Being Lara by Lola Jaye – Book Review

Being Lara by Lola Jaye
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks, an imprint of HarperCollins

At 30, Lara is finally fairly comfortable with who she is. Sure, she’s still terrified of commitment, and of getting too close to anyone, but she is finally secure in her identity, as the adopted daughter of Trish and X Reid, as a daughter whose skin tone is vastly different from that of her parents. No longer is Lara particularly interested in knowing anything about her birth mother, and never has she been curious about her birth country, Nigeria. All of this changes, however, when Lara’s birth mother, Yomi, shows up unexpectedly at her 30th birthday party. Now, for the first time, Lara is forced to think about her past and who she really is.

Despite the name, Being Lara is not simply Lara’s story. Much of the book is actually from the perspective of Trish and Yomi, Lara’s adoptive and birth mothers. These sections with their alternate viewpoints may just save Jaye’s book, because Lara is, at the beginning of the book in particular, a bit difficult to take. Actually, she’s more than just a bit difficult to take, and if she had been the only focus of the book, chances are good that I would have abandoned it in frustration. Despite her happy family and the fact that she seems to be well-adjusted, she is incredibly immature and naive, overly stuck in her ways, and about as proficient at romantic relationships as a teenage boy.  Obnoxious, and so flawed as to seem like a cliche instead of a living character. Luckily, her mothers’s stories – particularly Yomi’s story – add interest and give the reader something with which to sympathize.

Eventually Lara becomes more life-like and easier to relate to, but it does take time, making the reader exceptionally glad for the way that Yomi and Trish’s stories intersect hers. This is a book that is more concerned with plot than prose, and that does come through. Jaye’s writing is solid, but it fails to overcome any apathy the reader might feel towards the storyline or the characters. There is also – in the advance copy, a least – a continuity problem, wherein Lara and her best friend take a cab to her birthday party , and then Lara tears out of there in her own car after her birth mother surprises her. This may have been caught before the final, but as they took a cab for a very specific reason, it would have required some re-writing.

Although Being Lara is an interesting story with a satisfying conclusion, the first half in particular failed to impress me as much as I hoped it would.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: 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.

Digiprove sealCopyright protected by Digiprove © 2012

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson
Published by Grand Central Publishing, an imprint of Hachette

From the publisher:

A GROWN-UP KIND OF PRETTY is a powerful saga of three generations of women, plagued by hardships and torn by a devastating secret, yet inextricably joined by the bonds of family. Fifteen-year-old Mosey Slocumb-spirited, sassy, and on the cusp of womanhood-is shaken when a small grave is unearthed in the backyard, and determined to figure out why it’s there. Liza, her stroke-ravaged mother, is haunted by choices she made as a teenager. But it is Jenny, Mosey’s strong and big-hearted grandmother, whose maternal love braids together the strands of the women’s shared past–and who will stop at nothing to defend their future.

You know, I had forgotten how much I like Joshilyn Jackson. I read her last novel, Backseat Saints about a year and 1/2 ago (although it appears that I may have somehow failed to ever review it). Why I have failed to read any of her backlist in the meantime, I have no idea. I have a feeling, though, that this is not a mistake I will be making for a second time. A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty is a gorgeously written and evocative novel of family and identity, of the things that bind us together, one that I really highly recommend.

For a full review, please read my piece in the SheKnows Book Lounge.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, at a trade show.
* 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.

Digiprove sealCopyright protected by Digiprove © 2012

Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant – Book Review

Wherever You Go by Joan Leegant
Published by W.W. Norton & Co

Israel provides the backdrop for Joan Leegant’s Wherever You Go. Her three main character – Yona, Mark Greenglass, and Aaron – find themselves there for reasons as varied as reconciliation attempts, the fleeting saving power of religion, and an attempt to finally excel at something in life. Although they have very different relationships with both Israel and Judaism, they find themselves in situations which bring them closer and closer to one another in an event that will drastically change all of their lives.

Leegant’s command of her prose is masterful. She creates a vivid picture of her characters and the landscape that surrounds them. Particularly impressive is the way she uses her prose style to build anticipation leading up to the climax. Each of the three main characters alternates chapters; the first three chapters, which introduce the protagonists, span some 60 pages. By contrast, the last three chapters of the first part, at the high point of the action, cover only 10 pages, the majority of that being the final chapter. The downwards creep in chapter length is subtle, but incredibly effective, all but forcing the reader to turn the pages faster. At the same time, though, Leegant doesn’t resort to cheap, manipulative tactics such as manufactured cliff hangers at the end of chapters. The tension she creates is authentic, based on her skill both in the craft of writing and in creating realistic characters in whom the reader can invest a great deal.

Being Jewish is by no means a prerequisite for enjoying and becoming invested in Wherever You Go. Leegant’s characters may be Jewish, but her themes of estrangement, reconciliation, and crisis of identity are universal. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: 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.

Digiprove sealCopyright protected by Digiprove © 2011

Picking Bones from Ash by Marie Mockett – Book Review

Picking Bones from Ash by Marie Matsuki Mockett
Published by Graywolf Press

Life is not easy for a single woman and her daughter in post-war Japan. Satomi and her mother are making a living, but Atsuko’s presence as a smart, engaging, unmarried woman is seen as threat to the other women in their small, rural community. As such, Atsuko and Satomi were always made to feel as outsiders, a situation that was perhaps not helped by Satomi’s status as a musical prodigy. Atsuko is determined that Satomi’s life will be richer and more fulfilling than her own has been, discouraging her from a domestic future in favor of a life that will incorporate Satomi’s artistic abilities. When the unexpected happens, however, Satomi must learn how to make a new life for herself, because the life she has known is gone. The story picks up again with Satomi’s daughter Rumi living in San Francisco, having never known the mother she believes is dead. As new people come into Rumi’s life, however, she finds herself forced to examine her past and learn about the mother who has always been notable only in her absence.

Picking Bones from Ash is a lovely story of identity, family, and fitting in, among other things. The title comes a passage – relatively early in the book, this really isn’t a spoiler – after Atsuko passes away in Satomi’s absence:

I had missed my mother’s cremation and so had not been present when Mineko, Chieko, and the rest of their family had stood around her still-hot remains to remove her bones from the ash. They would have used chopsticks to do this, culling only the most essential parts of her body and placing them inside an urn, which was then set inside a box. – p. 98

Not knowing anything about funerary practices in Japan, I found this passage both shocking and beautiful. The thought of a family gathering around the remains of a loved one and doing something so intensely personal as picking out the bones with chopsticks is somewhat mind boggling, but at the same time, what better way to reiterate the loving bond of family, that you take care of one another even after death. And yet, if this is your own mother, one who you loved dearly, how heartbreaking to have missed such a ritual, to have it attended to only by your stepsisters and their families.

The place of women in the world over the last 50 years, the relationships between mother and daughter and their effect on the relationships of the next generation, the interaction of East and West. Add these things to a compelling story and sympathetic characters and you have a great novel. You also have Picking Bones from Ash by Marie Mockett. Recommended.

We will be discussing Picking Bones from Ash on March 22, 2011 at Linus’s Blanket.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, for BOOK CLUB.
* 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.


Digiprove sealCopyright protected by Digiprove © 2011

Is Your Mama a Llama? – Saturday Story Spotlight

Welcome to Saturday Story Spotlight, my new feature where I discuss books my husband and I are reading with our son, Daniel. These are books that he, we, or all of us particularly enjoy, since we are definitely reading more than one book a week! Also, if anyone is interested in helping me make a button for this feature, please let me know.

Is Your Mama a Llama by Deborah Guarino, illustrated by Stephen Kellogg
Published by Scholastic

Is your mama a llama? That’s what little Lloyd wants to know from all of his little animal friends. Unsurpringly, most of their mamas are not llama, since he is asking seals, bats, and cows.

We read this book a lot. How much, you ask? A whole lot. Enough that when we took Daniel to the zoo and saw an alpaca, which looks like a small llama, and I was unable to stop myself from reciting this entire book from memory.

Luckily, Daniel isn’t the only one who likes “Is Your Mama a Llama.” It is a book I genuinely enjoy reading to him as well. I love the rhyme scheme. This book has a great cadence and therefore the words themselves are fun to read. Plus, “Is Your Mama a Llama” discusses the attributes of a handful of animals as Lloyd’s friends explain why they do not believe their mamas are llamas, so there is an educational aspect besides the literacy benefits of an engaging story and the phonemic awareness imparted by the rhyming.

Then there’s the fact that Stephen Kellogg is the illustrator, which would be just about enough to sell me on the book right there. Daniel has loved this book since he was twelve months old, but it is something I think we’ll be reading for years to come.

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

Source: Personal copy
* 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.
http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780590447256?aff=devourerofbooks