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The Little Stepmother-A Novel
The Little Stepmother-A Novel
by Lubna Jahangiri
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.99
21 used & new from $9.74

4.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing Story about Childhood Arranged Marriage, April 23, 2016
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Though its topic is disheartening, The Little Stepmother is an engrossing and ultimately uplifting story. Lubna Jahangiri does not shy away from the sad fact that young Middle Eastern girls are often married to much older men before they are old enough to give meaningful consent, or that women are silenced and threatened with the loss of their children and financial security—or worse—if they dare file for divorce.

Jameela is one such woman. Married against her will at the age of twelve, she assumes second-class status as a second wife to middle-aged Abdul. She is forced to fend off his strident and jealous first wife and their children. Theirs is a chaotic and stifling household that slowly but steadily chips away at Jameela’s sense of self. The one bright spot in her life it that, unlike her mother before her (who was likewise married off at a too-young age), a condition of Jameela’s marriage was that Abdul pay for her education. This opened her mind and heart to the possibilities of life beyond the four walls that literally imprisoned her. Although her schooling provided a temporary respite from an otherwise insufferable life, Jameela “hits bottom” enough times to leave the reader wondering whether she will pick herself up or eventually go off the deep end.

The Little Stepmother is not without its flaws, but they did not detract significantly from the overall story. This is a solid, very readable first novel that tackles an important subject matter with sensitivity and artistry. Too few Middle Eastern women are willing to advocate for women’s education and independence, and Lubna Jahangiri is to be commended for exposing the shameful practice of forced marriage. I understand the novel is loosely based on a true story, which makes it a must-read.


The Signature of All Things: A Novel
The Signature of All Things: A Novel
by Elizabeth Gilbert
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.11
269 used & new from $0.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly Satisfying, March 23, 2016
This is about as good as it gets. I was no fan of Eat, Pray, Love, so I was pleasantly surprised by how different The Signature of All Things is in both style and substance. I learned more than I ever could have imagined about moss, Tahiti, and Captain Cook. I also appreciated the subtle spiritual dimension to the story, as well the homage it pays to the mostly buried scientific contributions of women during this period. A thoroughly satisfying read.


The Daddy Diaries
The Daddy Diaries
by Joshua Braff
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.06
63 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Inside Peek at the Life of a Stay-at-Home Dad, January 10, 2016
This review is from: The Daddy Diaries (Paperback)
I’d give The Daddy Diaries a solid 3.75. If you’re familiar with the Australian TV series House Husbands, Joshua Braff’s "take" on the subject could easily become the U.S. adaptation.

What I liked: The tender scenes between diarist Jay and his depressed son, Alex. The fact that the economic role reversal between Jay and wife Jackie is not a source of friction—Jay is secure enough in his manhood to appreciate his wife for who she is and what she brings to their family. He supports her work (which entails a good amount of travel) by functioning as the dedicated stay-at-home dad. I also found it a nice—as well as realistic—touch that Jay, as primary parent, is not so keen on the idea of making a third child, despite his wife’s claim that “someone is missing from their dinner table.” Finally, DD posits an arguable social angle about parents’ vs. children’s rights when it’s not in the best interests of a minor child to live with her parents or follow their misguided mandates.

Not so Much: I found the character development to be somewhat flimsy. I would have liked to see the author focus more on the multiple causes of Alex’s depression (teenage “angst”/family history/the move to Florida, etc.) and less on the St. Petersburg “parental party scene.” Alex’s mental health and the parent/teen relationship are the grounding notes of this story, and are far more compelling than the numerous instances (and there are too many of them) where Jay “falls victim” to impromptu partying and drinking. In my world, responsible parents don’t run off to bars at the slightest twist of an arm—especially when, for all intents and purposes, they are functioning as single parent. Childhood friends and siblings don’t just “pop up” unannounced from several states’ distance and demand that you go out drinking with them. Rich divorcees don’t spontaneously open their homes to scores of parents and kids for flirtatious poolside antics. Maybe that’s the way they do things down in Florida, but personally, Jay’s vulnerability to such distractions lowered my respect for him.

That said, The Daddy Diaries is a book you have to finish to fully appreciate. The funniest scenes are in the first third, and the most emotionally-charged ones appear toward the end. My daughter gave me this book for Christmas figuring I would like it, and she was right. All in all, it's a sensitive and worthwhile family drama by a fellow independent Bay Area author.


The Good Father
The Good Father
by Diane Chamberlain
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.20
130 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars What Makes "A Good Father"?, October 24, 2015
This review is from: The Good Father (Paperback)
I really enjoyed this book. I’m not sure whether it merits four or five stars, but only because it isn’t a great work of literature. The writing is fairly simple. But The Good Father proves that not every tale must be told with brilliant prose in order to be great.

And make no mistake, The Good Father is one heck of a story! Actually, it deftly interweaves three different but related and equally compelling subplots. Each of the three characters (Travis, Robin and Erin) has absorbed his or her own share of tragedy, and consequently is about as touching as any fictional character can be. In a plainspoken, almost simplistic way, The Good Father shows us what anyone might be capable of under desperate circumstances—in other words, what it means to be human. We all like to think, “Oh, I would never do that.” But you never know until you are faced with the situation—whether it be lack of money, a life-or-death health condition, or the devastating loss of a child. The Good Father does a beautiful job of showing how these three ordinarily people flounder and nearly fall when life seemingly turns against them.

There were moments when I feared Ms. Chamberlain might veer into tired and trite territory, but thankfully she never does. Rather, The Good Father offers tried-and-true reminders about class and status, grief and healing, and the essence of enduring love. It’s a sweet yet gripping book that I couldn’t put down and highly recommend.


The Rest of Her Life
The Rest of Her Life
by Laura Moriarty
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.06
206 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Six Stars (if I could), September 4, 2015
This review is from: The Rest of Her Life (Paperback)
From practically the opening page, this story was intense, emotional and gripping. The Rest of Her Life shows us how, from one minute to the next, one error in judgment—a teeny, tiny moment of inattention—can profoundly alter so many lives forever. I found both the plot and characters to be intelligent, moving and utterly convincing.

Distracted by a stray dog, eighteen-year-old Kara Churchill accidentally hits and kills a pedestrian in a crosswalk while driving her parents’ Suburban SUV. The victim, Bethany Cleese, is a fellow neighborhood teen being raised by a single mom. One beloved young life is irretrievably lost, but many, many others are deeply affected. Although Kara’s punishment will likely be light (a reckless driving charge), Kara is hell-bent on punishing herself to the max. She withdraws, stops eating, and sinks into a deep depression while her father tries to do “damage control.” Gary Churchill orders the family not to talk to anyone—not even their closest friends, mother-daughter duo Eva (the town gossip) and Kara’s best friend, Willow. Gary’s all about lawyers, insurance, and making sure Kara avoids jail and starts college in the fall on schedule as if nothing happened.

Kara’s mom, Leigh (from whose point of view this story is told) processes the tragedy quite differently. She becomes obsessed with Bethany’s mother, Diane, and grows increasingly desperate to finagle Diane’s forgiveness even as the dents in her own relationship with Kara become all-the-more evident under the weight of her family’s sudden misfortune. To Leigh, Kara’s carelessness offers proof to the entire small town of Danby, Kansas that she has failed as a mother. She is reminded of something Jackie Kennedy once said: “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.” Damning herself, Leigh concludes that “despite her best intentions, apparently, she’d somehow bungled raising her daughter. Now that Kara had bungled too, it was true—nothing else seemed to matter.”

Although on the surface, The Rest of Her Life is about a fatal accident, Leigh’s realization about her maternal inadequacy is what gives this story its beating heart. As the narrative progresses, we slowly learn why Leigh has had such a difficult time with motherhood: She was abandoned by her own mother as a 16-year-old, left to live in a trailer with her hapless if kind-hearted older sister (herself a young single mom), and basically had to grope her way through life in order to become a teacher and form a stable family as an adult.

The Rest of Her Life reveals just how difficult it is to parent a child when one has had defective (or no) parenting herself. Understanding intellectually that her mom did the best she could given how she was raised did little to heal Leigh’s festering emotional wounds. Even though Leigh could dance circles around her own self-absorbed, clueless mother, she has difficulty connecting with others—including her own family, and slowly comes to realize that, despite her best efforts to be a different sort of parent than her mom, her own daughter simply doesn’t like her. At this crucial time when she most wants to comfort and connect with Kara, she is blocked at every turn. Stomach-clenching scenes are abundant throughout this novel, but the clumsy mother-daughter standoffs are perhaps the most heartbreaking in their authenticity; they certainly struck a nerve with me.

A well-rounded cast of nuanced secondary characters—including younger son Justin; sister Pam; Eva and her daughter, Willow; Cynthia Tork (the book-censoring mom of one of Leigh’s students); and especially Bethany’s mom, Diane—pepper this already compelling tale with thorny complexity as Leigh grapples with her day-to-day connections and commitments. After all, no matter the pain we might be suffering inside, life marches on all around us.

I found Laura Moriarty's novel to be the rare gem that left me emotionally spellbound. In this reader's view, The Rest of Her Life is a truly extraordinary book deserving of five stars. I would give it six if I could.


Again and Again: A Novel
Again and Again: A Novel
by Ellen Bravo
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.90
53 used & new from $3.49

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing Story about College Date Rape's Effect on Two Women, August 22, 2015
Ellen Bravo is to be commended for this relevant work of feminist fiction. Three stars for an engrossing story in its own right, and a bonus one for shedding light on the thorny topic of campus date rape, to boot.

It’s tricky pulling off a work of fiction that tackles a difficult social issue. Again and Again deftly moves between the present day, more-troubled-than-it-appears relationship between protagonist Deborah Borenstein and her D.C. campaign consultant husband, Aaron; and her early relationship with her college roommate, Liddie Golmboch, at Danforth University. One evening in 1978, before we had a name for such things, Deborah walks in on her roommate being date-raped by a handsome, well-to-do frat boy. Without giving away too many spoilers, suffice it to say that neither a credible eye-witness nor the many Polaroids Deborah took of Liddie’s injuries would be sufficient to prove that this wasn’t a “classic case” of morning-after hook-up regret. After all, other frat brothers had seen Liddie drinking with Will Quincy and making out with him at a party earlier that evening. She’d even invited him back to her room—for a book, according to her (“Yeah, right”).

Now a top figure in “Breaking the Silence”—an organization dedicated to fighting sexual violence against women, Deborah finds herself at odds with hubby Aaron, who is campaign manager for the candidate running against—who else?—Will Quincy, campus rapist cum pro-choice supporter of women’s issues who is vying for the open Delaware senate seat. Although the college rape and lack of vindication had all but derailed Liddie (who as an adult is happily ensconced in Wisconsin with her veterinarian husband, leading a quiet life making quilts), Liddie’s refusal to “go public,” and Deborah’s support of that decision, is driving a wedge between the seemingly egalitarian D.C. couple.

While as a feminist and the mother of a teen daughter, I don’t doubt the legitimacy of Liddie being affected by PTSD after having been a victim of this insidious crime, as a reader of fiction, I couldn’t help wanting to root for an underdog-turned-pit bull out for vengeance, or—failing that—at least get inside the victim’s head. I found myself growing frustrated with Liddie’s diffidence throughout nearly the entire story, as well as the sometimes syrupy relationship between her and Deborah while Liddie remained consistently in the background. Though engaging, I think this book might have packed a bolder “punch” if told—at least in part—from Liddie’s point of view. Deborah as the lone (if plucky) heroine just slightly missed the mark for me; her marital, career and family issues and her husband’s conflicting career aspirations weakened and at times eclipsed the focal point of this story—i.e., stopping a known rapist from becoming a U.S. senator.

That said, this is a satisfying read by an author who obviously knows what she is talking about. Ellen Bravo is described as a “lifelong activist” who is currently the executive director for Family Values @ Work, a network of state coalitions working for family-friendly policies. Many thanks to Ms. Bravo for sending me a complimentary early release copy of Again and Again at my request after I learned about it through She Writes Press.


The Middlesteins: A Novel
The Middlesteins: A Novel
by Jami Attenberg
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.45
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book about Battling One's Inner Demons, August 8, 2015
This is one part book review and too many parts personal observations about what this story meant to me. First, the book review. For the most part, I thought this was a brilliant work. I found it quite engaging and hard to put down. While I agree with several other reviewers who perceived an “emptiness” due to the lack of character development, I didn't fault the author for not delving into Edie’s deep psychological motivations for eating as much as she did, or her family’s reasons for reacting to her as they did. I thought the the characters' actions spoke for themselves. And while I thought the omnipresent POV (especially the neighbors' narrative at the b'nai mitzvah) made Attenberg’s writing come across as overly stylized, I rather enjoyed it and thought it “worked.”

So that’s the book review. Continue reading only if you want to hear my ramblings—as someone who has battled weight issues her entire life—about overeating and obesity. Although on its face this is a story about a dysfunctional Jewish family, I think this book has a TON to say about the human condition and the nature of addiction in general. The Jewish “backdrop” was cute and funny but to me (being half Jewish), neither here nor there. This story could have been about any family of virtually any cultural or ethnic background, because its messages are so universal. After all, every family is dysfunctional to some degree. It seems to be the natural result of living intimately with others and becoming emotionally invested in them. Over time, we stop “seeing” each other (or rather, see one another through clouded, limiting eyes) and presume to know who our family members are and what is best for them.

We all have demons and “issues.” Some of us, like Edie, use food as our “place to hide,” but make no mistake about it, we all use something to “take the edge off” while avoiding those hard, painful but oh-so-necessary trips within. Whether it’s prescription meds, a glass or two of wine each night, four beers a day, recreational drugs on the weekends, religion, shopping, sex—you name it, when you peek behind the veil of acceptable ways people “let off steam,” you will usually find a crutch. As Edie Middlestein demonstrates, once overeating becomes addictive, it no longer matters why the person does it or what they are taking in; your body, mind, and very being simply crave food, and you pretty much lose the ability to stop. With that in mind, is it our duty to try to “help,” “improve,” or “save” our overweight friends and family members simply because we love them and want to see them live longer? Or should we simply love them and leave them be?

Edie’s family supposedly loved her. So much so that her daughter-in-law felt entitled to stalk her from one fast food drive-through to the next; her son took up midnight residence at her kitchen table (to prevent her from succumbing to a bag of chips the night before a surgery); and her daughter pressured her to diet, head for a fat farm, or go in for a stomach staple. Edie’s habits were admittedly self-destructive (and disgusting, to be sure), but how utterly presumptuous, intrusive, and disrespectful were her family members’ actions—however “well-meaning” they might otherwise be. Nobody can undertake a monumental personal change without internal motivation. It all boils down to us, as individuals. We have to want to change; no one else can force it upon us; wheedle or cajole it from us; nag, blackmail, bribe, or barrage us to “improve” ourselves—such attempts only make both parties miserable. Without a genuine desire to sacrifice our comfortable, self-destructive patterns in favor of personal growth, we inevitably remain stuck.

Edie’s husband Richard was scorned for leaving his ill, obese wife in her “hour of need.” But he could not stand to look at her another minute, so what was he supposed to do? Would he really have done her any favor by staying? Part of me understood perfectly why he needed to “save himself” and could hardly fault him for it. My only issue with Middlestein is his cowardice: If he ever loved his wife at all, he should have stood up to her sooner, acted like a man, and issued a fair warning well before ending their relationship. Whether or not such an ultimatum would have been effective or the least bit helpful, didn't Edie deserve the courtesy of a “wake-up call” from her life partner so she could consider how far she was willing to go to put the brakes on her addiction and save her marriage?

I think Kenneth (the Chinese chef) got it right. He loved Edie for who she was, fat and all. He lovingly cooked for her—foods that she enjoyed eating. He spiced them with things he thought would “turn her on” or make her healthy (in the hope that it would stop her craving so much junk and processed food). But he got incredible joy from being around Edie regardless, and the feeling was mutual. Some might label Kenneth an “enabler,” but his approach to Edie and his feelings for her were more life-affirming than her own family’s. I think if she had any shot at getting healthy, it would have happened because she felt cherished and desired by him, and not as a result of being harassed by her family. That only fuels the cycle of self-loathing addictive behavior. Just because Edie was obese did not mean she didn’t deserve to be loved and accepted like anyone else. Isn’t this all any of us craves as a human being?

Let us not forget, just as some people are genetically predisposed to alcoholism or drug abuse, some of us are prone to overeating and becoming fat. I have known many thin people who eat crap, don’t exercise, and take their health completely for granted. If they develop health problems as a result of their poor habits, they aren’t condemned like heavy people, simply because they happen to be slender by stroke of genetic luck. For many others (like me), it takes a whole lot of discipline, time, effort, and commitment to keep those excess pounds at bay. Even with my daily struggle to stay mindful about food and my unfailing commitment to exercising each day, the best I can manage is to remain "acceptably plump" and not balloon up and sail away like Harry Potter's Aunt Marge at the dinner table.

For me, the “take-away” message from The Middlesteins is this: We each choose to live however we do. We each do the things we think will bring us comfort—however misguided our choices may be. At the end of the day, each of us has to decide whether we can accept a particular type of addict in our "inner circle" and love them exactly the way they are—whether they be smokers, drinkers, workaholics, shopaholics, shoplifters, recreational drug users, overeaters, or those seemingly “perfect” self-righteous folks who are just as addicted to bragging, preaching, showing off, and/or controlling others. It is indeed painful to watch someone we love destroy herself through substance abuse (whether that substance be food or something else), because self-destructive behavior can and does bring down everyone in the abuser's midst. Nevertheless, we should not judge one type of addict (i.e., obese people) any more harshly than another simply because they don’t have the luxury of hiding their addiction behind a slender body or (like drinkers, spenders, etc.) disguising it with seemingly socially-acceptable behaviors. Let's each deal with our own prickly sensibilities and prejudices before heaping moral judgment on those already in enough emotional pain.


The Light Between Oceans: A Novel
The Light Between Oceans: A Novel
Offered by Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
Price: $12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stark yet picturesque writing and nuanced moral ambiguity make this a great read, May 21, 2015
This is a beautiful and intriguing story, both because of its striking fictional setting (Janus, a small island off the Southwestern coast of Australia between the Indian and Southern Oceans) and the intimate, almost immediate connection drawn between its two main characters (Tom Shelbourne, the lightkeeper, and his wife, Isabel Graysmark).

The plot is a “grabber” from “go”: Ship drifts up to the lighthouse; inside, one of its occupants is dead, and the other is an abandoned two-month-old infant. Tom and Isabel, alone in their own remote world, now must decide what to do. Document the incident and inform the authorities (as methodical, duty-bound Tom would have it)? Or bury the body, keep the baby, and push the boat back into the vast ocean (as Isabel, who lost three newborns of her own, insists)? Grief-stricken Isabel wins out with an overpowering mix of guilt and logic, and they keep the baby to raise as their own. From there, we’ve got Crime and Punishment “lite,” replete with Tom’s inner torment, and later (as Isabel sees it, anyhow) his breach of their marital bond [SPOILER ALERT: he tips off the baby's real mother that her presumed-dead child is still alive].

This story had me hooked with its stark-yet-picturesque writing, nuanced moral ambiguity, and palpable backdrop of shining stars and splashing seas.

My one quibble is this: Near the end, when the poop finally hits the fan and all hell is breaking loose, the story devolves into something of a soap opera. Isabel grows increasingly odious and tiresome with her selfishness and manipulation, whereas Tom becomes stubbornly (and unbelievably) gallant. Moreover, their implausibly crossed wires are beyond frustrating. [SPOILER ALERT: (Tom's sitting in a jail cell, he manages to get a letter to Isabel, and she sticks it in a drawer unread? Really?)] I felt the wind drain from my sails right there, and for the first time, found myself wanting the story to end.

But then, a beautiful, heart-rending ending buoyed me to tears, offering up evocative gems like this one: “I’ve learned the hard way that to have any kind of a future you’ve got to give up hope of ever changing your past.” I took Tom’s advice, forgave the author’s little melodramatic detour, and decided The Light Between Oceans is worthy of five stars. If you like good fiction, this is not to be missed.


So Much for That: A Novel (P.S.)
So Much for That: A Novel (P.S.)
Offered by HarperCollins Publishers
Price: $6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Caustic, Intense and F-ing Brilliant, April 26, 2015
Lionel Shriver is one of a small handful of authors whose work I consistently love—no matter how far one novel might stray from the next. In So Much for That, Shriver takes on midlife malaise, mesothelioma and the medical industry (and make no mistake, U.S. “health care” is all about industry). Her prose is scathing, angry, and unfailingly witty. I can see why certain other reviewers hated this book; it is admittedly depressing. Shriver’s characters are all unlikeable in one way or other, and at times unbelievable, to boot. They serve as mouthpieces for all that is wrong with this country and its overabundance of meaningless diversions, paid or unpaid. But I, for one, laud this author for tackling the nasty underside of our counterfeit, largely-pointless way of life in such a deliciously entertaining manner.

Shriver takes no prisoners. Protagonist Shep is a poster child for the delusional “do-righter” who believes that if you toe the line and follow the rules, your reward will come in the “afterlife”—not in the Heavenly sense, but by having a sufficiently large nest egg to leave one’s mundane woes behind in favor of a simpler existence in some far-flung and less expensive recess of Earth. (I confess—this is my plan, too, albeit right here in California, so this book struck a personal chord.) His friends and coworkers think he’s nuts, and in the end, his wife, Glynis, throws a wrench in this formerly shared goal by developing mesothelioma (that stubborn cancer caused by asbestos).

Glynis is anything but the peaceful, angelic loved one coming to terms with impending death—she’s crass, selfish, dishonest, and abusive toward her well-meaning husband and the few friends and family members who dare to visit her. But her attitude rings more true than trite in a way we usually don’t glimpse in novels. If that weren’t enough for Shep to contend with, there’s his artistic mooch of a sister, his aging, fecally-incontinent father, and a best friend and former employee (Jackson) who is a tiresome boor. Though Jackson is one-dimensional in his rants (in this regard, he reminds me very much of my own brother), the sad thing is that everything he says about everything is true, in particular the medical system. His own daughter, Flicka, is living with familial dysautonomia, or FD—a rare genetic disorder found among Ashkenazi Jews. Flicka is a painful sight—a drooling, stooping, tearless teen with an access “port” in her stomach much like the spout of an orange juice container.

As you can see, this is not a book for the faint of heart; light entertainment it ain’t. So Much for That is more the literary equivalent of being roused by a printed-word defibrillator. Nonetheless, if you can stand 400 or so pages of large and small jolts, the ending, while a bit far-fetched, is a glorious triumph of the little guy. It celebrates the joy to be found in simply managing life and death on one’s own terms.

I don’t usually give books five stars, but this one deserves it. Besides showcasing Shriver’s trademark luminous prose, at its core, So Much for That pays long-overdue homage to certain fundamental truths: the primacy of terminal illness (the fight against which she likens to battling the weather); the impermanence of our Earthly existence (despite our stubborn fairy-tale denials to the contrary); and the exorbitant, torturous and ultimately ineffective medical “weapons” we employ—at astronomical cost—to do nothing more than distract us from the finality and supremacy of death (while conveniently bankrupting its victims in the process). It is a face-slapping wake-up call to those of us fortunate enough to be well, yet audacious enough to complain. For many readers, its message—that suffering and death are inevitable and exempt no one—will be unwelcome and best stuffed under the sofa along with lost change and potato chip crumbs. But for the rest of us, its reminder to live life—now, fully, and genuinely—is a welcome admonishment to appreciate our short time on Earth while we revel in our precious health. Personally, I loved every minute of this ride.


A Place in the World
A Place in the World
by CINDA CRABBE MACKINNON
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.43
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4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable Glimpse into Latin American Life, March 28, 2015
This review is from: A Place in the World (Paperback)
A Place in the World tells the story one woman’s life from the 1960s onward. I would really give it three-and-a-half stars.

First, the positives: The author creates a beautiful setting (she could write for Condé Nast!). She makes the reader feel like we’re on an adventure vacation in the Colombian Andes getting an authentic taste of life on a remote coffee finca located adjacent to the rain forest. While I think the book perhaps could have done with a tad less emphasis on botany, the narrative descriptions do lay the groundwork for a gripping and believable finale. I could feel bugs crawling on my skin; felt my own mounting panic as I envisioned myself in a similar situation to Alicia (the protagonist). I could feel her hunger and disorientation, shared her dread of spending a night alone, lost in darkness. MacKinnon masterfully blurs the lines between one “dimension” and the next—the sort of spiritual melding that occurs in any life-and-death face-off against nature and her mysterious energies. Because of this, Alicia’s last-minute epiphany regarding her companion (Peter) was both touching and convincing. If the story lagged a bit in the middle, the climatic ending should not be missed.

Personally, I found the occasional point-of-view shifts somewhat jarring and confusing—if intentional. Mainly Alicia is telling her story; then, out of the blue, here and there we hear from the father-in-law (Felipe) and I forget who all else—even the dog! That said, it was an inventive (if odd) creative choice, and I admit I rather enjoyed getting inside that mangy old mutt’s head as he added a sweet and enchanting aspect to the story.

Cinda MacKinnon’s experience living in Latin America obviously gave her insight to craft a picturesque backdrop of Colombian life and culture, into which she skillfully wove a multifaceted tale imbued with personal, societal and political shades. All in all, a worthwhile and enjoyable read.


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