A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza is a lovely story about an Indian Muslim family living in America and the battles that they face. The author will dazzle you with her poetic writing and break your heart with this moving story. I did not want it to end!
The book begins as the family gathers for the wedding of their oldest daughter, Hadia. Hadia’s brother, Amar ran away and abandoned the family years ago, but he returns for this special occasion and we begin to learn about the family’s past.
Hadia’s whole life she has worked hard for her father’s approval. She resented the fact that, “Everyone important was a boy. It was the son they cherished, the son their pride depended on, the son who would carry their name into the next generation.” In the end she blames herself for Amar’s isolation from the family. Hadia: “She had taken from him what, in another life, would have belonged to him by birth. She had worked hard to be as valuable as any son. Hadia’s belonging was proof of her brother’s alienation.”
Amar was always a disturbing and reckless force. He constantly tested the limits of his father to see what he could get away with and he deserted his Muslim religion. He never felt at home and never felt his father’s love and approval.
Hadia and Huda were their father’s daughters. It was their father they tried to impress, his approval they sought. Amar had always been a mamma’s boy. His mother, Layla, says of her son: “He is persistent and demanding, he knows what he wants and is devastated if he does not attain it. It alarms her: how little it takes to darken his mood.” As Amar grows older and distant, Layla wonders, “What she could ever hope to know of him was just a glimpse-like the beam of a lighthouse skipping out, only one stretch of waves visible at a time, the rest left in the unknowable dark.”
Amar ran away after a bad fight with his father and never returned. They always had a tremulous relationship. Later in life, they both seem to regret the way they have hurt and treated one another. Amar, “wondered if he had turned his back on something far more meaningful than he realized the night he packed his bags in a hurry, thinking only of how angry he was, how harsh and unloving his father was about what Amar had no control over: who he was.” “He had been cheated out of knowing the best of his father; his father had reserved his kindness for others.”
The last section of the book is told from Baba’s (the father) point of view and I think it was the most poignant part of the book. Baba, says of Amar: “I felt like I did not know how to interact with you. I wonder now what we could have been had had the courage to lift you into my arms. And say, “I am here for you and you will never lose me.”
Everyone feels guilt and regret and wonders what they could have done differently to keep Amar at home with them. His mother, Layla also wonders, “Just how the limits to her belief in her son had so dangerously destroyed his possibilities.”
Amidst the family drama, they all have to deal with the hate and prejudice they endure from being a Muslim in America. Baba: “That was my fight: to continue to do little things for people around me, so no one would find fault in my demeanor and misattribute it to my religion.”
“How unlucky that one person has the power to determine the shape of another’s life.”
“There was nothing the human heart could not grow to endure, that the miracle of the human heart is that it expands its capacity to love, to accept.”
Please read it. It’s beautiful. LOVE< LOVE< LOVE!!
The Love Season by Elin Hilderbrand. Marguerite Beale receives a phone call from her goddaughter, Renata Knox that she is on Nantucket and coming to visit. Renata has been forbidden to see Marguerite by her father for her whole life. Renata’s father has always loved her too much and felt too responsible for her and Renata feels he is weighing her down. Renata’s mother, Candace died when she was only three years old. Marguerite was Candace’s best friend. Renata, recently engaged is on the island to visit her fiancé’s parents. She has overlooked the obvious objections that it was too soon and she was too young to get married, but can she continue to overlook these things?
Marguerite has pretty much been the island recluse for the last fourteen years. She used to be a famous chef and have a very popular restaurant, but after Candace’s death, Marguerite punished herself by becoming a hermit.
When Renata calls, old feelings rise to the surface for Marguerite. “There was a twinge on Marguerite’s heart, like someone tugging on the corner of a blanket, threatening to throw back the covers and expose it all.” Marguerite begins to feel all the things she has forbidden herself to feel for the past fourteen years.
There is a lot of drama on the island and secrets are revealed one by one. This is your typical juicy, summer read from one of my favorite author’s, Elin Hilderbrand.
The Dog Lived (And So Will I) by Teresa J. Rhyne. This memoir is about Teresa Rhyne, who is diagnosed with breast cancer right after she has gone through a cancer scare with her beloved beagle, Seamus.
Teresa is an attorney who is having a fling with a much younger man when she decides to adopt another dog. She is still mourning the death of her two other beagles when she stops by to see Seamus and falls immediately in love with him.
Seamus is a handful. He is mischievous, barks constantly when left alone and is always getting into something. When Teresa finds out Seamus has cancer, she is devastated and willing to go broke if necessary in hopes to save him.
Once it looks like Seamus may survive his cancer scare, Teresa herself discovers a lump and finds out she has breast cancer. Meanwhile, her little fling has turned into something serious and the boyfriend’s parents have made it clear that they do not approve of the relationship.
Teresa starts a blog and describes in detail her experience of having cancer. The book really is funny, even though it tackles such a serious subject. Seamus helps Teresa with her cancer battle the way no one else could.
Highly recommend for dog lovers and breast cancer survivors.
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. I would probably have enjoyed this historical novel much more if I had not already read so may books about World War I and II. Here are a few of the great ones I have read: All the Light We Cannot See, The Women in the Castle, The Nightingale, The Lilac Girls, The Book Thief, and Sarah’s Key. All these historical fiction books were fantastic, but I am officially at my limit regarding this time period.
I think because of my subject burnout that The Alice Network just wasn’t as amazing as these other titles. However, I do love reading about strong, brave, independent women. This book has two main characters that are all those things. The story goes back in forth between the current year of 1947 and the year of 1915 during World War I.
Charlie St. Clair is obsessed with finding her beloved cousin Rose. She is also pregnant and unmarried and supposed to be going to have an abortion when she skips town to search for Eve Gardiner, a woman who may have some information about the disappearance of her cousin.
Eve Gardiner was a spy that was part of “the Alice Network” in France during World War I. Eve is a bitter and hard woman that basically drinks herself to oblivion to forget her past and the things that happened to her during the war.
These two end up on the road in search for clues about what happened to Rose. As they travel, we learn all about Eve’s days as a spy and all the horrible things she has endured. The pair is driven along by a chauffeur named Finn, who is a nice addition to the story. He keeps these two women in line and helps ease the pain in both of their hearts.
This book isn’t just about the war and the horrible effects it had on those left behind. It is also about guilt, and redemption, and forgiveness, and survival. It is actually based on a true story. Apparently there really was a spy group of women called the Alice Network during the war. This book is a tribute to the brave, strong and determined women they must have been.
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides. I don’t think I was quite as impressed as everyone else seems to be by this book. Don’t get me wrong, it was good, just a little over-rated and I have read better thrillers.
The Silent Patient is Alicia Bereson. She was a well known painter and she has been in the Grove, a mental institution since she was convicted for the murder of her husband, Gabriel. She hasn’t spoken in years.
Theo Fabor, forensic psychotherapist, succeeds in getting a job at the Grove in hopes to be able to help Alicia. Theo is a wreck and really needs to see a therapist himself. Both Alicia and Theo suffer from the pain of not being loved and they both had damaging childhoods that resulted in abandonment issues.
“The aim of therapy is not to correct the past, but to enable the patient to confront his own history, and to grieve over it.”
Theo is certain that he is the one that can finally break through to Alicia to get her to speak again. As Theo investigates to try to figure out what happened to make Alicia stop speaking, we meet a lot of other characters who all became suspects. I did figure things out, but it was close to the end before I did. Overall, it wasn’t outstanding but it was a good page-turning book that will keep you guessing what’s really going on.
Lawn Boy, by Jonathan Evison. Mike Munoz is a twenty-three year old half Mexican who can’t catch a break in life. “Old Mike Munoz would like to figure out who the hell he actually is, what he’d actually like to do with his life.” He calls himself a “tenth generation peasant with a Mexican last name, raised by a single mom on an Indian Reservation.” He has odd jobs as a “lawn boy” and is really good at landscaping, hence the title.
He lives with his mother and his 300 pound special needs brother, who he has pretty much been stuck with looking after his whole life. His father left long ago and so did the two stepfathers that followed him. “Expectations for Mike Munoz had always been low. To a large degree we are products of our own environment.” That statement sums up what a huge chunk of the book is about. Mike is barely making ends meet and struggles from job to job, always broke and down on his luck.
“I was taught to always expect and prepare for something less, because eight times out of then that’s what’s coming. To actually expect anything bigger or better was simply beyond my reach.”
“Sometimes it’s pretty hard to see past your immediate struggles.”
He has a loser, douche-bag best friend that he has grown up with named, Nick who he has a sort of love/hate relationship with. “It’s just that no matter a narrow-minded dickhead he is, he’s family. All these years, I’ve had no choice but to accept him, in spite of his bigotry and shallowness and willful ignorance. No matter how deep the infection runs, family is family.”
Mike is “fleetingly content, most of the time broke, sometimes hopeful but ultimately powerless.” Mike finds peace, safety inspiration and comfort in the library and the books that he reads. He develops a friendship with the librarian, Andrew. He feels at home with Andrew and they have energetic conversations that make Mike feel like maybe he can be someone after all.
Mike says of himself, “If only Mike Munoz was able to think beyond the confines of his experience, if he could only summon the courage and the wherewithal to break the patterns that defined him, raze the walls that imprisoned him. If only he could believe in himself.”
As the story develops, Mike grows into himself and develops his identity. “Was I a traitor for empowering myself, for indulging a sense of self-worth? For finally holding out for something better.”
“Whoever you are, whatever your last name is, wherever you came from, whichever way you sway, whatever is standing in your way, just remember; you’re bigger than that. You contain multitudes.”
I Found You by Lisa Jewell. I read this book in two days. I was so eager to see what happened. Alice Lake finds a man on the beach in front of her house In Ridinghouse Bay that has lost his memory and she takes him in and allows him to live in a shed behind her home.
Alice is one who is prone to making terrible decisions. She has three very loud kids and three untrained, wild dogs. Alice and the kids give the stranger the name of Frank and he lives with them as his memories start to surface. The more Frank remembers, the more he develops a sense of doom about who he is and what he has done.
Meanwhile, a recently married woman named Lily is frantic about the disapperance of her husband. As the police begin to invesitgate, Lily is left with alot of questions about who her husband really is and what has happened to him.
We also go back in time to a brother and sister (Kristy and Gray) who are vacationing at Rindinghouse Bay. A man becomes infactuated with Kristy much to Gray’s dismay. Gray senses that this man is trouble from the beginning.
As the three layers of the story developed, I could not turn the pages fast enough.
“People reveal themselves to you a layer at a time.”
“There’s a dark side to everything.”
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Kya’s mother walks out and leaves their family when Kya is only six years old. Soon after that all of her siblings leave, and then finally her drunk and abusive father never comes back home either. Kya understands everyone left because of her father, but she can’t understand why they all left without taking her and neither can I. She is pretty much left alone in the wild, by the marsh side in a small North Carolina town to raise herself.
The town calls her “the marsh girl” and they all think she is marsh trash. Because of the way she is treated, she rarely leaves her shack. Her connection to the marsh and nature is all she is has left. “Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth. The marsh became her mother.”
Kya spends her days talking to and feeding the birds and searching for feathers and shells. “Most of what she knew, she’d learned from the wild. Nature had nurtured, tutored, and protected her when no one else would.” She couldn’t bring herself to “leave the gulls, the heron, the shack. The marsh is the only family I got.” “Ma always encouraging her to explore the marsh: “Go as far as you can — way out yonder where the crawdads sing.”
Eventually, a few other people come into her life. Two more of them abandon her and she becomes even more rejected and filled with shame, closing her heart up to avoid being hurt again. She feels that she can’t count on anyone but herself and all people end up hurting and leaving her in the end.
“A pain as large as her heart lived in her chest. Nothing eased it. Not the gulls, not the splendid sunset, not the rarest of shells.” How much of yourself could you give away to defeat lonesomeness? Her life is defined by rejections. “Finally the fear came. From a place deeper than the sea. Fear from knowing she would be alone again. Probably always. A life sentence.”
Nature plays a huge role in this book and there are a lot of lyrical and lovely descriptions:
“The marsh’s soft air fell like silk around her shoulders. Kya waltzed to the music of the katydids and leopard frogs.”
“The delicate details of every mossy branch and brilliant leaf reflected in the clear, dark water.”
“Dragonflies and snowy egrets lifted briefly, then resettled gracefully on silent wings.”
“Watched hundreds of fireflies beckoning far into the dark reaches of the marsh. Way out yonder, where the crawdads sing.”
There is some happiness in the book for Kya and she does have Jumpin’ and Mabel, an African-American couple that help her survive.
There is also a murder mystery interwoven in this book and Kya becomes the main suspect. Someone she has been involved with has been found murdered and naturally everyone suspects the wild, marsh girl.
I thought it was amazing how she survived living in such isolation. “Please don’t talk to me about isolation. No one has to tell me how it changes a person. I have lived it. I am isolation,” Kya whispered with a slight edge.”
This book was sad, but Kya will become a heroine that you care for and you will find yourself desperately wanting her to find happiness and companionship.
Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan. When Nora’s mother dies, she is left to be responsible for her sister Theresa. Nora has lived in her sister’s shadow for most of her life. Theresa was brave, beautiful and clever and she was everyone’s favorite. Theresa wanted to be a nun until she discovered boys. When she does discover boys she ends up pregnant and felt like God was leading her to be a nun. She often “wondered if her devotion could sustain her for the rest of her life or she was only seeking an escape.” She couldn’t decide is she was in hiding or she had finally found her home. The walls used to keep the nuns in imprisoned her with her thoughts and regrets. Although she found some peace she “never stopped feeling the sadness” of the child she left behind. She was plagued with what ifs and missed her sister and her son terribly. Her pain was part of who she was. “A mother blamed herself until the end.”
Nora stepped in and took Theresa’s son Patrick to raise as her own. Nora felt like she had sacrificed her life and suffered the most for Theresa’s sins and she was very resentful about it. They have not spoken in 30 years. Nora’s marriage is one of practicality and duty, not of romance and love. If it wasn’t for Theresa’s baby that she had to raise, she may have never married Charlie. “Happiness was not a state to which Nora had ever aspired.” Nora had been a shy person with no confidence and no voice until she had children. “Nora’s children had made her tough. On their behalf, she was able to do whatever needed doing.” Nora was not one to show emotion or discuss pain and it made her seem stern and strict to her children.
The book begins with the death of Patrick. His siblings, (Bridget, John and Brian) are a part of the story as well. “The four Rafferty children had their roles. Patrick, the wild one, their mother’s favorite. John, the over-achiever, their father’s favorite. Bridget, the girl. Brain, the baby.”
John has always felt like “nothing he could do was ever good enough for Nora. His entire life had been shaped by the quest for her approval.” “For most of his life John had hated Patrick. He was 45 years old and there were events from childhood that he was still not over and probably would never be.” John and Patrick were always at war with each other. John felt like he was never the son that Nora wanted most.
Bridget also feels neglected by Nora, deep down all she wants is her mother’s approval. Nora is forever criticizing Bridget and trying to improve her instead of being accepting. Bridget is a lesbian and can’t bring herself to tell her mother, although the rest of the family knows.
Brian is the youngest of the siblings and he was the closest to Patrick. They ran a bar together. Brian used to have a baseball career and since it ended has felt like a failure. Patrick could do no wrong in Brain’s eyes. “Brian had built his life around Patrick-what would he do now, who would he become?”
Everyone in the family has guilt over Patrick’s death. When a nun shows up at the funeral, the family wonders what they don’t know. “How could you be this close, be a family and yet be so unknown to one another?”
“Death made the important things you had to do in a day feel inconsequential. It turned out almost everything could wait.’
“Without warning grief might poke you in the ribs, punch you in the gut, knock the wind out of you.”
This novel was a great story of a dysfunctional family and the death the brings them together. I highly recommend this author.
In a beautiful, lyrical prose, Brit Bennett explores how the decisions made in our youth can affect the rest of our lives. The Mothers is about a teenaged girl named Nadia who finds herself pregnant while mourning the loss of her mother.
Nadia’s mother took her own life and Nadia is left searching her memories for reasons why her mother would want to end her life, often blaming herself. “Maybe she’d never really known her mother at all. And if you couldn’t know the person whose body was your first home, then who could you ever know?” “There is nothing lonelier than the moment you realized someone had abandoned you.”
Dealing with her grief, Nadia finds comfort in the preacher’s son, Luke. “Her mother died and she was drawn to anyone who wore their pain outwardly, the way she couldn’t.” Luke and Nadia begin an intimate romance until Nadia finds herself pregnant. “She’d been the type of foolish woman her mother cautioned her to never be.” Nadia decides that to have the life her mother wanted for her, she must have an abortion. “This would be her life, accomplishing the things her mother had never done.”
Nadia has felt isolated from her old friends since her mother’s suicide and she begins a friendship with a girl named Aubrey. Aubrey is living with her sister, also a girl without a mother. Nadia: “She felt a secret kinship with a girl who didn’t live with her mother either.” “It was strange learning the contours of another person’s loneliness. You could never know it all at once; like stepping inside a dark cave, you felt along the walls, bumped into jagged edges.” The two form a strong friendship and bring light and comfort into each other’s dark lives.
Nadia’s father is “coiled up tight inside himself” with grief. Nadia can’t take “the silent, uncluttered rooms, the whole house open like a wound that would never scab over.” “At home, loss was everywhere; she could barely see past it, like trying to look out a windowpane covered in fingerprints.” Nadia can’t wait to escape and go away to college.
Her whole life, Nadia is “always searching for the next challenge.” “She felt hungry all the time- always wanting, needing more.” As she grows up and travels her secrets remain sitting heavily on her shoulders. “Could you ever truly un-love a child, even one you never knew?”
Meanwhile Luke can’t stop wondering about the life and baby he could have had with Nadia. It torments him. Luke felt like Nadia had gone on with her life, “like nothing had happened, but Luke was stuck, wedged in the past, always wondering what would’ve happened if they’d kept the baby.” He has an anger growing inside him.
Do you ever get over your first love? “We have all known that little bit love. That little bit of honey left in an empty jar that traps the sweetness in your mouth long enough to mask your hunger. We have run tongues over teeth to savor that last little bit as long as we could, and in our living, nothing has starved us more.”
Does grief ever really end? “Grief was not like a line, carrying you infinitely further from loss. You never knew when you would be sling-shot backward into its grip.”
This book was lovely and so were the characters. I found myself rooting for their happiness and success.