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Next Year in Havana

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After the death of her beloved grandmother, a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she discovers the roots of her identity–and unearths a family secret hidden since the revolution…

This is how the book is described, so of course when Amazon mentioned it to me I was intrigued. It is a story that is told in parallel, Havana in 1958, Elisa Perez, and starts in Miami in 2017 with her granddaughter Marisol Ferrara, following the death of Elisa, and her last wish for her ashes to return to Cuba.

In 2017, Fidel Castro has died, and so there is now the ability unlike ever before since 1959, for people to travel to Cuba. To visit the land than many of their grandparents fled.

Elisa is the daughter of a sugar baron, high society in Cuba. The unrest in the country, she does not see until she meets a revolutionary. and falls in love. During that unrest she and her family must make choices to survive, and obviously eventually leave Cuba, and there are many secrets that are not known until Marisol arrives in Havana 60 years later.

She sees the beauty and the political climate which is not stable. She is tasked with finding the perfect final resting place for her grandmother in a country that is not her own. She learns a lot about how it was for those that stayed and how they view those that left. She stays with the family who stayed, the next door neighbor to the Perez’s in the 1958. She sees the stark differences in the lives from those that stayed, and those that fled. And she falls in love with a passionate Cuban with secrets all his own. It is while she is in Havana, that she unravels the secrets of her grandmother’s past, and where she should go in the future.

I thought this book was amazing and beautiful. It was a delightful read and I cannot wait until the next book comes out.

The Assassin’s Blade

The Assassin's Blade (Throne of Glass, #0.1-0.5)

A prequel to the Throne of Glass Series. I started reading/listening to this book while waiting for the final book in the series to come out in October. This book deals with how Celaena Sardothien ends up where she is in the first book in the series, her previous love and why the pirate king wants to kill her in later books. You also see some encounters with other characters in the books. Apparently Celaena was very busy. (not in a sexual way obviously.) Reading the goodreads reviews, I apparently thought less of this book or collection of novellas than everyone else. It just seemed to me somewhat thrown together to explain the beginning.

The first act they (Sam and Celaena), yes that Sam, her dead lost love are on the mission to face the pirate king. And instead of following orders the two decide to free the slaves, rather than trade for/with them. This was the best part of the novella. Sam and Celaena are rivals in the assassin’s world, and she lives to torment Sam, who was she discovered more than willing to fight with her to free the slaves. For punishment, he is beaten and she is sent away to the desert to train with another master. One with whom she must get his letter of approval before the month is out.

When she returns back to the Assassin’s guild, she has the money to buy her and Sam’s freedom which she does. But the relationship does not develop enough for me to think that this is really the great love of Celaena’s life. In reality, it is more of a high school love, real at the time, but not in the scheme of things. Not one to dwell over. If you have read the first book in the series, it will come as no surprise at the end of the novellas, Celaena is captured and Sam is dead. Sam really was too good for Celaena, and she did not know how to treat him. Much like high school relationships. It just felt forced, the final story in the book. Like the author couldn’t figure out how to get Sam to die and Celaena in prison, so she forced it.

The problem is there is no development of their love story from the Pirate Lord back to the Empire. Sure Celaena dreamed of Sam, but with no contact, she went back to the childish ways that she treated him. In fact, Sam was too good for Celaena and her actions forced his death. I am not calling this a spoiler because I assume that others have already read Throne of Glass and this was already known at that time. So I give this book a lower number of stars, it is ok, than the rest of the series. But that is just my opinion and like they say, opinions are like armpits.

Educated by Tara Westover

As part of my journey this year, I want to actually think about the books that I read and write about them. This morning, I finished listening (yes, it counts as reading) to the book Educated. It actually so disturbed me, that I spent the last 2 hours contemplating it. According to my Goodreads challenge, it is the 6th book I finished, but for some reason, one of the books that I am still reading is showing up, but that is another story. I started this book the day after Christmas, while I was on vacation. It is not a nice easy beach read, but neither was the last of the Dark Tower Series, nor Deaths in Yellowstone, which I finished right beforehand. If you have read the Glass Castle, this book is in the same vein.

Tara Westover was 17 when she first steps into a classroom at Brigham Young University. She was born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, who prepared for the end of the world. In fact, you read about the Y2K bug from the viewpoint of someone who truly thought the world was going to end. But you have to forgive Tara for that, she was 10 or 12. She had not gone to school. She grew up helping her mom act as a midwife birthing babies, and then spent summers junking with her father. The attend the local Mormon church, but her father referred to most of the congregation as “Gentiles.”

One day Tara decides she wants to follow her brother, who escaped and attended BYU followed by Purdue and she starts to educate herself. With her brother’s help she is able to get accepted into BYU, even scoring well enough on the ACTs despite no formal education, only from her determination to better herself. And while most of us would not consider BYU as liberal, it was to her way of life and how she grew up. Tara is able to find a way to attend school despite being poor, and she is encouraged to fight for grants, and while in school she develops a life for history and politics, even though she attended initially to become a music teacher.

It is while she is at BYU that she learns about the Holocaust and the Civil Rights movement. Her quest for education takes her to Harvard and to Cambridge, and yet, the more she learns, the farther she drifts from her family and the life that she came from. When her sister contacts her about some abuse that they both suffered at the hands of her older brother, Tara is made out to be the crazy one and is disowned. She loses most of her family, even the sister, because she is no longer dependent nor controlled by her father. And while her father is not necessarily a sympathetic character, he at least has the excuse of a mental illness, although he sees doctors as socialists, and refuses to see them. So he is not only untreated, but also undiagnosed. From my reading and background, he would either be bipolar with psychotic features or possibly schizophrenia. But you are not reading this for me to give you an armchair diagnosis of a book characters mental illness.

While Tata is at BYU, her father experiences extreme burns, and almost dies. Due to her mother’s diligence and probably some luck he survives, and the parents are made wealthy by selling this salve the mother creates while caring for her husband. And it is this wealth, that results in the parents retaining control of their children who are uneducated without even a high school diploma. And it is through this cure that her mother creates, that Tara’s mother loses her identity, and becomes backstabbing to her own children.

The mother, while initially, you might feel sorry for her, maybe a battered woman (though no evidence of physical abuse is mentioned) she is definitely emotionally abused and has no sense of self for most of her life. She is bullied into becoming a midwife by her husband, and does holistic and herbal medicine only. Kid catches on fire, no doctor, herbals. But it is after her cure starts making money, that you lose all sympathy for her. She encourages her daughter to come and confront her husband, and when she does and tells the story, it is now imaginary on the part of Tara, even though 2 other children have similar stories. It is she who tells the older brother the story, and fails to turn him against his sister. And yet, it is through the family’s new found wealth that the rest are controlled by Tara’s father, and believe that Shawn, the abuser, is innocent. And thus Tara is shunned.

And when Tara calls her mother to try and mend the ties once severed, she accuses Tara of trying to come between her and her husband. Her actions are not that of a mother, but instead someone who after living with someone with untreated mental illness, is now suffering from similar symptoms.

Educated is not an easy read. It is one that you have to think about and mull over. IT is a story that will anger you, that this is allowed to happen today, and it will inspire you as to what can happen when people have the courage to learn and face your fears.

The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle

What started out as a trite book that I wasn’t going to finish, became much more. Everyone knows the precedent, who are the 5 people (living or dead) that you would invite to dinner. And this is Sabrina’s list. She invites Audrey Hepburn, her father, a favorite college professor, her best friend and her ex, Tobias. This is not apparently the original list, her college professor replaces Plato, Jessica, her best friend, replaces her grandmother. And all of them meet together for Sabrina’s 30th birthday.

Initially, I believed this to be a shallow novel, the characters lacking depth, but it becomes more, as the story develops. Why did Sabrina choose these people, and why did they all agree to the dinner, which is not always comfortable, but maybe necessary.

As the story moves on, the reason for each invite does become evident, and necessary. Audrey Hepburn, the only person, Sabrina does not know in real life, but who she is named after, or at least her character in Sabrina, and the films that Sabrina does love. In some ways she is the outsider, who can help to make the choices more clear.

Sabrina’s father, who left her mother when Sabrina was 3 years old. A recovering alcoholic, dead, but she was never reunited in life. The college professor, whose class she skipped, but as she put it, had more to teach Sabrina. Her ex, Tobias, who is the great love of her life, but she hasn’t resolved her feelings for him, even in the year that he has been gone. We travel through their relationship, finding out that he is actually dead, and neither have reconciled his death.

And Jessica, the best friend, who has married and had a baby, and is the lone individual that is still a part of Sabrina’s life. We find out that about a year ago, Sabrina has replaced her grandmother with Jessica’s name on her list. She is the lone individual, who will be the only one left to pick up the pieces when the night is over.

The book starts slow, like an uncomfortable dinner party, and maybe that is the point. I was not sure that I was going to pick up the book again, after I put it down those weeks ago, and yet today, I did pick it back up. The characters became more, flawed with mistakes and regrets. They are there with longing and lessons that Sabrina needs to learn to move forward with her life. She has essentially stopped living, this past year, and now turning 30, Sabrina’s life that she had planned for herself is not working out according to plans.

The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

So I am not so good about writing about the books as I read them. So I am going to start again. I have just finished The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager.

The story opens with the main character (but you don’t know it at the time) waking up alone in a cabin at Camp Nightingale. Apparently the others sharing the cabin have left during the night with only one taking their cell phone. There is a frantic search for them in the camp, but it turns up nothing. And then the scene ends with the main character walking into the lake screaming. And the scene closes.

The next opens with Emma Davis preparing for a show opening. She is an artist and all of her paintings contain 3 girls in them. Campers that she shared a bunk with 15 years ago, at Camp Nightingale. They left the cabin one night in the middle of the night, telling her to stay behind. And ever since that day, she has been haunted by their disappearance.

The owner of the camp, Franny, attends the show and invites Emma to lunch. She has a proposition for her. Franny wants to reopen the camp after all this time. Franny invites Emma to come back as a counselor, to show there are no hard feelings from Emma accusing Franny’s son, Theo, of having something to do with the girls’ disappearance. Emma agrees somewhat reluctantly.

Upon arrival at the camp, Emma is back in the same cabin as she was 15 years ago. And in that cabin, she finds a clue left behind from Vivian, the leader of the girls from all those years ago.

Emma decides to try to follow the clues that Vivian was searching for 15 years ago, to allow herself to move forward and heal. She no longer wants to paint the three girls hidden in the trees. And refusing to do that, she is unable to paint anything at all.

And so the mind games begin. Some intentional, and others accidentally. She reconnects with Theo, whom she previously accused, and who is scarred from having to put his life back together. She is also brought back together with Chet, Franny’s younger son, who was 10, during the disappearance all those years ago. Chet has brought with him a perfectionist fiance, who is trying to impress her soon to be inlaws.

Other counselors at the camp, were also at Camp Nightingale during that eventful summer which the camp closed down only, never to open again until today. People view Emma with distrust. Wondering if she had something to do with the disappearance. The only ones that she really connects with are the girls that she is in charge of in her cabin.

The more Emma digs up from the past, the more strange coincidences occur, causing her to believe that she is hallucinating and cause others to worry about her sanity.

The lies from the past are uncovered, as well as the camp’s unusual beginning. And with each piece of new information from the past, new threats emerge in the present. Will Emma ever be truly free of that night 15 years ago, or will she continue in the nightmare?

Riley Sager is able to create a tale with twists and turns that do keep you guessing, and when you think you know who did it, there is another twist. It is an enjoyable, psychological mystery, that keeps you thinking and involved in the story.

Beautiful Darkness

I decided that with as many books that I read, I should actually write about them. And so, with the completion of my first book this you, I will start with “Beautiful Darkness” by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. This is the second book in the “Beautiful Creatures” series.

We start the book shortly after the last book ended. Ethan Ware, the voice whom which the story is told, is attempting to help his girlfriend Lena Duchannes recover from the death of her uncle, in the last book. Now if you haven’t read the previous book,  this is a bit of a spoiler, but she views that she is at fault for her uncle’s death, and believes that it was the cost for bringing Ethan back to life. Ethan does not know this at the time, he believes it is just that he was the father figure in her life.

Lena is also a caster, and managed to avoid choosing the light or dark side as she was supposed to on her 16th birthday, but preventing the rising of the 16th moon. She found out on that date, that due to a curse placed by the actions of another caster at the time of the Civil War, she was to choose light or dark, and by doing so she would damn the side which she did not choose.

Lena continues to pull away, due to the actions of her cousin Riley and a newcomer John who rides a motorcycle, and tells Ethan that he should forget her and their relationship is doomed. Once school is out, Ethan starts working in the library with his aunt Marion, and there he meets a young Brit, Olivia who is training to be a Keeper. They become friends and feelings do get confused. 

Ethan is also hit with another shock. His dad was not his mother’s first love. She was initially in love with Macon, Lena’s dead uncle. They had a doomed relationship similar to that of Ethan’s and Lena. 

All of these things lead to a race to save Lena from choosing the dark side which she believed herself doomed to do. There is more magic and more visions for Ethan. It is a time that Ethan has to learn that things are not just what they seem, and that it is possible for people to love again after losing a first love. 

Various characters make choices that will alter their lives forever. Decisions are not without consequences and choices are not always black and white. He also finds out that others in his own family are not as simple as they seem. And maybe Gatlin isn’t just the most boring town ever, and maybe there is a reason to stay.