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.

How to Buy a Love of Reading by Tanya Egan Gibson – Audiobook Review

How to Buy a Love of Reading by Tanya Egan Gibson, narrated by Renee Raudman
Published in Audio by Tantor Audio
Published in Print by Plue, an imprint of Penguin

Synopsis:

Carley Wells doesn’t have a whole lot going for her. She’s heavy, not particularly good at school, and not exactly popular in rich and chic Fox Glen. Eager to make her shine for her 16th birthday: they are going to commission an author to write a novel to coordinate with her birthday party theme. The author, Bree McEnroy, has been tasked with writing a book that Carley will love, but as Carley doesn’t think much of books and reading, this may be a more difficult commission than Bree bargained for. Hunter Kay is another complicating factor. As Carley’s best friend and a huge fan of the written word he initially spends a good deal of time helping Bree and Carley’s creative process along, but it becomes increasingly apparent that Hunter’s use of alcohol and prescription drugs is a much bigger problem than he wants to let on – a revelation that has great impact on all of the people around him.

Thoughts on the story:

I am completely amazed that I didn’t absolutely hate each and every character. Everyone, with the exception of the author, Bree McEnroy, had entirely too much money for his or her own good, to the point where frivolous purchasing what the name of the game. I mean, for pete’s sake, Carley’s parents basically bought her a novelist in order to impress their friends and make her look better for colleges. What could be more ridiculous than that? Then there’s the fact that the only things most of the kids in Fox Glen seemed to care about were drugs and sex – maybe being popular and fitting in as well. Really, not much could sound less appealing to me.

And yet, Egan Gibson managed to humanize her main characters to a degree I would not expect, given their most prominent qualities. In fact, I was really impressed with how, not only did I not completely hate the characters, I actually felt sympathy for most of them. And that’s really saying something, because ‘poor little rich girl’ doesn’t usually elicit much sympathy from me. That, in my opinion, is an impressive quality in an author.

Thoughts on the audio production:

I very much enjoyed Renee Raudman’s work narrating “How to Buy a Love of Reading.” I thought that she was well cast in the part, and she gave both life and depth to her characters. And, praises be, she did not interpret them as whiny, as she might have most annoyingly done. Her narration certainly helped keep Egan Gibson’s characters in the realm of surprisingly sympathetic, instead of simply obnoxious spoiled brats.

Overall:

I was definitely nervous during the first part of this book that I was going to hate the characters so much that I wouldn’t be able to finish it, but I was pleasantly surprised by the depth introduced by Egan Gibson and the way that Raudman’s narration supported the story. Recommended.

Note: although the chief protagonist of the story is a high school girl, “How to Buy a Love of Reading” doesn’t come across as a YA book. I believe that adults, as well as older teens, would enjoy this story.

The audiobook has a similar cover design as the hardcover, but “How to Buy a Love of Reading” was recently released in paperback, with this new cover.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound: Audio
/Print*
Amazon: Audio
/Print*

This review was done with a book received from the Tantor audio.
* 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.

Lake Overturn by Vestal McIntyre – Book Review

Lake Overturn by Vestal McIntyre
Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of Harper Collins

Eula, Idaho may be a small town, but there’s a whole lot going on. Enrique and his friend Gene (who most likely has undiagnosed Aspergers’) are working on a science project devoted to the mystery of what happened in Cameroon to kill every person and animal around Lake Nyos, something scientists suspect has to do with lake overturn. Enrique is also struggling with his fantasies of touching and being touched by other boys, at the same time that his mother Lina is falling into an affair with a married man whose wife is dying. Gene’s mother Connie – a very straight-laced and religious woman – is becoming increasingly enamored with a missionary in town from Africa to raise support, until she begins to see some of his imperfections. Coop, the driver of the bus that takes Gene and Enrique to school, is still taking care of the alcoholic uncle he believes killed his father, and Coop’s prescription drug-addicted sister Wanda is determined to get clean and act as a surrogate for a childless couple from Portland.

“Lake Overturn” is one of those novels with a millions plot lines for the reader to follow. Quite often in novels such as this, plot is king, to the point where the individual characters get lost, under-developed, serving only to move along the happenings of the book. How are you supposed to care about so many characters (including many more secondary characters I didn’t mention in my plot summary)? If you don’t believe that a book with so many plot lines can have incredibly well written and fleshed out characters, I challenge you to read “Lake Overturn” and see exactly how Vestal McIntrye makes the improbable happen.

McIntyre’s characters get anywhere from a few paragraphs to a few pages to tell their story before he moves on to another one of his creations, forcing the character through whose point of view we had been viewing “Lake Overturn” to wait his or her turn to continue narrating. Instead of making all of the characters seem shallow, as I thought it would, this technique kept characters coming back often enough that I couldn’t forget what was happening in their storyline after reading chapters and chapters about what was happening to everyone else. Because of this, I was able to continually  to build on my ideas of who the characters were and what drove them to do what they did. It really worked spectacularly well. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that McIntrye is a spectacular writer, with a very evocative sense. Tell me that this passage, found on page 236, doesn’t give you a wonderful idea of what kind of place Eula is:

Back in Eula, winter was announced, not buy a blanket of white snow, but by an old man who lived on the boulevard, rising after his Thanksgiving dinner, walking outside, flipping open the rusted metal cover that guarded the outlet near the front porch, and plugging in the cord that dangled nearby. The multicolored lights that he had left up all year turned on, then off…on, then off…all in unison. He had used a staple gun to put them up, and feared that, given the chewed-up state of the boards, if he pulled the lights down, the gutter would come with them.

I don’t often mark passages when I read, but I absolutely had to dog-ear that one, because I thought it summed up Eula perfectly.

“Lake Overturn” was both a Washington Post ‘Best Book of the Year’ and a New York Times Book Review ‘Editors’ Choice’ in hardcover, and it isn’t difficult to see why. Highly recommended.

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

This review was done with a book received from the publisher.
* 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.

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The Time it Snowed in Puerto Rico by Sarah McCoy – Book Review

The Time it Snowed in Puerto Rico by Sarah McCoy
Published by Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House

It is 1961, and Verdita is starting to strain against the realities of her small mountain town in Puerto Rico. She is 11 and not yet a seniorita, but at the same time, Verdita feels very much like she is growing up and needs a degree of freedom and change she cannot find where she is. The most oppressive figure in Verdita’s life is her mother, not for her mother’s actions, but for what she represents. Unlike Verdita’s father, her mother speaks no English, and is more than content in their small town, wanting nothing more than to be with her family. Verdita, by contrast, longs for the excitement of San Juan or, better yet, America. In truth, Verdita dreams of America, especially after interacting with her cousin who moved there and his American friend, back in Puerto Rico for a visit.

“The Time it Snowed in Puerto Rico” is a lovely coming of age story of a young girl dreaming of a life different from her own. McCoy did a wonderful job getting into the head of an eleven year old; it definitely seemed a capricious pre-teen was narrating, not an adult. This did make some of the narration and reasoning a bit choppy at times, but it absolutely seemed intentional, or at least a by-product of the voice being used.

I really loved the details about Verdita’s life in Puerto Rico, particularly the section about John F. Kennedy’s visit to the country, and the edges of what Verdita came to understand about the internal conflict in Puerto Rico whether to remain connected to the United States or assert independence. This provided a nice mirror to Verdita’s own struggles with to what extent she wanted to maintain ties to her home or become increasingly independent. McCoy’s childhood spent visiting relatives in Puerto Rico really added a depth and vibrancy to her descriptions and story.

At just over 200 pages, this is a rather short book. And if I have one real criticism, it is that I would have liked to see some elements of Verdita’s life and internal monologue expanded and fleshed out a little more, making it a little bit longer book. It was perhaps a little too brief for me.

This would be a great books for book clubs: it has great themes for discussion, is not too long (for those of you with book club members who shy away from books over 300 pages), is now out in paperback, and even includes a discussion guide in the back.

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

This review was done with a book received from the author.
* 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.

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The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais – Book Review

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

When Hassan Haji’s mother is killed by a mob in the family’s restaurant in Mumbai, his family flees the country so as not to be constantly reminded of their loss. After a brief stop in England with family, the Hajis move to Lumiere, a small town in France with the intent of opening an Indian restaurant. The town’s primary restaurateur, Madame Mallory, is not at all pleased with this arrangement, particularly as the Hajis’ boisterous restaurant is located directly across the road from her stately restaurant, so she begins a campaign to shut them down.

You won’t hear me say this too often, but I actually think that “The Hundred-Foot Journey” was not long enough. I would have liked to spend more time getting deeper into many parts of Hassan’s young life. As it was, I felt like the story was progressing too quickly from plot point to plot point so that I wasn’t able to spend enough time with Hassan to truly get a feel for him, which kept me from caring as much about him as I would have liked. I really appreciated what an authentic feel of memoir Morais imparted on Hassan’s fictional story, but I wish I could have been made to care a bit more about Hassan and his story.

I also really liked many of the details of food and the restaurant business but, again, I would have liked to dwell on many of these things longer so as to get a fuller picture of it all. Still, the idea of looking at cultural differences and adaptation through the lens of food is a fascinating one.

“The Hundred-Foot Journey” is an interesting book with a great premise, but I think it could have been improved by being fleshed out a little more fully.

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

This review was done with a book received from Inkwell Management.
* 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.