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text 2017-03-31 23:45
Love in a not so foreign land...
A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini is a consummate story-teller and following the impact of his first novel - 'The Kite Runner' - his second was always likely to be awaited with bated breath. But, while there are plenty of examples of seminal music albums that have disappointing follow-ups, or movie sequels that never quite reach the highpoint of the original, in this book Hosseini cements his reputation as a genuinely gifted writer.

 

Once again set in Afghanistan, this story focuses on the respective journeys of two women - Mariam and Laila - and the dissection of the book into four parts helpfully describes their individual experiences, before interweaving their lives within the context of war-locked Kabul and a hinterland dominated by armed factions. Seen through the eyes of these women, this book also offers a powerful critique of a social structure, which layers disadvantage based on gender, wealth, religion, tribe, marriage,birth, language, disability, etc. The domestic violence, which they experience at the hands of their husband (Rasheed), is brutal and possible in the absence of protection for the vulnerable and a paternalistic culture which seems to regard women and children as chattels. However, perhaps unsurprisingly, the antidote to such systematic hardship proved to be the indomitable human spirit and the innate capacity for reciprocal love.

 

Almost in spite of the dire consequences of the soviet invasion and the transition to the equally destructive Taliban rule and its subsequent demise, the period covered by the book, Hosseini has managed to extricate a wonderfully uplifting tale of love in diverse forms. Positive and negative attachments to parents, the powerful but not universal instinct to protect children, as well as the strength of selfless romantic love, as distinct from pragmatic survival mechanisms, conjures up some challenging moral dilemmas for the reader. Moreover, the sisterly bonding of Mariam and Laila in an unspoken connection of damaged souls is arguably the most touching of all.

 

Amid the physical war damage and emotional carnage, the author nonetheless manages to eke out a testament to human resilience and deep-rooted optimism. However, it is the strength and resolve of the central female characters that offer most pride in the human virtues on show. My favourite quote from the book follows the mourning of Laila's brothers, when the character perceives a hierarchy in her mother's affections, "....Mammy's heart was like a pallid beach where Laila's footprints would forever wash away beneath the waves of sorrow that swelled and crashed.Swelled and crashed." In the final analysis, Laila's courage was every bit as worthy of her mother's reverence.

 

On reflection, I believe one of the most engaging factors for the reader steeped in western culture is the apparent difference in certain values, most notably in respect of women (though notably feminists would argue there is still a way to go), but also, reassuringly, common humane principles that derive from the respective civilizations. The 'otherness' is a seductive curiosity, however, it should not be overstated, for as Hosseini demonstrates, our aspirations are remarkably similar.

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review 2017-03-29 01:20
I would have been a runaway
Terms & Conditions: Life in Girls' Boarding-Schools, 1939-1979 (Slightly Foxed Editions) - Ysenda Maxtone-Graham

Terms & Conditions: Life in Girls' Boarding Schools, 1939-1979 by Ysenda Maxtone Graham is exactly what I was looking for this week. As the title suggests, this is a non-fiction book about what it was like to attend a boarding school for girls from the years of 1939-79 (in the United Kingdom obviously). The author conducted numerous interviews of women who attended these school who recalled startlingly vivid memories (both ill and pleasant) of their time there. From what it was like to be separated from family at a young age (some incredibly young) to the traumatic recollections of the horrible food they were forced to eat to what really went on when a bunch of hormonal girls were kept sequestered without any boys in sight this is a book that is both informative and interesting. (It's also super funny.) I've read some fanciful stories about what it's like to live in a boarding school but never true accounts from the girls themselves about what actually went on behind those austere facades. (Seriously a ton of them were in manor houses and castles which makes me super jealous.) There are many similarities between the institutions and also some gargantuan differences. For instance, some of the places (Cheltenham for instance) were strict, highly academic, and the girls that left there were more likely to continue into higher education. Others were more practically minded (or obsessed with horses and sports) and the girls that left there were generally encouraged to go to secretarial college and then look for a husband almost immediately after entering the workforce. It's an eye-opening read about what it was like for these upper-crust girls who were sent away by their families and then suppressed by these same people into wanting less for themselves. I highly recommend this not only because it's extremely well-written and researched but also because it's so fascinating comparing it to the way young women of today are educated and their expectations after leaving school. 10/10

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2017-03-17 19:25
Book 9/100: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Carry On - Rainbow Rowell

This book took a little while to get going for me -- at first it felt as if Rowell was clearly out of her element writing fantasy -- and as someone who reads a lot of fantasy, I couldn't help but notice the shortcomings in worldbuilding, and just how LONG it seemed to take to set everything up; the story was about 1/3 of the way in before the plot really got going. Everything else was just showing us what it was like to be a student at Rowell's version of a magical school.

However, this book can really be read on two different levels: as a fantasy story in its own right, or as commentary on the world of Harry Potter.

It's passable as a story in its own right, but as commentary on the Harry Potter franchise, it is brilliant.

The parallels and nods to J.K. Rowling's worlds are obvious -- after all, the book started as an obvious stand-in for Harry Potter and Potter fan culture in its original incarnation in [book:Fangirl|16068905]. It's in the departures from Rowling's world that Rowell really drives her points home. Her version of a magical wizarding school is far more culturally and ethnically diverse than Rowling's, and it includes gay characters who don't have to wait for the whole series to be completed before being "outed" (::coughcough:: Dumbledore being gay after the fact was a copout ::cough cough::). It is, of course, much edgier than Rowling's world, with plenty of swearing and some making out, although certain aspects of it were strangely chaste. (Like, why did we never know the extent of Simon's and Agnes's sexual relationship even though they had been together for three years? Am I the only one who wondered about this?) It also examines the whole idea of the "chosen one" mythos and especially takes a jab at the somewhat creepy/inappropriate/irresponsible relationship between Dumbledore and Harry that is glossed over as perfectly healthy, warm, and admirable in Rowling's book. By contrast, the Mage (Dumbledore's stand-in), is an ethically ambiguous character, ultimately more dark than light, but for a long time Simon sees him through an adoring child's eyes much the way Harry sees Dumbledore. The difference is that Simon's perception of the Mage matures; Harry's never does.

It's somewhat strange to come in reading the "last book" in a series when the earlier books in the series do not actually exist. I couldn't help but notice how much more of an impact this story probably would have had on me if I had been following these characters' lives for years rather than being dropped into their world in the final act. I'm not sure I would have wanted to commit to seven books of this, anyway, but it's definitely a worthwhile read. It's got that Rowell "relationship magic" if that's what you go in for, but it's also a smart, incisive critique of what is arguably the most influential children's series of our lifetimes.

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review 2017-02-24 15:46
Years in the making
The Burning World: A Warm Bodies Novel (The Warm Bodies Series) - Isaac Marion

Isaac Marion's anticipated (at least by me) sequel to Warm Bodies is out now. Finally. The Burning World chronicles the continuing adventures of our favorite zombie-turned-real boy R and the love of his new life, Julie. The characters introduced in Marion's last novel make a comeback and we watch them as they travel away from all that they know and into a world of terror, Nearly Living, and gun toting baddies in beige jackets. (I think Nearly Living would make a great band name by the way.) Marion continues to build his world and his zombie mythology. We learn that as the Dead turn into the Living (and through the phase of Nearly Living) they go through a process of remembering their prior lives. For most, this is such an overwhelming and upsetting process that they take drastic measures to make the memories stop. (You don't want to know...but you will.) R has decided that he can ignore the memories trying to resurface and focus on building his new life...but of course that's not a real possibility. Their adventure/escape across the landscape of America is fraught with peril, new traveling companions, and R's increasing sense of unease as he remembers his "first life". If you're looking for a closing chapter to this series then you're going to end up disappointed. If anything, The Burning World raises more questions than it ultimately answers. It's very much a 'setup' kind of novel wherein it seems like a lot happens but actually nothing in point of fact does happen. Marion is clearly using this as a bridge to set up his conclusion (titled Living if you're curious). For someone who has been waiting for this novel for years this book was a bit of a letdown. I wanted the questions raised from the first novel (and the prequel) answered in this book. Also, there's a weird second "voice" in this book that appears to be the earth (?) and I'm not really a big fan of the way that took away from the flow of the book. It was more of a distraction than an addition to the storyline in my opinion and I have a sinking feeling it's going to play a role in Living as well. However, if you want to continue following R and his comrades you need to read The Burning World because without it you're liable to wind up very confused. Skipping to the last book which will probably be out in the next decade (I hope I'm being facetious here) would not be advisable. This is a 7/10 for me which is the lowest score I've given Marion thus far. I had much higher hopes for this book especially after the long wait. :-/

 

You can read my review of Warm Bodies which was originally posted back in April 2013. There's also my review of The New Hunger which was the prequel novella...and which I reviewed 4 days after I read Warm Bodies. Guess you could say I was a fan of the series. lol What's especially funny is that in the review of The New Hunger I mentioned how excited I was for the sequel and that it was due out in in 2014...and it's just come out this month. Go figure, eh?

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2016-10-21 21:56
Never Google chicken hatcheries if you can help it
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind - Yuval Noah Harari Dr

For the last couple of years, I haven't eaten beef or pork. Part of this was dietary but the larger portion was due to my distaste with the way these animals are dealt with in the food industry. After reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind I have decided to stop eating all meats for good. I'd be quite surprised if others reading this book didn't feel the same way. (This will make sense later.) This book covers exactly what the title says. Yuval Noah Harari touches on almost every aspect of what it means to be human. I can see why this book could be contentious in some circles as he is of the belief that consumerism, imperialism, and communism are religions instead of merely ideologies. He has a no holds barred attitude about the way in which humans have ravaged the planet and taken advantage of others of our species as well as flora and fauna. (Remember the no eating chicken thing?) What was most intriguing about Sapiens were the questions that he raised about the nature of happiness. There have been many books about how to be happy but no research into how happiness is measured and its trends throughout the years. (Maybe he has an upcoming novel in the works.) If you're interested in culture, human evolution, and a unique perspective of the world then you're likely to enjoy this book. I will say that a lot of this was common knowledge and/or already known to me as an Anthropology major. The second half of the book is where it got really interesting. I love a good thought experiment and trying to figure out answers to seemingly unsolvable problems is my idea of a good time. :-) I'd give this book a solid 8/10.

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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