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The Wind in My Hair–compulsory hijab
The Wind in My Hair
by Masih Alinejad with Kambiz Foroohar
In her memoir The Wind in My Hair, Masih Alinejad, in exile first in Great Britain and later in America, tells the struggles she had and all Iranian women still endure with laws in Iran that make wearing the hijab compulsory from age seven. The “morality police” in that country take this law over what women wear to the extreme. Women can be beaten, flogged, and jailed if even a strand of hair escapes the hijab. Women who have resisted this compulsory law have had acid splashed in their faces and have been incarcerated, tortured, and sometimes raped.
Masih tells her personal story of an impoverished, but mostly happy, rural childhood with conservative parents. Always a bit of a rebel, Masih was expelled from high school in her final semester and jailed for belonging to a small anti-government secret society. Later as a parliament reporter, she was banned from the parliament building for asking the wrong questions.
In exile Masih worked tirelessly and sometimes under threats of violence for the rights of women in Iran. There are more issues involved than compulsory hijab, but that is a visible sign of the control men have over women in Iran. Masih used the tools of social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, to broadcast her positions in Iran where the government controls television and newspapers. The movements she started were given exposure internationally via the Internet.
Masih is highly critical of female politicians and government employees who visit Iran but are unwilling to bring up women’s rights in official discussions and wear some version of head covering during their visit. Masih made recordings of Iranian families’ stories about their dead or missing loved ones called The Victims of 88. Brave women flooded her social media accounts with pictures of themselves without the hijab in the interest of freedom. The Wind in My Hair is well-written by a journalist-storyteller who has lived the story she tells. It will grip you and not release you as you ponder the freedoms you currently enjoy in your own country.
Category: History, Memoir
Notes: Perhaps because she was not raised American, perhaps because she is a journalist, Masih’s perception of current politics and reporting in the U.S. seem somewhat skewed. She clearly understands that you can’t trust reports in Iran, but does not seem to realize that there is censorship in the U.S. by big business, politicians, and the media working in concert. That viewpoint does not change the importance of her analysis of the Iranian government’s control over its people following the deposition of the Shah.
Publication: May 29, 2018—Little, Brown, & Co.
“The Americans are coming to steal Iran away. They’ll kill us all.” I really thought we’d face another war immediately. It was not rational, but, like millions of Iranians, I had been brainwashed by the daily propaganda on the national television and radio stations. I thought it was only Khomeini who was strong enough to stand up to the greedy U.S. capitalists. Many years later, I discovered that Khomeini was a coldhearted dictator who ordered the execution of thousands of Iranians.
I didn’t even know what charges I faced. No one had read the complaint against me. I had no lawyer to defend me. I was forced into giving a confession, and now all that remained was for this judge to pass a sentence. It didn’t sound very just. Later in life, I discovered that there is not much justice in the Islamic Republic.
There is a predictable cycle in Iranian politics, as predictable as the weather. Every year, for a few months, the government relaxes its grip and some actions are tolerated—women can show a few inches of hair under their head scarves, or men and women can actually walk together without being married, or the newspapers can publish mildly critical articles. Then, just like the dark clouds that gather in late autumn, the freedoms are taken away and transgressors are punished.
Return to the Big Valley–three novellas
Return to the Big Valley
by Wanda Brunstetter
Consisting of three novellas written by three generations of Brunstetters, Return to the Big Valley is refreshingly gentle fiction set in Amish country. In this case “gentle” does not mean boring or humdrum.
Wilma’s Wish by Wanda Brunstetter is the story of Wilma Hostetler, a twenty-five year old former school teacher currently making quilted items to sell in her friend’s store. She is very much in love with her fiancée Isaac who works construction. Their lives are upended when Isaac’s widowed sister dies leaving five rambunctious children who don’t know how to respond to suddenly being orphaned. Will a single young man be able to take on these children without losing his beloved Wilma? This is a very sweet story; it addresses important themes of commitment, trust, and grieving.
Martha’s Miracle by Jean Brunstetter focuses on a different young couple in Pennsylvania. Martha Yoder’s family moved from Lancaster to Belleville, a smaller Amish community. They own a modest B&B that appeals to tourists. Glen Swarey’s family is also Amish. Neither Martha nor Glen has joined the church yet. Although they are courting, their lives seem to be taking them in different directions. It would take a miracle to remove the obstacles on the pathway to a happy marriage. Martha’s Miracle points out the advantages and disadvantages of both the English and Amish worlds. Its themes include trusting God and seeking His plan for your life, the importance of family, and staying true to your own character and beliefs.
Alma’s Acceptance by Richelle Brunstetter is a story of personal tragedy. Married for almost a year, Alma’s world is shattered when her husband Michael passes away. Devastated, she clears out their house and moves back home. Unable to either settle in or grieve properly, Alma goes from Kentucky to her former hometown in Pennsylvania to get away and to help her friend in her card shop. She quickly reconnects with her childhood friend, Elias. When Alma moved with her parents, neither Elias nor Alma had confessed their romantic feelings to each other. Now they have a second chance, but there are many obstacles including the short amount of time since Michael’s passing, the concerns of their parents, and the necessity of their Amish bishop’s approval. But there is one more challenge that arises that may be the one that separates them forever.
I am not usually fond of novellas because there is just not enough time in that format for character development. All three of these authors did an outstanding job of creating characters with depth and developing interesting plots. I rarely judge novellas to be worthy of five stars, especially when all three are written by different authors, but these ladies have earned the accolades.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Category: Christian, General Fiction, Romance
Notes: Three recipes are included which tie into the respective stories.
Publication: June 1, 2021—Barbour Publishing
Wilma didn’t appreciate the reminder that she’d let her pride get in the way of telling Israel the truth. But her fear of rejection held her back more than pride, and she saw no way of getting past that.
“I’m sure in the English world you wouldn’t have to worry much about being a lady whose hobby is hunting…. there aren’t any set rules about women caring for their homes and family as there are in the Amish community.” Lori chimed in. “I would have to say in the Mennonite groups it isn’t as big of a deal either. If a lady hunts, that’s okay. Each of us has different hobbies.”
His eyes were like ocean waves cascading the shoreline as tears threatened to spill over.
The Girl at the Last House Before the Sea–the power of secrets and gossip
The Girl at the Last House Before the Sea
by Liz Eeles
The third book in the Heaven’s Cove series is quite powerful and touching. Freya’s life seems full and satisfying. She has a husband and a job as a caregiver—until her life falls apart and she loses both. Struggling to get her feet on the ground again, she accepts an offer from her half-sister Belinda to come to Heaven’s Cove to interview for a position as the full-time carer for the eighty-three year old Kathleen, a proud and independent woman who is harboring a powerful secret. Freya has secrets from her own past as does Belinda who is known as the town fixer and gossip. Despite their biological relationship, the sisters hardly know each other.
Kathleen’s son Ryan, a widower, has a guilty secret of his own that makes him suspicious of Freya. He locks himself away from most society focusing on the task of caring for his mother and his daughter Chloe. Chloe is struggling with the death of her mom, their move to a new town, fitting in with new friends, and the hormones of a typical twelve-year old girl.
Freya is a talented listener and people open up to her and tell her their secrets. Unfortunately, along with sharing their pasts, people often insist that Freya not speak of their disclosures with anyone. That request is not usually an issue as Freya is not a gossip. In The Girl at the Last House Before the Sea, however, things spoken in confidence can conflict with well-meaning promises Freya makes to various family members. She is honoring their wishes and motivations, but the secrets can still hurt if and when they are revealed.
Freya finds that Kathleen has lied about never having been to Driftwood Cottage on the cliff; the little cottage, now a B&B, holds both an attraction and a revulsion for Kathleen. What could have happened in Heaven’s Cove to draw Kathleen to move there after the death of her husband? Freya wants to help, but the request needs to come from Kathleen herself.
I loved this book. Its plot includes a part of history that affected many families painfully but is now thankfully in the past. The plight of the various characters is moving. The sadness and agony Kathleen suffers is heart-wrenching, but there is also hope in the book as secrets are laid open and the air is cleared. The final upset in the book comes from a surprise source, and the denouement is particularly satisfying.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Bookouture for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Women’s Fiction, General Fiction (A), Romance
Notes: #3 in the Heaven’s Cove series, but could be read as a standalone. Although there are a few minor characters who overlap from the first two books, the plot is self-contained.
Publication: February 28, 2022—Bookouture
But today, a sea view was just what she needed, because the endless movement of the water was calming. Life might disintegrate into an unholy mess but the waves would roll on.
Freya spent some time inspecting the photos, which were of the village from decades ago and people long gone. The pictures were fascinating and made her realize that her current problems were merely a blip along the way of life.
Secrets held power—the power to surprise or delight, to hurt or harm—because they were so often bound up with primal emotions.
The Mockingbird’s Song–love rises from the ashes
The Mockingbird’s Song
by Wanda E. Brunstetter
The saga of the King family, an Amish family that suffers the tragic loss of three males in the family in an accident, continues in The Mockingbird’s Song, the second book in Wanda Brunstetter’s trilogy called the Amish Greenhouse Mysteries. The women in the family are the focus as they try to work through their grief and decide when it is time to move on. Amish men are important to the story as well in their interactions with these women.
Most of the characters are likable and the book is a pleasant relief from more intense genres. Several characters are a puzzle. Maude is a homeless woman who goes a step too far in taking things that don’t belong to her. Monroe held a romantic interest as a teenager in Belinda, the recently widowed matriarch of the King family. Now he reappears in her life with renewed attentions, but she is unsure of his motivations. Virginia is a non-Amish character. She seems to have had a rough life, but she is currently self-centered and prejudiced. Could any of these characters be behind the vandalism, destruction, and threats the King family is enduring in what seems to be a plot to destroy their greenhouse business? The answers will be found in the third and final book in the series, released March 2021.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Christian, Mystery
Notes: #2 in the Amish Greenhouse Mysteries, but the author does a good job of reviewing the main points in the previous book.
Publication: August 1, 2020—Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press)
Belinda felt the emptiness in her house, all the way to her bones.
Getting the first month’s rent and giving Dennis a key to the home she used to share with Toby made his death seem so final—like coming to the end of a novel. Only, Sylvia didn’t feel the satisfaction that came from reaching the end of a book. Her heart ached more than ever.
Thought all I needed was a happy life with the woman I love. I’m beginning to realize I can never find true happiness until I’ve learned to forgive.
Hannah Coulter–“living right on”
by Wendell Berry
The narrator through the voice of Hannah Coulter ends the first chapter of this novel with the simple line “This is my story, my giving of thanks.” Do not, however, be lulled into thinking you are going to read a book consisting of platitudes on gratitude. Hannah reflects from old age on a full life, but what most would consider a common, ordinary life. She grieves over those she lost whether to sickness or the War. She keeps moving forward because what else is she to do?
Wendell Berry, the author of Hannah Coulter is an agrarian, a novelist, a poet, and an essayist. He brings his characters to life with carefully chosen words that reflect their deepest thoughts about difficult subjects as well as their humanity. This is a book that you may want to reread, that may make you tear up, and that will certainly be the cause of reflection as you identify with certain characters or events.
Perhaps because I usually prefer linear storytelling and Hannah Coulter strays from that paradigm in its first and last chapters, it will not be one of my favorite books. I do recommend it as a book of depth with passages that are worthy of sharing orally for the way the words delight or for the descriptions meant to be savored for the images they evoke. Hannah Coulter opens the door to her heart, her life, and her community to the reader in an honest and touching manner.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Counterpoint for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Literary Fiction
Notes: 1. Part of the Port William series but they don’t have to be read in order.
2. Map and Genealogy included at the end.
Publication: October 10, 2005—Counterpoint
Time doesn’t stop. Your life doesn’t stop and wait until you get ready to start living it. Those years of the war were not a blank, and yet during all that time I was waiting. We were all waiting.
He told of the time he went fishing and the mosquitoes were so big and fierce that he had to take shelter under a lard kettle, and the mosquitoes’ beaks were so tough and sharp that they pierced the iron and came through, and he picked up his hammer and clenched their beaks, and the mosquitoes flew off with his kettle.
The chance you had is the life you’ve got. You can make complaints about what people, including you, make of their lives after they have got them, and about what people make of other people’s lives, even about your children being gone, but you mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this: “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks.” I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever–a Christmas favorite
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
by Barbara Robinson
Most people enjoy a good Christmas story. For example, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is emblematic for many of the Christmas spirit of generosity that we would like to see year round. Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is another story that has captured the imagination of readers of all ages. A humorous children’s chapter book, the story tells of the year the Herdmans, “absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world,” decide they want to be a part of a church’s annual Christmas pageant.
The narrator’s mother directs the pageant for the first time, and we experience her determination, kindness, and patience as she explains the story of Jesus to the unchurched Herdmans. We are also treated to a new, unsanitized view of the nativity story. One of the Herdman clan indignantly wants to know why Joseph didn’t tell the innkeeper who Jesus is. Another finds it strange that they tie the baby up in wadded up clothes and put him in a food trough. The Herdmans plot revenge on the wicked Herod; the Angel of the Lord, as played by Gladys, the youngest Herdman, comes down from above like a superhero from a comic book.
Appealing to children and adults alike, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever might well become a Christmas tradition in your family. Parts of it are laugh out loud funny, and other parts will give you pause. It has been made into a movie and a play, but I can’t imagine anything better than cozying up with the family and sharing the book together.
Category: Children’s Fiction
Notes: Interest Level—all ages
Intended Reading Level—Grades 3-7; Ages 8-12 years
Publication: 1972—Scholastic Inc. (Harper Collins)
Most of us spent all week in school being pounded and poked and pushed around by Herdmans, and we looked forward to Sunday as a real day of rest.
Mother said…“Why, it’s going to be the best Christmas pageant we’ve ever had!” Of all the lies she’d told so far, that was the biggest, but you had to admire her. It was like General Custer saying, “Bring on the Indians!”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen. It may be the first Christmas pageant in history where Joseph and the Wise Men get in a fight, and Mary runs away with the baby.”
The Oceans Between Us–disgrace for two nations
The Oceans Between Us
by Gill Thompson
A very good storyteller, Gill Thompson discovered a story that needed to be told and related in such a way that it reached past the bare facts. In The Oceans Between Us, she has done just that.
I was pulled into the story relating to each of the characters as we explored them and their part in making history. Molly and Jack are British mom and son separated when a wartime bomb is detonated destroying their home. They end up oceans apart and although the thread flowing through the book is their longing for each other, their lives continue on with highs and lows. Other themes are institutional abuse and racial discrimination. Those are hard and cold terms that come alive as we watch them played out in this story. The events are a part of history I was unaware of. You’ll want to read this book to see one author’s view of how it may have played out on a personal level and discover if justice was actually ever served.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Headline for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Historical Fiction
Publication: March 21, 2019—Headline
Everything seemed out of kilter. Like when she’d tried for hours to do a jigsaw here at Warlingham, only to realize half the pieces came from another set.
Jack was a frozen child, forever trapped in her mind in his five-year-old body. Molly could no more imagine him at eighteen than she could fly.
But the lawyer in him resisted the child. He couldn’t risk his career before it had started. Bindoon had given him brawn but it hadn’t robbed him of a brain. Besides, you didn’t fight violence with violence. You fought it with cunning.
Empty Nest, Full Life: Discovering God’s Best for Your Nest
Empty Nest, Full Life: Discovering God’s Best for Your Nest
by Jill Savage
Parents, but mothers in particular, spend almost twenty years preparing their children to fly out of the nest and into the world of adulthood. It turns out that the releasing can be as hard as the preparation. There are issues of control, especially if you have boomerang kids. Mothers are good at piling guilt on themselves when things don’t work out perfectly or as expected for their kids. Grandkids are a blessing, but they come with their own set of issues. The list goes on and on.
Jill Savage, a speaker and teacher of the Bible, who has endured her own personal trials, shares Biblical wisdom and personal anecdotes to illustrate her viewpoints on various subjects related to the “empty nest” in Empty Nest, Full Life. The first half of the book is entitled “Let Go!” and discusses the problems encountered during the empty nest season. It speaks of letting go of expectations, guilt, opinions, traditions, your child’s problems, and your own idols (the things that steal your attention away from God, the things you use to identify yourself). Part Two is called “Hold On!” and within that section lie ideas for what to actually do during that season of the empty nest. Savage encourages you to grab hold of a new mission field, passions, and friendships. She encourages you to revitalize your marriage and your relationship with God.
Each chapter closes with a truth from the Bible, an action step, and a prayer. The book itself ends with encouragement for the next season, a list of questions to help you identify current or past baggage that has affected your marriage, reference notes, and a discussion guide for a leader to use in a small group setting.
My personal nest has been empty for a number of years so I am not approaching or in the middle of an empty nest crisis. I would imagine, however, that this book would be helpful for those wondering how to deal with their new found “freedom.”
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Moody Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Christian, Parenting and Family
Publication: August 6, 2019—Moody Publishers
Expectations will get us in trouble every time. They set us up for disappointment and leave us feeling disconnected.
Studies indicate the brain isn’t fully developed until the age of twenty-five. Yes, that means that our kids are now setting their own priorities when they’re not actually fully equipped to do so.
My friend Becky says that when she’s tempted to address something with her adult son, she tries to think of how she would address it with a friend. Most of the time she realizes she wouldn’t address it with a friend at all! This helps her find self-control and pray instead.
Goodness, Grace, and Me–it’s complicated
Goodness, Grace, and Me
by Julie Houston
Complicated relationships are at the center of Julie Houston’s Goodness, Grace, and Me. Harriet (Hat) has been best friends with Grace since they were eleven, and they both idolized Amanda who along the way picked up the title “Little Miss Goodness.” Twenty years later, Grace and Harriet assume they are rid of her influence when she suddenly re-enters their lives. Despite all warnings, Harriet’s husband Nick becomes involved in business with Amanda’s husband and thus Amanda. Grace’s brother continues to be under Amanda’s spell.
Life is not easy for Harriet, mother of three, who had to return to teaching because of economic problems. Also Nick’s mother has come to live with them. Although her situation is complicated, Harriet pushes hard for stability for her family.
This is my second Julie Houston book to read and I like it much better than the first. The main character is strong, likable, and has moral character. There is a subplot involving Harriet’s mother, possible dementia, and a secret. I wasn’t sure how the plot would sort itself out, but it did and I enjoyed watching it happen.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Aria for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction
Notes: Includes some British vulgarisms but they are not terribly offensive compared to those found in Julie Houston’s Coming Home to Holly Close Farm.
Publication: February 19, 2019—Aria
I can only ever sulk for a maximum of five minutes, by which time I’ve usually had enough of giving the cold shoulder treatment and need to start talking again. Life is just too short to spend it in silence.
Admittedly, I did most of the hard graft but I lightened the proceedings by blasting out T.Rex’s “I Love to Boogie”, so that even Kit forgot he was a fully paid up member of the moody brigade and jitterbugged round the furniture with the Hoover.
…wrapping a duvet around her against the almost damp cold which had settled in the sitting room like a melancholic maiden aunt who has outstayed her welcome, I went back through the hall to ring the doctor’s surgery.