Emily Rae Robles

the paradoxymoron

The House of Order – John Paul Jaramillo

It’s been a while since I’ve written a review. But when Novel Publicity sent out the blog tour promo for John Paul Jaramillo’s The House of Order, I knew I had to sign up. The writing captured my attention immediately, as did the storytelling format and the story itself.

Probably the best word to sum up this book is “raw.” Some might translate this as “uncensored.” (Don’t say I didn’t warn you!) Some might prefer “harshly realistic.” I would say that this book is not just about a broken family trying to forge and maintain relationships–it’s about the human condition at its ugliest, most honest, and most naked.

Manito, the young man who narrates the story, tells the history of his family through stories that have been passed down to him from family members, specifically his uncle, Neto. There is not much cheerfulness or even hope in these stories, but there is a huge dosage of survival. In this way, Jaramillo captures the longing for love, hope, and purpose that drives Manito and his family to survive.

Novel Publicity Blog Tour Notes:

Wanna win a $50 gift card or an autographed copy of The House of Order? Well, there are two ways to enter…

  1. Leave a comment on my blog. One random commenter during this tour will win a $50 gift card. For the full list of participating blogs, visit the official House of Order tour page.
  2. Enter the Rafflecopter contest! I’ve posted the contest form below, or you can enter on the official House of Order tour page–either way works just as well.

About the author: John Paul Jaramillo grew up in Southern Colorado but now lives, writes and teaches in Springfield, Illinois. He earned his MFA in creative writing (fiction) from Oregon State University and, currently, holds the position of Associate Professor of English in the Arts and Humanities Department of Lincoln Land Community College. Connect with John Paul on his website, Facebook, Twitter or GoodReads.

Get The House of Order on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

April 16, 2012 Posted by | book review, briefcase of books | 3 Comments

Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I’ve never been too much of a non-fiction reader, usually preferring made-up worlds to the real one.  When I first picked up The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and saw that it was non-fiction, I’ll admit I was somewhat skeptical.  Science has never been my strong suit, so a book about some woman’s cells didn’t sound all that enthralling.  Still, I had heard several recommendations, so I opened it up, started reading, and was immediately hooked.

Henrietta Lacks was a black woman who, in 1951, developed and died of a particularly invasive cancer.  Her doctors took a routine sample of the cancer cells and discovered that, unlike all other cancer cells they had examined, hers never died.  I’m not going to even try to go into more details about what happened or why, because I don’t retain science very well and will just sound ignorant.  To quickly summarize, the rest of the story follows the groundbreaking research for which HeLa cells were responsible, the history of Henrietta and her family, and the attempts of the author, Rebecca Skloot, to uncover the injustices done to the Lacks family.

Rebecca Skloot’s writing style is honest and easy to follow, pulling the reader into the journey she took to discover the history behind Henrietta Lacks’ immortal cells.  The scienctific aspects are clearly explained without being condescending, and the family stories are told with detail and reverence.  Skloot paints a vivid picture of the Lacks family and their struggles, which stays with the reader for some time after finishing the book.  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a fascinating read, well worth the reader’s time.

July 13, 2011 Posted by | book review | 1 Comment

Book Review: Persuasion

I should probably admit my horrifying secret right off the bat before I even start this review: I don’t like Jane Austen. I’ve tried. My first encounter with her was in junior high. After years of hearing my mother rave about her humor, wit, and writing skill, I finally gave in and read Sense and Sensibility. I was probably either too young or too immature to appreciate it at all; I just remember being bored. A few years later, I read Pride and Prejudice. I was slightly more able to keep up with the storyline, characters, and themes, but the end result was once again that I was bored. Finally, this summer, I decided that I needed to catch up on all the Jane Austen I’ve missed out on, so I grabbed Persuasion off of my mom’s bookshelf and delved in. Once again, I sadly found myself bored.

I didn’t want to be bored by such a classic; really, I didn’t. I wanted to laugh at Austen’s biting social commentary, commiserate with the tortured heroine, and rejoice at the happy ending. But somehow, the whole thing seemed inauthentic. This is probably a sign of my immaturity or inability to understand the time in which the story is set, but I promise I at least tried.

The main thing that bothered me about Persuasion was the emphasis on intelligent society for which Austen is so renowned. As much as I enjoy a good discussion, it gets on my nerves when intellect or understanding is glorified above all else. It reminds me too much of the stereotypical pompous English major who looks down her nose at the obliviously cheerful citizens of the world, going about their daily business without even an attempt to comprehend the intertwining themes of life. I love the discovery involved in reading a good book, but the pretentiousness gets old after a while.

Although I’m sure I would have enjoyed the company of Jane Austen were we friends in real life, I’m not so sure she would like me. I don’t know that I’m sensible enough. Her writing is peppered with statements from the heroines such as “She was too ignorant and giddy for respect” (Chapter 9) and “My idea of good company is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation” (Chapter 4). That’s an awful lot of pressure.

I should probably stop rambling about how much I dislike pretentiousness, because it’s making me feel pretentious. To end on a slightly happier note, Persuasion is definitely a thoughtful book with characters that really come to life. Maybe someday I’ll grow up and be able to enjoy it more.

July 11, 2011 Posted by | book review | 4 Comments

Book Review: Hattie Big Sky

The other day, I spent some time browsing around my favorite bookstore: Powell’s Books.  What I tend to do in bookstores is pick up the first book that looks good, start it, and finish it.  On this particular day, the book happened to be Hattie Big Sky, by Kirby Larson, a Newbery Honor novel about a teenage homesteader girl in Montana.  This was a perfect choice for a quick read because it is well-paced, enthralling, funny, and touching all at once.  I left the bookstore happily processing the emotions required in reading a full book.

Hattie, the main character, is a sixteen-year-old girl living during the first World War with relatives who are reluctant to keep her, when she unexpectedly inherits a homestead in Montana.  The remainder of the book depicts Hattie’s struggles to survive the harsh Montana winter, the challenges of maintaining a homestead, and some anti-German neighbors who make life difficult for Hattie’s closest friends (the father of whom happens to be German.)  There is also a cow involved, which all the blurbs on the book itself seemed to find especially fascinating, but I was not completely won over by its bovine wiles.

I thought the book did a great job of intertwining plot lines and character developments.  The only aspect I didn’t find convincing was the underdeveloped romance, which seemed thrown in and unnecessary.  Other than that, the book seemed well thought-out and captivating, a combination that held my interest throughout.  This is definitely a worthwhile read, especially to those children’s book aficionados.

June 27, 2011 Posted by | book review | , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

It’s a special feeling when a book captures my attention to the point where I start to identify as the main character.  I’m not referring to identifying with the main character, a feeling that occurs quite often when I become engrossed in books.  I’m talking about full-on feeling that I am this character.  Mark Haddon accomplished this for me with his fantastic novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  By the end of the book, which features Christopher, a 15-year-old with Asperger’s, I found myself wincing at things both in the book and outside the book that were done “wrong.”  I didn’t quite get to the point where I was counting cars of the same color, which is what Christopher does to determine if he is going to have a good day, but the strong voice throughout definitely got to me by the end, in the most effective way possible.

The “curious incident” referred to in the title of the book is the murder of a dog belonging to Christopher’s neighbor, a crime that triggers a series of unforeseeable events that keep both Christopher and readers on their toes.  The ensuing adventures are exciting, humorous, and poignant all at once–a feat especially remarkable by the author since the character experiences almost none of these emotions.

This is going to be a short review, but The Curious Incident is a short book.  I highly recommend that you check it out purely to experience the magic Haddon creates through a character who would never believe in magic.  He truly captures the paradoxes of humanity.  This is a book well worth the read.

June 24, 2011 Posted by | book review | | 2 Comments

Book Review: The Book Thief

As an avid lover of the story form, I hate it when books are ruined for me in any way, even including the genre.  Nevertheless, I can’t resist sharing that The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, is one of the saddest books I have read for quite a while.  Its unique narrative perspective combines with a moving account of life in Nazi Germany to create a powerful story about the strength of love.  The themes regarding the  nature of stories, life, and love are made even more effective by a most unusual narrator: Death.

The main character, also known as the book thief, is a young German girl named Liesel.  Her nickname, bestowed upon her both by Death and by her best friend Rudy, originates from the several books she steals over the years–some accidentally, others intentionally.  Because of her affinity for books, Liesel is able to build relationships with her foster father (with whom she spends a great deal of time reading,) her friend Rudy (with whom she steals some of the books,) the mayors wife (from whom she both steals and borrows,) and perhaps most importantly, a Jew named Max whom her family hides in their basement.  Through all of these people, but especially through her illegal friendship with a legally declared less-than-human, Liesel learns the power of love and the power of a story, an interesting moral to hear from the mouth of Death.

Zusak crafts a compelling tale that draws the reader close to the characters, making their pain even more deeply felt by the readers.  The narrative structure additionally tugs at the heartstrings because of Death’s unique way of communicating.  The story is not always told linearly; often details are given away before they actually occur.  Death also often interjects his own point of view into the story, creating a narrator who is omniscient in a truly superhuman meaning of the word.

From beginning to end to middle, The Book Thief illuminates the beauty in life even in the midst of one of history’s most horrific times.  As Liesel and her family and friends demonstrate, it is the small but powerful connections between people that make life worth living–even Death agrees.  In this case, the connections are made not only through books, but through stories in general.  Liesel’s story is one of survival, in stark contrast to the underlying presence of Death.  As Death points out, it is the exceptions to his rule that he notices–and Liesel is definitely an exception.  However, it is also those who are not the exceptions but who succumb to the power of the narrator over the course of the story that the reader notices.  While the survivors pull at Death’s heartstrings (yes, as he points out, he has a heart,) even he notices the tragedies he brings on.

Despite the overwhelming presence of Death in The Book Thief, it is the life that is most memorable–the life of Liesel.  Her stories and the stories she affects will stay with the reader long after the book is completed.  The Book Thief is definitely a story that will steal your heart.

June 22, 2011 Posted by | book review | , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, was one of those books that I picked up after hearing it recommended by countless book lists, but had no clue what to expect from the story itself.  Upon reading it, I immediately fell in love with Atwood’s writing style.  However, the problem with an enthralling writing style is that it takes much longer for me to read the book, since I have to savor every single word!  In the case of The Handmaid’s Tale, the words are well worth the trouble of the story, which for me came secondary.

The novel follows the life of Offred, a handmaid in a dystopian society whose sole purpose is to reproduce.  Over the course of the book, the reader becomes familiar with Offred’s life both under the strict regime of Gilead as well as her history before and during the descent of the new political powers.  Despite the setting, however, The Handmaid’s Tale is not just a cautionary tale.  It is an exploration into a human life, made even more powerful by the character’s removal from what we consider to be a normal setting.

One of the writing techniques I have found to be most powerful in novels is the author’s ability to create and explore not just a character but an entire life.  Margaret Atwood accomplishes this on a brilliantly high level in The Handmaid’s Tale by exploring even the parts of the mind that lie to oneself.  She delves so deep into the psyche of the narrator, Offred, that every detail about Offred’s life adds to a character so complex that the boundaries between her reality and her creations are blurred.

A creation in her own right, Offred makes it clear that her story is not clear, that it is a creation as flawed as she is and as life is.  Despite the external focus on the imperfect, from the dystopian world to Offred’s character flaws to the flaws in the story telling process, the entire novel is one that focuses primarily on beauty.  It is peppered with details about memories, the way something smells, tastes, looks, sounds, or feels, the ideas evoked by words, and the craft of story telling.  These details do more than merely flesh out the story; they provide the reader with insight into the observations that make humanity unique.

Although I generally find dystopian novels to be somewhat over the top and moralizing, The Handmaid’s Tale is for me an exception in that it is not the plot that stuck with me after completion, but the main character.  Offred comes to life for readers, telling her tale with an individualism that stands in stark contrast to the attempts at indistinguishability presented by the setting.  Overall, this was a deeply moving account of a deeply human life that was well worth the read.

June 20, 2011 Posted by | book review | , | Leave a comment

Briefcase of Books: Bridget Jones’ Diary

Title: Bridget Jones’ Diary
Author: Helen Fielding
Brief Case: The only thing clever about the plot is what it copies from Pride and Prejudice; the only thing likable about the characters is what it stereotypes, creating a story that falls flat with characters the reader doesn’t care about.

June 12, 2011 Posted by | book review, briefcase of books | | Leave a comment

Briefcase of Books: In Leah’s Wake

Title: In Leah’s Wake
Author: Terri Giuliano Long
Brief Case:  In a study on human perspective and condition, Long creates a painfully realistic picture of a disintegrating family, showing that a well-rounded viewpoint doesn’t always lack edge.

Tour Notes:

Please vote for my blog in the traffic-breaker poll for this tour. The blogger with the most votes wins a free promotional twitterview and a special winner’s badge. I want that to be me! You can vote in the poll by visiting the official In Leah’s Wake blog tour page and scrolling all the way to the bottom.

The next word for the book give-away is book. Learn more about the give-away and enter to win 1 of 3 copies on the official In Leah’s Wake blog tour page. The other 2 copies are being given-away courtesy of the GoodReads author program, go here to enter. And don’t forget to stop by the Q&A with Terri Giuliano Long Group to discuss In Leah’s Wake (including questions from the official book club guide), the author, her writing process, and advice.

Book Trailer for In Leah’s Wake:

May 25, 2011 Posted by | book review, briefcase of books | 1 Comment

Briefcase of Books: The Other Hand

Title: The Other Hand /American title: Little Bee (I don’t know why the copy I got has the other title)

Author: Chris Cleave

Brief Case: Two women unexpectedly come together and tell their story with unexpected words that keep the reader engrossed throughout by their sheer beauty.

May 18, 2011 Posted by | book review, briefcase of books | Leave a comment