Book– One critic described The Other Americans and National Book Award Finalist work as, “the next great American classic.”
Nora, a jazz composer, returns to her small desert town of Mojave, California following the news that her father Driss was killed. She informs Detective Coleman she doesn’t believe his death was an accident. An undocumented witness’s reluctance to come forward causes complications. Maryam, Nora’s mother, still pines for another life, while her sister struggles to keep up the facade of the successful daughter, living the “good” life. Nora’s encounters with former school mates, one a former Iraq War veteran, lead to unexpected consequences.
Written by Laila Lalami in first-person perspectives The Other Americans is a timely, brilliant novel of fiction and mystery, giving depth and voice to characters as diverse as the people of this country. I am kicking myself for not having read this sooner. You will, too.
Book – The Villarcas are tied to Rawblood, their estate in the Devon countryside. If they stay away from it too long, they sicken and die. But if they stay home, they are tormented by her, a curse of the Villarca bloodline, the ghost of a tortured young woman who tortures the residents of Rawblood in turn. At the turn of the twentieth century, young Iris Villarca is determined to find a way out from under the curse. Decades earlier, her father does his best to push his lover away to keep them both safe. In Italy, Iris’s grandmother finds herself strangely drawn to – and repulsed by – a Spanish expatriate. In the end, the curse ties them all together.
The Girl from Rawblood is a classically Gothic novel with all the trimmings: a huge empty house, a ghost, a family curse, a series of mysterious and unread letters. (And, unfortunately, quite a lot of that peculiarly English racism against European foreigners.) Pulling the Gothic all the way into 1918 is a particularly nice touch: while I liked the history of the family, Iris’s story, wrapped up in World War I, was by far the most fascinating. If you like your ghost stories equal parts frightening and heartbreaking, this is the book for you.
Book – Growing up is hard. Growing up in a poor werewolf family is even harder.
Mongrels written by Stephen Graham Jones is the coming of age story of a young nameless narrator. Steeped in werewolf lore this story bares its fangs and sinks it teeth into you. It’s an inventive take on the werewolf that gets under your skin—in a good way. It’s not a simple horror book but a cleverly disguised social commentary on the impoverished American south. The book follows our young protagonist, an orphan raised by his aunt Libby and uncle Darren. The boy grows up hearing wild and at times gruesome tales from his grandfather. Theirs is a family of werewolves; at least that’s what his grandfather has led him to believe. It’s why his family is always on the run, living at the edges of society, outcasts, transients, wandering the south in a beat up trailer with no destination in mind, scouring for loose change to buy hotdogs. Libby and Darren take up odd jobs always trying to stay two steps ahead of the law and those who hunt their kind. His family is as dysfunctional as anyone else’s, and he always feels like an outsider waiting for something to happen. He desperately longs to fit in, convincing himself it’s for all the right reasons, but he hasn’t turned and if he hasn’t turned by his late teens, he never will. He’s close to it, he can feel it, can scent the coppery stench of blood in the air, he just knows it.
While episodic books might not appeal to some, if you enjoy creature books, I urge you to give this book a try. Dark themes abound in each page and I found myself unable and unwilling to put this book down.
Movie – Valentin Bravo (Eugenio Derbez) made a life for himself as a local playboy of sorts in the city of Acapulco, Mexico. Being a playboy has its consequences. One morning, Valentin hears a knock at his door. Julie is standing at the door with a baby, his baby. Valentin, still waking up, is in shock about what is happening. Julie asks for some money to pay the cab and decides to go, leaving Valentin with the baby. This starts one of the most heart-wrenching movies I have seen in a long time.
Valentin travels to Los Angeles with his daughter Maggie. He went there looking for Julie, but instead found a career as a stuntman whiling trying to save Maggie from drowning. He decides to stay in Los Angeles to give Maggie a better life. Valentin and Maggie have a good relationship, she translates for Valentin on set and he will do anything to give her the life she deserves. This includes writing letters pretending to be Maggie’s mom so Maggie does not feel like her mom never loved her. Eventually Julie contacts Valentin so she can see and meet Maggie. Valentin agrees for Maggie’s benefit. This decision will come back to hurt everyone involved.
Instructions Not Included is a good movie and will have you crying by the end. When I mean crying, I do not mean shedding a tear, I mean full out Disney’s Up opening scene crying. This movie was very well done and will have your emotions all over the place by the time it’s done. If you are looking for a bilingual film about family, and father/daughter relationships, you will enjoy this one. If you are not ready for an all-out cry-fest, leave this for when you are.
Book – Ruth and Nat are a couple of teenagers about to age out of the Love of Christ! foster home in upstate New York. Traumatized after her older sister aged out and never returned for her, Nat is the only person Ruth has left in the world. That is, until a mysterious stranger appears at the home and suggests a way out – they can exploit Nat’s purported ability to speak to the dead, and make a living for themselves.
Interwoven with this story is that of Cora, a young woman with a boring job, a new pregnancy, and a boyfriend – a married man she’s been carrying on an affair with – who wants nothing to do with a baby. Before she can decide what to do about anything, her long-lost, much-loved Aunt Ruth turns up at her house in the middle of the night, and Cora finds herself following Ruth on a shoeleather road trip, walking across the countryside to a destination Ruth won’t explain.
I picked up this book entirely based on the title – Mr. Splitfoot was the name the Fox sisters gave the spirit they claimed to be communicating with when they invented seances and Spiritualism in 1848 – and although it wasn’t the story I was expecting, I was totally blown away. Part ghost story, part mystery, partly a story about knowing who your family is and what you can rely on them for, this is going on my list of best books from 2016.
Book – The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs is a highly entertaining light read great to take along to the beach or enjoy while traveling. Tess is an expert at antiques and returning lost treasures to their rightful owners. She is career driven, has a fast-paced life in San Francisco, and is on the verge of being promoted. She has no real family ties; her mother travels extensively and she never knew her father. Tess’ life is about to dramatically change when a handsome banker named Dominic shows up and gives her the news that she has a grandfather, who is hospitalized, and a half-sister, Isabel. Tess also finds out that if her grandfather does not pull through, she and Isabel are heirs to a vast apple orchard in Sonoma Valley. Tess joins her new found family on the estate, learns about her roots and she and Isabel uncover some family secrets, including family involvement in the Danish resistance against the Nazis. While the sisters acquaint themselves with each other Isabel cooks and bakes – her passion. Some recipes are included. Highly recommended for fans of women’s fiction, this book is just the right combination of family, romance, secrets and a little mystery. This is the first book in the Bella Vista Chronicles series. I look forward to reading the second – The Beekeeper’s Ball.