Cover Image: One Year of Ugly

One Year of Ugly

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

What a family!
I love this very funny but sensitive look at immigration in today’s society. The relationships and complexity of the characters is genius. The characters are so well written you can’t help but love them. It’s quite a fast pace book as you can’t help but devour it, needing to know how it all turns out and it’s so laugh out loud funny I had to keep apologising to my family for disturbing them. A nice sidestep from the genres that I normally read, I’m looking forward to reading more from this very talented writer.
Was this review helpful?
Yola Palacio and her family fled Venezuela to start a peaceful life in Trinidad. They are just a few of the many people living illegally on the island, and things seem fine until Yola’s Aunt Celia dies and the family’s quiet life is turned upside down. It turns out Celia owed a lot of money to local criminal, Ugly, who drags the entire Palacio family in to settle her debt. The year that follows is one filled with drama and trauma for the Palacios, as they are forced to open their homes as safe houses for other illegal immigrants escaping Venezuela, and later as staff in an illegal strip club. However, amidst the struggle of working for Ugly, Yola finds herself fatally attracted to Ugly’s right-hand man, Roman. How can she start a relationship with the man responsible for enforcing Ugly’s reign of terror over her family? But how can she resist?

This story follows a year in the life of one family as they struggle to survive as illegal immigrants at the same time as being forced into further criminal activity, thanks to one family member’s bad decisions. It covers some complex social and cultural issues, which I found fascinating because I knew nothing about the difficulties in Venezuela before reading this book.

However, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Yola is a brilliant lead character, with a very witty and relatable narrative voice. Her blossoming romance with Roman was very sweet to read about, and provided some light relief amongst the rest of the drama.

One negative note, though, is that it took a very long time for me to really get into this book, because it took so long for the story to properly kick off. Large portions of the first two thirds are mainly just Yola either stressing about her feelings for Roman, or reminiscing about Aunt Celia. Fortunately, the lagging plot was mostly saved by the fantastic characters. To be worthy of a 5-star rating, the first sections of the book needed to be as captivating as the last.
Was this review helpful?
I have to confess that I really struggled with this book. Perhaps the humour was too dark for me and some of the descriptions too graphic but in all honesty it probably wasn’t written with my demographic in mind. I’m sure that young adults will enjoy it immensely.
Was this review helpful?
"'Now that I see everybody here,' he said, 'I would like to introduce myself. My name is Ugly. You know - feo? Some people call me Mr Ugly, but seeing as how me and Celia was good friends before she die, all you could call me Ugly."

Yola Palacios lives with her family in Trinidad, after fleeing the economic and political crisis in their home of Venezuela. When her Aunt Celia, 'the family bitch', a headstrong woman (who Yola was very close to) dies suddenly, the family do not realise what's in store for them.

A family barbecue is gatecrashed by a man who calls himself 'Ugly' - it turns out before she died Aunt Celia owed him 600,000 dollars and she hasn't paid any of it. As the Palacios family doesn't have any money, they now have to work for Ugly, doing everything he says until the debt is repaid. To make matters worse, Ugly has a right-hand man Román - who just so happens to be absolutely gorgeous. Yola knows it's dangerous but she can't help falling for him...

I really enjoyed this book and found myself racing through it. One Year of Ugly has everything: it's original, darkly funny, full of family dynamics and forbidden romance. It also touches on the serious issues of refuge and asylum, bringing to light what it's like to leave your country, and try to make a new life in a new place that makes it almost impossible for you to be recognised as a citizen. I definitely recommend, it's unlike anything I've read before (in a good way!)
Was this review helpful?
The Palacios family fled Venezuela to make a new life in Trinidad, but when Aunt Celia dies they find she has amassed a large debt with the criminal underworld, namely Ugly. When Ugly comes calling for repayment the family end up ‘working’ for him to repay this debt.

Yola, who narrates the story, has a razor sharp wit that will have you laughing out loud at the family antics, the dark humour helps deal with the darker moments of life…..

Will the Palacios family manage to free themselves from Ugly?

This is a tale of the harsh realities of being a refugee, of the daily exploitation they suffer, but it’s also a tale of family, love and humour in adversity. It’s all mixed with such great characters to make an amazingly entertaining read.

Thank you to the author, the publishers and NetGalley for an eARC of the book. This is my honest, unbiased review.
Was this review helpful?
Was not sure I would like this.  It follows a family fleeing from Venezuela and being in the grip of the people traffickers.  Fascinating, well written, gentle but challenging.  Would recommend...
Was this review helpful?
My thanks to HarperCollins The Borough Press for an eARC via NetGalley of ‘One Year of Ugly’ by Caroline Mackenzie in exchange for an honest review. It’s available in ebook format now with the hardback and audiobook editions to be published on 23 July. 

“It was Aunt Celia who got us into the whole mess. The entire Palacios family thrust smack into the middle of a crime ring.”

Yola Palacios and her family had escaped from 
Venezuela and are settling into their new peaceful life in Trinidad. Yet when her beloved Aunt Celia dies, the family discovers that she had been concealing a big secret – the Palacios are in serious debt to a local criminal called Ugly. As they don’t have the funds to pay him they must do his bidding until the debt is cleared. Or else!

When Román, Ugly's gorgeous right-hand man, turns up, Yola finds herself strongly attracted to him. Yet this potential romance is not only foolish but possibly dangerous, but can she resist?

Caroline Mackenzie opens with an Author’s Note to detail how she came to write ‘One Year of Ugly’ after witnessing the influx of Venezuelan refugees into Trinidad and the responses to them:

“though the subject matter is heavy in that exile, exploitation and the collapse of Venezuela constitute major themes, I wrote the book as a comedic novel because there is nothing that makes even the heaviest subjects more accessible than humour. My rationale is that a comic approach to telling a difficult story will not only help humanize my characters, but that it will help the book reach those readers who might, for whatever reason, be put off by the more traditional immigrant narrative.”

I certainly felt that Mackenzie succeeded as I found this a brilliant blend of thriller, romance, and dark comedy combined with family drama. There is strong language and scenes of violence, though these felt appropriate given the subject matter.

I felt that she skilfully balanced the multi-layered plot with a large cast of characters and brought them and the Trinidadian setting vividly to life. I will be adding the audiobook edition to my wish list as I certainly would revisit this novel.

Given its excellent storytelling and addressing of important social issues, I would imagine that this would be an excellent choice for reading groups that are looking for contemporary fiction that is a little different.

It’s a strong debut and Netflix has optioned it for a future television series.

Highly recommended.
Was this review helpful?
3.5 stars

This is a difficult review to write. Mostly I enjoyed the book, however there were issues for me which reduced the rating.

The positives - this is a fast paced story, full of detail (although sometimes a little bit too much detail - I now know more about strip clubs than I ever did before), some interesting characters and locations, and a family who had fled Venezuela to seek refuge in Trinidad.

The family suddenly find themselves indebted to a local gangster, Ugly, and have to work hard to repay the debt or face the consequences. The main character is Yola, an aspiring writer, who loves her family, misses her late aunt and falls in love with someone she probably shouldn't. 

The negative is that about 60% into the story, the choice of language worsens - maybe I'm old fashioned but I didn't see the need for the C-word, which is a word I hate to see or hear. I skimmed over that section, and thankfully it didn't get repeated later on. I know this is a personal hate but this is my personal review of the book.

Overall, the story was interesting and something very different. Thank you to The Borough Press for a digital review copy via NetGalley - my thoughts are my own.
Was this review helpful?
At face value this book is hilarious, following a year in the life of the Palacios as they encounter Ugly and all that that entails. The Palacios are a Venezuelan family living in Trinidad, and herein lies the main story. Yes, this is a work of fiction, but to cover the topic of illegal immigrants and the many ordeals they must have to go through whilst still maintaining a level of humour is a brave thing to do.

The wider subject of Venezuelans in Trinidad made me spend time of google to learn more and seek out OV reviews for the book. The author herself living in Trinidad would have good insight, but I was left wanting to learn more, which I see as a good thing. This book bought a subject I knew nothing about into my world and made me research.

So as you can tell I am no expert and for that reason I can really only review the surface story, which by the way I loved.

Taking the surface story of Yola, I loved her feisty character and the rest of the Palacios who we saw mainly as secondary characters, but whose stories were nevertheless still important to the book. The crude humour made me laugh out loud on many occasions as she explained about her life as well as her relationships, but this won't be for everyone.

I would love to follow Yola some more and see where her character could end up. Overall this was a really enjoyable book that I would recommend, so if you want a funny story with a deeper underbelly then this is your book.
Was this review helpful?
The Palacios escaped from the crumbling socialism of Venezuela a few years ago and have been trying to keep a low profile in their new home of Trinidad. They all work hard and live their lives, but also live in fear that they will be deported back home.

But when Aunt Celia unexpectedly dies, her debt to an underworld gangster named Ugly is revealed. The family are essentially sold into an indefinite servitude of harbouring more illegal immigrants for Ugly until the unspecific time when their debt will be repaid. What Yola expected even less was her intense physical attraction to Ugly's right hand man, Román, which leads to a steamy ongoing romance behind their scenes of their new, criminal, lives.

You may well think that romance has no place in a story about people becoming trapped by their status as 'illegals' and harbouring others who are trying to flee a country. It really shouldn't - there's just so much else going on that needs unpacking. But in this case, it works.

Part of that is down to the brilliant voice of Yola. She tells it exactly the way things are. She's straight-talking, intelligent, no-nonsense and sarcastic. Not in a 'I've made this strong woman in the face of all these difficulties' - it's just who she is and she's telling it how it is. That's part of what makes this so good and so funny.

Another part is her family - they are loud and raucous, happily fitting their own Latin stereotypes. But they are family, which means that they stick together. They're close, although that's both a good and a bad thing in this situation, and their relationship together takes on a greater importance throughout the story - the whole criminal gangster threatening our lives and our residency storyline almost feels like the funny one because everything else is so strong and normal.

And then there's the romance - it all gets pretty hot and heavy between Yola and Román, definitely no holds barred. And it's good. Especially because it's not a blow by blow account of everything - little details are added in later on. We're not sharing everything with them, just the impression of everything. It's good writing.

And then there's the whole (big) issue with illegal immigration. Sometimes that is what feels like the most ridiculous thing in this novel, that people have to live without personhood status, and around the government, or have to escape their own country. In the relative normality of everything else going on in this novel, it's this that feels like the dark comedy.

But there are also moments where it's beautifully and achingly described:

"Our immigrant story is as classic and unchanging as any Hans Christian Anderson fairytale - the tale of the illegal refugees who risked it all to live like cockroaches, hiding in the dank cranks of an unknown society where they hope no one will find them, antennae forever twitching, listening for the heavy boot of National Security, only to discover the strange new place that they call home has all the ugliness of the world they left behind, except worse, because here you're stripped of rights, dignity, personhood."

Although the Palacios want to help their fellow countrymen, they are very aware that they are doing so without any legal standing of their own - in some ways they are in greater danger, their status further reduced, than the refugees they are hosting.

More importantly, none of this can truly end happily - and that's not forced on you. It ends the way it needs to, and the way it should.
Was this review helpful?
Reading this was like watching a Latin American soap opera. The characters copycats of the colorful characters one can see in the said series and very stereotypical as well. But it is a very amusing read. In fact, some scenes/dialogues are so ridiculous, they made me laugh out loud.
Was this review helpful?
This book just wasn't for me. I found everything to be rushed and underdeveloped, but beyond that, I wasn't a fan of the dark humour and the relationship between the MC and Roman just felt so off to me. The way it started and the lack of development made it even weirder and made it impossible for me to root for them, or like the MC. Making it hard for me to get into the book.
Was this review helpful?
This book was a surprise in the best of ways.
I expected light contemporary fiction.
What I got was a warm and sparkly read about family, love and how far you’ll go to protect the ones you care about. This is beautifully written and will make you laugh, want the best for and genuinely care about the main character, Yola. 

Absolutely recommend.
Was this review helpful?
This is a story about a family's illegal migration from Venezuela to Trinidad. Th3 Palacios family lived a moderate life within their means. But then they got a visit from the local crime lord who is called Ugly. It seems that their recently deceased aunt Celia owed money to Ugly. The family has to work to clear the six hundred thousand Trinidadian dollars  u which ever way Ugly required them to. Ugly left them with no doubt that If they didn't comply, violence would ensue.

There is some complex social and cultural issues covered in this book portraying the difficulties Venezuelans were faced with in Trinidad. There's a lot going on in this story. There is some really funny laugh out loud  moments. But the thing I liked most was the family loyalty and their love for each other. What a fantastic bunch of characters and they were all believable. This is quite a remarkable debut novel. I do recommend this book.
Was this review helpful?
This was the first book I've read from this author and I enjoyed it very much. It was very well written and the characters were well thought out.
Was this review helpful?
What a wonderful fun book this is. It filled me with a warm love for Yola and her huge family.

It does deal with a serious issue of people trafficking, and the consequences for those who are vulnerable as Yola and her family are to the traffickers, but it’s dealt with in a light way, and there is so much love and humour in the story that you just can’t put it down. I wanted to stay with them!.

I loved Yola and her family, and I just enjoyed this book so much!

My thanks to Netgalley and HarperCollins UK for the advance copy.
Was this review helpful?
Well... this was something a little different for me. Set in Trinidad, we follow a family containing a whole host of very eclectic and colourful characters who have fled their native Venezuela for a better life. But, soon after the death of matriarch Aunt Celia, they are visited by a man who claims she owed him money for papers her provided. A man known by the name Ugly. The interest has mounted up and they are nowhere near in a position to pay him off so... well... basically, Celia's debt is being passed to the rest of the family. In a nutshell, they now belong to him. To do as he bids. Beginning with hosting other illegal immigrants, it soon spirals out of control. And so begins the Palacio's Year of Ugly...
It sounds all doom and gloom from that description. But it is anything but. As well as the fear - sword of Damocles if you like - hanging over their collective heads, we also have a lot of humour and a side order of romance thrown in to boot. Not that these take anything away from the peril that the family finds itself facing at every turn, it just makes it a bit easier to swallow. We mostly follow Yola, a translator and aspiring writer, as she tries to keep the family going, pretty much filling the role the death of her Aunt has left. It's almost her coming of age book in parts too.
The plot is quite harrowing and, as I believe, also reflects how life was for refugees and the humour contained alongside this in no way belittles the plight and fight that many went through just to survive and get ahead. Food for thought all along the way.
Pacing was on the whole good although it did get a bit bogged down in places. It never really dragged though and the humour was pretty consistent throughout. The ending, when it came, was satisfying if a little on the schmaltzy and neatly tied up side. To be honest, it did fit what had gone before so I can't really complain. And it's a debut to boot! Really can't wait to see what the author serves up next time.
All in all, a funny serious (yes that makes sense) read that kept my attention nicely and was a great distraction to the times we are going through just at the moment. My thanks go to the Publisher and Netgalley for the chance to read this book.
Was this review helpful?
The jokes are sharp, the comedy is dark - but unfortunately, this book wasn't as good as I wanted it to be. My issue is mainly that the writing felt messy and uncoordinated, which made me lose interest relatively quickly. I think some of the humour was a little crass and the characters a little cliche - and I don't quite understand why the copy has given it such accolades as 'blisteringly funny'. Sadly, this one just wasn't for me, but I'm sure it'll find an audience somewhere.
Was this review helpful?
Warning: don't read this if you're offended by swearing or millenials! I adored this book right from the beginning. The characters came to life and from very early on I was invested in their story - both of the Palacios family as a whole, and in Yola's individual journey. 

The sardonic tone of the story adds to my love of the characters, because it makes them realists. I'll remind you here that this is a work of fiction, and as such there may be some elements of disbelief - but isn't that was fiction is for? There are stereotypes and cliches, and even a couple of moments where I rolled my eyes, but in my opinion that's exactly why I read contemporary fiction - if I wanted the disappointment and tragedy of real life, I'd go to the local bus station. Underneath the story are real issues that need to be addressed and this book does so with a sprinkle of sugar, a good belly laugh, and characters who fly off the pages with their exploration, attitude and vulnerability.

Just one more thing, and this is a tip of my hat directly to Caroline McKenzie - there is a real knack in this book for placing me firmly in time. It's not always easy, and not always obvious, but when an author has the skill to ensure the reader always knows where they are in time, it can truly lift a piece of fiction from mediocrity into excellence.
Was this review helpful?
The Palacio’s fled their unstable lives in Venezuela for the relative peace of Trinidad. How? They knew a man with a boat. They don’t consider themselves illegal immigrants but their status becomes much higher on their respective agenda’s when Aunt Celia dies owing a considerable amount of money to a local bad guy named Ugly.

Ugly demands the family be at his beck and call and without the recourse of law enforcement Yola and her family are pretty much held to ransom, their lives are turned upside down and havoc ensues. And did I mention Ugly’s smoulderingly handsome right hand man, Roman? Well, there’s him too.

Mackenzie tackles serious and complex cultural and social issues in this book and does so with wit and humour. The situations are so not funny and yet they are told in such an eye watering funny that you just can’t help yourself. I loved it, highly recommended.

Thanks to Netgalley for providing an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?