Friday, March 9, 2018

New Books Coming Your Way, March 13, 2018

What Drowns the Flowers in Your Mouth: A Memoir of Brotherhood by Rigoberto González
208 p.; Memoir

Burdened by poverty, illiteracy, and vulnerability as Mexican immigrants to California's Coachella Valley, three generations of González men turn to vices or withdraw into depression. As brothers Rigoberto and Alex grow to manhood, they are haunted by the traumas of their mother's early death, their lonely youth, their father's desertion, and their grandfather's invective. Rigoberto's success in escaping—first to college and then by becoming a writer—is blighted by his struggles with alcohol and abusive relationships, while Alex contends with difficult family relations, his own rocky marriage, and fatherhood.

Descending into a dark emotional space that compromises their mental and physical health, the brothers eventually find hope in aiding each other. This is an honest and revealing window into the complexities of Latino masculinity, the private lives of men, and the ways they build strength under the weight of grief, loss, and despair.

We Kiss Them With Rain by Futhi Ntshingila
172 p.; Fiction

Life wasn’t always this hard for 14-year-old Mvelo. There were good times living with her mother and her mother's boyfriend. Now her mother is dying of AIDS and what happened to Mvelo is the elephant in the room, despite its growing presence in their small shack. In this Shakespeare-style comedy, the things that seem to be are only a façade and the things that are revealed hand Mvelo a golden opportunity to change her fate. We Kiss Them With Rain explores both humor and tragedy in this modern-day fairy tale set in a squatter camp outside of Durban, South Africa.

Swimmer Among the Stars: Stories by Kanishk Tharoor
256 p.; Short stories

In one of the singularly imaginative stories from Kanishk Tharoor’s Swimmer Among the Stars, despondent diplomats entertain themselves by playing table tennis in zero gravity—for after rising seas destroy Manhattan, the United Nations moves to an orbiting space hotel. In other tales, a team of anthropologists treks to a remote village to record a language’s last surviving speaker intoning her native tongue; an elephant and his driver cross the ocean to meet the whims of a Moroccan princess; and Genghis Khan’s marauding army steadily approaches an unnamed city’s walls.

With exuberant originality and startling vision, Tharoor cuts against the grain of literary convention, drawing equally from ancient history and current events. His world-spanning stories speak to contemporary challenges of environmental collapse and cultural appropriation, but also to the workings of legend and their timeless human truths.

Not My White Savior: A Memoir in Poems by Julayne Lee
128 p.; Poetry

Not My White Savior is a memoir in poems, exploring what it is to be a transracial and inter-country adoptee, and what it means to grow up being constantly told how better your life is because you were rescued from your country of origin. Following Julayne Lee from Korea to Minnesota and finally to Los Angeles, Not My White Savior asks what does "better" mean? In which ways was the journey she went on better than what she would have otherwise experienced?

Go Home! edited by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
320 p.; Literary collection

Go home!" is always a slur, but often also an impossibility; this collection explores the words' personal and political dimensions.

Asian diasporic writers imagine “home” in the twenty-first century through an array of fiction, memoir, and poetry. Both urgent and meditative, this anthology moves beyond the model-minority myth and showcases the singular intimacies of individuals figuring out what it means to belong.

A Reckoning by Linda Spalding
320 p.; Fiction

It’s 1855, and the Dickinson farm, in the bottom corner of Virginia, is already in debt when a Northern abolitionist arrives and creates havoc among the slaves. Determined to find his mother and daughter, who are already free in Canada, Bry is the first slave to flee, and his escape inspires a dozen others. Soon, the farm, owned by one brother and managed by another, is forfeited to the bank.

One of the brothers, who is also a circuit-riding preacher, gathers his flock into a wagon train to find a new life in the west. But John Dickinson has a dangerous secret that compels him to abandon the group at the last minute, and his wife, two daughters, and thirteen-year-old son, Martin, now face life on the trail and an unknown future alone. After a fateful encounter along the way, Martin and Bry will hatch a plot to get Bry safely to Canada, but each member of the family will be changed, tormented, excited, and exposed by the journey.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

#BookReview: WHISKEY & RIBBONS by Leesa Cross-Smith

Summary: Evi—a classically-trained ballerina—was nine months pregnant when her husband Eamon was killed in the line of duty on a steamy morning in July. Now, it is winter, and Eamon's adopted brother Dalton has moved in to help her raise six-month-old Noah.

Whiskey & Ribbons is told in three intertwining, melodic voices: Evi in present day, as she’s snowed in with Dalton during a freak blizzard; Eamon before his murder, as he prepares for impending fatherhood and grapples with the danger of his profession; and Dalton, as he struggles to make sense of his life next to Eamon’s, and as he decides to track down the biological father he’s never known.

Review: When a book is really good, it can be difficult to put into words what you want to say about it. I wasn't prepared to love Whiskey & Ribbons as much as I did. I was ready to choose sides and dislike characters and that's not at all what happened. One of the reasons I like Jodi Picoult books is because they're told from the perspectives of several characters. I do believe Leesa Cross-Smith has outPicoulted Picoult.

Evi is a perfectly lovely woman. Readers would be hard pressed to find much fault with her, and I imagine that's exactly why Eamon falls so fast and hard for her. Theirs is a storybook courtship and marriage, right up until Eamon's death. But even in death, he's a hard act to follow, as Dalton, his best friend and confidante, well knows.

Eamon is a man who respects his father, loves his mother and worships his wife. He cherishes his relationship with Dalton, the son of his mother's deceased best friend. Practically raised as brothers, he's the yin to Dalton's yang. As happy as he is with Evi, he truly wants the same for Dalton and his girlfriend, Frances.
"Women, you are sleek and gorgeous. You hold us together, you're the ribbons. We're men. Dangerous only if you take us too seriously. We're the whiskey. To whiskey and ribbons," Eamon said, lifting his glass.
For so many reasons, Dalton and Eamon's relationship reminds me of Tommy and Ghost on Power. Dalton is happy for his friend, but he wants the relationship Evi and Eamon have. And like Tommy, he always seems to be on the fringe observing and waiting to step in to help where needed, no questions asked. Oh, I wanted to hate him so much, but I couldn't because Eamon's death affects him just as much, if not more, than it does Evi. She's lost a husband but he's lost a life long friend who was like a brother to him.

Whiskey & Ribbons is beautifully written. From the characters to the scenery to the little nuances, it's absolutely perfect.

272 p.
Released: March 2018
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Friday, March 2, 2018

New Books Coming Your Way, March 6, 2018

Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith
272 p.; Fiction

Evi—a classically-trained ballerina—was nine months pregnant when her husband Eamon was killed in the line of duty on a steamy morning in July. Now, it is winter, and Eamon's adopted brother Dalton has moved in to help her raise six-month-old Noah.

Whiskey & Ribbons is told in three intertwining, melodic voices: Evi in present day, as she’s snowed in with Dalton during a freak blizzard; Eamon before his murder, as he prepares for impending fatherhood and grapples with the danger of his profession; and Dalton, as he struggles to make sense of his life next to Eamon’s, and as he decides to track down the biological father he’s never known.

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao
320 p.; Fiction

When Poornima first meets Savitha, she feels something she thought she lost for good when her mother died: hope. Poornima's father hires Savitha to work one of their sari looms, and the two girls are quickly drawn to one another. Savitha is even more impoverished than Poornima, but she is full of passion and energy. She shows Poornima how to find beauty in a bolt of indigo cloth, a bowl of yogurt rice and bananas, the warmth of friendship. Suddenly their Indian village doesn't feel quite so claustrophobic, and Poornima begins to imagine a life beyond the arranged marriage her father is desperate to lock down for her. But when a devastating act of cruelty drives Savitha away, Poornima leaves behind everything she has ever known to find her friend again. Her journey takes her into the darkest corners of India's underworld, on a harrowing cross-continental journey, and eventually to an apartment complex in Seattle. Alternating between the girls’ perspectives as they face relentless obstacles, Girls Burn Brighter introduces two heroines who never lose the hope that burns within them.

Happiness by Aminatta Forna
368 p.; Fiction

Attila has arrived in London with two tasks: to deliver a keynote speech on trauma, as he has done many times before; and to contact the daughter of friends, his “niece” who hasn’t called home in a while. Ama has been swept up in an immigration crackdown, and now her young son Tano is missing.

When, by chance, Attila runs into Jean again, she mobilizes the network of rubbish men she uses as volunteer fox spotters. Security guards, hotel doormen, traffic wardens—mainly West African immigrants who work the myriad streets of London—come together to help. As the search for Tano continues, a deepening friendship between Attila and Jean unfolds.

Meanwhile a consulting case causes Attila to question the impact of his own ideas on trauma, the values of the society he finds himself in, and a grief of his own. In this delicate tale of love and loss, of cruelty and kindness, Forna asks us to consider the interconnectedness of lives, our co-existence with one another and all living creatures, and the true nature of happiness.

Children of Blood and Bone: The OrÏsha Legacy by Tomi Adeyemi
544 p.; Young adult/Fantasy

In a world where magic has disappeared and magis, once revered, are targeted by a ruthless king, Zélie has always feared she would share the fate of her mother, killed at the hands of the king’s guards when Zélie was just a child.

Now, at seventeen, Zélie has a chance to bring magic back to the land of Orïsha. With the help of her brother Tzain and the fugitive Crown Princess Amari, she sets off on a journey to restore her people’s magical abilities. In order to succeed, they’ll have to outwit and outrun Prince Inan, who is hell-bent on ridding the world of magic.

In the face of danger, death, and a star-crossed romance, Zélie must grapple with the ramifications of bringing magic back to her people -- and come to terms with her own powers.

Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
336 p.; Fiction

Ren Ishida has nearly completed his graduate degree at Keio University when he receives news of his sister’s violent death. Keiko was stabbed one rainy night on her way home, and there are no leads. Ren heads to Akakawa to conclude his sister’s affairs, failing to understand why she chose to turn her back on the family and Tokyo for this desolate place years ago.

But then Ren is offered Keiko’s newly vacant teaching position at a prestigious local cram school and her bizarre former arrangement of free lodging at a wealthy politician’s mansion in exchange for reading to the man’s ailing wife. He accepts both, abandoning Tokyo and his crumbling relationship there in order to better understand his sister’s life and what took place the night of her death.

As Ren comes to know the eccentric local figures, from the enigmatic politician who’s boarding him to his fellow teachers and a rebellious, captivating young female student, he delves into his shared childhood with Keiko and what followed. Haunted in his dreams by a young girl who is desperately trying to tell him something, Ren realizes that Keiko Ishida kept many secrets, even from him.

Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala
224 p.; Fiction

On the surface, Niru leads a charmed life. Raised by two attentive parents in Washington, D.C., he’s a top student and a track star at his prestigious private high school. Bound for Harvard in the fall, his prospects are bright. But Niru has a painful secret: he is queer—an abominable sin to his conservative Nigerian parents. No one knows except Meredith, his best friend, the daughter of prominent Washington insiders—and the one person who seems not to judge him.

When his father accidentally discovers Niru is gay, the fallout is brutal and swift. Coping with troubles of her own, however, Meredith finds that she has little left emotionally to offer him. As the two friends struggle to reconcile their desires against the expectations and institutions that seek to define them, they find themselves speeding toward a future more violent and senseless than they can imagine. Neither will escape unscathed.

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea
368 p.; Fiction

In his final days, beloved and ailing patriarch Miguel Angel de La Cruz, affectionately called Big Angel, has summoned his entire clan for one last legendary birthday party. But as the party approaches, his mother, nearly one hundred, dies herself, leading to a farewell doubleheader in a single weekend. Among the guests is Big Angel's half brother, known as Little Angel, who must reckon with the truth that although he shares a father with his siblings, he has not, as a half gringo, shared a life.

Across two bittersweet days in their San Diego neighborhood, the revelers mingle among the palm trees and cacti, celebrating the lives of Big Angel and his mother, and recounting the many inspiring tales that have passed into family lore, the acts both ordinary and heroic that brought these citizens to a fraught and sublime country and allowed them to flourish in the land they have come to call home.

Wrestling with the Devil: A Prison Memoir by Ngugi wa Thiong'o
272 p.; Biography

Wrestling with the Devil, Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s powerful prison memoir, begins literally half an hour before his release on December 12, 1978. In one extended flashback he recalls the night, a year earlier, when armed police pulled him from his home and jailed him in Kenya’s Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, one of the largest in Africa. There, he lives in a prison block with eighteen other political prisoners, quarantined from the general prison population.

In a conscious effort to fight back the humiliation and the intended degradation of the spirit, Ngugi—the world-renowned author of Weep Not, Child; Petals of Blood; and Wizard of the Crow—decides to write a novel on toilet paper, the only paper to which he has access, a book that will become his classic, Devil on the Cross.

Written in the early 1980s and never before published in America, Wrestling with the Devil is Ngugi’s account of the drama and the challenges of writing the novel under twenty-four-hour surveillance. He captures not only the excruciating pain that comes from being cut off from his wife and children, but also the spirit of defiance that defines hope. Ultimately, Wrestling with the Devil is a testimony to the power of imagination to help humans break free of confinement, which is truly the story of all art.