By now, everyone must have heard about this book, if not actually read it. This book had a long waiting list and I wasn't initially keen on reading itBy now, everyone must have heard about this book, if not actually read it. This book had a long waiting list and I wasn't initially keen on reading it. But there are only so many conversations you can join without saying you didn't read this book. Besides, over time, I began to get curious about the plot.
The Girl on the Train was okay. Not great, and when I finally closed the book, I thought the plot was very silly and fabricated. Although I somewhat enjoyed the ride through the book, looking at the full picture once I finished the book didn't make me very happy.
The Girl on the Train is the story of two women. Rachel, the titular character, has been divorced for a few years but she is yet to move on. She has been an alcoholic even before she got divorced and oftentimes she forgets what she has been up to whenever she is drunk. Every morning, she takes the morning train to Euston and returns home by the evening train. During these train journeys, she obsesses over the residents of a certain house, whom she has named Jason and Jess. One day, she sees Jess doing something out of the ordinary but before she has time to dwell too much on that incident, Jess goes missing.
Megan has brought a lot of emotional baggage to her marriage with Scott - death of a family member, family estrangement, lots of past lovers, a shady past, and a horrible tragedy. She starts seeing a psychiatrist to help get over her anxiety attacks but things are not as they seem on the surface.
I wasn't a fan of this book going in. The first quarter of the book, which focused on building Rachel's character, lagged heavily. I wasn't intrigued by the writing either and considered abandoning the book. But once one of the characters went missing, the pace stepped up. The second half of the book was certainly more thrilling but the way everything was wrapped up felt too flimsy and lazy.
I certainly felt very sorry for Rachel, but it bugged me that she was painted as a very sorry character. She was yet to recover from her divorce - she would constantly pry into her ex-husband's life, visiting his house where he stayed with his current wife and daughter. She drank too much, didn't have much of a career, and made consistently poor decisions. Plus, I couldn't get why she had to be so obsessed with that couple. I didn't care much for Megan for a long time, until her tragedy was revealed. That put her whole story under a new light. There is a third woman who shares pages with the other two, in this book. Anna, Rachel's ex-husband's wife, is terrified of Rachel, who can be quite a spectacle when drunk.
Ultimately, I was disappointed with this one, but I was expecting that based on some of the reviews I have read. I'm not even sure if I am happy that I finally read it. Goes to show that reading something because it is hyped doesn't necessarily make you feel like reading it was time well-spent....more
Thus begins Fredrik Backman's latest novel about a little girl named Elsa whose grandmother is essentially h
Every seven-year-old deserves a superhero.
Thus begins Fredrik Backman's latest novel about a little girl named Elsa whose grandmother is essentially her superhero. Elsa and her grandmother are very close, so close that her grandmother has built a whole fantasy world called the Land of Almost Awake and the two would head there every night at the moment they are almost asleep. She has conceived fairy tales from this land that sort of mimic real-world experiences involving Elsa and some of the people they know in real life. Elsa has been getting bullied at school and these tales and this fantasy land is a way for her grandmother to teach Elsa to be strong and how to battle real-life demons.
But her grandmother is ailing of cancer and dies soon, leaving Elsa very heartbroken and angry. But she has been left a last task by her grandmother - a treasure hunt that involves finding some letters she has written to be delivered to some people in their building. For there are several strange and interesting characters who live in the same building as Elsa - among them, a reclusive man who is obsessed with cleanliness, a huge hound that doesn't seem to have an owner, a couple who seems to have a surplus of cookies, and a man who seems to drink coffee all the time.
Remember last year's phenomenon that was A Man Called Ove? (What - you haven't read it yet? You better get hold of that book somehow because that is one of the most amazing books out there.) My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry is written in the same vein of innocent humor as A Man Called Ove was. It's really hard to explain Backman's writing style, except to say that it is endearing, quirky, and fun to read.
Elsa is an almost eight-year old who describes herself as different throughout the book. It is never mentioned how she is different and for a quarter of the book, I kept waiting to find out. But then I realized that it doesn't matter - every kid is different somehow and probably gets teased for it. This book is for those kids. This book is to show those kids that they can be heroes too and make a difference in the world.
I loved her grandmother's Land of Almost Awake. It was a fabulously constructed world that could be in a book of its own.
If there is one thing I didn't like about this book, it was the pacing. I thought the story could have moved a little faster and still retained all its charm. One of Backman's techniques is to use repetition to make things a little cuter and while it worked well in A Man Called Ove and works pretty well in this book too, it was a tad overused in a few cases - this seemed to slow down the book a bit.
That aside, this is a highly recommended read. If I had to pick a favorite between Backman's two books, A Man Called Ove is the clear winner. But this one is also very engrossing. The only thing I would worry about is whether Backman's writing style will get tiring, the more we read his books. I hope not....more
A Window Opens isn't exactly my kind of book. I generally try to stay away from books focusing on the do-it-all or have-it-all kind of woman, becauseA Window Opens isn't exactly my kind of book. I generally try to stay away from books focusing on the do-it-all or have-it-all kind of woman, because they can be quite depressing and unrealistic to read. But for some reason, I accepted this book for review - maybe my pregnancy hormones contributed to that decision or this was just the read I was looking forward to.
Alice is living the life she loves. Mom to three kids, she worked part-time at a magazine and was heavily involved with her kids' school lives. Her husband, Nicholas (never called Nick or Nicky), was working at a law firm, hoping to be made partner someday. However, the partnership doesn't work out and Nicholas quits his job to start his own law firm. This would involve a few months of no pay while he established his reputation and client-base, so they were going to be short on cash for a while.
To make sure they don't run out of money, Alice takes up a full-time job at Scroll, an Amazon-like company that was going to launch reading lounges across the country where customers could sample an ebook and later purchase them - something that was bound to be stiff competition for independent bookstores. Although everyone is proud of her initially, things go downhill pretty soon. Her job gets so busy that Nicholas isn't happy, her kids feel as if her work is more important to her than they are, her best friend, who is an independent bookstore owner, feels that Alice is now competition, and her boss is very pushy and not very respectful of employee needs.
There is a lot of ground covered in this book, so let me start with what I didn't like. I work a full-time job, and will soon contend with full-time-employed-mom challenges. I know there are some moms who prefer to stay at home, some who prefer part-time employment, and some who want a full-time career. I wish A Window Opens was a little sensitive to this personal preference. Instead, Alice's decision to go full-time isn't really received well. Her kids start reflecting on her absences (understandable after having a mom go from part-time present to hardly present) and family members voice that she is always too busy. I wanted this book to admit that any kind of lifestyle (stay-at-home, part-time, or full-time) is challenging for any mom and that they all work well as long as the parents are involved with the kids. Instead, Alice received much angst for going full-time, which she did only so that her family will be able to ride it out while Nicholas gets his company afloat.
The other thing that bugged me was that there is a lot of victimizing of moms. (Sure, there are mom jokes in the real world just like there are gay jokes and Jew jokes and blond jokes and you-name-it jokes.) There are no non-moms in this book who don't ridicule moms. Moreover, almost every mom in this book either don't work or work only part-time, and the women who do work seem very inclined to not having a family. The former group tends to scorn the latter and vice versa. It was a little unpleasant to read all that.
Something else that bugged me was Scroll's portrayal. There was nothing good about this company - even the employees had no heart. While a company like Amazon would appear evil on the outside (looking from an independent bookstore's point of view), I am pretty sure that it is a delight to work in this company. Plus, the employees definitely have feelings and opinions. Not everyone who works at Amazon hates print books or would never visit a brick and mortar store, even if their job "appears" to put these stores out of business. There are always two sides to a coin.
With that out of the way, here's the stuff I liked. This book was a delight to read - it was fast-paced and engaging. I was worried I wouldn't be able to relate to Alice at all - that she would be a have-it-all-do-it-all kind of mom or at least a wannabe. She was the very opposite however. She wanted to do more but knew her limits and tried to make things better within those limits. Of course, her efforts were never viewed as enough by her family or her boss.
What I loved most about this book was how well it explored all of Alice's relationships - those with her kids, her husband, her friends, and also with her parents. None of the relationships were compromised in favor of another one. Essentially, Alice was being painted as a more well-rounded character. I did wish for a deeper portrayal of her husband. He was sidelined quite a bit, which was a bit awkward considering that he was also going through a career upheaval.
I also loved that this was set in New York. The city is as much a character in this book as the people are. A Window Opens is definitely an engrossing read. Although, I had issues with the book, on the whole, I thought it was a very unputdownable and enjoyable read. The issues I had did not come in the way of my reading pleasure....more
Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In was released at a time when memoirs and self-help books by famous people were quite the rage. That in itself turned me awaySheryl Sandberg's Lean In was released at a time when memoirs and self-help books by famous people were quite the rage. That in itself turned me away from this book. Plus, the fact that it was seemed to be catered more towards a woman reader rather than any reader but with an emphasis on women topics made me not want to read it. I prefer to read a feminist book that I can recommend to a male reader as well - there is no way only one half of the world can fix the problems that ail that same half.
Last month, however, I went through an increased interest in feminist matters, bordering on obsession. At that point, Lean In came into my radar again. This time, I was keen to read it (interesting how your perceptive or general mood can influence your approach to a book). It was also interesting that this book was the June pick at my library's book club, so copies were limited, but they had one last copy available and I lucked out.
Let me say at the outset that I loved this book and totally related to it. One comment I read in many reviews of this book was that readers were having a tough time relating to this book because Sandberg writes Lean In from the perspective of someone working in a corporate industry, and after reading this book, I could understand that comment. Lean In is definitely very tailored to the corporate business woman and while I will only cautiously recommend this to someone who doesn't work in a company with the corporate ladder structure (with raises, promotions, managers, employees, or projects to manage), there are several valuable tips peppered throughout this book, so eventually anyone would benefit from reading it, men and women alike.
The book reads mostly as an essay collection. Sandberg focuses on a different topic or problem in each essay and I would be hard-pressed to choose a favorite. Her essays are certainly very personal and she talks about how gender had come in the way of many her actions and decisions. I loved that she inserted herself into many of the essays and not just tried to narrate how other women were doing it wrong. Personally, I have let gender interfere with many of my decisions as well and not been aware that I was doing that. Reading Lean In helped me identify them.
Sandberg talks a lot about how women have culturally and historically held themselves back - girls grow up believing that there are some things they cannot or are not allowed to do. She doesn't quite have a solution to that problem - it would require a more universal solution. But she does suggest how women can get out of its influence. She also talks about childbirth and maternity leave, and how a woman's pregnancy or plan to start a family can often derail her career, how because of a fear of that happening, many women tend to think that they always have to choose between career and family.
I loved Sandberg's honest take on many topics that affect women who work in any kind of environment - sexism and bias are very much a reality in many workplaces. It sure helps to know their signs and know that no one needs to take all that crap. It also helps to know that sometimes a woman can encourage all that crap by not speaking out (of course, that is no reason for anyone to be sexist). If you work (or plan to work) in a job that is very male-dominated or follows a corporate ladder environment, this book is definitely a must-read....more
Last weekend, I finished the second half of Flowers for Algernon in two sittings, just in time to have a week to ponder the book and gather my thoughtLast weekend, I finished the second half of Flowers for Algernon in two sittings, just in time to have a week to ponder the book and gather my thoughts about it. By the end of the book, I felt as ambivalent about Charlie as I did initially, though I did empathize with him a lot more in the second half.
Daniel Keyes narrates a very compelling story by addressing the age-old question - what happens when you get something you always wanted but never prepared yourself to live with it? You may want riches but if you came into it suddenly one day, would you know what to do with it - squander it away or invest it or save it? In Charlie's case, it was intelligence. He wanted to be smart but it is not that he was incapable of enhancing his smartness, rather he was born mentally challenged.
I knew what to expect in the second half of the book, thanks to a spoiler in the Introduction. For much of the book, I was bummed out that I knew about it, but now, thinking back, I agree with Care that it helped to know what was coming. I was already looking for signs of that eventuality and it helped me appreciate some of the elements of Keyes' writing and hints that he dropped all over. It also made a few chapters very memorable to read.
I was quite bummed out that women weren't portrayed well in this book. Sure, it's the 60s and women in literature around this time were mostly sex objects or fluff characters or pawns intended to move men's stories forward. But still, they had personalities and a mind of their own, and all that was missing from this book.
But even the men in the book don't leave a big footprint behind. They certainly have more important roles but they were flat and mostly one-dimensional. That's the trouble with first-person stories, especially when they are from the perspective of someone who is mentally challenged or overly selfish.
This book is usually filed in the science fiction aisle, something I strongly disagree with. Sure, the idea of a magic pill to make you the smartest person in the world is the stuff of futuristic science fiction. But not when it dwells only on the effect it had on the recipient of that pill, as is the case in the book.
In the end, I was glad to have read this one. There is one chapter towards the end that makes reading the book so very worthwhile. It was powerful, sad, and incredibly moving. Up until that chapter, I wasn't that connected with the book, but that one chapter was super memorable....more
If you told me that I could potentially love a book that featured vampires, werewolves, and other paranormal characters, I would have smiled politelyIf you told me that I could potentially love a book that featured vampires, werewolves, and other paranormal characters, I would have smiled politely and promptly forgotten the book you were trying to recommend. (I do love Bram Stoker's Dracula though - one of the most original books I've ever read.) If I had spent any amount of time on Sunbolt's Goodreads page and saw that it was categorized under Paranormal Fantasy, I would probably not have given it even a few pages. But Jenny's review couple of months ago and my general lack of awareness regarding what the book was about worked in Sunbolt's favor. And boy, am I glad I read it!
Before you turn away, let me emphasize that although I did mention vampires and werewolves in the above paragraph, Sunbolt is less about them than it is about this magical world where many of these kinds of charactes co-exist. (Plus, no one is dating a vampire or proclaiming the many eye candy benefits of being with one.) Intisar Khanani is now on my list of of authors to watch out her. She writes a beautiful hand and a compelling tale.
Hitomi is a Promise, an untrained magician who is generally viewed with suspicion by most of the people of Karolene, where Hitomi lives. Not being native to Karolene, she tends to get picked on by people trying to cause trouble. Hitomi is also a part of the Shadow League, an underground movement whose main goal is to overthrow the corrupt and villainish Arch Mage Wilhelm Blackflame. When they get wind of a ploy by Blackflame to assassinate a leading politician, they try to save the latter and his family. But a lot of things go wrong and Hitomi finds herself captured with no chance of escape.
That, in a nutshell, is what Sunbolt is about. When I started reading the book, I found the writing very easy to get lost in and the book an addicting one to come back to every time. I wasn't quite sold on the plot initially but when I finished it, I couldn't quite stop believing that I loved it. That's a strange way to feel about a plot-oriented book that's more a novella than a full-length novel.
In Sunbolt, Khanani creates a world that feels very natural. She doesn't waste her time in world-building or introducing complex characters. She lets the plot do that at its own pace without making the reader feel lost. To me, that was one of the selling points of this book because the author takes you right into the heart of the book without running the risk of starting the book with a slow introduction.
Yes, there are supernatural characters and if you are like me, maybe you will prefer not having them in your books. To me though, these characters felt more substantial and relatable than the ones in a typical paranormal fantasy book. (Not that I have a problem with those characters - I do love the Vampire Diaries TV show, but this book is as far away from that brand of paranormalcy (paranormalism? paranormality? paranormaltion?) as possible.
Sunbolt is also super-diverse. It had a feel of being set in the Middle East and the character map could have easily spanned across the spectrum. It felt super good to read a fantasy set in a non-European, non-American locale. I'll be watching out for the next book in this series (trilogy?)....more
I am a big fan of the Princess Diaries series. I haven't read all the books yet but I did watch both the movies and loved them. I am not much of a girI am a big fan of the Princess Diaries series. I haven't read all the books yet but I did watch both the movies and loved them. I am not much of a girly girl or someone who loves princesses but I do enjoy reading about rags to riches stories, especially when they involve some kind of royalty. Yep, I am a sucker for such stories.
So I was delighted to see this book arrive at my doorstep sometime last month. This is the first (and currently only) book in this Middle School Princess series, but it ties up very closely with the original Princess Diaries storyline.
Olivia was brought up by her aunt's family after her mother died. Her father still sent her letters but she hadn't met him so she didn't really remember how he looked. The Princess of Genovia, Mia Thermopolis, arrives at her school one day and that's when she learns the truth - that she is Mia's half-sister, and that her mother didn't want her to grow up in the eyes of the public which is why she didn't learn about this sooner. She soon gets to meet her Grandmere and father and is totally glad to have found her real family.
But her aunt's family, who has custody of Olivia, isn't that willing to hand her over to the royals. On top of trouble with her foster family, Olivia is receiving serious flak from a classmate who hates the fact that Olivia is a royal now and therefore at the top of the middle school totem pole.
I always think I should read more middle grade books but I never seem to. Middle grade books have something in them that always wins me over - something that YA books fail to do most times. From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess was no exception. It was cute, with a very down-to-earth character who doesn't just take her new-found status for granted and stop caring about her principles or her friends. I am not sure that real 12-year olds won't swoon with excitement if they find out that they are related to a royal family member - I know I would have been beside myself at that age. Olivia even confesses that it seems better when it's happening to other people than when it's happening to you when her friend asks her how she feels after finding out that she is a princess.
Something I loved a lot was the diversity in this book. Olivia's mother is African American and her best friend is Indian. It was nice to see some demographic color. I did wish that there was more background on Olivia's mom - maybe that shows up in some other book? Overall though, I was charmed. This was a cute and charming read and definitely a book that Princess Diaries fans shouldn't miss....more
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was one of my favorite reads in 2012, so when I heard about Annie Barrows' new book, The Truth AccorThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was one of my favorite reads in 2012, so when I heard about Annie Barrows' new book, The Truth According to Us, I was sure I wanted to read it. Even though Annie Barrows completed Guernsey Literary after her aunt, Mary Shaffer, the original author, passed away, The Truth According to Us appeared to have the same quaint feel as the other book, from the synopsis alone.
The Truth According to Us is set in the summer of 1938, while the US was recovering from the Depression. Layla Beck has just been banished by her senator father because she refused to marry the man he chose for her. Instead, he coaxed his brother to give her a job that took her to a little town called Macedonia in West Virginia, where she has been tasked with writing a book about the history of Macedonia in time for its sesquicentennial celebrations. While in Macedonia, she boards with the Romeyns, a formerly privileged family that has hit some hard times recently. There also seems to be some dark secret in this family's past that everyone is trying hard to conceal. Willa, the 12-year old daughter of Felix Romeyn, is determined to dig this secret out, even if it means spying on her family or neighbors or stalking her father. Jottie Romeyn, Felix's sister, is nursing a broken heart after the boy she loved stole money from her father and burnt down his factory. Felix, a playboy character, has been romancing Layla Beck with no intention of having a committed relationship.
The Romeyns, for all their faults, form a wonderful family that paints great on paper. They knew how to have fun and stood up for each other. Willa and her sister Bird make a charming pair that many siblings will relate to. Macedonia, the fictional town where this book is set, almost makes you wish it was real. But the town's character mirrors that of many West Virginian towns. The town's main source of employment was a hosiery factory that is also seeing mild trouble. Everyone in this town seems to know everyone else, and the small town culture is very much in effect in this book.
I loved the format of the book. While most of the chapters were written in narrative prose, there were also plenty of letters scattered throughout the book, giving it a very informal feel. Occasionally, Layla's chapters from her book about Macedonia interspersed with the plot.
Unlike Guernsey Literary, The Truth According to Us is a chunkster. At almost 500 pages, I found it very hard to keep coming back to this book. It should almost be a rule that cozy books should be short - they don't usually have enough of a suspense to compel one to return to it. Moreover, the fact that this is Annie Barrows' first book for adults becomes very obvious through the prose. None of her characters have enough maturity or even act like adults, despite being in their 30s. The younger characters, however, feel much well-written.
Even though I had issues with this book and just wanted to finish it the more I read it, it was still charming enough to be a delightful read - that is, when I actually got around to it. It has the same feel of delight that Guernsey Literary had, and it was filled with characters just as wonderful, but it was too long and the characters could have been developed better....more
Dept. of Speculation was on my wishlist on the merit of the many positive reviews I read about it. This wasn't a much hyped book, just a book that seeDept. of Speculation was on my wishlist on the merit of the many positive reviews I read about it. This wasn't a much hyped book, just a book that seemed to silently win many fans. If you had asked me what I knew about the book before I started reading it, I could tell you nothing. So it wasn't a surprise when I started reading it that I was more shocked than enamored by the format of the book.
The book is full of mostly 3-4 line long paragraphs, each dealing with distinct ideas, thoughts, facts, or experiences. This book is what your Twitter feed could look like if you made a book containing all your tweets. Context is limited to each passage and it will be a while before you get a feel for the person behind the passage. This is also a difficult book to read in multiple sittings. If you can get through it in one sitting, you will probably be rewarded the most. (I finished it in two sittings.)
Did I manage to turn you away from this book by now? I may also have not read it if someone introduced me to it the same way.
Would you believe I loved this book by the end?
Dept. of Speculation is a book about many things - love, marriage and its decline, raising a child, mid-life crisis, stalling of ambitions - but it is mainly about dissatisfaction - about marriage, being a mother, and not having something to live for. It could have been just like any other book dealing with these themes, but the format Offill goes for - a string of thoughts from beginning to end - makes this book unique. Rather than trying to set the backdrop in a straightforward way as is the case in most books, she lets these thoughts paint a picture of a woman who is very disappointed with her life. And it works - very well! It just took a couple of chapters before I could actually get a strong foothold in this story.
Honestly, I don't want to say much about this book. Experiencing this book is the best way to really feel it. It's even hard to explain much about this book. After I finished a few chapters, I felt the need to put it down and read it when I had a huge block of uninterrupted reading time. Even though each passage in this book is distinct enough, they are really related in a way that isn't obvious initially - they are all trying to describe a person, a person who doesn't feel the need to start with a preamble "I am xyz and I have been married for so-many years, and I have this problem lately..." She takes you on a ride right from the first paragraph and if you don't have your distractions put away and your feet pulled up into your armchair, you aren't going to be able to appreciate it well. Even though this woman isn't exactly in high spirits, the book isn't all doom and gloom. There is plenty of humor and wisdom in it. This is also a very quick and fast read and hard to put down....more
My memories of Agatha Christie books aren't very fond. Nor of Sherlock Holmes, for that matter. Much as I appreciate and respect their super smart andMy memories of Agatha Christie books aren't very fond. Nor of Sherlock Holmes, for that matter. Much as I appreciate and respect their super smart and observant detectives, it does me little good to never be able to solve a mystery. And that's what I always feel like after reading either Christie's mysteries or the Sherlock Holmes books. Either the perpetrator is the person who was barely anywhere in the book and therefore feels like the least logical choice, or the crime itself is way too far-fetched. But most of the time, the mystery itself feels unsolvable and that's when the crime solver comes along to point out all the hints that the reader missed and then solve the crime.
Thanks, that made me feel so good! #sarcasm.
And so, I have never wanted to read any Agatha Christie books, even though she is revered heavily in the book industry. I may be selfish but I do like to solve a mystery before the detective does. But, And Then There Were None refused to step away from my radar. I may have come across references to this book twice or thrice this year alone. This book is based on the premise that if there are ten people in a room and one of them is murdered, then the murderer has to be someone in the room. (Of course, that's not necessarily true - the murderer could have slipped a little something into a drink and then left the room, but if more people in the room are being murdered in a variety of different ways, then the murderer HAS to be someone in the room).
And Then There Were None also happens to be an old nursery rhyme:
Ten little soldier boys went out to dine; One choked his little self and then there were Nine.
Nine little soldier boys sat up very late; One overslept himself and then there were Eight.
Eight little soldier boys travelling in Devon; One said he’d stay there and then there were Seven.
Seven little soldier boys chopping up sticks; One chopped himself in halves and then there were Six.
Six little soldier boys playing with a hive; A bumble bee stung one and then there were Five.
Five little soldier boys going in for law; One got into chancery and then there were Four.
Four little soldier boys going out to sea; A red herring swallowed one and then there were Three.
Three little soldier boys walking in the Zoo; A big bear hugged one and then there were Two.
Two little soldier boys sitting in the sun; One got frizzled up and then there was One.
One little soldier boy left all alone; He went and hanged himself
And then there were None.
Ten people who appear to have committed murders are invited to a remote island, where they listen to a recording of their crimes, shortly followed by the murder of one person. Soon, more of them start dying in mysterious ways and the remaining folks try to determine who the killer is. I certainly enjoyed this one more than I expected to - it was exactly the sort of edge-of-the-seat thriller that I enjoy, but when all is revealed, the story does feel implausible. Still, one does not read mysteries for plausibility so I had my belief suitably suspended while I read this one.
I wasn't a huge fan of the writing - sometimes, it was very distracted and almost shorthanded, which isn't something I would expect in a full-length novel, but that didn't bother me too much. There is also not much of a character insight in this book - again not something you would expect in a mystery novel anyways.
Overall, I'm glad to have read this one. It was more enjoyable than I expected it to be, it has certainly added one Agatha Christie book to my favorite books list. I'm hoping to read more books by her that are not necessarily cliched....more
Firdaus was sentenced to death for killing a man, and although several people have offered to apply for a pardon or some kind of mitigation of her senFirdaus was sentenced to death for killing a man, and although several people have offered to apply for a pardon or some kind of mitigation of her sentence, she has staunchly refused any such interference. Our narrator is curious about this prisoner and wants to meet her, but Firdaus is firm - she doesn't want any visitors. However, on the night before she is to be executed, she changes her mind and decides to talk to the narrator. What follows is her story from her birth to the present, and all the ways she has been mistreated and taken advantage of.
Firdaus' story is not pleasant. Her father only wanted sons and didn't care for this girl who outlived all or most of her siblings. Her earliest memories of her mother show a woman who may have cared for her, but very soon she was replaced by someone (either a crueler version of herself or a stepmother) who didn't care much for her at all. She was circumcised by her mother, molested by her uncle, and made to starve most days - all before she was able to leave home. Her uncle put her in a school - the singular positive event in her life. But after school, there was still no future for her. She was married off to a 60-some year old widower, who didn't like her to eat much, if at all anything. After she ran away from his home, she was taken in by another man, who raped her almost every night.
The rest of the book is a litany of such events. Every time she trusts someone, that person backstabs her. It could be the woman who empowered her by making her a prostitute or it could be the man who professed his love even as he was getting engaged to another woman. Over time, Firdaus began to hate all men.
At face value, this story wasn't winning any empathy from me. Even though there are people out there who suffer tragedy after tragedy, making them very bitter for the rest of their lives, Firdaus' story seemed to me more manipulative than empathetic. But it isn't until the ending that I began to realize that there is a clear political message in this book. Nawal El-Saadawi does not share Firdaus' story with us to get us to be more interested in women welfare or to be more aware of violence against women. Instead, when Firdaus insists that she would rather be a prostitute than a wife or a career woman, she is saying that only prostitutes have any kind of power over men, even though men created the profession of prostituting for their entertainment. The wife has to bow down to the husband's desires while the career woman has to obey their male bosses' demands. But as a prostitute, she can demand her price, even if the man is the King of some country or a Minister.
This is a hard book to appreciate without having some context. Although it seems manipulative that Firdaus seems to go from one tragedy to the next, the truth is that in many countries, women are not even considered citizens. Even in the US, where women are freer than those in some other countries, they are still not often taken seriously. They are viewed as sexual objects, not trusted enough in boardrooms, and laughed at when rape statistics are quoted. In Firdaus' time and country (Egypt), they are whores who don't deserve a voice. The bigger context is that this book is not fiction. The author actually met Firdaus in prison when she was doing some research. (Ironically, the author herself gets arrested a few years later for her political views.)
The prose in Woman at Point Zero is cold throughout. Firdaus herself narrates her story and she is at a point where she does not care about anything, so there is not much emotion lacing her story. This makes for a very detached prose and although I enjoyed the first half of the book, I couldn't quite bring myself to like the second half. This makes it easy to not like this book, despite appreciating that Firdaus' story was tragic. The more I thought about this book, the less I believe that it was about Firdaus, despite being nonfiction. Instead, it was more about women oppression at its extreme. It is a story of how much a woman can cry foul and still not be taken seriously, but how one man can frown and get a woman sentenced to death.
At only a little over a 100 pages, Woman at Point Zero makes for a rather quick read, despite its contents. Were it fiction, it probably may not stay with me. It has a very fable-like feel about it - you see the cruelties of the society by the end but it's not a forceful enough story to make you ruminate the problems. A lot of it is symbolic and it can be appreciated only when you read it with companion books. I did end up feeling that I don't know enough about Egypt. Egypt was a country I loved learning about in my Geography class, especially when reading about the majestic Nile river. However, my history textbook was mostly silent about it, bundling it with the rest of Africa in one quick short lesson....more
The House at the End of Hope Street got on my radar only recently, when Wendy mentioned the book as one of her top favorites. The premise of the bookThe House at the End of Hope Street got on my radar only recently, when Wendy mentioned the book as one of her top favorites. The premise of the book sounded fabulous and my library had a copy as well. I started reading this book shortly before leaving for my Canada trip and what I thought would be a fast read ended up taking about 2-3 weeks total. Not because the book was hard to read or boring. On the contrary, it was quite entertaining, but it was not a book I could race through.
Distraught from a tragic experience, Alba was walking through her hometown when she comes across a house she had never seen before. The owner of the house, Peggy, invites her in but tells her that she can only stay for 99 days and has to turn her life around before then. Alba is glad for the offer - she didn't think she could face her family just yet. Over the next few days, Alba finds that this is no ordinary house. Indeed, the house seems capable of sending messages to its inhabitants, hiding or revealing things depending on whether anyone in the house needed extra motivation to get their life sorted out.
Along with Alba, there are two other inhabitants who discovered the house just like she did - Greer, an actress whose acting career never really took off, and Carmen, who seems to have run away from something terrible, away from her husband. As these three women try to find out what they really need in their lives, Peggy is dealing with matters of her own. Apparently, the house wants her to retire and find a successor. Retirement usually meant death for the owner of the house but Peggy loved a man and wasn't sure how to live the rest of her life with death looming in front of her.
I picked up The House at the End of Hope Street mainly because it sounded charming. And it sure did live up to its charm. The plot is mostly predictable, at least towards the ending, and that could be part of the reason why I couldn't read more pages in a sitting. It also took a long time for the plot to develop and the frequent change of narrators didn't help it much. But, my reading experience did not suffer despite those issues. There is something to love about a house that was magical - a house that suddenly revealed a whole wardrobe full of gowns, a house that gave plenty of inspiration when the going gets tough, a house where past inhabitants lived in its pictures and often talked to Alba, a house that had its own ghosts - a cat named Mog and a woman named Stella who was bent on helping Alba. Alba had a secret ability that made her extra sensitive to the house's secrets. Although Greer and Carmen were privy to some of these secrets, they didn't really know the full gamut of the house's powers.
There is much I loved in this book - it's one of those feel-good books that leaves you with a deep contentment. The house revealed itself only to women who needed a pick-me-up, and anyone else who walked through its doors were invited by the inhabitants. The past clientele includes several incredible women - great thinkers, writers, and poets. Chief among them were Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Parker, and Beatrix Potter. Books also play a huge role in this book. I can see how you could want to read every book and writer mentioned in this book - that would make for a great women's fiction reading project. Overall, definitely charming, though predictable - this is something to read when you are looking for a whimsical read....more
Family was an ingenious book. The format was unlike any I had read before. Family follows the story of a slave woman, Clora, her daughter, Always, andFamily was an ingenious book. The format was unlike any I had read before. Family follows the story of a slave woman, Clora, her daughter, Always, and some members of a few generations of her family lineage. Clora is the narrator but she does die very early in the story. Most of the story focuses on Always, her struggles, and her successes.
Clora wanted to escape her life of slavery by killing herself. Unfortunately, her plan to kill her children didn't quite work, so Clora followed their lives from wherever she was, now that she is dead. There is so much to love in this book and I don't really have too much to say about it. It's one of those family sagas that take you on a ride. Always is a character to root for. It's amazing to see how much she learns and changes during the course of the book. This is not to say that this is a light read. There is a ton of stuff in this book that is very disappointing and tragic but there is also plenty that makes you believe in the human spirit. Strongly recommended - this is also a quick read so it can be easily read in one or two sittings....more