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Fiction

Book Review: The Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

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“The first sound we want our children to hear is the voice of their father, telling the child where it has come from, who its creator is, and whose care it will be in now. Telling the child, there is no God but God, and God is Great.” 

The Place For Us is about an Indian-American Muslim family in their small town in California. We are introduced to them on the wedding day of the oldest daughter and are informed that they are all together and complete, for the first time in three years. It is from here that the family has to confront the past and contend with all the decisions and choices made that has led them to this point. The parents, Rafiq and Layla, have to go through the reckoning of  trying to raise their kids the best way they could. Passing on the traditions, culture and religion that they know, to children who were born on foreign soil and with the burden of straddling two worlds at the same time.

“We pray together and when it is time for us to ask for what our hearts desire, my first wish is that he remain steadfast in faith, and then if he does not, that he never believe that God is a being with a heart like a human’s, capable of being small and vindictive.”

The book provides many beautiful moments. We read scenes from this family’s life over a span of decades. We watch them grow, make mistakes and watch the parents, parent the best they know how. It is written from every family member’s point of view. Through out the novel we get each version of events via everybody’s eyes except the dad’s, which comes at the very end of the book. There are no chapter markers or heads up about whose POV is coming up but I never felt lost or confused.

I felt like I got an honest glimpse into an unfamiliar culture, and the similarities between every culture, faith and the stories we tell ourselves and the concept of family kept me sitting at the table listening to their stories. I think what Mirza does best is the ability to create a story that uniquely belongs to this family but we as outsiders can recognize our own families in them even if we are none of the markers that the family identifies as.

Mirza creates complete and complex characters who are not stereotypes or caricatures of themselves. The siblings who are at the forefront of this novel – Amir, Huda and Hadia – are so beautifully crafted and recognizable that you root for them to make the right decisions. We see how this family is forced to deal with the repercussions of 9/11, the overt and open racism and Islamophobia that it gave rise to – there is a stunning scene where the father makes his two girls take off their hijab to protect them from the backlash they are likely to face in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

“But I did fight. I tried to leave every human I have interacted with better than or the same as when I encountered them….It was the way I wanted to move through the world….That was my fight: to continue to do little things for people around me, so no one would find fault in my demeanor and misattribute it to my religion.” 

I love the closing section of this book which is the only one from the father’s POV, because it puts things into perfect clarity. Even though, I loved the ending, I do not think a lot of people will because everything is not resolved with a big bow, in fact we are left with a lot of questions unanswered – even I wanted to know more about Amir’s life and his choices.

I utterly enjoyed this book, I love complex family stories and slow burns as long as it’s written really well which I believe this book was. If you’re one for a lot of action, i’m not sure this is the one for you. I gave this book five stars on good reads.

Have you read this book? What did you think? Do you think you’d pick it up now after this review? Let me know in the comments!

Leggy

Fiction

Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

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“Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too. They start over. They find a way” 

It has been a minute since I started this book. I checked it out from my library months ago and it expired before I got to finish it. I had to go back on a wait list to get it and after I got it back it took me some time to get back into it. 2 days before it was going to expire again, I decided to just go for it (also helped that I listened to a podcast where someone was completely raving about the book) and I finally got through with it.

Little Fires Everywhere is a novel by Asian-American author, Celeste Ng. It’s about two families – The wealthy Richardson family that consists of 4 kids – Tripp, Lexie, Moody and Izzy and the mother-daughter duo of Mia and Pearl. Mia and Pearl have been on the move for so long that Pearl is used to it. But she is 15 now and Mia promises that their stop in Shaker Heights, OH (the real hometown of the author) will be more permanent and it is probably time to settle down.

Mia is renting a flat from Mrs. Richardson and Pearl and Moody become best friends and is always at the Richardson’s house. Mia is an artist but does odd jobs to stay afloat and being a cleaner and cook for the Richardson’s become two of her jobs. While Pearl is always at the Richardson’s house, the youngest Richardson, Izzie is always with Mia. She feels more at home with Mia than with her family especially her mom Elena, who does not understand her and is not always kind to her.

We get to know the family and then we are hit with the main story line in which the Richardsons family friend try to adopt an Asian-American baby and get into a custody battle that divides the families and the whole town. This division leads Elena to delve into Mia’s past and the action trickles down into a myriad of events that culminate into little fires everywhere (you see what I did there?)

You guyssss, my book slump might be over! I didn’t know what to expect (as always, I did not know what the book was about). I liked Ng’s other novel “Everything I Never Told You” enough but it wasn’t great or anything so my expectations weren’t high.

This book was so beautifully written, I felt like I could feel all the love and care Ng put into each and every character. You completely felt that you knew what each character was about and who they were. I found Elena very selfish and unlikable and I guess that was her role to play as the villain but even then, she still felt very real. She was the embodiment of certain type of people in America who live and die by “morals”

Many topics were addressed that made it so real:

Racism – “Everyone sees race, Lex,” said Moody. “The only difference is who pretends not to.” 

Nature vs. Nurture – “It came, over and over, down to this: What made someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?” 

Life philosophies – “One had followed the rules, and one had not. But the problem with rules… was that they implied a right way and a wrong way to do things. When, in fact, most of the time they were simply ways, none of them quite wrong or quite right, and nothing to tell you for sure what side of the line you stood on.” 

Parenthood – “To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person: your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all at the same time. You could see it every time you looked at her: layered in her face was the baby she’d been and the child she’d become and the adult she would grow up to be, and you saw them all simultaneously, like a 3-D image. It made your head spin. It was a place you could take refuge, if you knew how to get in. And each time you left it, each time your child passed out of your sight, you feared you might never be able to return to that place again.”

I could go on forever. But besides being humane, this was an intelligent book. While I was invested in the characters, it also made me think, made me examine where I stood on certain topics and as I type this, I still don’t know where I lie on the custody battle. The first chapter seems pretty unremarkable but by the last two chapters, it made more sense and I returned to read it before going back to finish the book.

The only thing I’d say I didn’t like was, the end. I’ve said before how endings must be really difficult to write because very rarely do I find endings I am satisfied with. I still don’t know how a certain event in the book happened and things were left vague. I was so tense reading the book just wondering how this will unfold that when I didn’t get a nice little bow, I was a little let down.

Just in case you couldn’t tell by everything I have said above, I completely enjoyed this book and totally recommend it.

P.S If you’d like to purchase the book it is $2.99 here

Taynement

Non-Fiction

We Chit Chat – Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies In A Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

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Taynement: So I didn’t have this book on my radar until you brought it to my attention.

Leggy: Why did you decide to pick it up after I mentioned it?

Taynement: Because I knew about the Theranos story and figured it’d be an interesting read.

Leggy: Me too. The story was fascinating to me. How this woman got away with so much and with very little check points is ridiculous. I wanted to read more on the topic so when I heard the journalist who blew the lid off this story was coming out with a book, I was intrigued.

Taynement: Yeah, it’s a shame we don’t get to hear her side but I thought Carreyrou did a pretty good job of getting facts together from reliable sources – really pissed off sources too.

Leggy: I wish I could have heard her motivation too.

Taynement: There were so many facets to this story. I think the glimpse of her father gave insight into why she was ruthless. Her dad seemed to have a mean streak in him when he approached his lawyer friend on her behalf and tried to get their family friend’s son fired from his law firm. I think he was secretly proud of everything she did regardless of the swindling.

But I do think the book also goes to show how much power being white in America gives you. Because there is absolutely no reason this woman kept raising funds in millions and had investors of high caliber without having a single viable product.

Leggy: Can we talk about Tyler Shultz’s grandfather? How insane was it that he believed Holmes over his own grandson who actually worked there and saw that Holmes was a fraud. Even though Tyler brought another employee who corroborated his story, his father still believed Holmes. Even going as far as inviting Holmes to his birthday party and not extending an invite to his own grandson.

She must have been super charming and they wanted to believe that they were changing the world. I’m sure after being in business for so long they wanted to believe they were finally investing in the one business that would actually help human kind or also there’s a possibility that every single one of those men were dumb as rocks. Take your pick.

Taynement: They all talked about how charming she is but she must have been REALLY charming because I don’t understand how she got fired and talked her way back in and then fired everyone who had been against her once they gave her another chance as CEO. Savage!

Leggy: Seriously, if she hadn’t been fucking with human life, was just developing some app and scamming all these old men for their money I would have been rooting for her. But for you to knowingly fuck with sick people and have no remorse at all. I can’t root for you. You’re a psychopath.

Taynement: That’s the other thing. Is this pure human savagery or do you think there’s a mental health issue at play? I’m asking this question because of the fact that this was done in the health sector and it was lives at stake. She also doesn’t seem very remorseful even now and still claims she did nothing wrong.

Leggy: I don’t know but she’s certainly a girl who knew what she wanted from a very young age and it blows my mind that she never seemed remorseful. She just kept lying in the face of so much proof. Can we talk about her “boyfriend” please? How much hand do you think he really had in the whole operation?

Taynement: I think he helped her execute, was her cheerleader and took pleasure from it. He’s definitely a sadist and I want to know who he pays to scrub his past off the internet.

Leggy: Dude, I googled him and barely saw anything on him at all. I think they fed off of each other.

Taynement: Another thing I wondered is Silicon Valley is a small world, how come people kept going to work for Theranos despite the high turnover?

Leggy: And the kind of people they got to work for them?! People who were huge and well regarded! I just don’t understand. I think it’s probably the need to be a part of something big.

Taynement: Some guy came out of retirement after he had worked for Apple just to be a part of her board. Nahhh, Elizabeth Holmes must be something!

By the way, you guys should Youtube one of her interviews and listen to her voice. It sounds weird on purpose because she had it in her head that she had to have a deep voice like a man to command attention in a male dominated world

Leggy: She must be. She’s almost like a cult leader. Also, she hired a lot of international students that needed that H1B1 status.

Taynement: I think that was mostly Sunny’s doing, has his name written all over it. As an immigrant himself, he knew it was the fastest way to gain “loyalty”. Fear was his modus operandi. He sounds like a terrible, terrible man.

Leggy: Terrible and he wasn’t even charismatic. He was just terrible and literally had nothing going for him, he wasn’t smart, nothing! Can we talk about Walgreens and Safeway? Those may have been the dumbest companies in the entire book especially Walgreens. They hired an outside consultant to evaluate the deal they had with Theranos and then totally ignored his warnings.

Taynement: They deserve everything that happened to them.

Leggy: Everything! I was so flabbergasted the entire time. How does that happen?

Taynement: And then they agreed to build the health centers in the contract at their own expense and there was no product. They never asked to see the product and the results coming from it.

Leggy: I can’t imagine them not even asking to see a full demonstration of what they were letting into their stores and then they didn’t even ask to tour the Theranos labs! How do you pay millions of dollars for a product you’ve never seen in action? And they were faking results! How did the people there keep working in this company with their conscience intact? These were people’s lives, people’s actual money, people getting unnecessary procedures and having to go to the emergency room based on the test results you were giving them.

Taynement: I am surprised Theranos is still in existence.

Leggy: Yup, all they did was remove her as CEO but it’s still business as usual. She’s working on building another company. White privilege is a hell of a thing!

Taynement: Overall, I thought it was a good read. I audio’d it and I enjoyed it very much.

Leggy: I audio’d it too and told everyone I recommended it to, to do the same. You don’t even need to have heard of the company before, to enjoy this book. It’s fascinating and the author gives you enough background for you to follow along. It reads like fiction. 

Taynement: But it’s even more intriguing because it’s real life.

Leggy: Ended up giving it 4 stars on Goodreads and have been recommending it to everybody

Have you guys read this book? If you have, what did you think? If you haven’t, did this review pique your interest? Will you be picking it up? Be encouraged to leave a comment 🙂

 

Taynement & Leggy

 

 

 

 

Fiction

Review: The Book of Essie by Meghan Weir

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“Our family rejected materialism and popular culture and yet we also produced it. The show…paid for the SUVs Mother and Daddy drove, the lake house, the ‘spiritual retreat’ that was actually a villa in Saint John. It paid for the car seat I rode home in from the hospital, the muslin blankets I was swaddled in when I slept. It paid for my first backpack when it came time for me to go to school, Mother having by then completely abandoned giving lessons in the living room, not just because her time and energy were better spent promoting our brand but also because marketing said that what our audience wanted at that point was a character who was ‘normal.'”

17 year old Essie has grown up in front of the camera as the youngest member of a reality TV show family called Six for Hicks (think the Duggars). Her father is a famous televangelist and has built up a congregation and an audience by saying controversial things and parading his family around for America as the perfect example of what a family should be. There’s a problem though, from the first page we are informed that 17 year old Essie is pregnant and her mother scrambles to find a way to make the problem go away and decides to find her a husband.

The Book Of Essie is a very engrossing and riveting story that is quite difficult to put down. I read this book in one seating, and it is the perfect summer read. This book tackles some pretty heavy topics but it doesn’t really go into anyone of them in detail so no trigger warning needed here.

Though it was pretty predictable (once you read the first 50 pages you can tell what’s coming), it still had my attention and intrigued me enough to want to know what happened next. That did not dampen my enjoyment of it at all, I just read on to discover if my suspicions were right. The book is told through the voices of Essie, her friend Roarke and a journalist called Liberty with her own childhood traumas as well.

On the other hand, this is a debut book and it shows. The author tries to pack way too many plots that end up not being fleshed out. Essie picks Liberty to be the journalist who interviews her for her wedding storyline on the show because of her background. I honestly felt this could have been left out because it was so rushed and didn’t really add anything much to the plot except to explain why Essie picked her.

The writing could have been better, the characters come off as stereotypes instead of real life people. For a book containing some objectively disturbing content, it never moved me because the author just tells us things instead of showing it to us, like a newscaster giving you the facts. The characters never feel real so you don’t root for anybody because you can literally see the author pulling the strings.

If you’re fascinated by reality tv shows you’d love this book. I think there is a potential here and I’ll be looking out for this author in the future. I gave this book 3 stars on Goodreads and would recommend this because it is a fun and fast book to get through.

Have you read this one? Did you like it? Let us know what you think in the comments!

Chick-Lit

Book Review: Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella

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Dan and Sylvie have been married 7 years and have a seemingly perfect life. Parents of twin girls, a home, decent jobs. They both know each other so well that they finish each others sentences and know exactly what the other person will do before they do it. They go in for their yearly physical and the doctor cheerily lets them know that they are in such good health that they will both live till they are 100 and 101 respectively.

For people who made vows “till death do us part”, this news comes as a shock to them and throws them in a tizzy. They suddenly aren’t sure what to do with themselves for the next 68 years and worry about being boring. Sylvie comes up with the grand idea that they should surprise each other constantly. This ends up being an epic fail as the series of surprises end up in mishaps and also dredge up secrets being hidden.

I reached for a Kinsella book because I figured something fluffy would help with my book malaise. Kinsella is usually good with these kind of books but I just could not get with this premise. It was too juvenile and unrealistic for me. Who instantly gets in a panic when your doctor tells you, you will live to a 100? Considering Sylvie just lost her dad to a car accident, you would think she would remember there are other ways to lose your life besides the state of your health.

I’ve always wondered why British authors tend to make their protagonists so flighty, juvenile and self absorbed. Usually, she is a single girl trying to get the attention of a man but in this case she is married and she still is a bit ditzy.

I didn’t quite understand the little side stories. They felt like puzzle pieces that didn’t fit the story and were fillers. The twist in the story was expected and sort of fit into the story but I felt the book should have ended after the reveal but it kept going.

I audio’d this one and the shrillness and eagerness of the Sylvie character didn’t help. Because of the author, I really kept hoping the book would make a turn around and get better but it never did. Overall, I have read better from Sophie Kinsella and this was definitely not one of them. I’d say skip the book if you were planning on reading it.

Taynement

Mystery, Uncategorized

British “Whodunnits” Recommendations

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I love British mysteries. As much as I like the mystery thrillers that are all the rage in the US these days, since Gone Girl came on the scene and made so much money, the true love of my life are the simple mysteries that are not complicated and are straight forward. Books that are just simple, delightful reads like the ones I used to read when I was younger. I think the British have this market cornered, nobody does great whoddunits like they do and I’m here to give you some recommendations to add to your already huge summer piles.

1. Lady Sherlock series by Sherry Thomas

“Do not undervalue what you are ultimately worth because you are at a momentary disadvantage.”

This series is a good retelling of the original Sherlock Holmes with the difference being that the protagonist is a 19th century woman. Observing her surroundings and advising the police department and Queen’s Men while hiding her real gender from the world and her clients. The first book in the series is called “A Study in Scarlet Women”, the second one is “A Conspiracy in Belgravia” and the third one which comes out on the 2nd of October is called “The Hollow of Fear”. All the titles are a subtle nod to the original Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. They don’t take themselves too seriously and I really enjoyed reading them.

2. Cormoron Strike series by Robert Galbraith aka J. K. Rowling 

You’re like everyone else, Strike; you want your civil liberties when you’ve told the missus you’re at the office and you’re at a lap-dancing club, but you want twenty-four-hour surveillance on your house when someone’s trying to force your bathroom window open. Can’t have it both ways.” 

J. K. Rowling writes these books under a pseudonym. These are really easy to read fun mystery novels  with the usual tropes. There really isn’t anything original about these books but they are written well and the characters are very fleshed out. Cormoron Strike is a wounded army veteran with a troubled past, terrible love life and financial woes.  He leaves the army and sets up his own private detective agency but has the nagging  problem of having no paying clients. He hires a temp secretary who has ambitions of being a private detective herself – Robin Ellacott, gets a high profile case and the rest is history. At the end of each book we get to know more about our two main characters and come to care deeply about their welfare. There are three books already published in this series and she’s currently working on the next one but still no release date available.

3. Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

“As far as I’m concerned, you can’t beat a good whodunnit: the twists and turns, the clues and the red herrings and then, finally, the satisfaction of having everything explained to you in a way that makes you kick yourself because you hadn’t seen it from the start.” 

This is a standalone mystery book and is a mystery within a mystery. Editor Susan Ryeland gets Alan Conway’s latest mystery novel and doesn’t think it’s going to be any different than his previous novels except Alan Conway dies the very weekend he submits the novel – of a suicide. Susan Ryeland rushes to read the manuscript to rush production of the books but finds the last couple chapters of the book missing and we’re off to the races. This book was quite fascinating because we get to read the submitted manuscript and also deal with the mysteries in real time surrounding the missing last chapters and the death of the author. This is a nod to the golden age of mysteries so if you love reading Agatha Christie’s works this book is definitely for you.

4. An Accidental Death (DC Smith #1) by Peter Grainger

“You think it’s just selfishness? ‘just’ makes it sound trivial. All crime is caused by selfishness, I say. It’s the ‘me first, my needs first’. Take that away and you’re like one step from paradise”

Even though there are 7 books in this series, I have only read the first one which is what I will be recommending today. This British police procedural opens with the apparent accidental drowning of a sixth form student, it’s an open and shut case so it gets handed to Detective Sergeant Smith. Detective Smith is just coming back from suspension after an internal investigation involving a previous high profile case that caused a lot of tension in the police department. He is handed the small cases to ease him back in, but it ends up being a murder case. The latest trainee detective to work with him is the son of a member of his former team, and together they begin to unravel the truth about what happened to Wayne Fletcher. If you’re a fan of cozy mysteries or Louise Penny, you’ll probably like this too.

Have you read any of these books? Which ones are you likely to read? Let me know in the comments!

Leggy

 

Mystery

Book Review: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

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Ever since the Gone Girl movie blew up a few years ago, Gillian Flynn has become a household name and her books have been carried over to screen (Dark Places was turned into a movie). Next in line is Sharp Objects. It’s been turned into a mini series on HBO starring Amy Adams. I read the book a few years ago and I figured it’ll be good to share my thoughts, in case anyone was thinking of reading before its debut on July 8.

Sharp Objects tells the story of Camille Preaker, a crime reporter who has been assigned a job to go back to her small hometown and write about the murder of two young girls. Going back home means facing the demons she has not quite put to bed seeing as Camille has just been released from a psychiatric hospital. She has to deal with her mother who she does not have a good relationship with, her step sister who she barely knows and dredge up old (not so great memories) while still being professional.

I have not liked any of her other books like I did Gone Girl but if you know anything about Gillian Flynn, then you know that the common theme in her books are that they go to some really dark, twisty places. I truly often wonder where her ideas come from as they are so gory! Don’t ignore the razor blade on the book cover as it is an indicator of Camille’s issue with self cutting and pretty much tells you the tone of the book. It is not an easy book because it deals with some intense topics that some might actually find triggering.

I am not sure there are any redeeming characters in this book save for maybe Camille’s father figure boss, except he is a minor character. Every character is rather grating and you just want to roll your eyes every time they do something. For a whodunnit book, you get to have an idea who did it towards the end and even though I did not guess correctly who did it, I don’t think it will be difficult for some to figure out who did it but the twist might be a surprise.

Overall, there are many reasons to read this book – Flynn is a good writer, get a head start on the miniseries, challenge yourself to read a book that doesn’t go down easy and because Taynement says it’s worth a shot.

Let me know if you do read it or if you have read it. Would love to hear your thoughts.

Taynement