Book Review: The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

Title: The Beekeeper of Aleppo
Author: Christy Lefteri
Publisher: Ballantine
Publication date: May 2, 2019
Length: 317 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased

⭐⭐⭐⭐

The unforgettable love story of a mother blinded by loss and her husband who insists on their survival as they undertake the Syrian refugee trail to Europe.

Nuri is a beekeeper; his wife, Afra, an artist. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo–until the unthinkable happens. When all they care for is destroyed by war, they are forced to escape. But what Afra has seen is so terrible she has gone blind, and so they must embark on a perilous journey through Turkey and Greece towards an uncertain future in Britain. On the way, Nuri is sustained by the knowledge that waiting for them is Mustafa, his cousin and business partner, who has started an apiary and is teaching fellow refugees in Yorkshire to keep bees.

As Nuri and Afra travel through a broken world, they must confront not only the pain of their own unspeakable loss, but dangers that would overwhelm the bravest of souls. Above all, they must journey to find each other again.

Moving, powerful, compassionate, and beautifully written, The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a testament to the triumph of the human spirit. It is the kind of book that reminds us of the power of storytelling. 

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a harrowing story, following a refugee couple who flee the Syrian civil war and then endure the dangers and harsh conditions facing the refugee population in Europe.

The synopsis is a tiny bit misleading — the main character here is Nuri. And while his wife Afra is a key part of the story, the entire novel takes place through Nuri’s eyes and perspectives.

The storyline jumps back and forth quite a bit along Nuri and Afra’s timeline. We meet them at a B&B in England, where they reside with other refugees awaiting their asylum hearings. From here, we go back in Nuri’s memories to the family’s peaceful life in beautiful Aleppo, where he finds pleasure every day in the apiary he shares with his cousin Mustafa.

But when war breaks out, their happy lives are completely shattered, as is the city itself. They live amidst the rubble of their lives until the danger and tragedy escalates to the point where they either need to flee or die.

Nuri and Afra undertake the perilous journey from Syria across the border into Turkey by means of hired smugglers, but safety is still a long way off. From dirty, decrepit shelters to life-threatening sea crossings to living in a park with only a blanket to call home, the experience is terrifying and soul-deadening, on top of which the couple is dealing with the loss of their beloved son and everything they’ve ever valued in their lives.

Author Christy Lefteri’s depiction of the refugee experience is informed by her years volunteering with refugee relief organizations, where she witnessed first-hand the horrors that follow refugees into their new lives. The story is unflinching, and Nuri and Afra’s journey often seems too much to bear.

In terms of minor quibbles, once Nuri and Afra make the decision to leave Syria, they seem to be able to do it relatively quickly and easily. They connect with a smuggler and make it across the border right away. I had to wonder how realistic that is — could this couple, at this advanced stage of the war, really have gotten out like that? Also, working in Nuri and Afra’s favor is the fact that they have plenty of money, so being able to pay smugglers never seems to be an issue. Again, I wonder how realistic this is, and how their journey might have gone differently if they didn’t have the financial resources to make it happen.

As an illustration of the terrors of the refugee experience, The Beekeeper of Aleppo is highly effective and quite powerfully moving. I did somehow feel that the emotional connection to Nuri and Afra was off — while I felt horror while reading of their losses and suffering, I didn’t necessarily feel connected to them as people, especially Afra, who we really only get to know through Nuri’s eyes, not as an individual on her own.

We’ve all seen the news coverage for years now about the terrible conditions that refugees endure. And while the people on the news are real people, not fictional, it’s through fiction like The Beekeeper of Aleppo that we can get a more internal view of individual pain and hope and loss.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is an important read. The subject matter is often difficult to take, yet it’s important that we see these lives and not look away. I’m very glad that my book group chose this book for our January read — I’m really looking forward to the discussion, and definitely recommend the book for others looking for a thought-provoking novel on a very current and weighty subject.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top ten books on my TBR list for winter 2019/2020

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is about our winter reading plans.

Last week, my TTT was all about the ARCs I have coming up at the start of the new year. This week, I’m focusing on other books I’m looking forward to reading — some upcoming new releases, some books I’ve bought recently, and one that I’ve had for way too long and really need to get to.

The first four on my list are all new volumes in ongoing series, and just thinking about them makes me happy.

1) Come Tumbling Down (Wayward Children, #5) by Seanan McGuire: This book comes out in early January, and I can’t wait! I love this series so much, and I’m especially excited for this one because it picks up where one of my favorites (Down Among the Sticks and Bones) left off.

2) No Fixed Line (Kate Shugak, #22) by Dana Stabenow: I love this series, the Alaska setting, and Kate herself, who is just an awesome lead character. I’ve been itching for more Kate — so excited for this upcoming January release!

3) Imaginary Numbers (InCryptid, #9) by Seanan McGuire: Yup, even more Seanan McGuire! And yes, I do love everything she writes. The InCryptid series is really fun, and I’m super excited for this book, especially since I won a copy in a Goodreads giveaway. (Thanks, Goodreads!)

4) Smoke Bitten (Mercy Thompson, #12) by Patricia Briggs: Mercy is one of my favorite lead characters, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for her and her pack.

Other (non-series) books I’m looking forward to reading:

5) Well Met by Jen DeLuca: I’ve been on a roll with cute romances lately, and this story, set at a RenFaire, sounds adorable.

6) Alice by Christina Henry: I’m officially in love with Christina Henry’s writing, so it’s time to go back and read the books I’ve missed.

7) The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri: This is my book club’s pick for January, and I’m really determined to make more of an effort to keep up with our monthly reads this year.

8) Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey: From the Goodreads blurb: “The future American Southwest is full of bandits, fascists, and queer librarian spies on horseback trying to do the right thing.” Um, yes please! I love Sarah Gailey’s writing, and this sounds pretty amazing.

9) Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir: I finally picked up a copy, so this is high on my priority list! Maybe even this week…

10) Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik: I bought this when it came out in 2018 — it’s about time that I finally read it!

What books will be keeping you warm this winter? Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

Shelf Control #190: Haunting Bombay by Shilpa Agarwal

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: Haunting Bombay
Author: Shilpa Agarwal
Published: 2009
Length: 362 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

After her mother’s death crossing the border from Pakistan to India during Partition, baby Pinky was taken in by her grandmother, Maji, the matriarch of the powerful Mittal family. Now thirteen years old, Pinky lives with her grandmother and her uncle’s family in a bungalow on the Malabar Heights in Bombay. While she has never really been accepted by her uncle’s family, she has always had Maji’s love.

One day, as monsoons engulf the city, Pinky opens a mysteriously bolted door, unleashing the ghosts of an infant who drowned shortly before Pinky’s arrival and of the nursemaid who cared for the child. Three generations of the Mittal family must struggle to come to terms with their secrets amidst hidden shame, forbidden love, and a call for absolute sacrifice.

How and when I got it:

When my book group did a secret book swap a few years ago, this was one of the books in my super-fun package. Thank you, book-giver friend of mine!

Why I want to read it:

Well, first of all, it was a gift, and I always feel terrible when I don’t get around to reading gift books. And on top of that, I think it sounds terrific! Between the ghost story and the family saga and the Bombay setting, it seems to have a lot going for it. I really do need to get to this one soon.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

The Monday Check-In ~ 10/21/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life. 

It’s been a quiet week chez moi, which is nice for a change! Just working, hanging out at home, reading… and hey, I did a new jigsaw puzzle! The theme is the Women’s March, and I loved it:

Want a better view? You can find it on Amazon, here.

What did I read during the last week?

The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy: My book group’s pick for October. My thoughts are here.

Ivory Apples by Lisa Goldstein: Sisters, magic, and a reclusive author! My review is here.

A Very Distant Shore by Jenny Colgan: At 160 pages, this is a sweet, light read, very enjoyable. It’s a nice little treat for fans of this author.

In audiobooks:

I just finished Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line over the weekend. What fun! And it doesn’t hurt a bit that Kristen Bell narrates the audiobook. My review is here.

Fresh Catch:

I bought myself a present!

SOOOOOO pretty.

And I confess, I got myself a couple of graphic novels while I was at it:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Bones Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones: Just starting, but I really like it so far!

Now playing via audiobook:

Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy: Now that I’ve finished the entire Anne of Green Gables series, I thought I’d check out this related release from 2018.

Ongoing reads:

Argh. I’ve fallen behind. My goal was to read one chapter of A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny each day for the month of October, but then I left my book at home while I was traveling and haven’t gotten back into it. I have a week and a half to catch up!

And in book group news:

We’re reading the Outlander-related novella A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows — it’s such a good one! I’ve read it before, but it’s really great to read and discuss it with the group.

So many books, so little time…

boy1

Book Review: The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy

An addictive psychological thriller about a group of women whose lives become unexpectedly connected when one of their newborns goes missing.

They call themselves the May Mothers—a collection of new moms who gave birth in the same month. Twice a week, with strollers in tow, they get together in Prospect Park, seeking refuge from the isolation of new motherhood; sharing the fears, joys, and anxieties of their new child-centered lives.

When the group’s members agree to meet for drinks at a hip local bar, they have in mind a casual evening of fun, a brief break from their daily routine. But on this sultry Fourth of July night during the hottest summer in Brooklyn’s history, something goes terrifyingly wrong: one of the babies is abducted from his crib. Winnie, a single mom, was reluctant to leave six-week-old Midas with a babysitter, but the May Mothers insisted that everything would be fine. Now Midas is missing, the police are asking disturbing questions, and Winnie’s very private life has become fodder for a ravenous media.

Though none of the other members in the group are close to the reserved Winnie, three of them will go to increasingly risky lengths to help her find her son. And as the police bungle the investigation and the media begin to scrutinize the mothers in the days that follow, damaging secrets are exposed, marriages are tested, and friendships are formed and fractured.

I feel like I should start this review with a disclaimer:

Thrillers are not my jam. And neither is the so-called mommy-drama genre, where domesticity and gossip and childraising are backdrops for intrigue and danger.

So why did I pick up The Perfect Mother? Easy. My book group made me do it.

This is our book of the month for October, and — feeling guilty for missing the last couple of months — I was determined to participate this time around.

So let’s get to it:

In The Perfect Mother, a group of Brooklyn women who all became new mothers in the same month form an ongoing support and social club, where they exchange online tips and gather at the park for company and (it seemed to me) to compare their little darlings against all the others, and hopefully feel smug and self-satisfied as a result.

Oh dear, I’m not going to be very good at writing this review. Again, forgive me, but the odds of me liking this book were pretty slim from the start.

As the story progresses, a baby is kidnapped from his crib while his mother is out partying with the other women on a rare, adults-only outing. Immediately, there’s recrimination and blame and remorse. How could she leave her baby with a nanny she’d only just met? How could all these new moms be out getting so rip-roaring drunk when they have babies at home? Whose bad idea was it really to even go out in the first place? Why does everyone feel so pressured to be there?

Why are these people so in each others’ business and so damned judgy? Ugh.

Anyway, the mystery proceeds from this point. It turns out that everyone is keeping a secret or ten. Certain characters become overly involved (um, obsessed) with Winnie and her past and her connections and her life. It’s all just toooooo much.

The ending is supposed to be a twist, but is it patting myself on the back too much to say I saw it coming from really early on? Not to be too spoilery, but if you’ve seen The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, you’ll at least have a good hunch about why the kidnapping happened, if not whodunit exactly.

Okay, I’m pretty much sucking at writing this review, but I just don’t think I can maintain my interest long enough to say much more that’s meaningful. But let me attempt to at least inject a little positivity in this thing:

The book does move quickly, and made for an engaging read on a long flight. I wasn’t bored while reading it… just increasingly annoyed by the sniping and the mommy stereotypes and the ridiculousness of some of the relationships.

I guess it’s clear that I didn’t like this book. Oh well, at least I’ve been a faithful book club member this month!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: The Perfect Mother
Author: Aimee Malloy
Publisher: Harper
Publication date: May 1, 2018
Length: 341pages
Genre: Thriller
Source: Library

The Monday Check-In ~ 6/17/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

I’m on a visit back east to see family this week. It’s hectic but fun… and I did get to do a lot of reading on the plane!

What did I read during the last week?

Not a single review written… but here’s what I read:

The Umbrella Academy: A graphic novel – just okay. I didn’t love the artwork, and overall, I enjoy the characters on the TV series much more than in the book.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe: A re-read. The sequel comes out later this month, and I definitely needed a refresher! It’s been nine years since I first read this book. Really enjoyed it again the 2nd time around!

Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery: The audiobook was lovely! Can’t believe I made it this far in life without getting to know Anne!

And from last week:

Recursion by Black Crouch: Absolutely loved this book! I finished it last week, but just posted a review a few days ago.

Pop culture:

What’s a reader to do when she finishes a book on a plane? Switch over to Netflix for a charming rom-com!

Fresh Catch:

Two exciting ARCs arrived in the mail right before I left on my trip:

The grammar book releases in August; the Obama/Biden book in July. So psyched for both!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

I have two different books on the go right now:

Now playing via audiobook:

Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery: More Anne! My plan right now is to keep going with the Anne audiobooks — so much fun to listen to.

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing book group reads at the moment:

  • A Fugitive Green by Diana Gabaldon, from the Seven Stones To Stand or Fall collection.
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens — our current classic selection.

So many books, so little time…

boy1

The Monday Check-In ~ 6/10/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner: Powerful historical fiction. My review is here.

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn: A truly beautiful and powerful memoir. My review is here.

Recursion by Blake Crouch: So much mind-f*ckery. Just finished reading this Sunday night; review to follow. (Loved it.)

Fresh Catch:

No new books — although I did pick up a paperback edition of The Salt Path to complement listening to the audiobook!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Bouncing around between different books right now:

A graphic novel, an ARC of a recent release, and a re-read of a book whose sequel comes out later this month — between these three, I should be able to keep myself busy for the next several days!

Now playing via audiobook:

Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery: Back to Anne! I read Anne of Green Gables for the first time earlier this year, and have been wanting to continue with the series. I’m only a little way into the book, but it’s charming so far.

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing book group reads at the moment:

  • A Fugitive Green by Diana Gabaldon, from the Seven Stones To Stand or Fall collection.
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens — our current classic selection.

So many books, so little time…

boy1

The Monday Check-In ~ 6/3/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon: Light, fun YA. My review is here.

The Spies of Shilling Lane by Jennifer Ryan: This author is quickly becoming a favorite! Terrific historical fiction. My review is here.

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey: Loved it! My review is here.

Pop culture:

I suppose I’ll never run out of great TV to watch! This past week, I finished watching Fosse/Verdon — fabulous production, even though (curse it all!) it’s left me with an incurable earworm, constantly hearing either Pippin or All That Jazz songs in my head.

I’ve also been catching up on season 1 of Pose, now on Netflix, before season 2 starts next week. Amazing, powerful show.

Fresh Catch:

Awesome book mail from the amazing Amy Stewart!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner: Just starting!

Now playing via audiobook:

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn: A really powerful memoir — loving it so far.

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing book group reads at the moment:

  • A Fugitive Green by Diana Gabaldon, from the Seven Stones To Stand or Fall collection.
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens — our current classic selection.

So many books, so little time…

boy1

The Monday Check-In ~ 5/27/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

Three day weekend! It’s so nice to get an extra day to relax, chill, and read, especially when the sun is shining!

What did I read during the last week?

Westside by W. M. Akers: Boy, did I not enjoy this book. The initial premise is interesting, but by the time I reached the halfway mark, the story felt like more and more of a slog. Rather than DNF at that point, I skimmed the rest — reading enough to see how it ended and what the point of it all was. I’m glad I didn’t spend any more time on this book!

A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua: An engaging look at the Chinese immigrant community in San Francisco. My review is here.

The Paris Diversion by Chris Pavone: A suspenseful, fast-paced spy thriller — a terrific read! My review is here.

Pop culture:

My son and I saw the new Aladdin! I didn’t expect much going in, but it was actually surprisingly enjoyable.

Fresh Catch:

Two new books this week — one book new to paperback that I’ve been wanting for a while now, and one book that I heard of via another blogger’s TTT list last week!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Spies of Shilling Lane by Jennifer Ryan: I loved this author’s previous novel, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, so I’m excited to be starting this one!

Now playing via audiobook:

From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon: I’ve read this author’s other two YA books recently, so thought I should give this one a try as well. Really close to the end by now…

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing book group reads at the moment:

  • A Fugitive Green by Diana Gabaldon, from the Seven Stones To Stand or Fall collection.
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens — our current classic selection.

So many books, so little time…

 

boy1

The Monday Check-In ~ 5/20/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

I ended up staying home three days this week due to a family medical situation (all is well, but I was just needed around the house) — so on the plus side, I ended up with more time for reading than usual!

What did I read during the last week?

Storm Cursed by Patricia Briggs: The newest Mercy book! Loved it, of course. My review is here.

Red, White & Royal Blue: A totally adorable love story! Really a delightful read. My review is here.

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren: Light & fluffy romance. My review is here.

And a novella too! I read (and loved) The Undefeated by Una McCormack. My review is here.

Pop culture:

I did a lot of thinking about TV this week, I guess, since I posted not one but two TV-related pieces:

  • Thoughts on the most recent season of Survivor
  • And a round-up of a few other shows

Fresh Catch:

After my somewhat insane splurging last week, I made it through a week with no book purchases at all. Yay, me!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Westside by W. M. Akers: Just getting started, but I like it already!

Now playing via audiobook:

A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua: My book group’s pick for May. Getting close to the end — which is good, since our discussion starts this week.

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing book group reads at the moment:

  • A Fugitive Green by Diana Gabaldon, from the Seven Stones To Stand or Fall collection: We’re just starting this (long) short story (novella?) this week. I’ve read it once before, but it’s a good one! Looking forward to sharing it with the group
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens — our current classic selection. I’m all caught up, which is good — it’s my turn to write chapter summaries this week.

Pop culture footnote:

I’m writing this on Sunday, counting the hours until the Game of Thrones finale. My anxiety levels are creeping higher and higher. I hope the ending isn’t a major letdown.

So many books, so little time…

 

boy1