Book Review: The Air You Breathe

Book Review: The Air You BreatheThe Air You Breathe
by Frances de Pontes Peebles
on August 21, 2018
Pages: 464
Published by Riverhead Books
Genres: Diverse Spines, LGBTQ, Literary Fiction, Multicultural
Goodreads

The story of an intense female friendship fueled by affection, envy and pride--and each woman's fear that she would be nothing without the other.

Skinny, nine-year-old orphaned Dores is working in the kitchen of a sugar plantation in 1930s Brazil when in walks a girl who changes everything. Graça, the spoiled daughter of a wealthy sugar baron, is clever, well fed, pretty, and thrillingly ill behaved. Born to wildly different worlds, Dores and Graça quickly bond over shared mischief, and then, on a deeper level, over music.

One has a voice like a songbird; the other feels melodies in her soul and composes lyrics to match. Music will become their shared passion, the source of their partnership and their rivalry, and for each, the only way out of the life to which each was born. But only one of the two is destined to be a star. Their intimate, volatile bond will determine each of their fortunes--and haunt their memories.

Traveling from Brazil's inland sugar plantations to the rowdy streets of Lapa in Rio de Janeiro, from Los Angeles during the Golden Age of Hollywood back to the irresistible drumbeat of home, The Air You Breathe unfurls a moving portrait of a lifelong friendship--its unparalleled rewards and lasting losses--and considers what we owe to the relationships that shape our lives.

My Takeaway “Her beauty was not a physical trait. Her beauty was an influence you fell under . . . infusing you with bravery and wit and affability that you never knew existed inside yourself until she coaxed it out.”Frances de Pontes Peebles, The Air You Breathe The Air You…

Book Review: A River of Stars

Book Review: A River of StarsA River of Stars
by Vanessa Hua
on August 14, 2018
Pages: 289
Published by Ballantine Books
Genres: Diverse Spines, Literary Fiction, Multicultural
Goodreads

In a powerful debut novel about motherhood, immigration, and identity, a pregnant Chinese woman makes her way to California and stakes a claim to the American dream.

Holed up with other moms-to-be in a secret maternity home in Los Angeles, Scarlett Chen is far from her native China, where she worked in a factory job and fell in love with the owner, Boss Yeung. Now she's carrying his baby. Already married with three daughters, he's overjoyed because the doctors confirmed he will finally have the son he has always wanted. To ensure that his son has every advantage, he has shipped Scarlett off to give birth on American soil. U.S. citizenship will open doors for their little prince.

As Scarlett awaits the baby's arrival, she chokes down bitter medicinal stews and spars with her imperious housemates. The only one who fits in even less is Daisy, a spirited teenager and fellow unwed mother who is being kept apart from her American boyfriend.

Then a new sonogram of Scarlett's baby reveals the unexpected. Panicked, she escapes by hijacking a van--only to discover that she has a stowaway: Daisy, who intends to track down the father of her child. They flee to San Francisco's bustling Chinatown, where Scarlett will join countless immigrants desperately trying to seize their piece of the American dream. What Scarlett doesn't know is that her baby's father is not far behind her.

A River of Stars is an entertaining, wildly unpredictable adventure, told with empathy and wit. It's a vivid examination of home and belonging, and a moving portrayal of a woman determined to build her own future.

My Takeaway “Here in America, she might change the world — but she had to hurry before someone else did.” Vanessa Hua, A River of Stars Before reading A River of Stars, I had no idea birthing centers or “maternity hotels” (as they’re known…

Book Review: Praise Song for the Butterflies

Book Review: Praise Song for the ButterfliesPraise Song for the Butterflies
by Bernice L. McFadden
on August 28, 2018
Pages: 264
Published by Akashic Books
Genres: Diverse Spines, Literary Fiction, Multicultural
Goodreads

Abeo Kata lives a comfortable, happy life in West Africa as the privileged nine-year-old daughter of a government employee and stay-at-home mother. But when the Katas’ idyllic lifestyle takes a turn for the worse, Abeo’s father, following his mother’s advice, places her in a religious shrine, hoping that the sacrifice of his daughter will serve as religious atonement for the crimes of his ancestors. Unspeakable acts befall Abeo for the fifteen years she is enslaved within the shrine. When she is finally rescued, broken and battered, she must struggle to overcome her past, endure the revelation of family secrets, and learn to trust and love again.

In the tradition of Chris Cleave’s Little Bee, Praise Song for the Butterflies is a contemporary story that offers an educational, eye-opening account of the practice of ritual servitude in West Africa. Spanning decades and two continents, Praise Song for the Butterflies will break and heal your heart.

My Takeaway “Scars are proof of survival, they shouldn’t be hidden – it’s a story someone may need to see in order to believe that beyond their pain and suffering, there is healing.” Bernice L. McFadden, Praise Song for the Butterflies Praise Song for…

Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing

Book Review: Where the Crawdads SingWhere the Crawdads Sing
by Delia Owens
on August 14, 2018
Pages: 384
Genres: Literary Fiction
Goodreads

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

My Takeaway “She knew the years of isolation had altered her behavior until she was different from others, but it wasn’t her fault she’d been alone. Most of what she knew, she’d learned from the wild. Nature had nurtured, tutored, and protected her when…

Book Review: Fruit of the Drunken Tree

Book Review: Fruit of the Drunken TreeFruit of the Drunken Tree
by Ingrid Rojas Contreras
on July 31, 2018
Pages: 304
Published by Doubleday
Genres: Diverse Spines, Literary Fiction, Multicultural
Goodreads

In the vein of Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a mesmerizing debut set against the backdrop of the devastating violence of 1990's Colombia about a sheltered young girl and a teenage maid who strike an unlikely friendship that threatens to undo them both.

The Santiago family lives in a gated community in Bogotá, safe from the political upheaval terrorizing the country. Seven-year-old Chula and her older sister Cassandra enjoy carefree lives thanks to this protective bubble, but the threat of kidnappings, car bombs, and assassinations hover just outside the neighborhood walls, where the godlike drug lord Pablo Escobar continues to elude authorities and capture the attention of the nation.

When their mother hires Petrona, a live-in-maid from the city's guerrilla-occupied slum, Chula makes it her mission to understand Petrona's mysterious ways. But Petrona's unusual behavior belies more than shyness. She is a young woman crumbling under the burden of providing for her family as the rip tide of first love pulls her in the opposite direction. As both girls' families scramble to maintain stability amidst the rapidly escalating conflict, Petrona and Chula find themselves entangled in a web of secrecy that will force them both to choose between sacrifice and betrayal.

Inspired by the author's own life, and told through the alternating perspectives of the willful Chula and the achingly hopeful Petrona, Fruit of the Drunken Tree contrasts two very different, but inextricable coming-of-age stories. In lush prose, Rojas Contreras sheds light on the impossible choices women are often forced to make in the face of violence and the unexpected connections that can blossom out of desperation.

My Takeaway “War always seemed distant from Bogotá, like niebla descending on the hills and forests of the countryside and jungles. The way it approached us was like a fog as well, without us realizing, until it sat embroiling everything around us.” Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Fruit of the…