Tuesday 21 July 2020

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

I had been struggling with a pile of books that were not holding my attention and needed something I could get lost in enough to stay away from wasting time surfing the web. I spotted this book at the supermarket and brought it home with my shopping.

Where the Crawdads Sing is the story of Kya, a six-year-old abandoned by her family to the mercy of her alcoholic father out in the swamp land of Northern Carolina. The story moves back and forth in time between following Kya as she grows up and finds ways to survive and the books present day (in the late 1960’s).

The book is partly a celebration of nature, partly the story of a young women and partly a mystery. The body of Chase Andrews, one of two Kya’s suitors, is found in the swamp and police must find out how it ended up there. We follow Kya as she sees each family member leave, try to find ways to survive and forge tentative friendships, finding both love and facing intense rejection and loneliness.

You can tell this book is written by a naturalist. The descriptions of the swamp, its ecology and flora and fauna are just beautiful and woven through every page of the book. The book touches on themes of prejudice, racism and sexism.  Kya is named “Marsh Girl” and treated as an outcast as she is different – but her difference come about because of her vulnerability – her poverty, being abandoned, her shyness.

This is the author’s first novel, but she effectively brings to life small town America in the 1950’s with its cast of vaguely familiar characters: the handsome, arrogant jock, his snobbish mother, the kind black couple who help Kya.  In parts the book was a little predictable or unrealistic: we knew that Kya’s relationship with Chase wasn’t going to end well and I thought the benevolent black couple were a little conveniently placed to help Kya face her milestones (like puberty).

Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.  As much as the story, what stayed with me was the deep meditation on Kya’s loneliness. Not the kind of loneliness we experience now and again in a room of strangers, or the type we feel when we lose someone. But a devastating, enduring, pervasive loneliness that comes with abandonment, physical isolation and being left without a single family member or friend.

A sweet, haunting and captivating story that carried me along and finished too soon, leaving me in tears.

Wednesday 22 January 2020

The Prophets of Islam Series for Children

I was sent some books to review from a new a series created for children by The Islamic Foundation UK. There are seven in the series and I was sent four about the Prophets Sulaiman, Nuh, Ibrahim and Ismail (peace be upon them all).

The books are glossy, full colour soft cover and from the content aimed at children anywhere from babies that can be read to, up until eight or nine. The content is simple and easy to understand and focuses on important situations in the Prophet’s lives alongside lessons that could be learned rather than chronological or details biographies.

There are simple games like dot-to-dot, mazes, colouring and counting which are suitable for smaller children.  

The last page of each book has a verse from the Quran that includes a mention of the Prophet (peace be upon him) or the situation described in the book.  I was a little wary of having these in books, especially one in which children could write or colour. This being the case, I did two things: firstly, I asked my girls to treat the books with respect and care (e.g. not placing them on the ground). Secondly, I asked them to write in pencil so that lines could be rubbed out and games reused, or rubbed out and passed to another child when they were older as these are not the type of books you would dispose of.

Saying that, it is nice for the story to be followed with the ayah, helping children to understand the link between the stories and what they are learning in the Quran.

My girls enjoyed reading them and trying the games. It was nice to see them enjoy something positive that also teaches them about Islam. 

Sunday 15 December 2019

The Ninety Nine Names of Allah by Muhammad Iqbal Siddiqi

The Ninety Nine Names of Allah by Muhammad Iqbal Siddiqi is a book I have had for many years and have often picked up in times of need or worry. My version is covered in post-its flagging names I want to come back to or have found have helped me. Over the last few days, I have picked it up and found myself hooked on trying to benefit from the treasures in it.

The book is structured to give each of Allah’s (SWT) names in Arabic and English, give it’s meaning and where it is found in the Quran.  This is followed by a commentary on what the name means and what it tells us about Allah. Then finally, in most cases, it offers the benefits of doing dhikr of that name: e.g. repeating the name Al Quddus (The Holy) 100 times daily, frees the reciter from anxiety.

In the end, I listed all of the names, how to recite them and the benefits as an easy quick reference source (feel free to save the pictures below if these are useful). The ones I am focused on at the moment are around children and internal contentment and growth.

I feel like in the short time I have been using this book as a daily source, I have greatly benefited already (my son who won’t touch house work in recent years, hoovered the house and cleaned and unblocked the bathroom sink today, I’ll gladly have more of that).  Most of all I feel content and  also more sure of myself   (Ar Rehman – 100 times after each fard salah for good memory, keen awareness and freedom from a heavy heart).

Definitely a book worth keeping at home and referring back to.

Tuesday 9 April 2019

Mythos by Stephen Fry

I grew up on myths and legends from around the world: Greek, Roman, Norse mythology, stories of Father Ananse, Baba Yaga and many others.  I have always had a weakness for a good story and anything myth and legend related still captures my attention. This being the case, this book was an easy choice for me.

I hadn’t been aware of Stephen Fry’s comments about Islam when I bought the book, or perhaps they had crossed my radar but been buried in amongst all the other criticism of Islam and Muslims that appears across various media.  I understand that his criticism is as an atheist in general and in favour of free speech, but it did feel as if Islam got singled out a little.  Perhaps the author in his anger at the way gay people are treated by some people of faith, forgot how vulnerable Muslims in a non-Muslim country, in what can feel like a hostile environment, can feel and sometimes be.

If I had been more aware of the authors comments, I probably would not have bought the book. That aside, I did enjoy it.  The book starts at the beginning with the early Greek creation myths and then works its way through the various stories to just before the great age of heroes.  The format of the book is a series of short stories telling us how the various characters in the cast of Greek mythology appeared. The stories are laced with dark humour, cynicism and alternative versions.  The author explains how the names in the myths are the foundation for modern words and how much we owe to Greek mythology for modern English.

The book could probably be easily compared to the recent Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, a book I had an absolute blast with, and which left me both shocked and looking for more. But where that book is more engrossed in the story telling, this one takes segues all over the place with asides and explanations.

A fun, interesting and entertaining read.

Tuesday 2 April 2019

Vox by Christina Dalcher

I hadn’t come across this book or heard of it, despite it being a best seller, before seeing it in the book shop and deciding to give it a try.  It is from one of my favourite genres: dystopian sci-fi and the premise reminded me of one of my favourite books: The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Attwood.

Whereas The Handmaids Tale is set in an indeterminate future and feels frightening, but almost impossible in its portrayal of an extremely misogynistic future version of America (interestingly Attwood said that “when it first came out it was viewed as being far-fetched…However, when I wrote it I was making sure I wasn’t putting anything into it that human beings had not already done somewhere at some time”).  Vox is barely one presidential term beyond the current, real one, with a future that you could almost see happening.

Vox is set in an America where Trump has been succeeded by an evangelical Christian administration that decided women should be silent.  Women are fitted with counters on their wrist that count their words - a daily of quota of 100 words, with anything above leading to increasingly painful shocks that leave burn marks.  Jean is an expert linguistic who is forced to leave her job and teach her daughter to speak as little as possible, while her husband and sons get on with life, increasingly failing to see her frustration and accept, even enjoy the new status quo.  Jean struggles to see a way out until the Presidents brother suffers a stroke and the government seek her help in treating him.  Jean starts to see a way out and the beginnings of a resistance.

It’s almost impossible not to compare this book to The Handmaids Tale and I initially worried it would be a poor imitation.  But I was pleased to see that Dalcher’s novel followed its own path and took on a life of its own.  Whereas the future in Attwood’s book is extreme and horrifying, Vox has us believing that there are groups capable of doing these things in America right now and many that would quietly support them or tolerate them.

I was in two minds about the story until it diverted from being too similar to The Handmaids Tale, then the impossible situation and the feeling that it was too difficult and dangerous for anything to be done came to the fore.  The resolution was an absolute joy and worth reading the book for.

Monday 1 April 2019

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

I read the first of Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles trilogy, The Name of the Wind, last year for my office book club and after one of the staff in the bookshop heartily recommended it.  You can read my review here, I had a great time reading this book.  As soon as I finished it, I went looking for the second book in the trilogy, which is the one being reviewed here.

The first book follows the main character, Kvothe’s, tragic childhood, his struggle to get into wizarding university and his constant battle against poverty and his jealous enemies. This second book tells us the story of Kvothe as he learns magic, gets into a lot of trouble and then sets out into the world seeking his fortune.  Along the way we get to know Kvothe’s friends, fellow students, teachers and the girl he is in love with: Denna

The story is told by Kvothe as he looks back on his life. He freely admits that much of the legend that has grown around his life is a mixture of good luck, circumstance and some embellishment from him.  Alongside bringing back some of the characters from the first book and introducing some news one, the novel also further develops the fantasy world it is set in: the geography, the various races and their customs and the politics of the place. 

There are two additional stories that run throughout both novels.  The first is Kvothe’s hunt for the Chandrian, the mythical beings who slaughtered his parents in the first novel, both in his travels and in his research. The second is the tension in the books present day. As Kvothe tells his life’s story in the inn he now runs, people come and go with news of political unrest, war and demon attacks – something people barely even believe in.  You almost get the feeling that the three novels in the trilogy will just about bring you up to date and then the real story – the chaos that is looming, will really begin.

I did enjoy Kvothe’s escapades, but after about half way, I started to struggle.  At this point much of the book was about how Kvothe got his strength and fighting skills and took quite some time telling you about them. 

I also thought that whilst Kvothe’s character was likeable, he was a bit ridiculous at times – a clever, but weedy teenager that had girls swooning over him at every turn.  I did like how often he got into trouble and how sometimes he just didn’t care.  Some have said that the female characters in the book: Denna, his friends, his dangerous money-lender even, are a little one dimensional, I think perhaps there is something in this.

The Kingkiller chronicles have a very keen fan base, they really sing the books praises and more than once I have heard them or read them saying that these are the best books they have ever read.  Much as I enjoy fantasy, I wouldn’t go that far for these books.  I would recommend people to try the first book and only read the second if they really loved the first one enough.  The third book has been long awaited and is yet to be released, once it is, I most likely will try it.

Book Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Thursday 24 January 2019

My 2019 Reading List

I have never done this before, but I came across the idea in this post by the wonderful Shaunta Grimes: an annual reading list. My goals for 2019 include some books to read as does my 2019 100 things bucket list (although I haven’t got quite to 100 yet 😊).

I like the idea and It would be nice to check back at the end of the year and see how many I managed. 

Islamic Books
Read the Quran completely at least twice or more, including one reading during Ramadan.

Tafsir Ibn Kathir – This is considered to be one of the most comprehensive and complete commentaries on the Quran. I have this at home in ten volumes because my husband randomly turned up with it one day from a removal job.  Top of my list to read insh’Allah

Eight Islamic biographies – I have some at home including those of the four caliphs (RA), the great military strategist and companion of the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) Khalid bin Walid and Salahuddin Ayyubi.  Hopefully the rest will be of women, including the Mothers of the Believers (RA).

Hayat-us-Sahabah (Lives of the Sahabah) by Muhammad Yusuf ibn Muhammad Ilyas Kandihlawi al-Dihlawi.  I have this in five volumes and have read bits in isolation.  I would like to read the whole series again.

Beheshti Zewar (Heavenly Ornaments) by Mawlānā Ashraf Ali Thanvi, this is a wide-ranging breakdown of various issues for women including law (fiqh).  I read this some twenty plus years ago and it stood me in good stead over the years in helping me understand how to practice my faith with confidence and take away a lot of the uncertainty around key areas like child birth, menstruation as they pertain to faith.  One I hope to read again this year for a refresh.

There are a few more Islamic books sitting on my bedside table that I have started reading at various points and not finished.  I hope to get through some of these.  Other than this I would like to learn more about the lives of the Mothers of the Believers (RA) and the female companions (RA) of the beloved Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam).  I am intensely interested in the everyday lives and the ordinary details of their lives: what they wore, ate, looked like, how they ordered their days.

There are two areas of non-fiction that interest me: political/opinion and self-help.  For political, in particular those that touch on themes of race and Palestine interest me deeply. There are a few I have at home that I am trying to finish:

I have been a fan of self-help since my teens and have quite a few at home I still haven’t read.  I gave my book shelf a big clear out at the start of the year, so what is left are the ones that appeal:

The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair is a book I have been eyeing up for weeks at the bookshop near my office.  I treated myself to it on book store points and look forward to indulging two of my loves together: books and colour.


Ever since I organised my bookshelf, changing from thematic ordering to colour blocking, lots of the books that have been hidden at the back have come to the front and are inspiring me.  I hope to make a dent in some of these stacks.  Little Lady has already read TheHate U Give (THUG below) and is encouraging me to try it.

I would love to read the third instalment of The King Killer Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss, after really enjoying the first two in the series but I don’t think there is any news on a release date. Other than that, I plan to sneak in some really fun books with a cracking story line: the type you just can’t put down, perhaps Young Adult.

I had so much fun with my office book club last year, I am also hoping to read another ten to twelve books through that.  Hopefully this year they will be ones I enjoy, last years choices were hit and miss.

I think this book list is probably a bit ambitious for one year, and I am not too confident that I will get though all of it, but I intend to have fun and learn something trying.  I hope to spend less time on my phone and internet surfing and more time reading insh’Allah.