Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Read Harder Challenge: Florence Foster Jenkins, Rook, and God in Pink

Reported by Ambrea

I finished some new books for my Read Harder Challenge, and I've completed more reading tasks:

  1. Read a biography (not memoir or autobiography)
  2. Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel
  3. Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction)

First up, I finished Florence Foster Jenkins by Nicholas Martin and Jasper Rees, which inspired the recently released movie of the same name.  Florence Foster Jenkins was not a traditional singer.  At a young age, she was well known for her skill with a piano and her love--and, more importantly, support--of music; however, it wasn't until she was 76 years old that she undertook to become a concert singer.  She's best remembered for her concert at Carnegie Hall and her vinyl recordings, which introduced the world to her rather...unique voice.

I enjoyed reading Florence Foster Jenkins.  Drawing from multiple resources, including Florence and her common law husband, St. Clair Bayfield, Martin and Rees' book does an incredible job of shedding light on Florence, her work, and her time.  It's intriguing without becoming dull, amusing without ridiculing its rather unorthodox subject, and chock full of interesting historical facts about Florence and the New York artistic scene of the early 20th century.  Overall, I enjoyed it and I highly recommend for any readers to take a moment to listen to Madame Jenkins on YouTube to get a better idea of how her singing voice sounded.  You (probably) won't regret it.

Next, I completed Rook by Sharon Cameron.  The Sunken City--formerly Paris, the City of Lights--is a place of danger, desperation, and despotism.  Ruled by the corrupt Premier Allemande and the bloodthirsty LeBlanc, the Sunken City is brimming with discontent and revolution--and, at the heart of it all, is the mysterious Red Rook who spirits people from their cells and wreaks havoc against the Premier's puppet government.

A story packed with action and adventure, political intrigue and danger, Rook has quickly become one of my guilty pleasures.  I know it falls under the rather broad category of dystopian young adult fantasy (think Hunger GamesDivergentThe Maze RunnerLife as We Knew It or even The Giver), but I really enjoyed Sharon Cameron's novel.  I enjoyed the characters, the unexpected twists and turns, the ambiguous references to the past, the complicated political climate.  I wasn't a fan of the love triangle and, yes, I will admit that the story seemed to drag in a few places; however, altogether, I really liked it and I think it settles in nicely next to Cinder.

Last, I rounded out my reading with God in Pink by Hasan Namir.  Ramy is a young Muslim man living in Iraq in 2003, right in the midst of a war and a cultural revolution--and he also happens to be gay.  Struggling with what he knows his brother would term a "sexual deviancy," Ramy tries to balance his feelings with his obligations to his family and his faith.

Truthfully, I struggled with this novel, because I was not comfortable with all the depictions of heinous violence and wanton savagery.  I understand that mindless cruelty, thoughtless barbarity is simply a fact; that it's not something you can ignore if you live on the planet Earth.  I know it exists, but it's still hard to read about terrible things happening to other people.

I didn't hate this novel; rather, the opposite.  I thought God in Pink was a magnificent book depicting life in war-torn Iraq for a gay Muslim man.  It's poignant and it's guaranteed to make an impact, but, at the same time, it will tear out your heart.  I recommend reading it with great caution, like I would for Native Son by Richard White, Beloved by Toni Morrison, or The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.  Read it, but expect deep emotional turmoil.

Note:  We'll have a Nevermore report next week.  In the meantime, here's a photo of Malala, darling kitty of a Nevermore member.  Malala likes to go outside with her owner in her very own stroller! She especially likes to watch the ducks.

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