“The Lindbergh Nanny” by Mariah Fredericks – Review

By: Angie Haddock


When the most famous toddler in America, Charles Lindbergh, Jr., is kidnapped from his family home in New Jersey in 1932, the case makes international headlines. Suddenly a suspect in the eyes of both the media and the public, Betty Gow must find the truth about what really happened that night, in order to clear her own name—and to find justice for the child she loves.

Goodreads


I felt like we needed a good ol’ fashioned Historical Fiction over here, and this one piqued my interest. Fun fact: my eighth grade honors history class did a mock trial at the end of the year, and we re-enacted the Lindbergh kidnapping court case. So, I’ve been familiar with the basics of this story since I was 14.

Because this one is based on real events, I am not going to hold back on “spoilers.” The basics of the case, for those who are not familiar:

Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, were super famous. They tried to mostly keep their first-born, Charles Jr., out of the public eye. When Charles Jr. was 20 months old, he was kidnapped from his crib while all the adults of the house were home. A broken ladder was found nearby, which was assumed to be how the kidnapper got into his second floor bedroom. There was a ransom note left. The Lindberghs paid the ransom, but the baby was not returned at that time. His body was later found in the woods near the house. The police kept trying to find out who did it, even after the body was found, by tracking the bills that had been used to pay the ransom. Eventually, they arrested and tried a German immigrant who had no known ties to the family.

In this retelling, the kidnapping takes place around 40% into the book, and the baby’s body is found at around 60%. Which brings me to my only struggle here: there is a lot of backstory presented before the “big event.” But really, while it felt like a lot while getting through the first 4o% – during the investigation, every little detail comes back up to be questioned. So, in reality, that immense background is necessary.

While this story is told from the nanny’s perspective, it really shines a light on the lives of all the “help” that work for both the Lindberghs and the Morrows. (As in, Charles Lindbergh’s in-laws.)

The house where the kidnapping took place was actually still being built, so the family was often staying at the Morrow’s estate instead. The Morrow property had a gate and a guard out front, so it made sense to target the other house. But, who knew when the Lindberghs would be there? This becomes a central question. While the man eventually arrested for the kidnapping had no known connections to the family, the idea is that someone on the inside had to have leaked the whereabouts/schedule of the baby – intentionally or by just being careless.

So everyone inside the house becomes a suspect. As does any romantic partners they have, people they may have been out drinking with that night, etc. And, if a character was drunk that night… what are the odds they’ll remember everything accurately, anyway? This spreads suspicion on so many characters. One, Violet Sharpe, even commits suicide. Was she hiding something, or just overwhelmed by the pressures put on the staff by the police?

We do eventually get all the way through the trial, in which our main character, Betty Gow, is ultimately exonerated. But even she continues to question those around her.

The writer presents the story with the assumption that the man accused really was the kidnapper, but he had an unwitting accomplice on the inside. I don’t think we’ll ever really know the details on that, as most of the real people are now deceased (and some were already deceased by the time of the trial). But it makes for a compelling read, nonetheless – especially for fans of true crime.

This book comes out today, November 15th. I was able to read ahead on NetGalley, thanks to the folks at St. Martin’s Press.


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“Lessons in Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus – Guest Review

By: Abby Phoenix


Hi, I’m Abby! Like a lot of people, I have gone through several ebbs and flows in life with reading, from a childhood with my nose buried in a book, through various love-hate relationships with school-assigned reads, to the exciting rediscovery of reading again for pleasure in adulthood. 

Nowadays, I’ve settled into a life routine where I try to always make space for my current read, because it just helps my mood so much when I have some sort of book that I can dive back into in my spare moments. I love being absorbed into a good story, so I mostly stick to fiction. That love of being immersed into a story’s world means that I’m one of the few avid readers I know who cannot (I’ve tried and always fail!) read more than one book simultaneously. 

In the last five years or so, I’ve also tried to make it a habit to primarily read books not written by white men, in an effort to balance out all the reading I did until that point. Initially I thought that might be a difficult or overly limiting restriction, but instead, I’ve found it to be both easy to do, and incredibly enriching in terms of expanding and challenging my perspectives on the world – the very thing that we hope all books can do for us!


Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.

Goodreads


“History is written by the victors” – a quote that is so true that, of course, even its own origin underscores the point that the loudest and most famous voice gets to claim sole ownership of our collective story.

Most of us know this to be true with just a little bit of critical thinking: life never has been a single, streamlined story fitting the clean few paragraphs we read in our history books. Countless stories are discarded (often forcibly) from our histories in favor of the narrative most favored by those in power, until enough time passes that we accept that story as solid fact. 

But on the other side of fact is fiction, oh, fiction. 

Fiction has always been a welcoming home for the stories untold, the ones that we know have always existed too, and might be even better. One such narrative is found in the extremely appealing period novel “Lessons in Chemistry,” by Bonnie Garmus, which introduces us to Elizabeth Zott, a woman who seems to exist completely outside of her time.

Elizabeth’s 1960s American setting expects women to be homemakers whose sole priority is keeping their husbands and children happy. As a brilliant chemist who’d love to be laser-focused on her work and nothing else, Elizabeth’s only request of the world around her is to be taken seriously as a scientist. But when she’s of course stymied in her original path by the standard tools of repression (the one-two punch of structural discrimination and societal shame), only one life option opens up to her as a possible path forward. That option, combining the identities deemed appropriate for a woman of her time (cook, teacher, and actress) and the era’s shiny new medium: a television chef.

Giving Elizabeth this platform though proves to be a mistake for those who would prefer she stay in her pre-assigned place. Looking through our 2022 lens, we all now know something that they were still waking up to in the 1960s: television has a way of lending automatic authority to anyone on its screens, and flattening their identity in the process. Elizabeth’s newfound notoriety helps her achieve a version of her original goal of establishing herself as a scientist, by the simple act of calling herself one on television. 

Additionally, and more powerfully, by using a medium that gives her direct access to women around the country (“this is a show for normal housewives!” is a message she receives repeatedly) Elizabeth is able to broadcast her profound expectations for all other women in the world. This is based in simple fact: modern society only operates as well as it does due to the consistent hard work that half of the population puts into keeping it moving. That work has tangible value, whether or not it’s socially and economically recognized. Crucially, Elizabeth both sees and inspires others to see the potential in this women’s work: women can do this, and they are capable of so much more too.

It’s a heady journey to witness, and Elizabeth and the characters who surround her (both human and canine) are largely likable compatriots on that path. But while the story itself may make you pump your fist or at the very least, nod along towards its satisfying conclusion, it’s worthwhile to examine this enjoyable read a bit more closely. Characters like Elizabeth star in so many of our favorite fictional stories that purport to tell some of the real story of the history we know: the single person who thinks differently from everyone around them and stands up to the system. This story of a charismatic iconoclast like Elizabeth igniting change in a whole society that never encountered someone quite like her is certainly cathartic as we try to reconcile how times seem to shift so quickly, turning American women from Donna Reeds to Gloria Steinems in the space of a mere decade. But it’s also a lie. 

Just like in the 1960s, and in all times before and since: there is no one Elizabeth Zott coming to save us – instead, it is incumbent upon us all to tap into our internal Elizabeth in ways small and large as we work together to build our own stories of what will hopefully one day become our history.


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“The Girl Explorers” by Jayne E. Zanglein – Review

By: Angie Haddock


The Girl Explorers is the inspirational and untold story of the founding of the Society of Women Geographers―an organization of adventurous female world explorers―and how key members served as early advocates for human rights and paved the way for today’s women scientists by scaling mountains, exploring the high seas, flying across the Atlantic, and recording the world through film, sculpture, and literature.

Goodreads


I’ve delved into a lot of stories about badass, historical women this year! This one seemed like a perfect fit with that theme. And, while the individual stories were often interesting… the book as a whole was frustrating.

The author introduces us to an actual society that existed (and still exists) for women explorers. It was founded because, at the time, women were excluded from other similar societies/professional groups. And yet, women were going on travel expeditions, writing books about their travels, and more!

One of the ongoing themes that really struck a chord is that, often, women were part of bigger (co-ed) expeditions that men took all the credit for. They helped write (or type, or edit) the travel books that had men’s names attached as the sole author. Or they took all the photographs. Sometimes these men were their husbands or lovers, but not always.

As I said, the individual stories were often interesting. Some members whose names are still known include Margaret Mead and Amelia Earhart, for example. Others traveled to Asia and South America; some were artists, divers, filmmakers, or mountain climbers. The book also delves into the suffragist movement a little.

This brings me to one of the missteps I felt like this book took… as it went on, it started bringing up all kinds of social movements of the time, including the plights of other races and of the LGBT community. Most of the women of the Society were white women of some means (at least enough to travel regularly), and tying their causes to some of these other ones seemed like it was treading close to becoming a “white savior” narrative.

The author tries to tie every story/chapter to the next, and often these transitions seem forced. Also, as some women were older than others, the stories skip back and forth in time, making these transitions even more wonky. The book as a whole didn’t feel like it had a great flow, if you will. Of course, this is just my opinion.

Overall, I’m glad I pushed my way through this one. I was happy to learn about some of these women, and their work, many of whom I had not read about before. But as a whole, the book felt a little like “work” to get through.

I was able to read this one for free through the Sourcebooks Early Reads program.


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“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Orphaned as a child, Jane has felt an outcast her whole young life. Her courage is tested once again when she arrives at Thornfield Hall, where she has been hired by the brooding, proud Edward Rochester to care for his ward Adèle. Jane finds herself drawn to his troubled yet kind spirit.

Goodreads


This one was first published in 1847, so I’m not going to worry about spoilers with my review. And if you haven’t guessed it, this was my pick for this year’s #SummerClassic.

The story takes place in roughly five places. The first is the mansion of Jane’s aunt, where the orphaned Jane lives with her aunt, three spoiled cousins, and various servants. The family of the house treats Jane like a second-class citizen, and she is utterly miserable. Around the age of ten, she is sent away to a boarding school. At first, this stage of her life looks like it will be just as miserable as the first. But, Jane proves herself and actually ends up thriving at the school. She even goes on to teach there for 2 years after she finishes her schooling. But eventually, she wants to see more of the world, and interact with other people.

This brings her to Thornfield, where she is hired as a governess to a young French girl who is the ward of the master of this old mansion. She befriends the girl, and several servants there, but the master of the house is initially absent. She eventually does meet Mr. Rochester in an eventful scene, where he injures himself making his way home.

Jane and Mr. Rochester strike up an odd relationship (in my mind). They enjoy each other’s conversations, in part because they feel they can be honest with each other – including being a little antagonistic at times. In fact, Rochester pretends to be engaged to someone else for almost a month just to see if Jane will be jealous.

Jane is in love with him, but doesn’t really consider herself lovable. So it’s quite a shock to her when he asks her to marry him. She does say yes, though.

Here’s the thing: we’re only 55% through the book at this point. So is the back half her married life? Nope.

All along, something’s been weird at Thornfield. Jane assumed it was one crazy servant named Grace, and couldn’t understand why Rochester was protecting her (not firing her, or wanting to talk about it). Then, as Jane and Rochester are about to be married, we learn that… he is already married! And the first wife is both crazy and locked upstairs at Thornfield. Grace, in fact, is actually her caretaker.

So the next morning, before anyone else is awake, Jane runs away. She spends a few days on the road, but eventually finds shelter with some siblings who are just a bit older than her – two sisters and one brother – and their sole servant. The brother is a local minister, and has recently set up a girls’ school, so Jane ends up working there. She eventually comes to learn, through the passing of a distant uncle, that these three are her cousins. They also inherit money from the uncle, which changes her circumstances.

In the year or so she lives with her cousins, she does write to Thornfield to check on Rochester, but no one answers. Her male cousin is pressuring her to go to India as a missionary with him, and she is conflicted about it. She decides she needs to know for sure what happened to Mr. Rochester before she can decide on leaving the country. So she heads back to find that the mansion had burned down not long after she left. The crazy wife set the fire, and did not survive the incident. Most of the inhabitants have gone on to different places, while Mr. Rochester – now blind – lives with just two servants in a nearby cottage.

Jane finds him there, and they finally marry. She lives the rest of her days with him, but continues to see her cousins semi-regularly. The male one does travel to India, so she only hears from him by mail. We learn that Jane is telling this story ten years into her married life, so she is only about 30 years old at the time, but that is where this story ends.

This was my first foray into any of the works of the Bronte sisters! Having finally read it, my question for you, readers, is… is there a particular movie version you love that I should check out? Hit me with the recommendations!


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“The Woman They Could Not Silence” by Kate Moore – Review

By: Angie Haddock


1860: As the clash between the states rolls slowly to a boil, Elizabeth Packard, housewife and mother of six, is facing her own battle. The enemy sits across the table and sleeps in the next room. Her husband of twenty-one years is plotting against her because he feels increasingly threatened – by Elizabeth’s intellect, independence, and unwillingness to stifle her own thoughts. So Theophilus makes a plan to put his wife back in her place. One summer morning, he has her committed to an insane asylum.

Goodreads


This was both a fascinating and frustrating read! It tells the true story of Elizabeth Packard, and most of the story takes place in the 1860s.

When we first meet Packard, she is already at odds with her husband of 20-some years, Theophilus. (Even his name is perfect for him, as he’s a preacher.) They share five children, the youngest of whom is just barely out of infancy.

Elizabeth Packard is fairly educated, and she’s been reading. But more than that, she’s been thinking on her own. Specifically, her husband had been affiliated with a more liberal/modern branch of Presbyterianism, but had recently switched to a more conservative branch. Elizabeth didn’t love the “fire and brimstone” lectures, and was disillusioned with this branch because they were against the abolition of slavery. So, she had begun speaking up in some of the church groups that she belonged to. Her husband was the minister, so her disagreeing openly with his views was just not acceptable.

So Theophilus sends Elizabeth to the state’s insane asylum. This facility had patients of both genders, but Elizabeth really only sees the women’s side of things. The man in charge is Dr. Andrew McFarland, who is well respected in his field. (Of course, the idea of treating mental health issues was very much in its infancy, and there were many differing views on it at the time.)

At first, McFarland is friendy toward Elizabeth. She is put in a decent room, and allowed special privileges like walking the grounds unaccompanied. She feels sure the doctor will see that she is obviously sane, and will allow her to leave in mere months. He does encourage this belief at first. But when Elizabeth does not leave, she starts using her privilege to speak up about things she witnesses, and is eventually put into a different ward… where she witnesses even worse things.

She ends up being there for several years, and her status there goes back and forth. She often has friends on the inside – disgruntled staff, usually – who are willing to help her get letters out and such. But she also finds that McFarland intercepts any incoming letters, so she never knows if her friends on the outside are willing to help. She also knows that she can only be let go into the care of her husband, while still married. But if she asks for a divorce, Theophilus would get custody of the children. There is no easy wins in her forseeable future, because she is, in essence, her husband’s property.

Even when Elizabeth does get released from the asylum – by a board of trustees, not McFarland – we know her fight is far from over (mostly because there’s still a lot of book left!). She initially gets free from Theophilus, only to go back by her own volition because she wants to see her children. She ends up locked up again, but is eventually able to stand trial to determine if she is actually insane or not.

She also starts self-publishing her writings on her time in the asylum. This is important for two reasons. Firstly, she starts making her own money, so she can be financially self-reliant. Secondly, she brings light to the issues in the asylum there, and in asylums in general, which starts getting the public interested in the matter. This leads to her eventually touring across the country advocating for both patient’s rights and women’s rights, mostly in state legislatures.

This is an incredible, infuriating, and ultimately redeeming read. I was able to read it for free through Sourcebooks Early Reads, but it’s available everywhere.

(Don’t forget, I keep a bookshelf of books I’ve reviewed here on Bookshop.org, too, if you’re looking for your own copy!)


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“How You Grow Wings” by Rimma Onoseta – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Sisters Cheta and Zam couldn’t be more different. Cheta, sharp-tongued and stubborn, never shies away from conflict—either at school or at home, where her mother fires abuse at her. Timid Zam escapes most of her mother’s anger, skating under the radar and avoiding her sister whenever possible. In a turn of good fortune, Zam is invited to live with her aunt’s family in the lap of luxury. Jealous, Cheta also leaves home, but finds a harder existence that will drive her to terrible decisions. When the sisters are reunited, Zam alone will recognize just how far Cheta has fallen—and Cheta’s fate will rest in Zam’s hands.

Goodreads


We dive right into this book with Zam walking home from school – and in short order we meet her whole family, learn about the family dynamics, and learn about some of their local customs. Zam and Cheta live with their parents in a small town in modern day Nigeria.

As mentioned in the description at top, Zam gets out of her anger-filled home by moving in with her rich aunt and uncle. She gets this proposal because of how well she’s doing at school, and Cheta immediately resents that she was never offered this deal.

Their uncle is super rich (in the oil business), and life at his house takes some time to adjust to. There are two other teenage girls in the house – Kaira, Zam’s cousin, and Ginika, a family friend who often stays with them while her parents are traveling abroad. Kaira is initially standoffish, but Ginika is sociable. They both harbor anger at their mothers, and the girls all eventually bond over this common problem.

Cheta comes to visit for one week. She has recently graduated from high school, and comes with the idea that she will ingratiate herself to their aunt and get a job with her. It doesn’t work. She was already so set on leaving home, though, that she does it anyway, without a real plan.

After an incident leaves Zam’s aunt and uncle feeling shaken, they decide to move – with all three girls – to London. Kaira is finally able to start breaking down the wall that had grown up between her and her mom, before the girls leave for boarding school. Another family member who is helping them there also sheds some light on Zam and Cheta’s family, and how the two girls actually got along better when they were younger. Zam feels compelled to reach out, but gets no answer.

On a trip home for Christmas, Zam sees her family again, after months of being away. Cheta also rolls back into town from Benin, where she’s been keeping her distance. Their mother treats Cheta like she is basically disowned already, but Zam still wants to try to help her sister. There is one startling revelation near the end of the book, and Zam has to make a drastic decision. Finally, both girls head back out into their separate worlds.

I don’t want to reveal too much about the ending, but I will say that I’ll be thinking about it for quite some time!

This compelling Young Adult novel comes out today, August 9th. I was able to read an advanced copy through Netgalley, and the publisher, Algonquin Young Readers.


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“Wild is the Witch” by Rachel Griffin – Review

By: Angie Haddock


When eighteen-year-old witch Iris Gray accidentally enacts a curse that could have dire consequences, she must team up with a boy who hates witches to make sure her magic isn’t unleashed on the world.

Goodreads


Iris and her mom are both witches. Iris’ best friend back home, Amy, was a witch, too. But she got into trouble, and the witch council took her magic away. Iris was present, but the council determined that she was not involved. Not everyone trusted her after that incident, though, and eventually she and her mom moved away to start over. Her dad did not come with them, which causes Iris to not want to get close to new people. She is especially guarded about being a witch. If even her own dad ended up not being able to handle it, why would other people?

Their new home is in the Pacific Northwest, where they run a wildlife refuge. It’s perfect for them, as their magic is one that focuses on animals. An old friend of her mom’s is also in the area, and runs a restaurant. They’ve established a good “home” there.

Pike Adler, a college student studying ornithology, is interning at the refuge. Not only is he cocky, but he mentions more than once that he hates witches. This makes Iris feel threatened. She doesn’t want her or her mom’s lives disrupted again, not when they seem to have found the perfect place. So she writes a curse for Pike. Now, she wasn’t really intending on cursing him – the plan was to write it out and not use it. Like some people write angry letters they don’t ever send. She means to bind the curse to a bundle of herbs, and burn it. No one gets hurt, right?

Except that an owl swoops down while she’s doing this ritual, and now the owl carries the curse. And then he flies away.

Obviously, Iris is panicking and wants to go after the owl. She knows how much trouble she could cause with the curse out there in the wild, and she’s already had to witness her best friend lose her sense of magic. Her mom, not knowing about the curse part, agrees to let Iris track the owl and try to bring him back… if she takes Pike along. He is a bird expert in training, after all.

This is a YA book, so of course some romance blossoms during their adventures. And in fact, the ending is a little too happy to be believable, in my opinion. (It’s fine, it’s what the audience probably wants, but it’s not super realistic. But then again, it’s a book about magic, so…) But I enjoyed the adventures they have trying to get to the owl, nonetheless. The book takes place in the spring, but I felt like summer was still a great time to be reading about nature, hiking, and camping (and s’mores).

This book comes out today, August 2nd. I was able to read ahead thanks to the publisher, Sourcebooks, and NetGalley.


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“The Island of Sea Women” by Lisa See – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Set on the Korean island of Jeju, “The Island of Sea Women” follows Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls from very different backgrounds, as they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective. Over many decades—through the Japanese colonialism of the 1930s and 1940s, World War II, the Korean War, and the era of cellphones and wet suits for the women divers—Mi-ja and Young-sook develop the closest of bonds. Nevertheless, their differences are impossible to ignore: Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, forever marking her, and Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers. After hundreds of dives and years of friendship, forces outside their control will push their relationship to the breaking point.

Goodreads


I knew absolutely nothing about the island of Jeju – or diving, really – going into this book. But, it seemed like solid historical fiction material – a friendship that survives decades, and all the things that happen during those decades.

We meet Young-sook in 2008, when she is already quite old. The “present day” chapters are fewer and shorter than the various flashback ones, though, and that’s where the real story starts to develop.

Young-sook and Mi-ja meet when they are still children, and Mi-ja is new to the village of Hado. Young-sook’s mother is the chief of her diving collective, but they also have some crops to care for on dry land. Mi-ja originally helps with some of this work, in exchange for some food. As they grow older, they also learn to dive together, and even travel to other countries to make more money.

We learn early on that the women in this village are the true heads of their households – at least, where “making a living” is concerned – and the husbands usually stay home and take care of babies. The roles of men and women are debated often, especially while the women are gossiping before or after a day of diving.

Early on, there are two diving accidents that change Young-sook’s life, and the makeup of their collective. Another young diver, only a few years older than her, has an accident that she never fully recovers from. While the girl lives, she is unable to speak again. Not long after, Young-sook loses her mother. This makes her the family’s primary breadwinner.

In their early twenties, Young-sook and Mi-ja enter into arranged marriages, and start having babies. This is where their lives start to diverge, as Mi-ja moves away to live with her husband’s family in the city.

While there is already a lot of personal drama this far into the story, the worst is yet to come.

Things first start to change on Jeju during the World War II years. They were already under the control of the Japanese, who most of them despised, but after the war they now have to contend with Americans. The division of North and South Korea also affects them, as does internal fighting between the government and rebels who want an independent election.

The story takes some brutal turns that I was not prepared for. The adage that came to my mind is “the personal is political,” as these women’s daily lives are definitely affected by the things going on in Korea and in the world at large. One very climactic event was based on real events that happened in 1948-1949. The government then made it basically illegal for people to talk about what happened for decades afterward! Even when the events were publicly acknowledged, and no longer a secret, many older folks – like those in the fictional Young-sook’s age range – still had trouble talking about it, because they had kept their secrets for so long. This aspect of the story was both fascinating and disturbing.

Near the end of the story, I started putting together one “twist,” if you will. The final chapter confirmed my theory, but also still held two more heartbreaking revelations.

Life on Jeju, especially back in the 1930s, was such a different world to me, that it did take me a few chapters to really get into this one. But I loved the strong female characters from early on, and was intrigued by their way of life. That way of life changed drastically over the decades, but the personal and political dramas within their lives became the bigger story.

If you’re a fan of historical fiction, or want to learn more about cultures much different from American/modern culture, this one might be a good pick. But be forewarned that there are some brutal scenes.


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“Warda” by Warda Mohamed Abdullahi – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Set in the rugged shrublands of rural Ethiopia, the contentious neighborhoods of South Africa, and the icy streets of Michigan, Warda is the story of a fierce young woman on a tireless quest to become the first member of her family to go to college.

-Goodreads


This book is so good! It’s not a long read, anyway, but the amazing tales within it makes it go fast.

Near the beginning, before we really get to know the main character, we learn about her family. Warda doesn’t even remember her mother, who died when she was just a baby. Because of financial woes and ethnic prejudices, her father was living away from Warda and her mom. But when baby Warda got sick, her mom was determined to take her back to where she was born to get medical help. While crossing the Red Sea, the boat they were in capsized. Her uncle was also aboard, and found Warda floating on a blanket. He also found her mom, but she was already deceased. Her father didn’t even know they were traveling.

And that’s only the beginning.

Her dad takes Warda to his father’s farm, where she is raised with many aunts, uncles, and cousins of all ages. She thinks of her grandpa as her father, and does not understand that he is not. She faces several dangers – often in the form of wild animals trying to attack their herd of sheep – but gets no formal schooling. When she is ten years old, her dad wants her to move to South Africa so she can start receiving an education. The trip there takes her a little over a year.

Of course, even after arriving there, Warda has a big challenge to her education: she speaks none of the languages that classes are held in in most of the schools around her.

After only a few years, her family has to move again. This time, they’re taking a big leap to come to the United States. When they land in Michigan, there is already snow on the ground – something Warda has zero experience with.

She also has another new language to learn. She wants to learn to drive. She needs to learn to navigate not only her American high school… but college applications, scholarship essays, SAT and ACT prep, and being away from others who share her culture and religion.

Thankfully, Warda is assigned a mentor who helps her immensely. With her mentor’s gift of keeping Warda organized, and her own passion for wanting to get to college, they come up with a plan to get Warda through high school in only a few years. To make up for lost time, she often has to take extra classes online and in the summer. She has to really push hard to get to her dream… which is to ultimately become a doctor.

If I had to describe this book in one word, I’d pick: triumphant. You’ll be hooked from the early scenes of Warda’s life, and you’ll want to cheer her on through so many more adventures and obstacles.

This book was independently published over a year ago, but the team at Books Forward is promoting it now to coincide with World Refugee Day. World Refugee Day is celebrated on June 20th, and you can learn more about it here.


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“Secrets of the Sprakkar” by Eliza Reid – Review

By: Angie Haddock


For the past twelve years, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report has ranked Iceland number one on its list of countries closing the gap in equality between men and women. What is it about Iceland that enables its society to make such meaningful progress in this ongoing battle, from electing the world’s first female president to passing legislation specifically designed to help even the playing field at work and at home?

Goodreads


This non-fiction does have a lot of stats in it, but it still manages to be quite fun. It was written by the current First Lady, who is originally from Canada. So, her personal perspectives include those of a mother, public figure, and immigrant… aside from being a woman herself, obviously.

But Reid doesn’t rely solely on her own experiences and some easy-to-dig-up statistics – she interviews dozens of women from around the island, famous and not, on a variety of topics. She also intersperses these larger chapters with smaller stories from Icleland’s history.

The bigger topics include: parenting, networking, Iceland’s views on sex, women in corporate roles, the media, working outdoors, the arts (and sports), immigrant and minority women, and politics.

As Reid points out in the final pages, everyone she interviews can easily fit into multiple categories.

Obviously, the gender equality concept here intrigued me. But I have to admit, what made this book actually fun to read was learning about Iceland! The terrain, customs, and culture seem very different than those of the US.

For example, would we even need a whole chapter on working outdoors? But, much of their economy comes from agriculture and fishing, so it’s an important distinction for them that women can do these jobs, too. (Especially on fishing boats that don’t have bathrooms, where one is expected to “go over the edge.”)

I loved that, in the chapter on politics, one of Reid’s interviewees was heading up a student council at a large university. I think we tend to think of those sorts of things as opportunities to learn, or stepping stones to a future job (perhaps in politics, or not)… but we don’t treat our young people like they’re equals, already doing important work. So, even who was chosen to be interviewed shows how different their outlook on these topics are from our own.

If you’re up for a book with quite a few stats, and really long names, this is an interesting read. I realize, though, that those things aren’t going to appeal to everyone.

I was able to read this book for free through the Sourcebooks Early Reads program.


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