Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Review: A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi

Books take us to places other than those we know. They pull us from our comfort zones and ask us to put ourselves in characters and situations completely outside our realm of experience. For most Americans, Afghanistan is not somewhere we've ever been. It's a place we see on the news or lump in together with the rest of the Middle East. But we don't have much knowledge of life there at all, especially in its villages. Nadia Hashimi's newest novel, The House Without Windows, takes the reader to this Afghanistan to see not only the plight of women there but to see the ways in which its justice system still disproportionately punishes women and how there are people working to right the imbalances so prevalent today.

Zeba has been charged with the murder of her husband, Kamal. She endured his beating and drinking for years, bearing him four living children, cooking and cleaning, and always being a dutiful wife. When she is discovered, with blood on her hands, in the courtyard of their home with her husband's body, there is little doubt that she was the one to embed the hatchet in the back of his skull. But she won't talk about what happened, even after she is arrested and sent to Chil Mahtab, the women's prison. Her biggest concern is not with defending herself nor with whether she will be found guilty but how her four children are doing at their aunt's house, whether Kamal's family is treating them as the children of a murderer, and whether the children will believe all of the terrible things that are surely being said about her. She never for a minute doubts that she will be found guilty and hang for the crime. And there's no reason for her to believe otherwise given all of the other women locked up with her, many for the crime of zina. This crime encompasses an unmarried woman having sex, an unmarried woman dallying/flirting with a coworker, rape, and more. It is essentially a charge of immorality. Such is the lot of women.

Zeba might not talk about what happened the day that Kamal was murdered, but the narrative moves between her present day situation and her past, culminating in the eventual revelation of just what did happen that terrible day. Most of the story is focused on Zeba and her current situation but there are a couple of other interesting threads also woven throughout the story, that of her mother Gulnaz, a jadugar (sorceress), and the father who disappeared when Zeba was just a child as well as that of Yusuf, a young Afghani-born lawyer returned from America and assigned to Zeba's case. The perspective of the story shifts from Zeba to Gulnaz to Yusuf and back again in order to move the plot along. Hashimi does a good job using the imprisoned women in the story to show the overall insignificance of women in the culture and the inequalities they suffer in all aspects of life, but certainly in the justice system. Zeba's situation is horrifying on many levels and the reader can be no more assured of Zeba's receiving true justice than the character herself is. It took skill to weave the story as Hashimi does, balancing the reader's desire with staying true to the reality of the culture. Those interested in women's rights, especially in the Middle East, will find this to be a dynamic and compelling story.

For more information about Nadia Hashimi and the book, check out her website, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

The Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green. The book is being released by Berkley on June 6, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: The New York Times bestselling author of Falling presents a warm, wise, and wonderfully vivid novel about a mother who asks her three estranged daughters to come home to help her end her life.

Ronni Sunshine left London for Hollywood to become a beautiful, charismatic star of the silver screen. But at home, she was a narcissistic, disinterested mother who alienated her three daughters.

As soon as possible, tomboy Nell fled her mother’s overbearing presence to work on a farm and find her own way in the world as a single mother. The target of her mother’s criticism, Meredith never felt good enough, thin enough, pretty enough. Her life took her to London—and into the arms of a man whom she may not even love. And Lizzy, the youngest, more like Ronni than any of them, seemed to have it easy, using her drive and ambition to build a culinary career to rival her mother’s fame, while her marriage crumbled around her.

But now the Sunshine sisters are together again, called home by Ronni, who has learned that she has a serious disease and needs her daughters to fulfill her final wishes. And though Nell, Meredith, and Lizzy have never been close, their mother’s illness draws them together to confront the old jealousies and secret fears that have threatened to tear these sisters apart. As they face the loss of their mother, they will discover if blood might be thicker than water after all...

Monday, May 22, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea
On the Sickle's Edge by Neville D. Frankel
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
'Round Midnight by Laura McBride
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones
The Company They Kept edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi

Reviews posted this week:

The Truth About Goodbye by Russell Ricard
On the Sickle's Edge by Neville D. Frankel

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

Eliza Waite by Ashley E. Sweeney
Nine Island by Jane Alison
I Hid My Voice by Parinoush Saniee
The Other Woman by Therese Bohman
The Florence Diary by Diana Athill
Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James
The Mortifications by Derek Palacio
The Young Widower's Handbook by Tom McAllister
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do But You Could've Done Better by Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell
To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic
Make Trouble by John Waters
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault
A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
City Mouse by Stacey Lender
Cutting Back by Leslie Buck
Siracusa by Delia Ephron
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
A Narrow Bridge by J.J. Gersher
The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
How to Survive a Summer by Nick White
Bramton Wick by Elizabeth Fair
The Finishing School by Joanna Goodman
Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier
Water From My Heart by Charles Martin
Lights On, Rats Out by Cree LeFavour
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
The Last Time She Saw Him by Jane Haseldine
Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
What Are the Blind Men Dreaming? by Noemi Jaffee
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
The Talker by Mary Sojourner
When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
'Round Midnight by Laura McBride
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Review: On the Sickle's Edge by Neville D. Frankel

I took a Russian-Soviet Life class in high school.  We read both Russian and Soviet dissident writers as well as learning the history of this massive country and its peoples.  I took two years of Russian which left me able to count to ten and insult people. I took Russian history classes in college.  Go ahead and ask me about Peter the Great!  Obviously I have been intrigued by Russia for a long time. I was less interested in the country in its incarnation as the USSR though, despite the second half of that history/literature class I had in high school. There was just something about the institutionalized grimness that appealed to me far less than the glamour of the tsars and tsarinas (yes, I plain old ignored the plight of the serfs). But over the many years since I was in school, I have picked up more and read more about this fascinating part of the world, once so closed off and now so prominent in our own currentpolitical situation. The grimness of life in the USSR is still not my favorite part of history but I am more open to it than I ever used to be so I was intrigued by the idea behind Neville Frankel's novel On the Sickle's Edge.

Lena's family were Latvian Jews. Her father fled to South Africa after deserting from the tsar's army. His wife and children made the journey later and it was in South Africa that Lena and her twin brother were born. Their mother died in childbirth and this tragedy ultimately drove their father to take his three youngest children back to their village in Illuxt. He left the two oldest boys, young teens, in South Africa as he didn't have the funds to pay for so many passages back to Russia. The separation was intended to be temporary but the First World War and then the Russian Revolution exploded, making the family's split permanent. The narrative then follows Lena and her family as they give up Judaism in the hopes of making their way in the new communist Moscow. Eventually the story includes Darya, Lena's granddaughter who marries a man determined to rise in the ranks of the KGB but who is herself questioning what she sees in the party, and Steven, the grandson of one of Lena's South American brothers, now living and working in Boston as an artist and a teacher.

The novel opens with Steven crouched in a clump of trees holding a gun and watching a dacha. From that tense initial image, the narrative of these three generations moves back in time to 1898 to tell the story of this family who escaped, returned, and was trapped in the oppressive USSR to make a living as best they could. It ranges from the tsars to perestroika and glasnost. The bulk of the story is Lena's and she is by far the most interesting of the characters. Frankel does a pretty good job weaving the political happenings of this gigantic country into the lives of his characters, showing the actual effects of policies on the masses. When the novel follows Lena, it is clearly a historical novel but when Darya and Steven become more the focus, it shifts gears into an almost pure political thriller rife with danger, sex, murder, and betrayal. The split is an uneasy one and leaves the reader wondering what the book is supposed to be as it is neither one nor the other. The small details, like the difference in food available to those who are merely workers and those who are party officials, expose the flawed society quite clearly. The atmosphere of the novel feels right and the generational story is interesting over all if too long.

Although the story was generally good enough, it was  a bit ponderous and I never quite felt fully immersed in it so when I came across details that were wrong, well, I couldn't stop myself from noting them. Darya's eye color when Lena meets her goes from being the same startling green as her grandfather's to being brown when Steven later describes them. Late in the novel Lena is surprised by Steven's resemblance to her father and his great-grandfather so she shows him a picture of the family. In it are her father, his wife, her older brothers and sister, and Lena and her twin. The problem is that Lena's mother died giving birth to Lena and her brother and her stepmother was never in a photo with the oldest boys who were left behind in South Africa before she and their father married. Darya and Steven are described in the novel as being distant cousins but based on the family tree at the beginning of the novel, they are actually only second cousins, not terribly distant at all as their grandparents were siblings. Small mistakes for sure, but ones that pulled this reader out of the tale. Couple these mistakes with the strange thriller-y turn the novel took in the last third to quarter of the book and it didn't work for me quite as well as I had hoped. Others have really loved it though so perhaps you should try it for yourself if the premise interests you as it did me.

For more information about Neville D. Frankel and the book, check out his website, like him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and Dialogos Books for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday

This meme is hosted by Breaking the Spine and is meant to highlight some great pre-publication books we all can't wait to get our grubby little mitts on.

Chemistry by Weike Wang. The book is being released by Knopf on May 23, 2017.

Amazon says this about the book: A luminous coming-of-age novel about a young female scientist who must recalibrate her life when her academic career goes off track; perfect for readers of Lab Girl and Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You.

Three years into her graduate studies at a demanding Boston university, the unnamed narrator of this nimbly wry, concise debut finds her one-time love for chemistry is more hypothesis than reality. She's tormented by her failed research--and reminded of her delays by her peers, her advisor, and most of all by her Chinese parents, who have always expected nothing short of excellence from her throughout her life. But there's another, nonscientific question looming: the marriage proposal from her devoted boyfriend, a fellow scientist, whose path through academia has been relatively free of obstacles, and with whom she can't make a life before finding success on her own. Eventually, the pressure mounts so high that she must leave everything she thought she knew about her future, and herself, behind. And for the first time, she's confronted with a question she won't find the answer to in a textbook: What do I really want? Over the next two years, this winningly flawed, disarmingly insightful heroine learns the formulas and equations for a different kind of chemistry--one in which the reactions can't be quantified, measured, and analyzed; one that can be studied only in the mysterious language of the heart. Taking us deep inside her scattered, searching mind, here is a brilliant new literary voice that astutely juxtaposes the elegance of science, the anxieties of finding a place in the world, and the sacrifices made for love and family.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Review: The Truth About Goodbye by Russell Ricard

When someone we love dies, we don't want to believe that means they are gone forever. We look for signs that they are still with us, watching over us. Wherever we think they are though, they certainly aren't where we want them to be, beside us, holding our hand, loving us, and living with us. In Russell Ricard's debut novel, The Truth About Goodbye, will this uncertainty and yearning for a lost loved one keep the main character from going on and living or will it help him to understand the truth about goodbye?

Sebastian is turning forty and it's not just his age that is weighing on him (although the number bothers him as well). His birthday is the anniversary of his husband Frank's death a year ago. Sebastian is still grieving Frank. Wrapped in a heavy cloak of guilt because they argued over a younger, good looking, former fling of Frank's the night Frank died, Sebastian has been having trouble putting one foot in front of another. He can't bring himself to clean up his apartment, he can't contemplate dating, and he can't seem to create the choreography that would help him move beyond the chorus boy roles he's been playing for over two decades. On the plus side, Sebastian has his over the top friend, Chloe, a former Rockette, who is trying hard to haul Seb out of the dark pit he's living in by introducing him to the delectable Reid, a man who intrigues Seb but also makes him feel as if he's cheating on Frank. Sebastian also has his guru, wellness coach, and yogi Andrew who is helping him to keep breathing even if he can't quite get Sebastian to address his deeper issues. And finally in Seb's corner, is his furry cat Arthur. In fact, it is originally through Arthur that Seb first suspects that Frank is still with him.

Seb is skittish, running hot and cold about Reid. He's a drama queen, and he's suddenly seeing Frank's ghost on the ceiling. The biggest constant in his life is his community center gig teaching tap. These things come together to round out his character as a nice man who's a little flaky, overwhelmed by grief, angry at fate, and uncertain how to push on. His loss will always be a part of him but as the novel opens, it is consuming him. Ricard has done a nice job showing how grief creeps into all corners of a life. But he's also done a nice job showing how loyal friends can be the bridge between a formerly happy life and a new and different, happy life. There are some interesting snapshots into NYC musical theater life and a look at what's available as the next stage for someone aging out of being a chorus boy. Reid was a lovely, understanding man but the reason for his determined pursuit of Seb, who was nothing if not capricious towards Reid and a possible relationship, wasn't entirely clear. Chloe is a wonderful friend and brings some fantastic levity to the story.  The end was predictable, perhaps feeling more so that way because there's a four year gap between the bulk of the story and the final chapter.  In the end though, this was a sweet love story about living and healing after loss.

For more information about Russell Ricard and the book, check out his publisher's author website, like him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and Wise Ink for sending me a copy of this book to review.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Kathryn at Reading Date.

Books I completed this past week are:

The Truth About Goodbye by Russell Ricard
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
The Talker by Mary Sojourner

Bookmarks are still living in the middle of:

A Well-Made Bed by Abby Frucht and Laurie Alberts
The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer
The Lake House by Kate Morton
Shelter by Jung Yun
The Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Country of Red Azaleas by Domnica Radulescu
A Hard and Heavy Thing by Matthew J. Hefti
Paint Your Wife by Lloyd Jones
The Company They Kept edited by Robert B. Silvers and Barbara Epstein
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
Lily and the Octopus by Stephen Rowley
Thousand-Miler by Melanie Radzicki McManus
Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
The German Girl by Armando Lucas Correa
'Round Midnight by Laura McBride
Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
When the Sky Fell Apart by Caroline Lea

Reviews posted this week:

Exposure by Helen Dunmore

Books still needing to have reviews written (as opposed to the ones that are simply awaiting posting):

Eliza Waite by Ashley E. Sweeney
Nine Island by Jane Alison
I Hid My Voice by Parinoush Saniee
The Other Woman by Therese Bohman
The Florence Diary by Diana Athill
Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James
The Mortifications by Derek Palacio
The Young Widower's Handbook by Tom McAllister
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
Breaking Up Is Hard to Do But You Could've Done Better by Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell
To Love the Coming End by Leanne Dunic
Make Trouble by John Waters
The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault
A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe
City Mouse by Stacey Lender
Cutting Back by Leslie Buck
Siracusa by Delia Ephron
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
A Narrow Bridge by J.J. Gersher
The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding
The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler
Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
How to Survive a Summer by Nick White
Bramton Wick by Elizabeth Fair
The Finishing School by Joanna Goodman
Meet Me in the In-Between by Bella Pollen
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg
The Island of Books by Dominique Fortier
Water From My Heart by Charles Martin
Lights On, Rats Out by Cree LeFavour
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
The Last Time She Saw Him by Jane Haseldine
Him, Me, Muhammad Ali by Randa Jarrar
Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
The Talker by Mary Sojourner

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