A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA by Isabel Allende

February 7, 2020


From the publisher:

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From the author of The House of the Spirits, this epic novel spanning decades and crossing continents follows two young people as they flee the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War in search of a place to call home.

“One of the most richly imagined portrayals of the Spanish Civil War to date, and one of the strongest and most affecting works in [Isabel Allende’s] long career.”—The New York Times Book Review

In the late 1930s, civil war grips Spain. When General Franco and his Fascists succeed in overthrowing the government, hundreds of thousands are forced to flee in a treacherous journey over the mountains to the French border. Among them is Roser, a pregnant young widow, who finds her life intertwined with that of Victor Dalmau, an army doctor and the brother of her deceased love. In order to survive, the two must unite in a marriage neither of them desires.

Together with two thousand other refugees, they embark on the SS Winnipeg, a ship chartered by the poet Pablo Neruda, to Chile: “the long petal of sea and wine and snow.” As unlikely partners, they embrace exile as the rest of Europe erupts in world war. Starting over on a new continent, their trials are just beginning, and over the course of their lives, they will face trial after trial. But they will also find joy as they patiently await the day when they will be exiles no more. Through it all, their hope of returning to Spain keeps them going. Destined to witness the battle between freedom and repression as it plays out across the world, Roser and Victor will find that home might have been closer than they thought all along.

A masterful work of historical fiction about hope, exile, and belonging, A Long Petal of the Sea shows Isabel Allende at the height of her powers.

Isabel Allende presents her readers with what may very well be her masterpiece; an epic story of people caught up in world events and living through tumultuous times. Moving through the Spanish civil war and then events in Chile as they occur in the twentieth century the author takes hold of her readers and does not ease up until the book ends.

Roser, a young lady coming of age, and Victor Dalmau, who is an army doctor and the brother of Roser’s sweetheart, are the central protagonists of the story. Events occurring during the civil war breaking out in Spain in 1936 first throw the two together. Francisco Franco and his fascists lead Spain away from its government with a revolution establishing the long term rule of a dictatorship. The author captures the essence of what the uprising was with descriptions of the horrors and excesses of war and the depravity of Franco as he assumes total power in the country. It then becomes necessary for thousands to flee Spain if they are not to be killed. Roser, who is pregnant with her lover’s baby, and Victor travel away from Europe together with their destination the Latin American country of Chile. En route, they learn that Chilean immigrant visas are most likely to be given to families and decide to marry to ensure their entrance to Chile. They do so vowing to divorce as soon as feasible and of course when Victor’s brother, Roser’s lover arrives from Spain.

The second part of the book deals with changes in Chile during most of the twentieth century starting with the second world war taking place in Europe and Africa and then the country’s development going forward. Roser and Victor’s characters are very well fleshed out as are many of the other people taking part in the story. The rule by Salvador Allende is outlined and due to the fact that Isabel’s father was a first cousin to him his treatment is favorable. His overthrow and assassination are not blamed on his dictatorial conduct but on other malevolent factors. This is the author’s opinion and does nothing to harm the overall story.

The growth and development of Roser and Victor and their personal changes during this period are brilliantly described by Allende. The reader will easily follow and understand the reasoning behind their actions and capture the shifts as time and events go forward. Totally a five-star book and a milestone for Isabel Allende.

2/2020 Paul Lane

A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA by Isabel Allende. Ballantine Books (January 21, 2020). ISBN 978-1984820150. 336p.




February 3, 2020


From the publisher:

How do you start over after the end of the world?

“Not just an apocalyptic thriller, but also a timely reminder of what is most important in life―family, love, and hope.” ―Peng Shepherd, author of The Book of M

Six years after a global pandemic wiped out most of the planet’s population, the survivors are rebuilding the country, split between self-governing cities, hippie communes and wasteland gangs.In postapocalyptic San Francisco, former pop star Moira has created a new identity to finally escape her past―until her domineering father launches a sweeping public search to track her down. Desperate for a fresh start herself, jaded event planner Krista navigates the world on behalf of those too traumatized to go outside, determined to help everyone move on―even if they don’t want to. Rob survived the catastrophe with his daughter, Sunny, but lost his wife. When strict government rules threaten to separate parent and child, Rob needs to prove himself worthy in the city’s eyes by connecting with people again.Krista, Moira, Rob and Sunny are brought together by circumstance, and their lives begin to twine together. But when reports of another outbreak throw the fragile society into panic, the friends are forced to finally face everything that came before―and everything they still stand to lose. Because sometimes having one person is enough to keep the world going.

Mike Chen takes us into a world that has been decimated by a global pandemic. It is the aftermath of an epidemic that has literally wiped out more than half of the earth’s population. His well-done tale brings to life a group of people that are forced to come to grips with an event that has forever changed their lives and the lives of their children. Rob has lost his wife in the plague and is caring for his daughter Sunny as best as he can. At the same time a singer, dancer, Moira, stage name Mojo is attempting to escape the confines of a life as a performer but guided by her father who controls her every move.

At the beginning of the novel, Rob has been approached by an agency of the new government established to restore order and rebuild to prove that he is capable of caring for Sunny. If he is deemed not able to his daughter will be taken away from him and sent to a foster home. Rob has a coworker at his job and with nowhere else to go begins to talk to her about the situation with his daughter and his need to prove worthy of caring for her. Krista, his coworker, agrees to help, especially when Rob offers her pay for the time spent.

Rob, his daughter, and Krista meet Moira who enters into the story. The book takes an unforeseen twist when the government announces that a new strain of the virulent epidemic has started attacking the populations of the planet. People are forced into the controlling environment that had become lax as the initial outbreak seemed to be tapering off.

The strength of the novel is the author’s ability to build the characters involved in the story. These people faced with the horrors that have befallen them have no choice but to adapt to conditions. How they do so and their reactions to their surroundings make a good story an even better one. The reader will find that he or she is sympathetic to the reactions of the characters and will surely think of their own possible efforts to face the type of tragedy that has enveloped the earth in Chen’s book. Certainly a five star novel and one that cannot be put down until finished.

2/2020 Paul Lane

A BEGINNING AT THE END by Mike Chen. Henry Holt and Co. (January 14, 2020). ISBN 978-1250133014. 304p.



FEVER by Deon Meyer

September 8, 2017

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A monumental work written by Deon Meyer unlike anything that he has done previously. Meyer is a South African and writes in Afrikaans, and then translated into other languages. I don’t know Afrikaans but the English version is hard hitting, fascinating and surely delivering the meat and bones of the author’s intent. It is a novel telling the story of a world decimated by a deadly virus that only reaches a stopping point when most of the entire world’s population has died.

The survivors of this 21st century Black Death are faced with the almost impossible task of adjusting to a life that was never in their plans. Not at all a surprise, the locale of the events is in South Africa, Meyer’ s home. Nico and Willem Storm, son and father, are driving a truck laden with supplies through a land devastated by the plague and find a secure spot to set up a living area. But Willem is a wise and compassionate man and envisions a place for him and his son that will allow them, with other survivors, to build a community that allows civilization to flourish again.

The place is found and in growing attracts people interested in the same thing. Meyer utilizes a literary style that has principal characters individually describing events occurring during the growth of the community called Amanzi. They deliver a perspective that helps make “Fever” the great work that it is. Among the people entering the area is a young girl named Sofia Bergman who immediately attracts Nico and causes him to make the decision that when the two are old enough he will marry her.

Meyer uses the vehicle of the book to deliver his opinion about our world; that it is spoiled, selfish, and is not paying the proper attention to things of importance like climate change. Due to the author’s opinions, we have a surprise ending which I found more than a little unsettling and does end the book on a note that may allow another to be written. Certainly, it will be a major draw for readers of Fever as well as the many fans Meyer has garnered over the years writing about his beloved South Africa.

9/17 Paul Lane

FEVER by Deon Meyer. Atlantic Monthly Press (September 5, 2017).  ISBN 978-0802126627. 544p.


BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman

January 30, 2015

Four years ago something devastating began infecting people around the world. The outbreak was so baffling and odd that at first no one was quite aware of what was happening. People turned on one another – reports of violence in remote areas expanded and spread until those left began barricading themselves indoors. It was a viral madness, the cause of which seemed to be as simple as seeing something so horrible that it drove the viewer insane.

Malorie has lasted this long by living in perpetual blindness. It’s an awful and horrifying existence, one that her two children have only ever known. But Malorie knows they can’t continue like this and decides it’s time to try and move on. To do so means exposing them all to whatever caused this plague of insanity and hoping they can get to their final destination without laying eyes on it.

Josh Malerman’s debut is crazy fabulous. From page one I knew it was going to be unique but quite soon after that I realized it was going to be amazing.

Malorie’s world is cut off. She lived with her sister when the outbreak started, discovering that she was pregnant just as things got really bad. And then she was alone. But she was able to find others. She was able to find a safe haven. And they learned more about what was going on around them. All of this is revealed to the reader as the story progresses. Malerman begins the book with Malorie facing her coming journey with the kids, unfolding the past and present portions of the story through alternating chapters.

As the book progresses, we learn just how strong Malorie is and just how determined she’s had to be to get by this long. It’s a tense and terrifying tale. In fact, Bird Box is one of the outright creepiest horror reads I think I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

01/15 Becky LeJeune

Read on for the BookBitch review:

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Malorie is a young mother of two children known simply as Boy and Girl, and she is a survivor living in a post-apocalyptic world, raising her children to use all their senses, especially their listening skills, as sight is not an option here.

In this world, the survivors struggle to stay alive by living indoors with all the windows boarded up; the sight of whatever is outside is causing people to become violent murderers, as well as suicidal, in the most horrific ways possible.

The book moves back and forth over a four year period when all the insanity began, exploring the personalities of the people that came together and survived, and how they managed to live after all ways of communication effectively withered and died with most of the population. It ends with Malorie rowing her children down a river while blindfolded in hopes of taking them to safety.

The characters are interesting, the story moves along very rapidly as the suspense builds, but unfortunately, the ending is a disappointment; the reason for all the bloodshed is never explored or explained. Recommended for readers who enjoy horror and post-apocalyptic fiction.

Copyright ©2014 Booklist, a division of the American Library Association.

5/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman. Ecco (May 13, 2014). ISBN 978-0062259653. 272p.

SHOVEL READY by Adam Sternbergh

March 3, 2014

New York is a wasteland filled with crime and filth. As a former garbage man, Spademan figures it’s still a decent place to call home. Where he once picked up literal trash he now tracks down a more figurative kind of waste acting as a killer for hire. His latest job involves the daughter of a well-known religious leader. This man has made a living offering salvation to those who can afford it. His evangelism is built on the limnosphere, a new kind of industry spawned from the internet except this one allows the user to live in an artificial world and those who can afford it never have to exist in reality again. But what this man is offering isn’t all that godly or perfect as becomes evident when Spademan meets his target. Now Spademan and everyone he knows are caught in the crosshairs.

Adam Sternbergh’s debut is unique in that this post apocalyptic world is limited to New York. The rest of the world exists and continues almost as usual. Residents in New York and the surrounding area have stayed in this lawless disaster area out of choice—like Spademan—or limitation.

The limnosphere adds another interesting twist and a creepy piece of potential future. It’s not so far-fetched that this created world could exist one day and that folks will actually be able to plug in, leaving the real world behind. Of course this also adds yet another reality for criminals to rule, which is a big part of Shovel Ready.

Shovel Ready is quite dark and more than a bit disturbing—maybe even a little beyond what you’d expect in a story where the hero is a contract killer. It’s also the first in a new series so if you’re a fan of quirky crime fiction and anti heroes, that means there will be more to come.

3/14 Becky Lejeune

SHOVEL READY by Adam Sternbergh. Crown (January 14, 2014). ISBN 978-0385348997. 256p.