Saturday, January 29, 2011

Standing Alone in Mecca by Asra Nomani

Since 9/11, I've been pretty interested in Islam. I have specifically been interested in women's roles in Islam. There is often a lot of information about it in the media, but I've really tried to read memoirs - things like Reading Lolita In Tehran and this book really hit the mark.  I learned about Ms. Nomani after watching the movie A Mighty Heart, which is about Mariane Pearl and her search for her husband Daniel. Asra is actually very close to the family, having worked with Daniel at the Wall Street Journal. She plays a prominent role in the movie.

This memoir is about Ms. Nomani's experiences during her hajj, which she went on with her son, Shibli, her parents and her niece and nephew.  She was very self-conscious during the hajj and afterwards, painfully so, about being a single mother - something that was frowned upon in Islam and sometimes led to death.

I generally really enjoyed this book, even though at times, the writing became pretty choppy.  I enjoyed feeling like I was getting a glimpse into Nomani's journal or diary and I enjoyed learning about the hajj, because as a non-Muslim, I will never be allowed to enter into the areas that she describes.  Generally a book that should be read.

3/100 for 2011

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Faithful Place by Tana French

So the first Tana French book I read was In the Woods and I'm kind of glad that I read that one first, because it was so much better than this novel. 

This novel focuses on Frank Mackey, an undercover detective in Dublin's police force. We learn quite early on that Frank's first love, Rosie Daly, failed to meet him when they were 19 (they were planning to elope) and Frank believes that she has crossed the chanel to England without him.  Ever since then, he hopes that Rosie or her family will contact him to let him know how she is doing, but that doesn't happen. Faithful place is the neighborhood that Frank grew up in and left at 19. Twenty two years later, he opts to return to the neighborhood when he receives a phone call from his baby sister Jackie. Jackie told Frank that a suitcase was found in a derelict house on the street and that it appears that it belonged to Rosie. So begins this novel and how Frank must investigate and discover what happened to his dear Rosie twenty two years before.

While Tana French's prose and the conversation between her characters was a joy to read, I grew tired of this novel really quickly. Her main character was way too similar to her main character in the previous novel that I read.  In fact, they were the same exact characters - native sons turned police officers/guards who return to the places where they grew up in order to solve some awful crime that occurred there when they were young. In that sense, it was boring and repetitive. I did and do enjoy the glimpses that she provides into contemporary Irish society, so if you're interested in that, then definitely pick up this novel, but other than that I would pass.

Book 3/100 for 2011

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick

I've totally been slacking in blogging my reviews but with two children and a Full Time Job, I guess it happens! Anyways, the protagonist in this novel is Bea Nightingale. Bea is in her fifties and is a teacher in the New York City public schools, which was pretty difficult even in the fifties when she was teaching. Her life has been in stasis ever since her divorce from a musician best known for his movie soundtracks. She is estranged from her ex husband, who lives in California. She is also estranged from her snobby brother, Marvin, who also lives in California, but this estrangement ends when she gets an urgent letter from him begging her to go to France to rescue his son. So, Bea goes to Paris, France where she finds his son and his wife.  This novel is about how the floodgates of Bea's life are finally opened, enabling her to reclaim it and deal with the issues that she has hidden.

I really enjoyed this novel - this is apparently her sixth or seventh novel. She used a wonderful combination of letters and regular chapters to tell Bea's story and she also adeptly used a variety of voices.  Sometimes, she wrote as Bea, sometimes as Bea's niece, sometimes as Marvin.  This was an effective way to tell Bea's story and to give us a good, full picture of who Bea was and how she changed. Definitely an ejoyable novel.

Book number 2/100 for 2011

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz

I was browsing the new releases at my local library and this one caught my eye, in part because I enjoy books about colleges/prep schools and in part because some of it takes place in the North Country of New Hampshire and the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. And I'm so glad that I did.

This novel is about a thirty something woman named Portia Nathan that is an admissions officer at Princeton University, after having begun her career as an admissions officer at Dartmouth (where she is also an alum). The title actually has two meanings, one of which is clear right away (Portia and  her colleagues must decide which students to admit to the in-coming class at Princeton) but the other takes a bit more time and wonderful, masterful language to develop. It relates to Portia's search to develop her own life and future and to come to terms with her past.

The characters were very well drawn and interesting. The admissions process of an Ivy League school was also absolutely fascinating, although I wonder if that actually happens or if, like in the movies, there are artistic licenses taken.  I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the characters and was interested in their history and their struggles.  I found it hard at times to put down this book. 

Defintiely a must read.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

If you liked The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, you will want to read this dystopian novel, which has won a number of awards in th...