Book Club Discussion: Prayers For the Stolen

Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement

For many of us, reading is an escape from our lives. What if the book we escape with is a world where girls must dress as boys to avoid human traffickers and drug lords? Jennifer Clement’s debut novel Prayers for the Stolen takes her readers to rural Mexico, in a world so different from we are accustomed.

At first glance it might be hard to relate to Ladydi and her village, From Left to Write members had much to contribute to our book club discussion:

Follow author Jennifer Clement on her website. If you haven’t read Prayers for the Stolenmake sure to pick up a copy.

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February Book Club: Prayers For the Stolen by Jennifer Clement

Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement

We’re traveling to Mexico for our second February book club selection. Prayers for the Stolen is Jennifer Clement’s debut novel and it will pull you in right from the start. Ladydi Garcia Martínez is fierce, funny and smart. She was born into a world where being a girl is a dangerous thing: in rural Mexico.

Ladydi Garcia Martínez is fierce, funny and smart. She was born into a world where being a girl is a dangerous thing. In the mountains of Guerrero, Mexico, women must fend for themselves, as their men have left to seek opportunities elsewhere. Here in the shadow of the drug war, bodies turn up on the outskirts of the village to be taken back to the earth by scorpions and snakes. School is held sporadically, when a volunteer can be coerced away from the big city for a semester. In Guerrero the drug lords are kings, and mothers disguise their daughters as sons, or when that fails they “make them ugly” – cropping their hair, blackening their teeth- anything to protect them from the rapacious grasp of the cartels. And when the black SUVs roll through town, Ladydi and her friends burrow into holes in their backyards like animals, tucked safely out of sight.

While her mother waits in vain for her husband’s return, Ladydi and her friends dream of a future that holds more promise than mere survival, finding humor, solidarity and fun in the face of so much tragedy. When Ladydi is offered work as a nanny for a wealthy family in Acapulco, she seizes the chance, and finds her first taste of love with a young caretaker there. But when a local murder tied to the cartel implicates a friend, Ladydi’s future takes a dark turn. Despite the odds against her, this spirited heroine’s resilience and resolve bring hope to otherwise heartbreaking conditions.

Prayers for the Stolen (Hogarth) will be released next week February 11. Pre-order your copy and join our book club members on February 18 to discuss the novel.

Follow author Jennifer Clement on her website. You can also read an excerpt of the Prayers for the Stolen.

Book Review: Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian

Office of Mercy by Airel Djanikian

Office of Mercy by Airel Djanikian

As someone who is a huge fan of post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels like Huxley’s Brave New World or Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, I was looking forward to reading The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian. The author meticulously built the world of America-Five for her twenty-four year old protagonist Natasha, but I had higher expectations. After I was a third of the way through the book, I had to look it up to see if the novel was marketed for the YA crowd. Nope. It was marketed for adults (with hopes for a crossover into the YA genre, I’m sure). The writing style, character development and fairly predictable plot made me feel like I was reading a YA dystopian novel akin to The Hunger Games (which I didn’t like).

I felt betrayed by the book’s description and its marketing to an adult audience. Perhaps if I went into it expecting a YA novel, I would not have been disappointed. This is not to say that The Office of Mercy is a not a good novel. It was not the caliber I expect adult dystopian fiction to be. I thought about giving up on it. As I was already halfway through the book, I powered through the rest of the novel.

Natasha is one of the youngest citizens of America-Five, an enclosed structure that boasts the largest population of any of the post-apocalyptic America structures across the land. Everything the citizens need to survive is inside. They never venture to the Outside where it’s dangerous. Their are germs, wild animals, and nomadic people. People who have survived the apocalypse and have to fight for survival. Natasha works in The Office of Mercy, whose job is to track these Outside tribes and eliminate their suffering, usually by annihilating them. Natasha and the citizens of America-Five are taught to believe that it is better to kill them than to let them suffer starvation, cold, and war. After such an occurrence, Natasha realizes that these mercy killings might not be as ethical as she’s been taught.

For a twenty-four year old, Natasha seems incredibly naive and easily swayed by others. She didn’t have a mind of her own or really take the time to analyze all of her evidence before taking (and switching) sides. Her thought processes were repetitive when she did try to think things through. I think a more appropriate age for Natasha might be sixteen, but then the book would have to be marketed as a YA novel.

I found myself skimming the many pages where America-Five’s Ethics Code was being preached.  I understand that explaining the code is crucial to explaining America-Five’s mindset, but its ethics was constantly repeated  throughout the novel. As if I should be brainwashed into it as well. The plot wasn’t completely predictable at the end but by that time I was just wanted the story to be done.  The ending is semi-open ended with a possibility of a sequel. Which I guess depends on the success of the novel.

By now you probably think I hate YA novels. It’s not that I dislike them. I prefer to read adult science fiction and fantasy for its rich, complex worlds and characters.  I just feel a bit bamboozled into thinking The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian is an adult novel when it should really be categorized as Young Adult.

I received a review copy of the book. This post contains affiliate links.

Book Review: The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison

Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison

Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison

Every good book has a point of no return. It’s when the story becomes so engrossing, when the characters start living and breathing in your imagination, and when you can see their pain as well as your best friend’s longing. Last night I reached the point of no return for The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison. It was 1AM, but I kept reading. I could not stop until I was sure that my new friends, the novel’s characters, ached no more. Or ached less.

In The Banks of Certain Rivers, our narrator and protagonist Neil Kazenzakis is trying  to return to his normal life after a tragic accident left his wife “profoundly disabled” (according to the book description-I don’t want to give any spoilers about the accident). He’s popular high school physics teacher as well as coach for the girls cross country track team. He’s also secretly seeing his elderly mother-in-law’s home care nurse. On the surface it looks like everything is under control, but slowly Neil’s life starts to unravel. A video of him assaulting a student appears on YouTube and threatens his job, his reputation, and worse yet, his ability to provide care for his wife.

As Harrison introduces each pivotal character in his novel, he offers readers little tidbits of Neil’s past so we can learn how he becomes the person the we currently see.  The transitions to Neil’s past are triggered by a stray cat, seeing student in the hallway, and even a bottle of whisky. Some novels quickly jerk you into the past and then back to the present, but not here. It feels natural and gentle, just as if I were in Neil’s shoes.

While the story of the YouTube video and Neil’s secret relationship with Lauren intensifies our protagonist’s story, it’s the relationships between the characters that draw you in. The father-son dynamic is honest and, at times, raw. Neil’s best friend Alan keeps him on the straight path. The two would do anything for each other. Relationships with old friends are prodded and poked, hoping to revive them. Neil’s emails to his wife reveal secrets yet he keeps secrets from her as well.

The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison is beautifully written and will capture your heart. It’s currently available on as an ebook on Kindle . It’s free to borrow for Prime members.

For more about Jon Harrison, visit his website.

I received a copy of this book for review. All opinions are my own.

I’m Breaking Up With The Registry by Shannon Stoker

The Registry by Shannon Stoker

I’m a little behind on my GoodReads yearly goal of 100 books. I still catching up from my reading rut. I’ve been reading 3 books concurrently. Not because I’m trying to catch up on my goal, but that’s how I roll. I’m a promiscuous reader. I have a different book in each room to ensure that I have reading material no matter where I am my apartment. Am I the only one that does that? I recently broke up with this book:

The Registry by Shannon Stoker

Over the weekend I grabbed my ARC copy of  The Registry by Shannon Stoker for my road trip.  Before I explain why I abandoned this book, here’s the publisher’s description:

Welcome to a safe and secure new world, where beauty is bought and sold, and freedom is the ultimate crime

The Registry saved the country from collapse, but stability has come at a price. In this patriotic new America, girls are raised to be brides, sold at auction to the highest bidder. Boys are raised to be soldiers, trained to fight and never question orders.

Nearly eighteen, beautiful Mia Morrissey excitedly awaits the beginning of her auction year. But a warning from her married older sister raises dangerous questions. Now, instead of going up on the block, Mia is going to escape to Mexico—and the promise of freedom.

All Mia wants is to control her own destiny—a brave and daring choice that will transform her into an enemy of the state, pursued by powerful government agents, ruthless bounty hunters, and a cunning man determined to own her . . . a man who will stop at nothing to get her back.

Novels about an alternate future like the one in The Registry fascinate me. It’s fun to think “what if?” Unfortunately, The Registry just didn’t work for me. Within the first 20 pages, all I could think was, Didn’t Margaret Atwood already write this book-The Handmaid’s Tale thirty years ago? Except Margaret Atwood’s novel is far richer and delves into deeper issues and observation about her dystopian society. I found Mia naive and whining. The situation of her escape felt unrealistic considering that Mia was uneducated and had never left her family farm (all due to society’s rules about women/girls).

The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood

I made it close to halfway through novel and just couldn’t bear to continue. I wanted to read the entire book to give it a fair chance, but it did not improve for me. The two main female characters, Mia and her friend Whitney, were just too one dimensional for me.  Their reactions to the events they witness, including [SPOILER ALERT] a murder [SPOILER ALERT OVER] are stereotypical female reactions. Whitney has a nervous breakdown. Mia becomes stoic and even more determined to escape to Mexico. However she questioned her humanity because she was not upset about the murder. 

Really? If a man had a nervous breakdown after witnessing a murder, he’d get funny looks. If he’s stoic about it, then he’s in control of his feelings. A girl, because Mia is still a girl psychologically since she’s been sheltered, refuses to let a  murder change her focus-well, then she’s no longer human. I


I stopped reading at page 124. Not to knock the YA genre, but I think
The Registry would fit better in that genre instead of adult. Maybe it’s New Adult? I’m not really sure. The novel has rather short chapters with more focus on the actions as opposed to deep character growth/development. The new America’s history is only given to me in little drips and drops. Not enough for me to appreciate the hows and whys of Stoker’s dystopian world. Those details would make the story much richer.thought that was a little dramatic.

I know it’s not available to the general public until June (I received an advance reader copy), but if you’ve read  The Registry by Shannon Stoker, I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

In the meantime, I think I will dust off my copy of The Handmaid’s Tale for my fourth or fifth re-read.

In a Reading Rut

Mercy of Thin Air by Ronlyn Domingue

I’m in a reading rut. I’m sure it was bound to happen after my hectic week of deadlines and really late nights. I started two different books and have only read past 50 pages in one of them. That’s slow for me. It’s not the books, they’re actually great so far. My brain is just too tired to read, especially when I collapse in my bed at 3AM.

Mercy of Thin Air by Ronlyn Domingue

The first book I’m working on (I’m a promiscuous reader) is Ronlyn Domingue’s debut novel, The Mercy of Thin Air. I actually broke my self-imposed library ban to borrow the book. So I guess I’m reading on a deadline. I think I only have another 10 days before it has to go back! I was blown away after reading The Mapmaker’s Warso it seemed natural to pick up Domingue’s first novel. The Mercy of Thin Air is written from the point of view of ghost. I’m only about 20 pages. So far, I like the ghost, but haven’t read enough to give you more of an opinion about the book.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

My other book another novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. It won’t be released until May (I’m reading a galley). I can tell that this novel is going to touch my heart in an unexpected way. Let’s hope no tissues will be harmed in the reading of this book. It’s not sappy at all, but the characters are carving out a life in a war ravaged land. Need I say more? Read the book blurb.

This week should be much better, as I’ll be riding the Metro one day this week for a work thing. You know what that means. About 30 minutes of uninterrupted reading time. Hopefully, I’ll catch up on sleep too so my brain can function normally. Or normally enough to digest some literary fiction.

What’s on your nightstand this week?