Monthly Archives: June 2016

This Too Shall Pass

this too shall pass cover

This Too Shall Pass

by Milena Busquets

Hogarth | May 2016
Paperback: 176 pages (978-1101903704)
Genre: Women’s Fiction/ Family Life

ARC: EDELWEISS in exchange for an unbiased review.
Also won an ARC from LibraryThing/Early Readers

★★★★

PicMonkey cadaques

 For some strange reason, I never considered what it would be like to be forty…And yet here I am. It’s my mother’s funeral, and if that’s not enough, I’m forty…Illness evicted her from her throne so cruelly in the end, it completely destroyed her kingdom, and pretty much screwed us all up one way or another.

cadaques..

Cadaqués, a remote Spanish village, buffeted by savage winds, isolated by mountains, breathtaking sunrises and only accessible by a “hellish” road.

Bianca and her larger-than-life mother shared 40 years of love, laughter and fun; a life together that Bianca thought would never end. Throughout the years, they shared this zany life with a cadre of poets and free spirits drawn to her mother like a moth to the flame. These adults lived life to its fullest with her effervescent mother as the center of their world. And yet when the insidious creeping disease (Parkinson’s) showed up progressively dimming her mind and froze her smile, the friends that couldn’t live outside her shadow were nowhere to be found.

Most people go through the grieving process by reaching out for support from others or keeping themselves so busy there is no time for deep reflection.  Some go to the opposite extreme by withdrawing from loved ones and friends; avoiding places that remind them of their lost loved one. And some act-out by engaging in what most people would consider dangerous or socially unacceptable behavior.

We find Bianca floundering in her grief.  She is no longer someone’s daughter.  She doesn’t know who her mother was in the end.  Will she face the same fate? Question upon question fills her mind. She tries to mute her pain and confusion through frequent sex. Sex is “the only thing that momentarily alleviates the sting of death-and life-…is sex. It only lasts a few seconds, though…”  (Some readers may be offended by the occasional use of the word f*** or the many references to her sexual escapades.)

She leaves Barcelona to return to her mother’s house in Cadaqués on the Mediterranean.  Cadaqués, a remote Spanish village, buffeted by savage winds, isolated by mountains, breathtaking sunrises and only accessible by a “hellish” road but to the adventurous and brave…paradise.  Accompanying her are her two sons, two ex-husbands, and two best friends…and a married lover who sneaks in from time to time.

Surrounded by those that love her, she progresses through her bereavement..first numb and stunned then moving deeper through memories and reflection until finally she comes out the other side at peace.  She comes to know that it is okay for her to become an adult without needing her mother’s approval or guidance.

The last memory of her mother that she shares with us is perhaps the most poignant.

I still occasionally tell myself the story you told me once, when you [were] consoling me after my father died…A very powerful emperor gathered all his wise men and… said to them, “I want a short sentence, that serves all possible circumstances.” [Following] months of contemplation…”We have the phrase, sire.  This too shall pass.”

My personal thoughts? It was a great read on a rainy day. It is only 169 pages long. The descriptions of Spain and Cadaqués make me want to pack my travel bags. And I must admit it brought back some personally difficult moments as I sat by my mother’s death bed; and it is true…This too shall pass.  But it is never forgotten.

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Wangs vs. The World

wangs vs. the world netgalley

WANGS vs. The World

by Jade Chang

Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt | Oct 2016
Paperback: 368 pages (978-0544734098)
Genre: Fiction/Asian American/Humor/Coming of Age

ARC: NETGALLEY in exchange for an unbiased review. 

 ★★★★

Charles Wang has always felt gypped.  Years ago the Communists confiscated his family’s ancestral lands and Charles lives with the belief that he was robbed of his birthright as a landed aristocrat.  His family was forced to join hordes of Chinese escapees to the island of Taiwan where his fmercedes sketchather built a grim little factory that supplied urea to fertilizer manufacturers.  His disgraced father had been reduced to a dealing in pee.  “Not even real honest piss – artificial piss.  Faux pee.  A nitrogen-carrying ammonia substitute…

Sure that he could regain his family’s fortune and status, Charles headed to the United States to sell faux pee to American fertilizer manufacturers.  Airsick and relegated to the in-flight restroom, Charles practices his English reading the label of a mini-bar of soap and makes a monumental discovery…urea is an ingredient in this sweet smelling soap.

And with that discovery Charles was able to turn “Shit into Shinola” citing one of his favorite American movie phrases.  In fact he made two hundred million dollars worth of Shinola and became an American cosmetics tycoon.

Living the good life in sunny California set his initial purpose of restoring the family lands in China way back in a dusty corner of his mind. He had the money but he was having too much fun with it. So much fun that he let it distract his best business sense and when turned down for a loan to start a new cosmetic line he put his his entire fortune up as collateral… the Bel Aire house, the cigarette boat, the children’s trust funds.  Everything.

The new cosmetics line failed and at the same time America crashed headlong into the Great Recession of 2008. Overnight Charles lost it all.  And by extension his three children and his wife lost everything too.  And he did all this in secret from his family.

After shocking his spoiled and pampered wife, Barbra, with the news Charles packs a confused Barbra and his childhood nanny, Ama, into the only car available to him…the powder-blue 1980 Mercedes station wagon long ago sold to Ama.   Lights off on the old car they roll down the long driveway in the dead of night to avoid the embarrassment of discovery by their neighbors to begin a long arduous journey across the US to move in with their oldest daughter in her old farm house in rural New York State.

Along the way they will pick up the other two children both away at school. The children discover abruptly that their own world just collapsed; their lives reduced to fast food restaurants and sleazy hotel rooms as they travel cross country.

And this is where the story gets crazy. Anyone who has ever taken a family vacation stuffed in a station wagon with all their squabbles and perceived injustices can relate. As the reality of their sudden drop in social standing hits them, they all work their way through the emotions of loss and the realization that their future will be far different from their recent past.

Bumping along in the old car, we watch, look and listen as we are taken back to Taiwan, disco lounge or college dorm flipping around the past and present of each character.  Slowly each character changes, often subtly, until this family discovers the heart is the true source of riches.

The book was hyped as hysterically funny.  Nada.  But I did smile often and found it entertaining.  Sometimes I wanted to reach over and step on the gas to speed things up a bit. At times Charles was so shallow and narcissistic I was turned off.  Barbra, playing the role of the unloved step-mother, discovers her softer side.

When an unexpected event turns the road trip into something much more serious, I was surprised. Talk about a knock up side of the head to realign your priorities. And the final chapters were very engaging leaving me sad and hopeful at the same time.

I couldn’t help but think that this was a nice read but would make a great movie.  So read the book, it will be out in October 2016.  I am willing to bet you will see it screen soon after that!

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Friendship: A True Story of Adventure, Goodwill and Endurance

Friendship coverForeword for Friendship.jpg


by Francis Mandewah

★★★★☆

Telemachus Press
March 2016
Trade Paperback: 368 pages
978-0062277022
Genre: Non-Fiction/Memoir/Spirituality

ARC: NETGALLEY in exchange for an unbiased review. The author provided a trade paperback copy as well.

Francis Mandewah was born just before rice farming season in 1961 in the small impoverished village of Punduru in Sierra Leone. His early years were spent in a loving environment with his widowed mother and sisters scratching out a life on their subsistence farm.  Although English is the official language of Sierra Leone, the residents of Punduru speak the regional language of Mende.  The United Methodist Church established a missionary school and church in the community with the mission of converting the children and adults to Christianity as well as providing access to primary school education for the children.

Young Konomueh Mandewah despite the poverty and dire living conditions enjoyed the harmony of life in his small community and was thrilled for the opportunity to attend primary school when he was 8 years-old. The many changes to his life began with his first steps toward formal education; his introduction to English, the assignment of his Christian name…Francis, and perhaps of more lasting import, the development of his relationship with God as his confidant and source of strength.

As a young child, Francis had a reoccurring dream that would prove prescient in his search for purpose and meaning throughout his early years and well into adulthood.

In the dream I have passed a test and my reward is a journey. “Where are you going, my son?” I can hear my mother say.  I become nervous about not having an answer for her.  I go around the room frantically trying to find someone who will tell me my future.  No one answers…the door…opens.  I walk…through the door. I … awaken with the urge to know where I am going.

After completing his primary school education, Francis reached a pivotal moment in his life. In order to further his education and life experience, something he desired almost deliriously, he would need to leave the comfort of his known world and go to another town to attend secondary school.  And he would need room, board, and the cost of tuition. His loving mother unable to provide the money needed to help Francis reached out to a distant cousin for assistance.

Francis did receive his secondary education but at great cost to him physically, mentally and spiritually. His first encounter with abuse and violence was so well crafted in the memoir that I cringed each time his cousin lifted the electric cord to strike him.  And I warn the reader that you will cringe many more times throughout this amazing story as an almost unbelievable number of times Francis lifts himself up from life’s blows buoyed by his unfailing confidence that through prayer, God would provide.

In the midst of the harsh living conditions in his cousin’s home and bowed by abject despair and loneliness, Francis found an answer to his reoccurring dream when a tall blond-haired pilot with helicopter wings proved to be his earthly guardian angel.  Tom Johnson, stepping out of his comfortable life, walked up to a young African boy selling oranges in the dusty road and made a life altering decision that would change both of their lives forever. Tom would prove to be the single most influential person in helping Francis achieve his educational dreams and fulfill his long earnest desire to come to the United States.

The journey from Punduru to the United States winds through the deadly Sahara Desert, Algeria, Greece, Italy, England and much more. His vivid descriptions of these stops along his life’s journey will inspire some readers to plan their next vacation trip!

Mandewah exposes his inner soul and at times you feel the raw wounds in his psyche as he encounters discrimination, poverty, threats, cruelty and dire loneliness.  Yet there is more to his story besides the unbelievable cruelty in the world; Francis finds that there are more beautiful people of every color and stripe than he could have imagined.  The open hearts of these people, in his eyes, were placed in his path by God.  Their openness and generosity will leave the reader inspired.

The most endearing moments for me are the honest admissions of human failure that he brings upon himself. He always finds a way through prayer and meditation to grab himself by the boot straps and take that next positive step.   And there are so many times that the reader will feel the wonder and amazement through the eyes of this man as he discovers what lies beyond the mud brick home of his childhood.

You will applaud him in the end and you will want to encourage a friend to pick up a copy of the book.   As Francis says, it’s about Friendship.

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LaRose

LaRose cover

LaRose

bydreamcatcher Louise Erdrich

HarperCollins | May 2016
Paperback: 384 pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-227702-2
Genre: General Fiction

ARC: EDELWEISS in exchange for an unbiased review.

★★★☆☆

I can’t think of another book that I picked up, put down and re-read from the beginning as many times as I did with LaRose. In the end I didn’t give up.

I could hear my Algonquin Grandmother Delina telling me, “Pay attention!  Slow down.  There’s a lot to learn here about the clash of native and European cultures and religions.”

The Irons and Raviches live on either side of the Ojibwa reservation border.  Landreaux Iron and Dusty’s father, Peter had forged a respectful friendship in spite of their cultural differences. Their wives, Emmaline Iron and her half-sister Nora Ravich, however, harbor a deep seated sibling rift that has roots deep in the past.  The two sisters became pregnant at the same time and their two sons, Dusty and LaRose, enjoy the purity of childhood friendship unaware of the tenuous bonds between the two families.

Landreaux Iron, an Ojibwa native, is out hunting venison for his family.  The novel opens with an introduction to Landreaux and provides clues to everything that happens for the remainder of the book.

Landreaux was a devout Catholic who also followed traditional ways, a man who would kill a deer, thank one god in English, and put down tobacco for another god in Ojibwe.

The buck turned…giving Landreaux a perfect shot… there had been a blur the moment he squeezed the trigger. Only when he walked forward to investigate…did he understand that he had killed his neighbor’s son.  He dropped his rifle and ran through the woods to the Ravich house…Landreaux [tried] to utter [Dusty’s] name. Nola had just checked, found [5-year old Dusty] gone, and was coming out to search for him when she heard the shot. 

This tragedy on the border of the Ojibwe reservation in 1999 rips open the hearts and minds of both families.  As each person struggles to grieve the loss of this small child, they find themselves facing much more than the loss of Dusty.  Mired in their grief, they each scramble for relief from the pain.  The Raviches seek justice and the Irons seek a reprieve from the unremitting remorse and self-recrimination. Pathways to deep seated and long buried person trials are reopened in everyone and threaten to destroy what remains of their self-control and possibly their own survivals.

The shift in the story following the immediate aftermath of the tragedy threw me for a loop until I followed Grandma Delina’s advice to stop questioning things.  I discovered that LaRose, the name, not merely LaRose the child, had been significant for generations and “was a name both innocent and powerful, and had belonged to the family’s healers.”  Erdrich takes the reader back through time to back-light the harshness of life in colonial times and the origin of the name LaRose.

Landreaux, after spending time in his sweat lodge and fasting, determines there is only one thing he can do to make things right with the Raviches.   Following old Ojibwe tradition, he gives his favored son, a child that has always seemed to be on earth for a purpose, to the Raviches to replace Dusty.

Through the ensuing drama of this decisive action, an old enemy threatens Landreaux’s future,  the parish priest struggles to serve his flock, the remaining characters rise and fall through tough times before reaching an unexpected but in my opinion rather unbelievable yet at the same time satisfactory conclusion.  Things just felt wrapped up too quickly.

In the end I found it hard to rate the book.  There were distractions that I thought muddy things such as Peter’s obsession with the end of the world at midnight on Dec 31, 1999.  I wasn’t sure  Emmaline’s and Father Travis’ tryst was necessary.  Nola’s misplaced anger directed at her daughter, Maggie, was hard reading.

It was a solid read.  Fans of Erdrich’s will like the book very much.

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