Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Thank you to Netgalley, Doubleday Books and Ingrid Rojas Contreras for the free e-book copy in exchange for a review.

Y’all. This is the year of stellar debut novels: What We Were Promised, Whiskey & Ribbons and now Fruit of the Drunken Tree.

I had been seeing a lot of buzz around bookstagram about this book and rest assured, it does live up to the hype.

This novel follows two perspectives: Chula, a young girl who comes from an affluent family and Petrona, a young teenager who is from a guerrilla-occupied slum of the same city. The novel takes place in Pablo Escobar-era Columbia.

Petrona becomes the Santiago’s (Chula’s family) housekeeper and Chula becomes fascinated by Petrona, wondering why she acts the way she does.

Without giving anything away, this is a great account of innocence in the face of difficult circumstances and a turbulent political climate. In some ways it reminded me of Room by Emma Donoghue in that Chula’s perspective is innocent while observing evil circumstances.

This is both a coming of age story and historical fiction. The author states at the end of the book that this novel is semi-autobiographical. I found myself researching many of the events and even the general era frequently, as I was previously unaware of the specific issues present in Columbia at this time.

I recommend this book to people who enjoy coming of age stories, historical fiction with a good helping of political turmoil and just if you’re looking to learn a bit more about an era you may be unfamiliar with.

Girls Night Out by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

⭐⭐⭐

Thank you to Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke and Netgalley for the free e-reader copy in exchange for a review. This didn’t influence my opinion in any way.

This novel follows Ashley, Natalie and Lauren on a girl’s trip to Mexico in attempt to reconcile some issues between them. Of course, things go awry and the reconciliation doesnt go quite as well as expected.

Disclaimer: this is not really my genre; suspense/thriller: those of you who gravitate towards these books will likely enjoy it more than me. I found this book ok. I enjoyed the gorgeous setting, the complicated friendships and it did keep me turning the pages. I didn’t love the use of Mayan culture in attempt to liberate white women. That aspect felt awkward for me. This is probably a personal preference for me, but I didn’t love the juicy gossipy bits as well. I will say that the suspense leading to the reveal was well constructed with small chapters cutting back in forth in time. The final reveal was a bit predictable. Recommend if you like the genre.

What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan

🌟🌟🌟🌟☄ (4.5 stars)

Thank you to Little, Brown and Company and Lucy Tan for gifting me a copy in exchange for a review. This did not affect my opinion in any way.

Let’s be real. When I saw the cover of this book on the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide I NEEDED to learn more. Don’t worry: this beautiful content lives up to its cover.

Synopsis: The Zhen family return to China after spending twenty years chasing the American dream. Wei, Lina and their daughter Karen become part of an affluent community of many ex-pats. One day, Lina realizes a sentimental keepsake has gone missing. This creates a culture of mistrust amongst the housekeeping staff within the community. Wei is caught up in his busy worklife while Lina attempts to acclimate to the newly bestowed role of being a ‘taitai’–a housewife who doesn’t do housework. There are problems in the household, which their housekeeper Sunny has picked up on. Things begin to come to a head when Qiang, Wei’s brother reappears in Shanghai after decades of disappearing.

Lucy Tan does a great job of making the reader feel that you are in the particular character’s room whenever describing the circumstances of the chapter without having overwrought prose. The book is told in differing perspectives and in different periods of time. There is a quiet subtlety to her prose that takes care to explain the nuances of occupying the space of a housekeeper vs. a ‘taitai’. This novel addresses class, family secrets, difficulty of marriage vs. love, ex-pat life and missed opportunities. A very strong debut novel and I highly recommend it if you enjoy these themes. It reminded me a bit of Behold the Dreamers and Everything I Never Told You.