Review: Herbarium, Las flores de Gideon

Herbarium, Las flores de Gideon begins with Sarah returning to Oxford following her father’s death. She had moved to Brasilia five years ago after her father told her an unexpected truth about her past, which caused her to run away. During her stay in Oxford, she visits her grandmother, who is now suffering from Alzheimer’s, and staying at a retirement home. Her grandma asks for her help to find Gideon’s flowers that are hidden in copies of Jane Eyre. Sarah doesn’t understand what this means, and while looking for an explanation, she realizes the only person who can help her is Liam, her ex. She didn’t expect the friendliest welcoming on his part, but the distant and cold behavior he shows instead confuses and hurts her more than she had expected. The deeper she digs, the more she realizes that there are parts of her past she can’t run away from and that to make amends, she must stop escaping.

I had a love-hate relationship with this book. I loved it because the plot was very intricate and well-developed. At first, nothing makes sense, but as Sarah begins to learn the correlation between events, it becomes easier to understand what’s going on. Not to mention, I found the analyses of Jane Eyre captivating and how the relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester could be seen as an analogy between Sarah and Liam. Also, I love flowers, and since this book discusses flowers and their meaning, I don’t think I have to explain why I enjoyed the story so much.

I would love to give this book five stars, but I can’t. I found the writing style to be rather plain. The first half of the story is written in first person from Sarah’s perspective. The second half is written in third person since it describes Liam’s perspective somewhat more. I did not see the point in doing this. The entire story could have been written in third person, perhaps except for Gideon’s chapters.

Some parts of the novel felt rather cliché, predictable and redundant. I couldn’t relate to the main characters, since almost all of their problems have roots in miscommunication, which made them appear more immature than they were supposed to. The ending was resolved too quickly, like all of a sudden the characters are living happily ever after, but there are no specific details into how that was achieved. Oh, and let’s not forget about the stereotype with the tea. I’ve never visited the UK, though it’s universal knowledge that the British love drinking tea. However, I think the author over-did it a bit.

Even though it did not meet my overall expectations, it was an entertaining read. It had the potential to be five star worthy. I believe it could make an excellent movie or series.

Rating: 3/5

Review: A Court of Mist and Fury

I am still in awe, this book left me completely speechless. A Court of Mist and Fury, which is the second in the saga, begins with Feyre back at the Spring Court after surviving Amarantha. But she’s not the same — besides being an immortal, she’s anything but happy at her new home. Feyre is suffering from PTSD, and the most unexpected person (faerie) might be able to help her recover and realize that she can decide how to shape her future. Yes, that unexpected individual is Rhysand.

I know this is a fantasy novel, but the PTSD symptoms were portrayed accurately. The dynamics in the relationship between Feyre and Tamlin are also realistic if you of course remove Tamlin’s supernatural powers. But the red flags are the same, and I’m sure many women can relate to Feyre. I loved seeing the way she matured and transformed, both mentally and physically. I won’t get into details because that would imply sharing spoilers (and I want to keep this spoiler-free). But the plot keeps getting more intertwined and previous events start to make more sense.

It’s everything I would’ve expected and more. I laughed, I cried, got angry, and everything in between. This book made me feel all the feels, and I’m not exaggerating. It felt like being on a roller coaster, which was amazing. The only bad thing is that the book I’ve started after finishing this one feels more like a walk in the park and it’s not as thrilling (though I’m sure if I hadn’t read ACOTAR I would be enjoying it way more). So props to the author for even allowing this to be possible. It’s been so long since I’ve felt this involved with a book.

I even created a playlist inspired by it, you can listen to it here. I’ve ordered the third book in physical because the iPad was starting to strain my eyes a bit. As soon as I get the chance, I’ll buy the entire collection.

Rating: 5/5

“To the people who look at the stars and wish, Rhys.” Rhys clinked his glass against mine. “To the stars who listen— and the dreams that are answered.”

Sarah J. Maas, A Court of Mist and Fury

Review: Daring Greatly

Daring Greatly by Brené Brown is a book that discusses connection and vulnerability — and how by allowing yourself to be vulnerable, you’re actually being courageous. Yes, it might sound contradicting and even a bit like nonsense, that’s why you need to read this book. First off, Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure”.

Vulnerability is closely related to shame. Though it’s not one of the six basic human emotions, shame is a universal feeling that all of us have experienced at one point or another. The thing about shame is that people don’t talk about it because it’s uncomfortable, and by simply addressing it makes us feel defenseless. But the key to overcome it is communication. Shame has infiltrated cultures and communities in numerous ways. Many wrong things that happen nowadays at companies and schools have their source in shame.

The main takeaway that I’ll start putting into practice immediately is regarding how we talk to ourselves. Changing that judgemental internal voice makes a huge difference. It’s not the same telling yourself “I’m a failure” vs. “I made a mistake on this occasion”. This is something we learn as kids from the environment we grew up in, but it’s never too late to unlearn and shift the way we see things. We are worthy, we are enough.

All of the information the author shares is based on research. There are plenty of examples from the interviews she’s held with participants, other researchers, and experiences of her own. It was a bit redundant at times, but the writing style was fluid and easy-going; it felt like chatting with a friend.

There is even a small workbook at the end, where all sorts of questions are included to help and guide the reader through a process of introspection.

If you’re still not sure whether this book is for you, I recommend you check out Brené Brown’s TED Talk.

Rating: 4/5

Review: The House on Mango Street

the house on mango street sandra cisneros

The House on Mango Street centers on Esperanza Cordero, a 12-year old Mexican-American girl who lives in a Hispanic neighborhood in Chicago. It narrates a one-year time span in the life of Esperanza, starting when she and her family move to a house located in Mango Street.

It’s a coming of age story where we witness how Esperanza matures during that year and begins to face the realities surrounding her community. At first, her perspective is innocent and she doesn’t fully comprehend the things she’s describing. Towards the end, she’s changed, no longer a girl but a teenager. Her deepest desire is to move away from Mango Street into a “real home” and begins to write as a medium of escape and self-expression.

Some of the themes covered are male chauvinism, social class, sexual harassment, and racism. However, I still do not see why this novel would get banned from being taught at schools, it is not explicit at all. Some of the events described were harsh, but these things do happen — even after 37 years (date when it was first published).

My main critique is that it did not feel like a novel, hence the rating that I’m giving it. Since it’s written in vignettes, it felt more like a collection of short stories. There’s isn’t much plot development and characters come and go without previous notice. All we see is Esperanza’s point of view on certain occurrences, but there isn’t much depth.

As a Latina who grew up in a south-Florida neighborhood densely populated by other fellow Latinos, some of the stories resonated with experiences of my own or people I know. Whether good or bad, it described events that are not far-fetched from reality.

My favorite vignettes were: Marin, Alice who sees mice, Darius and the clouds, Four skinny trees and Bums in the attic.

I enjoyed it overall, some vignettes were witty and entertaining. It’s been such a long time since I’ve read a coming of age story that contained elements from Hispanic culture. Which has made me realize how I should diversify my reads more, so if you have any recommendations on novels written by lantinx authors, please let me know!

Rating: 3.5 / 5

“I want to be like the waves on the sea, like the clouds in the wind, but I’m me. One day I’ll jump out of my skin. I’ll shake the sky like a hundred violins.”

Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street

Review: The Nightingale

The Nightingale is a beautiful, captivating and heartbreaking historical fiction novel. The story focuses on two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle. Vianne is the oldest and is happily married, and has a daughter. But that picture-perfect life finalizes when the Second World War begins, and her husband is enlisted to battle. Vianne is scared and tries to stay out of trouble — her only objective is to keep her daughter safe and survive. Isabelle, on the other hand, has been a rebel since she was a child, never doing what she’s told. Now that she’s a grown woman, it’s no exception. She’s against the German invasion and wants to contribute one way or another to France’s freedom. 

At the beginning of the war, Vianne is doing okay, until a German soldier decides to stay at her house. In the meantime, Isabelle runs away and gets a new identification, she finally finds the way to fulfill her mission. Throughout the story, we witness the complexity of family dynamics and the uncertainty and fear behind all the decisions the main characters make.

Though it’s not based on real historical figures, Isabelle’s character was inspired by Andrée de Jongh, a Belgian woman who during World War II helped numerous aviators and people escape.

The Nightingale was enthralling since the beginning. I devoured the pages and cried at the end. It’s been so long since a book moved me so much. Kristin Hannah’s writing style was very fluid, and it was easy to empathize with Vianne and Isabelle. Joining them along in their pain, grief, and joy. Two women who showed strength during such adverse times.

Last but not least, The Nightingale will have a film adaptation starring Dakota Fanning and her sister Elle Fanning. It’s expected to be released at the end of this year. I have high expectations for this movie, I cannot wait! 

Overall rating: 5/5

“If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: in love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.”

– Kristin Hannah, The Nightingale

Review: The Japanese Lover

The Japanese Lover is a story about love, friendship, aging, and coming to terms with the past. It begins when a young woman named Irina Bazili starts working at Lark House, a retirement home for the elderly. There she meets the enigmatic Alma Belasco, a wealthy widow who has just arrived at Lark House. Unlike the rest of the elderly residents, Alma is empowered and independent.

As the story develops, so does the friendship between Irina, Alma, and Seth (Alma’s grandson). Both Irina and Seth become intrigued by Alma’s past, wondering about the mysterious letters and flowers she receives, and the secret getaways Alma goes to every now and then. As they dig for details in Alma’s past, they unravel the truth about the Japanese lover.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was an entertaining and quick read — specially the end which I didn’t see coming. The different timelines allow the reader to learn about Irina’s past as well as Alma’s. However, I felt it was too summarized. It was rather descriptive, the dialogue was a bit scarce, and there wasn’t much detail on the characters’ inner worlds. Let’s keep in mind that it was written by Isabel Allende, the mastermind behind The House Of Spirits. It’s the second book I read by her, unfortunately it did not meet my expectations.

I still look forward to reading more of her work, I’ve heard positive reviews on A Long Petal of the Sea. Have you read books by Isabel Allende? I’d love to hear your thoughts on them!

Rating: 3.5 / 5