Friday, April 10, 2015

A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War and a Ruined House in France

There were two potentially great pieces to this story, but the two pieces together felt a bit disjointed.   

The books description led me to believe that the story was to be about the mysterious end of the author's grandparents relationship.  That story could have been magnificent but both her grandmother and grandfather were pretty close lipped about that.  However, once you learn what the author's grandparents endured in the war it is very clear why they parted and I was actually surprised that it was surprising.  They lived through the terrors of the holocaust, the fear and trauma of war and then the horrors her Grandfather had to endure while acting as an interpreter during the Nuremberg trials.   I occasionally had a small glimpse that there may have been some passion or love between them at one point; but I felt that they had simply ended up together because it was expected.

The larger part of the story was that of the author Miranda deciding to write a book, and what she did after receiving funding to write that book.  It is a wonderful story of traveling to France, buying the old house her Grandparents had owned and recreating a beautiful life there for herself, including meeting and falling in love with the man of her dreams.  

I think that there are two books here and if separated and expanded on both could be really amazing.
I did not dislike the book but it is more accurately a memoir about writing a story about writing a memoir.  

You can get a copy here, I would love to hear what you think!

*I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Freeing your Child from Anxiety, Revised and Updated Edition: Practical Strategies to Overcome Fears, Worries and Phobias and be Prepared for Life - - from Toddlers to Teens

Dr. Tamar Chansky, provided two very important things in this book that countless therapists and Doctors over the years have been unable to give me and my child.   The first is hope and the second and most important is a very clear and easy to understand guide on how to cope with, manage and possibly overcome anxiety.

The list of interventions we have tried with my child is VERY long, and nothing provided any sort of relief.  Because of this we were both pretty skeptical about the book but we were not even through the second chapter when I started to feel excited and hopeful and by chapter 4?  I was in tears.    As a mom, I want my child to feel comfortable exploring the world and his anxiety had not allowed for that and my pleas for someone to help him find a way to cope seemed to fall on many, many, well educated deaf ears.

My son and I have been working on the techniques in the book and the child who has been completely unable to keep it together in spaces that are too loud, too crowded, new or different recently sat through an entire Christmas play in a very crowded auditorium using what he has learned in this book, and he was completely ok!!  Simply amazing!!  

Not only do I HIGHLY recommend this book to every parent who has a child struggling with anxiety but I firmly believe that every teacher, pediatrician and mental health professional across the board that works with children should make it a point to read this book as soon as possible.

I received a free copy of the book from Blogging for books for my honest review, and for this particular opportunity I can not thank them enough!

If you love a child with anxiety, you can get a copy here, I would love to hear what you think!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Number of the Beast: Paladin Cycle, Book One

The foreword to this book warns the reader that this series extends the borders of multiple genres and that is certainly true.  

This story is one of unconditional love and the lengths that one will go to in order to protect and defend that love.  It is the story of a town, haunted by ghosts, real and imagined.  And it is the story of that town and the people in it being caught in the middle of a great cosmic battle that will potentially end the world as everyone knows it, leaving behind something far worse than anyone can imagine.

Unbeknownst to the residents of Buckeye, Texas the pond that lies in the middle of Sacred Oaks covers a cosmic portal to other worlds.   Also unbeknownst to them, the portal has recently served as the passageway for the Geminus Beast who has come as instructed by his mother Galmoria to find the “Beloved” and nothing will stop him in his quest.

Shane and Amy are building a good life together in Buckeye Texas. Shane works as a derrick hand in the oilfields and Amy is a waitress at the local diner and is helping raise Shane’s younger brother Scooter.  They are not perfect people and they have had their share of hard times. Amy spent several years in a psychiatric hospital and is very superstitious and even more so after a visit to a local fortune teller who not only refused to read for her during her last visit but also practically threw her out and told her to never come back.  Shane struggles with the guilt of a tragic accident and the responsibility of his brother when their father left and their mother became too unwell to care for him.  When Amy begins hearing a voice she is certain that she is once again losing her grip on reality, which unfortunately is not the case.  Reality is sadly going to be much scarier than anything she and everyone else could have ever imagined.

In the desert of New Mexico, a young man and his twin have been raised since infants in training for battle with the Beast.   It is their destiny to slay him together.  Or is it?

The author does a wonderful job pulling you into this mythical fantasy world and the descriptions of those worlds and the heinous beasts that inhabit them are so vivid you can clearly imagine them in your mind.    There are several sexually explicit scenes in the book that may be a little much for some readers, but nothing in my opinion that would make the book unreadable.

I am not typically a fan of this type of fantasy writing but after reading the first book of the series, I am very curious about what happens to the characters next.  Aside from that I am incredibly curious about a theme threaded throughout the story and I am definitely planning to read the remaining books so I can see if what I think is happening, really is.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys supernatural fantasy and those who enjoy a love story with something a little extra.

Want to check it out?  You can get it here.   I would love to hear what you think!   Happy reading!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Underground Girls of Kabul

In her book "The Underground Girls of Kabul" Jenny Nordberg was able, in a mere 311 pages to educate me, inspire me and force me to reflect on the big and the small things that I take for granted far too often as a woman living in the West. 

The iron fist of the Taliban no longer rules Afghanistan but many of the laws implemented during their rule regarding women are still followed.   For many women, leaving home  without their husband or a male relative is still forbidden and when they are able to go out they are required to wear a burka so that they remain unseen.   Marriages continue to be forced, rape victims are punished harshly for “adultery” and many of these victims are forced to marry their rapists to avoid prison time for their crimes.  Domestic violence is a common occurrence and is always the fault of the victim, honor killings are also common and females are still used by their fathers as a way to pay off debt.   Even in the more progressive regions women are subjected to domestic violence, and forced marriage and while they are able to drive and move about in the community they must be covered at all times to hid the shape of their bodies and must not behave in any way that might be seen as flirtatious toward men.  Women are seated in separate areas in restaurants, they celebrate weddings in separate rooms and while they are allowed to drive it is usually safer for them not to as many times angry men will attempt to run them off the road.    All girls, even those who are lucky enough to receive an education are raised with the main goal of marriage and motherhood and if they are lucky their husbands will be kind.  

It is in an Afghan woman’s best interest to follow the rules, be a good wife and bear sons for her husband.   Even in this day and age, it is still believed that the woman is responsible for the sex of her children both biologically and by choice.   A woman who does not produce sons is seen as defective and it brings great shame to the family and invokes the anger of her husband whose violence is more than justified in the eyes of family and community since a man with no sons is one of the most shameful things to be in a patriarchal country where the male lineage is of utmost importance.   

While in Afghanistan doing research for a television documentary she was working on regarding Afgan women, the author met to interview a woman who serves as an elected member of Parliament.  Azita is a married mother of 4 children, and because her father (who was once a University Professor in Kabul) understands the importance and power of an education Azita is well educated and fluent in several languages.  In 1992 her family was forced to moved from Kabul to their family village to escape the worst of the war.   The rules of the Taliban then imprisoned her and other women indoors, only able to be outdoors with a male family member as an escort, and only if wearing a heavy burqa.

In spite of her education, and her many talents she is a woman.  Merely a woman.   Her father gave her the gift of education, but followed that gift with a forced marriage to her uneducated cousin.    When women marry in Afghanistan they become the property of their husband and their husbands family and she was no different.  She went from an elite family and a comfortable home to the role of the second wife in hut in a remote village.  The very same education that had opened her mind caused her to question situations occurring in the  home and earned her the physical abuse of both her husband and her mother in law. 

 Her father insists that his decision was made for her safety during civil war as being an unmarried women was a great danger.  He also acknowledges that her marriage was a means to solidify the reputation of the family and the feelings and desires of individual family members are not important at all in the larger picture.  The most important thing is the family as a whole and while he imagines a day could come in the very distant future where individuals can strive for their own personal happiness now is not that day.     His honest feeling is that while yes, her marriage was forced and yes, her husband is uneducated  he did what was best for the family and Azita should be grateful that her husband allows her to work as she has more freedom than many women in Afghanistan.   He admits he is aware of the abuse his daughter has suffered and will likely continue to suffer but justifies this as a societal norm, he is not happy that it happens to his daughter but feels it should be understood that it happens to so many women in Afghanistan including those in better positions in society than Azita.    It is simply the way it is and it is not possible to change society. 

It was during the author’s initial meeting with Azita in the home she shares with her husband and children, that the author learned the family’s youngest child, a 6-year-old rambunctious boy named Mehran is in fact, a daughter.   

This revelation opened the door to many other questions and then to a very common yet very well hidden practice.  Many families have daughters that they present as sons and not only is it relatively common, it has been happening for many generations.    When asked about this phenomenon, government officials, members of the United Nations and experts from other organizations who are all very concerned about the plight of women in Afghanistan declared it was unheard of and likely a rare incident.   All the experts agreed that if such a thing actually did happen it would be well known and since segregation of the sexes in Afghanistan is so strictly followed that the very idea of this is odd but also this practice would be incredibly unsafe for the girl and family in question.  Often, even experts have much to learn.

The practice of dressing girls as boys in Afghanistan is not new, in fact it has occurred for so long and is so common that there is a term for these girls,  bacha posh  “dressed as a boy.”

Many families do this because they believe that there is magic in it, an unwanted girl baby dressed and passed off as a boy is a sign to God that the family greatly desires a boy and it is believed that by doing this, future children will be sons.  It also serves to provide a sense of honor for families who have been shamed by only having daughters, for these families, it is a matter of protecting their reputation and maintaining their standing in the community and for families without naturally born sons, these girls provide much needed labor .

These girls are not only dressed as boys, but they are treated as such.  They are not made to do female chores in the home and they are able to leave the house freely and act as escorts for their mothers and sisters.  While their sisters and neighboring girls watch from the windows, the bacha posh run, ride bikes, climb trees and play happily enjoying the small freedoms of childhood taken for granted elsewhere in the world.

When these girls reach puberty and are of age to be married they are “switched back” into girls and are expected to marry, bear children and move on as though the days of freedom they had been allowed to experience never happened.

As is to be expected, the consequences and ramifications of this practice are many.  There are some girls who refuse to go quietly in the darkness of womanhood as expected and they are often dragged kicking and screaming there while others go along quietly and meet the same fate.  There are of course rare instances of these women being married to men who are better educated and more open minded than most who understand the difficulties their wives face and do the best they can to help them along but even those men understand the fundamental role of the woman is to care for the family and to produce sons.

I am haunted by the stories of these girls and women in the book. I have told so many people about the book and that has led to some deep and reflective conversations about this practice, the role of women in the world and how far we have still to go.  It is unacceptable that we live in a world where women need to be disguised as men to be allowed to feel the sun on their face.  

I not only highly recommend this book, I really do think it should be required reading.  You can get your copy here.  I am really interested to hear what you think!

I received a free copy of the book from Blogging for Books for my honest review.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Mother, Mother - Koren Zalickas

Wow!  This was a great read and Koren Zalickas does a wonderful job weaving the story together and pulling you in.

The Hurst family appears to have it all together, mom Josephine is a former educator who is now devoting herself to home schooling her youngest child Will who suffers from seizures and has recently been diagnosed with Asperger’s.    Her oldest daughter Rose ran away from home with a boyfriend that she did not approve of so from the outside looking in, it appears that her attempts to control Will and his sister Violet are possibly done out of fear of losing them.   Their father Douglas is a wiz at work but more or less non-responsive and checked out at home and is possibly having an affair.

Since he is home schooled, Will spends his days and his nights with his mother and it almost seems as his role in the family is that of stand in husband for the absent Douglas.   Will overhears his father whispering on the phone one night, confides to his mother that he fears his father is having an affair and then sets out to find out if this is true and if so, who the person is.

Violet hangs out with some of her friends one afternoon and tries some hallucinogenic seeds and has a bad reaction, that evening she is admitted to the psychiatric ward after allegedly attempting to stab her younger brother.     While in the hospital she receives a letter from her sister Rose who has run away from home and they begin a cautious rebuilding of their relationship and Rose offers Violet a safe place away from their abusive mother.

While Violet is in the hospital, Josephine is visited by two Children’s service workers, one of whom is clearly more passionate about his job and is able to see through the elaborate display of smoke and mirrors Josephine has used to control not only her family for so many years, but also to control others outside the family to make decisions that will have long term, serious consequences.   Really can’t say too much here without giving everything away!!

As the finely crafted web Josephine has skillfully put together begins to unravel you get a much clearer picture of what is actually happening in the Hurst family, and it is crazier and scarier than you imagined.

Koren Zalickas is a wonderfully creative writer with fantastic insight.    This book was certainly dark and disturbing but it was also wonderfully written and poignant.  She does a great job building her characters and you fully understand why they do what they do.  It also gives you pause, how many families deal with these sorts of issues and we have no idea because they all wear their masks firmly in place so the rest of world only sees what they want them too.   Really fascinating.

I highly recommend this book, you can get it here, happy reading!

I received a free copy of Mother, Mother from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Humanity of Justice

This is a wonderful and informative look into the justice system from the inside. Mr. Strunksy is a senior deputy district attorney who specializes in homicide cases and crimes against children, some of which have been featured on national television. Mr. Strunksy expertly weaves some of the cases he has prosecuted throughout the book as real world examples of how the justice system is set up to work and why and how that looks and plays out in real life.

I really enjoy crime shows on TV, like CSI, Law and Order etc and one of my guilty pleasures is the show Snapped.  I, like most people are very curious about why people do the terrible things they do.

Real life is often incredibly painful and traumatic and a real crime is not always wrapped up as neatly as one on TV. Some of the stories of cases in the book are very difficult to read. I had to pause multiple times while reading about a few cases because it was just too hard to continue and almost too hard to wrap my head around the heinous things human beings are capable of doing. The stories in the book however unsettling are important for their role in demonstrating the various aspects of the legal system. The stories also serve another, more critical purpose. They remind of most certainly of the evils in the world but they also remind us of the victims. The stories give the victims a name and a face, they introduce us to the human beings whose lives are forever altered and sometimes ended, far too often by the hands of those they trust to protect them. These stories also demonstrate the passion, compassion and tireless effort those who prosecute put in to ensure the offender is held accountable and to provide a sense of closure and justice for the family and loved ones of the victims.

The book did a wonderful job explaining concepts that I thought I knew and understood and made them much clearer, specifically how the legal system was formed and why, the reasoning for and importance of trials by jury and the critical role they play in the process. The power of words, their use, voice modulation and body language is also discussed and the power they wield is a very important point.

The thing that stood out to me most was the discussion on revenge and the desire for justice. Neuroscientists have discovered the desire for revenge is actually hard wired into our brains and interestingly is located in the same region that controls our appetite, and when we imagine enacting revenge on someone who has done us wrong our brain waves fire in the exact way that they do when we are craving our favorite foods! There is a quote that states “ A cry for Justice is always a cry for Revenge” and when one stops to ponder that statement? It is absolutely true.

I very much enjoyed the book and think that those interested in the workings of the criminal justice system would also enjoy this book. It is clear that Mr. Strunsky has many years of experience but more importantly he is able to explain the system in a way that makes it easy to understand and relate to. Very early into the book you feel the passion that he has for his job and his commitment to the victims that he works with, the fact that 100% of the proceeds of the book will be donated to The Humanity of Justice Foundation (a nonprofit organization that works to prevent child abuse and neglect) speaks volumes. I am left feeling better educated, a bit sad but incredibly thankful for the men and women who dedicate their lives shining their light into some very dark places.

Interested?  Check it out here and happy reading!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Girl in the Road

I am very often disappointed after reading glowing reviews of a book as they often seem to be written about another book entirely or the review is based solely on a particularly well written paragraph or chapter of the book.

The reviews for The Girl in the Road were fantastic and I was thrilled to discover that they were also accurate!

There seem to be so few people anymore who have the ability to create something new and fresh but Monica Byrne is obviously one of those people and I certainly hope her writing career will evidence that.

The book tells the story of two girls, Meena and Mariama.   Both girls are on the run from tragic events and are seeking safety they are convinced they will find in Ethiopia.   Their journeys happen years apart but are woven together side by side in the book beautifully.

Meena's story takes place in a futuristic time and the majority of her journey occurs on a "bridge" that spans the ocean between India and Africa.   I am not typically a fan of sci-fi type books but I was so drawn in by the story and the creativity and was fascinated by the tools she used on her travels and could clearly imagine them in my mind.

When I read the front cover of the book I was hopeful but honestly doubtful that it would fulfill the promise of being "mysterious and shocking to the core."

It was!

I highly recommend this book and wish I could say even more about it but I fear I would give too much away!

Take a look here, and happy reading!

***I received a free copy of The Girl in the Road from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.