Thursday, September 21, 2017

Noor's Story: My Life in District Six by Noor Ebrahim


Noor's Story: My Life in District Six by Noor Ebrahim is a book I bought in Cape Town, South Africa when we went on a tour of District Six, Langa township, and Robben Island (the island on which Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years). The District Six Museum is pretty much all that's left of the once-thriving community in which Ebrahim once lived.

The name "District Six" has to do with the fact that Cape Town was once subdivided into districts and it just happened to be the sixth district. There's nothing particularly special about the name. But, the district was unique in that it was a melting pot, its residents diverse but living vibrant lives in harmony. In the 1960s, the residents of District Six were informed that their district had been designated an area for whites only and that they'd have to move. However, nothing happened for nearly a decade. Life went on as usual until the government finally got around to forcing people out in the 1970s. And, then they literally bulldozed almost every building.

In Noor's Story, the author talks about his childhood and young adulthood in District Six. Although his family was impoverished, they lived a happy life and always knew that if they were short on money, they could ask the neighbors for a little help and count on them to provide a little bit of bread or vegetables. They would never starve. The district was self-reliant, so while some of the residents commuted to other parts of Cape Town to work, they had everything they needed in District Six - food, schools, churches and mosques, a theater, etc. Noor had a variety of interests including athletics and choir. He talks about various holidays, religious and otherwise, and the parades that everyone looked forward to. And, he tells about how and why he gave up his schooling and sought employment to help finance his siblings' education.

The sad part, of course, is the destruction of the district and the way the community was divided as everyone was forced to move. For some, life was never even remotely the same. Once that community was gone, many of its traditions and connections disappeared, as well. Those who lived in District Six will tell you they believe the district was destroyed because it served the government's purpose to have people of varying backgrounds divided. Apartheid still existed and whites could only stay in power if they encouraged division. Trevor Noah made similar comments about the way blacks were divided into differing factions during Apartheid. It's fascinating and definitely a lesson worth studying.

Highly recommended - If you're interested in what life was like in this unique community, I definitely recommend it. I found myself looking up a lot of words that were unfamiliar (or looking them up again if I'd read them, before - "koeksisters", for example, are a confectionary that looks much like our donuts and I read about them in another book but promptly forgot the word). While sometimes I couldn't find a definition, I found reading about the community so enjoyable that I just shrugged it off and continued when that happened. No biggie. The bottom line was that District Six was a place where people of different colors, religions, and backgrounds lived in joyful harmony. I loved immersing myself in Noor's world.

©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis


Cassandra Harwood lives in 19th-century Angland, where men work as magicians and women are in charge of politics. But, Cassandra has never fit into any mold.

4 months after Cassandra tragically lost her ability to cast spells, she has accompanied her brother and sister-in-law to a gathering in the elven dales. But, even as they were traveling, they knew something was wrong. The unseasonably harsh snowfall has continued, leaving them snowbound. Not all of the guests will be able to arrive. And, Cassandra is in deep trouble. During the search for missing members of the party, she uttered a few words overheard by a manipulative elf lord, words that committed her to a task. Obligated to find out who caused the strange change of weather, Cassandra will suffer a horrible fate if she fails.

While Cassandra searches for answers she must also deal with the presence of her former fiancé, who still does not understand that she left him for his own good. Will Cassandra discover the answer in time to save herself from the wily elf lord? What will happen between Cassandra and Wrexham, the man she still loves but desires to protect?

It took me a couple chapters to figure out exactly what was going on in Snowspelled and really get into the book. And, then I was unsure who the audience was meant to be, since Stephanie Burgis writes across age ranges and the book is quite short at a mere 153 pages. After I arrived at a scene that was very adult, I decided I'd better ask. The author confirmed to me that Snowspelled is an adult fantasy novel, hence the recommendation for a specific crowd in my labels. There are no particularly graphic scenes so I wouldn't worry if a child walks off with your copy, though. The "adult" bits are  limited to a bit of innuendo.

At any rate, once I got into the storyline, I really enjoyed it. There's a great cast in Snowspelled but even though Cassandra (called "Harwood" by her former fiancé) is staying at a large estate with a sizeable cast of characters, you only get to know those who are entirely necessary to the plot; the author doesn't overwhelm you with characters (much appreciated). And, I particularly loved the characters who were closest to the heroine. Brother Jonathan is a bit of a rebel, himself, and sister-in-law Amy is quite simply delightful. Ex-fiancé Wrexham is the kind of man you really want your heroine to fall in love with. And, the ending scene is both clever and satisfying. The story is fully wrapped up, no cliffhanger ending.

Highly recommended - A quick, delightful read, first in a series, that is both romantic and adventurous. Read it for a change of pace, a touch of magic, a taste of romance, especially if you're looking for a light, charming read to break a dark mood or a slump. I found myself smiling a lot and I was definitely in the mood for something light since I've been a bit slumpy, post-vacation.


©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Way to London: A Novel of WWII by Alix Rickloff


Lucy Stanhope is a wicked young lady with icy manners and The Way to London is a romantic quest. Lucy is a wounded soul because her mother never paid attention to her and flitted from one romance and marriage to another. The story opens in Singapore, where Lucy's scandalous affair with an exotic man has come to light. She's pressured to return to England by her mother and stepfather, who are concerned that her affair will damage her stepfather's business.

But, Lucy is unhappy in her aunt's huge estate in Cornwall, where soldiers are billeted and Aunt Cynthia expects Lucy to abide by strict rules and standards, yet is also too busy to spend any time with her.

Then, Lucy meets a 12-year-old boy named Bill who has been evacuated from London. Bill is frustrated with the family who took him in and wants to return home to London's East End. Lucy has heard there's a Hollywood filmmaker in London, a man she met in Singapore, and she wants to see if she can become his next starlet and escape England and the war. So, Lucy and Bill decide to travel to London together. The war interferes with their travels and they meet a number of challenges.

Along the way, they meet up with another acquaintance of Lucy's, a former soldier she met in Singapore who was released for medical reasons. He sees through Lucy's caustic personality - even thinks she's kind of funny. Can Lucy accept the fact that she may be falling for a man who is neither wealthy nor exotic? Or, will she stick to her escapist plan and attempt to become a starlet?

Highly recommended, particularly to lovers of romantic adventure - The Way to London is very plot-driven, which I love, but I think what I liked about the book most is the way Bill softens Lucy. The relationship between the two is a little odd and a lot heartwarming. There are other people who add to the sweetness of the story as they help Lucy and Bill through challenges, as well, giving the book that sort of "hodge-podge family" feature that I adore. Because Lucy's wounded soul is reflected by her rebellion and biting personality, she requires a good bit of patience. But, eventually, she does redeem herself, the story is worth sticking out, and I closed it with a warm, fuzzy feeling. I really loved this story.


©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Monday Malarkey

This was not a big week for reading or arrivals, even though I enjoyed the reading that I managed.



Recent arrivals:


  • Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis and 
  • What Happened by Hillary Rodham Cinton (both purchased)


Books finished since Tuesday Twaddle:


  • The Way to London by Alix Rickloff
  • Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis

I enjoyed both of these books. My review of The Way to London has been pre-scheduled to publish tomorrow. Since I'm so far behind on reviews, I figured I'd better write about it while it was still fresh in my mind. I hope to do that for Snowspelled, as well. It's going to take me a while to catch up on the backlog of reviews but I'm not worried. If I have to, I'll do a few catch-up mini review posts and I'm planning to do a children's book review week, soon, as well. 



Posts since Tuesday Twaddle:




Currently reading:


  • An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice by Khizr Khan
  • The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
  • The Goddess of Mtwara and Other Stories


OK, this is misleading. I'm really only reading An American Family - and definitely enjoying it. I meant to use the hashtag #ConstitutionDay to mention how much I enjoyed reading about how Khizr Khan discovered the American Constitution and his appreciation of it, yesterday, but I blew it. It's a good story, though.

I haven't touched The Goddess of Mtwara since I got home from vacation, although I love the variety of stories in this book of African prizewinners and haven't given up on it, by any means. And, I got 50 pages into The Invention of Wings but then didn't open it back up after the first night's reading. I was enjoying it but I'm not going to make it to my F2F discussion so I just haven't felt compelled to pick it back up. I think, instead, I'll read it another time and start one of my ARCs, since I have a substantial pile of them to tackle and I keep looking at those ARC piles longingly.


In other news:

Huh, can't think of any other news. We had some fall weather (really, closer to winter weather with a high in the mid-50s) just after we returned from vacation but we're back to normal, now (upper 80s, low 90s, heavy humidity) and I am definitely missing that cool weather. It was fun while it lasted. The news fades quickly but you never forget living through a devastating hurricane, so I've been thinking a lot about those who are recovering from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and hoping that the punishing experience of living without power in the Southern heat has ended for most. I'll be keeping the hurricane survivors in my thoughts for a long time.


©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Fiona Friday - Spot the cat

This was adorable. Fi was rubbing against the wooden carvings we brought back from S. Africa. Thank goodness she did something cute. It's the first time I've managed to take a cat picture since we got back from vacation. I was starting to worry that I wouldn't find a decent photo for Fiona Friday.


©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones


The Salt Line begins with a group of people who are preparing to go on an expedtion. The world is dystopian, a near-future world in which a deadly tick has caused the United States to be subdivided into zones. The characters we're following are mostly wealthy people from the Atlantic Zone who are going to an Outer Zone in the region that used to be known as the Smoky Mountains. In this future world, people are presumably crammed into cities in the regions that are safe from tick infestations and have little to no exposure to nature. Some zones only experience periodic outbreaks but that's enough to make their inhabitants poorer, their zone less desirable and populous.

We get to know the characters while they're doing their training. Edie is a former bartender who is partnered with the man she's been dating, an online pop star named Jesse. Wes is a fabulously wealthy tech start-up genius who came up with what I presume is a banking system and his partner (on the expedition, each has to have a partner to "stamp" them in the event of a tick bite) Marta is the wife of a mob boss with political aspirations. There's a brother and sister, a married couple who are both lawyers, and some others who have lesser roles. Tia and Andy are their guides.

After the training, the participants don suits that are designed to protect them from ticks and hike to their first campsite. At this point, I was still convinced I was reading a survival story. But, not long after, there's a surprising plot twist that changes the entire character of the novel and the question is no longer, "Will they survive the dangerous Outer Zone or will some die of Shreve's, the deadly illness carried by the ticks?" but "Will anyone survive?" There is some violence and plenty of deaths but fortunately The Salt Line is not too gory, although there is at least one totally gross infestation in which the ticks reproduce and then explode out of one of the adventureres' skin. Ewww.

I found The Salt Line riveting most of the time, but there were moments of exposition that I found tiresome. I'm not sure I always needed that extra bit of character development that came via flashbacks and storytelling by characters. But, that was one of only two complaints I had. The other was the fact that I did have a little difficulty buying into a world in which an entire country had been subdivided on the basis of the presence of a disease-brearing tick. Granted, the author did explain that there was no foolproof defense - no preventive cream or suit had a 100% success rate and the ticks burrowed so quickly that even using the so-called stamp that pulled them out and burned the eggs was no good if you didn't act fast. Would that be enough to drive people into the most crowded regions to survive? I don't know. It felt like there needed to be some other driving factor to explain the mass migration.

Regardless, I enjoyed the reading, the uniqueness of the world building and storyline, the character development (bearing in mind that there were a lot of characters and not all were in need of the same depth of treatment), and the surprising plot twists. There were a couple major plot points that I anticipated but I didn't find the book generally predictable so they were not bothersome. I did sense the author's presence in the "Who will live and who will die?" aspect. But, she did a good job of developing characters with flaws, some more likable than others, and I liked where she took the characters who were the kindest.

Recommended - Surprising in many ways, The Salt Line is a very good read with well-developed characters, unique world-building, and an unusual storyline that shifts dramatically, partway in. I will be looking for more by this author.


©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi


I purchased Woman at Point Zero to read as part of my personal Feminist Reading Challenge after reading an award-winning author's description of it as one of her all-time favorite books. A book described as "fictionalized nonfiction", it tells the story of a woman who grew up in Egypt and was calmly awaiting her death when the author met her. It's a rough read and hard to even think about, but when I wrote about it at Goodreads, I felt like I needed to spill. What happened to the subject of this book, Firdaus, happened because of the culture in which she lived. And, she was tough but it was a horrible life.

My review may contain spoilers. Please don't read it if you're concerned about spoilers. 

Firdaus grew up poor, with a father who insisted on being fed every night, even if that meant the rest of the family starved, and an uncle who would stick his hand up her skirt while he sat beside her, reading. After her parents died, Firdaus moved in with her abusive uncle and eventually was sent away to boarding school, where she proudly received her secondary school certificate (the equivalent of a high school diploma). When she returned to her uncle's home, she overheard him saying he didn't want to spend the money it would cost to send her to university.

Without a university education and with nobody to recommend her, Firdaus had few options. She tried to make it on her own and was repeatedly raped and abused. She learned to dissociate when she was forced into prostitution. She tried working a regular job and found herself constantly sexually harassed and even poorer than she had been as a prostitute. Eventually, she killed in self-defense. By that time, she was well aware that the odds were stacked against her and always would be. She was ready to die and rejected offers to help her escape the death penalty.

I found Firdaus's story shocking and powerful. Have things changed in Egypt since the book was published in 1976? Are women still routinely abused and held back? I don't know. It was not that long ago that American reporter Lara Logan was shoved to the ground and sexually assaulted in Egypt, so I'm guessing the answer is no. Woman at Point Zero is a stunning story of how a lack of education and resources combined with dangerous misogyny can create a society that perpetuates its own horrors. A stirring reminder of why women in the Western world must keep fighting to maintain and expand our rights to equality and the ability to choose what happens to our bodies.

Highly recommended - I gave Woman at Point Zero 5 stars but on reflection I think I'd lower it to 4 stars, if only because I recall the dreamlike quality of the writing; it's beautiful but the story is brutal. That is a style issue, though, and I liked it as I was reading it. The subject matter is powerful as it shows just how dangerous it is to let men dictate how women are treated. When women don't have a say, they're less likely to be educated, more likely to be abused, less likely to be able to find a way to support themselves and live independent lives. Firdaus was simply doomed to a horrible life, no matter what she did to try to improve it. Difficult as Woman at Point Zero is to read, it's a thought-provoking book that gives insight into what a male-dominated society in which abuse of women is commonplace looks like. If you've experienced sexual assault and are easily triggered, I recommend avoiding Woman at Point Zero. I have a feeling it could send even the hardiest survivor into a depressive tailspin.


©2017 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email bookfoolery@gmail.com for written permission to reproduce text or photos.