BOOK REVIEW: A Moonless, Starless Sky, by Alexis Okeowo

BOOK REVIEW: A Moonless, Starless Sky, by Alexis OkeowoTitle: A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa by Alexis Okeowo
Published by Hachette Books
Published: October 3rd 2017
Genres: Cultural Studies
Pages: 256
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

In the tradition of Behind the Beautiful Forevers and Nothing to Envy, this is a masterful, humane work of literary journalism by New Yorker staff writer Alexis Okeowo--a vivid narrative of Africans, many of them women, who are courageously resisting their continent's wave of fundamentalism.

In A Moonless, Starless Sky Okeowo weaves together four narratives that form a powerful tapestry of modern Africa: a young couple, kidnap victims of Joseph Kony's LRA; a Mauritanian waging a lonely campaign against modern-day slavery; a women's basketball team flourishing amid war-torn Somalia; and a vigilante who takes up arms against the extremist group Boko Haram. This debut book by one of America's most acclaimed young journalists illuminates the inner lives of ordinary people doing the extraordinary--lives that are too often hidden, underreported, or ignored by the rest of the world.

Alexis Okeowo’s A Moonless, Starless Sky writes about the lives of four individuals in Nigeria, Somalia, Mauritania and Uganda who are resisting against the extremisms they each face. Okeowo, a first generation Nigerian-American, manages to deftly weave hope and inspiration in her solemn, yet conversational, exploration of the bravery and courage these four individuals face in abject terror.

The four narratives are about an LRA child soldier and the girl forced to marry him, a man and his fight against slavery in modern Mauritania, a group fighting Boko Haram, and a Somalian young woman’s struggle for the right to continue playing basketball. While each of the stories were eye-opening to read, the story about the Somalian young woman finding friendship, companionship, and fulfillment in playing basketball tugged at my heart-strings the most. To us here in the US, something so commonplace as playing basketball doesn’t register as a forbidden activity for anyone, but for her, it was a forbidden activity, because she is Muslim, because she is female. Her struggle to pursue her dreams resonated with me so much.

Okeowo writes the lives of each of these individuals with clarity, empathy, and respect; she writes their stories with unflinching insight to their struggles and triumphs. This book will certainly raise awareness to events happening beyond our media’s reach and inspire people to take action. It’s an absolute must read.

Many thanks to Hachette for sending me a copy of this book to review! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Tea Planter’s Wife, by Dinah Jefferies

BOOK REVIEW: The Tea Planter’s Wife, by Dinah JefferiesTitle: The Tea Planter's Wife by Dinah Jefferies
Published by Broadway Books
Published: June 20th 2017
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 448
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Blogging for Books
Goodreads

#1 International bestselling novel set in 1920s Ceylon, about a young Englishwoman who marries a charming tea plantation owner and widower, only to discover he's keeping terrible secrets about his past, including what happened to his first wife, that lead to devastating consequences

Dinah Jefferies’s The Tea Planter’s Wife begins with nineteen-year old Gwen arriving from London to join her new husband Laurence at his tea plantations in Ceylon. In her struggles to adjust to being a wife and to her new surroundings, Laurence begins behaving oddly toward Gwen and the two have a strained relationship throughout the book, both typical of the time period and for other reasons that I won’t spoil. After she becomes pregnant with twins and gives birth, Gwen harbors a weighty secret for years until she no longer can hide the truth.

Jefferies’s prose is vivid and descriptive, and she crafts an engaging cast of characters. We feel for Gwen’s struggle to adjust to her new life and role as mother and wife, we are charmed by Mr. Ravasinghe, and we are irritated by Laurence and his sister Verity, especially their attitudes and behavior toward Gwen throughout the novel. Each character seems well-developed and suited for the narrative, and I wanted to know more about Mr. Ravasinghe and Gwen’s friend, Fran, and their relationship, but alas. Perhaps in a future/companion novel?

The Tea Planter’s Wife highlights the racial divide, and the subject of race threads through each character’s story. It makes the reader consider the effects of prejudice and how often day-to-day struggles could be lessened if one let go of that prejudice. The book itself has those Gothic undertones that I enjoy, and while some of the events are predictable, I enjoyed the book from beginning to end. It’s the perfect book for those late summer rainy days when you can almost imagine being in one of those plantation houses in Ceylon listening to the rain.

A copy of this book was provided to me for review by Blogging for Books! All opinions are my own.

Little List of Reviews #6: Short Fiction

It’s time for another little list of reviews! This time I’m focusing on some short fiction that I’ve read recently, from a classic, to science fiction, to a modern fairy tale.

Little List of Reviews #6: Short FictionTitle: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Published by Riverhead
Published: March 7th 2017
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 231
Format: Hardcover
Source: Borrowed, Work
Goodreads

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.

Exit West follows these characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.

 Exit West seemed to be all over the place once it was released, and with everyone I knew talking about it and a lot of people at work buying it, I thought I should give it a go because it sounded timely and relevant to today. Mohsin Hamid’s lyrical writing draws you into a world that ultimately you as a reader only catch glimpses of the heartache, the fear, and the love each of the two main characters experience for themselves and with each other. In a style that bends time and space to fit the journey, the two main characters escape what is a war-torn country in the Middle East, and we follow them as they make their way westward. It is all at once a tale that speaks of the plight and routes refugees take from Syria and other nearby places and a tale that speaks to the ultimately human journey to adulthood and discovering oneself. It is a story of discovering what it means to have an identity and of holding onto love when it’s necessary and learning to let go when it’s time to let go, no matter how unprepared you might be for the end.

 

Little List of Reviews #6: Short FictionTitle: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Published by Penguin Modern Classics
Published: October 1st 2009
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 158
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

 We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a Gothic novella about the Blackwood family home and the lengths Merricat, the youngest Blackwood, goes to in order to preserve their way of life. Throughout the book, you get the sort of foreboding feeling that something is not quite right about Merricat’s behavior, especially when cousin Charles comes to visit, and while the story plays into a lot of the Gothic genre’s tropes, it doesn’t fail to thrill. It’s an exacting commentary on the preservation of oneself and one’s family in the midst of change, either in the house or in the world beyond. It asks the question what does identity mean? The meaning of identity is not generally answerable in itself but in the implications and complications that arise in the midst of everything else. Why else would Merricat say she put “death in their food and watch them die?”

 

Little List of Reviews #6: Short FictionTitle: We Who Are About To... by Joanna Russ
Published by Penguin
Published: January 1st 1970
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 128
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

When I saw the covers of the Penguin Worlds science fiction classics collection, I knew I had to get them all. Not only for the covers but for the selections as well. One of my areas of research is science fiction because I feel like it’s an underrepresented genre in the grand scheme of the great literary canon, and Joanna Russ’s We Who Are About To… is a masterful novella about the agency a woman has, doesn’t have, and should have over her own body. Instead of conforming to the little civilization her companions decide to form in the wake of a spaceship crashing on a relatively unknown planet, the narrator decides to learn how to die when all hope is lost. Reading this book today feels very trope-y and cliché at times, but it’s important to put this in the context of the genre today. It plays with those tropes, gives a woman agency over her own life instead of submitting her body to be a vessel for reproduction, and shows us the very humanity in deciding on whether or not to live or die when you know there’s ultimately no hope for rescue or survival anyway.

BOOK REVIEW: The Madwoman Upstairs, by Catherine Lowell

BOOK REVIEW: The Madwoman Upstairs, by Catherine LowellTitle: The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell
Published by Touchstone
Published: November 22nd 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 368
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

In Catherine Lowell’s smart and original debut novel—“an enjoyable academic romp that successfully combines romance and intrigue” (Publishers Weekly)—the only remaining descendant of the Brontë family embarks on a modern-day literary treasure hunt to find the family’s long-rumored secret estate, using only the clues her father left behind and the Brontës’ own novels.
Samantha Whipple is used to stirring up speculation wherever she goes. Since her eccentric father’s untimely death, she is the presumed heir to a long-rumored trove of diaries, paintings, letters, and early novel drafts passed down from the Brontë family—a hidden fortune never revealed to anyone outside of the family, but endlessly speculated about by Brontë scholars and fanatics. Samantha, however, has never seen this alleged estate and for all she knows, it’s just as fictional as Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights.
But everything changes when Samantha enrolls at Oxford University and long lost objects from the past begin rematerializing in her life, beginning with an old novel annotated in her father’s handwriting. With the help of a handsome but inscrutable professor, Samantha plunges into a vast literary mystery and an untold family legacy, one that can only be solved by decoding the clues hidden within the Brontës’ own works.
A fast-paced adventure from start to finish, The Madwoman Upstairs is a smart and original novel and a moving exploration of what happens when the greatest truth is, in fact, fiction.

 This was not an office. It was a small library, two stories high, with thin ladders and impractical balconies and an expensive ceiling featuring a gaggle of naked Greeks. It was the sort of library you’d marry a man for.

Catherine Lowell’s The Madwoman Upstairs has been on my radar for a while, and when BookSparks sent me a copy of this book and a lovely Penguin English Classics edition of Jane Eyre to celebrate Charlotte Brontë’s birthday, I was super excited to finally read it. I mean, how could I not? It’s about the last descendant of the Brontë family and the discoveries and revelations the main character has along the way.

The Madwoman Upstairs is literally a literary treat to me. In some ways, it reminded me of a light-hearted, quirky version of A.S. Byatt’s Possession, and I adored reading it. The narrator has such a great voice, and I thought Lowell captured the voice of a young, headstrong, stubborn woman thrown headfirst into a world she has been trying to avoid since her father’s death. But as it happens, it’s entirely difficult to leave the past in the past, and inevitably it will come back to you.

Generally, when one thinks of the Brontë family, one might think of Charlotte or Emily before thinking of Anne, so I liked the twist of Anne being more of the focus of this treasure hunt Samantha Whipple goes on after receiving a strange little bookmark from her father’s papers. The Madwoman Upstairs is very much a fun campus novel with twists of romantic comedy and literary intrigue, and it was an enjoyable read from start to finish!

I received a copy of this book from Book Sparks and the publisher for review. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Goodnight From London, by Jennifer Robson

BOOK REVIEW: Goodnight From London, by Jennifer RobsonTitle: Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Published: May 2nd 2017
Genres: Historical, Fiction
Pages: 400
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Book Sparks
Goodreads

From USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Robson—author of Moonlight Over Paris and Somewhere in France—comes a lush historical novel that tells the fascinating story of Ruby Sutton, an ambitious American journalist who moves to London in 1940 to report on the Second World War, and to start a new life an ocean away from her past.

In the summer of 1940, ambitious young American journalist Ruby Sutton gets her big break: the chance to report on the European war as a staff writer for Picture Weekly newsmagazine in London. She jumps at the chance, for it's an opportunity not only to prove herself, but also to start fresh in a city and country that know nothing of her humble origins. But life in besieged Britain tests Ruby in ways she never imagined.

Although most of Ruby's new colleagues welcome her, a few resent her presence, not only as an American but also as a woman. She is just beginning to find her feet, to feel at home in a country that is so familiar yet so foreign, when the bombs begin to fall.

As the nightly horror of the Blitz stretches unbroken into weeks and months, Ruby must set aside her determination to remain an objective observer. When she loses everything but her life, and must depend upon the kindness of strangers, she learns for the first time the depth and measure of true friendship—and what it is to love a man who is burdened by secrets that aren’t his to share.

Goodnight from London, inspired in part by the wartime experiences of the author’s own grandmother, is a captivating, heartfelt, and historically immersive story that readers are sure to embrace.

 

 

 

 

In Goodnight From London, Ruby Sutton is an American journalist who moves to London from New York in 1940 to report on the war as a staff writer for publications in both cities. In a series of vignettes, we see Ruby through her struggles and growth in her new job as a foreigner and as a woman. Goodnight From London is a captivating story about a young woman finding her own ground in the midst of war.

Even though the novel was told in little glimpses of her every day life, I felt like I really connected with Ruby Sutton as she navigated her way through a foreign city besieged by war, raid sirens, air strikes, destruction, rationed food, and as she found a determined, resilient hope in the people she met. For me, one of the best parts about this book is the development of her work and personal relationships. None of them felt forced, and each of them felt genuine, especially for that era. Ruby is an orphan of sorts and never really knew what it was like to have people who cared for her, and in the midst of the terror that was WWII, finding people who had been through hell but still were able to show their humor, their love, and their friendship was such an eyeopener for Ruby. We see her adjust, sometimes awkwardly, to the generosity of those around her. As a reader, I wanted to see her succeed, to see her overcome her fears and reservations, and to fall in love with that mysterious Bennett.

While not as grim and heavy as some other WWII novels I have read, I enjoyed that the setting and the struggles felt realistic. Robson’s writing style is effortless and crisp, and the writing made it clear that she has done her research. If you like historical fiction that isn’t so heavy and dark and heroines you can root for, I think you’ll enjoy reading Goodnight From London.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review by Book Sparks and the publisher. All opinions are my own.