Saturday, December 30, 2017

Review: The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg

While I have a physical copy of the paperback edition, I chose to listen to this book so that I could get it to sooner than I would've otherwise, and so it'd count towards my 2016 read quota. I first became interested in girls education in the early 2000s, not too long after the terrorist attacks on 9/11. At the time, I read Three Cups of Tea and Stones Into Schools by Greg Mortenson before controversy surrounded him and his non-profit organization.

Over the next decade, my interests drifted to other subjects, including college textbooks. Then, in 2014, The Underground Girls of Kabul is published and I get my hands on a copy in 2016. I decide to read it, or rather listen to it, in this case. This was an educational read for me as a woman raised in a western country where I don't have to conceal my identity as a woman just to take advantage of the same benefits provided to men.

Jenny Nordberg, born in Sweden, is the journalist who broke the story of "bacha posh" which fueled the writing and publication of The Underground Girls of Kabul. From the Goodreads description, "A bacha posh (literally translated from Dari as "dressed up like a boy") is a third kind of child – a girl temporarily raised as a boy and presented as such to the outside world." This is a common practice in Afghanistan's patriarchal culture where the birth of a son is reason for celebration and a daughter is often mourned or seen as a misfortune.

Nordberg eloquently tells the stories of four women in The Underground Girls of Kabul. From the description of the novel on the website, "The book is anchored by vivid female characters who bring this ancient phenomenon to life: Azita, a female parliamentarian whose youngest daughter is chosen to pose as her only son; Zahra, the tomboy teenager who struggles with puberty and resists her parents’ attempts to turn her into a woman; Shukria, who was forced to marry and have three children after living for twenty years as a man; and Shahed, an Afghan special forces soldier, still in disguise as an adult man."

Set during one of America's most violent and longest wars, readers will gain some insight into the world of Afghan women and girls who make daily sacrifices in a culture set against them. The women portrayed in this novel represent generations of women who were able to live as the desired sex for a time, only to be forced into marriage and childbirth once they've hit puberty. Or if they've been able to continue to hide into adulthood, they live in fear of being discovered.

This novel captured my attention from the beginning, making me hang onto every word and not want to turn it off. The desire to learn more is why it only took me 4 days to finish a 10 hour recording. Nordberg's extensive journalistic research through her travels and interviews were obvious and showed how real these stories are, and how drastically different their lives are than in many western cultures. I struggle to grasp the cultural difference, and am grateful for the freedoms I have as a woman in another country, and the opportunities to learn about other cultures.

My rating is 5 out of 5 stars, which means I fell in love with multiple aspects and highly recommend this book.

The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan
Written by Jenny Nordberg
Narrated by Kirsten Potter
Published Sept. 16, 2014 by Random House Audio
Duration: 10 hours 56 minutes
Dates Listened: Dec. 2-6, 2016

To learn more this novel, including purchasing it, reading the introduction, and an interview with Jenny Nordberg, visit the website at or to read more stories about bacha posh, visit

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Review: Home Front by Kristin Hannah

Home Front by Kristin Hannah
Genre: Fiction, Women's Fiction, Romance, Contemporary
Audiobook, 15 hours
Published: January 2012 by Macmillan Audio
Narrated by Maggi-Meg Reed
Dates Listened: May 18 - June 5, 2017

I was feeling exceptionally patriotic when I chose to read this book because it was nearing Memorial Day here in the U.S., and I was looking for an audio version of good book related to the military and patriotism. And when I stumbled upon Home Front via OverDrive, and noticed the author being one my favorites, I instantly downloaded it and started listening.

That said, Kristin Hannah does it again! Home Front is a tear-jerker story about a lifetime of love, family, and friendship, military service and the hardships that come with those relationships during a war when one or more characters are in the military. Be prepared to have some tissues handy throughout the entire novel.

On the surface, it seems as though Michael and Jo have it all together. But as one looks in, it's obvious life isn't so perfect. Jolene enlisted in the National Guard at 17 after her parents died in a car crash. She felt she had no other options, and it gave her a chance at having structure and an education. Now, she impressively juggles her job as a helicopter pilot and being the mother of 12 year-old mean-girl-in-training, Betsy, and 4 year-old Lulu. Despite Jo being a strong female character, she somehow allows Betsy to get away blatant disrespect and spoiled behavior. This is never really addressed, but I suspect that it may have to do with Jo's own upbringing by alcoholic parents.

In addition, she struggles with Michael's increasingly distant behavior and also blatant disrespect and not supporting her military service simply because he doesn't agree with the war in Iraq. He doesn't understand his wife's bond with her unit, let alone with her best friend and co-pilot, Tami. He is a defense attorney who works long hours in an attempt at living up to his father's memory after his death.

Then, Jo's unit gets deployed to Iraq. Michael is thrown into single-parenthood, and with the help of his mother, he quickly learns that parenting is much harder than Jo made it look. At the office, he is preparing to defend a PTSD-afflicted veteran who has been charged with Murder I for killing his wife during a dissociative blackout. In doing so, he begins to understand what Jo is going through in Iraq and begins to regret telling her just before she left that he didn't love her anymore.

Jo's helicopter gets shot down during insurgent fire, and while Jo pulls Tami from the wreck she discovers a young crewman has been killed. She returns to the States by way of Germany after her leg is amputated, leaving Tami in the hospital still in a coma. While her physical wounds heal, she must now deal with the nightmares and somehow process the guilt she feels for the death of the crewman and Tami's injuries. This is all without Tami's support of friendship and seemingly lack of support from her husband.

Jo has turned into someone her daughters and her husband don't recognize. Michael tries to reconcile with her, not knowing the crash happened before his last letter arrived - the letter where he attempts to make amends.

Her behavior is beginning to remind Michael more and more of his client. Betsy may be starting to understand that her spoiled behavior is no longer acceptable when Jo lashes out her, while Lulu is still too young to grasp the magnitude and significance of what is happening to her mommy.

Hannah has written an emotionally charged novel about military service and the families who support those who serve. Yet, there were a few inconsistencies in the story. For example, why is Michael so clueless when it comes to the ins and outs of the household? Knowing that his wife is a National Guardsman, didn't he have to step up more when Jo has had to take time away for drilling one weekend a month and a 2 weeks stretch? Also, how the heck did she tolerate his blatant disrespect for her service?

I also wanted to reach through the book many times to strangle Betsy and her mean girl attitude. And to strangle Jo and Michael for not doing anything about it either. Jo was anal retentive about sticking to her meal calendar and running an efficient household, but would let her daughter's attitude run rampant. NOT OKAY.

On Goodreads, I gave this a 3 out of 5 rating (liked it) because of the inconsistencies of the characters behaviors. Per my own rating, it's a 4 out of 5 because I enjoyed it, though didn't quite love it and would still recommend it to those who enjoy Kristin Hannah's books. 

Monday, December 25, 2017

Review: Comfort & Joy by Kristin Hannah

Comfort & Joy by Kristin Hannah
Paperback, 272 pages
Published October 2006 by Ballantine Books
Dates read: Dec. 25-29, 2015

This is the only book I can recall reading that takes place around Christmas time that I read during the same time of year. It's a quick read by one of my favorite authors so I decided to give a shot to try meeting my reading challenge goal for 2015, despite the negative reviews and ratings I saw.

Since it's been two years since I've read this book, I am a little fuzzy on the details. What I do remember is that I was shocked by the sudden turn of events halfway through the book. I won't spoil the events because it was spoiled for me when I read a review. When reading my brief review on Goodreads, I mention that I think it made sense considering what happened a few pages before the plot twist. Then, fast forward to the ending where I was thinking "really?" because it just didn't seem all that plausible or realistic given what details Kristin Hannah provided, or didn't provide, throughout the book. Perhaps the holiday spirit is what propelled this story into being a warm-feel-good type book rather than realistic.

This story centers around Joy Candellaro, a recent divorcee who used to love Christmas more than any other time of the year. She's having difficulty mustering the enthusiasm she used to have for the holiday, and impulsively decides to buy a plane ticket to the Pacific Northwest and leave without telling anyone. Amidst a sudden turn of events, she ends up deep in the Olympic rainforest and decides to not return to her old life.

Deep in the rainforest, she meets Daniel and Bobby O'Shea. At six-years-old, Bobby closes himself to the rest of the world as he is unable to process the loss of his mother, especially now as his first Christmas without her approaches. Daniel is grieving in his own way and is at a loss for how to help his son cope, and is especially struggling with Bobby only speaking to his invisible friend. The three of them have a deep chemistry connection and are able to help each other heal through their shared similar heartache.

Then suddenly, their lives are ripped apart and hearts are broken again. As the Goodreads description reads, "On a magical Christmas Eve, a night of impossible dreams and unexpected chances, Joy must find the courage to believe in a love -- and a family -- that can't possible exist, and go in search of what she wants . . . and the new life only she can find."

My rating is 4 out of 5, which means that I enjoyed the book, I didn't quite love it. I would still recommend it though, especially to those who enjoy a good love story (albeit unlikely or unrealistic) set during Christmas-time. While it's not Kristin Hannah's usual style, based on Firefly Lane and The Nightingale, I still enjoyed and recommend this Christmas themed heartbreak story with a happy ending. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Paperback, 850 pages
Published June 1991 by Dell Publishing
Dates Read: Jan. 31 - April 3, 2016

Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is reunited with her husband, Frank, in 1945 at the end of WWII after several years apart. They're on their second honeymoon in the British Isles, when she walks through an ancient stone hedge and is suddenly transported to Scotland, circa 1743.

She is thrust into navigating an unfamiliar time and place torn by war and rivaling border clans. She has no idea how this happened or why, or where Frank is, or if he even knows what's happened to her, but she's determined to figure out the answers and return to 1945. Soon enough though, she encounters fighting clansmen who capture her and think she's a spy working for the British. One of the men is injured - meet Jamie Fraser, a stubborn yet charismatic hunk of a Scottish man. While Claire nurses his injuries, they develop a friendship and eventual romance. This adds complicated layers to Claire's feelings, and her plans to return home.

Gabaldon knocked her debut "let's give book writing a try" novel out of the park. A book that started out as a practice piece turned into a well-written, well-researched, and extremely detailed historical fiction piece of work that is difficult for me to sum up in one sentence. It's the first of a nine-book (for now) series, eight of which are already published, and has since been turned into a t.v. series on the network Starz.

The only reason I am giving this a 4 out of 5 rating is because there are many details that could have easily been left out to make this a much shorter, several hundred pages shorter, still amazing novel. It has everything else a historical fiction lover could want from the time travel to a distant, far away, long ago picturesque setting to the dreamy, romantic true love many people live their whole lives without finding.

I highly recommend it to anyone even remotely interested in historical fiction - just don't read it in February for a book club discussion. As grateful as I am that my book club decided to read this book, I am not grateful that it was for the shortest month of the year in 2016. February. I struggle to finish the shortest book on time, let alone the longest for the shortest month! Ugh. That said, it's one of my favorite books ever and definitely a favorite book club read - loved even more by the story continuing through (almost) 8 more books in the series!

To learn more about Diana Gabaldon and the Outlander series, visit her website at

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Part 3 of 3: Year in Review of 2017 Reading Challenges

Read Women 2017 Challenge

Summary: I am a member of a group on Goodreads called Read Women. Groups can have their own challenges, which are tracked by creating a "shelf" that's tied to the group challenge, and as you finish a book for that challenge, you add it to that shelf. The goal of this group, and in turn the, challenge is to read books by women. 

Challenge progress: I've read 12 out of  my goal of 13 books. I set this goal to 13 based on the books by women on my assigned list I created early on in 2017.
  1. Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
  2. The Matchmaker by Elin Hilderbrand
  3. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
  4. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
  5. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
  6. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
  7. Home Front by Kristin Hannah
  8. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  9. Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
  10. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
  11. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  12. Invisible Target: Breaking the Cycle of Educator Sexual Abuse by Andrea Clemens
Goal for remainder of 2017: however many of my currently reading pile I can complete.

2018 Goal: I think 15 is a fair goal considering that half of the books I usually read are by women. Exact number is to be determined. I like to set my goal at the very end of the year when I know exactly how many books I've completed.

Read Women Around the World

Summary: This is another challenge started by the Read Women group on Goodreads. It was adapted and borrowed from a few other challenges, particularly modeled after the "around the world in 80 books" challenge in the UK Book Group in Goodreads. The goal is to read as many books as I choose as the reader that are set in different countries around the world. There is no time or date limit to this challenge - I can take as long as I want to complete this challenge! The group challenge is set to end in 2037, but that's most likely because the site setting requires an end date.

Copied over from the challenge description, the only rules are:
1) All books have to be written by women.
2) The country must be the main setting (or joint main setting) for the book, not just somewhere a character makes a fleeting visit to.

A rule I've added for myself - exclude books set in the U.S. since it's my home country.

Alternately, I could read authors who are from different countries around the world, regardless of the setting of the book. I decided not to do it this way because I'd forget to try to reading female authors from different countries. It is much easier for me to go by setting of the book, than the author.

Challenge progress: 4 so far, out of the total of 30 I want to read.

Goal for remainder of 2017: Not applicable really since there's no time limit on this challenge. If I can finish either Dragonfly in Amber or Rokitansky, then great and that'll count. If I don't, then that's okay too!

2018 Goal: whatever I can read! I think 2-3 would be a safe goal, but that'll get firmed up a bit more in the next month (or year). I'll keep it low because I don't know what I'll be reading over the next year and want to keep it attainable.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Part 2 of 3: Year in Review of 2017 Reading Challenges

2017 Audiobook Challenge

Welcome to Part 2 of this 3-part series, where I am talking about my progress in the 2017 Audiobook Challenge. Back in May, I posted about my progress when I first learned about this challenge. 

Summary: 2017 is the fifth annual challenge, and it is hosted Hot Listens and Caffeinated Book Reviewer. There is also a group on Goodreads called Audiobook Junkies and is managed by Jonetta and Jennifer at The Book Nympho, the original hosts of the challenge. 

The rules are simple:
  • Runs from Jan. to Dec. 31, 2017
  • Goal is to listen to more audiobooks this year than last year
  • Must be in audio format - i.e. mp3, CD, Audible
  • Any genre counts
  • No need to be a book blogger - progress can be tracked on Goodreads, Facebook, etc.
  • Bloggers are asked to use the button (the audiobook challenge image) in a blog post mentioning their participation in the challenge. Others can post about the challenge on social media. The purpose is to spread the word about the challenge.
  • Check-in, if possible, in June and in December for updates from Hot Listens and Caffeinated Book Reviewer for giveaways. Enter the giveaways by visiting their blogs and signing up via the update post. 

Challenge progress: I've listened to a total of 11 audiobooks so far this year, putting puts me at the Stenographer level - up one level since May.

Newbie (I’ll give it a try) 1-5
Weekend Warrior (I’m getting the hang of this) 5-10
Stenographer (can listen while multi-tasking) 10-15
Socially Awkward (Don’t talk to me) 15-20
Binge Listener (Why read when someone can do it for you) 20-30
My Precious (I had my earbuds surgically implanted) 30-50
Marathoner (Look Ma no hands) 50+

These are the books I listened so far this year, which are linked to my reviews as applicable:
  1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  2. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  3. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, and the first review
  4. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
    1. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
    2. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
    3. Home Front by Kristin Hannah
    4. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
    5. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
    6. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
    7. The Matchmaker by Elin Hilderbrand
    Currently, I am listening to Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery for book club discussion in January, and also All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I will still be at Stenographer when I've finished these books, unless I listen to more!

    Goal for remainder of 2017: nothing set at the moment, though it's possible I could finish 2-3 audio books over the next 2 weeks.

    2018 Goal: I didn't have a goal set for 2017, and I don't think I'm going to set a goal for 2018 either. It's kind of a "whatever happens, happens" fun challenge for me to see how I end up doing. 

    Check back tomorrow for part 3! Interested in joining the challenge next year? Be on the lookout for the link-up post in January with our wonderful hosts, Hot Listens and Caffeinated Book Reviewer. You can also create a challenge shelf on Goodreads through the group I mentioned above, Audiobook Junkies, or track it through a Goodreads shelf with no challenge, through your blog, or social media site. The hosts need some kind of online list to see where keep track of your progress.

    Thursday, December 14, 2017

    Part 1 of 3: Year in Review of 2017 Reading Challenges

    This is Part 1 of a 3-part series of posts reviewing the year-long reading challenges I participated in 2017. In this post, you will see a recap of my progress on the Goodreads Reading Challenge and also My Personal Reading Challenge.

    In Part 2, you will find a recap of the 2017 Audiobook Challenge, hosted by Hot Listens and Caffeinated Book Reviewer. I posted about my progress back in May, at roughly the half-way point when I first learned about this challenge.

    In Part 3, you will see a recap of my progress on 2 challenges from the Goodreads group called Read Women. Those challenges are aptly called Read Women 2017 and Read Women Around the World. 

    In March, I participated in a challenge that was only for the month. That was the Take Control of Your TBR Pile, and won't be recapped in this series which is focused solely on my year-long challenges.

    Goodreads Reading Challenge

    Summary: If you remember my 2017 Reading Challenge post from January, I set myself a pretty lofty goal of reading 55 books this year on Goodreads. As much as I love to read, 55 is a high number for me.

    Challenge progress: I'm at 17 books out of 55, with 9 that I'm currently reading. See below for my read list, and currently reading list. Some readers will change their goal throughout the year. I'm not changing my goal this close to the end of the year because that's just not fair and I'd feel like I'm cheating. I had a year to complete this goal or adjust it as needed and since I failed to do either, I'll do the best I can to get as close as possible to it. I also just really want to see how close I can get to reaching this 55 goal with 2 weeks left.

    Goal for remainder of 2017: I'm shooting for 25 total for this year, or 8 books in the next 2 weeks!

    2018 Goal: I'll set the bar a little lower to a yet to be determined number that I think will be a bit more attainable, and I also won't limit myself to specific books. Reading is supposed to be fun!

    Check my Goodreads 2017 Year in Review to see my progress:

    My Personal Reading Challenge

    Summary: I challenged myself to read a set list of books that I currently own, plus the selections for book club. View the complete list here: 2017 Reading List Challenge. This set list ended up being a detrimental to my success because it made reading become a chore. Having "assigned" reading was like homework hanging over my head so I procrastinated on reading or didn't enjoy it.

    Challenge progress: 15 out of the 17 books I've read this year were on the list, or 15 out of 55! Only 2 were unplanned. I could say that 8 were unplanned, but that 8 counts the book club ones that I knew I'd read but didn't know the titles of yet since we pick about a month ahead.

    Goal for remainder of 2017: however many of my currently reading pile I can complete.

    2018 Goal: Lesson learned! I won't be doing "assigned reading" any more!

    Read as of 12/14/17 - This list is in order of dates read starting in January, and I've linked them to my own review (no link means no review). Visit Part 2 and Part 3 of this series to see which sub-challenges these books fall into. 

    1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    2. Invisible Target: Breaking the Cycle of Educator Sexual Abuse by Andrea Clemens
    3. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
    4. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, and the first review
    5. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
    6. Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
      1. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
      2. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
      3. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
      4. Home Front by Kristin Hannah
      5. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
        1. Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise by Thich Nhat Hanh
        2. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
        3. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
        4. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
        5. The Matchmaker by Elin Hilderbrand
        6. Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

        Currently Reading - see Part 2 and Part 3 of this series to see which shelves/sub-challenges these books will end up in if I finish them this year.

        1. Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel
        2. Pursuing Gold: A Novel of the Civil War by Cynthia L. Simmons
        3. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
        4. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr 
        5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky
        6. The Dharma of Star Wars by Matthew Bortolin
        7. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
        8. Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
        9. Rokitansky by Alice Darwin
        Check back for the next posts in the series!

        Tuesday, December 12, 2017

        Review: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

        Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
        Paperback, 487 pages
        Published April 2016 by Ballantine Books
        Dates Read: Nov. 22 - Dec. 11, 2017

        My book club, Vermont Books n Brews, selected Lilac Girls for our November discussion. Since it's historical fiction, based during the WWII era, the subject matter is right up my alley. The review from Library Journal on the cover reads, "extremely moving and memorable . . . should appeal strongly to [readers of] Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale and Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See." and this is quite accurate to me considering how much I enjoyed The Nightingale! I am now even more convinced I should read All the Light We Cannot See because of enjoying both of Lilac Girls and The Nightingale.

        Now back to the discussion. Of course, I lived up to my reputation and didn't finish the book in time for the discussion, but my book club LOVED Martha Hall Kelly's debut novel. Once I was able to sit down and read it for real, I read it in a week. That's a record for me. I just could not put it down.

        Have you ever gotten to the end of a book, closed it and sighed in relief? That happened for me with this book. I felt relief for Kasia that she finally got the closure she so desperately needed about what happened to her mother.

        Lilac Girls is based on the real-life story of three women whose lives are forever transformed and connected by horrendous acts during WWII. Caroline Ferriday is a New York socialite, former Broadway actress, and liaison to the French consulate who works to provide aid for French citizens during the war, and eventually for victims of war crimes. Kasia Kuzmerick is a Polish teenager who becomes a courier for the underground resistance movement and ends up in the only women's only concentration camp of the war with her mother and sister. Herta Oberheuser is a young German doctor who answers an ad for a government medical position, thinking it'd be a great experience for her medical career, but is unknowingly getting herself into a position that will have drastic consequences.

        For decades, these women manage to endure the impossible pain and heartache of war, and yet still manage to experience the love, redemption, and friendship that comes with the healing powers of the truth.

        Martha Hall Kelly eloquently tells the story of these strong, brave women who went through hell and back to survive in a world that eventually forgot about them. A story that seems to get brushed aside amidst the stories of the soldiers who fought the wars.

        Kelly did an amazing job with her debut novel. Her 10 years of research and attention to detail are apparent.  Perhaps I enjoyed it even more because I am a sucker for historical fiction, especially that of the WWII era, and with chapters written from different characters perspectives. Regardless of the reason, I am looking forward to Kelly's next two novels, both prequels to Lilac Girls.

        Rating: 5 out of 5 - I fell in love with multiple aspects. Highly recommend.

        Side note 1: Read the Author's Note and interview at the end of the book. Despite always being an avid reader, I rarely read the extras at the end of books such as the Author's Notes, acknowledgements, and interviews once the book ends. For some readers, that may come as a surprise. For others, you're probably thinking "Me too! Why bother?" I always thought it was a waste of time and it'd ruin the story for me. Well, let me tell you, I learned the hard way that I'm missing out! If you're like me and don't read those extras, please read them for Lilac Girls, you won't be sorry.

        Side note 2: There are discussion questions in the back of the book. For book club discussion activity ideas and more questions, visit

        Side note 3: There is a documentary being made about the Rabbits of Ravensbruck. To learn more and follow the story, follow their progress on Facebook and watch this video on YouTube.