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One Year of Ugly

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After fleeing crumbling, volatile Venezuela, Yola Palacio wants nothing more than to settle into a peaceful new life in Trinidad with her family. And who cares if they’re there illegally—aren’t most of the people on the island? But life for the Palacios is far from quiet—and when Yola’s Aunt Celia dies, the family once again find their lives turned upside down. For Celia had been keeping a very big secret—she owed a LOT of money to a local criminal called Ugly. And without the funds to pay him off, Ugly has the entire family do his bidding until Celia’s debt is settled. What Ugly says, the Palacios do, otherwise the circumstances are too dreadful to imagine.

To say that the year that follows is tumultuous for the Palacios is an understatement. But in the midst of the turmoil appears Roman—Ugly’s distractingly gorgeous right-hand man. And although she knows it’s terrible and quite possibly dangerous, Yola just can’t help but give in to the attraction. Where, though, do Roman’s loyalties lie? And could this wildly inappropriate romance just be the antidote to a terrible year of Ugly?

Combining the spark of Junot Diaz with the irresistible wit of Maria Semple, One Year of Ugly brilliantly explores cross-cultural struggles and assimilation from a unique immigrant perspective and introduces us to an extraordinary new voice in contemporary fiction.

400 pages, Hardcover

First published July 7, 2020

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About the author

Caroline Mackenzie

3 books140 followers
Caroline Mackenzie is a Trinidadian writer whose short fiction has appeared in publications around the world. In 2017 she was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, and she won first prize for fiction in the 2018 Small Axe Literary Competition. Her debut novel ONE YEAR OF UGLY is currently available in hardback as well as audio book and e-book formats.

Caroline currently lives in Trinidad and is cracking away at novel #2. You can follow her on Instagram at @carolinemackenziewrites.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 428 reviews
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,308 reviews44k followers
August 15, 2020
Another book triggered different feelings and thoughts inside me at the same time: I laughed, I resented, I repulsed, I got entertained and I got sad.
There are so many sensitive issues in this book including illegal immigrants’ lives, dysfunctional family issues, alcoholism, captivation, living under a dangerous tyrant’s rules for a year! Interestingly this is thought-provokingly intense book but the author’s absurd and sarcastic way of looking at the matters and reflecting them by vivid, interestingly unique, batshit crazy characters entertained me a lot. I know so many readers may be offended or disliked the way of approaching those seriously sensitive and crucial issues. But I always keen on reading something different, original and I know writing a dark comedy is meticulous job. The dosage of humor and criticizing things is too important and the matters should be expressed kindly and respectfully not to hurt the people’s feelings.

Let’s talk more about the plot to give more clues about the story’s progression:
The narrator of the story is Yolo Palacios, 24 years old, trying to adapt their weirdly dysfunctional family life. They moved to Republic of Trinidad and Tobago for starting from scratch and building a new life. Everything seemed fine till dear gold-hearted Aunt Celia’s death. The secret comes out that their lovely aunt lied about their immigration papers. They have been illegally living on this island for a long time and this is not the only problem. Dear aunt also has a big debt to a dangerous Mafioso type named Ugly and now they have to pay her debt by living under his rules for a year!
You think things won’t get worse but when charming right hand man of Ugly called Roman comes to the island and is being put in charge, Yolo cannot restrain her attraction.

When a romantic involvement adds into the equation, everything gets more complicated. Yolo starts to read her death and not so reliable aunt’s journal because her family is already out of control and the sanest person she may get help is a liar and not breathing! She cannot connect with tipsy philandering brother or alcoholic uncle, can she?

The fast pacing, vivid, entertaining story hooked me up! Yolo’s narration of her not so typical and ordinary family made me smile. So overall this was fun reading and I’m giving my four solid stars!

Special thanks to Edelweiss and Simon&Schuster for sharing this ARC and introducing me the brilliant Caroline MacKenzie’s unique work in exchange my honest review.
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,712 reviews25k followers
January 21, 2020
Caroline Mackenzie's offbeat debut novel certainly makes one heck of an impression and is bone-achingly funny about the most serious of issues, the horrors that underpin the global refugee crisis. Some might question whether it is appropriate to treat the desperate and despairing plights of so many in the world with such humour but Mackenzie succeeds in throwing much needed attention on and highlight a topic many would prefer to avert their eyes from. The Palacious family have left the political nightmare that their home in Venezuela had become and made their way as illegal immigrants to settle in Port of Spain in Trinidad. However, they just might have jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire when Aunt Celia dies, and Ugly and his criminal cohorts turn up to inform them of the huge debt that she has left behind and make it clear that they are now expected to pay it off.

Mackenzie presents us with a year in the life of the family as they face one worry and concern after another in a narrative interspersed with diary entries from the now dead Aunt Celia in the narrative. She creates a diverse and vibrant range of characters, larger than life, as Ugly has one of his henchmen, the dangerous Roman keep a close eye on the family. The Palacious's are forced into a range of unpaid 'work' to make good their debts. It is the women that make the deepest impression, such as the one off Aunt Milagros, the deceased Aunt Celia, and the 24 year old Yola, and the hot and heavy feelings of desire that spring up between her and Ugly's man, Roman. This family drama is entertaining, unforgettable and has some eye popping storylines that tackle the refugee crisis in the most surprising of ways. This was an unexpected delight of a read, fun, well written, and I cannot wait to see what the author comes up with next. Many thanks to HarperCollins for an ARC.
Profile Image for BookOfCinz.
1,422 reviews2,558 followers
September 1, 2020
Updated August 31, 2020
I ready this book and felt that it would be a great BookOfCinz Book Club pick and I was right! Re-reading this book the second time around, I did enjoy it a lot more.

One Year of Ugly is Caroline’s Mackenzie’s debut novel, due to be released on July 14, 2020.

In One Year of Ugly we meet the Palacio family, who are originally from Venezuela but fled the country to start a new life in the twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. The entire Palacio family settles somewhat comfortably into life in Trinidad and for the most part is trying to carve out a new life for themselves. Their semblance of security is shattered when the self-appointed head of the family, Aunt Celia dies, and they learn the ugly truth. The family finds out that Aunt Celia lied about the legality of their immigration documents and they have all been living in Trinidad and Tobago illegally. Added to this, Aunt Celia owes a lot of money to local criminal called Ugly which is now passed on to them. Ugly lets the Palacios family knows in no uncertain terms that they are at his will and in order to pay off their debts they will have to do what he requires or else….

Through the narration of 24 year old Yolo Palacios we get a direct look into what life is like for a whole year under the Ugly regime. From the family being a safe house for illegal immigrants coming into the country, to working unpaid in a gentleman’s club, the Palacios family is subjected to a lot. To ensure that things goes smoothly, Ugly puts his right-hand man, Roman in charge. Yolo, while acutely aware of the position her family is in, cannot deny the insane attraction she feels for Roman. A little confused Yolo turns to her Aunt Celia’s journals for advice but how can she take the word of her Aunt who put her in this position to begin with?

I must be honest, when I first read the blurb and some of the Goodreads reviews, I was little nervous that Mackenzie used comedy as the device to tell this story. I approached the reading of this book with much trepidation because:
“what could possibly be funny about a group of illegal Venezuelan immigrants living under the duress of a local drug lord?”
“will be it socially insensitive?”
“will illegal Venezuelan find it tone deaf””
"will this lead to a greater appreciation of the struggle Venezuelans face living in Trinidad?

All these questions and more really crossed my mind, however in reading this book all I got was well written, hilarious look into the fictional life of this family, filled with a lot of heart-warming moments. I loved being immersed in the world of the Palacios family through Yolo- her narration was hilarious, wry and hella sarcastic.

At time points I felt the plot lagged a little and some of the situations worked out to nicely, especially the ending which tied up a little too clean for my taste. While the author touched on it throughout the book I felt we missed opportunities to really highlight some struggle of Venezuelans in a real way. I do recognize there is only so much you can do in 350+ pages. However, overall, I did enjoy this read a lot more than I thought I would.

If you are looking to spend time with some engaging characters who are held in a dubious situation but manages to come out on the other side, against all odds – this book is your pick!
Profile Image for Anna Goldberg .
122 reviews33 followers
June 17, 2020
This book really did not do it for me. I could not get past the ableism, transphobia, and hyper sexualization of Latinx women. I should probably have guessed based off the Marina Semple comparison that I wouldn’t like this, but I really couldn’t recommend this one.
Profile Image for Gail (The Knight Reader).
116 reviews32 followers
September 15, 2020
I am not the most sensitive reader, so a lot of subtleties go right over my head. With that said, if I notice sensitivity issues in a book, then they are blatant.

I put it to you this way: If an author from another country wrote about your homeland and countrymen in a way that was not flattering, but repeatedly disrespectful with the cover of “dark humor” protecting the writing, how would you feel? I am really curious to know how a Venezuelan would feel reading this story. One can do research for days but some stories are not yours to tell. If you feel compelled to tell it still, there is a level of respect that needs to be there. I didn’t get that from this dark comedy 😒Additionally, the story is set in Trinidad. Oh God. Why is the place and people described like this?! And because the author is attempting humor, the whole situation *waves hands at book dramatically* comes off as disrespectful and degrading. I am from Guyana, much akin to Trinidad, and I would fight if someone described my homeland like that. McKenzie is Trinidadian but it didn’t come across at all.

I’m here for Caribbean narratives but this book isn’t one I’m proud to claim.
Profile Image for Holly.
59 reviews2 followers
August 5, 2020
one ugly read

I was promised the sharpest, most hilarious rom com of the year with plenty of 4/5 star reviews behind it. Instead I got pages and pages of outright misogyny (never addressed), transphobic comments, disgusting fatphobia and the uncomfortable realisation that a white woman had written this story about being a Venezuelan immigrant with very little sensitivity. There were tiny glimmers of goodness, of potential but all of it was ruined by the place of ignorance the book seemed to come from. As far as I know this is not own voices, I was deeply uncomfortable with so much of this story and I'd caution anyone to take the five star reviews with a pinch of salt.
Profile Image for Louise Wilson.
2,904 reviews1,642 followers
May 7, 2020
This is a story about a family's illegal migration from Venezuela to Trinidad. The Palacios family lived a moderate life within their means. But then they get 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 by which ever way Ugly required them to. Ugly left them with no doubt that 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 funny laugh out loud moments. But the thing I liked the 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.

I would like to thank NetGalley, HarperCollins UK HarperFiction and the author Caroline Mackenzie for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Katie.dorny.
1,016 reviews529 followers
February 1, 2021
In equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking, this family saga of one families’ experience of immigration to Trinidad from Venezuela ticks all the right boxes.

After fleeing Venezuela; Yola and her family are living under the radar in Trinidad after fleeing with the help of her Aunt Celia. Upon Celia’s death, shit really hits the fan when they discover their permits are false and the debt Celia left behind to the local thug Ugly.

What follows is a family saga with everything baked into it - drama, heartbreak, addiction, death and grief, alongside figuring shit out in your twenties alongside falling in love for the first time.

Listening to this on audio really made me love this all the more. I can not recommend enough if you’re feeling for a funny as fuck light hearted yet deep contemporary novel.
Profile Image for Patricia Grannum.
Author 6 books
August 28, 2020
As a Trinidadian currently living on the island, I really wanted to love "One Year Of Ugly" because of the accolades it has received. But I simply can't. While it is entertaining at times, when you crack the surface, you realize how much it doesn't really reflect the immigrant experience with any kind of depth.

For example, no one in the Palacio family seems to care about the family they left behind. Sending money or supplies back home to relatives is not a concern at all. At one point, Ugly mentions that Yola's paternal grandfather is still alive in Venezuela but that doesn't get any attention in other parts of the book. I find it hard to believe that sending money/food back home wouldn't be a priority or at least something they discuss since the Palacios are living comfortably in Trinidad. I know Venezuelans in Trinidad less well-off who send stuff back home regularly so it felt like a glaring omission to me.

Also, does Yola have no friends back home? No fond memories? So, there was nothing about Venezuela that was good? We don't really get a sense of her past at all. There are many passages in the book that I called the "socialism bad" sections where the country is described as a cesspool and various other pejorative adjectives. I guess that's understandable because of the harsh economic situation in the country. But it still felt like the descriptions were being written by a non-native. If she had shown the Palacios be more desperate to get the rest of their family out, it might have been more convincing. Or maybe if she had Yola actually remember a bad situation she'd lived through, --maybe an anti-Maduro protest that was attacked by state police or something!- but life in Venezuela is just described as shitty and that's it. The writer tells us that things are bad but doesn't show that in her prose.

Another thing, based on the title and book description, I was expecting more suspense but instead of an interesting villain, we got a bland "love story." The writer took great pains to paint the MC's love interest as a knight-in-shining-armor good guy even though he's the right-hand-man of a ruthless crime kingpin. This made him pretty boring to me and I just didn't buy it.

Honestly, it felt like "One Year Of Inconvenience" than "One Year Of Ugly."

I could write about how several of the nuances of Trinidad society are either glossed over or outright ignored but that would need a whole other review.

In summary, I hope to read a more authentic story about the Venezuelan immigrant experience in the future. This book feels like literary "Vene-face" and nothing more.
Profile Image for Breanne Ivor.
Author 2 books150 followers
May 14, 2020
I started this book at around 11:00 pm with the intention of just dipping in before bed; but after that opening sequence, I was hooked.

One Year of Ugly follows the Palacios family – Venezuelans living illegally in Trinidad – who are thrust into a crime ring thanks to now deceased Aunt Celia’s shady underworld dealings.

I fell hard for the narrator, Yola Palacios, because she does not give a damn. Bitingly sarcastic, foul-mouthed and socially perceptive, she describes Trinidad from an outsider’s point of view. “Trinidad likes to tout itself as this cosmopolitan melting pot, swirling with all the flavours of the race rainbow. But in fact, if you’re not one of, or a blend of, one of the two majority races on the island, a pall of Otherness follows you like a lingering fart that won’t waft away, the stench manifesting itself in relentless catcalls, the unshakeable instinct that you should always keep your eyes on the pavement, and a keen awareness that you are constantly being watched.”

As a Trini myself, I found it fascinating to see my island through Yola’s perspective.

And as a reader, I was sucked into the fast-paced plot. There are safe houses for illegal immigrants, memories of Aunt Celia – the family bitch, an unplanned pregnancy, a wildly inappropriate romance with a sexy criminal and a strip club called the Pink Pie that shows that there’s more to stripping than booty popping.

This book is a hilarious, sarcastic romp that also shines a light on modern Trinidadian society and the challenges our Venezuelan immigrants face.
Profile Image for Louise Wilson.
2,904 reviews1,642 followers
May 7, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Natalie.
99 reviews9 followers
April 15, 2022
Huge disappointment.

I really struggled with this one and put it down so many times I almost  abandoned it. Initially, I was excited to read a book that I thought would provide some useful insight in the Venezuelan immigrant experience here in Trinidad, which is a very current issue right now. 

Firstly, the author chose to use a weird and crude brand of humour to tell the story which I did not find humourous and left me feeling disconnected from chapter one through most of the book. It came across as a demented YA tale. Considering the author isn't Venezuelan,  I found the way she chose to develop the narrative and describe the characters  very problematic. 

The book picked up for me after the halfway mark but overall it left a sour taste in my mouth. I kept wondering how was this chosen to be a netflix movie sometime in the future?

This was a wasted opportunity to tell an important story. I  think she should have done better.
Profile Image for Preslava.
467 reviews9 followers
July 5, 2020
I'm so so excited to recommend this book to everybody! It has everything - fun, sadness, grief, forbidden romance, drama, secrets, even suspense and a big twist... You simply cannot not fall in love with the Palacios - they are so human and every one of them is so well developed, they feel like your own family and... especially Aunt Celia!!! I loved her so much! Finally, One Year Of Ugly did what American Dirt tried to but failed - put light on the real life of illegal immigrants and the difficulties they meet along every step of their way. I'm glad to say this was one of my favorite books of all time and I'm sure I will be rereading it in a few years.
This book was provided to me for a review by the publisher.
Profile Image for Shakila (BooksandThemes).
477 reviews20 followers
November 8, 2020
This was quite an interesting book. There was serious and funny aspects of the book which turned out to be just seriously funny. The author turned a heavy subject into a fun witty read. The book centered around Yola and her family trying to settle a debt her dead aunt Celia racked up. Ugly, the “loan shark” if you will, gave the family an ultimatum to settle Celia’s debt. Of course, they couldn’t turn it down or else what would be the alternative.

As you can imagine, this made for an interesting turn of events which involved strange family’s living at their homes, strip clubs, and other wild things. However, it also included Ramon; Ugly’s strong arm who’s job was to make sure the family held up their end of the bargain and didn’t try any funny business. Yola; however, had an eye for Roman and Roman for her.

This book was kind of up, down, and in the middle for me. The beginning was 🔼, the middle was🔽, and the end was ◀️▶️. It felt that the ending was rushed and some of the events came out of no where. Reading the author’s notes were quite interesting and put a lot of her content Into perspective for me. Over all it was an entertaining read.

I’m gonna say if the synopsis sounds interesting to you, give it a try.
Profile Image for Laura.
873 reviews72 followers
December 22, 2020
Yola Palacio and her family are Venezulean living in Trinidad with an illegal status. They have no protection and no one to turn to when spunky recently deceased Aunt Celia's debt gets called in and flashy Ugly comes to call in his favor. We get Aunt Celia through her journal pages which are very graphic lol. What happens to those journals and diaries when you die? It is more of a descriptive How to Memoir on how to be a bad bitch.
Yola is an aspiring writer that has had articles published and Ugly's right hand man, Roman who has his eye on the whole family is eyeing her in particular. There was a lot of steam with this attractive guy that surveilles their family and beats people up. The heart wants what the heart wants, yes we can call it the heart. Roman is the muscle for Ugly but he's also kind of stuck in that position.
Everyone is scared of Ugly, he is an example of one of those people that I can never understand. That had a horrible origin story with aholes ruining their parents lives so they become just like the villains that made their lives horrible and do it to a whole new generation. I guess you either go hero or villain path,  reluctant or on purpose.
PSA: Reminders of all the privileges that I have being born the way I look in this country. I just don't understand the hatred with foreigners and "people that don't belong" mentality, especially when they are trying to escape violence. Where is our humanity? How can you look at a human in pain and say oh they are from ___ I can't help them? What kind of villain are you? The last four years I feel like my heart has been draining over a sieve watching hatred, caging, riots and what have I done? Nothing but cower in fear. Bigger picture though without country borders and rulers in power, we are all the same species with no biological/medical differences, it's all created by patriarchal, imperialism, to keep us all under the thumb of what?, this huge machine that drones on.. the matrix? 
PS: I want to travel to Trinidad, the Caribbean, anywhere in the island chain. I went on a Disney cruise to the Bahamas in 4th grade, I don't think that counts. I need to go make new memories on more memories than Disney tourist beaches.

TW: Animal abuse, abuse, language, sexual stuffs...
Thank you Net Galley and Simon and Schuster for my e-arc copy for my honest and voluntary review. 
Profile Image for Fayola Fraser.
34 reviews3 followers
March 12, 2020
The author frames a refugee story of loss, displacement and suffering in a comedic lens in what is an attempt to make a story more accessible to the everyday reader. One Year of Ugly is really well written and the unexpected twists and turns (including whirlwind romance) kept me hooked for the entirety of the novel.

There is something to be said, however, about retelling a refugee story that is surely interspersed with so much more pain and suffering than the author could ever grasp and could never effectively convey. I understand that she was attempting to take a different perspective from the norm, but it did leave me feeling as though the story was only partially told.
Profile Image for Smitha Murthy.
Author 2 books281 followers
July 18, 2020
An offbeat pick that surprised me. I picked up ‘One Year Of Ugly’ because I miss traveling, and thought of reading books set in countries I haven’t been to as some sort of compensation.

Mackenzie uses humor to bring to the fore a serious issue - the plight of immigrants and refugees in Trinidad, especially Venezuelans escaping from the collapsed economy and rampant chaos in their country. I was initially irritated by the narrator, Yola’s, fawning over Roman, the very obvious “good” guy in a local mafia don’s gang. Their love story bored me.

But I kept going because the family that Mackenzie depicts is fun and adorable, their adventures sad, but told with that wry comedic farce that almost makes you forget this story is all too real for many. There’s some good intentions behind this story, and I don’t want to nitpick.
Profile Image for Eskay.
229 reviews3 followers
July 18, 2020
so i'm about 50 of so pages into this book, enjoying the writing, the story is entertaining when i think 'hmm, caroline mackenzie doesn't really sound like a venezuelan name'. so i look her up. she's trinidadian. and she appears to be white. certainly i can't see any mention of venezuelan heritage anywhere. and then i kind of go off this book. yeah, it's still funny, and yola's voice is compelling, but these characters are stereotypes, and they're being written by someone who is not part of that community. all the women in the family are super sexy vixens, except one who is a manic religious zealot. most of the men are drunks. and this 'comic tale' is about illegal migrants who are indebted to a human trafficker. it's just not a funny story, and it's especially not funny when you know it's coming from a rich white lady who probably has more in common with the girls zulema works with in her spa. plus the whole yola/roman romance was like something out of a harlequin novel

so yeah, i think maybe caroline mackenzie could have written a great book set in trinidad about white trinis, but what is this mess?

OH WAIT - don't forget, this book is also hilariously fatphobic. there are two fat characters who are portrayed as spoiled and lazy and it is implied that they can't eat healthily (when they ask for yoghurt for breakfast) because they are overweight. a pregnant woman's body is described (in graphic detail) as disgusting and when a character goes off the rails his sister knows it because he is daring to sleep with fat woman (aka the ugliest of all women)
Profile Image for Kelly.
872 reviews113 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
August 2, 2020
DNF @ 30%

I really wanted to give this a fair shot and to love it as it's my first NetGalley book - thank you to the publishers for the opportunity to read it. However, I'm just not enjoying it. At 30% of the way through, nothing of significance has happened to Yola. There is no relationship to follow here, not with her family (there are too many of them) or with her love interest (I think they spend a total of 5 minutes in each other's presence up until this point). I think it's supposed to be wry and funny, but it's not. I didn't crack a single smile. I've got to call it quits on this one.
Profile Image for Kay.
253 reviews20 followers
September 2, 2020
This book was an interesting read for me as a native Trinidadian. It is fiction but gives so much insight into Venezuelan immigration to Trinidad.

The book follows Yola, a Venezuelan illegal immigrant to Trinidad. Her family is forced to house other refugees to repay a debt owed to a local criminal nicknamed Ugly by a deceased relative.

My critique: the exaggerated over use (and in a few cases, incorrect use) of trini slang among the local characters was sometimes annoying. There were also some (in my view) problematic portrayals of Trinidad. Also, i thought it was all wrapped up a little too perfectly at the end. That said, the writing was great and flowed well. I recommend.
November 25, 2020
Sensationalist pulp fiction which presents a the immigrant situation in Trinidad from a position of privilege. Albeit superficially entertaining, it glorifies the cloistered existence of the white minority in Trinidad. who happily embrace white-looking Venezuelans into their bubble whilst those of African, Indian and Mixed descent are ignored and excluded.

The protagonist family in the novel are unfortunately, not representative of 95% of those who arrive and struggle to survive in Trinidad and their characterisation in the novel is problematic.

The entire novel left me feeling deeply uncomfortable.
Profile Image for Megan Stroup Tristao.
1,012 reviews111 followers
July 10, 2021
Woo-ee! At the risk of sounding like a prude, this book was VULGAR. (But that's not necessarily a bad thing.) The story was exciting and made me laugh, though I did cringe at many parts that seemed (purposefully?) insensitive. I was surprised by how effective the comedy was in what was often a very dark story. I will be seeking out reviews from Venezuelan readers, as the book centers on a Venezuelan family in Trinidad but is written by a white Trinidadian author.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a free advance copy of this book.
Profile Image for Iryna *Book and Sword*.
447 reviews641 followers
August 9, 2020
A fun and sassy read. A lot of laugh-out-loud moments and a few very nice twists, with overall message that holds a lot of depth. I also really enjoyed the writing - I flew through the book, it's quite addictive and keeps you turning pages. Besides a few intolerable cliches - "I released a breath I didn't know I was holding" and using a certain dog breed in derogatory terms, I enjoyed it very much.

Recommend it as a quick and very entertaining summer read.
Profile Image for Olga Miret.
Author 52 books238 followers
April 21, 2020
Thanks to the Borough Press (Harper Collins UK) and NetGalley for providing me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.
This is a debut novel, and what a debut! Although I hadn’t heard of the author before, I was thrilled when I realised that we had a few things in common (I’ve also worked as a translator, and we’re both alumnae of Sussex University. Go Sussex!), and I am sure this will not be the last novel I read by Mackenzie.
This novel touches on many things, and although it does it with wit and humour (at times a very sharp and quite dark sense of humour), the themes it delves in are quite serious. Illegal immigrants (in this case, Venezuelans in Trinidad) that try to settle into their new life, but whose already uncertain and danger-ridden existence becomes more complicated when they are blackmailed into doing all kind of other illegal things to settle the debt a member of their family, Aunt Celia, left unpaid upon her sudden death. The Palacios, an extended but close family, with their traditions, their unique personalities, their traditions from home and from their adopted land, their parties and meals together, with their quirks and their not-quite-upstanding members, are suddenly thrown into the hands of the criminal underworld, and their lives become even more dangerous. There is blackmail, housing other illegal immigrants, being tracked and followed, having to work all hours to keep their non-paying guests, being threatened and pushed around, and some of their members are even driven out of their minds by the pressure. To all these events (and more that I’m keeping quiet), we have to add life as usual for this family, and that includes: secret love-children, a young girl’s pregnancy, dangerous love affairs, strong women (some with a flair for drama), weak-willed men, heavy drinking, unfaithful husbands, grief and mourning, mental illness, trying to fit into a completely different place and being the object of prejudice and suspicion. The author explains her reasons for choosing to write a comedy in her note at the end, and they make perfect sense to me. First, because, as she says, some people might resist reading another book that deals in some of these very serious topics if they are presented in a straightforward manner, but a comedy might reach those readers, and also, because comedy and humour are great weapons to deal with dark situations and to endure and keep hope alive when things are tough. The author does a great job, both in dealing with the illegal immigration angle, and also in creating a family that we love (or at times, love to hate).
There are many characters, some pretty major (not all the members of the family have important roles, but we do get to know them fairly well by the end of the novel, although there are plenty of surprises, and I’m not only talking about Aunt Milagros here), and others that only pass-by, like some of the illegal immigrants they are forced to house through the year, and in many cases they are depicted like a cartoonist would do, exaggerating some traits for comedic purposes, but affectionately. Yola, the main protagonist, who narrates the story in the first-person, is intelligent, witty, hard-working, and although she might not see eye-to-eye with all the members of her family, she loves them fiercely and would do anything for all of them, even for the new arrivals that she’s not so keen on. Aunt Celia, who has died just before the story starts, is also very present in the novel, as she had been writing her biography/memoir, and the manuscript is passed on to Yola, who is also a writer and translator, and whom the majority of the members of the family think of as the most suited to follow in Aunt Celia’s steps (and become the family’s official bitch). Celia’s book is priceless, and we get to hear her voice through Yola’s reading. Then we have Ugly, who although doesn’t turn up often, his few appearances are very memorable. And Román, the romantic hero (yes, I know, the name is self-explanatory), who at first appears more of an antihero, but there is more to him than his gorgeous looks, and, well, let’s say the romance side of the story is bound to satisfy most readers keen on the genre. I liked Yola, and although some of her actions seemed pretty unreasonable and inconsistent, she is fully aware of it. As we’re inside her head, it’s easy to empathise, especially because she’s put in pretty impossible situations at times, and it’s difficult to imagine what else she could do. I also liked most of the members of her family, and yes, Aunt Celia and Aunt Milagros truly shine through. The female characters are more memorable than the males (other than Román and Ugly), but they are also familiar, and it’s likely that most readers would identify people they know who share characteristics with them. As is the case in all families, you might have your favourites, but there’s so much history shared that you feel for them. Yes, I’ll miss the Palacios.
The writing is sharp, witty, and eminently quotable. It flows well and although I know many readers don’t like first-person narratives, I enjoyed this one, and also the fragments from Aunt Celia’s memoirs. There are words and expressions in Spanish (I’m not from Venezuela, but the Spanish terms are well-written, and the research has paid up), but they do not impede the understanding of the text, and rather add to the atmosphere and the realism of the piece. I have highlighted the text extensively, but I’ll try to share a few examples of the writing. As usual, I’d recommend prospective readers to check a sample first, to see if it suits their taste. (Some reviewers did not like the humorous tone when dealing with such serious matters, but I felt that was one of the strong points of the novel).
“Her wit was as lethal as a syringe of cyanide.”
“Only a real political genius like him, with his communist sympathies despite everything we’d been through in Caracas, would name his kid after Fidel Castro.”
“Our immigrant story is as classic and unchanging as any Hans Christian Andersen fairytale —the tale of the illegal refugees who risked it all to live like cockroaches, hiding in the dank cracks 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 that the strange new place they call home has all the ugliness of the world they left behind, except worse, because here you’re stripped of rights, dignity, personhood.”
“’Life is a big piece of sugarcane’. ‘Sugarcane?’ ‘Yes, a maldito sugarcane! You have to bite down hard and suck as much sweetness out of it as you can.’
The ending is open to interpretation and to what we have learned and think about Yola. I liked it, as I liked the whole book, and whichever choice readers think she goes for, it is certain to be hopeful and positive (although this being Yola, not without a touch of irony and ambivalence). Considering what happens during the book, the ending is perhaps too neat, but this is a comedy so it goes with the territory, and I think most readers will enjoy it.
This is a great debut novel, which deals in serious topics using a comedic register that in my opinion works very well but might not suit everybody. The characters are wonderful, if somewhat cartoonish at times, and the family Palacios is likely to stay with readers for a long time. I recommend this novel to people interest in finding new authors, and who don’t mind the use of dark comedy to discuss important issues. I highly recommend this book and I am looking forward to the next novel by the author.
Profile Image for Crystal.
406 reviews39 followers
July 22, 2020
I could not connect to this story for the life of me! I wanted to and I pushed through, but these characters weren’t ones that I fell for. I couldn’t take their situation seriously at all! How terrifying to be blackmailed by someone as scary as Ugly... but, there didn’t seem to be much fear in the storyline. This was such an odd rom-com for me.

I did enjoy learning more about the culture of this family and understanding their struggles living as refugees. One of my favorite parts of this book was seeing how tight knit this family was. I loved how they stuck together no matter what- I get the feeling this is a common part of their culture as well.

This book was comical and a bit romantic- I just wasn’t able to connect with the story like others seemed to. Maybe it’ll be different for one of you! 🙂
603 reviews24 followers
November 12, 2019
One year of ugly is a wickedly hilarious tale of a year in the life of the Palacios family. Full of dark humour with brilliant one liners,the author tackles a serious issue, that of illegal immigrants trying to live life under the radar of the authorities . Somehow despite the wit I didn’t feel the author was trivialising the subject and to bring the plight of this group of people to the attention of a wider audience in such an entertaining way should be applauded.
The Palacios family are illegal Venezuelan immigrants living in Port of Spain, Trinidad. They find themselves in huge debt to Ugly, a mafioso type, thanks to recently deceased Aunt Celia and are forced to repay this debt in a variety of ways, in particular housing other illegals. Featuring a wonderful cast of colourful characters this is one family I’d love to meet!! Ranging from a drunken uncle, alcoholic philandering brother and a nun like aunt turned Rambo their adventures had me in stitches.
Perhaps my only slight criticism is I become so engrossed in the lives of such vividly drawn characters and their hilarious antics that I had to keep reminding myself that this kind of life (though maybe not the escapades!) is reality for many.
It’s hard to pinpoint a favourite character out of this motley crew. Suffice to say the females in this novel are definitely the stronger sex. Yola takes centre stage but for me Aunt Milagros is a force to be reckoned with.
A special thanks to HarperCollins for inviting me to read this wonderful novel as it may have been a title I’d overlook whilst browsing in a bookshop. How much I enjoyed this took me by surprise so I urge people to pick up a copy or add to their tbr pile. Full of quirky characters, colourful language ,laugh out loud moments (strip club scenes especially) and oozing Latino charm this novel is hugely entertaining.
Thanks of course to the author and Netgalley for allowing me to read in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Nic.
437 reviews8 followers
May 24, 2020
I utterly adored this book. There lies at the heart of it a serious tale of exploitation and refugees but it is told as a comedic and incredible tale in the year of the Palacio clan, mainly focusing on daughter Yola but weaving in a lovable and diverse wider family. It’s rare that I laugh out loud at a book but did frequently at this gem. A little reminiscent of the superb My Sister The Serial Killer in terms of dark humour, I would highly recommend it.

With thanks to Netgalley and Harper Collins for an ARC in consideration of an honest review. Reviews will be added to outlets closer to publication.
Profile Image for Kate Vocke (bookapotamus).
596 reviews122 followers
February 8, 2021
One Year of Ugly was SUCH a wild ride! The shenanigans that ensue throughout this story are wickedly hilarious, while simultaneously tackling some pretty heavy themes that are extremely relevant today - all while being a delightfully endearing love story.

I loved the tropical setting, the big, boisterous family and it's rich cast of phenomenally developed characters, and it was non-stop action and ridiculous adventures from start to finish.

A fun and entertaining, lough-out-loud read that I didn't expect to love so much - and I didn't want to end!
Profile Image for Becky (Head In The Pages).
71 reviews37 followers
February 7, 2020
I really enjoyed this book. I thought it was funny and witty and also eye opening, and made me more aware of a situation I hadn’t been before. I loved the characters and the scene setting and I’d definitely read more of Caroline’s work!
Profile Image for Sharon Millar.
6 reviews10 followers
April 4, 2020
Loved this book. Deals with very real situations in current Trinidad. Writing humor is not easy. It’s hard to be funny and using humor to highlight tragedy is tricky. Mackenzie has pulled off an admirable feat. Looking forward to reading more of this writer’s work.
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