Let’s be real, the cover of Ingrid Rojas Contreras’ latest novel Fruit of the Drunken Tree is gorgeous. Like the “drunken tree” in the title, the flower’s brightness and beauty draws your attention from the darkness that lingers behind.
The coming-of-age story follows two Colombian girls in the 1990s. Seven-year-old Chula Santiago and her older sister are aware of the violence in their city but are, for the most part, protected from it within their gated community. Petrona, on the other hand, lives in a guerilla-occupied slum before she becomes the Santiago family’s live-in maid. Their lives are very different but become intertwined throughout the course of the novel.
Anstey Harris’ novel Goodbye, Paris is being marketed as “Jojo Moyes meets Eleanor Oliphant,” which is definitely what drew me to the book. I don’t necessarily agree with that assessment, but first, let me tell you about the story.
Grace was once a promising cellist, but after a #MeToo encounter in college, she has been unable to play for anyone but an empty room. Now, she runs a successful shop in England repairing and building stringed instruments, living more or less in her bubble and dreaming of a future with her long-time boyfriend. David is a married family man who lives in France. Their long-distance affair would almost be an idyllic relationship, were it not for the fact that it was an affair. When David becomes a hero one day by saving the life of a woman at a Paris Metro station, the delicate balance of his and Grace’s relationship is tipped.
I read Koren Zailckas’ memoir Smashed about her “drunken girlhood” over a decade ago, and I absolutely loved it. It was a sober (and sobering) look at her past that also touched on the societal and social pressures that cause many young women to drink so heavily in the first place. Not only was her story powerful, her writing was as well. So, when I came across her novel Mother, Mother at a used book sale a little while back, I didn’t hesitate to scoop it up.
In the Hurst family, no one is perfect. The oldest daughter, Rose, has seemingly had enough and run off with her mysterious boyfriend, leaving her sister Violet struggling to cope with an ever-changing home life. Will, the youngest, clings most closely to his mom who has been homeschooling him since his recent diagnoses with Asperger’s and epilepsy. Meanwhile, their father, Douglas, is mostly absent and, when he is home, distracted and taking phone calls in whispers. In the center of it all is Josephine, the Hurst matriarch, a narcissist and master manipulator. Hiding behind her facade of caring homemaker, she may just be the worst mother ever.
I was unexpectedly captivated by Gin Phillips’ novel Fierce Kingdom, which I read as part of the Book Challenge by Erin earlier this month. Joan and her four-year-old son are ending an otherwise ordinary day at the zoo, when suddenly, just before they reach the exit, something goes very wrong. Joan hurries to hide with her son Lincoln, and for the rest of the novel – a period of just four hours – she must keep them out of danger.
For the most part, the novel follows Joan, but on occasion it dips into other points-of-view, including that of the mass shooter who is terrorizing the zoo’s guests and animals without remorse. As you can guess, Phillips weaves a harrowing tale. Unfortunately, it’s one that is all too realistic today. I was deeply invested in the well-being of Joan and her son, and though there were times I felt as though I could’ve used a mental break, I didn’t want to stop reading until it was over.
When I’m not reading, cooking or writing about it, I’m often at work. And, for those of you who don’t know, I work at an advertising agency. I’m an account person, which in a nutshell, means that most of my job is in service to our clients, doing whatever it is I need to do to make them happy. Like any job, there are a lot of things to like about advertising and there are a lot of things to dislike about it. Luckily, for me, the good far outweighs the bad.
I recently picked up Joshua Ferris’ novel Then We Came to the End as part of the Book Challenge by Erin, for the category requiring you to read a book featuring a character who shares your profession. I don’t know why, but I expected to have a hard time finding a piece of fiction about advertising. I couldn’t have been more wrong; I found this one with a simple search. Obviously, the characters in Then We Came to the End work in an ad agency – in fact, almost all of them do.
Hannah Lynn’s second novel The Afterlife of Walter Augustus was actually brought to my attention when the author herself reached out to me with a thoughtful email that mentioned our shared love of books (of course!) and cooking. Her description of the novel, which she self-published, sounded intriguing and I happily agreed to participate in her blog tour to celebrate and promote its release!
Walter Augustus, our main character, is stuck in what’s known as The Interim, a sort of waiting room in the afterlife where you’re unable to move on until every last person on earth has forgotten about you. While to some that might be flattering — and I can imagine he’s surrounded by quite a few celebrities, inventors and change-makers — to Walter, it’s frustrating. He really just wants to move on so he can see his wife and family again.
Sometimes I hear so many good things about a book that I request it from the library without even really seeing what it’s about, and that’s exactly what happened in the case of Katherine Center’s How to Walk Away. I’m glad I took the leap of faith because it turned out to be absolutely wonderful.
This novel is about a young woman who’s at the top of her game – Margaret has just finished her MBA, she has a lucrative and exciting job lined up, and she thinks her long-time boyfriend Chip is going to propose. However, on what is supposed to be a happy, celebratory day in her life, everything comes crashing down.
Many have commented on the beauty of this book cover. Indeed, Ruth Hogan’s The Keeper of Lost Things does feature some gorgeous floral artwork on the cover, and actually that’s part of what brought me to it in the first place. The title, too, is intriguing. What exactly is a keeper of lost things? What sort of lost things are being kept?
In the novel, Anthony is an elderly man who has become a self-appointed keeper of lost things. Since losing something very important decades earlier, he has made it his mission in life to rescue discarded, dropped or forgotten things. He brings them home, where they live safely and quietly in his study, until they can be reunited with their owners someday, somehow.
I got the opportunity to read Annie Harnett’s novel Rabbit Cake recently when it was selected for my office’s Diversity Book Club, but it first grabbed my attention when it was recommended on a podcast as a book pairing for the classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Though nothing alike in tone or subject matter, I see the similarities in the wizened child narrators – Scout, in TKAM of course, and in this contemporary novel, 11-year-old animal-loving Elvis.
I found Annie’s story to be quirky but heartwarming. Elvis is a smart, curious little girl who wormed its way into my heart. We meet her shortly after the sudden death of her mother, who drowned in a sleepwalking accident. Scientifically-minded, Elvis decides to follow a mourning chart that is meant to help her know how long to grieve. For an 11-year-old, she is doing her best, but the rest of her family isn’t exactly thriving. Her older sister is also affected by sleepwalking and her father deals with his grief by buying a parrot and wearing his late wife’s lipstick and bathrobe.
At this point in my life, I thought I could safely say graphic novels aren’t for me. I’d read a handful of graphic novels and a couple of comic books – mostly all recommendations from friends but a few piqued my curiosity on their own – and just wasn’t a fan. I appreciated the talent that went into creating them, but for some reason, I haven’t been able to connect to these types of stories emotionally. I decided to give graphic novels one last chance with Lucy Knisley’s Relish: My Life in the Kitchen.
Happily, I enjoyed it immensely. I’m going to guess the main difference here is the way food was constantly incorporated into the story. Every chapter revolved around her memory of a food experience and nearly all of them featured a whimsically illustrated recipe at the end.