Book Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns

Five StarsathousandsplendidsunsDuring years of occupation by the Soviet Union and inter-tribal warfare in Afghanistan, two Afghan women of different generations and regions and very different socioeconomic situations find marriage to the same older man the immediate solution to stay alive when each loses her parents. But marriage brings its own problems, including brutal beatings by the husband for minor or even just perceived infractions of his rules. When their plan to leave him is discovered, both fear for their lives and realize they must take even more extreme action for the sake of their children.

Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns explores what it means to be a family. By placing the action in the context of thirty years of changing governments, political systems, and international sponsors, the novel also explores what it takes to develop a stable nation where rival tribal leaders undertake serial switches in allegiances in order to gain power.

Hosseini tells the story well, engendering sympathy for both Mariam, the love-child of a wealthy businessman in Heart and his made, as well as for Laila, the youngest child of an educated man in Kabul and his wife. It was well-paced for the most part, though the final section moved more slowly than I expected.

Genre: Literary fiction
Print Length: 379 pages
Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (November 25, 2008)
Publication Date: November 25, 2008
Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

Book Review: Uprising

Four starsuprisingThe young adult historical novel, Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix, is a well-researched and well-written story of immigrant teenage girls forced to take on adult responsibilities without protection from family or education. One of the three chief characters is the exception–she has abandoned the wealth and advantages of her birth when she realizes her father considers her only as having value as the wife of a promising business partner.

It is easy to forget that the girls are only teenagers. The contrast between the main characters’ lives and the circumstances of the likely readers of the same age of today make this novel an excellent introduction to a time before women had the right to vote and workers had guarantees for workplace safety.

Book Review: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Five StarsonwritingIn On Writing, King introduces himself through his early life experiences, suggests what tools I should keep in my toolbox, and then shares what works for him when he writes. His unpretentious writing style made me feel as though King were sitting in my living room, sharing a cup of coffee along with his stories. I felt privileged to have him share so much of his wisdom as well as his humor.

I admit I haven’t read Stephen King’s novels. Horror is not my preferred genre. But I haven’t escaped seeing his movies, so I didn’t feel ignorant of his work. After reading On Writing, I want to read all his books.

Of the books on writing I have read, this is the best, not because here are hidden secrets in it, but because of his stories of where his stories came from. And the story is central.

Book Review: The Crossing

thecrossingFive StarsRetired LAPD homicide detective Harry Bosch reluctantly agrees to help his half-brother defense attorney Mickey Haller investigate a murder Haller is convinced his client did not commit. Along the way, Bosch crosses lines he never wanted to face, including involving his former partner in spite of the risk to both her reputation and career.

Connelly keeps the pace moving in this compelling crime thriller. Details from 2015 headlines regarding events in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, as well as references to real life Matthew McConaughey’s portrayal of Haller in The Lincoln Lawyer draw contemporary readers into the story, keeping the pages turning.

Book Review: The Twleve Tribes of Hattie

thetwelvetribesofhattieFive StarsThe novel tells the story of each of Hattie’s 11 children and one grandchild over a period spanning 1925 to 1980 with Hattie and her husband, August, as the only continuing presence in each chapter. Beginning with Hattie as a 17-year-old mother of twins in Philadelphia, two years after her father died in Georgia and shortly after her mother’s death, the story’s early chapters remind the audience of just how late into the century Jim Crow laws were enforced. The latter chapters illustrate how much change is still needed for the remnants of discrimination and inequality to be erased.

In contrast to many of the other reviewers, I enjoyed this book very much. The chapter-by-chapter change in point of view emphasized the differences in the experiences of Hattie’s children more effectively than stringing the chapters together from a single point of view could have. It is a family story as well as the story of a baker’s dozen individuals, each with challenges to overcome and dreams to fulfill or let go of.

Book Review: As Is: Confessions of a True Fatty

confessionsofafattyFour starsThe author sells herself short in that she assumes all her readers face the same challenges with weight that she describes. In fact, her message is appropriate for anyone who hasn’t yet discovered his or her authentic self. Wagner’s challenge is her addiction to food which she uses to compensate when she feels unappreciated. But she doesn’t stop battling. She also doesn’t blame others. In this, her book is a pattern for what others who use substances or activities to screen out discomfort can do to take responsibility for their lives.

In addition, she tells the story of a Palestinian Christian family, led by her immigrant father, a story of successful businesses, a story most Americans haven’t heard, but should. It presents another facet of the complicated image of Arabs, one at odds with the predominant, one-dimensional narrative so many Americans are satisfied to accept.

Book Review: Shooting Saddam

Five StarsDennis Lynch tells the story of his three trips between 2005 and 2006 to Baghdad to oversee the videography and recording of the trial of Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants. A well-written account, he relates his impressions of the trip, the environment, and the events with a sense of humor alongside a genuine respect for the gravity of what he was doing and for the people he met. Putting aside the few minor errors in his report, I was impressed with his research and desire to understand the larger story that his unique and up-close view fits within. I recommend the book highly.

The cover and title are my favorite of the year.

The minor error I found most curious is Lynch’s reference to Al-Zarqawi changing his name from Ahmad to Abu after Muhammad the Prophet’s successor. “Abu” means “father of” and is not a name by itself. It is used, along with the name of the oldest son, to denote the man is a parent of a son. “Um” is the feminine form. Names formed with “Abu” for the father or “Um” for the mother plus the first name of the oldest son is known as a kunya. Al Zarkawi was known as Abu Musab, which translates as “father of Musab.” According to my research, Al Zarkawi had two wives and several children, including at least three sons, making it entirely normal for him to use his kunya, Abu Musab.

Dennis will be one of three debut memoir writers on a panel at the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild on Monday, March 28, 2016, at 6:30 p.m.

Book Review: Fourteen

fourteenFour starsThis coming-of-age tale of three years in the life of Leslie Johansen, from age 12 to 15, centers on her father’s planned around-the-world sailing adventure with Leslie and her two sisters, one older and one younger, as his crew.  Leslie’s father had sole custody of the three girls after the parents divorced when Leslie was seven. His changeable moods challenged all three girls, but as his favorite, a label that Leslie alternately was proud and ashamed of, the brunt of his attention fell on her.

Father and daughters spent two years to ready the 45-foot sailboat, Aegir, with Dad training the three girls to handle the boat in all types of situations. In 1975, they set sail from Oceanside, California, heading for Tahiti.

Leslie Nack courageously shares with her readers her teen fears, dreams, and discouragements both before the family set off on their trip and during the days and nights they were confined to the 45-feet length of the ship. Her descriptions of the ocean’s many facets made me feel as though I were on the ship with her through the rain, storms, and even the doldrums. She provided just enough sailing terminology to ensure I respected her experience without confusing me – a non-sailor – so I could enjoy, or fear, the experience with her. Even her conflicting and alternating feelings of love and fear of her father resonated with my memory of my 14-year-old self. A real page-turner from beginning to end.

Leslie will be one of three debut memoir writers on a panel at the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild on Monday, March 28, 2016, at 6:30 p.m.

Book Review: Imperfect Birds

One starIt’s summer in Marin County. Seventeen-year-old Rosie is getting ready for her senior year, making horrible choices which lead to lies and manipulation. But her mother and step-father have their own problems. Both recovering alcoholics–or worse–Elizabeth doesn’t want to see Rosie’s drug use and promiscuity, and James sees it but doesn’t want to upset his relationship with Elizabeth.

The only likable characters in this book were the bit players–Elizabeth’s friends, Rae and Lank, and Rae’s pastoral boss, Anthony.

I tried very hard to like this book because it was loaned to me by a friend who supports my own writing attempts. But if I have to write stories like this one to succeed, I’ll fail.

I wanted to slap the three main characters to wake them up, to make them stop repeating the same lies, the same acceptance of the lies, the same manipulation of friends, the same being manipulated by friends. Maybe it is because my own teenage years and my parents’ reactions to my form of rebellion were so very different from Rosie’s and her parents’. I could not sympathize or empathize with any of the characters.

“Powerful and painfully honest. . .Lamott’s observations are pitch-perfect.” So says The New York Times, according to the book’s cover. Lamott’s prose is excellent. I could visualize Elizabeth’s exhaustion at trying to save Rosie and James’s frustration with Elizabeth’s lack of willingness to see, hear, and recognize the truth of what was right in front of her. But this was a book with a bloated middle. Even more frustrating is that there really wasn’t an ending, just a transition to what may turn out to be another book. It was my hope for a resolution to the gnawing repetition that kept me turning pages.

I haven’t read anything else by Lamott. After reading this one, I’ll not likely seek out another.

In the end, I was left. . . .

Book Review: The Accidental Truth

theaccidentaltruthFive StarsLauri Taylor’s story of discovering her mother’s secrets and the secrets surrounding her death is masterfully told. Taylor unveils the distress of her mother’s disappearance and then the discovery that her body has been found in Mexico, bringing the reader with her for the suspenseful ride. The death is ruled suspicious, then a murder. Each step in this journey affects Taylor, her husband, their children, her sisters, and especially her nephew and mother’s business partner. The story serves as a gripping reminder that families come in many sizes and shapes and that the connections are important, even when they have been tested to the point of near breaking. It is more than just a tale of what happened to her mother. It is a story of what she learned and how she has put those lessons into practice to help others heal from devastating life choices.

Lauri will be one of three debut memoir writers on a panel at the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild on Monday, March 28, 2016, at 6:30 p.m.