Forging New Relationships and Redefining Home is a Difficult Road that Leads to Positive Change in This is Home by Lisa Duffy

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This is Home is a emotional story of Libby, a motherless teenage girl trying to create and define her home along with Quinn, a military wife who feels abandoned and is searching for belonging. The characters are searching for connection and the family they really want is not always an option.

Teenage Libby lives with her father, Brent, who has returned from the military to raise her.  Her mother left when she was very young, came back in time to fight and lose her battle with cancer, leaving the father and daughter to face the world without her.  Brent’s sisters live in the apartment upstairs and are on hand to take care or Libby when he is at work.

Quinn’s husband, John returned from the military with PTSD and then abruptly goes missing, so, now all alone, she moves in to the first floor apartment of Brent’s house to figure out her life.  Brent was John’s platoon leader in Iraq and he feels responsible for helping Quinn out.  Initially, Libby is not happy with the intrusion of a stranger in her house and in her life, but she and Quinn, both struggling with abandonment and redefining home, develop a friendship.

Lisa Duffy’s characters are imperfect and believable – they all are in search of something and they also offer comfort, camaraderie and support to each other, making this a book I didn’t want to end.  The author touches on PTSD, pregnancy, drugs and alcohol, and coming of age – real life problems and challenges that are relatable.  I enjoyed all the relationships that were forged, the growth each character experienced, and I was rooting for them all! I highly recommend This is Home as well as Lisa Duffy’s first book, The Salt House.

Q & A with Lisa Duffy

Do you have experience with ptsd and the military and how much research did you do for this book?

One of the reasons I wanted to write about this subject was my lack of personal experience with the military. When my oldest daughter graduated high school, a number of her classmates joined the military, some in potential combat positions, and it raised so many questions for me. What makes someone choose this as a future? How do the loved ones staying behind feel about it? What sort of sacrifices and challenge arise when someone deploys on a tour and then returns to civilian life? As a writer, this is the material I always want to explore. The things that pique my curiosity. My research started with reading a lot of memoir and fiction. Then watching a lot of documentaries on the subject. I have several friends in the military and they put me in touch with people who were willing to talk about their experience and answer any questions that came up as I wrote the book. 

Dogs can certainly bring out the best in people. Why did you decide to include Rooster as a character? 

A lot of things that come to life in a book aren’t really decisions. When I started writing the character of Libby, she had a dog. It wasn’t really a conscious decision that I made, more of a feeling that this family would be a family who owned a dog. So…Rooster Cogburn appeared. And he was immediately this big, lazy beast. Maybe because we’ve always had big, lazy labs and they’ve always been such a huge part of our family. Rooster was a lot of fun to write. I miss spending my days with him. 

None of the characters had a stable upbringing or current adult family life that felt solid yet they were all in pursuit of normalcy. What is the significance of the title This is Home? 

The title comes from a moment in the end of the first chapter when Libby is wishing they could move out of the noisy, crowded triple-decker and back to their old home—the one she’s always known. But she doesn’t bother talking about it with her father. She doesn’t ask him to move back home because she knows that his answer will be that this is home, even though it doesn’t feel like it to her. It’s the beginning of her journey to redefine home, and what it means to her. 

What have you read lately that you recommend?

I loved Sandi Ward’s Something Worth Saving, Devin Murphy’s Tiny Americans and Elise Hooper’s Learning To See. All second books that hit shelves this year from authors I met in an online debut group for The Salt House. One of the great things about this author gig is finding new favorite writers. I’m waiting eagerly for the third novels from all of these folks. 

What is on your nightstand to be read next?

I’ve been looking forward to diving into Michelle Obama’s memoir. I also have a second draft of a friend’s novel-to-be waiting on my Kindle. And a stack of novels on my bedside table that is growing and growing. I’m not doing a lot of reading right now because I’m close to finishing the first draft of my third novel, and I find that at night, I just want to sit and clear my head. But when I’m done with the draft, I’ll be ready to dig in to other stories. 

What are you working on now?

I’m working on my third novel, releasing from Atria next summer, about class, identity and betrayal colliding when a young girl is orphaned in a close-knit island community off the coast of New England. 

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Lisa Duffy is the author of This is Home and The Salt House, named by Real Simple as a Best Book of the Month upon its June release, as well as one of Bustle’s Best Debut Novels by Women in 2017, a She Reads Book Club selection and Refinery 29’s Best Beach Reads of 2017.
Lisa received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts. Her short fiction was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and her writing can be found in numerous publications, including Writer’s Digest. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and three children.

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How much would you sacrifice to achieve the American Dream?

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Review of The Farm and Q & A with Joanne Ramos

What could be better than living on sprawling beautiful property in the country, healthy food being served to you, fresh air and exercise, massages and pampering, and a generous, life changing paycheck, while all your needs are being met?  The catch…you must stay on the premises and be separated from your family and friends for nine months while you are pregnant with a baby that doesn’t belong to you.

In this stunning debut novel, The Farm, female-centric and slightly dystopian (will be appealing to fans of  The Handmaid’s Tale), author Joanne Ramos creates Golden Oaks, a secluded, country club atmosphere in Hudson Valley, NY where mostly foreign women are bearing children for elite clients who are not able to get pregnant or who choose not to.

Jane, a young, single Filipina mom with an infant, no husband and no secure place to live, decides to leave her own baby with her cousin, Ate, and take a job at Golden Oaks, where she will make enough money to better her life. She is chosen to be a Host, living in a luxury house in the middle of the countryside where her only job is to rest and keep the baby inside her healthy.  Nine months is a long time to be separated from your family and as time goes on, Jane starts to question the value of that big paycheck versus her sacrifices associated with being away. She is worried about her young daughter and her cousin, and is unsure the money alone is an adequate tradeoff for the painful separation and the missing of milestones.

Joanne Ramos takes a look at class status; what poor women will give up to ultimately improve their lives, and what wealthy women give up to avoid inconvenience. How much is worth sacrificing for the American Dream? This is a thought provoking, emotionally charged novel I highly recommend!  PREORDER TODAY– available May 7, 2019.

The Farm is part of the Bedside Reading program where books are placed on the nightstand at 5 star, luxury and boutique hotels.

Goodreads Summary

Q & A With Joanne Ramos

Q: How did you come up with the idea for a novel centered on a surrogacy farm and do you know anyone that ever worked at one?

A.  When I finally dared to commit to writing a book, a childhood dream I’d deferred for decades, I was already forty. Certain ideas had obsessed me for much of my life but finding a way into them—finding the right story to contain them and, also, allow them room to breathe—was difficult. I spent well over a year writing short stories, flash-fiction pieces and “first chapters” of stillborn novels. It was an exercise in persistence and, also, faith. Then one day, when reading my husband’s Wall Street Journal, I happened upon a snippet of an article about a surrogacy facility in India. The what ifs began swirling in my mind almost immediately, and The Farm began to take shape.   

Q: In this country do you see Filipina women experiencing economic and social challenges and in general struggling more than white women?  And if so, in what way?

A.  I don’t think you can really generalize in this way. I know Filipinas who struggle and those who lead cushy lives, and the same goes for white women. I think new immigrants to this country—and they come in all races and colors—do face challenges that ensconced Americans do not. I think domestic workers occupy a strange netherworld where they work in the intimacy of someone’s home and are often hailed as “part of the family”—but of course, they aren’t. That’s a difficult line to balance every day, and by and large, domestic workers don’t enjoy the protections that other workers in this country do. And of course, racism exists—here and everywhere.

Q: In The Farm we see women of different social classes and even in the same class using each other to get ahead. With the #MeToo movement, it generally seems as if most women are outwardly supporting all women across dividing lines.  Do you think the situation in your novel is closer to reality?  Do you believe women stand by their children first, then other women second? 

A.  Women, like men, have conflicting needs, desires and loyalties which they try their best to balance. Sometimes they need to compromise; some compromises are betrayals, depending on which side you sit on. Even within the #MeToo movement you see divisions—women who feel #MeToo has gone too far, women who feel it has not gone far enough, women who can relate and women who can’t, women who are changing their minds because of it.

Q: The influence men have on the women in The Farm seems nonexistent.  Why did you decide not to include men in the storyline? 

A.  I didn’t exclude men from The Farm consciously. The book started with Jane and Ate. Their voices came first. All the caregivers I happen to know well are women, and almost all of them are raising their children on their own—the fathers are absent. So, in this way, Jane and Ate’s stories reflect the reality I know. Of course, the Hosts are women, and it made sense to me that the person running Golden Oaks would be a woman. The decision was not one made “on-high”, but an organic development.

Q: Female inequality is a subject that is underlying throughout your novel. But the women considered to be the lowest on the totem pole also have the greatest power, the ability to bear a child.  You could have gone a different way in the novel, giving the pregnant women the upper hand.  Why choose to create a world that diminishes the unique and valuable aspect of womanhood?

A.  I don’t think that motherhood or pregnancy is diminished in The Farm at all! In fact, they are central to the book. The reality is, though, that the power dynamics of the world are not built around motherhood and pregnancy. In fact, for most of history, and in many parts of the world still, the opposite is true.

Q: How long did it take you to write this novel?  

A.  If you count the year and a half when I wrote in the dark, trying unsuccessfully to find a way “into” the themes that mattered to me, it took around five years. Once I came upon the idea of setting the action in a luxury surrogacy facility, the book took three and a half years to write and edit.

Q: What are you working on now?

A.  I have some seedlings of ideas for a second book, but nothing coherent enough to discuss.

Q: What are the last three great books you read and what is on your night stand now?

The History of Love, Nicole Krauss

Essential Essays, Adrienne Rich

Hold Still, Sally Mann

On my nightstand: Forest Dark, Nicole Krauss; Citizen: an American Lyric, Claudia Rankine; The Order of Time, Carlo Rovelli; Saltwater, Jessica Andrews

More information about surrogacy below.

Celebrities who have used surrogacy to grow their family

Surrogacy Farms in India

Surrogacy Farms in Ukraine

About the Author:

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Joanne Ramos was born in the Philippines and moved to Wisconsin when she was six.  She graduated with a BA from Princeton University.  After working in investment banking and private-equity investing for several years, she wrote for The Economist as a staff writer.  She lives in New York City with her husband and three children.  The Farm is her first novel.

Insightful Q and A with author Bianca Marais – includes inspirational photos for her summer release of If You want to Make God Laugh

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My Review:

I loved the author’s debut, Hum if you Don’t Know the Words, and feel the same about this wonderful upcoming novel out this summer.  The beauty and strength of the South African women will stick with you…PREORDER your copy today!

If You Want to Make God Laugh is the fast moving and compelling story of three ladies, Zodwa, Ruth and Delilah, set in South Africa.  Easy to read chapters alternate points of view:

Zodwa is young girl, raped, pregnant, living in a squatter camp and ashamed of her romantic feelings of infatuation with her close girl friend.  When her baby is born, she was taken from her and later the same day her mother dies, leaving her alone, desperate and feeling lost.

Delilah was raped when she was a teenager and was forces to leave her child at the convent she was excommunicated from due to her pregnancy.  She spent her years repenting while working at an orphanage, alone and lost.

After a career of stripping and feeling unhappy in her relationship, Delilah’s older sister, Ruth left her husband feeling sad and regretful for never being able to have a child.  Ruth and Delilah hadn’t spoken to each other since they were young.

The estranged sisters meet at their parent’s empty house, Ruth intending to sell it and Delilah hoping to live there.  Tension runs high between the siblings, but after a newborn black baby was left on the doorstop, Ruth realizes her calling is to adopt this child and give him the life he deserves.  Delilah is not in agreement and so much pain rises to the surface due to the past.  As the sisters work to break down walls and understand each other’s emotions, they are faced with prejudice and harassment from the neighbors.  The sisters decide to secure the house and hire a live in maid to help with the baby.

If You Want to Make God Laugh is a masterfully written emotional journey of three women where everyone is either running to or from something as they try to find peace and understand in their calling.  It is a testament to the incredible strength women have and what lengths mothers will go to to protect and care for their children.

Q and A with author Bianca Marais

How did you come up with the title If You Want to Make God Laugh?  The words appear once in the text – do you write the book first and then choose the title out of the text or do you fit in the words of the title after the book is written?  Was this the same process for Hum?

HUM was originally going to be called ‘It Aint Over Till the Fat Lady Sings’ because I envisioned Mama Fatty, the shebeen queen of Soweto, singing at the end. But that changed during the writing of the book when Robin’s aunt Edith tells her to hum if she doesn’t know the words to a hymn at her parents’ funeral. That line stayed with me because it was such a great metaphor for what the characters were going through.

With LAUGH, the title stuck from the beginning because of that saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans” which really sums up what all three of these women are going through. It’s always a thrill for me to write the title into the book because I love discovering the title when I’m reading a novel.

It comes clear while reading the novel that for your characters, having ideas and making plans for the future have minimal impact on how things turn out.  Do you believe in fate?  How much control do you think we have of our future?

Oh wow, this is a tough question. 

I think we have a lot of control over our lives in that the decisions we make today will influence the way things play out for us down the line. Work hard and you’ll generally reap the benefits. Be a kind person and it will definitely have a knock-on effect in both your life and in the lives of others. Take care of your health and you’ll live longer than if you treated your body like a garbage can.

But there are definitely things in life that we can’t possibly see coming: accidents, illnesses, bad luck. And this is the part that’s tough for me as an A-type Capricorn to accept: that there are certain things in our lives that are completely beyond our control. And that we can be good people and do good things, and we can plan and save and do everything right and still have tragedy strike. But even when the unimaginable happens, we then still have agency in terms of how we move forward and how we handle that situation which is what the women in my story show: how to keep going when the worst has happened.

In terms of believing in fate: it’s hard not to believe that some things are fated because they seem so improbable and yet they happen regardless. I want to believe in fate and that some things are meant to be. 

AIDS was an epidemic in South Africa at the time of the story and in it, the white people seemed to put blame and shame on the black women and children…what about the black men?  Did we just not see it in the story because the black men did not infiltrate the white people’s world in the same way that black women maids and housekeepers did?  

Black families were torn apart during apartheid with most black men being forced to work in gold mines and black women having to work as maids in the city. Husbands and wives got separated from their children and lived miles and miles apart from one another, often only seeing one another once a year. This led to the disintegration of the black family and allowed the perfect conditions for the spreading the HIV virus. Also, many black men refused to wear condoms despite having multiple sexual partners which put women at greater risk. 

Since most of the black men worked in gold mines or as laborers, they weren’t a part of white people’s lives like black women were. These were the women caring for white people’s children, living in their homes and being a huge part of their daily existence. When they began to get sick, white people were forced to take notice of the epidemic and focused that attention on the people who were closest to them and therefore at most risk of passing the virus onto them. 

The saying Blood is Thicker Than Water means relationships built through choices will never be as strong as family bonds.  The bonds your characters have seem to support this theory; Delilah and Ruth slowly reconcile through the course of the book (so skillfully written, I might add, that at first they were so at odds, and without realizing it, little by little they developed a wonderful, supportive relationship right before our eyes), Zodwa and Mandla felt connected the moment they met, Delilah and Daniel were drawn together virtually although they never met.  How do you feel about this?

Family bonds are incredibly strong in the story in all the ways you mentioned but I also believe that friendships and the relationships we choose can be just as strong if not stronger. I believe that it’s hardship and struggle that truly puts a relationship to the test, and it’s in overcoming adversity that true bonds are forged whether they’re familial or of another nature. Something I find fascinating is that often the people who are meant to love us most are the ones who can hurt us the deepest which we see playing out with Ruth and Delilah. For me, the important thing is choice. Choosing to work on a relationship and to be there for someone through the difficulties, and choosing to have them in your life. 

How did you come up with the rustic home environment for Zodwa?

A lot of Zodwa’s experience in the squatter camp was inspired by my ten years of volunteering in squatter camps in Soweto and the rest of Johannesburg. Here are some photos from that time.

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It was a joy to see Beauty and Robin from Hum weaved into this story…did you start this new book with them in mind with the story growing out of them or did you add them in after?

I started writing the sequel to HUM which I never got to finish, and so it’s always been very clear in my mind what Robin and Beauty were doing in the 90s. When I started writing this book, I very much wanted to incorporate their stories in this one but in an organic way so that if readers hadn’t read HUM, they wouldn’t find Robin and Beauty’s presence strange. It was lovely to get to spend time with them again and to give HUM readers a glimpse into their futures.

All of your characters have lost so much.  They are all searching for something…Ruth wants to fulfill her lifelong dream to be a mother, Delilah wants to connect with Daniel, Leleti wanted to find her son, Zodwa wants to be a mother to Mandla…they also have secrets from suicide attempts, to a secret child to sexual orientation.  These women are so well developed with a past, present and hopes for the future; do you have a formula you use or a certain process to create them?

Thank you. That’s a wonderful compliment!

I don’t have a formula, per se. I always start with characters. They come to me before the plot or the storyline comes to me. I see these characters as real people who are struggling with something and that then forms the basis of the story. I write to get to know them better and by the end of the book, I always know so much more about my characters than what finds its way onto the page. In that way, they become real to me. If I’m not suffering and laughing and crying with them while I write, then I’m not connected to them and how can I expect my reader to be? 

If this were to become a movie, who would you want to play the main characters?  

When I write, I often picture characters as actors or people I know, etc. They were pictured as follows for LAUGH though they obviously couldn’t all play the characters now:

Ruth: Debbie Reynolds 

Delilah: Dame Judie Dench

Zodwa: Lupita Nyong’o

Riaan: James Brolin 

Vince: John Goodman

Leleti: Lupita Nyong’o’s mother, Dorothy Nyong’o

Thembeka: A young Leleti Khumalo (a South African actress)

Here is what my vision board looked like while writing LAUGH:

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What are you working on next?

In a complete change of genre for me, I’m working on a psychological thriller. I thought I’d try my writing chops at murder, sex and mayhem. I’m having a lot of fun! LOL. 

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Bianca Marais holds a Certificate in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies.

Before turning to writing, she started a corporate training company and volunteered with Cotlands, where she assisted care workers in Soweto with providing aid for HIV/AIDS orphans and their caregivers.

Originally from South Africa, she now resides in Toronto with her husband and three pets (Muggle, Mrs Norris and Wombat). Yes, she is a huge Harry Potter fan. And also isn’t at all uncomfortable talking about herself in the third person.

 

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

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My Review:

The Rules Do Not Apply is a well written memoir about real life, disappointments, successes, grief and joy.  Ariel Levy has a compulsion for adventure, drawn to  untraditional relationships and the need to become “the kind of woman who is free to do whatever she chooses.”  She was a writer, following stories of powerful women around the world, and during this time she also experienced much drama and trauma.

At 5 months pregnant Ariel agreed to take a business trip to Mongolia, a choice she later regrets.  “When I got on the plane to Mongolia, I was pregnant, living with my spouse, moving to a lovely apartment and financially insulated by a wealthy man.  A month later, none of that was true.  Instead, i was thirty-eight, childless, alone, emotionally and monetarily unprepared to be a single mother.”  Grief and sadness expressed so eloquently in this memoir yet Ariel Levy writes with a sense of hope and trust in nature.  Powerful and heartbreaking, this honest memoir is infused with humor and I highly recommend it.

Goodreads summary

 

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About the Author:

Ariel Levy (born October 17, 1974) is a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine and author of the book Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Vogue, Slate, Men’s Journal and Blender. Levy was named one of the “Forty Under 40” most influential out individuals in the June/July 2009 issue of The Advocate.

Levy was raised in Larchmont, New York, and attended Wesleyan University in the 1990s. She says that her experiences at Wesleyan, which had “co-ed showers, on principle”, strongly influenced her views regarding modern sexuality. After graduating from Wesleyan, she was briefly employed by Planned Parenthood, but claims that she was fired because she is “an extremely poor typist”. She was hired by New York magazine shortly thereafter.

At The New Yorker magazine, where Levy has been a staff writer since 2008, she has written profiles of Cindy McCain and Marc Jacobs. At New York magazine, where Levy was a contributing editor for 12 years, she wrote about John Waters, Donatella Versace, the writer George Trow, the feminist Andrea Dworkin, the artists Ryan McGinley and Dash Snow, Al Franken, Clay Aiken, Maureen Dowd, and Jude Law. Levy has explored issues regarding American drug use, gender roles, lesbian culture, and the popularity of U.S. pop culture staples such as Sex and the City and Gwen Stefani. Some of these articles allude to Levy’s personal thoughts on the status of modern feminism.

Levy criticized the pornographic video series Girls Gone Wild after she followed its camera crew for three days, interviewed both the makers of the series and the women who appeared on the videos, and commented on the series’ concept and the debauchery she was witnessing. Many of the young women Levy spoke with believed that bawdy and liberated were synonymous.

Levy’s experiences amid Girls Gone Wild appear again in Female Chauvinist Pigs, in which she attempts to explain “why young women today are embracing raunchy aspects of our culture that would likely have caused their feminist foremothers to vomit.” In today’s culture, Levy writes, the idea of a woman participating in a wet T-shirt contest or being comfortable watching explicit pornography has become a symbol of strength; she says that she was surprised at how many people, both men and women, working for programs such as Girls Gone Wild told her that this new “raunch” culture marked not the downfall of feminism but its triumph, but Levy was unconvinced.

Levy’s work is anthologized in The Best American Essays of 2008, New York Stories, and 30 Ways of Looking at Hillary.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

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My Review:

In Little Fires Everywhere, Author Celeste Ng skillfully weaves together two unlikely families as they hide secrets to pursue a good life.  Elena Richardson, born and bred in Shaker Heights,  is a buttoned up, mother of four.  The relationships she has with her husband and children seem typical and normal, yet, as she is continually trying to do the right thing, she struggles with her own expressions and tendencies and unknowingly distances herself from her family.  Free spirited, single mother, artist, Mia Warren and her obedient teenage daughter, Pearl, move to town and quickly become intertwined in the lives of the Richardsons. For Pearl, the Richardsons represent a typical, happy family; a family she would love to be a part of.  For the Richardson kids, Mia is the fun mom, the person to trust, the one who encourages, supports and speaks the truth.

Mia and Elena are conflicted within themselves and each other; one is hiding the secret in her past, yet is living freely and authentically and the other is pursuing the truth, yet is living in a self created cage and holding back.  Their relationship is complex; one would think mothers support other mothers yet not all mothers are created equal, and this is an interesting theme in the book.  Mother daughter relationships is another reoccurring focus as we see how Elena’s daughters are drawn to Mia and how Pearl wants to spend her time at Elena’s house.  When the Richardson’s family friend’s adoption debacle arises, there is a divide in who supports who, and what a mother’s rights are.

Celeste Ng writes a beautiful story using subtle touches to enhance her words.  Along with the incendiary descriptions throughout, she uses the name Mrs. Richardson rather than first name, Elena, allowing the reader to feel distant. I enjoyed the way Mia expresses herself, I felt I could see inside her soul.  Flawed yet beloved, Mia allowed each character to become more fully developed and live more honestly and truthfully.  She was able to see everyone for who they really were and appreciate them at face value without judgement – just like her art, which portrayed what she saw with beauty and honestly, each photograph a composition which represented each subject’s powerful essence.  On the other hand, Elena stood for what she believed what right, yet, to me, she seemed trapped.

In my opinion, at first look, Mia and Pearl were unlucky and the Richardsons had it all, but upon closer examination, the mother and daughter lived more authentically and had a much clearer grip on who they were.  Finally, each character made a decision that impacted everyones else’s lives, culminating in a devastating, fiery end.

Little Fires Everywhere was the bookclub choice this month and it provided fantastic conversation and plenty of disagreement amongst us.  I loved the story and highly recommend it along with Celeste Ng’s first book, Everything I Never Told You.

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Little Fires Everywhere book discussion, holiday party and grab bag!

As Seen in Goodreads:

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned — from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren — an enigmatic artist and single mother — who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

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About the Author:

Celeste Ng is the author of the novel Everything I Never Told You, which was a New York Times bestseller, a New York Times Notable Book of 2014, Amazon’s #1 Best Book of 2014, and named a best book of the year by over a dozen publications. Everything I Never Told You was also the winner of the Massachusetts Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, the ALA’s Alex Award, and the Medici Book Club Prize, and was a finalist for numerous awards, including the Ohioana Award, the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award, and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award.

Celeste grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio, in a family of scientists. Celeste attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan), where she won the Hopwood Award. Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, the Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize.

Currently, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, was published by Penguin Press in fall 2017.

The Unexpected Daughter by Sheryl Parbhoo

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As stated in Goodreads:

Three people’s lives intersect in a tumultuous yet redeeming way that none of them could have ever predicted. Jenny is a young professional from the South with an upbringing she wants to forget. She meets Roshan, an Indian immigrant who has moved to the United States with his mother, Esha, to escape family ghosts. With strong cultural tradition, Esha has devoted her entire life to her only child, both for his own good and for her personal protection from a painful past. Roshan understands his role as his mother’s refuge, and from an early age, he commits himself to caring for her. But when Jenny and Roshan embark on a forbidden, intercultural relationship, all three get tangled into an inseparable web—betrayal, violence, and shame—leaving them forced to make choices about love and family they never wanted to make while finding peace where they never expected to look.

 

My Comments:

I loved this story, enjoyed following each character as they fought their own personal battles and learned a lot about Indian culture and tradition along the way!  Roshan and Jenny have a unique friendship that grows into more but they resist the temptation to commit, he due to his Indian background, customs and parental influences, and she due to her fear of abandonment, and her difficult upbringing surrounded by poverty and addiction.  After fighting the attraction, going their separate ways and living their lives apart for a decade, they come together and are faced with the same obstacles and more.  As author Sheryl Parbhoo shows us in The Unexpected Daughter, it is impossible to escape our formative years, good or bad; it is a part of who we are and how we live in this world.  What we can do is make good decisions for ourselves, embrace opportunities, live authentically and love with an open heart.

One of my favorite types of books is a story of immigration, assimilation and the mixing of cultures.  The Unexpected Daughter delivers all of that so well as the backdrop with a rollercoaster ride of a story of a modern multicultural family as they come to terms with their past and grow together, navigating love, loyalty, addiction, ambition, death, birth and celebration….Life.    A wonderful debut!

Order on AMAZON today!

 

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Sheryl Parbhoo is an author, blogger, educator, and mother of five. A native southerner, her interest in the intricacies of human culture led to a BA in Anthropology from the University of Memphis. Her longing for the spice of life culminated when she married her high school sweetheart, a South African Indian immigrant, and became a stay-at-home mom to their five children for over 20 years. After diligent, dedicated PTA and Room Mom duties, she earned a BS in Education from Kennesaw State University, becoming an ESOL teacher, focusing on immigrant students from Mexico and Guatemala.

Sheryl is known worldwide for her blog, Southern Life Indian Wife, where for four years she has shared stories from her spicy masala/southern cornbread way of life raising her large multicultural family and navigating the quirks of Southern and Indian in-law relationships. These, along with the responses received from readers, are the real-life inspirations for her novel, The Unexpected Daughter.

On sherylparbhoo.com, Sheryl shares her love of writing and personal experiences as a writer. She has been a featured contributor for Masalamommas.com, Twins Magazine, among others. She and her family’s blended cultural traditions have been highlighted on PBSNewshour.com, as well as on various online sites.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

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As stated in Goodreads:

Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan.

So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.

 

My Comments:

Pachinko is just the kind of book I love.  It starts in Korea in the early 1900s with Hoonie, a young man with a cleft palate and a twisted foot.  Despite his deformities he marries and his wife gives birth to a daughter, Sunja.  When Sunja is a young teenager she makes some bad choices and ends up pregnant.  The man who is to be the father is already married, and Sunja is ashamed of her mistake; but proud and determined she refuses to be his mistress.  A single, kind pastor, sickly as a child and unable to find a wife, offers to marry her and bring her to Japan to start a life together.

Author Min Jin Lee takes us through the World Wars, the painful suffering and poverty of the Koreans in Japan, and the small victories of these family members.  We become immersed in complex relationships, quests for education, financial success, faith and identity, nationality controversies, the shady Pachinko business, and organized crime. The strength of women is exemplified in many of the characters as well as the challenges both men and women faced due to the culture, tradition and society.

The story concludes in 1989 in Tokyo following the life of Solomon, Sunja’s grandson, Hoonie’s great grandson.  The incredible generational saga is told with great description and background information about Korean-Japanese relationships, culture and class.  For me it was not an emotional rollercoaster tear jerker, but a transportation in time where I was absorbed in Korean and Japanese culture; I was captivated, shocked at times and engrossed for all 485 pages.  I was unaware of the discrimination and prejudice Koreans felt in Japan and how the laws disallowed Koreans born in Japan to be considered Japanese citizens and therefore considered foreigners.  It’s a huge bonus when a book gives me a reason to do additional research…this well written novel was a pleasure to read; from the multi facetted, complex and expressive characters to the rich and unsettling history of Koreans and Japanese, I couldn’t put it down and I  learned a lot too!

Order your copy of Pachinko at AMAZON today.

 

 

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Min Jin Lee went to Yale College where she was awarded both the Henry Wright Prize for Nonfiction and the James Ashmun Veech Prize for Fiction. She then attended law school at Georgetown University and worked as a lawyer for several years in New York prior to writing full time.

As stated on the book jacket:

Min Jin Lee’s debut novel, Free Food For Millionaires, was one of the “Top 10 Novels of the Year” for the Times (London), NPR’s Fresh Air, and USA Today.  Her short fiction has been featured on NPR’s Selected Shorts.  Her writings have appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, Times (London), Vogue, Travel + Leisure, Wall Street Journal, New York Times Magazine, and Food & Wine.  Her essays and literary criticism have been anthologized widely.  She served as a columnist for the Chosun Ilbo, the leading paper of South Korea.  She lives in New York with her family.

Before the Rain Falls by Camille Di Maio

 

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As stated in Goodreads:

After serving seventy years in prison for the murder of her sister, Eula, Della Lee has finally returned home to the Texas town of Puerto Pesar. She’s free from confinement—and ready to tell her secrets before it’s too late.

She finds a willing audience in journalist Mick Anders, who is reeling after his suspension from a Boston newspaper and in town, reluctantly, to investigate a mysterious portrait of Eula that reportedly sheds tears. He crosses paths with Dr. Paloma Vega, who’s visiting Puerto Pesar with her own mission: to take care of her ailing grandmother and to rescue her rebellious younger sister before something terrible happens. Paloma and Mick have their reasons to be in the hot, parched border town whose name translates as “Port of Regret.” But they don’t anticipate how their lives will be changed forever.

Moving and engrossing, this dual story alternates between Della’s dark ordeals of the 1940s and Paloma and Mick’s present-day search for answers about roots, family, love, and what is truly important in life.

 

My Comments:

Ok, still wiping away tears! Thank you Lake Union Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of Before the Rain Falls. Author Camille Di Maio hit another home run with this emotional story of family, love, loss and secrets. Add to your TBR list right away; book will be available May 2, 2017.

In the 1940s Della was charged with murdering her sister and spent many years of her life in jail.  Now an old woman, she returns to her family home in Puerto Pesar, Texas, with no family or friends.  Around the same time, Paloma returns to the Texas home she grew up in to care for her grandma and reconnect with her teenage sister.  In Boston, aggressive journalist Mick, reprimanded for running a story with inaccuracies is sent to Puerto Pesar on a mission for a soft news story about a painting of a girl that appears to be crying.  Each chapter reveals more about Della and Paloma, and we get a glimpse into their families histories, revealing  how their lives are surprisingly intertwined.   Mick is the catalyst to bring Della, the old woman just out of jail who knows about the painting, and Paloma, his new friend together as he learns how asking the right questions and moving at a slower pace can lead to greater results and bring understanding, joy and love.

Through storytelling, author Camille Di Maio brings to light how decisions based on faith can be life changing, offering hope and a reason to live, but also causing one to protect a loved one leading to their own demise.  In contrast, always being pragmatic and factual may push one to achieve their goals to reach financial and career success, but relationships and a personal life may suffer and have an emptiness to it.  Before the Rain Falls is simultaneously heartbreaking, hopeful, and joyous: a story of complex characters with varied pasts and bright futures.  Loved it!

 

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If you missed Camille Di Maio’s stellar debut novel, The Memory of Us, you can order it here on Amazon.  I loved this one too!  Scroll back to read my book review in an earlier blog post.