Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Review: THE BOLERO OF ANDI ROWE by Toni Margarita Plummer

Winner of the Miguel Mármol Prize, this collection of inter-related stories delves into the life of Andi Rowe—a young woman of Mexican and Irish heritage—to give an intimate account of one family’s passage from the immigrant story to the American story, and the cycle of loss, adaptation, and rediscovery that is innate to that experience. Set largely in Los Angeles’s San Gabriel Valley, and crossing generations and borders, these stories focus on the quiet moments between explosions, where tension simmers just beneath the surface. From a Border Patrol agent whose own mother crossed the border illegally to a lonely woman seeking companionship with her hired day-laborer, characters seek revelation in the most ordinary of experiences, their actions filled with humor, longing, and honesty. In the tradition of Flannery O’Connor, Toni Margarita Plummer explores themes of grace and redemption as each story spirals toward a surprising but inevitable conclusion.

Reviewed by: Bela
Rating: 1 star

Review: The Bolero of Andi Rowe is a collection of short stories that are not necessarily centered on Andi. For instance, in “Olivia’s Roses,” a high school senior discovers the possibility of a college education along with her burgeoning womanhood from an attractive boy she meets at the Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena.

The book is a well-written account of L.A. life colorfully drafted by a diverse set of characters. Each story attempts to enlighten the reader as the characters try to break through the barriers that entrap them; however, there often lay an obscurity that disoriented the reader throughout. The point of view would change, sometimes within the same story. Half the time I kept wondering who was talking.

The back story was misleading because it made you think that it was all about Andi and it wasn’t, even though some of the stories did reference her at times. I thought these stories would surround Andi, that we would experience them through her, that we would see what she saw and hear what she heard. Why was her name even in the title if she wasn’t the star?

I also noticed that the stories with the girls mainly involved the complexity of love, sex, and relationships. In fact, the details may have been a little too explicit for my taste.

This book seemed to be a novel weaved together by various short stories by the way Andi kept showing up in a lot of them, but I thought the composite was weakened by a lack of focus. All the details are so scattered that it is nearly impossible to see any clarity to the plot. You often forget the characters and what they were in relation to each other. For example, who was “Dad” in “Happy Hour?” Whose dad was he? And what was he to Andi? Was he her uncle or something?

By the end, I was dissatisfied with the overall structure. I’d have to say that the best story was “Olivia’s Roses,” because I thought it was rendered a little more genuinely, and I liked that it tried to promote a college education.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Review: THE HUSBAND HABIT by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

Why does Vanessa keep falling for married men?

Not that she knows she does. At least not at first. But every man who seems like he might be the one turns out to be someone else’s. So maybe the right thing to do is take a vow to stay single, to keep away from all men, until she can figure things out.

At least work is a bright spot: It’s an anchor to be so good at something, to lose yourself in your job, and Vanessa is a whiz of a chef, so good she makes her grandstanding boss, Hawk—of Albuquerque’s chic Nuevo American restaurant hawk—look good. After all, it’s his name on the awning above the door. If only her friends and family would get on board with Vanessa’s plan and stop trying to fix her up. If she can’t fix her life, nobody else is going to get the chance to try—not her parents, not her friends, and certainly not her ultra-well-meaning but just-not-getting-it sister, Larissa.

And nothing could be more with the plan than helping out at her parents’ house—gardening, keeping them fed, getting them organized with her loyal pet Red Dog by her side. Red Dog is all the companionship she needs. Until Vanessa meets Paul, her parents’ neighbor—he’s all wrong on paper, but he’s got great manners and certainly seems safe. Not bad in the kissing department, either. But just when Vanessa’s guard goes down, the red flag goes up: Could Paul be yet another married man?

Reviewed by: Celia
Rating: 1 star

Review: The story starts off with Vanessa meeting a man for the first time ever after months of correspondence via online dating. After making a quick remark about the stick-figured woman on the bathroom door being sexually biased because of the triangle-shaped skirt (chill out, girl, it’s just a sign,) Vanessa goes into a frenzy trying to make herself look “good” for a stranger; and, when she does meet him, she gets a little too “friendly” and becomes naïve at the assurance that “he is her soul mate.” (pg. 8) Oh, please.

It was only after a horrific scene with an angry ex-wife that Vanessa realizes that she’s developed “quite the husband habit.” (pg. 17) Part of me actually thought that she deserved what she got for being so fast with men; on the other hand, I couldn’t help but wonder if her intentions were truly genuine.

One thing that bothered me about Vanessa was how adamant she’d be about taking things slow—gardening, cooking, biking, walking, and generally living—but, for some reason, she refused to do the same with men. The character also spent too much talking about her New Mexico house and her food. We get it, she loves them. Can we move on now?

Overall, the writing reads as if you were being preached to. I didn’t feel like I was a part of the story, or even a spectator of it. At times, the author went off on a tangent to insert a personal commentary or opinion that had virtually nothing to do with the story. Also, there were a lot of fragments—too many words and phrases that were segregated from each other and stationed in their own sentence that made for some pretty tedious reading. Additionally, the POV was constantly changing. One minute, the story is being told in the third person, and the next, the first person takes over in the voice of Vanessa. I really wish the author would’ve kept this consistent.

If you ask me, I think this book required more effort. I would’ve liked to have seen Vanessa in her dating journey and how she came to develop this “husband habit” just so I could’ve known her better. Maybe if I’d gotten to know her better, I would’ve cared more for Vanessa and the rest of the cast instead of thinking that they all could’ve used more renditions of clearly drawn attributes. The best part about this book was chapter one, where the reader becomes introduced to Vanessa’s “husband habit,” even though the history of it was never specified.

In conclusion, this was just a boring and disappointing book that I had higher hopes for.