All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Home Fire
Kamila Shamsie
Riverhead Books
2017, 274p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

The suspenseful and heartbreaking story of an immigrant family driven to pit love against loyalty, with devastating consequences.

Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she’s accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half a globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to—or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined, in this searing novel that asks: What sacrifices will we make in the name of love?

I read this at a time where the Australian immigration minister is attempting to revoke the citizenship of an Australian who went to fight for the Islamic State. Apparently through his father, this fighter (Neil Prakash) holds Fijian citizenship but Fiji are disputing this, claiming that he’s not a citizen. I don’t know how this works – pretty sure Australia can’t just decide that people have citizenship to another country, if they say they don’t. Apparently Australian citizenship can only be revoked if the person has committed acts of terrorism and if they are a dual citizen. Given Fiji claim that he isn’t a Fijian citizen, that may mean Prakash holds only Australian citizenship, which means it cannot be revoked as it would leave him stateless which is forbidden by international law.

In Home Fires, Isma, Aneeka and Parvaiz are the children of a man who fought in places like Bosnia and Chechnya for Islamic armies during those wars in the 1990s. Back then it was a different time – the fighters all came home to their families during the winter and went back to fight in the summer. He was barely a blip on the radar of his children’s lives before he was captured and died on his way to Guantanamo Bay. Now, years later, Aneeka and Parvaiz (twins) are adults and their older sister Isma is free to pursue the academic dreams she put on hold to raise them after the death of their mother. Parvaiz complicates things by going to Raqqa, recruited to the Islamic cause. The British Home Secretary, himself the son of Muslim immigrants has made it a thing to revoke citizenship of British people who fight for ISIS. When Parvaiz wants to come home, he finds himself without a way to return to the country he was raised in.

This is a modern day retelling of the story of Antigone. I’m not really familiar with it but if you are, then you will be able to guess the direction in which the story goes. Because I wasn’t, I didn’t realise immediately the fate that would befall Parvaiz and how that plays out in the rest of the book. The book is divided into parts – Isma, Aneeka, Parvaiz, the British Home Secretary Karamat and also his son, Eamonn all get a turn at narrating the story. We start with Isma and her journey to the United States to take up further study at the invitation of a past professor. Isma is interrogated for so long that she misses her plane, questioned relentlessly as to her intentions and her “Britishness” – queried on her thoughts on things like the Queen and Great British Bake Off of all things. When she arrives in the US, the reader learns why she is of such interest, as the story of her father unfolds and the revelation that her brother has also taken up the cause in a bid to understand the mystery of the man that was their father. Isma meets Eamonn by chance in a coffee shop and they strike up a friendship. When Eamonn returns to London and delivers something to Isma’s aunt as a favour to Isma, he meets Aneeka……who sees opportunity.

This book raises so many interesting talking points. I don’t agree with automatic revoking of citizenship because a person makes a bad choice, such as Parvaiz in this book. I can also understand governments wanting to deter people from making that same choice, and it being difficult to return ‘home’ is one of the ways in which they seek to do it. However I don’t think it necessarily works in the way that they want it to, because people aren’t thinking about that when they make the decision to take up this cause. And every individual case is different – some are teenagers, barely even adults legally or emotionally and radicalisation is done in so many different ways, there are so many promises. People that are truly vulnerable are targeted, such as Parvaiz, who is lost. His parents are both dead, the sister who raised him is leaving to pursue her academic goals. His twin is brilliant and clever and at university and he is treading water. He is easily swayed by some stories about his father and the gilding of a lily. It isn’t the people like Parvaiz that governments should want to punish – it’s the people that got him there.

What happens to Parvaiz in the after raises yet more talking points. I don’t really want to go into too much to spoil the story but it’s another case of there being two points to easily debate, and in most cases there aren’t really any winners. The government don’t win either way really, seen as too soft or too hard and there’s no winning for Aneeka either. I didn’t always like Aneeka but I admired her courage, her devotion to her twin, her willingness to put herself in the most awful of positions for what she thought was right and what they deserved. I also appreciated the very brief insight into the lives of their cousins in Pakistan (and presumably, similar countries), who suffer for the choices of others made in countries far away and are often forced to repatriate and bury the dead of those killed for the ISIS cause when other countries refuse the bodies. That’s something I never considered before either, how the families from the originating countries deal with the choices made by the members that have emigrated elsewhere. In this book, Parvaiz uses his Pakistani cousins as cover, claiming to be going there rather than to Raqqa and they face the reality of being lied to, the shame of being used as an alibi and also the judgement of those in the community of having relatives going to the cause and then the responsibility of the bodies when things go wrong.

I’m not sure how I didn’t hear of Kamila Shamsie until this book but she has lots of others that I absolutely need to try and read, starting with Burnt Shadows I think. It seems a little inadequate to say I enjoyed this – because it’s not exactly filled with the sort of things that I enjoy reading. But I definitely appreciated it – the differing narrators ,the intricacies of immigrant families and the struggle to be seen as ‘making the effort’ to fit in, to adapt and embrace their new country, lest they be deemed suspicious. And then there’s the lure of the unknown, the ’cause’ and how it can all go wrong….and what the families are left with, trying to piece together enough to grieve over.

8/10

Book #8 of 2019

Home Fire is perfect for the Reading Women Challenge – it ticks a lot of boxes and I could probably use it to check off several but I’m trying to read 26 individual books for the prompts. I’m going to tick off #15 here – written by a South Asian author. Kamila Shamsie was born in Karachi, Pakistan.

1 Comment »

Review: Fight Or Flight by Samantha Young

Fight Or Flight
Samantha Young
Piatkus
2018, 361p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A series of chance encounters leads to a sizzling new romance from the New York Times bestselling author of the On Dublin Street series.

The universe is conspiring against Ava Breevort. As if flying back to Phoenix to bury a childhood friend wasn’t hell enough, a cloud of volcanic ash traveling from overseas delayed her flight back home to Boston. Her last ditch attempt to salvage the trip was thwarted by an arrogant Scotsman, Caleb Scott, who steals a first class seat out from under her. Then over the course of their journey home, their antagonism somehow lands them in bed for the steamiest layover Ava’s ever had. And that’s all it was–until Caleb shows up on her doorstep.

When pure chance pulls Ava back into Caleb’s orbit, he proposes they enjoy their physical connection while he’s stranded in Boston. Ava agrees, knowing her heart’s in no danger since a) she barely likes Caleb and b) his existence in her life is temporary. Not long thereafter Ava realizes she’s made a terrible error because as it turns out Caleb Scott isn’t quite so unlikeable after all. When his stay in Boston becomes permanent, Ava must decide whether to fight her feelings for him or give into them. But even if she does decide to risk her heart on Caleb, there is no guarantee her stubborn Scot will want to risk his heart on her….

Okay so I’m in two minds about this book. The blurb is right up my alley – I really love interesting meeting situations, especially forced proximity like people being seated together on a plane. I also like hate to love style romances where characters clash but have awesome chemistry. But the blurb is just one part and sometimes the story doesn’t live up to it.

It starts off relatively promising but wow, Caleb is rude. Like not just abrupt or a bit cranky because his flight is cancelled/delayed or whatever. He’s aggressively antagonistic and just a jerk not just to Ava (which maybe I could’ve understood when it was explained much later, except the level of aggression seems disproportionate) but he’s also rude for no real reason to flight attendants and just generally people doing things for him because he doesn’t believe he needs to thank people whose job it is to do what he wants. Wow, okay. Thankfully Ava gives him a couple of really crushing put downs about this.

I liked Ava and I liked her backstory. She’d had quite a rough upbringing and it had definitely shaped her adulthood and her dedication to working and providing a stable environment for herself. She’d also been damaged by a previous relationship which makes her wary of being involved with anyone. So when she’s attracted to Caleb, she’s okay with it being a one night stand in a strange city with them never having to run into each other again. But things are more complicated than that and soon Caleb finds himself temporarily in Ava’s city (he’s Scottish, Ava lives in Boston) and they’re connecting every night. But both remain stubborn about what it is they’re doing, especially Caleb. It’s pretty clear there’s something going on in his past that’s made him ‘like this’. However when it was revealed, although I understood that it was something that might upset Caleb in terms of deception, I couldn’t really support his opinion on it and it seemed to make him bitter towards everyone who looked a certain way, rather than just the one person who had done something he found hurtful.

So while I did like certain elements to this story, I just couldn’t ever really warm to Caleb. He’s so rude in the beginning and although he kind of improves a bit in some ways, there’s just other ways where his character didn’t really work for me. The one thing that I think he did do well was help Ava in respect to some closure with her previous relationship that had ended badly – it was a bit of a shame he couldn’t apply that rational clarity to his own situation. I get he was upset but he really did let it twist him as a person and it was something he had no control over, nor should he rightfully have any control over. He seemed to really dig his heels in against admitting that he had anything in the way of feelings for Ava and this overall just felt like a bit of a let down. I wanted more from their chemistry and connection and less of Caleb being a bit of a twatwaffle.

6/10

Book #202 of 2018

1 Comment »

Man Booker Shortlist #4 – Not A Review: Milkman by Anna Burns

Milkman
Anna Burns
Faber & Faber
2018, 368p
{Not} Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In this unnamed city, to be interesting is dangerous. Middle sister, our protagonist, is busy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her maybe-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with Milkman. But when first brother-in-law sniffs out her struggle, and rumours start to swell, middle sister becomes ‘interesting’. The last thing she ever wanted to be. To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous.

Milkman is a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. It is the story of inaction with enormous consequences.

So, part 4 of my 6 part Man Booker Shortlist series. By the time I’d posted my first review, the winner had already been announced – which is this title, Milkman. I had planned to leave the winner until last. I thought it might be a good idea to read the other five first and then cap it off with the one that the judges had chosen for the prize. But it was one of the first few to come in for me at the local library and it also had another request on it, so I couldn’t renew it. I had to read it last week in order to return it by it’s due date.

Okay. This might be one of my briefest reviews because here’s the thing – I didn’t finish this book. I actually DNF’d it ridiculously early for me – it was about three chapters in. I don’t DNF a lot of books, once I kind of start something I tend to finish it. Or I skim read it. But I couldn’t really skim read this. It wasn’t a skim reading sort of book.

The reason I DNF’d it, is because it actually felt like it hurt my brain to read it. Sentences that take up half a page or more, paragraphs that run for 1-2 pages. No one has a name. It’s all Someone McSomebody, Maybe Boyfriend, First Sister, First Brother-in-law, the Milkman. I had no idea who was who, to be honest. There was nothing to tether me to the characters. And in fact all I can remember from what I read is that the main (unnamed) character went for a jog. And some creeper (the Milkman) ran beside her.

Sometimes you know right away that something isn’t going to be for you. I knew from the second page with this book. I was struggling with it right away, but I persevered for a while because I’d read some really good reviews and I figured once I got past that first bit and settled into the way it was written, got used to it, I might start enjoying it. And that may have happened. But after struggling through three chapters (which took me about an hour, I might add) I decided to give up. And just accept that whatever the judges saw in this book to longlist it, shortlist it and award it the prize, I was never going to get to the stage where I would be able to see it.

Because I DNF’d this, Goodreads actually counts it so I’m including it in my count here but because my GR goal is 200 books, I’ll read 201 now, because I don’t actually consider this a completed book towards my goal.

Unfinished = unrated.

Book #186 of 2018

 

4 Comments »

Thoughts On: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage 
Tayari Jones
Algonquin Books
2018, 308p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. In this deft exploration of love, loyalty, race, justice, and both Black masculinity and Black womanhood in 21st century America, Jones achieves that most-illusive of all literary goals: the Great American Novel.

That would have to be one of the briefest descriptions I’ve seen in a while.

I added this book to my Wishlist way back in January of this year. I think sometime around the end of last year/beginning of this I read some feature about books to look out for coming in 2018 and made a note of the ones I wanted to read. I do that all the time – I have a wishlist for each year on Goodreads but honestly, don’t ask me how many books make it off the wishlist to the read list. When I remembered my local library existed for requesting Man Booker shortlisted books, I decided to add this one in too.

Roy and Celestial have been married for about eighteen months. They are both college graduates, each striving to have more than the generation before them. They come from different backgrounds as well – Celestial with college educated parents and from Georgia and Roy from country Louisiana. Roy has a good job which allows Celestial to stay at home and work on her art, steadily making a name for herself. They have the usual challenges in a marriage – in-laws, the pressure to provide grandchildren, etc. But it’s when Roy is arrested and convicted for a crime he didn’t commit, that their marriage faces the ultimate test. Roy is sentenced to 12 years for a rape that his own wife gave him an alibi for.

A large part of this book is letters between Roy and Celestial that they exchange whilst he is in prison. The letters highlight the hopelessness of their situation and the struggle of being a couple separated by incarceration. Although Celestial knows Roy’s innocence and never doubts him (she was with him the entire time in question), she’s a young woman barely married who is suddenly almost like a widow and after a few years the strain of not having a husband longer than she had one is too much and she writes Roy a Dear John style letter to let him know that she will no longer consider herself married. For Roy, this is the ultimate kick in the teeth, because not only has he been denied his freedom but now his own wife has abandoned him at his lowest point.

Roy’s tale is horrible and his trial seemed little more than a farce. There’s no DNA evidence, his own wife takes the stand to claim he was with her, he has no motive, no criminal history, but he’s black. And the court system in southern America is awash with racism and corruption. I’m not at all qualified to comment on the racial profiling in crime or the treatment of young, black men in the system but we all read the news. There’s no shortage of high profile cases that shout out loud how it’s different for those young black men. How police shoot first and ask questions later, the lack of any real consequences for such shootings. The sheer numbers of those African Americans who are incarcerated. There’s no doubt that Roy is a victim of his appearance. Both Roy and his wife believe that his accuser was raped that night. And Roy had crossed paths with her earlier in the night. When she points him out, that’s it. He’s arrested and charged and sentenced with very little in the way of actual evidence. Celestial’s family is quite wealthy (new wealth, due to a patent her scientist father sold) and they keep the fund open for appeals, trying to get Roy justice all too late.

When Roy is finally released, his conviction quashed after serving five years, so much has happened. Celestial has moved on and with someone Roy knows. He wants his wife back but after five years apart, after the way prison has changed Roy and the way being left on her own has changed Celestial, is it going to be possible for them to find their way back to the before?

I really enjoyed this and the way it made me think. I love epistolary novels as well although this is not entirely epistolary. After that it’s split into three points of view – Roy’s, Celestial’s and her new lover. They’re three people who are just really struggling to get what they want – in some cases to even know what they want. Roy has such a firm view of the way things should be. Celestial is his wife and that’s that. She didn’t divorce him that whole time he was inside. His key still fits in the door after he gets out. I think for Roy, if he and Celestial can just make their way back, then he might be able to feel like things are going to get back to ‘normal’ for him – as much as they can be normal after being jailed for 5 years for something he didn’t do. Celestial is torn between the fact that she moved on when she thought the situation was hopeless but also her loyalty to Roy for what he has suffered. It’s messy and even ugly at times and honestly? I’m not gonna lie. I wanted Roy and Celestial to make it. To take back their relationship and erase all the damage that had been done, the ways they had been wronged. It would’ve felt like vindication. But even while I was thinking that, I was questioning if that was the best choice for them both, after everything that had happened.

One thing I really liked in this book was the relationship between Roy and his father (Big Roy). Just the way they connect, in that sort of awkward manly way that shows deep feeling but not outright declares it. Everything Big Roy did for Roy as a child, the ways in which he loved Roy’s mother. Those family dynamics were so wonderful – how they strive and sacrifice for each generation to have more than the one before it. I also liked Roy’s relationship with Celestial’s father (he exchanges a couple of letters with him in jail as well) and the way that evolved and their steadfast support of him during his time in prison. Everyone who knew Roy never questioned his innocence, even if they weren’t there like Celestial was.

This was well written and thought provoking. It’s not necessarily about the legalities of being wrongly incarcerated, I think it’s more about the collateral damage. What Roy missed out on, what he lost, whilst being inside. The way that some relationships fell apart and yet others didn’t. Or were perhaps made somewhat stronger for his experience.

8/10

Book #188 of 2018

3 Comments »

Man Booker Shortlist Pt1: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

Washington Black 
Esi Edugyan
Serpent’s Tail
2018, 417p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

ESCAPE IS ONLY THE BEGINNING…

A stunning new novel of slavery and freedom by the author of the Man Booker and Orange Prize shortlisted Half Blood Blues.

When two English brothers take the helm of a Barbados sugar plantation, Washington Black – an eleven year-old field slave – finds himself selected as personal servant to one of these men. The eccentric Christopher ‘Titch’ Wilde is a naturalist, explorer, scientist, inventor and abolitionist, whose single-minded pursuit of the perfect aerial machine mystifies all around him.

Titch’s idealistic plans are soon shattered and Washington finds himself in mortal danger. They escape the island together, but then then Titch disappears and Washington must make his way alone, following the promise of freedom further than he ever dreamed possible.

From the blistering cane fields of Barbados to the icy wastes of the Canadian Arctic, from the mud-drowned streets of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black teems with all the strangeness and mystery of life. Inspired by a true story, Washington Black is the extraordinary tale of a world destroyed and made whole again.

So recently I decided on a whim to try and read the Man Booker shortlist. This is something I’ve attempted before or at least said I was going to attempt but I’ve never actually done it. Part of it is availability – there have been long lists in the past where none of them were available to me through my local library. However when I checked this year’s short list, my library had them all and some were even available right away. So I placed holds on all 6 and waited. Three came in relatively quickly – this novel, Washington Black by Esi Edugyan, The Long Take by Robin Robertson and Milkman by Anna Burns.

From 7:30-8pm each night in my house is ‘quiet reading time’ where the TV goes off and we all read, no matter who is home. I decided that one of the short listed books might be a good one to try in these short bursts when there were no other distractions and so Washington Black was the one I picked to start first simply because the blurb was the most interesting to me. I was surprised just how much I didn’t want to put it down after that thirty minutes….in fact I ended up choosing to finish it over the weekend rather than just keep it to 30m each night because it was holding my interest far more than the book I was reading for review!

Washington Black is a slave born and working on a cane plantation in Barbados. One cruel master dies and is replaced by another, who takes extreme measures to prevent the workers from committing suicide. Washington’s life revolves around Big Kit, a fellow slave who has taken him under her wing, provides for him and protects him as best she can. But Wash, as he is known, has his life changed forever when the master’s younger brother arrives and decides that Wash will make the perfect assistant.

It looks like a promotion – Wash is relieved from his field duties to help his new master Christopher, known as Titch. He isn’t treated like a slave, but he has duties he is expected to perform and Titch also expects him to learn to read, write and do calculations. For a while it seems as though Wash’s life has been bettered by his attachment to Titch but it doesn’t take long before one disaster, and then another befalls him and Titch decides that they must flee in his ‘cloud-cutter’.

I found this enjoyable, if slightly implausible but it didn’t bother me. I enjoyed the settings, from the Barbados plantation to the journey north to the Arctic and then to London and further abroad. Washington is such an interesting child – in fact so much so that I often forgot he was just a child and that for the bulk of the book he’s a mere teenager and for a large portion he’s on his own. His relationship for want of a better term, with Titch is also interesting. Despite Titch’s seemingly progressive views, they can not be seen as true equals and it’s obvious every where that they go. Titch’s determination that Wash be ‘free’ leads him to do something (yet again) drastic and it’s something that haunts Wash for years to come. So much so that he can only gain peace by finding the answers to his questions….and I think he’s left somewhat disappointed.

Although slavery is abolished whilst Wash is still in his teenage years (except in the US), in some ways it changes little for him. He may be ‘free’ in nearly all places and cannot ever be forced to return to the plantation, there’s still a strong prejudice against people of colour in many places. He’s looked down upon, seen as different or not good enough, not husband material, not clever enough to put his name to something that he’s thought of but good enough to do the hard work on it. There’s a lot of debate about whether or not Titch really helped him, or saw him as an equal or just wanted to think of himself as progressive, above all the stuff that his brother was about. He was never physically violent to Wash, nor did he treat him badly in most ways but he’s also the reason for severe injuries Wash sustains and he also abandons him, leaving him vulnerable and confused and haunted by it for years. I think Wash finally comes to an understanding about Titch and that he’s perhaps not all Wash had believed him to be as an 11 year old and that Titch may be the one who never really ‘grew up’, who will repeat the same events over and over, all the while thinking that he’s helping and what he’s doing is beneficial.

I really enjoyed this…..I’d really like to read Esi Edugyan’s other books.

8/10

Book #176 of 2018

***By the time this review goes up, the winner of the Man Booker prize will already be announced so there’s no way I’m going to be able to complete the shortlist before that happens. However I’m still going to aim to complete it, even if the winner is the one book I’ve already read***

1 Comment »