The Swallows of Kabul, by Yasmina Khadra and The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul, by Deborah Rodriguez.

Available from Amazon
 Both books I’m going to review share many similarities. They are set in Kabul, Afghanistan under the brutal rule of the Taliban. Yet the first is poetic and dark, told from the POV of locals caught up in events they neither understand nor have any control over. The second is told from the POV of a strong American woman living and working in Kabul, where every day could end in death.

The Swallows of Kabul, Yasmina Khadra. (Translated from the French).

I love this book. It is written with relentless poetic passion right from the first sentence:

"In the middle of nowhere, a whirlwind spins like a sorceress flinging out her skirts in a macabre dance; yet not even this hysteria serves to blow the dust off the calcified palm trees thrust against the sky like beseeching arms."

Set in Kabul under the brutal rule of the Taliban, this is an extraordinary novel. It takes readers into the lives of two couples. Mohsen comes from a family of wealthy shopkeepers whom the Taliban have destroyed; Zunaira, his beautiful wife, once a brilliant teacher, is now no longer allowed to leave her home without her mahram (male relative) or without donning the full chadari (burqa) which she refuses to do until events dictate she must. Then there is Atiq, a prison keeper who has secretly adopted the Taliban ideology and struggles to align these beliefs with his faith. His wife Musarrat is now dying of sickness and despair.

Mohsen wanders aimlessly throughout much of the book, as there isn't a lot to do under the Taliban, where Kabul is as silent as an unscreamed scream - no music, no theatre, no kite flying, no school, no laughing. During one of his wanders, Mohsen is drawn into the hysteria of an execution and to his shame he joins in the stone throwing, believing his stone is the one responsible for killing a desperate woman. This incident  is the catalyst that propels all four people to their destinies. 

There are many unforgettable scenes in this book, but there is one that I'll never forget and it has to do with the executions and women in burqas. What a twist! What a dazzling novel!

Certainly an adult novel. It is a horror story with the Taliban the blood-lusty demons. I wouldn’t encourage the squeamish or young people to read it.

Available Now: Random House RRP $32.95
The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul is the first novel from Deborah Rodriguez. She has lived and worked in Afghanistan for five years, so this novel has a veracity only possible with local knowledge.

It’s not chick-lit exactly; the settings are far too grim, but it is still a book for the girls. It is rich in culture, replete with fabulous detail about Kabul life (especially how life is for women), with the ever-present dangers of suicide bombers and the often terryifying life lived under the iron fist of the Taliban. But, really, it is the story of five very different women who find themselves living in Kabul, one of the most dangerous places on earth.
Sunny in name and sunny in nature is the brave American heroine, owner of the coffee shop. She ends up in Kabul to escape her boring life in the States and to follow the man who might be the love of her life. She falls in love with the city, the culture and the people, but there’s no escaping Kabul is a  place where danger is a constant. Sunny works hard to protect her coffee shop and her customers.
All of the female characters in the novel are strong, with a powerful story. Yasmina is Afghani, a young woman torn from her family to pay a debt (a common enough occurrence still in Afghanistan) and is abandoned, injured, on the streets of Kabul. Pregnant and widowed, her life is in danger until rescued by Sunny.
Isabel is a journalist from the UK, visiting Kabul in search of that Pulitzer Prize career-making story. But in following her story she endangers her own life and the lives of those around her, with tragic consequences.
Candace is a character who takes centre stage when she sashays onto the scene. A wealthy American, she is causing a scandal by leaving her diplomat husband and taking up (surprise, surprise) with her Afghan lover. She is besotted with Wakil, but there is more to him than his do-gooder ways.
Halajan is my favourite character. She is the oldest of the women, an Afghan born and raised in Kabul. She harks back to a kinder life before Taliban rule. She longs for the freedom women once had and rebels in small ways every day, closely scrutinized by her disapproving, zealous son. Her biggest rebellion – a hidden love affair – could end in disaster.
The coffee shop is the stage where these five women play out their lives. Here they all feel at home, they discover love, experience betrayal while relishing each other. The well-crafted characters are bold yet vulnerable to the effects of day to day life, like all of us. But the day to day details of life in Kabul are a little more complex than the everyday, but the intimate worries of women remain the same the world over.
The male characters were fabulous too. Ahmet is Halajan’s son – a devout Muslim who cannot understand or tolerate, his mother’s small rebellions. Hadi, the cook at the coffee shop, a quietly spoken, loyal father figure of a man, looks out for all five women. And Jack, the enigmatic American who might be more important to Sunny than she realises. Sunny's mysterious boyfriend is not even worth a mention, and I think this is deliberate on Rodriguez's part.
You’ll love this book. Who could not? It’s one of those books I was sorry to finish but I had to keep reading, rushing to the inevitable, shocking series of climaxes.

L'Aussie's Verdict for both books: 9/10

Happy Belated Birthday RaD

I know it's not regular post time but I couldn't let the occasion go without at least a small post to let everyone know. Reading at Dawn is a year old. Our first blog post was back on January 14th, 2011. So this message is a little late but that's okay. Happy blogiversary/b-day Reading at Dawn!

Thank you Denise (L'Aussie) and JJ (WritersBlockNZ) for all of your work with this blog. I appreciate you both and I wouldn't have made it to our first milestone without you.

The Silver Crown by Robert C. Obrien

This is a book that I started reading back in September... okay, by that I mean the second time reading the book was started in September 2011. I actually read the book originally back when I was in junior high. I decided to read it again because there were certain parts that I remembered and I wanted to get a peak at some middle grade books. It's interesting what I did remember and what I had forgotten.

About the Book: (from goodreads) "Ellen awakens one morning with a mysterious silver crown on the pillow beside her. What magic powers it possesses she has not yet discovered, but the sudden changes in her life are unmistakable: her house is burned down, her family has disappeared, and a man in a dark uniform is stalking her. Can Ellen ever find her family? Can she use the power of the silver crown to thwart the powers of darkness? What diabolical force hides inside the mysterious castle in the woods?"

About the Author: Robert Leslie Conly (also known by his pen name, Robert C. O'Brien) was an American author and a journalist for National Geographic Magazine. He is known for books including Z for Zachariah and the amazing tale of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.

Overall Impression: This is an older book but still rather good. There were parts that I remembered from when I first read it back in junior high-ish, since I can't remember exactly when I read it. I remembered perfectly the very beginning of the story, how she discovers the crown and the little pretend court she holds away from her house. I remembered the boy that the main character meets in the story who then travels with her and the mind control that they discover. But I didn't remember the cop killing that happens in the beginning and many other elements. Still enjoyed reading the story.

Second Reads: Like with reading any book a second time (and you'll get more about this when I review the first two books from The Wheel of Time series) there are interesting elements to reading a familiar story. Even in middle grade, there are things that I noticed now that I may not have caught onto the first time reading. But one of the things that makes a really good book is the ability to read more than once and still enjoy the story. Even though I've read the book before, I am older and all of that, there were still parts where I reacted and parts where I wanted to know what happened next. And that is a good sign.

Reading as a Writer: The main thing I felt that was different this time around wasn't so much my age, but now that I am writing and doing editing/acquisition for a small publisher, I look at books I read differently. I can't help but notice things, like a well planned "info dump" done in a way to make it fit into the story. Sometimes the phrasing distracted me a little bit when it came to certain sentences but those were very small moments and didn't happen very often. I see those things more now than I used to and that's okay.

Dawn's Rating: 9/10

Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keyes

2011 was a spectacular reading year for me: 108 books read in total. Most of them were YA, so my goal for 2012 is to not only read 112 books, but to aim to read at least 35 adult fiction novels. Therefore, I thought I'd start off with a review of Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keyes.

Blurb: Number one internationally bestselling author Marian Keyes works her magic once again in this charming tale of three modern women and their search for happiness.

Prada-wearing magazine editor Lisa Edwards thinks her life is over when her "fabulous" new job turns out to be a deportation to Dublin, launching Colleen magazine. No more jet-setting to the fall collections. No more fabulous parties and photographs in the society pages. The only saving grace is that her friends aren't there to witness her downward spiral. Might her new boss, the disheveled and moody Jack Devine, save her from a fate worse than hell?

Ashling Kennedy, Colleen's assistant editor, is an award-winning worrier, increasingly aware that something fundamental is missing from her life -- apart from a boyfriend and a waistline. And then there's her closest, oldest friend Clodagh "Princess" Kelly, who is apparently living the domestic dream in a suburban castle. So why, lately, has Clodagh had a recurring urge to kiss a frog -- sleep with a frog, if truth be told?

This novel is set in the fashion magazine industry, and I was primarily interested in this novel because I work in the media industry, and have had a lot of contact with magazine teams. However, in New Zealand it seems to be a lot more laid back than in Sushi for Beginners!

The Good: despite being chick-lit it had a fair bit packed into it, and I didn't once feel like the plot was dragging. It is set in Ireland, and the contrasting POVs between Lisa, from London, and Ashling from Dublin, were wonderful. There were a number of love triangles going on, and I'm happy to report that the results weren't as predictable as I'd assumed they would be. At times, it is a bitter-sweet tale, and although I'm a sucker for a happy ending, Keyes manages to keep away from the fairytale style ending often seen in chick-lit.

The Bad: Two of the characters, Lisa and Clodagh, were completely unlikeable, and my attitude towards them didn't improve much, even towards the end of the book. There were numerous in-scene shifts in POV that I found a little unsettling.

The Verdict: A light-hearted rom-com style novel, recommended for a lazy sunday at the beach.

Writer's Block NZ's Verdict: 7/10

JJ, WritersBlockNZ reflects on 2011

Happy New Year fellow readers!

2011 was a hectic year for me - you may have noticed that I dropped off the blogging scene for a while. This was all due to my baby girl, Kiera Marie, born 22nd July 2011. Despite having my hands full, I still managed to reach my goal of reading 100 books in 2011 (in fact, I read a few more than 100!).

Some of my favourites:

Best series read: The Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins

Best sequel read: Clockwork Prince, by Cassandra Clare

Best debut author: Rapture, by Phillip W. Simpson

Best sci-fi read: Across the Universe, by Beth Revis

Best fantasy read: Graceling, by Kristin Cashore.

Best contemporary read: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Best cover: Supernaturally by Kiersten White

What were some of your favourites for 2011?

Happy reading for 2012!

Writer's Block NZ

  • Powered by Blogger.