Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Breathing Room by Patricia Elam

I recently discovered DC By the Book which is a project that “explores the richness of non-Federal civic life in Washington and its character as a city, as brought to life by fiction.” After spending some time on their website, I marked three books as high priority reads. Breathing Room is the one that I chose to read first since it was a featured book at the time that I visited the site.

Set entirely in Washington, DC, Breathing Room is told by Norma, her best friend Moxie, and Moxie’s daughter, Zadi. Norma, owner of an up and coming photography business, begins having an extramarital affair after the remnants of a tragic event slowly eat away at what was once a fairytale relationship. After telling Moxie about the affair, their friendship begins to fall apart because of Moxie’s disapproval. To complicate matters even more, Norma begins questioning her worth as a mother when she starts to have challenges loving her toddler son.   

Meanwhile, Moxie is navigating her way through the challenges of co-parenting a teenage daughter. She is a probation officer who struggles to keep from caring too much about her clients. Deemed as being afrocentric, Moxie’s black consciousness becomes burdensome for both her best friend and her daughter. As Moxie begins to understand that her mother’s moods, and subsequently her death, during Moxie’s childhood were due to mental illness, she’s afraid of what will happen after Zadi makes a decision that sends Moxie spiraling into depression.

I enjoyed Zadi’s story the most.  It’s surely because I was around the same age as Zadi at the time this book was published. Her story is shared through her diary and it was an unexpected walk down memory lane for me. As I suspect is the case with most teenagers, Zadi has to balance doing what is right, according to her mother, with her own heart’s desires. We watch her make decisions about everything from losing her virginity, to deciding who is worthy of her friendship.  When she begins secretly dating one of her mother’s clients, thing get interesting.

Even though it sounds like a lot, it was a balanced look at the lives of two women and a teenager and the things they encounter on a day to day basis. I actually considered it to be so-so, because it was too every day, so to speak.  A few major developments occur well over half way into the book which made it seem more like a novel and a lot more exciting.

In the end, this book illustrates how there are two sides to every story. And they can both be right. I don't feel strongly either way about the book but  Amazon and Goodreads reviewers love it! Although I do adore the cover. It made it to the Reading Has Purpose Cover Lovin' Page.

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Breathing Room on Amazon

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Rat-boys of Karalabad by Zulfiqar Rashid

Has someone ever told you about something that was so disturbing or upsetting that you start to feel unwell? It took me a little longer than usual to read this book because that’s the problem I was having.

I really enjoyed the book in the beginning. That was before the details of an unscrupulous covert system of hierarchy, abuse, and exploitation is revealed. It’s not a knock on the book. This was just a topic that got to me.   

The Rat-boys of Karalabad is a detailed fictional account of how religion can be used to take advantage of the poor. It also sheds light on the intentional creation of mentally and physically challenged individuals, some being children as young as two years old. After being deformed, these individuals are sent out into the community as beggars with the expectation that their handicaps will cause people to give them more money.

The story revolves around Omar who is chosen to be successor to the shrine. The inner workings of the shrine are revealed as Omar is prepped for his role. He is brought up by being taught “when to be holy and when to be worldly”  because the shrine is a “business.”

Omar’s mentor, Abdul Ji, is a man of sound principle whose own presence in the shrine is a result of threats of violence to his family. In addition to unwillingly teaching Omar how to be the next successor, he teaches him to never lose track of his moral compass. These teachings ultimately have deadly consequences for all involved.

I was saddened by the way the shrine works. The poor and uneducated are pawns in the elaborate scheme to control wealth. They come to the shrine willing to give all of their possessions and even their children to have their prayers answered. With the government being complicit in the scheme, it is easy to see how the target population are unable to liberate themselves or even recognize what is happening to them. I guess it’s all so disconcerting to me because you really have to wonder how far it may have been from the truth after removing religion from the centerpiece.

At the end of the novel, the author provides brief insight on the organized beggary that is discussed in the novel stating that it is “a deep-rooted part of society in South East Asia.” He goes on to describe the “practice of turning children into ‘Rat-boys’ involves binding small children’s heads and limbs so they develop in an abnormal way, making their faces look like that of a rat and leaving their brains under-developed.“ Disgusting behavior, to say the least.

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The Rat-Boys of Karalabad on Amazon

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. As with all reviews posted, views expressed are genuine and are in no way influenced by external sources

Friday, May 2, 2014

'Til the Well Runs Dry by Lauren Francis-Sharma

If you like a book that’s go, go, go, you’ll want this one. After only a few chapters, things really took off. I was concerned that with 379 pages to fill, the pace would drop off. That couldn’t have been further from the truth!

The story begins 1943, in Trinidad, where we meet a teenage girl, Marcia Garcia, and a slightly older Farouk Karam. Farouk, a police officer and ladies man, is determined to win Marcia’s heart. So much so that he solicits the help of an obeah. But Marcia, a seamstress with custody of twin boys, is focused on her career and providing the best life possible for the children.

Farouk and Marcia eventually marry but the relationship is borne out of what appears to be a horrible tragedy and subsequently falls apart because of a family secret. Even through a troubled relationship, the couple has four children who ultimately become the catalysts for a tumultuous series of events that play out over the next twenty years.

Marcia experiences more heartache than anyone should bear in a lifetime. Although it could be said that she brought it on herself, she is admirable in many ways. After finally realizing that she is in a no win situation in Trinidad, she leaves her children and heads for the United States. As with the previous twists and turns in this novel, events develop that the reader will never see coming.

Farouk is an individual of many flaws. He never really confronts his domineering parents. They will not acknowledge and even try to have him disown his wife and children. With his philandering ways continuing even while he is married, he is easy to dislike. But he has redeeming qualities that lead one to believe that a good man is somewhere inside of him.

Even with all of this, incest, political corruption, and murder unfold between the pages of this novel. With most books, you can find a stopping place. With this one, not hardly. This author has written a book that will have you sneaking out of the office to read a few more pages. And I didn’t even tell you about the children.

“You never miss the water ’til the well runs dry,” she said. Plenty people t’ink they’ll be fine until the person they need does be gone.“ Til the Well Runs Dry

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'Til the Well Runs Dry: A Novel on Amazon

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. As with all reviews posted, views expressed are genuine and are in no way influenced by external sources.