Tag Archives: TLC Book Tours

The Iguana Tree by Michel Stone

11th April 2012

*This book was sent to me by the publisher Hub City Press in exchange for an honest review, as part of TLC Book Tours.

Hector viewed America as The Great Opportunity. Lilia saw it as The Unknown.

In The Iguana Tree by Michel Stone, Héctor and Lilia are a young married couple with a baby girl. Héctor is determined to go to America to live a life he can only dream of in Puerto Isadore. Lilia, on the other hand, loves her home with its beautiful ocean views, familiar tastes and scents, and friends and family. Héctor crosses the border, fitted into a compartment on the underside of a semi, along with at least a dozen other men, some moaning and crying out during the trip. He meets Miguel on the crossing and follows him to South Carolina where Miguel has family and connections. An injured farmer, Lucas, hires Héctor, and Héctor learns the satisfaction of making a living on American soil.

Lilia, on the other hand, is lonely. After her grandmother dies, Lilia has no one but her tiny daughter Alejandra. She decides she cannot wait to join Héctor, so an old boyfriend arranges a coyote (smuggler) for her and her daughter. But Lilia’s transport is even more dangerous than Héctor’s, and her passage is one full of rape, fear, murder, and loss.

Reunited, Héctor and Lilia are no longer a happy young family. Broken by their experiences, the two must continue to fight for their place in America while trying to find a way back to one another.

Told mainly from Héctor’s point of view, The Iguana Tree shows the interior life of an immigrant, one who is learning English and marveling at the change he encounters in El Norte. This, to me, was the most successful aspect of this novel. Héctor is so intelligent and so observant, and I particularly enjoyed his observations about his employer Lucas, a proud man who lost his leg in a chainsaw accident. The two men come from such completely different backgrounds, yet their love of the land and hard work bind them, and the relationship is one that grounds the novel. Stone also does an excellent job of showing Héctor’s introverted and extroverted lives, emphasizing that an immigrant is not unintelligent in the least, but highly capable of adapting and communicating.

On the other hand, I also felt an intense disconnect with this novel. Lilia makes an extremely poor decision, and the consequences of that decision drive the last 75 pages at a breakneck pace. The action of the novel seems condensed, the novel rushing to a hurried conclusion that felt much different than the novel that preceded it. Specifically, the last three pages were incredibly heavy handed and felt out of place. In some ways, The Iguana Tree felt wholly unfinished, and though this could have been intentional, I think a story with such import needed more development for readers to fully understand the motivations of its main characters and the inevitable end to which each arrived.

I have seen several references to this novel as reminiscent of John Steinbeck (one of my all-time favorite authors), and while I  don’t think it is quite that caliber, my favorite parts of the novel are in the same vein as East of Eden in that these men understand the value of land beyond monetary gain and have a connection to it that isn’t often emphasized in contemporary literature.

All in all, though this wasn’t completely successful for me, many bloggers are raving about this book, and it’s one I think most people would enjoy, particularly if you are interested in the undocumented immigrant experience.

The Iguana Tree was released on March 1, 2012 by Hub City Press, and you can buy it for your Nook or from Indiebound. This book is on tour right now, so don’t take my word for it. See what other book bloggers have to say about The Iguana Tree.

Camp Nine by Vivienne Schiffer

11th November 2011

*I received this book through Trish at TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

Raised by her headstrong mother and near her disapproving but wealthy grandparents, Chess is a product of the time and the land, in an era where land still defined American status and wealth. However, the world is not all peaceful and bucolic in Vivienne Schiffer’s Camp Nine. Pearl Harbor has dragged America into the second World War, and the government buys land in the Arkansas Delta from Chess’s grandfather, Mr. Morton, for an internment camp for Japanese citizens from San Francisco. The community reacts in the ways you’d expect a southern town at that time to react: with fear and thus, prejudice.

Chess’s mother Carolina, raised Italian and considered not good enough by her wealthy in-laws, does not plan to sit idly by while these innocent people sit behind barbed wire at Camp Nine. She flies into the face of southern deportment, visiting the camp often with a former (now-marrried) beau, bringing her daughter along and making friends with the Matsuis. Her attachment alone is enough to bring talk, but her affinity for and defense of the Japanese families in the camp brings the tension to a head, exposing Chess to the ugly side of southern “hospitality.”

One of the aspects of this novel I appreciated the most was Chess’s adult insight. She isn’t judgmental or sentimental but rather looks at her life and the events in it with a curiosity that is both honest and endearing, as though she is questioning it ever happening or more likely, her naïveté. Instead of overcompensating for her hindsight or excusing the actions of her family, Chess sticks to stark observations, remarking about the true nature of the KKK and the ruling class’s opposition:

Its opposition of the Klan was not so much that it felt a noble obligation to protect vulnerable blacks. The Klan threatened its valuable work force, the means through which its wealth was achieved.

This sort of explanation could easily have felt heavy handed, but there were only a few instances toward the end of the novel when Chess meets up with David Matsui after many years that there was any sort of protracted explanation. However, that’s being quite nitpicky because I raced through this novel, enjoying it and – as many a good novel makes me do – turned to Internet research to learn more about the internment of the Japanese and Japanese Americans and both the intense shame these families felt but also their struggles to take back any sort of life after the war. Fascinating and horrifying stuff.

Read this: if you have any interest in World War II, particularly the American experience. Would also make for an excellent book club book.

Check out the rest of the blog tour at TLC Book Tours for more discussion on this book.

 

 

32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter

7th July 2011

*This book was sent to me via the publisher Amistad, an imprint of Harper Collins. You can purchase the paperback from Indiebound here.

One of the questions I get asked most frequently by my female African-American students is why it is so difficult for them to find books about African-American girls their age, today, who aren’t being raped and victimized at every turn. Not that those stories shouldn’t be told. But where are the great modern, everyday-girl kind of stories about women of color? Because sometimes that’s just what the doctor ordered and that’s what many of my students (African-American or otherwise) want to read.

Ernessa T. Carter’s first novel 32 Candles is exactly what they, and I, are looking for, though the main character Davidia Jones is far from happy as a child. She lives in Mississippi with her abusive mother who brings home a different man every night. She doesn’t know her daddy, and she doesn’t speak. To anyone. She goes to school with classmates who call her Monkey Night. It isn’t a great existence until James Farrell enters the picture. Smooth, wealthy, and kind, James is a dreamboat, and Davidia is crazy for him. Her only real source of pleasure is watching 16 Candles with Molly Ringwald, and Davidia is sure she and James (her Jake Ryan) will have a happy ending. But it’s high school, and James’s icy sister Veronica knows something that is eating her up inside, and she takes it out on Davidia.

This isn’t a young adult novel, though. The true story lies in Davidia’s bravery in stepping away from her toxic past and falling into a future she never knew she wanted – as a lounge singer. At least that’s what Ernessa T. Carter and Davie want you to think. Because let me tell you – this book has a twist, a fun, fantastic, cringe-worthy twist that will have you cheering for Davie and shaking your head at her at the same time.

32 Candles was a fun read, but it wasn’t a cookie-cutter romance. Davie is independent. She grows up much too quickly, which I think accounts for some of her more immature and vindictive actions, but all in all, she changes and grows with the help of Nicky, the night-club-owner-turned-surrogate father and Mama Jane, the lesbian truck driver who takes Davie under her wing. I loved the characters because they loved Davie, in a way her real family never could.

Here’s my favorite quote, in a moment where Davidia becomes “Davie”:

She was Little Davidia, the girl that I had been before Cora knocked her out of me.

And man, could she sing.

I mean, she was killing this song. She was taking it home to its rightful maker and showing it off in heaven. She was letting people know that she had risen from the dead and that she was back.

Little Davidia finished the song on a long note — not because she was showing off, but because she did not want it to end.

If you’re looking for an entertaining read with a bit of romance and a mean streak a mile wide, 32 Candles is a sure thing. Plus, as a product of the 80s, the pop culture references didn’t hurt either. 🙂

read this: by the pool/at home in bed/anywhere (as long as you can read uninterrupted…)

jenn aka the picky girl

P.S. Check out Ernessa T. Carter’s blog.

P.P.S. Don’t take my word for it: Check out the other reviews on the tour stop here.

The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock

23rd May 2011

**UPDATE** Giveaway over. Using Random.org, number one commenter, Yvette, won! Congrats. I have sent an email to you to get your address. Thanks to all who left comments!

I can[not] conceive of how a person can process the material of a life, and by that I mean love and death and every insect bite in between, without practicing an art.

The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock is and isn’t a biography of a woman, Mary Delaney. What it is about is the quote above, about making art in the everyday, about life itself being a work of art.

As a young girl, Mary Granville is married off to a much older man. She is unhappy; he is a jealous (but wealthy) drunk who dies, leaving Mary to blossom in the independence of widowhood. She is unwilling to take another husband until Dr. Patrick Delaney proposes many years later. He is of low birth; her family does not approve, but Mary knows her heart, and as Peacock writes, Patrick encourages her craft: “She became his brilliant focus – and he became her vista, the expansive background that his generosity of spirit provided.”

The subtitle, though, is misleading for two reasons: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72. First, as I mentioned, this book is and is not a biography because Peacock inserts herself into the writing, tracing the origins and processes of her research. To be frank, I could have done without this aspect of the book, but let me get that out of the way now because I adored this book. Second, I would argue Mrs. Delaney is an artist from a young age, designing dresses, embroidering, painting, even letter writing extensively (though Peacock is referring to the work for which Delaney is remembered).

Mary’s artistic endeavors remain in these areas for most of her life, but in 1772, “she noticed how a piece of colored paper matched the dropped petal of a geranium. After making that vital imaginative connection between paper and petal …. she began … carefully cutting the exact geranium petal shape from the scarlet paper. Then she snipped out another.”

To me, the magic of this book is in moments like this. What is Mrs. Delaney hadn’t snipped a second petal? Peacock deftly extricates the moments in Mrs. Delaney’s life she wants to highlight, and in the same breath, she reflects on the creative process.

For example, each of Mrs. Delaney’s collages is cut paper on top of a black background, like so, and Peacock observes:

But whatever the composition of the dry crystals she ground … its source is something burnt …. Is being burnt a requisite for the making of art? …. It is a privilege to have, somewhere within you, a capacity for making something speak from your own seared experience.

And, noting Mary’s copious notes and letters to and from her sister, Anne:

In a way, Mary’s letters to Anne are a paper mosaick of days and weeks, hundreds into the thousands of sentences cut in organic shapes to form the art of living.

And aren’t her letters art? As Peacock points out to a friend who asked why Mary Delaney “really” made these mosaicks:

It evolved, first from silhouettes, and then from handiwork and collecting shells … and then from drawing and painting and gardening….and lastly from not being able to paint, from a feeling of the world dimming…

And from the last page, referring to the artistic spark when Mrs. Delaney spies the geranium petal:

Her whole life flowed to the place where she plucked that moment.

Isn’t that an incredibly beautiful thought?

jenn aka the picky girl

P.S. Thanks to TLC Book Tours and specifically Lisa Munley for seeking me out for this tour. Lisa, you were dead on with this recommendation.

P.P.S. If you would like to enter for a chance to win a copy of this gorgeous book, please leave a comment below (by June 1) and answer this question: What is artistic and beautiful in your own life?