TBR Pile Challenge: The Book of Unknown Americans

I don’t even know what’s wrong with me that I’m having such trouble posting anything lately. It would be great if I could attribute this to still being in a reading slump but I’m not. At all.

I’ve been reading wonderful, engaging, thought-provoking, funny, escapist books.

Let’s try and reset shall we?

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez.

This book has been on my list for a while – pretty much since it came out. Which made it the perfect candidate for my 2016 TBR Pile Challenge list. It’s not official this year, but Holly and Amanda @ Gun in Act One wanted to go for it again this year and asked if I wanted to join in. I haven’t figured out how to say no to them yet so here we are.


Arturo and Alma move to America from Mexico to give their daughter a chance at a special school to handle her traumatic brain injury. Maribel has been recovering well after her accident but her doctors think that a specialized school is necessary and they just don’t exist in Mexico. So they pack up their lives and move to America, doing all the things the right way. They end up living in a squalid one-bedroom apartment in a complex filled with immigrants, Arturo working long days in the dark on a mushroom farm.

Soon their lives find a new rhythm in this strange place that isn’t like anything they anticipated. They make friends with other people in their building, including the Toros, a family from Panama whose son Mayor falls in love with Maribel. Soon their relationship makes the parents uncomfortable and they have to confront the consequences.

Woven through their stories are the stories of the other residents. Immigrants who come to America for opportunity, to look after their families back home, to start over.

I’m not sure that I’ve read too many books like this one. This book puts a spotlight on Hispanic immigrants and their experiences in America. It deals with the kinds of conflict they can run into, the fear of the unknown, language barriers, economic uncertainty and the idea through it all that they have come to the land of opportunity even if they aren’t accepted by everyone.

This book totally made me cry. The Riveras and the Toros are trying to make a success of this new American life in the face of so many obstacles and no one wants to accept them. They look down on them as immigrants as if the entire country wasn’t founded on immigration. I also really loved the relationship between Mayor and Maribel. Maribel is a beautiful girl but since her accident, she isn’t the same girl and Mayor is the only one that accepts her the way that she is, allowing her a chance to find her way back to herself.

I wanted the other stories to be fleshed out more – I wanted to know what happened to them. I think I found out in the end and it was so sad – a genius storytelling method from Henriquez.

I love this TBR Pile challenge for forcing me to finally read books I’ve been meaning to get to for a while. Mostly they’ve all been wonderful and I’m glad for the excuse of finally getting to them.

So that’s getting things back on track. Will try to use some of the weekend to get more stuff up on here!


2016 TBR Pile Challenge: The Custom of the Country

I did not read enough classics in 2015. I read Persuasion again, fell in love with East of Eden, The Woman in White, The Count of Monte Cristo was a 5-month endeavour, and a handful of Agatha Christies if those count.

I hope to make more of an effort classics-wise in 2016 and kicked it all off with Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country, which also happened to be on my unofficial 2016 TBR Pile Challenge list.

When I finally read The Age of Innocence, I was blown away by it. I’m not sure what it was – maybe that a woman wrote so effectively from the perspective of a man? Maybe how scandalous it actually was? I don’t know but I made it my mission to read the Novels of New York.

When I finished The House of Mirth, I cried.

I was very much looking forward to The Custom of the Country.

This one was tough, guys.

Undine Spragg is a small-town transplant in New York City, intent on making her mark. She doesn’t care much for the rules that govern the right New York society – she wants what she wants and she intends on getting it. She immediately catches the eye of Ralph Marvel, the son of one of the ‘right’ families, and he decides to marry her before she is ruined by the society he detests. She thinks he’s loaded but actually she’s married the appearance of money and that won’t do at all.

Dogging her steps are a former flame, a super shady guy called Elmer Moffat. He knew her back home, and has arrived on scene in New York making lots of money for lots of people but never really being a part of the right crowd. Undine, bored with life in New York, aims for Paris where she hangs out with some questionable people and meets a Marquise.

Her flirtation with the Marquise becomes more than than, bringing shame on her husband back home. Eventually she gets divorced and marries the Marquise but even that life isn’t what she thought it would be. She hadn’t bet on spending all year in the French countryside in a rundown, ancient chateau. Just as she chafed against the rules of New York society, so she fails to understand or embrace the rules of French society. Until she does, she will be thoroughly miserable.

I never really liked Undine. I especially disliked her father’s habit of calling her ‘Undie.’ In the end though, I did enjoy it. Undine strikes me as thoroughly modern, even if its not in a good way. She’s the kind of woman that is never quite satisfied with what she gets, even if it’s exactly what she asked for. She’s all about instant gratification but she’s very much hampered by the rules that govern her sex at the time (the book was published in 1912, I assumed the story takes place sometime around then).

Wharton continues to throw obstacles in her heroine’s way right up until the very last page and for that I will love her forever.


The Unofficial 2016 TBR Pile Challenge

I really enjoyed the structure that the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge gave me. Even though it’s not an official event this year, Holly and Amanda @ Gun in Act One asked if I wanted to join them in a little unofficial challenge and I can’t ever say no to them. (You can check out their lists here)

Same rules apply: 12 books, 2 alternates, all have to have been published in or before 2014. The challenge runs from January 1-December 31st 2016 and each book read must be reviewed to count.

After careful consideration, here’s my 2016 challenge list:

  1. 11/22/63 by Stephen King (2011)
  2. The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton (1910)
  3. The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez (2014)
  4. Matriarch: Queen Mary and the House of Windsor by Anne Edwards (1984)
  5. The Mathematician’s Shiva by Stuart Rojstaczer (2014)
  6. Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia (2014)
  7. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier (1951)
  8. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (2008)
  9. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
  10. In Triumph’s Wake: Royal Mothers, Tragic Daughters and the Price They Paid for Glory by Julia P. Gelardi (2008)
  11. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie (2006)
  12. I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes (2013)


I like this challenge because, while there is structure to it and some pressure, they are also books that I’ve already told myself I want to read. 11/22/63 would be the first Stephen King I ever read and I’m putting another Steinbeck on the list this year because I LOVED East of Eden so much this year. I’m keen for more Daphne du Maurier and I need to read the final New York novel from Edith Wharton.

The difference this year is that I only own 3 of the titles on my list, flying right in the face of the #ReadYourOwnDamnBooks movement over at Estella’s Revenge. Last year I already had 6 of them in my possession. But it’s nothing a trip to the library (or the bookstore in extreme cases) won’t fix!

I’m excited to get started on this challenge again! Thanks Holly and Amanda for including me! Are you doing a reading challenge this year?