Sunday, May 21, 2017

Review: The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

Title: The Guest Room
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Year Published: 2016

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 314
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)USA (CT, NY), Russia, and Armenia

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the back of the book): When Kristin Chapman agrees to let her husband, Richard, host his brother's bachelor party, she expects a certain amount of debauchery. She takes their young daughter to Manhattan for the evening, leaving her Westchester home to the men and their hired entertainment. What she does not expect is that the entertainment--two scared young women brought there by force--will kill their captors and drive off into the night.

With their house now a crime scene. Kristin and Richard's life spirals into a nightmare. Kristin in unable to forgive her husband for his lapses in judgment or for the moment he shared with a dark-haired girl in the guest room. But for the dark-haired girl, Alexandra, the danger is jut beginning.

Review: Human trafficking is such an important issue and that is what caught my eye about this book. I have also never read a book by Chris Bohjalian and have heard so much about him. And in his acknowledgements he thanks Stephen Kiernan who is the author of a book I read last week! I am such a geek; I love when authors thank other authors whose books I've read.

This book feels important. It's because it is tackling so many difficult subjects all at once: human trafficking; fidelity; friendship; trust; fear; and compassion. That's a lot. And it's done well. I like that we slowly learn Alexandra's history and story as she narrates every other chapter. While reading about how she was kidnapped, treated by her captors, and brought to the States as a sex slave is not easy reading, it is told well and slowly so that the reader really understands how her family was duped, how she really couldn't escape, and how she fears for her life once she "gets out."

And we also see the other side of the story: that of Richard, who attends the bachelor party that triggers the book, and his wife, Kristin, whose life is turned upside down after the party is over. We even see events from their daughter's perspective. Each of them reveals a little more about how we understand the situation, how we react to stress, and it made wonder how I would react. That is the mark of a good book.

Challenges for which this counts:

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Review: A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi

Title: A House Without Windows
Author: Nadia Hashimi
Year Published: 2016

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 412
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)Afghanistan

FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for a review as part of the TLC Tour.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): For most of her life Zeba has lived quietly in an Afghan village, a loyal wife and loving mother. But on one horrific day, her family's world is shattered when her husband, Kamal, is found brutally murdered with a hatchet in the courtyard of their home. Covered in Kamal's blood and catatonic with shock, Zeba refuses to explain what happened. Barely escaping a vengeful mob, she is sent to Kabul's Chil Mahtab, a women's prison.

As Seba awaits trial, she befriends other women whose own misfortunes have led them to these bleak cells: Nafisa, imprisoned to protect her from an honor killing: Latifa, a runaway who stays in the jail because it is a safe haven; and Mezhgan, pregnant and unmarried, jailed for zina, or "love crimes." The women whisper among themselves: Is Zeba rally a cold-blooded killer? Has she truly inherited her mother's powers of jadu--witchcraft--which can bend fate to her will? Can she save herself? Or them?

Into this closed world comes Yusu, Zeba's Afghan-born American-raised lawyer, whose desire to help his homeland has brought him back. With the fate of this seemingly ordinary housewife in his hands, Yusuf discovers that, like Afghanistan itself, his client may not be at all what he imagines.

About Nadia Hashimi

Nadia Hashimi was born and raised in New York and New Jersey. Both her parents were born in Afghanistan and left in the early 1970s, before the Soviet invasion. In 2002, Nadia made her first trip to Afghanistan with her parents. She is a pediatrician and lives with her family in the Washington, DC, suburbs.
Find out more about Nadia at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

Review: It's been a while since I've read a book set in a Afghanistan so I was excited when I saw this one on offer from TLC Tours. I'll confess that in the beginning I kept feeling like the book was set in India, I'm not sure why.

I really wanted to connect with Zeba, but didn't for a lot of the book. I empathized with her and her plight (unfulfilling life, mean husband, etc) and her situation (being in jail), but I didn't "like" her at first. That doesn't mean she isn't a good character, it just means that I wish I cared more about her. For some reason I connected more with her lawyer, Yusuf. Perhaps that's because he is an educated professional, but I don't think so because I have connected to many poor and uneducated characters in books before. However, by the end of the book I felt very invested in Zeba and the outcome of her case and her fate. I wanted her to get out of jail and spend the rest of her life with her children.

The setting and situations in the book seemed really accurate to me, which is strange for me to say since I've never been to Afghanistan. However, with an Afghani author and things she mentions in her acknowledgments, I think the cultural aspects were really true to life. That made the book feel rich and full and raw.

Challenges for which this counts:

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sunday Salon: May 14, 2017

My life in books:
Reading over the past couple of weeks wasn't too bad as I read these books and I've also been reading a couple books for work.

  • Bai Tide by Erika Mitchell--Fun spy novel
  • Bang by Barry Lyga--Excellent YA novel

Challenge updates:
  • Read Your Own Damn Books--My goal is to read 25 books from my TBR shelves this year. So far I've read 23, adding 3 in the past two weeks. 
  • Travel the World in Books--The idea is to read books set in as many countries as possible. I did really well with this challenge over the past two weeks! I added North Korea, South Korea, France, Turkey, Iraq, and Syria to my list since my last Sunday Salon. 
  • Literary Escapes--Similar to the previous challenge, this one tracks the US states. This month I didn't add any new states. Bummer. 
  • Read all of the ALA YA Award Winners--Sort of pathetic as I didn't read any for this challenge either. But, I only have two categories left.
My life outside books:
Nothing much to report except that I bought myself a stand-up desk, which makes me happy.

Circumstances allowed me to see my daughter for a couple days (the photo is her at prom a couple weeks ago), which was really nice, especially since my parents are out of town for the month. I forgot how quiet a house is when one is alone; I've been having the TV on much more so that there will be noise. :-)

Since I'll be alone on Mother's Day, my mom bought me a Liberty puzzle to work on. To be honest, at first I thought it was weird, but I am so glad she did. It's an activity that keeps me busy and I love Liberty Puzzles. If you are into jigsaw puzzles at all you should definitely check them out! They are only available online, cost a bit too much, are made of wood and
each piece is unique and a work of art on its own (the pieces are shaped like flowers, animals, bugs, people, etc). They have beautiful designs of Japanese art, landscapes, some patriotic, and more. These puzzles have become a standard Christmas gift in our house. Anyway, my mother really landed me with a tough one as every single piece is a shade of green!

And, it's Mother's Day here in the US so I've got to include a photo of my mom (with my dad). As I said, they are in the UK for a month so we won't celebrate together and, to be honest, I am not really one to do much for Mother's Day anyway; I feel like it's a Hallmark holiday. And since I live in the same house as my parents, I see my mother every day. But, she is wonderful, does so much for so many people, and is the glue of our family.

  • I bought an AppleTV so that I can watch Netflix (and other apps) on my TV. Does anyone else out there have an AppleTV and have any suggestions for me?
  • I finally watched JK Rowling's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and the Harry Potter connection was fun. I loved that the muggle, Jacob, was so involved; he was such a sweet character!
  • I also watched Minority Report, which I hated and turned off after 30 minutes.
  • The Amazing Race is heating up and we're down to only 5 teams. I do love seeing where they travel to and this season has been fun, especially the scenes in Italy. I want to go back to Italy so badly!
  • My new TV obsession is Big Bang Theory. I've seen it before, but it is so darn good and funny!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review: Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

Title: Please Look After Mom
Author: Kyung-Sook Shin
Year Published: 2011

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 254
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map): South Korea

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): When Sixty-nine-year-old So-Nyo is separated from her husband among the crowds of a the Seoul subway station, her family begins a desperate search to find her. Yet as long-held secrets and private sorrows begin to reveal themselves, they are forced to wonder: how well did they actually know the woman they called Mom?

Told through the piercing voices and urgent perspectives of a daughter, son, husband, and mother, Please Look After Mom, is at once an authentic picture of contemporary life in Korea and a universal story of family love.

Review: I read about this book when Ti reviewed it on Book Chatter and she wasn't wrong: this one is really good with relationships. And, it's a mom book so I thought the timing was good with Mother's Day coming up on Sunday.

This book is both intense and lovely at the same time. I know that sounds like a strange combination, but the intensity comes from the feelings expressed by the various characters about their mom/wife once she has gone missing. The loveliness is in the gentle writing style. One aspect that I did have trouble with is the point of view of the narrators. "When you think about mom..." feels awkward to me. I wish it had been written in the first person so I felt the people owned their ideas and feelings.

What would I feel if my mom went missing? That's the intense part about this book. Her children and her husband each narrate a part of the book, talking about how they feel about their mother, wondering what led to her disappearance, and they reflect upon how they treated her. This is the part that really gets the reader thinking: do we take our loved one for granted; how do we treat them; are we getting everything from our relationships that we can?

Challenges for which this counts:

Monday, May 8, 2017

Review: The Baker's Secret by Stephen P. Kiernan

Title: The Baker's Secret
Author: Stephen P. Kiernan
Year Published: 2017

Genre: Adult Fiction
Pages: 305
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)France

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher. This review is part of a TLC Book Tours

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): On June 5, 1944, as a gray dawn rises over the small town of Vergers on the Normandy coast of France, Emmanuelle is making the bread that has sustained her fellow villagers in the dark days since the Germans invaded her country.

Only twenty-two, Emma learned to bake at the side of a master, Ezra Kuchen, the village baker since before she was born. Apprenticed to Ezra at thirteen, Emma watched with shame and anger as her kind mentor was forced to wear the six-pointed yellow star on his clothing. She was like-wise powerless to help when he was pulled from his shop at gunpoint, the first of many villagers taken by the Nazis.

In the years during which her sleepy coastal village has suffered under the enemy, Emma has silently, stealthily fought back. Each day, she receives an extra ration of flour to bake a dozen baguettes for the occupying troops. And each day, she mixes that precious flour with ground straw to create enough dough for two extra loaves--contraband bread that she shares with the hungry villagers. Under the cold, watchful eyes of armed soldiers, Emma has built a clandestine network of barter and exchange that she and the villagers use to thwart their occupiers. Like a gypsy, she makes her way around the village, moving among desperate inhabitants and arrogant occupiers--a deal maker, an observer, and a keeper of secrets.

But her gift to the village is much more than a few crusty loaves. Emma gives the people a taste of hope--by enabling them to care for one another, by being a model of dignity and defiance, and by helping the villagers survive should the Allies ever come.

As a brutal Nazi captain begins to uncover her network, and the intricately woven web of resistance and subterfuge starts to unravel, the people of Vergers find their bonds tested as never before. Ultimately, Emma, facing potential execution, displays a courage and strength of will that shows them all a path to redemption.
Review: A different view of World War II is always going to work for me and this book was no exception! 

I love that the main character is a young French woman and her grandmother. They are the center of a wide ring of resistance near Normandy on the eve of the allied invasion. However, the story looks back over the previous months to lay out the dealings, the secrets, the betrayals, and the friendships in this small village. Some people are so brave when they need to be, while others sell out their neighbors to save themselves. This story shows multiple sides of war: collaborators; perpetrators; and resistors.

The feeling that the French villagers had as the Allied forces arrived must have been full of conflict. Relief that help had finally arrived, anger that their farmland and houses were being destroyed, and fear of what the new soldiers would do to them. There was one line in particular that stood out to me. As Emma and another villager look down on the beach and see the dead lying on the sand, the various boats approaching land, and the gun battles taking place, they marvel that "they came for us. People they do not know." It must have been an overwhelming and emotional moment.

If you like good writing and a great story, this book will not disappoint.

Challenges for which this counts: