Wednesday, February 21, 2018

My Prison, My Home by Haleh Esfandiari

Biography

Haleh was born in Iran to an Austrian mother. She moved to the USA to teach with her husband and got American citizenship, but returns to Iran frequently to take care of her elderly mom. At the end of her most recent visit, she says good bye to her mom and heads off to the airport when her taxi is run off the road and she is robbed. The robbers take both Haleh's Iranian and American passport plus all of her belongings but don't touch anything of the taxi driver's. As Haleh determines what is required to get new passports re-printed, she soon learns that's the least of her worries. The Intelligence Ministry has decided that Heleh is trying to organize a revolution in Iran and interrogate her. Nothing she says can deter them from these thoughts.

Weeks turn in to months as Heleh answers these questions. The academic work she has done in the USA is very suspicious to the Ministry. They keep asking her the same questions over and over. Heleh has a few contacts that try to help her and she finds out that two factions within the government are in disagreement about her. One wants to let her go, one thinks she's hiding information. The latter wins and Heleh is put in solitary confinement in jail. Her husband, back in the USA, launches a full-fledged media offensive. If the information Heleh is providing isn't enough to get her released, the perhaps pressure from other influential people will.

As Heleh explains what happens to her, some background on Iran's history also needs to be provided to explain how the country got to the point where it's accusing dual citizens of revolution. While this information is helpful and necessary to paint the picture, Heleh provided way too much of it. There was about 35 pages at the beginning of the book describing Heleh's past and Iran's past. It was pretty dry and I found myself skimming.

What happened to Heleh, how she overcame it, and the impact to her family is the meat of this story. It's a shocking story about how an innocent grandmother can be treated.

First Line: "The early hours of December 30, 2006, began for me like any day when I would depart Tehran for the United States."

Rating:
(3.5/5)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Ruby by Francesca Lia Block

Fiction

Growing up in an abusive family, Ruby decides that she will leave for LA as soon as she is legal. She finds a job as a nanny with a doctor who suspected the abuse, and we learn about Ruby's past and the magical touch she has. Ruby knows about her destiny and she sees who she is supposed to fall in love with. This just happens to be a superstar actor who has disappeared from the scene. Ruby sets off to England to find him.

We slowly learn about what Ruby had to endure during her childhood and it's pretty heartbreaking. I enjoyed the part up to Ruby setting off to England the most because of this. We were learning about her, she had a touch of magical that still felt like it could be real. Once she goes to England though, it becomes a full fairy tale and much less believable. Of course he love is a top tier actor. Of course he's sick and she's the only one that can cure him.

This was a super easy read and I breeze through it. I was engaged for the most part, if a little frustrated at how cliche the romance was and how the book ended a bit abruptly.

First Line: "On the day of his father's funeral, the boy walked into the parlor and saw his mother smiling."

Rating:
(4/5)

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Kill Artist - Daniel Silva

Thriller

Gabriel Allon is an ex-Israeli intelligence officer turned art restorer. His old boss tracks him down in England to come do one last operation for him, hunting down a known Palestinian terrorist Tariq; the same man that killed his wife and child.

Allon needs a female to infiltrate one of Tariq's men and chooses fashion model Jacqueline, whom he had an affair with right before his wife and child were killed. Gabriel keeps a close eye on Jacqueline as she seduces a terrorist, but the enemy is aware of more than Gabriel knows.

This is book one in the Gabriel Allon series. I'm surprised it continues, to be honest, and it sounded pretty certain that Gabriel was going to forever step out of the covert-ops limelight and remain low-key. I'm not really certain how this series can continue. Out of Gabriel and Jacqueline, I enjoyed Jacqueline more as she seemed much more genuine and honest about her feelings. Gabriel is a bit bottled up and I don't really know anything about his past other than his wife and child died in a horrible attack. Hopefully the next in the series expands on this a bit more.

The story itself was pretty good, though the twist at the end I didn't really understand the purpose of. It seemed a bit far fetched and not to provide any value to the person that performed it.

First Line: "The restorer raised his magnifying visor and switched off the bank of fluorescent lights."

Rating:
(3.5/5)

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Finding Gobi by Dion Leonard

Non-Fiction

This is a cute story about a dog and human adopting each other during difficult times. Leonard is an ultra-marathon runner, where he runs 250km in 7 days, in the middle of the desert. This time he's in the northwest corner of China and the Gobi desert is in his path. Leonard is taking this race seriously and thinks he can place well. Then at the end of stage one, he spots a little dog wandering around camp trying to get scraps of food. Leonard thinks no way am I giving my precious food to that dog and sets off on the second stage. The dog follows. Surely the dog must belong to someone? As the dog continues to follow Leonard along, he decides to name her Gobi. Gobi ends up completing a few stages of the ultra-marathon and captures Leonard's heart.

This is such a lovely, feel-good story. It focuses not only on how these two met and created such a strong bond, but also the long journey in trying to get her home. There was a lot of red tape, and paranoia, because this story was making national news and much money was given to help with the cause. Leonard starts to worry about kidnapping. Plus he's in China and the government there is always concerned about how their own image is playing off in national news. There were a lot of things for Leonard to be concerned about. He's super lucky he has such an understanding wife, as he spent months in China after the race trying to get Gobi back.

It's a quick paced book, Leonard doesn't focus too much on a single thing. I recommend it!

First Line: "I stepped through the airport doors and out into China"

Rating:
(4/5)

Sunday, February 04, 2018

The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon

Historical Fiction

Book 5 in the series has Claire and Jamie making a life as grandparents in North America. Roger and Brianna are trying to get married, as is Jaime's aunt. They also know the war is coming and are wondering what to do about it or whether it's possible to avoid. Stephen Bonnet is still around, somewhere, and Jaime is trying to track him down and bring him to justice.

This is the first Outlander book I've read since the tv show started, which I've been watching. The tv show for some reason has turned me against Brianna. I didn't mind her while I was reading the books but now find her annoying due to the tv show and this book couldn't turn me back to a Brianna fan. The chemistry between Jaime and Claire is still as great as ever. The start of the book was pretty slow with 100 pages only being a few hours in time. However the pace eventually picks up and there are some pretty shocking events in the latter part of the book.

First Line: "I woke to the patter of rain on canvas, with the feel of my first husband's kiss on my lips."

Rating:
(4/5)

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Jackdaws by Ken Follett

Thriller

It's World War II and the Allies are helping the French resistance take out important Nazi targets in France. Felicity, also known as Flick, is a British operative in France, orchestrating the sabotage of a phone exchange. Unfortunately the mission goes horribly wrong. They lose a few agents, Flick's husband is shot, and they have to retreat. They are also now on the radar of Nazi officer Dieter, who will stop at nothing to find Flick.

Retreating back to England, Flick decides to take another shot at the phone exchange but this time with an all-female team called the Jackdaws. The team is not trained military but a group of misfits, outcasts, and criminals. Flick has no idea how successful they will be but she has no choice.

Some of the best WWII fiction novels I've read in the past few years have been with a female as the lead. Specifically, I'm thinking of The Nightingale. Though this is more of a thriller than that book, the women of the story drive the plot forward with their strength. Flick was a great character. She had the right amounts of almost everything. She's smart, could get frustrated but wouldn't let those annoyances overshadow everything, wanted love and romance but not to the point of sickness, and incredibly resourceful. The person she's fighting against the whole novel is similar, but on the wrong side of the war.

I don't think I've ever gone wrong with a Ken Follett book and this was no different. A great story, what a page turner!

First Line: "One minute before the explosion, the square at Sainte-Cecile was at peace."

Rating:
(4/5)