Thursday, May 5, 2016

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

Cleaning up the rest of my bookish saves on Facebook this week (and trying to move the rest of them to Pinterest because I'm tired of trying to remember where I've saved things!). 

I had ten, yes ten, lists of the best books from 2015. I'm working my way through those to make sure I haven't missed anything I should read and then I'm all caught up. For now. Because, as you know by now, I'm a sucker for lists!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

When The Moon Is Low by Nadia Hashimi

When The Moon Is Low by Nadia Hashimi
Published July 2015 by HarperCollins Publishers, paperback edition April 2016
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Mahmoud's passion for his wife Fereiba, a schoolteacher, is greater than any love she's ever known. But their happy, middle-class world—a life of education, work, and comfort—implodes when their country is engulfed in war, and the Taliban rises to power.

Mahmoud, a civil engineer, becomes a target of the new fundamentalist regime and is murdered. Forced to flee Kabul with her three children, Fereiba has one hope to survive: she must find a way to cross Europe and reach her sister's family in England. With forged papers and help from kind strangers they meet along the way, Fereiba make a dangerous crossing into Iran under cover of darkness. Exhausted and brokenhearted but undefeated, Fereiba manages to smuggle them as far as Greece. But in a busy market square, their fate takes a frightening turn when her teenage son, Saleem, becomes separated from the rest of the family.

Faced with an impossible choice, Fereiba pushes on with her daughter and baby, while Saleem falls into the shadowy underground network of undocumented Afghans who haunt the streets of Europe's capitals. Across the continent Fereiba and Saleem struggle to reunite, and ultimately find a place where they can begin to reconstruct their lives.

My Thoughts: 
So you know how publisher's summaries generally give you maybe a third of the story? Yeah, this one goes much further than that. So, if the summary intrigues you, add it to your list then don't pick it up to read the book until you've forgotten what you read here.

The other interesting thing about this summary is that it doesn't start at the beginning of the book. It's Fereiba's early years that color all of her choices - the death of her mother at her birth, a father who cannot stop grieving and can't face Fereiba without thinking of his dead wife, a stepmother who gives her just enough to make Fereiba hope for a mother's love but not much more, and an angel, who promises to watch over her through her life. For the first half of the book, the story is Fereiba's - a story of longing, heartache, anguish, fear, and hope.

Once Fereiba and her children are forced to flee Afghanistan, the story shifts and becomes more and more Saleem's story. Told from the third person, although Saleem's life is more desperate and more reflective of the trials of refugees, it becomes more distant and harder to connect with the story. Because Hashimi wants to leave her reader with hope, things never quite become as tense and horrible as they might have. Still, with the continuing refugee situation in the Middle East (and world wide), it's important to put readers into the shoes of the disenfranchised, to make those of us sitting in our comfortable homes understand how hard life can be and to, hopefully, become more compassionate.

You know how much I enjoy books set in the Middle East and this one was no exception. Hashimi does a wonderful job of immersing readers into the culture of Afghanistan and making them understand life, particularly as a woman, in the region. The book could have benefited from more editing where it sometimes became repetitive, but I became caught up in Fereiba's story, the story of a mother who is fighting to make a better life for herself and her children.

Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For more reviews, check out the full tour.

Nadia Hashimi’s parents left Afghanistan in the 1970s, before the Soviet invasion. She was raised in the United States, and in 2002 she visited Afghanistan for the first time with her parents. Hashimi is a pediatrician and lives with her family in suburban Washington, D.C. Find out more about Nadia at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

She is the author of The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, which I enjoyed and reviewed here. As long as Hashimi continues to write books about the women of Afghanistan that make me think, I will continue to read them.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Published May 2016 by Simon and Schuster
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
London, 1939.

The day war is declared, Mary North leaves finishing school unfinished, goes straight to the War Office, and signs up.

Tom Shaw decides to ignore the war—until he learns his roommate Alistair Heath has unexpectedly enlisted. Then the conflict can no longer be avoided.

Young, bright, and brave, Mary is certain she’d be a marvelous spy. When she is—bewilderingly—made a teacher, she finds herself defying prejudice to protect the children her country would rather forget.

Tom, meanwhile, finds that he will do anything for Mary.

And when Mary and Alistair meet, it is love, as well as war, that will test them in ways they could not have imagined, entangling three lives in violence and passion, friendship and deception, inexorably shaping their hopes and dreams.

My Thoughts:
If you ask me if I'd like to read a book set in Europe during the Second World War, I'd likely say "no." It so often feels that there cannot be a stone left unturned in the story of that war. And knowing that any such book it likely to be devastatingly sad, I find it hard to do that to myself. But Chris Cleave won me over with Little Bee so I was willing to take a chance. Cleave has become something of the master of combining humor with crushing sadness.  

In Everyone Brave Is Forgiven, Cleave as found a way to bring those elements together in a completely different World War II story. While Mary stays in London, volunteering, she faces the day-to-day hardships of the Blitz but also unexpected racism. Alistair finds himself stationed on Malta, an island that the Axis powers lay siege to for more than two years, trying to break the people on the strategically important island. There is no shortage of the gore and desperation of war here but the emphasis never veers from the characters.

What first grabbed my attention was the witty dialogue between characters.
"Mary frowned. "You are a mousetrap of a friend, all soft cheese and hard springs."
 Hilda beamed. "I use you for practice. One day I'll have a husband."
 Mary took a second envelope from the tray. "God help the poor man."
 "God will take my side," said Hilda. "He's only human, after all.""
And what great characters they are! Filled with kindness, melancholy, jealousy, anger, bigotry, love, hope, hopelessness, disgust, and sorrow. I became so attached to Mary and Tom and Zachary and Alistair that at times I could hardly keep reading, so unable was I to keep "seeing" them hurting.

Of course, I couldn't stop reading. Cleave's writing grabbed me and held onto me with its honesty, intelligence, and emotion. More than once, I found myself thinking "oh, please no" and just as often "oh, yes, this."
Cleave's grandmother, Mary
"Even as she railed, a hollow feeling grew that perhaps life would turn out to be like this. No, after all, the effortful ascent to grace that she had imagined, but rather a gradual accretion of weight and complexity - and not in one great mass that could be shouldered as Atlas had, but in many mundane and antiheroic fragments with a collective tendency to drag one down to the mean."
"There in the sweet sacking smell of the mailbags he understood that he was dying, and it pleased him that he was going in the company of so many soft words home." 
Cleave's grandfather, David
"I was brought up to believe that everyone brave is forgiven, but in wartime courage is cheap and clemency out of season." 
"The quick bright shock of the light between the cloud and the eastern horizon: an unimagined thing, thought Mary, a life. It was an unscrewing of tarnished brass plaques. It was one tile lost to the pattern. It was a world one might still know, if everyone brave was forgiven."
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is loosely based on Cleave's own grandparents lives during the War. The idea for the novel was given to him by his grandfather when Cleave's grandfather asked Cleave to transcript his handwritten memoir into one computer document. The true story is included in the book as well and is every bit as interesting.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Life: It Goes On - May 1

Happy May Day! After all of these years of not doing it, it still seems strange not to be putting together May baskets for the kids to deliver to friends, neighbors and classmates.

May here is coming in exactly as April left us - wet, wet, wet. I'm so ready for some sunshine! We had box seats at a baseball game today but, sadly, it was rained out.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: We've been back at the gym this week so I've been listening to more podcasts, several episodes of NPR Books and two episodes of Nerdette. I finally set up my own Pandora account so I've been listening to a lot of different music as I've done that: Alison Krauss, The Avett Brothers, Brandi Carlisle, Chevelle, Florence + The Machine, Incubus, musicals, Nina Simone. I've been all over the place!

Watching: Miss H introduced me to The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, I finally caught "Love Actually," and we're catching up on BBC's "Luther." Love me some Idris Elba!

Reading: On audio, I'm listening to The Absolutist by John Boyne. So good and so well narrated! In print, I finished When The Moon Is Low and Why We Write About Ourselves yesterday. Today I'm starting Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman and my new nightstand book is The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller.

Making: Chili (it's been that chilly lately - ya' see what I did there?!) and cinnamon rolls yesterday and today I'm making a breakfast souffle and french toast for brunch.

courtesy of the MeanStreetsOmaha
Twitter account
Planning: It's all about the graduation party and our upcoming house guest. Since Miss S's mom will be staying in Mini-him's room while she's here, Mini-him will need to stay in my office for several days. That meant I finally had to buckle down an get that room cleaned up. I found my bookshelves again!

Thinking About: How lucky Omaha was the other day. The weather became unexpectedly severe and a couple of tornadoes touched down (one not too far from my office). Minor damage, no injuries but impressive footage. Got home to find we'd gotten a fair amount of pea-sized hail but looks like all of our plants survived that.

Enjoying: Brunch today with Miss S and Mini-me. Miss S has been in Fort Worth for four months for a school rotation and we are so glad to have her back!

Feeling: Productive. I could have spent the afternoon reading since I wasn't planning on doing anything around the house but, instead, I've been deep cleaning the kitchen. No one else may notice that the cupboards look cleaner, but I do!

Looking forward to: Mini-me's graduation on Friday!

Question of the week:  With a party just around the corner, I'm using that as an excuse to get some projects done around the house that we've been putting off. Is it just us or do you do that, too? 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The List - Nebraska Authors

Nebraska is a small state, population-wise, the majority of it living in the two biggest cities, Omaha and Lincoln. We're proud to be the birthplace and/or home of many famous people (okay, maybe not so proud of some of them). Some of those people we're so proud of are authors. Maybe you know some of these folks?

1. Ron Hansen - author of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (made into a movie starring Brad Pitt)

2. Roxane Gay - born in Nebraska, Gay is best known as the author of Bad Feminist and An Untamed State

3. Mignon Eberhart - at one time Eberhart was the leading female crime novelist in the U.S. and one of the highest paid female crime novelists in the world.

Willa Cather
4. L. Ron Hubbard (yeah, this is one we're not so proud of) - Hubbard wrote prolifically for pulp fiction magazines, mostly fantasy and science fiction works, before founding the Church of Scientology for which he is best known.

5. Nicholas Sparks - yes, THAT Nicholas Sparks, was born in Omaha and for a time lived in Grand Island, Nebraska, which is not in any way, shape, or form and island.

6. Richard Patrick Dooling - Dooling is the author of White Man's Grave which was a finalist in 1994 for the National Book Award in fiction.

7. Willa Cather - author of O, Pioneers and My Antonia, Cather is a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Timothy Shaffert
8. Alex Kava - best known for her Maggie O'Dell series, Kava has written 15 novels and been a contributor to a number of short story collections.

9. Timothy Schaffert - I've talked about Schaffert a lot on this blog as he is the driving force behind the Omaha Lit Fest and the author of several books, most recently The Swan Gondola.

10. Rainbow Rowell - Rowell started writing in Omaha as a columnist for the paper but gave that up to begin writing novels. As much as I enjoyed her column, I'm mighty glad she gave it up to write Eleanor and Park among others.