Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Review: The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel

Immigrants are highly visible in the news right now, both legal and illegal. We talk about the effect of immigration on jobs, taxes, health care and education costs, infrastructure, and more. But the emotional cost of leaving your home for another country, perhaps forever, is rarely examined in depth. Patricia Engel's novel, The Veins of the Ocean, addresses life as an immigrant, the bonds of family, and a loyalty that stretches beyond country and beyond death.

Reina Castillo came to the US from Colombia as a baby. After discovering his wife's infidelity, her father, Hector, threw her older brother off a bridge in Miami.  Young Carlito was saved by a fisherman who jumped in after the child. Although it didn't happen to her, this is the central fact of Reina's life, indeed of her whole family's life. When Carlito, in his turn, throws his girlfriend's daughter off a bridge, the child is not saved. Hector committed suicide while in prison for his actions. Carlito spent years on death row for his, with Reina visiting him dutifully for that entire stretch of time until he too died in prison. Cut loose from her vigil and mourning the loss of her beloved older brother, a man no one else would grieve because of his terrible crime, Reina moves to the Florida Keys where she tries to move on with her life, meeting Nestor, a Cuban refugee with his own sad history.

Reina and Nestor are both leery of relationships with others, both having lost so much. Both are still deeply tied to their countries of origin and the people and places they've left behind, there and here. Their slow, almost offhand, developing connection to each other is tenuous. They are afraid to fully commit because of the cost of their already existing family bonds and each of them needs to figure out how they can break free of the real and created prisons of their lives. They contend with guilt and despair, grief, love, and loyalty, loneliness and poverty. The freedom of the open ocean and the contrasting captive dolphins at the center where both Nestor and Reina work are powerful allegories for the place in which they each find themselves and for which they are each searching.

About a third of the novel focuses on Reina, her childhood, her past, and her connection with her brother. The rest of the novel focuses on her life after Carlito's death and her fragile relationship with a damaged Nestor. The narration is slow and contemplative, almost dreamy and drifting in places. The characters are scarred and lost. The story aches with hurt, sorrow, and a feeling of displacement. It's dark and complicated and sometimes frustrating, much in the way that life can be. Readers who are drawn to family dysfunction or to immigrant stories or to character driven narratives will find much to think about in these pages.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis. The book is being released by Hogarth on March 7, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: A richly textured coming-of-age story about fathers and sons, home and family, recalling classics by Thomas Wolfe and William Styron, by a powerful new voice in fiction

Just before Henry Aster’s birth, his father—outsized literary ambition and pregnant wife in tow—reluctantly returns to the small Appalachian town in which he was raised and installs his young family in an immense house of iron and glass perched high on the side of a mountain. There, Henry grows up under the writing desk of this fiercely brilliant man. But when tragedy tips his father toward a fearsome unraveling, what was once a young son’s reverence is poisoned and Henry flees, not to return until years later when he, too, must go home again.

Mythic in its sweep and mesmeric in its prose, THE BARROWFIELDS is a breathtaking debut about the darker side of devotion, the limits of forgiveness, and the reparative power of shared pasts.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Monday Mailbox

A pair of books I can hardly wait to crack open! This past week's mailbox arrivals:

The Weight of Him by Ethel Rohan came from St. Martin's Press.

A novel about an obese man who decides to lose weight to raise money for charity as a way of handling his grief after his son's suicide, this sounds wonderful.

The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion came from St. Martin's Press.

I loved The Rosie Project so I'm very excited to read another Simsion. Even if he hadn't written it though, a novel about a man looking at a second chance with the woman he let go would totally and completely appeal to me.

If you want to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Review: The Odds of You and Me by Cecilia Galante

We all want to have control over our lives but sometimes our choices mean that we are slow to have that control. In Cecilia Galante's newest novel, The Odds of You and Me, main character Bird is just about to earn that control back when she's faced with a decision that could completely derail her plans. This novel of healing, second chances, doing what's right, and family is a warm hearted and satisfying read.

Bird is twenty-five. She lives at home with her mother and her five year old son Angus. She's been saving money from her job cleaning houses so that she and Angus can move out and get their own apartment and she's almost there. She's also only 13 days from the end of her long probation for writing bad checks. If she can just make it through the next 13 days without a misstep, she'll be free to create the life she wants for Angus. But that isn't the way Bird's life works, of course.  Life for her has been anything but easy.  When she goes to church to retrieve her mother's sweater (a set-up since Bird hasn't believed in God or darkened a church door almost since her father's death), she stumbles across an old co-worker hiding out in the disused choir loft. James is injured and pointing a gun at her, having escaped the police, who were taking him in for beating a man almost to death in a bar fight. The James that Bird remembers wasn't a criminal; he was a quiet and kind man who once did something for her that has left her in his debt. Now she has to decide if she can risk the life she's assembling for Angus to help James stay hidden and maybe even escape.

Bird has made wrong decision after wrong decision in her life. She lost her father when she was young and he was the parent she looked to for moral guidance and unconditional love. When he died, so did her faith in a good God and in religion overall. Her relationship with her mother has long been contentious and hard so moving back in with her after her conviction hasn't been easy and the fact that they are often at odds over what is right for Angus makes the situation even harder. As a character, Bird is both frustrating and redeemable by turns. Seeing her grapple with what is right and wanting to be the best possible mom to Angus is wonderful but the reader will also want to shout at her for the hurtful things she can say or do, especially towards her mother, and for the wrongheaded decisions she makes when she's describing the past where she first met James.

The novel is told on two different timelines, Bird's present and Bird's past, and both are narrated by Bird herself. Both timelines move forward and the present timeline doesn't reveal major plot points from the past, allowing both timelines to have surprising twists to them. A couple of the revelations are a tad predictable but there are others that are not at all expected and help keep the reader engaged in Bird's story and where she is ultimately going to end up.  Better yet, where she will end up is not obvious until the end of the novel, although it is fitting with her character and the story.  Galante is careful not offer any easy answers to the myriad of deep and thoughtful questions Bird faces and she shows the multiple layers that make up decisions and reactions. This is a novel about forgiveness, institutional and personal. It's about self-sabotage and belief in oneself and the hard work of family. At its core it's a goodhearted novel that will leave the reader pulling for Bird and Angus and all of the people in her life who have believed in her, even, or especially, when she might not have deserved it.

For more information about Cecilia Galante and the book, check out her author website, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter. Also, check out the book's Good Reads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the HarperCollins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James
Drunks by Christopher Finan
The Mortifications by Derek Palacio
The Young Widower's Handbook by Tom McAllister

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Last Time She Saw Him by Jane Haseldine
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones
The Company They Kept edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein

Reviews posted this week:

Drunks by Christopher Finan

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel
Wreck and Order by Hannah Tennant-Moore
My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith
Exposure by Helen Dunmore
Eliza Waite by Ashley E. Sweeney
Nine Island by Jane Alison
Roughneck Grace by Michael Perry
I Hid My Voice by Parinoush Saniee
The Other Woman by Therese Bohman
The Florence Diary by Diana Athill
The Odds of You and Me by Cecelia Galante
Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James
The Mortifications by Derek Palacio
The Young Widower's Handbook by Tom McAllister

Monday Mailbox

It was a memoir kind of week for me. This past week's mailbox arrivals:

Cutting Back by Leslie Buck came from Timber Press.

A memoir about a woman who pursued her passion, moving to Japan to learn pruning in Kyoto, this sounds fantastic (and could potentially help my less than green thumb, at least philosophically).

The Long Run by Catriona Menzies-Pike came from Crown and LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

People come to running for different reasons and this memoir of a woman who came to it as a way of coping with grief at the loss of her parents and what she learned about herself and the running women who preceded her sounds fascinating for sure.

If you want to see the marvelous goodies in other people's mailboxes, make sure to visit Mailbox Monday and have fun seeing how we are all doing our part to keep the USPS and delivery services viable.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Review: Drunks by Christopher Finan

I don't drink. It's not that I'm being sanctimonious. It's that I don't like the taste of any alcohol I've ever tasted (mixed with sugary stuff to make it palatable to my sweet tooth is a different story) and there are alcoholics in my extended family. Given my own pretty transparently addictive personality, I've never felt like developing a taste for alcohol was a good idea for me. But that doesn't mean I'm not curious about alcoholism through the years, the changing perceptions of alcoholics, and the history and development of treatments for those suffering from it. Christopher Finan's forthcoming book, Drunks: An American History, is an examination of just those things.

Starting with Handsome Lake, a Native American man who lived in the late 1700s and early 1800s, Finan traces the many unrelated, and nowadays unknown, movements meant to help alcoholics overcome their addiction throughout American history. We all know Alcoholics Anonymous today but there were many forerunners to AA, all of which boasted varying degrees of success. Each of the movements had a similar goal, the reform and cure of alcoholics, but they went about achieving that goal in different ways and with different degrees of support from society and the medical establishment at the time. The stigma of alcoholism, the debate over whether it is a disease or not, and the rise and fall of programs to help alcoholics (indeed, even the varying opinions on whether they could/can indeed be cured) are all covered in detail here. Finan covers famous people and events in the fight against drinking (Carrie Nation, Prohibition) but he also covers those less well known who were leaders in the fight to help alcoholics get sober.

The book is organized chronologically and Finan grounds each organization's founding, existence, and eventual decline in the larger society and times that allowed for its formation. He's done extensive research, quoting both primary and secondary sources. The work can be a little dense and the differences between the movements aren't always completely obvious. But those minor differences could be the one thing that helped a drunk get dry so they were very important indeed. This is not an easy, quick narrative non-fiction read but it will undoubtedly be invaluable to those with an interest in addiction and the long, still ongoing, quest for sobriety as well as those curious about the changing attitudes towards alcoholism (moral failing? illness? disease?).

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