Book Review: Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

Book Review:  Lucky Boy by Shanthi SekaranLucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran
four-half-stars
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on January 10th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 472
Source: Goodreads
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:  Solimar Castro Valdez is eighteen and dazed with optimism when she embarks on a perilous journey across the US/Mexican border. Weeks later she arrives on her cousin’s doorstep in Berkeley, CA, dazed by first love found then lost, and pregnant. This was not the plan. But amid the uncertainty of new motherhood and her American identity, Soli learns that when you have just one precious possession, you guard it with your life. For Soli, motherhood becomes her dwelling and the boy at her breast her hearth.

Kavya Reddy has always followed her heart, much to her parents’ chagrin. A mostly contented chef at a UC Berkeley sorority house, the unexpected desire to have a child descends like a cyclone in Kavya’s mid-thirties. When she can’t get pregnant, this desire will test her marriage, it will test her sanity, and it will set Kavya and her husband, Rishi, on a collision course with Soli, when she is detained and her infant son comes under Kavya’s care. As Kavya learns to be a mother–the singing, story-telling, inventor-of-the-universe kind of mother she fantasized about being–she builds her love on a fault line, her heart wrapped around someone else’s child.

Lucky Boy is an emotional journey that will leave you certain of the redemptive beauty of this world. There are no bad guys in this story, no obvious hero. From rural Oaxaca to Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto to the dreamscapes of Silicon valley, author Shanthi Sekaran has taken real life and applied it to fiction; the results are moving and revelatory.

My Review:

Shanthi Sekaran’s Lucky Boy is one of the most heartbreaking, thought-provoking, and timely novels I’ve read in a long time.  At its heart, Lucky Boy is a story about motherhood.  At the same time, however, it also focuses on illegal immigration, foster parenting, and fertility and how all of these can lead to heartbreak and broken families.

The novel follows the journey of two women:  Soli Castro Valdez, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, and Kavya Reddy, who is the daughter of Indian immigrants.  Kavya is basically living the American Dream – she has graduated from a prestigious college, has a successful career as a chef, and is happily married to Rishi.  Kavya has everything she could have ever wanted in life…until the day she decides she wants a baby.  Kavya and Rishi try for months and months to conceive, even resorting to expensive fertility treatments, but nothing works and their marriage becomes very strained because of the pressure they are putting on themselves.  Still desperate to start a family, Kavya starts thinking about adoption and she and Rishi decide to try the foster parent route.  It is here where Kavya’s life becomes entwined with the novel’s other protagonist, Soli.

Soli is a young woman who leaves her home and family in Mexico and makes the treacherous journey across the border in hopes of making a better life for herself in the U.S. In spite of her undocumented status, Soli is able to find work for herself as a nanny and housekeeper for a family in Berkeley, California. Months after arriving in the U.S., Soli gives birth to her son, Ignacio.  It’s of course love at first sight and Soli pours her heart and soul into being the best possible mother to Ignacio and into working harder than ever to ensure that she can make a better life for both herself and for her baby. Unfortunately, Soli ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time and is detained because of her illegal status.  When Soli is detained, Ignacio becomes a ward of the state of California and is put into foster care, where he ends up in the care of Kavya and Rishi.

Against their own better judgment since they know he could be returned to his birth mother at any moment, Kavya and Rishi still fall head over heels for Ignacio. They dote on him as they both learn what it means to be parents and are ultimately very hopeful that they’ll be able to keep him.  The story takes an incredibly gut-wrenching turn at this point because it’s a no-win situation. Of course Soli should get her son back because she’s his birth mother and he’s her world, but then you also see how truly loved and well cared for he is by Kavya and Rishi and your heart breaks for all involved because, realistically, no matter who is awarded custody of Ignacio, someone will end up broken-hearted.

Likes:

What I loved about Lucky Boy is that the story is written in such a way that there are no “bad guys.”  You truly feel for both of these women and their love for this little boy.  Soli and Kavya are both flawed characters in the sense that they can be naïve, impulsive, and make rash decisions, but ultimately, they are both extremely likeable because they’re both so real and so relatable.  I was of course rooting for Soli as the underdog because the author paints a vivid portrait showing how Soli truly risks her life just trying to make it to the U.S. There were others who traveled with her that died along the way, so she was lucky to even make it to this country in one piece.  I was rooting for her all the way to find a way to stay in the U.S. and raise her son.  On the other hand, I was also rooting for Kavya as well. As likeable as Kavya is throughout the story, she really comes to life as a character once she becomes foster mom to Ignacio. She pours everything she has into being the mom she has dreamed of being for so long, and it’s lovely to see, and so gut-wrenching since you know she could lose Ignacio at any moment.

Dislikes:

Okay, now let me walk back the whole ‘there are no bad guys’ argument.  There are no bad guys in terms of our protagonists.  The bad guys in this story are those who enforce the policies on illegal immigrants in this country, specifically, in this case, those in law enforcement and those who run and work in detention centers.  Everything about the system just made me so angry as I was reading.  If this is the way illegal immigrants are really treated when they are detained, it’s shameful.  I don’t care if someone is here illegally or not; it does not justify treating them like they are somehow less than human – separating them from their children, giving them inadequate food, clothing, and shelter, not allowing them proper representation, trying to trick them into signing voluntary deportation papers, and the list goes on and on.  When Soli had a court hearing for Ignacio that she needed to phone in for and no one would let her use the telephone no matter how much she begged and pleaded, I was practically raging.  What kind of monsters would show so little compassion to a woman in danger of losing her child if she can’t make a simple phone call?

Final thoughts:

 I don’t want to say anything else because I don’t want to give the ending, but needless to say, Lucky Boy is a book that will definitely play with your emotions and that, most importantly, make you think about what is going on in the world, and especially in the U.S., right now. It’s a hard read because it’s so gut-wrenching, but it’s also so beautifully written and a powerful read that I would recommend to anyone.

Rating:  4.5 stars

Thanks so much to Goodreads, Shanthi Sekaran, and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. It was a wonderful read and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more writings from this author!

four-half-stars

About Shanthi Sekaran

Shanthi Sekaran was born and raised in California, and now splits her time between Berkeley and London. A graduate of UC Berkeley and the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, she was first published in Best New American Voices 2004 (Harcourt). Her novel, The Prayer Room, will be released in February 2009. “

ARC Review – We Are Still Tornadoes

ARC Review – We Are Still TornadoesWe Are Still Tornadoes by Michael Kun, Susan Mullen
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on November 1st 2016
Genres: Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Goodreads
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Growing up across the street from each other, Scott and Cath have been best friends their entire lives. Cath would help Scott with his English homework, he would make her mix tapes (it’s the 80’s after all), and any fight they had would be forgotten over TV and cookies. But now they’ve graduated high school and Cath is off to college while Scott is at home pursuing his musical dreams. During their first year apart, Scott and Cath’s letters help them understand heartache, annoying roommates, family drama and the pressure to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives. And through it all, they realize that the only person they want to turn to is each other. But does that mean they should be more than friends? The only thing that’s clear is that change is an inescapable part of growing up. And the friends who help us navigate it share an unshakable bond. This funny yet deeply moving book–set to an awesome 80’s soundtrack–captures all the beautiful confusion and emotional intensity we find on the verge of adulthood…and first love.

 

 

My Review:

We Are Still Tornadoes follows a year in the life of Scott and Cath, lifelong best friends who are now separated because Cath has gone off to college, while Scott has chosen to remain at home, where he works at the family business while simultaneously trying to pursue his own passion, which is to be a singer/songwriter in a band. Set in the early 1980’s, the story is told through alternating letters that Scott and Cath are mailing each other throughout their time apart.

What I Liked:

I have to say I really loved this book. It was cute and entertaining, even laugh-out-loud funny at times, but it was also quite moving as well as Scott and Cath each experienced highs and lows throughout the year. We Are Still Tornadoes is also one of those books where once you get started, you really can’t put it down so it made for a quick read as well, which is often nice (especially when your “To-Bo-Read” stack of books is becoming mountainous!)

What appealed to me most about this book is the authentic quality of the friendship between Scott and Cath. I’m a big fan of books that portray beautiful friendships and Scott and Cath’s friendship perfectly fits the bill here. The authors skillfully capture all the little nuances that make up the special bond that best friends share – the constant poking fun at one another that only best friends can do, those long-running inside jokes that no one else could possibly understand, and also, most importantly, the steadfast devotion and loyalty. Even though they’re hundreds of mile apart, Scott is always there for Cath when she needs him and vice versa. Whether it’s a death in the family, parents getting divorce, a bad breakup, or anything in between, they have each others’ backs. Looking at Scott and Cath, I could easily see similarities between their relationship and my own relationships with my best friends.

The letter writing format was a lot of fun to read as well and really took me back to my own college days back in the dark ages before we had email, smart phones, and all of those other forms of instant communication. I could very easily relate to the reality of having to rely on snail mail and shared hall phones as the only way to keep in touch with friends and loved ones. Reading We Are Still Tornadoes brought back a lot of good memories from college for me and so the nostalgia factor was very high.

The discussion of music throughout the novel was entertaining as well. Scott loves music, knows almost everything there is to know about every popular singer of the time period, and loves to let Cath know how utterly clueless and in need of a musical education she is. Their discussion of music was hilarious at times, but more importantly, the songs chosen by the authors were so iconic – just thinking about them transported me right back to the 1980s. I swear I was singing Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean for days after I finished reading!

Anything I didn’t like?

My only real complaint about the story lies in the ending. I didn’t particularly care for the direction the story took in the closing pages and felt like the ending wrapped too quickly and therefore a bit awkwardly. I understood why the book had to end the way it did based on the direction the story took; it just wouldn’t haven have been my first choice for an ending. It may not bother others though so please don’t let that deter you from what is otherwise an awesome book.

Who Would I Recommend this to?

I would highly reccommend We Are Still Tornadoes to pretty much anyone from high school age on up. I think high school and college students would enjoy the friendship and the fact that Cath and Scott are so relateable, while readers like me who are older, would enjoy the story because of the nostalgic quality.

If you’re looking for a quick and entertaining read, I’d say give this book a shot.

 

Rating: 4 stars

 

 

four-stars

About Michael Kun

Michael Kun lives in Los Angeles, California, with his wife Amy and their daughter Paige. He practices law when he is not writing, or vice versa.

About Susan Mullen

Susan Stevens Mullen lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband, Kevin, and their two daughters, Hannah and Haley. She practices law in the Reston office of Cooley, LLP. Sue was born and raised in Chicago. Her family relocated to Northern Virginia when she was in the 7th grade. A graduate of Langley High School, Duke University, and the University of Virginia School of Law, Sue loves reading fiction and running with the family and their dog, Griffin the Boxer.

ARC Review – Gae Polisner’s The Memory of Things

ARC Review – Gae Polisner’s The Memory of ThingsThe Memory of Things by Gae Polisner
four-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on September 6th 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Goodreads
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:

The powerful story of two teenagers finding friendship, comfort, and first love in the days following 9/11 as their fractured city tries to put itself back together.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, sixteen-year-old Kyle Donohue watches the first twin tower come down from the window of Stuyvesant High School. Moments later, terrified and fleeing home to safety across the Brooklyn Bridge, he stumbles across a girl perched in the shadows. She is covered in ash and wearing a pair of costume wings. With his mother and sister in California and unable to reach his father, a New York City detective likely on his way to the disaster, Kyle makes the split-second decision to bring the girl home. What follows is their story, told in alternating points of view, as Kyle tries to unravel the mystery of the girl so he can return her to her family. But what if the girl has forgotten everything, even her own name? And what if the more Kyle gets to know her, the less he wants her to go home? The Memory of Things tells a stunning story of friendship and first love and of carrying on with our day-to-day living in the midst of world-changing tragedy and unforgettable pain—it tells a story of hope.

My Review: 

Gae Polisner’s The Memory of Things is an incredible book that revolves around the horrific events of September 11th. I have to admit I was a little nervous going into the book since this is such a sensitive topic, but was ultimately very pleased with Polisner’s respectful handling of it.  Although it was sometimes painful to read because it brings back so many terrifying memories that we all felt that day and for so long afterwards, The Memory of Things is also a moving and ultimately uplifting story that shows the strength of Americans, and especially that of New Yorkers, to rise up and keep going in the face of something that could have brought us to our knees as a country.

One aspect I loved most about The Memory of Things is the way Polisner presents the story using a dual narrative perspective. Her writing is beautiful, lyrical in fact, and I like that she puts us inside the minds of these two teenagers, Kyle and the girl he finds on the Brooklyn Bridge as he is evacuating out of lower Manhattan.  When Kyle discovers the girl crouched on the bridge, she doesn’t know who she is and appears to be suffering from either shock or amnesia.  The way Polisner distinguishes between Kyle’s point of view and the girl’s is unique as well.  Kyle’s perspective is presented in pretty straightforward prose, but as we switch to the girl’s perspective, we are suddenly presented with a more poetic style – fragmented memories, broken thoughts and powerful, sometimes disturbing, images all swirled together.  We alternate between the two perspectives throughout the novel and as then the girl starts to remember more and more details about who she is, Polisner adjusts her writing style to reflect that shift – the girl’s thoughts become more coherent and cohesive, the broken images and memories start to come together, and the language shifts to a more prose-like state, although still quite poetic.

Another quality I loved about this book is that even though it is technically a book about 9/11, the tragedy itself is not the primary focus.  The Memory of Things is really more of a coming of age story and it’s also a story about strength, hope, resiliency, friendship, and about finding out who you are when times are tough or uncertain.  Kyle is confronted by the real possibility that he may have lost his entire family and has to figure out what he’s going to do if that turns out to be the case. In particular, he has a handicapped uncle living with him who needs to be cared for and so he really has to step up and be the man of the house while he waits to find out if his family is okay.  In many ways, Kyle learns that he is much stronger than he ever would have given himself credit for prior to 9/11. Kyle’s uncle is partially paralyzed from a recent accident and can do very little for himself. Showing  maturity beyond his years, Kyle takes over the responsibility of getting his uncle out of bed and to the bathroom and assists him in there as needed, then helps to get him dressed and fed and otherwise cared for.

In addition to taking over the primary caregiver role at home, Kyle also befriends the young lady he brought into his home in the aftermath of the terrorist attack.  She can remember nothing about herself aside from bits and pieces of broken memories – ballet movements, swimming in the ocean, brief flashes of her parents, all of these interspersed with horrid images that she witnessed the morning of 9/11.  Kyle doesn’t want to just send her back out on the streets but also hates the idea of just dumping her at a hospital or at a police station in hopes that someone claims her.  So he makes the decision to allow her to stay with him. In some ways I think he does it as much for himself as he does for her. Trying to help her remember who she is gives him something to focus on and helps him stay fairly grounded, considering all that is going on just outside their door.  In the short time they are together, Kyle and the girl grow quite close – close enough that Kyle considers the possibility that he’s falling in love with her.  I think it’s more the need to make some kind of a human connection – something life affirming in the face of all of the lives that were lost that day, but whatever it was for them, the bond between them was quite touching and I think it served to help them get through those first few terrifying days after the tragedy as they waited and hoped to be reunited with their loved ones.

The Memory of Things is truly one of the most beautiful and moving stories I’ve read so far this year and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone. Since it’s a young adult novel, I would also especially recommend it to those who are not old enough to have witnessed the events of 9/11 themselves.

Rating:  4.5 stars

 

 

 

four-half-stars

About Gae Polisner

Gae in her own words:

I write both women’s and young adult fiction.  When I’m not writing, I’m swimming, hanging with my kids, or cooking and cleaning. Okay, fine, I’m probably not cleaning.

I have written since I was little, mostly poems and short stories through college. Then, I went to law school and, for over a decade, replaced all that creative writing with legal briefs. But after my sons were born, I decided to return to my first love.

In 1995, I set out to write a book, not knowing if I actually could. I have completed at least five full manuscripts since then.

I like to think my novels are accessible, lyrical (somewhat literary) fiction – and, my young adult stories, an homage to the character-driven fiction I loved so much as a child and teen (anything by E.L. Konigsburg, Paul Zindel, Madeleine L’Engle, or Judy Blume…). The Pull of Gravity has a special “secret” nod to the first novel I couldn’t put down – Don’t Take Teddy, by Babbis Friis-Baastad. To this day, I remember the feeling of frantically turning pages to find out if the brothers would be okay. If any of you ever read that book, please send me an email, and we can be instant BFF’s.

My first piece of women’s fiction, The Jetty, was a Top Semifinalist in the 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. My second piece, Swim Back to Me, will be revised one day soon and hopefully see the light of day. In the meantime, my next YA novel is coming soon from Algonquin, and I have several more teen novels in the works. So, please check back here often for updates.

I live and write on Long Island with my two amazing boys, my handsome, smart husband who sings, and two very “enthusiastic” cockatiels, Taha and Bobo. When I’m not writing, I’m still a practicing family law attorney/mediator, and when I’m not doing that, I’m swimming in my pool or, better yet, the open water off of Long Island.

Book Review – Air Awakens by Elise Kova

Book Review – Air Awakens by Elise KovaAir Awakens (Air Awakens, #1) by Elise Kova
four-half-stars
Published by Silver Wing Press on August 27th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 377
Source: Goodreads
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Goodreads in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:

A library apprentice, a sorcerer prince, and an unbreakable magic bond…

The Solaris Empire is one conquest away from uniting the continent, and the rare elemental magic sleeping in seventeen-year-old library apprentice Vhalla Yarl could shift the tides of war.

Vhalla has always been taught to fear the Tower of Sorcerers, a mysterious magic society, and has been happy in her quiet world of books. But after she unknowingly saves the life of one of the most powerful sorcerers of them all—the Crown Prince Aldrik—she finds herself enticed into his world. Now she must decide her future: Embrace her sorcery and leave the life she’s known, or eradicate her magic and remain as she’s always been. And with powerful forces lurking in the shadows, Vhalla’s indecision could cost her more than she ever imagined.

My Review:

I went into Air Awakens not at all sure of what to expect. I had never heard of the series or the author Elise Kova before and had only purchased the book because it was the topic of an upcoming Books Are My Fandom chat. Sadly, my schedule did not allow me to finish the book in time to participate in the chat, but since then, I have finished reading Air Awakens. So what did I think of it? What a wonderful read this turned out to be! I was thoroughly entertained from beginning to end. I may not have heard of her before, but Elise Kova is on my radar now and I really cannot wait to read more of her books!

What I Loved:

Fascinating Main Characters:

Vhalla: What’s not to love about a socially awkward bookworm protagonist who learns she has magical powers? As soon as I read the line “Vhalla wasn’t exactly good at relationships as she preferred to spend more time with books than people,” that instantly made her a character I could relate to and I always prefer books where I make that kind of connection with the protagonist.

I also found her overall struggle very compelling. The search for identity and trying to figure out one’s place in the world is one of those universal themes that we can all relate to. In Vhalla’s case, the search for identity is compounded further by the fact that she has been told all of her life that magic is bad, something to be avoided and shunned. To embrace her magic abilities is to fly in the face of everything that she and her family and friends have ever known. How will those she loves react if she becomes a sorceress? As Vhalla says, “she would be eighteen and had never made a decision for herself that mattered.” And now she has to make a decision that could change the course of her entire life!

Aldrik – Aldrik is perhaps one of the most interesting characters in the book. Even though he is the Crown Prince, he is still basically the black sheep of the royal family because of the stigma associated with magic. He’s dark and brooding and can also be condescending and a bit obnoxious. To further cloak him in mystery, throughout the kingdom, there are many rumors swirling around about terrible things he has supposedly done with his magic. Part of the fun of Air Awakens is actually trying to unravel the mystery of who Aldrik really is.

What you realize, especially once he meets and starts to interact with Vhalla, is that there is a lot more to Aldrik than meets the eye. As a sorcerer himself, Aldrik of course has his own motives for wanting Vhalla to embrace her magical abilities and at first, he forges full speed ahead with his agenda. The trouble Aldrik encounters, however, is that when he’s with Vhalla, he always seems to say and do the wrong thing, even endangering her life at one point because he acts recklessly in pursuit of his goal. Aldrik is horrified by his own actions and when he goes to Vhalla to apologize, he starts to let his guard down and we see a whole different side of him – a side that makes him much more endearing both to Vhalla and to the reader.

Baldair – Baldair, or the Heartbreaker Prince, is basically the polar opposite of his brother, Aldrik. Where Aldrik is dark and brooding, Baldair is golden and a huge flirt. Where dark rumors about magic surround Aldrik, gossip about romantic conquests surround the royal family’s golden boy. On the surface Baldair appears to be all fluff and little substance, but yet something about his relationship with his brother really intrigues me. I can’t tell exactly where they stand with one another and that adds a layer of complexity to everything Baldair does, especially when it comes to Vhalla, whom he really has no reason to interact with at all, yet goes out of his way to do so. Does he like Vhalla? Is he being nice to her to get under his brother’s skin? Is there more to it than that? I’m hesitant to boil it down to just being a love triangle, because it seems like something more is going there. I’m hoping future books in the series will unfold the exact nature of the relationship.
Read more

four-half-stars

About Elise Kova

Elise Kova has always had a profound love of fantastical worlds. Somehow, she managed to focus on the real world long enough to graduate with a Master’s in Business Administration before crawling back under her favorite writing blanket to conceptualize her next magic system. She currently lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, and when she s not writing can be found playing video games, watching anime, or talking with readers on social media. She is the author of the Air Awakens Series as well as the upcoming Loom Saga (Keymaster, 2017).