Tag: culture

Book Review: Not the Girls You’re Looking For, by Aminah Mae Safi

Not+The+Girls+You're+Looking+For+Cover
Image belongs to Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends.

Title: Not the Girls You’re Looking For
Author: Aminah Mae Safi
Genre: YA
Rating: 3 out of 5

Lulu Saad has her squad, her family, and a huge chip on her shoulder. She doesn’t need anything else. She’s fasting for Ramadan, which she does every year, and her squad still doesn’t get it, but Lulu is determined to make it through this time.

Except Lulu and her friends have a falling out. And she alienates half of her extended family. And she can’t quite figure out why everything in her life is going wrong…

Okay. I didn’t realize quite how…plotless this book was until I tried to write a synopsis. And now it’s all so clear to me…Lulu and her friends aren’t very likeable. Scratch that. They aren’t likable at all. They do stupid stuff, knowingly. They talk about people. They sabotage people. They’re judgmental. Basically, this book is all angst and anger, with a lot of cultural diversity thrown in.

Now, that part was very well done, and executed so well that I caught all the nuances of Lulu’s struggle to fit in when she feels like she doesn’t belong in either culture. But she’s also touchy to the point of looking for things to take offense at. Have some respect for yourself. Guys should absolutely respect women, and women should be able to wear whatever they want without having to be afraid of guys’ reactions…but, it’s not okay to sexualize men for their bodies, either. Lulu doesn’t get this, and she thinks it’s okay for her to be focused on the guys and for her to react inappropriately towards them. So…all the stars for diversity, but no stars for plot or character likability.

Aminah Mae Safi has studied art History, but now writes fiction. Not the Girls You’re Looking For is her debut novel.

(Galley provided by in exchange for an honest review.)

 

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Book Review: The Emperor of Shoes, by Spencer Wise

emperor
Image belongs to Harlequin/Hanover Square Press.

Title:  The Emperor of Shoes
Author:   Spencer Wise
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   4 out of 5

Alex Cohen is a 26-year-old from Boston who lives in China. His father, Fedor, runs their shoe-making business with an iron first; profit is everything and Fedor isn’t about to change a thing. Until Alex gets involved with a Chinese seamstress named Ivy—at the same time his father names him heir to the company and places him in charge—at least in name.

Now Alex finds out the truths kept hidden by his father:  the obsession with productivity—workers’ times are assessed and anyone wasting even 8 minutes a week is a problem—as well as the cruel conditions the workers live in—hot water only at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., no safety measures in place to protect the workers. And Ivy is determined to start a movement for change.

Alex learns a lot from Ivy, but is the change she seeks really based on truth? The more Alex discovers, the more he wonders, until ideas meet action in a showdown at the shoe factory.

This is not a fast-paced novel. Instead, it moves at a slow, languorous pace, taking time to explore the nuances of culture as it exposes the ugliness behind business and commerce in China. Alex becomes a completely different person through the course of the book, and his relationship with his father is at the core of that. A book to sip and savor, taking in all the flavors of the culture it’s set in.

Spencer Wise was born and raised in Massachusetts but now lives in Florida. The Emperor of Shoes is his new novel.

(Galley provided by Harlequin/Hanover Square Press in exchange for an honest review.)

The Tea Planter’s Wife, by Dinah Jeffries

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I do not own this image. Image belongs to Crown Publishing.

Dinah Jeffries was born in Malaysia but moved to England at age nine. Her newest novel is The Tea Planter’s Wife.

Gwen arrives in Ceylon full of anticipation and fear:  newly married after a whirlwind courtship, now she joins her husband, Laurence, on his tea plantation. Ceylon is so much more than Gwen ever imagined:  a lush, other-worldly paradise filled with racial conflict and secrets. Lots of secrets.

Like the hidden grave she finds near the house. And the trunk of old baby clothes. Laurence won’t talk about these secrets, and soon Gwen is wrapped up in her pregnancy and a secret of her own. These secrets put up a wall between Gwen and Laurence, one that leads to more secrets, lies and manipulation, and a tragedy of the worst sort.

Some books leave you speechless and emotionally reeling. This was one of those books. Ceylon is so vivid and brimming with life I could almost smell the flowers and the tea. Gwen and Laurence are flawed and frightened, but love each other so much and so deeply as their relationship grows. Their secrets haunt them both through every page of the book. This book is a phenomenal, emotional rollercoaster!

(Galley provided by Crown Publishing.)

Chronicle of a Last Summer, by Yasmine El Rashidi

chronicles
(I do not own this image. Image belongs to Crown Publishing.)

Yasmine El Rashidi has written for New York Review of Books and other outlets about the Egyptian revolution and culture. Chronicle of a Last Summer is her first novel.

In 1984 Cairo, a six-year-old girl watches the world around her change. Her father goes away. Her mother retreats into herself. Memories take on a life of their own as her city begins to change. The book next turns to the summer of 1998, when the girl is a college student, studying film. She begins to question the world around her, and the upheaval that Egypt experiences. No one speaks of her father. She has no idea where he is, or why he left. Her cousin urges her to become involved in the political struggles, but she continues to observe as the tumult grows. Finally, the novel comes to 2014, when the girl is now a writer and filmmaker. Her father has returned, and she finds out much more about what took him away—and where he’s been. This revelation shapes her impressions of Egypt in the aftermath of the overthrow of President Mubarak.

Chronicle of a Last Summer is a quiet, introspective novel set amidst the turmoil of Egypt—a turmoil that most westerners are probably oblivious to. Thought it is a thoughtful story, instead of an action-packed one, it immerses the reader in the culture and history of Cairo with a vividness that brings the city to vibrant life.

(Galley provided by Crown Publishing via NetGalley.)

When Fiction Mimics Reality

This morning, I finished reading one of the books for my American Women Writers class, The Coquette, by Hannah W. Foster.

the coquette
(I do not own this image.)

Have you read this book?  I had never even heard of it before seeing the reading list for this class. It was written in the very late 1700s, and is about a woman trying to choose between two men: a minister who wants to marry her, and a rake. She ends up alienating the minister, who marries someone else, and so does the rake. However, she ends up pregnant from an affair with him, and dies alone in childbirth. The tale is told in a series of letters between the characters, giving a good view of the characters true emotions.

And here’s where I had a problem with this story, because some of the letters are written from the rake’s point of view, and he’s a complete and total jerk, who refuses to take responsibility for his own actions.

He makes a concerted effort to come between Eliza and her other suitor. When that relationship goes down in flames, he marries a heiress, and says she can’t blame him for his actions, because she knew how he was. What? He pursues Eliza unmercifully, and when she eventually gives in, he blames her and loses all respect for her. The pregnancy is all her fault. When his wife finds out and leaves him, and he loses everything, still he doesn’t want to accept blame. He does seem remorseful after Eliza dies, but still doesn’t really own up to his faults.

I enjoyed the book somewhat, but this character drove me mad. Deliberately hurtful, selfish, greedy…everything was her fault, even though she repeatedly rebuffed him. When tragedy struck, he still wasn’t fully ready to accept blame. I found him entirely unlikable and criminal.

And to be honest, his attitude and behavior is quite reminiscent of some of the prevailing attitudes in society today.  That girl in the provocative clothing who was the victim of sexual harassment, abuse, and/or rape?  That was all her fault, for dressing like that.

What?

Since when are people not responsible for their own actions, including hurting other people?