Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

 

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Like Water for Chocolate:  A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies 
By Laura Esquivel
Translators: Thomas Christensen, Carol Christensen
Publisher: Anchor
ISBN13: 9780385420174
Genre: Magical Realism

Synopsis:

Earthy, magical, and utterly charming, this tale of family life in turn-of-the-century Mexico became a best-selling phenomenon with its winning blend of poignant romance and bittersweet wit.

The number one bestseller in Mexico and America for almost two years, and subsequently a bestseller around the world, “Like Water For Chocolate” is a romantic, poignant tale, touched with moments of magic, graphic earthiness, bittersweet wit – and recipes.

A sumptuous feast of a novel, it relates the bizarre history of the all-female De La Garza family. Tita, the youngest daughter of the house, has been forbidden to marry, condemned by Mexican tradition to look after her mother until she dies. But Tita falls in love with Pedro, and he is seduced by the magical food she cooks. In desperation, Pedro marries her sister Rosaura so that he can stay close to her. For the next twenty-two years, Tita and Pedro are forced to circle each other in unconsummated passion. Only a freakish chain of tragedies, bad luck and fate finally reunite them against all the odds.


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This was a buddy read with Kim at Traveling, Gladly Beyond. Being that this was a shorter title, we opted to forgo the usual 5 question format you see in buddy reads here on the blog and simply link up so you can compare our thoughts. You can find Kim’s review here

2018 Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt: A book by author of a different ethnicity than you

Like Water for Chocolate was ultimately selected after Kim and I discussed wanting to read more translated titles. She was kind enough to produce a nice list of potential books, and this was our final choice. It is a title many have probably encountered if not in books in film. It has been on the bestseller lists in both Mexico and America, and the film has earned several awards. It was an easy selection.

Told through twelve monthly installments that each feature a new recipe, Esquivel delivers a unique narrative of Tita, a young woman forbidden to marry, but passionately in love. When her heart’s interest, Pedro is denied her hand by her mother, he agrees to marry her sister as a means of remaining close to her. But when Tita’s emotions began to carry over into her cooking, something magical happens and a series of side effects ranging from unbridled passion to deep sorrow surface within those who consume her food. Realizing this, Tita begins a slow seduction of Pedro through the art of cooking.

I am torn about my experience with Like Water for Chocolate and find it rather difficult to review. I can easily appreciate why this novel has made a mark, but I encountered a few barriers. Part of me enjoyed the book and another part of me knows I am not the ideal audience. So please keep both in mind here.

The biggest challenge I found lies within the characters. Initially, I liked Tita. Then I did not, then I did. And “loathing” would be an accurate description of my feelings for Pedro. This was a result of their continually bad terrible decision-making. While I respected the difficulty and heartache of their situation, I was never able to fully remove myself from my own logic and morals long enough to be “OK” with their responses and actions, and they offered no other form of distraction. It was simply one bad choice after another. And this is where my focus remained. In the end, it made for an uphill read.

Another issue (that I am learning to overcome) is that this is a love story. For the entirety of my reading life, I have struggled with them. However, with that said, the added element of Tita’s emotions literally feeding her family and a genuinely original narrative were the saving grace here. I was drawn to the incorporation of recipes into the story. It is magical realism and food! The author manages to beautifully segue meal preparation into the events as they occur and it works, giving the story a new layer of depth and facilitating a breezy, fun read carried effortlessly by the author’s fluid and spirited writing.

My final quibble would fall to the conclusion. Again, this is the result of poor actions on the character’s behalf. I found it to be disappointing and effectively solidifying of my dislike for each of them and ultimately lessening my overall rating.

But do not let my personal experience sway you away from Like Water for Chocolate. It offers a nice dose of culture through cuisine and tradition packed into an eccentric tale of passion that is incredibly easy to digest. If you enjoy a unique love story and do not mind heavily flawed protagonists, this is worth exploring.

Untitled design Served with a  tall glass of iced tea served and fresh lemon.

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Happy Reading,

Danielle ❤

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The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

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The Cottingley Secret
By Hazel Gaynor
Publisher: William Marrow
ISBN13: 9780062499844
Pages: 383
Genre: Historical Fiction/Magical Realism

Synopsis:

The author of The Girl Who Came Home turns the clock back one hundred years to a time when two young girls from Cottingley, Yorkshire, convinced the world that they had done the impossible and photographed fairies in their garden. Now, in her newest novel, international bestseller Hazel Gaynor reimagines their story.

1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself?


(New) Thoughts

The Cottingley Secret is an exceptional sort of story that will easily attract an expansive audience with its lyrical prose and hints of warm and whimsical elements of magic.

Told over the course of two alternating timelines, Hazel Gaynor constructs the story of two young girls (Frances and Elsie) from 1917 Cottingley, England who produce photographs of fairies from a nearby beck hoping to convince their parents. In doing so, they inadvertently capture the attention of the one and only, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and create an unexpected sensation during a time of war and hardship. But Frances is succumbing to the mounting pressures of their new-found attention and longs to free herself with the truth.

100 years later, that truth is delivered to Olivia Kavanagh in the form of a manuscript received upon the passing of her grandfather. She also learns she has inherited his bookstore Something Old. As Olivia works to manage the newly acquired shop and reads through Frances’ story, she uncovers a past that is deeply connected to her own. With a little help from an old manuscript, a few new friends and the bookshop, Olivia just might learn something more about herself and what she truly desires in life.

The Cottingley fairies are a subject that I am familiar with to a small extent. I have always been charmed by the story of two young girls convincing a country at war that there was something magical in existence. I am also aware of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s interest as a spiritualist. It is a story that while in hindsight may not supply the same air of magic, at the time managed to deliver a breath of hope and much-needed promise. In that alone, there is something of beauty, and Hazel Gaynor delivers nothing less in The Cottingley Secret.

“There is more to every photograph than what we see-more to the story than the one the camera captures on the plate. You have to look behind the picture to discover the truth.”

 

                                 Elsie with a gnome.                       Frances with the fairies.

The real splendor that is The Cottingley Secret can be found within Gaynor’s ability to maintain an air of genuine enchantment while examining the truth. She may uncover the reality behind the photographs and how they came into existence, but she utilizes this to explore hope, love, and the promise of something greater. This is where the magic lies.

Character development unfolds slowly through a series of manuscript readings and Olivia’s own personal struggles. This approach feels intimate, encouraging the reader to further explore Olivia and Frances. Gaynor invites the reader into the heart of her characters, immediately establishing a solid bond. Each character is familiar, each encounter emotional.

Seamless transitions in narration and timeline construct a world that is enveloping and engages the senses to the fullest. For a few hours each evening, I was transported to Something Old or the beck in Cottingley. Knowledgable and atmospheric writing carries the reader back in time with incredible ease, allowing a rare glimpse into history that feels almost surreal at moments as we find ourselves wanting to believe. Needing to believe. This is elegantly balanced by the time spent with Olivia as she pieces together the past and finds herself in the process.

We are the sum of those who have touched our lives in one way or another.”

The Cottingley Secret is a book for those who believe in spite of the odds. For those who are young and the young at heart. It is a tale of a magic we each hold within through our own love and hope. Between the pages lies a journey of imagination and heart that will captivate and linger long after the story ends.

*I would like to thank BookSparks and the publisher for this copy. The above review is my own honest, opinion.

Untitled designEnjoyed with a nice cup of English Breakfast and a splash of milk.

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The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

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The Gracekeepers
By Kirsty Logan
Narrated By: Katy Townsend
Publisher: Random House Audio
ISBN: 9781101890585
Unabridged: 11 hr 20 min

Synopsis:

As a Gracekeeper, Callanish administers shoreside burials, laying the dead to their final resting place deep in the depths of the ocean. Alone on her island, she has exiled herself to a life of tending watery graves as penance for a long-ago mistake that still haunts her. Meanwhile, North works as a circus performer with the Excalibur, a floating troupe of acrobats, clowns, dancers, and trainers who sail from one archipelago to the next, entertaining in exchange for sustenance. 

In a world divided between those inhabiting the mainland (“landlockers”) and those who float on the sea (“damplings”), loneliness has become a way of life for North and Callanish, until a sudden storm offshore brings change to both their lives – offering them a new understanding of the world they live in and the consequences of the past, while restoring hope in an unexpected future. 

Inspired in part by Scottish myths and fairytales, The Gracekeepers tells a modern story of an irreparably changed world: one that harbors the same isolation and sadness, but also joys and marvels of our own age. 


(New) Thoughts

Callanish is a Gracekeeper, charged with seeing that those who have passed are given to their final place of rest in the ocean. She resides on an isolated island resigning her lonely life to a form of punishment for a mistake once made in her past. North travels by ship with the circus Excalibur working to sustain a living and living with her own burdens. When fate entwines the path of these to women, it will soon shed a new light on their opposing worlds and events past.

There are a few elements that when utilized properly can create a genuinely unique and rewarding story. The Gracekeepers catches two of these brilliantly in its superb delivery of magical realism and a floating circus.  My love for this story actually makes it rather difficult to place my experience into words. This is the type of tale that requires savoring and personal exploration. It is as complex as comfortable. I will not attempt to dissect the plot-line for this review, but instead briefly summarize my own feelings.

While sporting a more limited ensemble of characters, they are not without heart. I found Callanish and North to be of great interest and quite honestly, endearing. Though I will admit that their growth felt slow at times, and I found myself drawn more to the world Logan has created. Divided between the land and ship dwelling inhabitants, the damplings and landlockers create an enchanting and atmospheric read that blends fairytale and folklore beautifully. For all of the sorrow and loneliness presented, there is something of great delight to be discovered within The Gracekeepers that will be an individualized experience ranging from fascination to borderline confusion at times.

Logan’s writing is immersive and  with a poetic prose, promising a unique and magical encounter.  Accompanied with Katy Townsend’s smooth narration, each alternating perspective transitions seamlessly. Finding a permanent home in my bookish heart, The Gracekeepers offers something rare and unusual for fans of magical realism and folklore alike.

Untitled design Enjoyed with a nice cup of lavender tea with a hint of vanilla.

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