“Next Year in Havana”: Review

In 1958, Cuba is experiencing political unrest.  The Perez sisters, sheltered from the uprising by their social standing, look for opportunities to sneak out of the house.  During one of these outings, nineteen-year-old Elisa meets a man who steals her heart.  He is a revolutionary.  Their forbidden romance heats up as the plots against the government force the current leader to flee.  For their own safety, the Perez family must also escape, leaving their possessions, and secrets behind.

Fast forward to 2017, Miami.  Elisa’s granddaughter is planning a trip to Cuba, under the guise of a travel writer.  She is actually planning to carry out her grandmother’s dying wishes: to leave her ashes in Cuba.  Marisol hopes to learn more about the country of her heritage, encouraged by the romantic stories of her grandmother and great aunts.  Marisol encounters more than she anticipated.

Next Year In Havana, by Chanel Cleeton, is both historical fiction and modern day romance.  It examines the human aspects of political oppression, and offers a glimpse of Cuban life beyond the all-inclusive resorts.

As a reader, I found myself immersed in the descriptions of Cuba, interested in the questions raised by Cleeton’s characters:  Is revolution ever effective?  How does change happen?  What hope do people have in the face of corrupt government?

Next Year In Havana is recommended to lovers of historical fiction, romance, or human interest stories.  It would be a suitable study for book clubs.  The audio version, available through audible.ca is narrated by Kyla Garcia, and Frankie Maria Corzo.




“A Land More Kind Than Home”: Review

Some books hook you right from the beginning and won’t let you go until you’ve drained every last word out of them.  A Land More Kind Than Home is such a novel.

Told through the perspective of three narrators, Wiley Cash’s tale of fanaticism in the south is a coming of age story, a murder mystery, and a study of human character.

Addie Lyle is an old woman with brass roots sensibility.  She hasn’t stepped foot in the church since the first incident, and she has made it her business that the children of Marshall don’t need to see what goes on either.

Jess Hall is at that inquisitive age, and together with his older brother, Stump, and a neighbour boy, they do what boys do – explore outside the permitted boundaries.

The third narrator is the old sheriff, Clem, who understands too well the heartbreak and senselessness of loss.

Fire and brimstone is being taught at the local church, and there are way too many snakes involved.

I listened to the audio version of this book, read by Nick Sullivan, Lorna Raver, and Mark Bramhall.

A Land More Kind Than Home contains scenarios that are frightening, including death scenes.  Sex is referenced, but not explicit.  This would make a good book club selection.

“The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir”: a review

It’s World War II, and the denizens of Chilbury are faced with the loss of their church choir as their men leave to fight for the cause.  Enter Prim, an upbeat teacher, with a fresh outlook, who encourages the women to defy protocols and create their own chorus.

Jennifer Ryan’s novel about the life of those left behind during war, is laced with intrigue, romance, and humour.  The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir illustrates how war brings out the worst and the best in people, and how when a community pulls together, transformation occurs.

The story unfolds via letters and journal entries, introducing many different perspectives.  As is my norm, I listened to the audio version, performed by: Gabrielle Glaister, Laura Kirman, Imogene Wilde, Adjoa Andoh, Tom Clegg, and Mike Grady.

The audio rendition is delightful, and with Ryan’s excellent use of description, I felt as if I was watching, not just listening, to an expert performance.

Very entertaining.

“Half of a Yellow Sun”: Review

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie weaves an intricate tale, with well-developed characters and relationships, and just when the reader wonders where it is all headed, the unthinkable happens.

“Half of a Yellow Sun” is not a symbol I would have recognized before reading Adichie’s work.  Now I know that it is integral to the Biafran war, and the depth of atrocity that accompanied it.

Half of a Yellow Sun has rich storylines, and covers three different perspectives of the war:  Olanna, a woman raised by a man of power; Richard, an Englishman who struggles to find his place; and Ugwu, a man-servant.  Through these three voices, Adichie illustrates the complexities of a society struggling for identity amidst social and political turmoil.

Adichie understands the importance of story, and her work skillfully illustrates that even the most sensitive of issues have many sides.  I have only just finished listening to the audio version of Half of a Yellow Sun, narrated by Zainab Jah, and my mind is reeling with all the underlying implications.  This is definitely a novel I would like to share with a study group.

Adichie won many awards for this novel, first released by Knopf/Anchor is 2006:  Women’s Prize for Fiction, PEN/Open Book, and Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.


Writing “Brush Strokes”

Writing fiction is a stretch for me.  I have experience with technical and instructional writing, poetry, and memoir, but seldom do I venture into the realm of fiction. So, when I signed up for an online writing class, I decided this would be my opportunity to take a risk. (The story referenced here was yesterday’s post:  “Brush Strokes”.)

The prompt for this assignment was to write a story, poem, or essay relating to that which is dormant, such as a plant buried beneath the snow, waiting for the return of spring.  I immediately thought of all the years I didn’t paint, thinking that art and creativity were not my strong suit, and so came up with the character of Kate:  focused on family and career, with little time for self.

The watercolour class is modelled after one I did participate in many years ago (and greatly enjoyed).  I tried to put myself in Kate’s shoes, knowing that she is more practical minded and less inclined to the mystical view of life.  In order to capture her response, I did the actual painting exercise myself, as Kate, and jotted down her response to each stage.

In the first version of the story, I squared off Kate and the teacher, creating a tension between the two characters and representing the teacher as someone Kate could not relate to.  In review of the piece, I felt that the emphasis was on the wrong elements of the story.   Something was missing.

In the next version, I decided to develop Laurel’s role. Laurel, being a close friend, served the purpose of helping to establish Kate’s character.  She also allowed for the possibility of Kate’s emergence by the very fact that her perspective is different and respectful of Kate’s.  As a mediator between Kate and the teacher, Laurel’s character helped tone down the tension, but the piece still seemed wrong somehow.

So, for the final writing, I cut back the role of the teacher, eliminated her description and name, and gave her a more functional part in the piece.  With Laurel as a supporting character, Kate’s transformation took hold within the allotted two-page maximum.

Writing “Brush Strokes” felt like awakening something dormant in myself.  Taking the risk to write outside my comfort zone was freeing.  I discovered that borrowing from truth to create fiction is a valid form of creativity.   Rewriting the piece by changing up the supporting characters also helped me understand the dynamics that people play in a story.

So, I challenge you, if you’ve made it this far, to write a story about something that lies dormant.  Write it once, change up the characters and try it again, until you’ve developed a product that you’re satisfied with.  Drop me a link here; I’d love to read your work.  I’d also love to hear about your process.

“One Step Too Far” Twisty

51-2yA7ykeL._AA300_One Step Too Far is a captivating story of one woman’s decision to walk away from her life and begin anew.   Author Tina Seskis weaves an intricate story of love, unbearable pain, and redemption.

As usual, I listened to the audio version expertly narrated by Lucy Gaskell and Nigel Pilkington, which helped delineate between passages as the storyline does jump between present and past as well as alternating characters.

Emily Coleman walks away from her picture perfect life and becomes Cat Brown, a woman whose new life bears no resemblance to the former lawyer and mother of one who lived in a quaint cottage with her loving husband.

As Kat’s story unfolds, so do the cracks in Emily’s life, and then tragedy strikes again causing both worlds to collide.

Be prepared to stay awake all night.

Love “Swimming Lessons”!

61UIzv-x7fL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_What an incredible story!  Claire Fuller creates characters who are flawed and yet sympathetic.  Meet Gil, an aging writer and incorrigible Lothario, who sudden obsession with books leads his daughters to be concerned about his state of mind.  Meet Ingrid, his wife who has been missing for eleven years, presumed dead, and whose voice haunts Gil through letters she had written, but didn’t send, just prior to her disappearance.

Swimming Lessons is an examination of a marriage gone awry, and the legacy it leaves for the offspring. As Gil faces his mortality, his daughters are forced to confront the demons left by their mother’s mysterious absence.

The question running through everyone’s mind (readers included) is:  What happened to Ingrid?  Has Fuller created the perfect revenge story, or is this an expose of the tragic foibles of marriage?  Perhaps both.  Definitely read for yourself to find out.