Review :: Laughing All the Way to the Mosque

Laughing All The Way To The MosqueLaughing All The Way To The Mosque by Zarqa Nawaz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you to Netgalley and the publishers for this review copy.

I very much enjoyed this novel – it was both amusing and educational. I’d not heard of the author but reading the blurb and the idea that this novel focused on the author’s upbringing, and some of the challenges along the way, interested me.

The author’s parents arrived in Toronto, via Liverpool and Pakistan. As Muslims in Toronto they were part of an active and busy Mosque, and there was a real sense of community evidenced in her writing. She explains some of the challenges attending a non-Islamic school – her mum preferred her to wear more traditional hairstyles and clothing for example (plaits in her hair, courdroy trousers etc) whereas she was keen to dress similarly to her classmates, in short skirts and styled hair. Attending Mosque she felt more part of the community but quite clearly wanted to challenge attitudes, including the separation of men from women, and the subjects covered at Muslim Summer School.

When she finished school her Dad had been keen for her to become a Doctor but her grades weren’t up to it. Her parents didn’t resist when she got a place on a journalism course and again she persued important issues she felt worth challenging (this part of the story is set around the time of 9/11). Her mother was keen to see her married though. She’d avoided marriage earlier due to education, and despite her parents trying to find a suitable match, she engineered a meeting with her brother’s friend who she deemed a more suitable husband.

With her husband she moved near her parents-in-law to their much smaller Muslim community. She was still perusing her journalism but began branching out to film media. Again she tackled important issues through her work, including her TV show. I’ve not heard of Little Mosque on the Prairie but this TV show ran on CBS for 6 seasons. It met with a mixed reception in her community, possibly because of the satirical elements.

Whilst part of the story is her journalism career there is much focus on the importance of family. Her Mum is a key figure in her life and she appears close to both parents, despite the general craziness (which felt very familar to me). She’s quite an amazing woman managing her career and four children (four pregnancies in four years!). I liked her character and spirit – she was desperate to provide the feast at the end of Eid but her planning went a little awry with amusing consequences and this is just one example. In another example she’s on the phone to a TV exec whilst she’s feeding one child and breast-feeding another – she’s a perfect example of a multi-tasking woman!

This book is amusing – the anecodotes are told in a light manner but you also get a good sense of how important Islam is to her. I was also fascinated by her explanations of Hajj, and the Five Pillars of Islam for example. I’d recommend this read, and I’d be interested to see the TV shows she made, if they ever aired in the UK (they may well have done without me realising).

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Review :: The Tea Planter’s Wife

The Tea Planter's WifeThe Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thank you to Netgalley and the publishers for providing this review copy.

Gwen is a young British woman who set sails for Ceylon (Sri Lanka) where she’s meeting her husband, a widower who’s family has owned a tea plantation for many years. She’s filled with trepidation but meets a kind Sri Lankan man who directs her to the nearest colonial hotel. Her husband eventually arrives and after a romantic rendevous they travel to the plantation and she immerses herself in the life of a colonial wife.

This novel, set in the interwar years, is filled with wonderful imagery of life in Ceylon. Parties, visits to local markets, the smells and sounds of Asia fill the senses but the author also refers to some of the very real difficulties facing the “native” population. Workers from India and native Sri Lankans work the tea plantations, living destitute lives, and there are undercurrents of political uncertainty and the potential for things to change in an instant.

Against this backdrop Gwen meets other Westerners, including her husband’s ex-lover, and his much younger sister who is a mixed up young woman, in love with the wrong person. Gwen’s cousin visits and she too falls for the charms of a Sri Lankan man, but again this relationship is frowned up.

After scene setting we move the the main story – there was from the outset a mystery about the dead wife and we are given snippets of information. When Gwen falls pregnant after a party and gives birth to twins her world falls apart, and without revealing spoilers, family history rears it’s head once again. She finds it a very difficult time, only consoled by the fact she has her precious son.

The resolution of the story is very interesting and the author provides notes in the back to explain a little how colonial life worked. This was a useful backdrop but best leaving until the book is read! Overall this was an enjoyable read and I’d read novels by the author again.

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Review :: Sleeping on Jupiter

Sleeping on JupiterSleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with a review copy of this book.

Opening with a violent scene, the author didn’t hold back in terms of her introduction to the main character. Going back to the present we find Nomi, an Indian looking woman with a European accent, travelling in the same train compartment as 3 older Indian women. All are travelling to the pilgrimage town by the sea, but for different reasons.

Nomi was raised in an ashram, the spiritual leader of which held a certain sway over his followers and politicians alike. Brought here as a boat girl, escaping an unnamed war (Partition Wars possibly?, she and her friend Piku try to blend in. Nomi catches the eye of the spiritual leader which has unpleasant consequences. If, as a reader, you prefer not to read about child sexual abuse and violence against children, I’d advise to steer clear of this book. The descriptions feel very real but are worked well into the story but I appreciate some might find it uncomfortable reading.

The three older women have their issues – for example, one is on the verges of dementia and another is grieving for her husband. They wish to visit a temple on pilgrimage and are met by the guide. He also has his own issues as he’s lusting after a younger man, who shows no interest in him and his gifts, but is later spotted with ashram “monks” which causes alarm. The other character to mention is the photographer who meets with Nomi to document the temples and pilgrimage sights. He has marriage and drink / drug problems and has a connection to the older women.

This story flits from past to present and that was something I found to work for me. The characters were okay but I was left with unasnwered questions. I did feel that, although the story had some very serious points, it was lightweight in parts and consequently I enjoyed it but wasn’t thrilled by it. Saying that, I would read the author again so it hasn’t effected me in that respect.

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Review :: In the Blood

In the BloodIn the Blood by Lisa Unger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thriller / crime novels are not usually my go-to reads but I was pleasantly surprised by this book after I selected it for the purposes of reading an author who’s surname begins with ‘U’.

Lana is a college age student but also a mixed up kid. She’s an A* student, studying psychology, when her Professor introduces her to a family needing help with their 11 year old boy who’s experiencing mental health issues, and who has been moved from school to school because of his behaviour.The relationship with the boy, Luke, is difficult but she seems to be making progress. He starts to play a game with her, enticing her to follow mysterious written clues, which has far reaching consequences for her and her friend.

The story opens with a diary entry – and throughout the story is peppered with diary entries to give some insight into the issues facing different characters. There was good characterisation and the plot twists were fun – I did guess a couple but I liked seeing how they unravelled themselves to the reader.

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Review :: Only Ever Yours

Only Ever YoursOnly Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thanks for Netgalley and the publisher for sharing this prepublication.

I’ve yet to read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood but I’d seen a couple of reviews comparing this novel to this well known dystiopian read so I thought I’d request the book despite my reservations towards YA books generally. Whilst this would probably be regarded as YA novel, I felt that it would appeal to a wider audience than some YA books that I’ve read, because there was a certain maturity to the topic which would appeal to readers of all ages.

Yes, this is certainly a dystopian novel – a look to the future, but not a very pleasant future as far as women are concerned. Bred to either breed to produce children, or bred to be a man’s concubine, the women involved compete to be the prettiest, most eligible to win the hearts of the males. This is an unpleasant environment, with lots of back biting and generally unsavoury behaviour. Some aspects of this did read a bit like boarding school novels / school novels I read as a teen in late 80s / early 90s but the subject matter was more than just teen romance.

I thought the whole premise of the novel was interesting; perhaps a little over long for my liking, but I’m sure many would not be concerned about this.

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Review :: My Name is Lucy Barton

My Name is Lucy BartonMy Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley & publisher for access to this prepublication.

I really liked this short novel. Packed a lot in the 200 or so pages. Visited by her mother when she was sick in hospital this is the story of Lucy Barton and her life. It flits from past to present, not uncomfortably so as in some novels, focusing on Lucy’s poverty stricken background and her escape to college and her career as a novelist.

Her and her mother have an uneasy relationship in her childhood but despite this her mother stays with Lucy during a period of hospitalization and their relationship appears improved. Her mother leaves and I found it sad that they slipped back into how their relationship was previously. Maybe it’s change of environment or social conditioning to blame? We see Lucy grapple with what it means to be an adult and I could see to an extent the how her childhood experiences had perhaps influenced her choices. Overall a very interesting and thought provoking novel.

I’ve yet to read any other novels by the author but looking forward to doing so in the future.

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Review :: The Blue Between Sky and Water

Read October 2015

The Blue Between Sky and WaterThe Blue Between Sky and Water by Susan Abulhawa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for providing this review copy.

This is the story of four generations of Palestinian women, who survive through some extraordinary circumstances. There are scenes of sexual violence and child abuse, which some readers may find difficult to read.

What I liked about this book was that it described periods of history I was aware of but knew little details about. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is ongoing, and innocent people are still suffering, and this was the story of those innocents over a period of history.

What I struggled with, and why I didn’t finish the book, was the number of characters. I struggled to keep up with who was who, and by over 50% through I decided it wasn’t for me. I also wasn’t very keen on the magical realism. It’s not something I like normally, so for it to be in this novel…

I think the book well written and think it important that the Palestinian voice be heard, and for that I wish the author well in her work.

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