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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.
The Nine–despair and courage
by Gwen Strauss
Five years of research and writing went into the creation of The Nine, a nonfiction work that focuses on a group of nine women, most in their twenties, who joined the Resistance movement in World War II at various times and places. Six were French, two Dutch, and one Spanish. They were individually captured and sent to worse than horrible Nazi internment camps.
The author was able to interview her great aunt Helène who spoke five languages and was the leader of this band who joined together to survive and escape. Strauss followed quite a maze of information and was aided by many including families of “The Nine.” The book begins with Helène’s story which for me was emotionally difficult as she provides some details of her capture and torture. There were some types of torture, however, that Helène would not discuss or even name. The rest of the account moved more quickly as we learn more about each of the young ladies in the first nine chapters along with descriptions of life in a labor camp. Each chapter moves them closer to either death or escape. Most of the rest of the book lays out their last days together and concludes with what happens after the war is over.
The ladies did not share their stories with very many people for a variety of reasons which the author relates. Several wrote about their experiences in unpublished formats to be discovered after their deaths. Many former prisoners of World War II suffered again after their presumed return to safety—homes and loved ones were gone, their bodies were physically ruined, and society turned against them. Statistically they were lucky to survive, but they bore visible and invisible scars. Most returnees were reluctant to discuss their imprisonment with even those closest to them and found that, in general, people did not want to hear about their experiences.
I highly recommend this book for the author’s insightful and thorough reporting about the brave women of the Resistance and the cruel and evil system that treated them as vermin. One of the policies that I sadly see repeated currently is those in power inciting division to weaken and control those under them. In the camps, the Poles received the best treatment from the Nazis, followed by the Reds. Every group looked down on another in the camps with the Roma (Gypsies), criminals, and homosexuals regarded as the bottom of humanity.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Category: History, Nonfiction (Adult)
Notes: 1. Subtitled: The True Story of a Band of Women Who Survived the Worst of Nazi Germany
2. At the first of the book there is a list of the women with their nicknames and a brief description
3. At the end of the book are notes about the author’s journey into the past, a bibliography, notes on each chapter, and a list of the illustrations (which sound interesting, but were not included in my Advance Reader Copy).
Publication: May 4, 2021—St. Martin’s Press
The Jewish prisoners were given the worst rations, worst living conditions, and the hardest jobs. They were already the most traumatized group, having suffered pogroms, witnessed mass murders, and narrowly escaped the gas chambers. All of them had probably seen their loved ones die, and they may or may not have counted themselves lucky to be alive.
They were proud of how they served each other, divided food equally, and maintained their civility in such an uncivil place. It had kept them strong when others become more and more like animals, lost their sense of themselves, and fell into dark despair.
In the sea of people who seemed to have been tossed up like pebbles on a beach, the prospect of finding their loved ones felt nearly impossible.
The Last Agent–suspenseful spy novel
The Last Agent
by Robert Dugoni
Oddly, I have watched many more spy movies than I have read spy books. Robert Dugoni’s The Last Agent is a great pathway for me into the world of spy novels. It is part of a series in that Charles Jenkins is the main character in the series that bears his name. Although the characters are important to the story, appreciating the book is not predicated on having read others in the series. This book is a fine example of a story that is so engaging, so complex, that the plot stands on its own merits.
Charlie Jenkins is a retired spy, forced out by his own organization. He tries to enjoy rural life with his much younger wife and two young children. When opportunity knocks at his door, however, Charlie answers with minimal hesitation. This assignment is especially appealing because it gives him the chance to help Paulina who sacrificed herself so that he could return to his family. An extremely strong double agent mentally, she is questioned relentlessly with physical and psychological torture by Russians who want to know the identity of certain assets.
Charlie is supposed to engineer her escape from an impenetrable prison and see her to the U.S. and freedom. She is in an extremely compromised physical condition and is heavily guarded. Getting her out would take a lot of skill and planning along with a dose of good luck. The Russians want her information badly and have the advantage of Putin’s extensive “Big Brother” network of cameras. Fortunately, Charlie has support from his handlers with assets all over Europe and a huge bank account that gives him leverage with a former Russian agent.
There are so many intricate steps in achieving the various goals along the way. Not everything goes smoothly so a lot of improvisation is required. Hideous weather both hinders and helps. Disguises and unusual means of transportation are called into play. I guarantee this book is a page turner that will keep you reading way past “lights out.”
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Thomas & Mercer for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery & Thriller (Spy)
Notes: #2 in The Charles Jenkins Series, but I read it as a standalone with no problems understanding or enjoying it.
Publication: September 22, 2020—Thomas & Mercer
His anger spiked; he couldn’t believe the agency that had allowed him to be tried for espionage now had the audacity to seek his help.
You Americans are too impatient. It is your consumerism. You want everything now. This minute. You must learn Russian patience. We must take the first step before we take the second.”
Viktor Federov knew well that Big Brother had returned to Russia, though the method of spying—once Russians reporting on fellow Russians—now employed computer technology cameras, and cell phones.
A Deathly Silence–horrific crime
A Deathly Silence
by Jane Isaac
Detective Chief Inspector Helen Lavery has been recuperating from work related injuries when she gets called back by the horrific death of a young woman. Helen, a widow and the mother of two boys, was fast-tracked into her current position and leads a team of investigators in Jane Isaac’s A Deathly Silence which is a police procedural on steroids.
This mystery details the dangerous investigation that leads Helen and her team to examine evidence, interview suspects and witnesses multiple times, attend autopsies, engage in stake-outs, create timelines, and gather to brainstorm theories. The clues become even more muddled as a leak appears and Helen and her team wonder who they can trust. One death seems to lead to more, and even the gang that previously sidelined Helen comes under suspicion. A Deathly Silence is a top-notch mystery and police procedural. Helen is a likable main character, but the plot is the show stopper in this book that will set you up to want to read more in this series. The murder is a surprise as is the motive.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Legend Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Mystery, General Fiction (Adult)
Notes: As #3 in the the DCI Helen Lavery Novel Series, this book can most definitely work as a standalone; I was not aware it was part of a series until I prepared to write this review.
Publication: October 15, 2019—Legend Press
He was in a tailspin, a swirling vortex of emotions, his heart fighting to burst out of his chest.
Teamwork existed on trust and the very idea that one of her people had betrayed that trust was like a fishbone lodged in the back of her throat.
There were always more casualties than the dead in a murder investigation.
Burning Ridge–searching for family
by Margaret Mizushima
The action starts in Burning Ridge in the first chapter where readers also get filled in on the series background and meet some of the characters. From a rough and tumble bar fight, this novel moves on to a bright and sunny horseback ride for Cole, the local veterinarian, and his daughters in the Colorado mountains. The family ride turns dark and the mystery begins.
Margaret Mizushima has written a K-9 police procedural. No cozy mystery, this work of fiction looks at an evil-plotting mind plagued by excesses of greed. Main characters Deputy Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo find themselves in danger as she tries to solve a horrific crime that turns personal. Many are involved in finding the murderer, and there are a variety of suspects. Get ready for a surprise ending. In the process of the investigation, Mattie discovers parts of her past that she never knew as well as secrets buried deep in her psyche. She learns to accept help and to expand her ideas of what constitutes a family.
Burning Ridge is a page turner as are the other books in this fast moving series. It contains lots of information about K-9 officers shared in a non-didactic fashion.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Crooked Lane Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Mystery, Thriller
Notes: 1. This is #4 in the Timber Creek K-9 Mystery Series. It is good as a standalone, but be aware that each book reveals a little more about Mattie’s past as she comes to grips with it.
2. This contains more upsetting violence than I usually read, but it is within the acceptable boundary for me. Everyone is different so be aware that it contains some torture.
Publication: September 11, 2018—Crooked Lane Books
An occasional clump of young aspen shot up toward the cloudless blue sky. Spring leaves, bright green and as yet unblemished by summer dryness, quivered at the ends of branches, their spade-like shape seeming to catch even the slightest of breezes. “Look at the aspen leaves, girls. They’re dancing.”
Robo lay on his cushion, his eyes pinned on her every move. She’d learned from experience that her emotions went straight to her dog.
“Life can be full of regrets if you focus on them. We make decisions for whatever reasons we have in the moment, not because we have some superhuman vision of what will happen in the future.”
Field of Bones: A Brady Novel of Suspense
Field of Bones: A Brady Novel of Suspense
by J.A. Jance
It was all I could do to get through the first half of the book. Don’t get me wrong. Field of Bones, set in Arizona, fulfills its promise of being a suspenseful novel, and it is very well written. The characters are appropriately developed, and I certainly understand the appeal of Sheriff Joanna Brady, mother of three, as the main character of the series. She is a strong woman, but portrayed realistically, not as a superwoman. Part mystery, part thriller, part police procedural, and all suspense fiction, Field of Bones runs the full gamut.
The “but” you can hear coming is because of the topic: violent, horrible, sex slavery. It makes for a combo of “I can’t stop reading, leaving characters in this torturous situation” and “I can’t read anymore; it is just too painful.” Kudos to the author J.A. Dance for the skills to put me in this situation. At the same time, I have to say Jance does not include details of the violence, but offers enough information that anyone with an imagination will get the picture. Given the number of books she has published, I think a lot of people admire her storytelling talent. This book is just too terrifying for me, and I doubt I will read any more of her books.
Although some of the tension is relieved in the last half of the book, the story is far from over. At that point, I did enjoy watching how the professionals from various fields perform their duties and work to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to HarperCollins Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Fiction, Thriller, Suspense, Mystery
Notes: #18 in the Joanna Brady Mystery Series, but despite the number of books that preceded this one, I had no trouble following the personal interactions because they were limited compared to the suspenseful storyline.
Publication: September 4, 2018—HarperCollins Publishers
At the end of this long, difficult day, he was in over his head. She needed a kind way to encourage him without undermining his confidence.
The pressure Latisha applied during the required three-minute wait hurt like crazy, but Garth was grateful for that. You had to be alive to know that it hurt.
“…did you ever get around to having that baby? The last time I saw you, you were big as a barn.” Randy Trotter was a lot of things, but politically correct wasn’t one of them. He was known for putting his lizard-skin Tony Lamas in his mouth, sometimes both of them at once.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
by Laura Hillenbrand
How much can the human body, the human spirit, endure? Unbroken is the story of Olympic track contender Louie Zamperini as he is tested past the limits of endurance during World War II. His running career is cut short as he becomes a bombardier. The characteristics that made him a difficult child, always testing the limits, become the foundation of an unrelenting resilience in the face of life challenging circumstances. He endured horrors, but he was miraculously saved from death several times. Did God have a plan for Louie’s life? Could he be saved from his own destructive behaviors and the hatred dwelling in his heart?
Unbroken is a biography and so much more. It reads like a fascinating work of fiction. In fact, if more nonfiction maintained the interest level of Unbroken, there would be a lot more readers of nonfiction. This book is engaging and fast paced. Unbroken was thoroughly researched over seven years using archives and many interviews including seventy-five interviews with Louie himself. Very importantly, author Laura Hillenbrand found few discrepancies among the various reports.
I read and review a lot of books. I mentally gauge my review comparing each book within its genre. A five star cozy mystery is not compared to a five star book of poetry, for example. I must state, however, that Unbroken rises above a star rating system. Although emotionally difficult in places, it is a book that everyone should read.
Category: History, Biography
Notes: Thanks to my brother Don Lyons who insisted I borrow his copy of Unbroken. It was every bit as powerful as you said it would be!
Publication: November 16, 2010—Random House
In a childhood of artful dodging, Louie made more than just mischief. He shaped who he would be in manhood. Confident that he was clever, resourceful, and bold enough to escape any predicament, he was almost incapable of discouragement. When history carried him into war, this resilient optimism would define him.
“The other pilots act as though nothing has happened and speak of sending the other fellow’s clothes home as though it were an everyday occurrence. That’s the way it has to be played because that’s the way it is—it’s an everyday occurrence!”
This self-respect and sense of self-worth, the innermost armament of the soul, lies at the heart of humanness; to be deprived of it is to be dehumanized, to be cleaved from, and cast below, mankind…Without dignity, identity is erased. In its absence, men are defined not by themselves, but by their captors and the circumstances in which they are forced to live.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz–tribute to human resilience and the power of love
The Tattooist of Auschwitz
by Heather Morris
When a book reads like fiction but is a union of memories and history, it is literary work that is destined to engage and move the reader. The Tattooist of Auschwitz is such a tale, related by Lale Sokolov to Heather Morris over a three year period. It is a horrific story of desperation in the worst of circumstances and of Lale’s confidence that he would survive and marry his beloved fellow sufferer Gita.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz displays the best and worst of mankind. It shows the incredible resilience of the human spirit. Throughout, the reader witnesses people doing whatever it takes to survive as does Lale who is innovative, multilingual, charming, and determined that in the end his tormentors would not get the best of him. There are many books written about the Holocaust. Each addresses the events from a different perspective. This is another valuable contribution, adding to our understanding and reinforcing the sentiment of “never again.”
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Bonnier Zaffire for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: General Fiction (Adult), Historical Fiction
Notes: Despite the nature of the events being retold, the writing has a respectful tone without graphic descriptions of violence or swearing. I highly recommend this book.
Publication: January 11, 2018—Bonnier Zaffire
Lale has witnessed an unimaginable act. He staggers to his feet, standing on the threshold of hell, an inferno of feelings raging inside him.
How can a race spread out across multiple countries be considered a threat?
“I know it’s a strange thing for me to say, but you will honor them by staying alive, surviving this place and telling the world what happened here.”
He knows they will never grow to be the women they were meant to be. Their futures have been derailed and there will be no getting back on the same track. The visions they once had of themselves, as daughters, sisters, wives and mothers, workers, travelers, and lovers, will forever be tainted by what they’ve witnessed and endured.