The World in Half by Cristina Henriquez – Book Review

The World in Half by Cristina Henriquez
Published by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin

During her sophomore year of college, when her mother begins succumbing to early onset Alzheimers, Miraflores makes a discovery that changes the majority of what she has always believed about her life. Although Mira is half Panamanian, she was raised exclusively in the United States by her American mother and she has always been led to believe that her father was not interested in being a part of her or her mother’s lives. The letters that she finds give lie to everything she has been told. Now Mira must discover the truth about her life and her family for her own sanity, so she is heading to Panama to search for the father she never really knew.

I know this must have been a good reading month, because I’m a little scared that you are all going to roll your eyes as I get all gushy about yet another book.

“The World in Half” is an absolutely beautiful book. The prose is just lovely, but this is not simply a book with beautiful language. Not a sentence is wasted, every word serves to support the story that Henriquez is telling and the development of her characters. In some ways, “The World in Half” is a family mystery, as Mira attempts to track down her father, but what was even more interesting was Mira’s journey to discover herself and her relationship with her mother.

Yet “The World in Half” is not simply the same old literary fiction story of coming of age and discovering one’s true identity, there are many aspects of the book that set is apart from others with similar classifications. Panama as a setting, of course, is not very widely used – in fact to my knowledge this is the first book I have ever read which has any portion of the book set in Panama. Henriquez did a fantastic job giving a sense of place to those of us who have been and may never go to Panama, I felt that I got a good feel for the national psyche, at least in the cities.

What made this book truly special, though, was Mira’s love for geology and geography, which she was studying in college. Sometimes when a character has some quirky trait – like talking about geology and geography whenever it fits even a little bit – it seems forced or quirky for quirky’s sake. Not so in “The World in Half.” Henriquez’s characterization of Mira was so well thought out and fleshed out that such comments seemed to be no more than a logical extension of exactly who Mira was. I never wondered why she would bother to say something like that, it always made complete sense and was completely in character. In addition, it almost always added something to my understand of how Mira sees and approaches the world. It was very well done and really took this book to another level.

Very, very highly recommended. I lurved it.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Cristina Henriquez’s website

Other Books by Cristina Henriquez:
“Come Together, Fall Apart” (stories)

This review was done with a book I purchased myself.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

Confessions of a Chicago Lawyer – Guest Post from David Ellis, author of Breach of Trust

David Ellis

Author David Ellis

Somebody once asked me where I come up with my ideas for crimes and political scandals in my books. I told him I just open my eyes every day.

I’m kidding. Sort of. I’m a Chicago lawyer, and I work in the political arena, so I tend to see a lot of interesting things. As the lawyer for the Speaker of the Illinois House, I spent two years basically trying to prevent Governor Rod Blagojevich from doing all the goofy and corrupt things he wanted to do. Then I served as the House Prosecutor who tried and convicted him before the Illinois Senate during our historic impeachment trial.

So getting fodder for my plots isn’t the hard part. The hard part is topping reality. My best example concerns our dearly departed governor, Blago. In December of 2008, I was putting the finishing touches on a novel about a governor who becomes corrupt. It had some of your basic pay-to-play scandals, and I thought it would be an interesting character study as well. It wasn’t exactly about Blagojevich, but it’s fair to say that Blago inspired me.

Blago's mug shot

And then he did more than inspire me—he trumped me. Along came December 9, 2008, and “Blagojevich” became a household name with the news of his arrest. Compared to the sensational allegations that followed, my manuscript seemed completely tame. Truth, it so happened, had become far, far stranger than my fiction.

What to do? Well, I had to go back to the drawing board. Even though the manuscript (now my upcoming novel, BREACH OF TRUST) wasn’t precisely about Blagojevich, I knew that everybody would have certain expectations about a novel of political corruption written by Blago’s impeachment prosecutor. So I had to dial up the volume on everything I was doing and spice up the scandals. I had to make my fiction stranger to keep up with reality.

Voting early and often. Buying and selling a U.S. Senate seat. Putting your cronies on the payroll. Shaking down government contractors for campaign contributions. Two consecutive governors with felony convictions. The challenge for a Chicago lawyer isn’t coming up with ideas for crimes and scandal—it’s trying to come up with ones that haven’t already appeared in the headlines!

David Ellis is a graduate of Northwestern Law School and Chief Legal Council to the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives. He is also the author of seven novels the most recent of which, “Breach of Trust,” will be published by Putnam Books in February of 2011. His first novel, “Line of Vision,” won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel by an American Author. More information about Ellis can be found on his website or his Facebook page.

Note: I am also hosting a giveaway for Ellis’ most recent two books.

David Ellis Giveaway

No, sadly I’m not actually giving away David Ellis.

He’s cute though, right? Not to mention smart and funny, I absolutely love the guest post he sent me for today!

I am, however, giving away his most recent two books, which are actually the first two books in a new series. “The Hidden Man” is going to be released in paperback in January, and “Breach of Trust” will be released for the first time in hardcover February 3, 2011.

One lucky reader, though, can win copies of BOTH books right now, thanks to the good people at Putnam Books! If you want to be one of the first to read Ellis’ new book, this is your chance. Simply fill out the form below by 11:59 pm Central on Wednesday, October 27th. Putnam Books will be taking care of the shipping, so US and Canada only, please.

Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush by Luis Alberto Urrea – Book Review

Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush by Luis Alberto Urrea, illustrated by Christopher Cardinale
Published by Cinco Puntos Press

The small town of Rosario, Mexico is like so many other towns and cities across the world. Although most of the citizens are more or less good people, Rosario suffers from the hypocrisy and poor judgment that so often afflicts people living in close proximity to one another. Luckily – depending on your point of view – Rosario is also the home of Mr. Mendoza, the self-proclaimed Graffiti King of Mexico. Mr. Mendoza’s graffiti is not the normal, destructive kind that you might think, but instead he uses his paintbrush to attempt to goad the town into behaving more morally. When Mr. Mendoza finds the unnamed narrator, a young man, and his friend spying on a group of girls bathing in the river, he forces the boys to strip and run through the town, with messages about their perversity written on their bodies.

I found “Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush” to be a lovely tale of a small town in Mexico, made special by the edge of magical realism which Urrea brings to the work. The story was simple, but all the more powerful as a tale of human nature for its simplicity.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the lovely illustrations provided by Christopher Cardinale. I tend to have a problem actually paying attention to the illustrations in graphic novels, since when I am reading I tend to be so focused on the words. Not this time. Page after page I simply lost myself in Cardinale’s illustrations, spending minutes on end taking in the gorgeous detail in each picture.

I’m so happy that I broke from my usual routine and picked up “Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush.” Highly recommended for fans for magical realism or graphic novels.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Luis Alberto Urrea’s website

Other Books by Luis Alberto Urrea:
The Devil’s Highway
“The Hummingbird’s Daughter”
“Into the Beautiful North”
“By the Lake of Sleeping Children”
“Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border”
“Nobody’s Son: Notes from an American Life”
“In Search of Snow”
“Six Kinds of Sky”
“Wandering Time: Western Notebooks”
“Vatos”
“Ghost Sickness”

This review was done with a book I purchased myself.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

The Bookstore Celebrity Bookseller!

Not only have my bookseller friends at The Bookstore in Glen Ellyn been incredibly supportive of my Chicago Author Month, they have also taken the idea and run with it in their own way. For one thing, they and I are co-hosting a Chicago Author Month on Thursday, October 28th (put it on your calendar and join us!), but more information about that next week.

If you’re looking for more in-person Chicago Author Month fun this week, though, you can stop into The Bookstore on Friday morning from 10 until noon to shop with Celebrity Bookseller Melanie Benjamin. Melanie Benjamin is the author of “Alice I Have Been,” a book I absolutely loved. She has previously guest posted on this blog, talking about her inspiration for “Alice I Have Been,” and will actually be guest posting again for Chicago Author Month on Tuesday, October 26th, so look for that!

The ladies at The Bookstore have made sure to stock some of Melanie’s favorite books so stop by, have some coffee, and let her handsell you something! This could also be a good time to chat with Melanie about her upcoming work of historical fiction, due out next summer from Random House, it sounds like another winner!