BOOK REVIEW | A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi

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4/5 stars

From the publisher:
For two decades, Zeba was a loving wife, a patient mother, and a peaceful villager. But her quiet life is shattered when her husband, Kamal, is found brutally murdered with a hatchet in the courtyard of their home. Nearly catatonic with shock, Zeba is unable to account for her whereabouts at the time of his death. Her children swear their mother could not have committed such a heinous act. Kamal’s family is sure she did, and demands justice. Barely escaping a vengeful mob, Zeba is arrested and jailed.

Awaiting trial, she meets a group of women whose own misfortunes have led them to these bleak cells: eighteen-year-old Nafisa, imprisoned to protect her from an “honor killing”; twenty-five-year-old Latifa, a teen runaway who stays because it is safe shelter; twenty-year-old Mezghan, pregnant and unmarried, waiting for a court order to force her lover’s hand. Is Zeba a cold-blooded killer, these young women wonder, or has she been imprisoned, like them, for breaking some social rule? For these women, the prison is both a haven and a punishment; removed from the harsh and unforgiving world outside, they form a lively and indelible sisterhood.

Into this closed world comes Yusuf, Zeba’s Afghan-born, American-raised lawyer whose commitment to human rights and desire to help his homeland have brought him back. With the fate this seemingly ordinary housewife in his hands, Yusuf discovers that, like the Afghanistan itself, his client may not be at all what he imagines.

My thoughts:
The results of the American election have shaken me deeply left me questioning the world I thought we lived in. I’m a proud Canadian, but have relatives living in the States. I’ve been in a particularly bad reading slump while struggling to come terms with recent events, and am just starting to get back on track. It seems apt, though not planned, that the first read I finished post-election is by a woman with Afghan roots, about modern day women living in Afghanistan.

I think most wives imagine their husbands dying – either out of dread or anticipation. It’s an inevitability. Why not guess at why or how it might happen?

This was my first book by Nadia Hashimi, but it certainly won’t be my last. Her prose is rich and vivid as she explores injustices endured by modern day Afghan women. Zeba, the matriarch of this story, is discovered at the scene of a crime with blood on her hands as her slain husband lays close by. Accusations of her guilt begin to fly as Zeba maintains her silence, unwilling to discuss what happened. She is arrested and sent to jail, where she develops unexpected bonds with the other female prisoners.

Hashimi tackles deeply troubling issues through Zeba’s cell mates as we hear their stories and discover what brought them to the prison. These women are all essentially criminals of morality, jailed for acting in ways that society believes women should not. What is a woman’s place in Afghanistan? What is her value?

A woman was only as good as the drops that fell on her wedding night, the ounces she bled with the turns of the moon, and the small river that she shed giving her husband children.

There are so many layers and so much depth to this story. I also realize that there is a lot of grey area that goes unexplored here as well. This story is not a universal experience for Afghan women, but it is the story Hashimi wanted to tell. At the root, however, this is a murder mystery. Who killed Zeba’s husband? More importantly, why? Hashimi does not disappoint as she reveals the heartbreaking and infuriating events that led to his death and delivers, unexpectedly for stories of this nature, a deeply satisfying ending. I know I will be thinking about this book for a while.

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BOOK REVIEW | The Ice Princess by Camilla Läckberg

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3/5 stars

From the publisher:
In this electrifying tale of suspense from an international crime-writing sensation, a grisly death exposes the dark heart of a Scandinavian seaside village. Erica Falck returns to her tiny, remote hometown of Fjällbacka, Sweden, after her parents’ deaths only to encounter another tragedy: the suicide of her childhood best friend, Alex. It’s Erica herself who finds Alex’s body—suspended in a bathtub of frozen water, her wrists slashed. Erica is bewildered: Why would a beautiful woman who had it all take her own life? Teaming up with police detective Patrik Hedström, Erica begins to uncover shocking events from Alex’s childhood. As one horrifying fact after another comes to light, Erica and Patrik’s curiosity gives way to obsession—and their flirtation grows into uncontrollable attraction. But it’s not long before one thing becomes very clear: a deadly secret is at stake, and there’s someone out there who will do anything—even commit murder—to protect it.

My thoughts:
I was so excited to jump into my first Camilla Läckberg! I love Nordic Noir and crime fiction, and couldn’t wait to dive in.

Eric Falc, a writer who has returned to her home town of Fjällbacka, finds the body of a childhood friend who has committed suicide. She has trouble understanding why someone who is beautiful, successful, and with a husband who loves her dearly would come to such an end. She begins working with detective Patrik Hedström to uncover the details of her death. Along the way more death occurs, terrible secrets are revealed, and the truth uncovered is unexpected and disturbing. Oh, and there’s a love connection between Erica and Patrik.

This was a nice escapist read with a few interesting characters, and I will be continuing with the next in the series, The Preacher. This certainly wasn’t an amazing literary work, or the best crime fiction book that I have read, but I am intrigued enough to carry on! I believe this was Läckberg’s first book after a drastic career change, and there are some passages that give the reader insight into her style as a crime writer:

The material was increasingly taking on the form of a crime novel, a genre to which she’d never felt particularly attracted. It was people – their relationships and psychological motivations – that she was interested in; she thought that was something most crime novels had to give up in favor of bloody murders and cold shivers running down the spine. She hated all the cliches they used; she wanted to write about something genuine. Something that attempted to describe why someone could commit the worst of all sins – to take the life of another human being.

There was a side story about Erica’s sister and her abusive husband that didn’t wrap up at all – I really hope that there is more about this in the next book. That said, there were just enough twists to keep this interesting, and I look forward to seeing Läckberg’s voice develop in the next installment.

BOOK REVIEW | Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:

Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.

New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

My thoughts:
She was suddenly filled with the passionate desire to share everything, to hold nothing back. Fuck dignity.

This quote from the final page pretty much sums up this book – I felt like screaming those final two words so many times throughout. I went into Big Little Lies knowing very little about the plot, just that this is a well-loved book, and I was looking for something to break up some of the dark content I have been reading lately.  This book, however, is a slap in the face.

The story revolves around many women, but the focus is on the interconnections between Madeline, Jane, and Celeste. Initially, this reads as a witty take on modern day motherhood, and the judgments that we place on others. We have the yoga mom, the hot-mess mom, the put together mom, and so on – stereotypes and facades that we assign to others with as a way to justify our own choices.  As we begin to learn more about Celeste and Jane the story opens in breadth, leaving the reader with boundless questions. Moriarty pulls you so eloquently into her world, that you become deeply invested before you’re aware of it.

Without spoiling anything, I must say that Celeste was the character I felt most deeply invested in. Her “little lies”, were ultimately the biggest, and I wanted nothing more for her to find her voice early on – I wanted to send strength to her through the pages.

Marriage was about compromise. “Honey, if you really like that girlie, antique look, I’ll get you the real thing…That is just a cheap, tacky rip-off.”  When he said things like that, she heard “You’re cheap and tacky”. She would take her time setting up this place with cheap, tacky thing that she liked.

Jane often broke my heart, her self-loathing ran so deep:

Intellectually, I know I’m not ugly, I’m perfectly acceptable. But I feel ugly, because one man said it was so, and that made it so.

I highlighted a ton of quotes and moments while reading this book, and I would love to share more but they would reveal too much. This book was a total surprise to me – I went into it thinking I would enjoy it, but not at all expecting to love it as much as I did. Moriarty wraps this story up so perfectly, I couldn’t have asked for more. I am looking forward to digging into another of Moriarty’s books soon!