Thursday, May 25, 2017

Review: Exit West

Saeed and Nadia meet in class and soon they are smitten with each other. But their situation is more difficult than most young people in love: it's difficult to see your girlfriend or boyfriend when traveling through the city involves checkpoints and rubble and you may never make it to your destination. There have been whispers in their city about mysterious doors that can take you to somewhere safe, as long as you are willing to pay. The offices where Saeed and Nadia work are soon closed and Saeed's mother is killed while searching for a lost earring in her car. They couple decides that they might not get another chance and make arrangements to walk through a door. But what awaits them on the other side?

This is an astonishing book that is so realistic, with just a touch of magic. The magical doors are never explained and only appear in the story in very specific moments. But the possibility of freedom that they provide changes everything for our protagonists. This story is not set in any specific country, but it's not difficult to imagine several places where Saeed and Nadia might reside.

"It might seem odd that in cities teetering at the edge of the abyss young people still go to class--in this case an evening class on corporate identity and product branding--but that is the way of things, with cities as with life, for one moment we are pottering about our errands as usual and the next we are dying, and our eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginnings and middles until the instant when it does."

When you start reading such a book, you might imagine that their story will be through the door from danger to safety. But it is not that easy. Life as a refugee is complicated and the young couple finds themselves unwelcome in many places. The heartbreak of this book comes from the relentlessness of the problems they face and people's willingness to ignore the danger, heartbreak, and uncertainty of those looking for a safe place to call home. It is also not limited to Nadia and Saeed, as we get brief looks into the lives of fates of others who go through the doors to make a better life or find a hostile reception on the other side.

Exit West feels incredibly timely as we see refugees flee their war-torn and impoverished countries. It will certainly make you consider how and why those of us who live in relative security might work to make space and opportunity for others. But perhaps the saddest thing is that it is also a timeless book: there have always been people forced from their homes, searching for a safe harbor.

Exit West
By Mohsin Hamid
Riverhead Books March 2017
231 pages
From the library

Monday, May 22, 2017

It's Monday. What are you reading?

Hi again! It's been one of those weeks with lots of running around (the usual chaos when you have two kids and a few jobs to juggle). We did enjoy a very leisurely Sunday afternoon, which felt very needed. Sundays are at least partly work days for the husband and me, so it was nice to get in a nap this afternoon and just spend time reading, watching some tv, and planning for the upcoming week.

This week, I finished Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. Then I read The Bedlam Stacks, which comes out this August, and sped through All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg.

 

Next up? I will be trying to fill the Phryne Fisher sized hole in my heart by reading the books, specifically Murder in the Darksince I finished watching the tv series. I'm also looking forward to starting Lab Girl as my next audiobook.


What are you reading right now?

Friday, May 19, 2017

Nonfiction mini-reviews Keeping Place and The Parents' Guide to Boys

The Israelites wandered through the wilderness before finally getting home. In the 21st century, we look for our homes too as many of us change addresses every few years. Jen Pollock Michel proposes that we search for home precisely because we can't find it on this earth; while we can do the work of homemaking here, we won't truly be at home until we are reunited with God.

The first half of the book is about why home is so important to us and the second focuses on the work of home--the things we do to make a comfortable and inviting place in our houses, within our families, and in our church communities. I loved that Michel clarified that this book was not just about women and women's work; rather, this is work for all people. It's about who we are and where we belong. Michel combines research, Scripture, and her own experiences of moving and looking for community to write a book that will resonate with every reader who is longing for a place to feel at home.

Keeping Place
By Jen Pollock Michel
IVP Books May 2017
237 pages
Read via Netgalley


Abigail Norfleet James is the mother of a son and a teacher at a school for boys. She often wondered if boys learn in unique ways and so she set out to do some research and record her own experiences about boys in school. In this book, James parses the ways that boys and girls learn differently and then takes parents from infancy through high school with tips for ensuring that your son gets the most out of his education.

This book is described as advice for helping your son through school but a majority of the book tells parents to stay out of it, especially as your son gets older (which is good advice). But this leaves readers with a book on the longer side that is full of general parenting info that you probably already know. So, if you are just starting out on this crazy journey of reading through parenting books, this guide will probably have some wisdom for you. Otherwise, I might use that limited reading time before the kids need another drink of water or want to come sleep in your bed to read something else.


The Parents' Guide to Boys:
Help Your Son Get the Most Out of School and Life
By Abigail Norfleet James
Live Oak Book Company April 2012
338 pages
Read via Netgalley

Monday, May 15, 2017

It's Monday and I'm reading again!

Hey fellow bibliophiles! I meant to get this post up earlier, but things can be a a little crazy around here with getting errands done for the week and trying to keep up with a certain little girl.

This past week has been an eventful one. My daughter turned four. My husband's birthday was the same day...he turned a different age, though! I worked Friday and then had a meeting on Saturday. Sunday was church and going out with my parents to celebrate Mother's Day, of course.

I'm pleased to report that I am getting through books again! This week, I finished City of God, The Home That Was Our Country, and Cinnamon and Gunpowder. I also read Music for Wartime, a short story collection I didn't get to read for the 24 Hour Readathon.

            The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria  Music for Wartime: Stories

I finished up Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott this morning and next up is The Bedlam Stacks.


What are you reading this week?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Audiobook Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Aristotle is pretty sure he doesn't need anybody. He doesn't exactly have friends, his older brother is in prison, and his parents seem to be silent about the things that really matter. One day at the local pool, he meets a boy named Dante who seems effortlessly comfortable with who he is. The two boys strike up an unlikely friendship. It's good that the friends found each other, because Aristotle and Dante are about to be challenged in ways they never imagined.

I listened to this as an audiobook, which is narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda. You may know him from a little show called Hamilton. Miranda is a perfect narrator and I will forever think of his voice as Ari's. This is not just the skill of the narrator though; Benjamin Alire Saenz has written an unforgettable protagonist with a unique way of looking at the world.

I loved the way that Saenz wrote the relationships between the boys and their parents. As the story progresses, we see both sets of parents open up to the boys and become more honest with their older children. I enjoyed seeing good parents try the best that they could to relate to and guide their sons, in spite of their very different parenting styles.

I had a little bit of trouble getting into this one, but I'm glad I stuck it out. Ari and Dante are at that terrible place in adolescence where you are no longer a kid, but you aren't sure how to navigate being an adult. They have the added trouble of figuring out how to be seen as men and whether or not they are allowed to show emotions or compassion. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is the kind of book that reminds you of the power of friendship, and how your life can be radically changed just by having someone who will take you as you are, who can laugh with you and ponder the big questions of life. It's also a story of first love and the way that it can be simple to fall in love with your best friend, even if it isn't always easy.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
By Benjamin Alire Saenz
Narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Simon and Schuster Audio April 2013
7 hours, 29 minutes
Listened to via Overdrive and my library

Sunday, May 7, 2017

It's Monday and the reading is slow

Hello lovely reading people!

So I feel like I've been reading The Home That Was Our Country for a million years. It's only 350 pages, but I started it two weeks ago! That's not the only thing I'm reading this week though; I'm also reading E.L. Doctorow's City of God and listening to Cinnamon and Gunpowder

 


I hope this week has more reading time than the last one. What are you reading?


Friday, May 5, 2017

Review: The Keeper of Lost Things

Anthony Peardew has been keeping lost things for a long time. On the day his fiance died, Anthony lost something precious that she had given him and he has never been able to forgive himself. As a kind of penance, Anthony retrieves lost things in the hope of one day reuniting them with their owners. In his last days, he leaves his house and all of the lost things inside it to his assistant Laura. Now it is her job to return all of the items and maybe rediscover how to open up to people again.

The Keeper of Lost Things is Ruth Hogan's debut novel and it is an utterly charming one. The heart of this book is its characters. Laura plays the straight woman to quirky Anthony, an optimistic neighbor with Down syndrome, and a handsome gardener. There is a lot of humor and heart to be found within these pages. This book would almost be a buoyant read, if it weren't for the real emotional weight from the the characters' loss of both people and possessions.

This story is a carefully orchestrated revealing of one story and then another, as we follow Laura in the present, Eunice and Bomber working at a 1970s publishing company, and vignettes that Anthony wrote about the owners of the lost objects. Hogan has an effortless touch to her writing and I would have happily read entire novels about any of these story lines.

Sometimes a reader just needs a story where everything will turn out alright in the end and people are still motivated by doing the right, good thing. You will find that story here, with the perfect balance of tragedy and joy to keep you turning pages. The Keeper of Lost Things reminds us that there are people who pay attention to others, people who are still willing to be kind, and people willing to help us put the pieces back together after a terrible loss.


The Keeper of Lost Things
By Ruth Hogan
William Morrow February 2017
288 pages
From the library