Friday, November 17, 2017

Review: The Confusion of Languages

The Confusion of Languages
Siobhan Fallon
Published June 27, 2017
A searing debut novel from the award-winning author of You Know When the Men are Gone, about jealousy, the unpredictable path of friendship, and the secrets kept in marriage, all set within the U.S. expat community of the Middle East during the rise of the Arab Spring.

Both Cassie Hugo and Margaret Brickshaw dutifully followed their soldier husbands to the U.S. embassy in Jordan, but that's about all the women have in common. After two years, Cassie's become an expert on the rules, but newly arrived Margaret sees only her chance to explore. So when a fender-bender sends Margaret to the local police station, Cassie reluctantly agrees to watch Margaret's toddler son. But as the hours pass, Cassie's boredom and frustration turn to fear: Why isn't Margaret answering her phone, and why is it taking so long to sort out a routine accident? Snooping around Margaret's apartment, Cassie begins to question not only her friend's whereabouts but also her own role in Margaret's disappearance.- from Goodreads
Cassie and Margaret are military wives living in Jordan in 2011.  After getting into a minor car accident, Margaret goes to the police station, leaving her son Mather with Cassie.  After several hours, she still hasn't returned, leaving Cassie to wonder where she is and what has happened to her.  When Cassie finds Margaret's diary, she realizes Margaret has been keeping many secrets from her.

Most of the story takes place over the course of one night, after Margaret has gone to the police station.  Excerpts from Margaret's diary fill in many blanks for both the reader and Cassie, as we learn more about Margaret's short time in Jordan and Cassie finds out what Margaret really thinks of her. 

The friendship between Margaret and Cassie is at the center of the story.  While the two women have some things in common (both are having issues in their marriages), they are very different from one another.  Cassie, having lived in Jordan for two years, feels she knows the area and culture well; she is very much a rule follower and takes seriously the parameters set up by the embassy.  At times, though, she seems overly suspicious of people around her.  She is controlling and prickly and comes across as almost desperate for a friendship with Margaret, or anyone really.

Margaret, however, is more of a free spirit.  She is very open with new people and wants to fully experience life in Jordan.  At times I couldn't tell if she was willfully ignorant or just na├»ve - no matter how times Cassie warned her about her behavior or clothing choices, especially around men, Margaret didn't seem to get it.  She didn't seem to understand the ramifications her actions could have, or maybe she didn't really believe anything bad would happen, that Cassie was just being overly cautious.  I wasn't necessarily surprised by what happens to Margaret at the end of the book, but the route it took to get there and what was revealed did surprise me. 

The setting of Jordan was a unique one for me; I don't read too many stories set in the Middle East.  Fallon did a great job in educating the reader on the nuances of the culture and people of Jordan, most likely inspired by her own experience living there as a military wife.

4 stars

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Prince in Disguise

Can't-Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings and helps us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

Stephanie Kate Strohm
Expected publication date: December 19, 2017
Someday I want to live in a place where I never hear “You’re Dusty’s sister?” ever again.

Life is real enough for Dylan—especially as the ordinary younger sister of Dusty, former Miss Mississippi and the most perfect, popular girl in Tupelo. But when Dusty wins the hand of the handsome Scottish laird-to-be Ronan on the TRC television network’s crown jewel, Prince in Disguise, Dylan has to face a different kind of reality: reality TV.

As the camera crew whisks them off to Scotland to film the lead-up to the wedding, camera-shy Dylan is front and center as Dusty’s maid of honor. The producers are full of surprises—including old family secrets, long-lost relatives, and a hostile future mother-in-law who thinks Dusty and Dylan’s family isn’t good enough for her only son. At least there’s Jamie, an adorably bookish groomsman who might just be the perfect antidote to all Dylan’s stress . . . if she just can keep TRC from turning her into the next reality show sensation.
- from Goodreads

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Nonfiction November 2017: Seeking Stories of Female Heroes

This week's Nonfiction November prompt is "be the expert/ask the expert/become the expert," hosted by Sophisticated Dorkiness.  Since I am a self-admitted expert of nothing, today I'm seeking out your recommendations!  History books are filled with stories of men doing heroic and important things, but it's only been in recent years that there has been a push towards the female contribution.  I want to read the previously untold stories of women who have done amazing things, who have made great contributions without recognition, who worked behind-the-scenes or performed tasks you wouldn't normally have thought women would do.

I have three books currently on my TBR to help me with my quest:
So now I throw it to you, fellow readers - what are some of your favorite nonfiction reads about unsung female heroes?  What women do I need to know about?

Monday, November 13, 2017

#sorrynotsorry: I Read The Last Page First

We're all friends here, right?  So I can confess to what some might consider to be a reading sin without being judged too much, right??  Here goes...

I read the last page of the book first.  #sorrynotsorry

I first made this confession when I did The Blog Squad Tag awhile back, and I got a bit of a mixed reaction, so I thought it would be a great discussion post to talk about WHY I spoil books for myself!

First, I should start by saying that this desire to know the ending first doesn't just apply to books, it spills over into other areas of my life.  If we're streaming a movie on Netflix, five minutes in I'm on Wikipedia reading the entire plot synopsis.  *Spoiler alerts* mean nothing to me; it will almost never deter me from reading an article, review, or blog post about a tv show, movie, book, anything really.

So why do I read the last page first?  I think it started out innocently enough.  I always check the number of pages a chapter is before I start reading it, because I hate stopping in the middle.  I think this naturally progressed to checking how long the entire book was and, well, sneak peeks happen.  I'm also the type of reader who enjoys reading the acknowledgments, which often happen to fall at the back of the book, and for some reason I typically read them first - so I may or may not come across the last page of the book while searching for them! 

Now, part of the reason I read the last page first is that I have no willpower.  If I come across the last page, sometimes I can't stop myself from reading it.  I'm also really impatient, and I just want to know how the book ends NOW.  I don't like surprises - for instance, if the book features a love triangle, I want to know ahead of time who the main character is going to pick.  Or if something sad is coming up, I want to be prepared.  I like being "in the know" - if for some reason I DNF the book, I still want to know how it ends.

So, I'm sure there is someone out there who will say, "What good is knowing the ending if it won't make sense without the context of the rest of the book?"  I say it's fine, because I can read the book knowing what the end goal is, what the author is working towards in the story, and I still get to experience the journey.

Be honest - who else reads the last page first?  Why do you spoil books for yourself?  What are some of your bookish confessions?

Friday, November 10, 2017

Review: When The English Fall

When the English Fall
David Williams
Published July 11, 2017
When a catastrophic solar storm brings about the collapse of modern civilization, an Amish community in Pennsylvania is caught up in the devastating aftermath. Once-bright skies are now dark. Planes have plummeted to the ground. The systems of modern life have crumbled. With their stocked larders and stores of supplies, the Amish are unaffected at first. But as the English (the Amish name for all non-Amish people) become more and more desperate, they begin to invade Amish farms, taking whatever they want and unleashing unthinkable violence on the peaceable community.

Seen through the diary of an Amish farmer named Jacob as he tries to protect his family and his way of life, When the English Fall examines the idea of peace in the face of deadly chaos: Should members of a nonviolent society defy their beliefs and take up arms to defend themselves? And if they don’t, can they survive? - from Goodreads
When the English Fall is not your typical disaster story.  Told from the point of view of an Amish farmer, this short, quiet story really took me by surprise.

Jacob and his family are part of an Amish community in Pennsylvania.  Jacob is a farmer, but he also makes custom wood furniture, so he occasionally has contact with English (non-Amish) people.  When a solar flare knocks out all electronics, the Amish community is threatened by outsiders.

The point of view of this story is so unique - normally when I read disaster stories, they are about regular people like me trying to come to grips with a "new normal."  But other than a community refrigerator and a washing machine, the Amish in this story rely very little on electronic devices and are a self-sufficient, somewhat isolated community.  The loss of power and dwindling food supplies outside their borders initially have little effect on them.

Instead of getting a first-hand account of how the aftermath of the solar flare is affecting the population, we get rumors and sparse information as Jacob does, from an Amish community member who traverses the area on horseback.  As the book goes on, the stories get more desperate and even dangerous.  The Amish are approached by the military to donate food, but as society breaks down, the community is attacked by outsiders.

The faith-based POV was another intriguing aspect to the story.  The Amish community wonders how much they should be helping the English, if they have a duty to help society as a whole or even those individuals who come to them seeking help.  There's also the issue of defending themselves when they are normally opposed to violence.  It must have been a struggle for Jacob and the others to hear the sounds of gunfire near their farms but not want to pick up their own guns.

The story is in diary form and has a very simple writing style, which at times made the story all the more powerful.  For example, Jacob describes watching the beauty of the solar flare across the sky, but then he sees planes falling out of the air - it gave me chills. Told over the course of just a couple months, the story had an open ending that made me think about the fates of Jacob and his family long after I finished reading.

The only quibbles I had with the book were that, at fewer than 250 pages, it was quite short and could have been expanded upon in certain areas, and there was a bit of a sci-fi feeling with premonitions coming from Jacob's daughter, Sadie.  For me, they just didn't really fit with the rest of the story.

4 stars

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Can't-Wait Wednesday: Foolish Hearts

Can't-Wait Wednesday is hosted by Wishful Endings and helps us spotlight upcoming releases we're eagerly anticipating!

Emma Mills
Expected publication date: December 5, 2017
A contemporary novel about a girl whose high school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream leads her to new friends—and maybe even new love.

The day of the last party of the summer, Claudia overhears a conversation she wasn't supposed to. Now on the wrong side of one of the meanest girls in school, Claudia doesn't know what to expect when the two are paired up to write a paper—let alone when they're both forced to try out for the school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

But mandatory participation has its upsides—namely, an unexpected friendship, a boy band obsession, and a guy with the best dimpled smile Claudia's ever seen. As Claudia's world starts to expand, she finds that maybe there are some things worth sticking her neck out for. - from Goodreads

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Nonfiction November 2017: Fiction/Nonfiction Book Pairings

This week's Nonfiction November topic is fiction/nonfiction book pairings, hosted by Sarah's Book Shelves!  I came up with three pairings to share with you all!

It's no secret around here that I'm a huge Tudor fan, and Anne Boleyn is my favorite of Henry's many wives - but what about her sister, Mary?  Although not an actual Tudor herself, I still find her to be a fascinating historical figure, and I thought it would be fun to pair a biography of Mary Boleyn with a fictionalized account of her life.
My love for royal families continues to the modern British throne.  I remember exactly where I was when I heard Princess Diana had died, and I was very deeply affected by it.  I haven't read this biography yet, but it's on my TBR.  I paired it with The Royal We, a fictionalized version of the love story between Prince William and Kate Middleton.
For my last pairing, I matched up Isaac's Storm, a chronicle of the disastrous and deadly hurricane in Galveston, Texas, in 1900 with The Uncertain Season, which takes place in Galveston after the hurricane.
Have you read any of these?