Book of the Month: The Veins of the Ocean

With my second Book of the Month pick (along with Heat and Light, which I have yet to finish) I decided to try something I probably wouldn’t pick up on my own.

The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engeldownload-1

Reina Castillo’s brother is serving a life sentence in prison for a terrible crime: the murder of a child. She visits him with unwavering devotion, blaming herself, until the day he ends his life. Set adrift, she moves down to the Florida Keys to start a new life where no one knows who she is and where she came from. Working in the Keys she meets Nesto Cadena, an immigrant from Cuba determined to bring his children to America. As a deep friendship grows between them Reina is called to discover what lies beneath the waves around her home and the guilt eating at her heart.

It took me a while to get into this novel, but I am glad I took the time. It seems superficial to start: the sordid story of a family with a seedy background, but the narrative quickly dives deep. The language is beautiful, the plot steeped in the rich cultures of Cuba and Colombia. The pace is meditative, as Reina confronts the factors that led her to the place and woman she finds herself. Opportunities for self-reflection arise as organically as waves bubbling over the shore: encounters with people from her past, both chance and deliberate, recurring questions about whether it is better to save your own hide or reach out to a suffering creature. Questions of family and faith. The resolution of Reina’s story is both complete and satisfying to the soul.

In the end, I was glad I took a chance on this beautifully written novel. It left me looking forward to the next month’s BOTM selections!

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Book of the Month: The Nest

Well, I’m starting to get the hang of this teaching and still having time to do other stuff that makes me feel like a human (not a money-seeking-robot) thing. Earlier this year I was offered a deal on three months of Book of the Month at half price and jumped at it, since it was right before summer vacation and I thought I might finally have time to read again.

Each month on the first, five book selections are revealed and members have five days to choose one for the month. The selections range across genres including thrillers, historical fiction, contemporary literature, science fiction and more. Each month there is a celebrity judge who endorses a selection, and other judges each put forth an argument for their pick.

The books are up-to-the-minute new releases in hardback, and a total steal at $9.99 apiece. Up to two extra novels can be added to your box for that low, low price each month. They are usually around the 300-400 page mark, meaty but finishable. The box always contains a note from the judge who endorsed your selection, a branded treat like a crazy straw or “after book mints,” and a bookmark with a literary quote in addition to your selections. If you can’t decide, the site will pick a novel for you based on a brief preferences quiz completed at sign-up.

On to a review of my first selection: The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, selected by thenest-bookcoverguest judge and actress Ellie Kemper of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

The Nest is the story of the Plumb family, a collection of middle-class siblings on the cusp of receiving an unexpectedly sizable inheritance. After decades of counting on those chickens that are about to hatch, the eldest brother Leo becomes involved in a scandal that might just ruin everything.

The Plumbs include:

  • eldest brother Leo, a rake and sometime entrepreneur who is rapidly coasting toward the end of his good fortune and goodwill;
  • elder sister Beatrice, a writer in a long dry-spell following early success;
  • younger brother Jack, an acerbic antiques dealer seldom troubled by ethics, whose taste outpaces his income;
  • youngest sister Melody, a supermom with a perfect house she can’t afford and two perfect twins she hopes to send off to perfect Ivy League schools on the strength of perfect SAT scores;
  • and mother Francine, former half-hearted trophy wife to the deceased Plumb patriarch and half-hearted mother of four.

This book was a quick, moderately interesting read. It’s very gossipy, so if you love a fresh issue of People magazine (or Page Six column), this might be one for you. The characters are well-drawn, but it was actually side characters like a retired fireman, Jack’s husband, and Beatrice’s agent/Leo’s ex Stephanie who I found most engaging. The plot has some complexity, with each Plumb scheming and maneuvering to achieve their ends, but I admit I didn’t like any of the Plumbs enough to be invested in how their story resolved.

The Nest was more than worth the five bucks I wound up paying for it, but left me ambivalent about whether I would continue my BOTM subscription when my promotion ran out. Stay tuned, I will be posting reviews of more BOTM selections all week!