Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Family Sentence: The Search for my Cuban-Revolutionary, Prison-Yard, Mythic-Hero, Deadbeat Dad by Jeanine Cornillot

I know it's hard to believe, but I think it's about to happen. I'm going to review a book that was written for an adult audience. It's been over a month, but hopefully I've been the only one counting. We have my quest to catch up with LibraryThing Early Reviewer books to thank for this one.

Family Sentence is Jeanine Cornillot's tale of growing up with a father in prison. Growing up, Jeanine's world is sharply divided. There's the world she knows, the one where she lives in a house dominated by women in suburban Philadelphia where men are absent and foreign to her. The other part of her world is a little more uncertain. Summers, growing up, she spent with her Cuban grandparents in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami. Most of her Miami relatives speak no English and Jeanine, despite being half Cuban, knows no Spanish. Despite having her cousins for interpreting, the language barrier and her decidedly un-Cuban looks make her own relatives a little foreign to her despite being bound by blood.

Jeanine's father, a self-professed Cuban revolutionary determined to free Cuba from Castro's rule, was in prison for all of the childhood she can remember for the crime of bombing an Air Canada ticket office. All that she knows of her father she learns from his infrequent letters and a few family trips to visit him in prison during her summers in Miami. All the rest, she makes up as she goes along. She worries and wonders about her father's life in prison, imagines a family reunion that she's certain will never happen while she's still a child, and she perpetrates tiny acts of terrorism in school hallways imagining the revolutionary blood that runs through her veins and bonds her to a father who she doesn't know and will never understand.

Family Sentence is a book about a girl growing into a woman and trying to piece together the disparate pieces of her identity. It's also the story of a girl trying to know a father who is distant and perplexing even when he volunteers answers to any question she might have. It's a story about reconciling the myth of a dad, who by his ideals and through a daughter's loving but ignorant eyes has become larger than life with a real person who has lived an imperfect life without the regrets readers would expect.

Cornillot tells her story with brutal honesty, painting the naive girl she was, desperate to look and seem more "Cuban" for a father who could barely be bothered to remember her when they were apart. She brings her young self to vivid life with many anecdotes of her young life complete with her girlhood imaginings and her childish quirks like her penchant for saying "that's a crime" about anything that seems slightly unjust. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems like the anecdotes get away from her, and that makes for the book's one flaw that it's easy to get lost in the individual anecdotes and lose track of where Cornillot is going with the larger narrative of her life with and without her father. However, the book seems to collect itself in its final chapters as Jeanine reunites with her father as a teenager and a young adult and all the myths and misconceptions she had about her father collide. Ultimately, Cornillot's is a compelling memoir that draws us into her life and tells a personal story that every kid who's ever idolized a parent only to grow up and discover a fallible human being can relate to.

Review copy received from Beacon Press via LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Having Myself A Merry Dystopian Christmas

Happy Day After Christmas everyone! I hope everyone that celebrates had a good time with family and friends, and I hope you found some good bookish plunder under the Christmas tree, too. I know I did on both counts.

As you can see, my Christmas bookishness came with a bit of a theme. I just finished Patrick Ness's excellent dystopian The Knife of Never Letting Go a few weeks ago, only to find it has a wicked cliffhanger of an ending (How rude!). Luckily, I had just enough time to slip the other two books in the Chaos Walking trilogy onto my Christmas wish list, and, thanks to my parents, I'm now the proud owner of The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men.

In other news, I'll soon be able to hang up my "I'm the last living human who hasn't read The Hunger Games" t-shirt for good. My aunt provided me with a lovely box set of all three of The Hunger Games series, so now I can enjoy that trilogy at will, too. In still further good news, I am the lucky owner of one new comfy rolling desk chair, so, as soon as we can get it put together (and you can pull me out of my dystopian YA haze), I will be able to enjoy my blogging in comfort, having cast off the threadbare chair that's been serving as our seat for about 2 years too long.

Of course, I had to make sure that my family members had some books to unwrap, too. My mom had been wishing for The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein and The Help by Kathryn Stockett, so both of those made an appearance among the Christmas plunder. I've heard so many good things about both that I hope she'll let me have a go at them when she's finished! For my dad, I initially just got him the newest John Grisham title, The Confession. Then I was skimming my Shelf Awareness newsletter and saw that Tom Clancy had a new book out, and knowing that my dad was always a huge fan of Tom Clancy's from way back, I couldn't help picking up a copy of Dead or Alive for him, too.

How about you? What good books did you give and receive this year?

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Trouble With Half a Moon by Danette Vigilante

It's time again for my periodic sojourn into the land of middle grade fiction. It's not a place I visit often, but my experience with it has been more pleasurable than I could have expected. The Trouble With Half a Moon, author Danette Vigilante's debut effort, is a great continuation of that trend. It took me almost less than a full day to read it, despite being very distracted by recent life events of the sad sort. Even though it's a short book, it's one that packs a punch.

"I'm pleased you had mind enough to ask," Miss Shirley says. She walks over to the moon and uses her finger to trace where the other half should be. "Just because we cannot see this half of the moon doesn't mean it's not there," she says, studying me. "We know this without having to actually see it." She points to her eyes. Her fingernails are sparkly gold. "You have to believe it's there. Faith, young one," she says, balling up her fist, "is powerful."

When Dellie's little brother is killed in an accident, her life turns upside down and stays that way. Even though her brother has been gone for months, Dellie's mom still cries almost daily over his picture, and Dellie can't even walk to school without her father going along. She's hardly allowed outside for fear that something might happen. Dellie's home in the projects might not be the safest place, but what she wouldn't give for a little freedom to hang out with her best friend Kayla or to take a walk with Michael Ortiz and find out if he really likes her.

Little does Dellie know that life will get tougher before it gets easier. When a hungry little boy named Corey who lives on the first floor of her building shows up at her door, she can't help desperately wanting to save him from his neglectful mother and his mother's no-good boyfriend. She hopes almost without realizing it that saving Corey will absolve her from the guilt she carries about her brother's death, but at the same time she's terrified that he will believe in her and she will fail him like she thinks she failed her brother.

The Trouble With Half a Moon is a bittersweet story about a girl growing up with grief and a family going through the long process of healing. Vigilante presents Dellie in an engaging first-person narration that slowly reveals Dellie's many fears and the terrible guilt she carries with her without revealing the circumstances until late in the story. Even while pursuing her larger themes Vigilante doesn't spare the everyday details of Dellie's life. She vividly captures the embarassment and unfairness of bullying as well as the excitement and uncertainty of first "love" in a way that can make even an older reader feel all those feelings all over again. The heart of the book, though, is Dellie and her family's journey out of their grief. It's heartwrenching to see the fear Dellie has of loving after enduring such a loss, and heartwarming to see how a mysterious new neighbor named Miss Shirley and Corey bring Dellie and her family back to life.

The Trouble With Half a Moon releases on January 6th, 2011.

(Thanks to Stacey at Penguin Young Readers Group for my review copy!)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: We, the Drowned

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, February 9, 2011


Carsten Jensen’s debut novel has taken the world by storm. Already hailed in Europe as an instant classic, We, the Drowned is the story of the port town of Marstal, whose inhabitants have sailed the world’s oceans aboard freight ships for centuries. Spanning over a hundred years, from the mid-nineteenth century to the end of the Second World War, and from the barren rocks of Newfoundland to the lush plantations of Samoa, from the roughest bars in Tasmania, to the frozen coasts of northern Russia, We, the Drowned spins a magnificent tale of love, war, and adventure, a tale of the men who go to sea and the women they leave behind.

Ships are wrecked at sea and blown up during wars, they are places of terror and violence, yet they continue to lure each generation of Marstal men—fathers and sons—away. Strong, resilient, women raise families alone and sometimes take history into their own hands. There are cannibals here, shrunken heads, prophetic dreams, forbidden passions, cowards, heroes, devastating tragedies, and miraculous survivals—everything that a town like Marstal has actually experienced, and that makes We, the Drowned an unforgettable novel, destined to take its place among the greatest seafaring literature.

What are you "waiting on" this Wednesday?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Dose of Random Randomness #7

* Yesterday morning, instead of quickly cobbling together a Waiting on Wednesday post, I actually worked on writing a review. This is a step in the right direction, but uhm, yeah, another day slipped past with no post! I can't seem to shake my review writing funk. What do *you* do when you need to psych yourself up to write some reviews that have been waiting too long?

* Weirdness at work has been putting me into a funk and stealing my Christmas spirit. I've done a better job of shaking off the bad worky feelings this week, but jeez I have a lot of Christmas prep still to do that I was ignoring while sulking about my job situation for no especially good reason. We don't even have a tree yet! The good news is, I already bought a bunch of books for the holidays (for other people, not for me of course....LOL). The bad news is, that still leaves the hard task of thinking of less obvious Christmas gifts. ;-) What books are you giving this holiday season? I'd tell you mine, but then I might have to eat this post...

* I've set myself a goal to catch up with my backlogged LibraryThing Early Reviewer books. I've been very bad and let them pile up while I got distracted by newer and shinier things. I'm reading them shortest to longest thinking that should maximize results faster thus restoring me ever so quickly to LibraryThing good standing, but these things always backfire on me and tiny, short books mock me by not being fast reads. Oh well, I have the best of intentions...

* I won a #FridayReads giveaway on Twitter - definitely a fun surprise. If you're on Twitter and aren't tweeting what you're reading on Friday with the hash tag #fridayreads....why not? You get to tell the "world" what you're reading, and hey, who knows, maybe you'll win something, too.

* Series books with major cliffhangers make me crazy, especially considering I usually only have the first book of a series on hand until I read the first and decide if I like it. Let's just say, there's a few books I'm hoping to get for Christmas, too, but I wish it were sooner. On that note, I asked for The Hunger Games series, too, so I can stop being the last person on the earth (or at least the blogosphere) that hasn't read it. If someone gets them for me, that is.

* Why does the good, loyal dog always die (tragically) in stories? For that matter, why, in war movies especially, does that guy who dashes onto the battlefield to carry his wounded buddy back to safety always seem to die a terrible death? Whenever I see that guy dashing to the battlefield, I can't help but think, "Oh, there's another goner!" Loyalty and goodness don't really seem to come with the best rewards. Life lesson? Ugh, I hope not.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: The Illumination

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier
Pantheon, February 1, 2011


From best-selling and award-winning author Kevin Brock­meier: a new novel of stunning artistry and imagination about the wounds we all bear and the light that radiates from us all.

What if our pain was the most beautiful thing about us? In the aftermath of a fatal car accident, a private journal of love notes written by a husband to his wife passes into the keeping of a hospital patient, and from there through the hands of five other suffering people, touching each of them uniquely. I love the soft blue veins on your wrist. I love your lopsided smile. I love watching TV and shelling sunflower seeds with you.

The six recipients—a data analyst, a photojour­nalist, a schoolchild, a missionary, a writer, and a street vendor—inhabit an acutely observed, beauti­fully familiar yet particularly strange universe, as only Kevin Brockmeier could imagine it: a world in which human pain is expressed as illumination, so that one’s wounds glitter, fluoresce, and blaze with light. As we follow the journey of the book from stranger to stranger, we come to understand how intricately and brilliantly they are connected, in all their human in­jury and experience.

What are you "waiting on" this Wednesday?