Monday, June 29, 2015

My take on: Prayers for the Stolen

"Now we make you ugly, my mother said. She whistled. Her mouth was so close she sprayed my neck with her whistle-spit. I could smell beer. In the mirror I watched her move the piece of charcoal across my face. It's a nasty life, she whispered. It's my first memory. She held an old cracked mirror to my face. I must have been about five years old. The crack made my face look as if it had been broken into two pieces. The best thing you can be in Mexico is an ugly girl." Pg. 1

A somber tone is set almost immediately in Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement. Ladydi Garcia Martinez and her mother live their lives in fear.

Fear of the drug dealers and corrupt police who rule over the mountains of Guerrero, Mexico. Fear that Ladydi could be kidnapped at any moment and sold into sexual slavery. The sounds of an approaching vehicle are a signal to run and hide. If you're lucky you can be born ugly. Nobody wants the ugly girl. But if you're a pretty girl, like Ladydi, you run and hide. Ladydi often spends hours hidden in a hole in the backyard. When that's not enough, Ladydi and her friends dress and act like boys. Nobody wants a boy either. A little charcoal on their teeth and boyish clothes on their bodies do little to calm their fears, but it's better than nothing.

The men of the village are long gone, they've left their families for the chance at better jobs in Acapulco and in the United States. Women and children are left to fend for themselves. Ladydi's mother is constantly on edge. All she has to take the edge off is alcohol and a compulsive stealing habit. Ladydi is left to make excuses for her wacky mother's behavior, even when those actions lead to violence. When Ladydi finally gets out of Guerrero, by working for a wealthy family in Acapulco, she gets her first chance at love and at freedom. That little taste of freedom comes at a high price. What price? I can't tell you, you have to read the book!

The writing style can take some time to get used to. There are no quotes. The book reads like one long stream of consciousness, which can be hard to get used to. The first 2/3 of the book were thoroughly engrossing. I felt like I was in Ladydi's head. Unlike most teenagers, Ladydi doesn't allow herself to dream of some fantasy life. She just knows how to survive in the moment. The writer does a good job of shining a light some of the real-life fears women in Mexico are facing. Overall, this was a very good book but the last 20-25 pages fell a little flat for me. The story seems to get off track. Ladydi meets and interacts with characters that I just could not empathize with. This is a short, but thought-provoking novel worth reading.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy from Penguin Random House's Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

My take on: Hotel Moscow

Brooke Fielding made a choice most American women wouldn't -- journeying to Moscow after the fall of communism in September 1993. The 38-year-old investment banker is full of optimism about the future. As the child of Holocaust survivors, Brooke is anxious to see the place of her mother's birth. A city that rejected Brooke's mother because of her Jewish heritage. She hopes her optimism will instill an entrepreneurial spirit in the women of Russia. She hopes this trip will save her career, but it could come at a high price in Hotel Moscow by Talia Carner.

At first glance a group of American women traveling to Moscow to teach other women business skills sounds great and very altruistic. But once the trip is put into context it sounds very dumb and dangerous. Corruption is rampant everywhere. Everyone from police, to politicians, to the bus driver, and to the average Joe on the corner requires a bribe before they're willing to do anything. At first it's just a minor irritation to Brooke and her companions, but it quickly escalates to violence and intimidation.

The Russian women that Brooke bonds with seem to have an air of strength, but they're just putting on a good front. On the inside, they are full of fear and desperation. Svetlana, a young mother, is attacked on Brooke's first day in Russia. The only thing that gets Svetlana through the day, is her daughter, Natasha, waiting for her at the end of a tough day. Olga has worked hard for her government position, but everyday her corrupt boss strips away another piece of her soul.

At this time, women in general are seen as less than. They are less than men. They're opinions don't matter. This is a concept that Svetlana and Olga don't want to accept, but are often powerless to stop it. Brooke doesn't understand how everyone can just accept the rampant corruption. She wants to help end the powerlessness. She wants to help get rid of the threats and violence that Russian business owners often face. She wants to help foster a new economy. But of course no good deed goes unpunished. At the time, this is a society that is willing to spy on one another for the right price.

The book alternates between the Brooke, Svetlana, and Olga's perspective. Brooke is the main character, but I had a hard time connecting with her. Her approach to things felt a little clinical and not emotional. To connect with a character, I have to feel some sort of empathy and I just didn't for Brooke. She's the American swooping in and trying to save the day. I connected more with Svetlana and Olga. They have a story that I could get behind and root for. You want them to get away from this corrupt society. The pacing of the book overall was a little disjointed. Sometimes I had trouble following the narrative. But the story itself is very engaging and I would read another book by Talia Carner!

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (William Morrow) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.