda Santiago when I was constantly thinking of my own family and what we shared in our experiences and attitudes and background and what we didn't. I guess this is to me what A Tree Grows in Brooklyn might be for someone with an Irish background--not that I didn't love that book as a teen myself. But I've found few works about the Hispanic American experience that I could identify with and like. (I despised the celebrated House on Mango Street by Cisneros for instance.)

In a lot of ways mind you Santiago and I are very different--you could say her experience is much closer to the experience of my mother than myself. It was my mother and her family that was born and raised in Puerto Rico. I'm a native New Yorker who has only spent a few brief vacations in Puerto Rico, the longest one entire summer when I was a child, even if it was an indelible experience. But when Santiago spoke of the morivivi plant and the coquis (tree frogs) and mango and coconut trees, it sure brought back memories of that magical summer. Nor did I grow up in Hispanic neighborhoods or close to our extended family--but in integrated neighborhoods and buildings. So there are times I think growing up I didn't have a full context for things that Santiago illuminated. For instance, I have called my aunt "Titi" for as long as I can remember. I thought it was my word for her. As it turns out it's what Santiago called her aunts as well. Mind you, I have to admit feeling a bit disappointed in that... And "jibaro"--it was funny how different our families saw the word. She translated it as "country person" and mostly took pride in it as an identity. In my family it was disparaging--the Puerto Rican equivalent of hillbilly or redneck and used as a comment on bad taste or a display of ignorance or "low class" behavior. And we never, ever used the word "gringo" in our household so when I first heard the word, I thought of it as something Mexicans said of Americans--not Puerto Ricans. I think that reflects another difference between us and our families. Santiago expressed at times an ambivalence, a resentment of how moving to the American mainland made her a "hybrid." My family never looked back. Not that they ever forgot where they came from or were ashamed of being Puerto Ricans--but above all we were proud of being Americans, and the opportunities that opened to us, and happy to adapt and assimilate. Well, mostly--goodness knows my aunt is not to be separated from her Puerto Rican foods or cooking. She wouldn't, like Santiago, express any ambivalence about grabbing a guava... (or avocado, mango, bacaloa, or ugh pig feet.)

I'd add that even if my reaction to this felt so personal, I couldn't help but note this was "objectively" a good read. Santiago's a good, good writer. This is a memoir that read like a novel--one of those works of "creative non-fiction" I feel somewhat ambivalent about usually but was fine with here. I'd add that for all I compared this to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and is a coming of age story that follows Santiago from about ten to fourteen years old, I wouldn't call this a Young Adult work. It's frank in sexual content for one--not G-rated, I'd call this PG-13 at least--you'll even learn some Spanish curse words (if you didn't already know them)--so keep that in mind.

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text 2013-11-26 14:45
5 great books to look at...
Isabella The Puerto Rican Princess - Jennifer Rosario,Sandra Elliott
Isabella the Puerto Rican Princess - Jennifer Rosario,Sandra Elliott
Leonel & Friends - Jennifer Rosario
A Man Who Lives in Turmoil: A Man Who Lives in Turmoil - Jennifer Rosario,Terrance Lawson
Game Over Sweetheart Checkmate!: The Lover Concentrated Intensely Upon the Death and Destruction of Husband and Wife to Keep Her Master Plan Alive and Destroy the Communication and Love He Had for His Wife. Game Over Sweetheart? Checkmate! - Jennifer Rosario,Terrance Lawson
Tick Tock- Tick Tock: A Woman's Most Intimate Accounts of Her Journey Through Heartbreak, Suffering, Will for Self-Preservation and Love Gon - Jennifer Rosario,MR James Rodriguez
Secret Society: Secret Society of the World, of Conspiracy Theories of Gathering Secret Knowledge of Sex Which Live Among Us Every Day - Jennifer Rosario,MR Luis Rosario

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review 2010-10-18 00:00
When I Was Puerto Rican: A Memoir (A Merloyd Lawrence Book) - Esmeralda Santiago Puerto Rico. This is primarily a memoir of a Puerto Rican childhood. Santiago gives a satisfying account of daily life with its occasional dramatic, punctuating events. She uses description well to imbue the landscape with emotional resonance. The New York section was thinner and seemed rushed. It would have benefited from an additional 20% of the page count added to allow more showing and less telling.
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