Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (2007)

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

                Mariam was born in Herat. A harami or bastard child born to maid and a rich businessman. Her mother warned her of the type of man her father really was. A man who could send his child and her mother to live in a shack miles away from the city to hide his shame. Laila was born in Kabul to a loving mother and father. Her two older brothers would fight for the Taliban to defeat the Russians. Her brothers wanted a free Afghanistan. Death would surround both Mariam and Laila. Their stories would intertwine as the bombs fall around them and as Sharia Law begins to take over their land.
                Mariam and Laila’s story is told in four parts. Every single part is amazingly done and so well written. Hossieni dedicated the first part to Mariam and the second part to Laila and that ended up being a great decision. He really focused on building each characters lives and circumstances. Mariam and Laila were both extremely well rounded characters with such depth and emotion. I was almost brought to tears on more than one occasion because of their situations. I could never imagine living in a war torn Afghanistan but Hosseini did an amazing job creating this world, the fear, the bombings, the distrust and the confusion. Everything was done with such mesmerizing detail. It made for such an enjoyable reading experience that I didn’t want to put this book down.

                I’m giving this book 5 out of 5 stars. This was amazing. Hosseini was able to focus on two women in the middle of a war torn country and managed to focus on their strengths and their spirits in a time when no one could blame them for breaking down. I always had hope while reading this book. Even when it seemed like nothing was going to get better, even when Hosseini was describing body parts laying in the middle of the road. I had hope because there was something about Mariam and Laila and the relationship the two women formed with each other. I heard amazing things about this novel before I ever laid my hands on it and I must admit that none of it was unfounded. This was a great story. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Thirteenth Tale By Diane Setterfield (2006)

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

                “I am going to tell you a story- a marvelous story!... Once upon a time there was a haunted house… Once upon a time there was a library… Once upon a time there were twins.” And so the writing began. The story of Vida Winters and Angelfield was finally told. After so many false narratives handed to journalist on a silver platter as if they were the real things. After each new novel, Vida Winters told a new tale, a new truth, a new life. But now finally after her last novel has been written she is ready to tell the true story of her life, her home, her family and her ghost. The person chosen to hear that story is the introvert and amateur biographer Margaret Lea. Always more comfortable in the antiquarian bookshop her family owns, Margaret is initially shocked to find herself invited by such a prestigious author to write her biography. But with each passing day as the story continues to unfold, Margaret examines her own story, her own family and her own ghost.
                This seems like such a simple concept: an author on her deathbed has chosen someone to write her biography. But when nothing, absolutely nothing, is known about that author’s life then every story brought forth is a discovery, a revelation, a harsh reality. Margaret and Vida were both brilliant characters. Both were complicated in their own right, educated and avid readers but with secrets that defined who they are. But secrets over time can carry weight and both of these characters have been living under that weight. Both Vida and Margaret become lost in the telling of the story. Vida in the recounting of a life long lived, and Margaret in hearing the tale itself.
                I really enjoyed the mystery of this story. The reader is forced to make assumptions about our main character and it isn’t until the very end of the story that we gain any real understanding. Vida’s narrative keeps you on your toes and keeps you observant. I wanted to know the story and was as absorbed in it as Margaret. I was trying to undo the puzzles before I even had all the pieces. And it was magically told. I feel like this story almost falls into the magical realism realm but only because of the narrative which kept me hooked. The Thirteenth Tale a mystery about family was simply well told and enjoyable. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (2005)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

                I’m going to be completely honest and upfront, this book is extremely awkward. It’s the story of Oskar Shell and how he heals after his father dies in the September 11th terrorist attacks. His father had called the apartment more than once during the attack and Oskar heard the last message but was unable to answer the phone. Over a year after his father’s death he finds a key in an envelope in a blue vase and goes on a quest across New York trying to find the lock the key opens. His only clue is the word Black written on the envelope in red ink.
                The narrative is what got me with this novel. The author had three different narrators speaking throughout the book: Oskar, his grandmother and his grandfather who left his grandmother before his father was born. This story encompasses all three of them and the events that happened throughout their lives. The only narrator I ever liked throughout the story was Oskar and his was the most straightforward of the bunch, which is saying something. The author never reveals if Oskar is diagnosed with something but it’s obvious by his writing and some of his expressions that he has a hard time understanding social cues. He was a very well developed and enjoyable character with a curious mind that I found extremely endearing. But his grandmother and her husband’s life never intrigued me. Their chapters, especially early on in the novel, dragged for me. They brought the story to a halt.

                Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was interesting overall and had some really great imagery but it simply isn’t story that will resonate with me. There were phrases and expressions that really caught my attention and that I really enjoyed but this won’t be a favorite of mine. A lot of this seemed really implausible, especially him journeying around so much of the city largely unsupervised. I give this novel 3 out of 5 stars. A book with a narrator different from one I have ever had before but not one that I would widely recommend. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History by Kate Schatz

                If I could recommend any book to women that would introduce them to wide variety of different women who impacted the world it would be Rad Women Worldwide. I think this book is absolutely incredible. From the very beginning of this book, readers are introduced to the many different, inspiring stories of women from all around the world who have strived to make a difference in themselves and the world. Many of these women I recognized but there were some, that after being on this Earth for thirty years, I had never heard of. The biographies were short and to the point, providing just enough information to describe the type of person they were and impact the women had on society. This leaves the door open for anyone to research more into the lives of these women if they find their interest sincerely piqued. If you choose not to delve further into the life of an individual, readers can still be satisfied and in many ways pleased with the succinct amount of information provided. I loved this book. The illustrations were absolutely amazing and I found the biographies to be extremely intriguing. I loved the collection of women and the diversity of display, not just in ethnicity but in careers and circumstances as well. Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History simply put is a very beautifully put together collection of short biographies of women who have made an impact. It is inspiring, engaging, well researched and full of the spirit of what it means to be a woman. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. There are no boundaries but the ones we put on ourselves. 

Thanks Blogging for Books for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

You Can’t Touch My Hair: and Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson

You Can’t Touch My Hair: and Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson

                Honestly, Phoebe had me at the title and the cover photo. I knew a kindred spirit when I saw her and I wanted to know if me and Phoebe would be bosom buddies in real life. I like her. Why? Because the fact that she could throw in so much humor, while being honest and tackling really complicated issues concerning race made me happy. It’s hard talking to people about life as a black woman. Yet, Robinson did it very well, with some well-timed humor included. This book won’t be for everybody and that’s okay. She makes it very clear that there is no niche that you can contain her in. She is multidimensional, so whatever box you thought you were going to hold her in, you might as well completely disregard. That’s why I enjoyed this collection of essays. I felt like I was having a really honest conversation with one of my friends that included many glasses of wine, served chilled.
                So this is what (a conversation with one of my friends) You Cant Touch My Hair was truly about: a thirty-one year old black woman, who has contemplated race for most of her existence, is really funny, loves doing stand-up comedy and has finally figured out this thing called life… sort of. Now I’m not a stand-up comedian, that’s not my style of funny, but I recently turned thirty, have contemplated about race for a large part of my life and I think I’ve got this life thing pretty under control. Robinson though knows how to convey her story with a raw emotion that most people will be able to understand, empathize, sympathize and relate to. Not to mention the fact that she is pretty damn funny and I had plenty of moments when I found myself laughing hysterically.

                Now you may not love every single essay. These essays may make some people uncomfortable and make you question the microaggressions you just realized you’ve been committing for years. But if you can see past the things that make you uncomfortable I genuinely believe many people can enjoy this collection. Besides being really funny and racially conscious it’s an easy read with quotable moments and hilarious visuals. I enjoyed it. I’m glad I decided to let Robinson’s essay’s wash over my senses and envelope my mind. Her stories are genuine and I saw my own story in many of them. I related in more ways than I thought possible. At the end of the story I was grateful I took the time to get to know Robinson through this collection. I give this 4 out of 5 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth (2004)

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

                Philip was a young boy but he still knew of the war against the Jews going on in Germany. He could constantly hear his parents discussing it. So when Lindbergh was elected president instead of Roosevelt in 1940, all Philip could feel was fear. His father knew Lindbergh was an anti-Semite. So did many of the other Jewish families in the neighborhood. All of whom were afraid of what Lindbergh’s pact with Hitler and the Japanese Emperor could mean for their future. America had now become allied with the Axis powers. While Europe was being slowly decimated by Hitler’s Army, the Japanese would begin conquering the different nations of the Pacific. The president of the United States, Charles A. Lindbergh, would do nothing but watch.
                I love alternate history historical fiction novels. I think it such an amazing genre with so many endless possibilities. We all know how World War II ended, how Roosevelt would end up serving four terms in office and sending troops to battle in Europe and the Pacific. But imagine if he hadn’t and an isolationist was given power instead. Would anti-Semitism have taken over in the United States? That’s the question Roth sets out to answer with this novel. He envisions a world where such a change takes place and fear and horror takes place on American soil. It was interesting concept, with a plot that was well executed and a pervasive tone of fear but there were some areas where it simply fell flat.
                I have decided that I am simply not a fan of Roth’s writing style. He decided to write this as if it were a personal memoir. That was actually pretty successful except for the fact that his prose was extremely too congested and his narrative tend to waver off topic a lot. I struggled with getting through his writing but I was totally engrossed in the story. The end was a bit of a disappointment. As much as I had grown to like the characters, all of whom were pretty well developed, I felt like the ending was rushed in an attempt to tie the story line up with a neat little bow. I won’t post spoilers but the “plot” aspect while plausible was just lame.

                The Plot Against America was simply okay. I’m giving it 3 out of 5 stars. It was an interesting story, with a writing style I didn’t prefer. The tension was always plausible but somewhere along the line I feel like Roth gave up and wasn’t sure how to end it. A lot of missed opportunities with this novel but an intriguing story none the less of a history I’m glad didn’t happen this way. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson (2003)

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

                In 1893, Chicago hosted the World’s Fair. It was originally intended to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus discovering the New World. But after the Exposition Universelle, an extremely successful world fair that was hosted in Paris, the World’s Fair turned into something more. Chicago wanted to put its name on the map and also build a structure that would rival the newly constructed Eiffel Tower. The architect Daniel Burnham would oversee the construction of what would be known as the White City and its success or failure would ride on his shoulders. While Burnham was building and planning the World’s fair, there was another man who had his sights on more sinister projects. He was known as H.H. Holmes but that was only one of the aliases he used. He would ultimately be responsible for the death of at least nine people with some estimates guessing up to two hundred. In a time and place where many people often disappeared few were suspicious of the fact that so many seemed to disappear around him.
                This is the second Larson nonfiction novel that I have read and I am extremely pleased. This was an extremely engrossing read about the creation of the World’s Fair, its trials, tribulations, setbacks, success and legacy but it’s also about this murderer who used Chicago and all of its faults to his advantage. I went into reading this book completely unaware of the history of the World’s Fair and found it extremely informative. The impact of the World’s Fair on the generations to come is something that can’t be overlooked once recognized. From Pabst Blue Ribbon beer to Shredded Wheat, The Wizard of Oz and Disney, that’s before even mentioning the first “Ferris Wheel”. The fact that while the creation of the fair was taking place, Holmes was actively luring women with his job and his hotel, with the intent to murder them and possibly experiment on them or sell their remains. It’s disgusting and yet part of the history of this time period. Larson did a great job at juxtaposing these two realities.

                Larson is amazing at creating what is now coined as “nonfiction novels.” He simply knows how to take the facts and information to weave together and extremely interesting and moving plot. His constant change in narrative between Burnham with the fair and Holmes with the murders created an atmosphere of both excitement and fear. His world building and development of historical characters just brought this history to life. I read this as part of the 24in48 readathon and wasted no time in devouring it. Really well done. I give this 4.5 out of 5 stars. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Irena's Children by Tilar J. Mazzeo

Irena’s Children by Tilar J. Mazzeo

                I had never heard of Irena Sendler until I saw this book. As someone who reads quite a bit of World War II nonfiction books I found this to be quite disturbing. Who is this woman being crowned the “female Schindler?” I know his name. I’ve known his name since hearing of the famous movie that I wasn’t brave enough to watch until I reached adulthood. Now, after reading Irena’s Children¸ I am very well aware of the history of Irena Sendler and the courage it took to walk into the Warsaw Ghetto every day and walk out with a hidden Jewish child.

                This book is powerful in so many ways. One of the things that I admired most about Irena’s Children is that Mazzeo made it a point to emphasize that Irena was human. She was flawed, made mistakes but she wanted desperately to fight against what she found deplorable. Looking back at her history one can understand why Irena had such strong convictions. Her father, Stanislaw Kryzanowski, helped create the Polish Socialist Party before his death. She was raised around Jews and fell in love with one. Irena watched helplessly as her friends were forced into the Warsaw Ghetto and she knew she must do all she could to help them. Irena went to work and began running an underground organization that would help thousands of people, mostly children, escape the Ghetto. Her life and those that worked with her were in constant peril. That never stopped any of them from doing what they knew where right.

           Well composed, well written and well researched, Mazzeo did a great job compiling the history of Irena and those she fought so desperately to save. Irena’s story was reflective of the many people who didn’t stand idly by while those around them suffered. This story gave me faith in humanity. Even in the darkest of times, there will always be those who continue to fight. Irena’s story starts well before with the influence of her father, and ends will after the war when the truth of her story is recognized. Chronologically told from the memories of those who knew her and Irena’s own memoirs, this story is an emotional rollercoaster. Definitely a book I recommend and stand behind. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

Thanks Netgalley for an advanced review copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

                Elka looked at Trapper like a father for the last ten years. She never thought it would end with her throwing her knife in his shoulder and pinning him to a tree. A lot of things had changed in a year. The magistrate approached Elka when she went into town, where drawings of Trapper had been posted everywhere. He was wanted for the murder of a few different women and a child. Elka feared for her life and the things that she knew and ran. But Trapper was always near and so was the magistrate. Finding the parents Elka didn’t even remember were her only hope of starting over. But they went looking for gold when she was a young girl. Elka was seven when Trapper saved her and that was all she had ever known since.
                The Wolf Road starts off with a bang and continues to deliver. Within a few pages I knew I liked Elka. She was flawed, hard as nails and yet because of her isolation completely na├»ve when it came to social interactions. She was interesting, had so much depth and I genuinely wanted to understand the relationship between her and Trapper. The mystery of their relationship, the murders and her part in them lasted throughout the entire novel. There were moments when I thought I had unraveled the truth, only to have the full situation revealed to my horror. The tone of the novel, and the dystopia of a future drastically altered because of wars, set Elka up for a voyage that would have killed most people. But her strength and demeanor, all a result of her upbringing by Trapper, kept her safe.
                Lewis’s debut novel is a dark, engrossing read that sucks you in early then keeps you in its grasp. I enjoyed this novel. It never cantered into the cheesy side of storytelling which can happen easily when authors are trying too hard. It remained mysterious while fragments of the truth were littered throughout the story. I loved the ending. It was twisted and unexpected. My mind didn’t want to go to the darkest realms of my imagination and yet Lewis was able to lead me there and it was a ride I thoroughly enjoyed. I give this 4 out of 5 stars. 

Thanks Blogging for Books for a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.