Tag: culture

Book Review: Someone I Used to Know,by Patty Blount

someone i used to know
Image belongs to Sourcebooks Fire.

Title:   Someone I Used to Know
Author:   Patty Blount
Genre:   YA
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

Boys will be boys is never an excuse.

Ashley was fourteen, a freshman, when she was raped by the senior star for points in the traditional football team scavenger hunt. That was two years ago. A year ago, her rapist was sentenced to a paltry year in prison as the community, the team, and her brother supported him.

Ashley still suffers from debilitating panic attacks that make her wonder if she’ll ever get better. She’s a pariah at school—for getting football thrown out—but when the team is reinstated, she’s desperate to prevent the scavenger hunt that changed her life forever from hurting anyone else. Though scared and afraid, Ashley decides to speak up one more time.

Her brother Derek, away at school, blames himself for what happened to his sister—and how he reacted. What he once saw as normal behavior, he now sees as rape culture, but he doesn’t know how to communicate with Ashley—or anyone else—his remorse and determination to be part of a change. At Thanksgiving, with their entire family falling apart, Derek and Ashley must decide if their relationship is worth the effort it will take to repair.

Patty Blount loves chocolate, cars, and reading. Someone I Used to Know is her newest novel.

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

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Book Review: The Impossibility of Us, by Katy Upperman

the impossibility of us
Image belongs to Swoon Reads.

Title:   The Impossibility of Us
Author:   Katy Upperman
Genre:   YA
Rating:   4 out of 5

Elise doesn’t want to leave the city and start over in a new town, but since the death of her brother in Afghanistan, her mom has checked out, and her sister-in-law and niece need help. So, they move to a small coastal town, but Elise just longs to get back to the city.

Until she meets Mati on the beach one day. He’s Afghan, and Elise must put that aside and get to know him. She discovers a kind, quiet, caring boy who she has so much in common with.

But his religion and culture—and both their families—are huge obstacles. Not to mention the looming date of Mati’s return home. Is there any way to make things work out?

Katy Upperman is a YA author. The Impossibility of Us is her newest novel.

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

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.)

 

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?