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…

Book Review: America for Beginners

Book Review: America for BeginnersAmerica for Beginners
by Leah Franqui
on July 24, 2018
Pages: 320
Published by William Morrow
Genres: Diverse Spines, LGBTQ, Literary Fiction, Multicultural
Goodreads

Pival Sengupta has done something she never expected: she has booked a trip with the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company. But unlike other upper-class Indians on a foreign holiday, the recently widowed Pival is not interested in sightseeing. She is traveling thousands of miles from Kolkota to New York on a cross-country journey to California, where she hopes to uncover the truth about her beloved son, Rahi. A year ago Rahi devastated his very traditional parents when he told them he was gay. Then, Pival’s husband, Ram, told her that their son had died suddenly—heartbreaking news she still refuses to accept. Now, with Ram gone, she is going to America to find Rahi, alive and whole or dead and gone, and come to terms with her own life.

Arriving in New York, the tour proves to be more complicated than anticipated. Planned by the company’s indefatigable owner, Ronnie Munshi—a hard-working immigrant and entrepreneur hungry for his own taste of the American dream—it is a work of haphazard improvisation. Pival’s guide is the company’s new hire, the guileless and wonderfully resourceful Satya, who has been in America for one year—and has never actually left the five boroughs. For modesty’s sake, Pival and Satya will be accompanied by Rebecca Elliot, an aspiring young actress. Eager for a paying gig, she’s along for the ride, because how hard can a two-week "working" vacation traveling across America be?

Slowly making her way from coast to coast with her unlikely companions, Pival finds that her understanding of her son—and her hopes of a reunion with him—are challenged by her growing knowledge of his adoptive country. As the bonds between this odd trio deepens, Pavil, Satya, and Rebecca learn to see America—and themselves—in different and profound new ways.

My Takeaway “My mother is the reason that I love you, Bhim said simply. She is the reason I know what love is.” Leah Franqui, America for Beginners America for Beginners was a wonderful, quirky and heartwarming novel. And can we just admire the gorgeous book cover for…