Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘family’

Upsetting the Status Quo

51AAuLof0GLNot Just A Girl: A Lesbian Romance
by Judy Folger.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

What happens in Royal’s life, in Not Just A Girl, has been experienced by many men and women. Living up to society’s expectations, not wanting to “overturn the cart”, let alone acknowledge there own feelings, they do what they’re “supposed to do”. In this case, it is Royal marrying a man not long after high school, while still being in love with her best friend, Mackenzie. Such circumstances were especially prevalent up to the beginning of this century, and still continues for some.

When Royal talks to her gay sister-in-law, Avery, she becomes acutely aware of herself, and how she’s been living to please others.

The words shot out of Royal’s mouth before she could stop them. ‘When a woman decides to make her own happiness, she upsets the status quo!’

‘Yes!’ Avery shot back, smiling, ‘Everyone else’s status quo…’

She reflected for a moment. ‘Oh. Oh, I see.'”

The youngest of four siblings, with three older brothers, Royal is told by them, and her parents, that she is “just a girl”. Which, in their eyes, means she should get married, have children, and take care of everyone else. Once her children are teenagers, and her husband (Jim) takes extended time away from the family, Royal begins to tentatively look at what she wants, and who she is. With the help of her friend at work (Claudia), a professor from her college days (Professor Belkin), and Avery, she slowly begins to acknowledge who she is and what she wants.

There are a number of family scenes with parents, and in-laws, which were all too familiar. For example, the Thanksgiving dinners found the men and women playing all the stereotyped roles of men watching football, and the women cooking and providing. It takes Royal half her life to start believing in herself, and break out of these roles. Ms. Folger has created an insightful, heart-felt story of one woman deciding to set herself free and find happiness. Not Just A Girl is not just a book, it’s an inner journey of discovery brought to the page for all to see.

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I Used To Cry

Mulatto: Daughter of America by Florencia LaChance.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

61I3yFhCTTLOur oldest daughter moved in to our foster home when she was fourteen, and like Florencia, became emancipated at sixteen. She survived a similar childhood as Ms. LaChance, with her biological family. Working through years of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, is not easy for anyone, at anytime. In Mulatto: Daughter of Americathe author describes one terrible instant after another. With self-determination, and the help of others, she makes it to college, motherhood, and a successful career.

Florencia’s worst, ongoing perpetrator, was her step-father Jim. He beat her, sexually assaulted her, and demeaned her in every way possible. To top it off, she was growing up in Maine, where people of color are rare and far in-between. “So many kids against me. I used to cry. Run and cry. It was too much – the abuse at home and then coming to cruelty at school. I was always, in Maine, the ONLY black person in any school or town I ever went to. In the whole school!” Shame and not belonging became deeply ingrained in her psych.

Along her journey, Florencia gets support and care from her older brother, Joey, and from different friends and mentors, including: Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Royal, Danielle Hardigan, Melody, and the Goodmans. She becomes a ward of the state, and is cycled through various foster homes for two and a half years. When she finally gets to Boston College, against all odds, she is confronted with how to make a living, raise her son Joshua, and simultaneously go to school – exhausting in and of itself.

Mulatto: Daughter of America is sadly a story that still takes place throughout our country. Abuse (in all forms) is pervasive. Though we think we’ve come a long way, by talking about it and confronting it publicly, it continues to fester in homes everywhere. Like our daughter, who went to University of California, Berkeley, and now has two children, Florencia LaChance is an accomplished technical grant writer and project manager, with insight into her childhood, and the ability to write about it for others.

A Long Time To Die

Dying Takes It Out of You – Book One of the Madonna Diaries
by S.S. Bazinet. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

513xwn-wYJLMental gymnastics, emotional turmoil, and brotherly love, all add weight to this dystopian thriller. Dying Takes It Out of You is set in the near future, when a virus has been deployed by terrorists, and the entire world is threatened. Dory is one of those infected, who believes he’d rather die than live in this shit hole that has become his life. His brother Milton, a scientist and doctor, has other ideas for Dory, and tries to save him by finding a cure at all costs. It may cost them everything.

Ms. Bazinet has taken a terrifying world in the near future, and turned it into a philosophical and ideological tale about understanding, family, and what is worth living for, without giving up an iota of fear or suspense. The beginning is intentionally misleading, making readers believe that the pursuer is evil, and the narrator (Dory) is running for his life. The sudden switch in who is in danger, and the shift from which person is good, and who is bad, is well executed.

In the process of Milton’s heroics to save his brother, who craves blood, is afraid he’ll go crazy, and will most likely die a horrible death within weeks, Dory describes his experience. “Sometimes a person doesn’t know how strong they are until they keep dying and coming back. A few days in, Milton said that I was having a convulsion and then clunk, I was dead again. The old vessel in my chest decided it had had enough and just stopped working in mid fit. Even Milton was surprised. Most people take longer to kill.”

This fantasy, by S. S. Bazinet, explores the depths a loved one (in this case his twin brother) will take to keep them alive. The world she creates is not that distant, or foreign, and has a strong connection with its surroundings. Memories that Dory has of an abusive father, and kind mother, are also interspersed with lucid dreams and conversations with Thomas, an individual known as one of the Watchers. These dialogues provide Dory with insight and hope, and make Dying Takes It Out of You all the better.

I Almost Fell Over

513qrbXXhOLWhere We Belong by Fox Brison.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Hope you don’t think I’m an eejit, as a bi-sexual wanna-be lesbian Yankee (22% Irish I recently discovered with DNA), when I say how much I fawned over Where We Belong by Ms. Brison. What is their not to like about this story? It takes place in one of my favorite parts of the world (near Westport, Ireland), is about family, helping kids, and has two beautiful narrators who fall deeply in love. There are so many twists and turns, I almost fell over (and I was sitting in a chair while reading). Oh yeah, the love scenes and romance are also very hot, and intricately interspersed throughout.

Bri (who thinks she’s straight), finds out she’s adopted, and takes a construction job in Ireland to get away from her ex-boyfriend and look for her birth mother’s family. Upon arrival, she meets the administrator of the new home being built for dis-advantaged children, Elisha. Elisha falls for Bri (short for Brianna) upon first sight, but doesn’t want to cross the line of hitting on a straight woman. In the meantime, Bri’s feelings for Elisha are running rampant, but she doesn’t know what to do with her knew found urges, and attraction, or how to tell Elisha.

Without giving anything away, here are some lines from the beginning of this book, when Bri finds a letter in her parent’s attic. “Intuitively I knew that this simple piece of stationary was about to take the very fabric of my being and tear it asunder, thread by thread, still I slipped a finger under the seal anyway.” Not only does the letter change her entire life, it prompts her to move to Ireland and throw everything she knew about herself out the window. The people she meets in Ireland, Elisha (and her sister and father) and her neighbors (Patrick and Bridget “Biddy”), become like family, and that’s just the start of it.

This book includes all the aspects that draw me into a story. It is written well, has believable and likable characters, lots of romance, a wonderful description, and sense, of time and place, and makes the reader feel like you know these people inside out. If I met the author (Fox Brison) in person, I’d give her a big hug and thank her for writing such an entertaining and heartfelt tale. There is a lot of lesfic fiction these days (at least a lot more than their ever was in the past), and like other genres, some of it is good, some bad, and some so so. Where We Belong is very good.

A Voddy a Day

The Magic Vodka Wardrobe by Sheila Patel.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

5148g32KOlL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_This story seems to have been written by somebody who was very drunk. That doesn’t mean that it is unintelligible, or not entertaining, but more like coming to consciousness every now and then and writing down what is happening. The Magic Vodka Wardrobe focuses on three sisters (Trace, Shaz, and Kristy), and their Aunt Sheila, who retreat to their magic wardrobe bar where bartender, Bachittar, provides the music they desire (a lot of disco from the 70s), the gifts they crave, and the latest gossip on what’s going on in the neighborhood. Sort of like your regular pub bar tender, but one with special powers. This is, of course, a secret bar that only the sisters and aunt are privy too.

It all begins and ends with Shaz celebrating her twenty-eight, and twenty-ninth, birthday (respectively). A cast of characters from home and community are intertwined, including the family dog (Snoop Dog), Lady Fatima (aunt Sheila’s sister), Sue Ellen (the Singh sister’s mother), The Ladoo Shop Twins (both big and hairy), Rajeer (the boy next door), Sheryl (who works at parents store), and Channing Copra (the handsome rich guy that Trace falls for). Oh yeah, the oldest sister, Kristy, lives in Australia and repeatedly Skype’s into the bar to hear the latest and give her advice.

There are nine rules in the bar. One of them is “In case of fire, pray.” Here’s an excerpt, to give an idea of the humor within these pages. When her sisters explain how worried Shaz is about her lost car keys to Aunt Sheila, she says, “Oh, you mean these?” asked Sheila, pulling a pair of keys out of her pocket. “Sue Ellen had them in her cardi; the pockets are so deep she found them in there with an old samosa, a pair of socks, a couple of scratch cards, and I’m sure there was an empty miniature Bells in there too! She was hiding them from Mad Mush Martha from the estate – she’s been taking selfies next to the new Audi.”

It would be pretty cool if you went to the pub and every time you walked in they knew exactly what you wanted to drink, started playing your song, and everyone got dressed up in costumes for the night, and danced their ass off. It doesn’t matter if you pass out on the floor, knock things over, throw up, or do and say the stupidest things ever. It’s all part of the magic. There don’t seem to be too many accompanying hangovers in The Magic Vodka Wardrobe. Of course, they’re better off left forgotten. One question from this naive reader in The States. Is “voddy” a British term for vodka, or something made up for this story?

Whatever It Takes

Love Feld by Virginia Alanís.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

61eBvpsjijLA high school sweetheart, who becomes as possessive as hell, a patriarchal Mexican father, and a prejudiced school counselor, can’t stop Laura Cano from following her dream to be a lawyer and gain independence. She also learns when, and how, to connect with family, and to appreciate all those who help her along the way. Love Field, by Virginia Alanís, gives readers’ insight into growing up in a Mexican-American family in Texas, and if it isn’t told from her personal experience, reads like it is. Her parents, sisters, and grandmother, all sound familiar, comforting, and often controlling.

At age 17, Laura is looking forward to graduating from high school, and applying to college. Since she was young, she thought about being a lawyer to help others. Especially after she witnessed a tragic event from a next door neighbor’s abusive husband when she was a child. Lucky to get a job at a law office, with Vanessa Hamilton, and support from her Godmother, Toni, the narrator of this tale fights to find her way in spite of a father that believes women are only meant to be wives, and her newly married husband, Edward, who does not trust her and threatens to ruin everything.

If you (or someone you know) has ever been in a possessive, and/or abusive, relationship, what transpires between this young couple (Laura and Edward), may feel uncomfortably familiar. What first appears to be support, love, and care, slowly gets twisted and subverted, until Laura must make a choice and risk leaving the young man she once loved, without being harmed (or killed) in the process. She does everything she can legally, and gets help from her retired English teacher, Elisabeth, her mentor at work, Vanessa, and Godmother Toni.

This story encompasses a number of themes. What is family? How much does one owe family, and what parts do you leave behind? Are there any signs that someone will turn out to be abusive when you first meet, and if so, what are they? How does one safely escape from a violent, or threatening situation, without jeopardizing themselves or others? Is family history something that should be respected at all costs, or left behind when it becomes overbearing? If you like the recent memoir of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomeyer (My Beloved World), you’ll enjoy Love Field by Virginia Alanís.

A Midwife’s Joys & Sorrows

Born for Life: A Midwife’s Story by Julie Watson.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

41H1LHEanXL._SY346_Being that Call the Midwife, based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, is my favorite series on television, I was excited to discover this autobiography by New Zealand nurse-midwife Julie Watson. Born for Life is an intimate and honest portrait of the life Ms. Watson has led (so far), and her interest in nursing, which was inflamed when she first read about Florence Nightengale as a schoolgirl. The effects of birth, and having children, have an overwhelming impact on the author, in her own family, as well as her chosen profession.

Julie meets her future husband, Barry, at a young age (in 1968) and is married at 17. Four years later she has her first child (Kelvin). During the pregnancy she develops preeclampsia and must be on bedrest. “Preeclampsia is a condition that occur during pregnancy when a woman’s blood pressure rises sharply.” She first comes across the condition at work when it has devastating effects on a patient. “All these thoughts were going on in my mind. I never thought something like this could happen when having a baby. It never occurred to me that sometimes things can go wrong. Little did I know that preeclampsia was going to have a devastating effect on my own life that would impact me for years.” The impact she is referring to is the death of her second child, Shelley Anne Watson, who lived only a short time after her birth.

After having more children, and going back to school to become a licensed nurse, Ms. Watson had several other children (Angela Mary) and much later, another daughter (Elizabeth Jane). Not only does she have to deal with preeclampsia and bedrest once again, for both these pregnancies, but she also discovers that both her daughter’s have Albinism, which is a congenital disorder that results in the partial or complete absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes. It can also effect sight, which it does with her children.

The author speaks candidly about her periods of “depression, loneliness, and self-doubt”, which she struggled with after the death of Shelley Ann, and at other periods in her life. She describes the wonderful support she had (and has) from her spouse, family, and friends, and how they all came through to help, especially when she has a stroke in mid-life (from which she recovers). She also talks about starting to attend church, and the comfort prayer, and belief begins to give her. It is this faith that sustains her.

Though this review may sound as if this memoir is just about struggles, and sadness, Born for Life is anything but. Along with the writer’s personal ups and downs, she provides an abundance of details and tales, about different mothers, families, and situations in which she played a vital role in assisting in joyful and healthy deliveries. By far, the majority of this autobiography tells the stories of brave women giving birth, who are surrounded with caring and knowledgable midwives, such as Ms. Watson. It was an honor to read.

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