Monthly Archives: March 2016

And After Many Days

And After Many Days cover

And After Many Days

by Josouthern nigeriawhor Ile

Tim Duggan Books
2016
Hardback: 246 pages
ISBN: 978-1-101-90314-8
Adult/Fiction/Nigeria/Family/Politics

 

ARC provided free of charge by Tim Duggan Books via Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion.

“I’m going to Fola’s house,” he said again to his brother, Ajie, who was lying on the couch, eyes closed…If Ajie heard, he gave no sign…Paul floundered by the door as though he had changed his mind…left the house, and did not return.

It’s 1995.  Nigeria is still reeling from its independence and struggling to find its new identity.  Despite signs of progress in some areas, there’s still an underlying threat of violence from political and military regimes vying for control.

The Utu family resides in metropolitan Port Harcourt living what appears to be a stable middle class lifestyle.  Life feels good, the children have done well in school, there’s plenty to eat and luxuries of the world can be found throughout the home.  The calm found is this home  is a thin veneer laid over a nation in crisis.

The opening narration reminded me of the false normalness portrayed in the daylight hours in the movie, I Am Legend The TV blares in the background, cell phones ring,  and adolescent angst threatens family peace.  When night falls, evil lurks and deep seated fears surface.

We learn at the outset that this family suffers an unimaginable horror.  The eldest son, the loving older brother, the apple of his mother’s eye walks out the front door to visit a friend and never returns.

Ajie narrates.  The story flips between the origins of the family unit arcing back to the present narrowing the gap between the two timelines until we reach the final chapters and finally learn what happened to Paul.

The writing itself is wonderful and captivating however the retro-current story line arcs were hard to follow at times.  Personally I was disappointed that Paul’s story faded into the background dialogue focused on the national struggles and violence.  I would like to have been better invested in Paul’s character.   Learning his fate almost felt melodramatic after traveling through religious wars, police corruption, and cultural inequalities.

Having said that, as a mother myself, I felt a deep maternal surge of sympathy for the years of questions unanswered about Paul’s fate.  His disappearance changes each family member’s life line.   You do wonder in what way the shadow of grief and loss affected the overall development of each character; how would it have been different if he never left.

The heartbreaking story of the Utu tribal history through war affected me deeply.  The religiously based horrors of 1995 Nigeria feel contemporary to ISIS and terrorist activities of 2016.

The author has produced a good read that will present to an uninformed readership the state of living found in a corrupt and developing nation.

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Finding Hope

finding hope cover

 

Finding Hope
by Colleen Nelson

★★★☆☆

Sand running through My Fingers.
Fluid.
I lost you in the cracks. I keep digging.
But you are too
Far
Gone.

Dundurn Press, 2016
ARC e-Reader (978-1-45973-247-6)
Paperback: 232 pages (978-1-45973-245-2)
Genre: Young Adult/ Fiction / Drug Abuse / Bullying/ Sexual Abuse

Finding Hope tackles some heady subjects that would have been almost unimaginable when this dusty old librarian was an adolescent.  That is not to say that drug abuse, sex abuse, violence and bullying are new to the adolescent scene. it was just not discussed and in my oblivious youth not on my radar.  As sex abuse has soiled our faith in those that care for our children’s minds and souls we sometimes overlook the deep reach of each vile act.  As is the case far too often in the real world, society and families fail their children by failing to recognize the trauma developing, failing to seek justice and mental health care when identified.

This story begins with the older brother, Eric, at age 17, a star hockey player and model student.  Popular and one of the “in-crowd”; expected to have a bright promising future.  His younger sister Hope does not have the limelight at school and feels left behind in her brother’s shadow at home.  She is bullied and an outsider.  Eric and Hope despite their differences of age and social development share a very close relationship probably born more out of a sense of isolation and lonesomeness at home.

Without explanation Eric begins to fall apart. The bottom drops out when his personality changes, he withdraws from academics and sports, and develops an insatiable meth addiction. His step-father is deeply affected by  his collpase and bans him from the home in an act of tough love.  Eric’s mother is unable to completely turn her back on her son but supports the father’s decision in order to maintain “family harmony”.  Keeping to the objective of YA fiction, the story is narrated in Hope’s and Eric’s voices.  Adult dialogue is more directive,angry and accusatory than engaging, interested and supportive.  The parents, more concerned about themselves, are not responsive to their children and their issues; highly deficient parenting skills.

Hope is trapped between parents and Eric.  She doesn’t condone his addiction and behavior.  She feels that there is still hope for Eric and his future.  She sacrifices her own babysitting money to give Eric money and supplies thus hoping to keep to continued contact with her brother.  It might have deepened Hope’s character more if there had been more dialogue within the home at this point in the story.  The step-father’s role in the story is handled by just not including him in the dialogue.  I would like to see him developed a little more.

Her mother recognizes that Hope is in an unhealthy environment at home and enrolls her in a private school. Hope is not wild about going to a boarding school as it would make it impossible to help Eric but it would give her a chance to have a fresh start socially and get her out of the pressure cooker home.

As the story spirals on, Hope and Eric struggle to find themselves amid a toxic world without any sense of security or sense of direction. We eventually learn the background on Eric’s decline and we watch Hope agonize and suffer terribly at the hands of a trio of classmates before reaching deep inside to identity her own strength and moral compass.

One particular passage with Eric touched me deeply.

“What are you doing?” Like a keening animal, she’d asked that question too many times.  When I came home hyped on meth, when I raged in my room for no reason that she understood…when I stole her bank card.

I never answered her  Not with the truth anyway…”What are you doing, Mom?” I should have fired back. Letting me go off with a hockey coach we barely knew, letting him drive me and stay in hotels with me…” Hot anger pulsed through me.

One of the strongest features of the story is Hope’s poignant poetry. I found Hope’s poetry very emotional and revealing. I read that the author reduced the story through numerous edits; perhaps just a little more attention should have been spent on developing each child’s life before Eric’s collapse.  Additionally I felt the failure of the school and community network was not explored adequately.

The concluding chapters are moving, dramatic and riveting. And the ending is satisfying yet acknowledges healing a fractured life leaves scars and cracks that can be forgiven but not easily forgotten.

I would not hesitate to suggest or recommend to interested in young adults.  I don’t think it is a story that expands the genre to include adult interest.

An advance reader copy was provided free of charge by Dundurn Press via Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

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“2-fer book reviews” – Chickpea Cookbooks

chickpea graphic

The latest gluten-free craze has popped one of my favorite legumes into greater prominence- the chickpea (although I prefer the dressed-up name…garbanzo bean).

The mighty chickpea is loaded with nutrients and well known for its blockbuster amounts of fiber. It is the central ingredient in my favorite lunch..hummus. I keep a can of chickpeas in my cupboard and toss a handful into my tossed salads for protein. I’ve never given much thought to the use of chickpeas in other recipes beyond those ways.

As I scanned the horizon for new books, TWO TITLES caught my attention.  Chickpeas: Sweet and Savory Recipes from Hummus to Dessert (Einat Mazor) and Chickpea Flour Does It All (Linsey S. Love).  It turns out there are a lot of great uses of the mighty garbanzo bean!

 


Chickpeas:

Subtitled:      Sweet and Savory Recipes from Hummus to Dessert   ★★★☆☆

Author: Einat Mazor
Publisher: Charlesbridge | 2016
Hardcover: ISBN 978-1-62354-074-6
E-book: 978-1-60734-939-6
E-ARC provided free of charge through Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

Chef Einat Mazor discovered her daughter has Celiac disease and while the family adjusted to her dietary needs, Mazor’s professional career took a powerful turn as well.  According to Charlesbridge website,  Mazor caters “beautiful events in New York and New Jersey; offering an organic allergy free baked goods and desserts to client with special dietary needs.”  Since then she has authored three books on gluten-free cooking and baking.

This newest book, Chickpeas: Sweet and Savory Recipes from Hummus to Dessert, stays within the gluten-free theme and focuses on the marvels and uses of the age-old legume, the Chickpea.   Just about everything you could ever learn about the chickpea from the various varieties, its various names and the marvelous nutritional  value are included.

The recipes are arranged spreads & snacks; soups and salads; entrees and baked treats.  The photographs are beautiful and the recipe directions are short and sweet.  The recipe ingredients lend themselves to the familiar and are readily available in local supermarkets.

Anyone interested in a healthier life-style, regardless of the gluten-free nature of the recipes, will find this new cookbook useful.  Those with gluten-free dietary restrictions will find a valuable source of delicious go-to recipes.

Recommended.


 

Chickpea Flour Does It All:

Subtitled:     Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free,Vegetarian Recipes for Every Taste and Season   ★★★☆☆

Author: Lindsey S. Love
Publisher: The Experiment  |  Apr 2016
Paperback: 240 pgs  |  ISBN 978-1615193042
E-ARC provided free of charge through Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion and review.

Lindsey S. Love, affectionately known as Dolly in her youth, was lovingly served meals prepared by her mother (probably everyone’s mother) from a pantry stocked with the requisite canisters of all-purpose white flour,  white cane sugar, white bread, and the ubiquitous tall cardboard oatmeal box.  And for as long as she can remember she suffered “stomach pain, indigestion and mood swings.

“It wasn’t until I moved out of my parent’s house and started cooking for myself that I realized the connection between the food I was eating and the way  it made me feel.”

Over time she discovered a plant-based, gluten-free and dairy-free diet made her feel healthy, happy and energized.  She has created a gorgeous blog, Dolly and Oatmeal, and posts recipes she’s developed using healthier and fresh ingredients.  Her new book, is then, the next natural step in helping others realize a healthier life.

Chickpea Flour Does It All reflects the use of this particular flour for centuries in traditional dishes.  The redesign of many popular items such as brownies and pizza using gluten-free flours such as chickpea have made mealtime easier for families with a member requiring dietary restrictions and pleasing the whole family at the same time.  A win-win!  Healthy food that is also delicious and creative!

Beautiful photos, recipes arranged by seasonal interest with clear directions and indexed. Good source for those looking for a gluten and dairy-free recipe source.

Recommended for those looking for to challenge themselves.

 

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Fallen Land

Fallen Land cover

Fallen Land

by Taylor Brown
St Martin’s Press | 2016
Hardback: 288 pages (978-1250077974)
Adult/Fiction/Civil War

easystreet DEBUT AUTHOR     ★★★½

Awards and Honors:
booklist starred review Booklist 2016 Indie next

okraheader_starxltbluetag

 

 

Free ARC copy provided by St Martin’s Press in exchange for my honest opinion.

“War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it.
The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”

William Tecumseh Sherman

My initial reaction when I finished the book was to compare it to Cold Mountain.  Not so much the book, Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier but the movie rendition. Both focused on the waning years of the Civil War and each described the protagonist’s journey through a “fallen land” seeking refuge and the comfort of a peaceful existence; uncertain if such a place in fact existed.

The good, the bad and the ugly side of humanity is seen at its extremes during war.  Heroes are remembered, villains’ actions recounted and examined over and over in literature, the cruelties to the land and its people enshrined in memorials and photographs.  This American civil war, viewed through history’s eyes, is very much international as well.

Slavery, central to the fight, highlights the plight of those forcefully brought to the land. Others recent immigrants arrived by choice or circumstance.  Displaced persons escaping horrors aboard and seeking a life in the middle of our country’s unspeakable strife.  My own ancestors included three brothers from Canada who had migrated to northern New York escaping famine and disease.  They joined the Union Army as teenagers in the early years of the war with the promise of a future in this country if they survived.  Only one did.

In the Fallen Land, we meet a young teen, Callum, who in a few short years has fled an Irish workhouse, an American orphanage, and survived near death on the sea.  This scrappy youngster soon learns what he must to survive yet the skills he acquires out of necessity could spell his demise.

Falling in with a band of desperadoes led by a self-interested mercenery  known as the Colonel, Callum reveals his better angels when he strives to protect the 17-year old girl, Ava, from rape although suffering near fatal injuries from one of his compatriots in the process.

Without any background story we are left to wonder what draws Callum back to Ava’s farm other than the need to be with her, but return he does…riding the Colonel’s beloved horse, Reiver. Infuriated beyond reason, the Colonel tracks Callum back to Ava’s farm where he hopes to recover his horse but arriving meets other maundering bandits and is killed.

Blamed by the Colonel’s men for the Colonel’s death, the wounded Callum and Ava begin a treacherous journey from Virginia to the coast of Georgia where Callum believes he has distant relatives.  Ava’s life story is no less tragic than Callum’s and the two forge a close bond as they travel together through thick and mostly thin.

The description of their arduous trek, at times, seemed too contrived.  It’s hard to believe that a leaderless gang would continue tracking these two youngsters as long as they did through war and harsh weather merely for revenge.  The ultimate villain, the slave-tracker brother of the Colonel hired to track the duo lends further intense drama to the story.

The descriptions of war and its horror are authentic.  The violence so graphic you will want to turn your head away.  The hunger so real you can feel it.  The cold so brutal you will check your body for frostbite.  Yet amid the scorched earth, small acts of kindness from strangers will reaffirm what Browning wrote in the poem, Pippa’s Song, that “God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world”.  You have to believe it.

Recommended reading.

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March 17, 2016 · 9:28 am

Hide

HIDE cover

 HIDE

by Matthew Griffin
Bloomsbury/Macmillan  | 2016
e-Reader (978-1-63286-339-3)
Hardback: 272 pages (978-1-63286-338-6)

★★★★

Debut Author
Genre: Adult/Fiction/LBGT

IndiesIntroduce-red-637-331

 

ARC was provided free of charge by Bloomsbury/Macmillan in exchange for my honest opinion.

I was on my way to the window to flip my notice from OPEN to CLOSED…and there he was, standing on the train tracks…

“Excuse me”, I yelled. “Were you looking for something?”  

“Naw,”  “Nothing in particular.”  “Frank Clifton.”

“Wendell Wilson.”  “Pleased to meet you,”

he said, smiling wide and earnest, and I thought I’d be struck down by it, the way it struck down mortals to behold Zeus in his full, blazing divinity.

A war-weary veteran of World War II arrives home by train, unsure what the future holds for him in his small southern hometown.  Frank Clifton has battled more than the recent enemy aboard; he has had a lifelong battle to suppress his inner emotional and physical needs.

Wendell Wilson, then 23 and a self-trained taxidermist, stands in the window, looking at his yet undiscovered future. Reviled by his parents as a teen, aware at the tender age of 14 as his “friend Paul pulled his sweaty, dirt-streaked shirt over his head” and plunged into the water off the bridge that from that moment his life would be in some way…alone.

It’s the 1940s.  Homosexuality, always abhorred, has suddenly become negatively visible in public discourse. Preachers pound the pulpit and rail against its sinful and immoral nature.  Psychiatrists and medical staff consider it a serious mental disorder. And civil authorities have laws criminalizing homosexual behavior.

“Love at first sight”, that deeply felt and openly displayed reaction between two people is not permitted outside of traditional relationships. Wendell and Frank dance around each other when they meet, afraid to hope, praying to find someone they can love.  And they do.  But their love comes at a tremendous cost.

Frank, the apple of his mother’s eye, cannot break ties with her.  He is well known in the town and he has so carefully avoided any suspicion that he knows that he must continue to maintain that false identity in public. Wendell and Frank are never seen in public together. They must always be on guard against discovery.

After Frank’s mother dies, the two men purchase a secluded home far from town where they live and love openly in their refuge.  Frank, college trained, gives up the promise of a well-paying career, to work as a mill worker. His decision to isolate himself from his old friends and family is painful for everyone.

Until. Frank, now 83, is found laying in his garden, the victim of a stroke. The like-wise elderly Warren,  must open their lives for help and yet maintain their cover becoming Frank’s brother to the world.

Through Warren’s voice, we learn about their feelings, their personalities and their weaknesses.  Most importantly we learn about their years of painful sacrifices endured for the most human of all emotions…the right to love. Could most of us deny ourselves 50+ years of publicly expressing our love for our partners?  Openly, unashamed?

Frank’s curmudgeonly personality is at times amusing and at times cruel.  As his mind slips back and forth in time, Warren must adapt and hold on tight.  To do otherwise, would again leave him alone…

The story has harsh elements that might be too strong for some readers.  Warren’s avocation, taxidermy, plays a graphic central role and in one instance is hard to stomach. At times the reader is left wondering in Warren’s case…why did you stay and put up with Frank for all these years.

But ah.  Who are we to understand the depths of another’s love relationship?  Who can deny that these two men lived a true marriage in name only if not in fact?

Recommended reading.

 

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The Weight of Shadows

THE Weight of Shadows cover

The Weight of Shadows: A Memoir of Immigration & Displacement

by José Orduña
Beacon Press | 2016
ARC e-Reader copy
Paperback: 240 pages (978-0-8070-7402-2)
Genre: Adult/Memoir/Immigration/Latin America

★★★

An advance reader copy was provided by Beacon Press through
  in exchange for my honest opinion.

 

“This is America.

Each passage and inscription of a human being as “illegal” is a reiteration.
We are in the zone where justice reaches its vanishing point,
sheds its veneer, and reveals itself fully as punishment.”

José Orduña

José Orduña was born in Veracruz, Mexico.  His mother, Yoli, was a semester from graduating with a degree in agronomy when she found out she was pregnant. Unmarried, Yoli was forced to quit school and summarily disowned by her parents.  Martin Orduña , José’s father and his parents gave her a home.  After they married, Martin left his wife and new baby with his parents while he joined his Aunt Hilda in Chicago hoping to find work. When José was 2-years old his mother and he joined Martin entering the United States on a tourist visa.

Yoli and Martin struggled to make a life for themselves and José in the US.  Limited by legalities and language, lived in shadows; caught between two worlds.  Yearning for Mexico but needing the US for for a life.  Fearful of ignoring the need for “papers” and fearful of living under the radar just one small mistake from the unimaginable without them. 

José as a child was aware there was tension in the home but growing up “American” he really didn’t grasp the dangers facing his family.  He knew that he wasn’t one of “them” facing bullying and discrimination in the community and school but he couldn’t remember any other life. Their labor class income limited their options, but nonetheless, his parents were determined to make a better life for their child and they did the very best they could for him.

It must have taken extreme courage for Martin and Yoli to begin the process of obtaining their “papers.”  Once they step out in the open and into the system they would be exposed as “undocumented” and subject to the arbitrary whims of every “politically correct authority”.  The smallest misstep- running a stop sign, failing to signal a turn, anger a neighbor – could result in displacement.    

Orduña relates his life’s story with a sharp edge in The Weight of Shadows .  Every sentence conjures a raw emotion.  He holds nothing back in explaining his ambivalence at having to “earn” his right to be here; a place he feels he already had a right to be.

He lays his story and the story of friends and relatives all out straight with every wart and wrinkle exposed. The hypocritical history of immigration into the US is laid open across the path of every “undocumented alien”.  An immigration system so unwieldy, unpredictable and arbitrary that is often safer to just stay in the background.

It’s a tough story to read.  Every page sizzles with his unrestrained emotion.  The descriptions of the desert crossings, the inhumane treatment of detainees, the despair, the fear, the hunger, the pain, and the desperation. You cringe at what you know to be the truth that an employer would take advantage of an undocumented status to pay inadequate salaries or withhold time off with the threat of job loss.

“We’ve been used as disposable, malleable bodies that can be drawn in and purged according to labor demands and cyclical xenophobic trends.”  

“It is difficult to establish happiness and a necessary sense of communion with members of a society that allow for you, in actuality and in representation , the space of a maid, a nanny, a janitor, a day laborer, or a landscaper, and nothing else, and who barely meet your eye.”

And in the end, following the rules, José Orduña was sworn  in as a naturalized United States citizen in July of 2011.  It is not a day to celebrate.  The piece of paper just makes him legal.

He says, “I feel a[n]…ambivalence about being here [at the ceremony]…because being here doesn’t feel like a celebration or an accomplishment.  It’s something of a relief, of course, but it also feels like acquiescence – like I’m tacitly agreeing that this is necessary and legitimate…I am one of the ‘good ones’ and that I have ‘done it the right way’.

At times I didn’t think I could read on…The use of Spanish in the beginning without context felt purposeful.  The described trip to the Philippines was unnecessary and salacious.  But, as a debut work, it’s a truthful chronicle voiced by one who knows too well what it means to be an “illegal alien”.  There is no doubt Orduña’s voice will be heard again and again.

 

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