Review: The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani

bloodflowersIs reading an author’s books in reverse publication order a good idea?

I read Anita Amirrezvani’s second novel, Equal of the Sun, earlier this year. It followed the real-life story of a Persian princess from the Sufi dynasty who tried to rule her country after the death of the shah. Similar to a Jeanne Kalogridis novel set in renaissance Italy, and set at about the same time, it was a well-written tale of intrigue and politics with a rich historical setting. The admirable yet largely unlikeable princess was viewed from the perspective of a more sympathetic servant, reminding me strongly of Kalogridis’s The Scarlet Contessa. In the end, it was a good book, but heavy politicalsun historicals are really not my thing: I read the whole thing, liked it, didn’t review it, and never planned to read another of Amirrezvani’s again.

This is why I’m so thankful for randomness and used books.

I ended up with a used copy of Amirrezvani’s first novel, The Blood of Flowers. Like Equal of the Sun, it is set in 17th century Persia, but follows the story of a simple village girl who is very good at tying rugs. She has two loving parents and expects a wonderful life married to a local boy and surrounded by the close network that is her village. When her father dies unexpectedly, she and her mother must depend on the charity of a distant uncle in a large city. She finds that she loves city life, and her uncle is kind – but he is also a rug maker to the Shah. This awakens longings in the girl to be more than just a home crafter: she wants to be an artist, a rug designer, and a business owner, longings that are not easily fulfilled in her time and place.

This book works on so many levels. Of course, there’s the self-actualization of the village girl (who the novelist does not name) finding her place in a world that is not always friendly to women. That story line was so true that it resonated with me as a current-day woman engineer in heavy industry. There’s some light romance and intrigue, foreshadowing what Amirrezvani manages with her second novel. And the setting is absolutely wonderful: richly and lovingly detailed in a very unusual setting.

(Really, historical fiction readers, aren’t you tired of England and Italy all the time?)

I also appreciated the way the character’s perception of the world around her was handled. She was, appropriately, a seventeenth-century Persian girl with all of the beliefs and attitudes that come along with it. She had all kinds of misconceptions and fears about Christians, and in fact the one Christian in the novel is not a good guy. Yet all this is handled with a light touch, and I felt the author was describing the main character’s perspective rather than trying to force a point.

I originally started listening to this book on audio, and that was almost the best part. Compared to my experience with reading Equal of the Sun, I got a much richer sense of Persia, as well as a better understanding of the place names and some of the common sayings of the main characters. However, I liked the book so much that the audio wasn’t fast enough, and I finished reading in print.

Overall, I could recommend The Blood of Flowers to many different readers: historical fiction lovers, for sure, but also those who enjoy women’s fiction or romantic subplots, audio book fans, and anyone looking for a diverse read. Then, if you enjoy heavier political historicals and want another dose of Persia, follow up with Equal of the Sun.

Why I Never Fire an Author

goldfinchI’m back from the wilderness.

Vacation, sure. I went on a week long camping trip in September. But I’m also back from a six-week reading freeze that was induced by trying to read The Goldfinch for book club.

I’m not going to attempt a review of The Goldfinch. I can’t do it objectively. I’m pretty sure the author accomplished what she set out to do: the book makes you love the main character, Theo, as a vulnerable young child, and then builds suspense by making you watch all of the bad decisions and wrong turns and abuses in his life. It’s the extreme version of ‘make the worst possible thing happen to your character’, and Donna Tartt does it over, and over, and over again.

It worked on me. By about page 400, I had a sense of dread every time I opened the book. By page 600, I was experiencing near-constant anxiety as I tried to squeeze in just a few more pages. My reading pace crawled, and then stopped completely. I did not finish it in time for book club; in fact, I didn’t finish it at all. I wasn’t reading anything else, either.

Of course, what I’m describing is a very powerful book that was able to influence my emotions in a significant way. You could say the same of my sixth grade teacher. She was a horrible witch who taught me to hate school and dread waking up in the morning. Powerful.

I’m not sure I ever found an antidote to that teacher. But I did find an antidote to The Goldfinch, and it came from a surprising source.

Because I hadn’t been reading at all, my sole library loot this week was Night of a Thousand Stars by Deanna Raybourn. I’d put it on hold before its release, back in my pre-Goldfinch days. This particular author, if you’re not familiar with her, has written a 5-book series of gothic romance/mystery novels starting with Silent in the Grave. For me, the best book was #3, Silent on the Moor, and my interest tapered off a bit after that. She followed up with four standalone books: a Dracula novel, a book set in colonial Africa, a book set in the 1920’s about a fictional aviatrix. Most recently, she published Night of A Thousand Stars which was a travel adventure-romance also set in the 20’s.thousstars

I didn’t finish the book on Africa or the one about the aviatrix, but I was still willing to try Raybourn’s latest. I’ve never really fired an author. I may never find my way back to her again. My interests may change. But once I’ve really enjoyed an author, it’s like first love: I have never completely gotten over it.

Here’s why: a huge part of our reading is what we bring to it, and it’s always possible to pick up the right book at the wrong time. Sometimes we need to think, or be challenged. Sometimes, we need to escape. Sometimes (this is usually not me) we need some emotional stimulation. And sometimes we just need to have fun.

Romance, in particular, is good at the fun part. Night of a Thousand Stars was pure joyous entertainment. I felt like the author set out to write a book that she herself would enjoy, and tucked a lot of readerly pleasures into the pages. Good food, a spa trip, three attractive men, costumes, mystery, and travel. In a different mood, I could have found all the Gothic awesomeness a little cheesy. Maybe that is what happened with her last two books. This time, with The Goldfinch recently under my belt (most of it, anyway), Night of a Thousand Stars was the perfect counterpose. It hit my reset button, and reminded me why I love reading.

Readers, have you ever fired an author, once you’ve enjoyed at least two of her books?

The Pre-Bookshelf Project

After years of drooling over built-in bookshelves in books, blogs, and friends’ homes, we’re actually working on a bookshelf project for our living room.

Okay, it’s going to be an Ikea hack… but it still counts!

I’m most excited about moving – and organizing! – my books, which are currently crammed into a small bookshelf, two sets of cubes, and generally stacked up in random locations.image

It’s not time for that yet (more posts on bookshelf organization later!) but while we’re in planning and construction mode, I’d like to finish as many of my never-before-read books as possible. If my usual success rate is 25%, then I’ll be able to get rid of around 50 books before the big move.

Of course, I have to actually read the books first.

So what’s the best way to approach this problem?

  1. Follow my usual rule of “read the good books first” – keeping my reading speed up by staying enthusiastic
  2. Read the ones I think will be bad first, since DNFs take less time per book?
  3. Start with the ones that are wishlisted on paperbackswap.com, so that I can get them out of the house NOW?
  4. Start with the ones that are NOT wishlisted on paperbackswap.com, so that I can list them and start the FIFO wait?

Too many choices! So, for now, my reading shortlist is:

  • The Goldfinch – a library book that I need to finish in time for a book club meeting next week
  • The Masterharper of Pern by Anne McCaffrey – just because I am on a Pern kick. I guess that’s reason #1.
  • Bless the Bride by Rhys Bowen – reason #4, above, and a favorite author.
  • Young Pioneers by Rose Wilder Lane – reason #3, above
  • What I Love About You by Rachel Gibson – because I want to give it to my sister in November.

That leaves 50+ unread books laying around the house!! Hopefully I can get to them soon. Readers, I’d love to hear your strategies for cleaning up a backlist.

A Crocheter Learns to Knit

100_0634Big news: I finally did it!! I learned to knit!!

On this, my third attempt, I tried something new: continental style knitting. You can read all over the internet that continental style is easier for crocheters than the more common English style, but apparently I missed that memo the first two times around.

It’s easier for two reasons:

1. You hold and tension the yarn with the left hand, while doing most of the ‘work’ with the right. This feels natural to someone who already crochets, but apparently gives English style knitters fits. Continue reading

Membership and Belonging: Young Professionals at Church

I recently read (via Facebook) a well-meaning article questioning why some young people are attending church but not becoming members.

I don’t have the link anymore, but the concept – or maybe the complaint – has really stuck with me. My husband and I are regularly attending a church without being officially on the membership roll, and after some careful consideration, I’m still okay with that. I think it’s worth discussing, though, because it’s part of a disconnect that exists between churches and a particular part of the population.

I’m talking specifically about young professionals, married or unmarried. What does this segment look like?

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  • We relocate frequently for our jobs – every 1-3 years. Or, we may change employers frequently. Either way, we’re trying to establish ourselves in life and in business, and we’re not especially tied to any one area.
  • We travel for business regularly, and we may also accept temporary assignments (say, 3-6 months’ duration). It’s a Lean In kinda thing: we’re young and relatively unattached; now’s the time to get those types of experiences.
  • Our friends and family are located all over the place: in our hometown, in our college town, in the last place we worked. We are not living in any of those places, and there’s a lot of family expectation and social pressure to maintain those relationships and show up at key events like weddings and birthdays. As a result, one, two or even three weekends out of the month, we’re on the road.
  • We’re dating or married to other young professionals who are also dealing with the above. Chances are, they’re  not the same denomination as we are.

As a result:

  • We’re not able to be in your church every weekend, so when we are, please don’t come up to us with big sad eyes and say how glad you are that we’ve decided to ‘come back’. Remember, we may have been to church somewhere else. You’re not the only church in the world.
  • We can’t come to your Tuesday afternoon Women’s tea or your 7 AM Men’s breakfast. This doesn’t mean that we don’t want to participate or that we are “Sunday Only” Christians. Nor does it mean that we aren’t adults yet (even though not being able to participate in adult activities can make us feel that way).
  • It’s exhausting to search for, join, and commit to a church every time we relocate. Ideally, we stick within our denomination or to more open churches. (I’ve found United Methodists wonderful at being open – but that’s just me.) It’s much worse if we also have to ‘convert’ or go through classes to join. The effort does not seem worthwhile when we’re just going to pull up our stakes in a few months and go somewhere else.
  • We really just want to be able to participate in authentic worship in a welcoming and inclusive environment. No gimmicks and no sign up sheets. We’ll give, we’ll come to potlucks and church events when we can, and we’ll sing super loud if that’s what you want. Just don’t ask for more than we can do at this moment in our lives.

With all that: I’m thankful that I have found a welcoming church where I haven’t been pressured in any way, and where my husband and I can both fully participate together. I would love to feel more like a member by being included in the life of the church – yes, I’m talking about those teas and service events – but they seem to be geared towards housewives and retirees. So I’m letting that go, for now.

And please, when you see me at church after a two-week absence: just say hello. No intervention required.

 

 photo credit: Matthew Wilkinson, “Montreal Steps”, via Flickr. license

Library Loot: Short Stories? Really?

librarylootnew

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by The Captive Reader and Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries

 

 

I don’t like short stories. Don’t like writing them, don’t like reading them. So why did I come home with two books of short stories this week?

The best worst part is that I’m really into the first one, Shifting Shadows by Patricia Briggs. The quality of her writing is so good – and I really needed a Mercy fix, since her next installment isn’t out until 2015.

I also picked up Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood – another new release of short stories by a favorite author.

No complaints here – I’m just surprised at how much I’m enjoying this week’s loot!

sshadow stonem

Do you have a favorite length for stories or books? Are there some that you avoid?