Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Review: Home Fire

Isma Pasha has always cared for her younger siblings Aneeka and Parvaiz. Their father was never around and their mother died when the twins were still young. Now she finally has the chance to leave England and live her own life. She accepts an invitation to work and study at an American university. But she can't stop worrying about her sister and brother. Parvaiz has disappeared, determined to find the truth about his father's life as a jihadist and his death. Aneeka is dating a man who might break her heart or save her whole family.

Home Fire is a story told from alternating perspectives. We start with Isma as she embarks on a new adventure in the US and encounters all the difficulties that Muslim women experience. We meet Eamonn, with his easy charm and family influence, and spend time with the twins Aneeka and Parvaiz as they discover just how strong their bond is and how far they would go for the other.

The discerning reader will quickly realize that this is an updated version of the story of Antigone. The author sticks closely to the story in many senses, which makes sense when you consider the timeless themes of love, loyalty, and sacrifice. But bringing it into the 21st century and focusing it on a Muslim family makes the tale incredibly resonant. The novel opens with Isma's airport interrogation as she travels to her new home and this thread takes us all the way through the book--what is it like to live each day when you are seen as "other," when you are the person who will be affected by new laws?

Kamila Shamsie is a wonderful writer and I am happy to have read one of her books. Home Fire is catapulting her into some serious literary attention, which is entirely earned. It is a testament to Shamsie's writing that even a reader who knows what happens in the ancient Greek story will find themselves anxiously flipping pages because they truly care about these characters and want to know if they can somehow avoid a tragic ending.

Home Fire
By Kamila Shamsie
Riverhead Books August 2017
276 pages
From the library

Monday, December 11, 2017

It's Monday and I have a 10-year-old!

Hi everybody! How are your holiday preparations going? Are you checking things off your list? Are your evenings spent in a sea of wrapping paper?

This week, we put Christmas prep on hold for a bit because my favorite 4th grader had a birthday! As I mentioned last week, we started with a day at the aquarium. Then I took D and two of his friends to see the movie Wonder and get some ice cream. This weekend, we had the family here for a birthday party complete with a taco bar and Pokemon decorations.

Now I have to get back into that Christmas to-do-list. I'm making progress but I still have presents to buy and wrap, music to rehearse for church, and cookies to bake!

So I never really got into World's Fair, so I put it aside. Actually, I put it in the pile to donate to my local library; I'm trying to send books out instead of putting them back on my shelf in hopes of them working better another time. Instead I read Sing, Unburied, Sing and now I'm reading Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert's Roadmap to Getting Out There. 

        Sing, Unburied, Sing       Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert's Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You'd Rather Stay Home)

What are you reading this week?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Review: The Girl in the Tower

The people in Vasya's village believe she is a witch. As her neighbors become increasingly antagonistic, she is told to join a convent or get married. But Vasya chooses instead to leave everything she has known behind. Disguising herself as a boy, she rides off into the Russian countryside. She soon finds a battle to fight when she learns that bandits are terrorizing small towns. Her bravery earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince. She must continue her facade to keep the prince's trust, but her choices could put her brother, her sister, and the entire city of Moscow in peril.

I absolutely adored The Bear and the Nightingale, the first book in this trilogy. Sequels can be tricky, but The Girl in the Tower lives up to its predecessor. This story gives our beloved protagonist room to grow while also giving us  insight into her brother Sasha and sister Olga. If the first book was primarily about Vasya, this one is about the whole family. It also moves the story from the quiet dangers of the forest to the perils of the city and court, where the person sitting next to you could be your friend or scheming to take your place.

Katherine Arden does a wonderful job of holding things in tension: Vasya glories in the opportunity and danger of the woods while appreciating the safety of a city, she can't resist spending time with the frost demon Morozko but won't give up her own agency, and she is a woman who makes unconventional choices, but those decisions have very realistic repercussions for a woman of the past. It's darker and the consequences are bigger, but the enchanting writing will still draw you in and refuse to let go.

The Winternight books are a beautiful blend of historical fiction and fantasy. If you haven't read them yet, you must pick them up and enjoy all of the magic that a good story with wonderful characters can provide.

The Girl in the Tower
The Winternight Trilogy #2
By Katherine Arden
Del Ray December 2017
352 pages
Read via Netgalley

Monday, December 4, 2017

I'm back to It's Monday!

I haven't done one of these posts in almost two months. But today, here I am!

Somehow, husband and I have kept a certain boy alive and well for the past decade. My kiddo turned ten today, so we played hooky. We started the day with chocolate chip pancakes, went to the aquarium, had lunch with his godmother who was here from the West Coast, and finished the day off with his favorite dinner and a movie.

Image may contain: 2 people
He used to be so little...

I'm trying to get through my crazy long to-do list when it comes to the holidays. It gets extra long when you child has a birthday just a few weeks before Christmas, so wish me well!

On the book front, I recently finished Forest Dark and Home Fire. Now I'm reading World's Fair and planning to pick up Sing, Unburied, Sing later in the week.

                     Home Fire     World's Fair

What are you reading? How are your holiday preparations going?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Review: A Uterus Is a Feature, Not a Bug

When Sarah Lacy achieved some success in tech journalism, she decided she could take the leap of having a child. She knew the discrimination and setbacks that working mothers could face, but realized that this might be the best moment. So she had a son, and then she had a daughter, and then she built a new company from the ground up. Lacy's book is a rallying cry for women to realize that having children does not make you a less valuable employee and being someone with passion for your career does not make you a bad parent.

The Uterus is a Feature, Not a Bug is several things combined between two covers. It's one woman's story of rising through a mainly male profession; it's a deep dive into the statistics that prove that women and parents in the workforce are a strength, not a weakness; and it's an exploration of what we can do to change workplace culture.

Lacy covers a lot here, but one of the most interesting things is the idea of benevolent sexism. She writes about superiors who would never call themselves sexist, but might have neglected to place you in the running for a promotion because you have a small child or you're too "nice" for management. Lacy also destroys the idea of "distracted mothers." The whole concept is a bit ridiculous--are we actually proposing that non-parents have never been distracted by things going on in their personal lives? And "mommy brain?" Parents can be some of the most focused, productive workers; they know there is no time for chatting at the water cooler or perusing the internet because they want to make it home for that bedtime story.

Some reviewers have pointed out that Lacy can be divisive where she means to be unifying: if you open your book by pointing out that non-mothers can never understand what it's like to birth and raise a child, you are dividing (and perhaps offending) some of your readers right from the start. But I think she is right to point out that, whether or not you intend to have children, women are often considered a liability because they might have children. Men's possible parenthood, however, is seen as a non-issue.

This is not a perfect book, but I do think it's a great starting point for everyone--working moms and dads, their colleagues without children, and the bosses who are determining who gets a seat at the table with them. There is a clear need for change in our places of work. Some of us will become parents and some won't. But we need to leave the possibility for you to attend your child's play or take your parent to a doctor's appointment or just take a mental health day sometimes. If we could base our promotion and pay decisions on the merits of someone's work instead of sitting at your desk for a certain number of hours, I think we would see a huge shift in people's success and love for their jobs.

The Uterus is a Feature, Not a Bug
The Working Woman's Guide to Overthrowing the Patriarchy
By Sarah Lacy
Harper Business November 2017
320 pages
Received from the publisher for TLC Book Tours

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Nonfiction November Mini-Reviews: American Fire and That Crumpled Paper Was Due Yesterday

On November 12, 2012, firefighters were called to a blaze in an abandoned house in Accomack County, Virginia. Little did they know that it would be the first of 86 fires over the next five months. Journalist Monica Hesse traveled to Virginia and met the firefighters who spent night after night fighting fires, the police officers who tried to find the perpetrators, and the people arrested for the crime. American Fire is her examination of what happened and why it happened in this particular place with these particular people.

Monica Hesse really embedded herself into the lives of the people of these Virginian towns and her careful research helps readers to understand how this could happen in an area where most people dangle perilously over the poverty line and abandoned structures are abundant. While she does interview both people arrested for the fires, there is a feeling that law enforcement, the lawyers, and Ms. Hesse herself never quite got the full story. This is probably not unusual and doesn't take away from a fascinating story, as long as you realize that you won't get every answer you seek. Otherwise, this is a well-researched and fascinating look into five months of confusion and terror, the people who set the fires, and the people who brought them to justice.

American Fire
Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land
By Monica Hesse
Liveright July 2017
255 pages
From the library

Many of us who are parents have a moment when we can't believe our kid forget his math homework again or wonder why our kid's intelligence doesn't seem to be matching his English grade. Ana Homayoun works as an educational consultant and spends her days helping students find methods to improve their grades and become great students. In That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week, she breaks down the organizational tools that will help your child succeed in school.

I picked this book up because my favorite 9 year old was having some trouble with getting his homework from school to home and I wanted to help him organize his academic life. This book is aimed at kids in middle and high school, but parents of younger children can still find some pertinent ideas. It's a fine place to start, but I found myself wishing there were some more concrete tools. It seems like common knowledge that a child might not reach his full potential if he spends hours in his room "doing homework" (aka on his phone) or that a child's GPA can suffer if there has been a huge life change like a divorce or death in the family. That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week is a good book to skim for some introductory ideas, but I'm still on the lookout for techniques I can use with my son.

Note: Yes, I'm sure you could use these techniques for girls too. My daughter is only four, so we are not quite there yet. Parents of boys and girls, do you find that disorganization is more frequent in boys or is it a family trait?

That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week
Helping Disorganized and Distracted Boys Succeed in School and Life
By Ana Homayoun
TarcherPerigee January 2010
304 pages
From the library

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Comic Mini-Reviews

During the most recent 24 Hour Readathon, I interspersed my reading with some comics. I had heard great things about each one, so I picked them up from my library and met some new comic authors and illustrators.

The first one I read was Petty Theft, which is about a man in the midst of a crisis. Pascal has just been dumped by his girlfriend, he can't seem to get inspired to start a new book and, to top it all off, he injured his back and can't get his feelings out through running. While wandering the aisles at a bookstore, he sees a woman steal his book from the shelf. He is instantly intrigued and convinces himself if he can only meet and befriend that woman, everything will be ok.

Pascal Girard's drawing style is spare in black and white. He doesn't shy away from showing the indignities of being middle aged and overlooked or crashing with friends when your life is a mess. Pascal and the object of his affection make many questionable choices and can be tough characters to root for, but it's a good pick for someone who needs to laugh when everything is going wrong.

Next, I read Aya by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie. This book is about the titular Aya, a teenager living on the Ivory Coast of Africa during the 1970s. The author writes in the introduction that she wanted to portray regular life, with its fleeting romances and family squabbles, instead of the war and famine that seem to represent Africa in popular culture. Aya takes readers with her as she goes out with friends, meets boys, and navigates the transition between teen and adult.

Reading Aya was interesting because it is a story like any other teen story; only the illustrations with the sandy roads and the colloquialisms throughout remind us that we are in Africa instead of the US or Europe. The authors truly try to bring you into the time and place of their story and the last few pages include recipes and fashion tips from the characters. If you enjoy Aya, there are five more books about her life and community.

Paper Girls was my favorite of the three. I've read comparisons to Lumberjanes, a favorite in our house, and I can see the resemblance. In this comic, it's the later 1980s and Erin is out delivering papers in the early hours after Halloween. She expects things to be a bit strange, but she is unprepared to find a spaceship and zombie ninjas. Erin teams up with the other paper girls to keep each other safe and figure out what is going on in their town.

I was pretty little in the late 80s, but the fashion and colors are so fun to see on the page. It's definitely aimed at teens and adults, though, because this is one dark and violent tale. The story is wildly inventive, as you might expect from Brian K. Vaughan, and he leaves the first issue on a fabulous cliffhanger. There are three more volumes if you get swept up in the story of Erin and her fellow paper girls.