Two book reviews for the 2015 summer reading challenge

I read these two books one after the other and both are set (or partly set) in Afghanistan, so I thought I’d review them both in one blog post. I read The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul for the category “Read a book with the name of a city, state or country in the title”, worth 20 points, and The Kite Runner for the category “Read a book that has been on your TBR list for 2+ years”, worth 10 points.

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez

Little Coffee ShopThe plot: This is the story of a little coffee shop, run by an American expat, and all the people who work and gather there. It’s mostly the story of five women, Sunny – the owner of the café, Halajan – an Afghan woman who works for her and still remembers the days before the Taliban, Isabel – a British journalist on the trail of a risky story, Candace – a wealthy American whose desire to help (and desire for a man) threatens to cloud her good judgement and Yasmina – a young, pregnant woman stolen from her village and then abandoned on the streets, who Sunny takes in. As the group get to know each other, they discover there’s more to each of them than meets the eye and form an unlikely friendship that will change their lives forever. (According to the blurb, said friendship will also change Afghanistan forever but errm, I don’t think so!).

My review. First of all, I have to say this is basically chick lit! Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with chick lit, but if you were looking for a book that depicts the hardships of life in Afghanistan… this is not it! I mean, it does touch on those aspects (it’s pretty difficult to entirely ignore the fact that the plot takes place in the middle of a war zone!), but even when bad things happen, they never feel particularly shocking or devastating, and all the way through you just know things are going to work out in the end. Of course there’s a romance or two weaving through the plot, and in typical chick-lit fashion, everybody ends up with the right man for them. This is a quick read, perfect for a day at the beach or a rainy day stuck at home. Despite a few interesting elements that come about mainly thanks to the setting, it’s basically a mindless read for those days when you just don’t feel like taxing your brain. 3 stars.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite RunnerThe plot: This is the story of two boys growing up together in pre-Taliban Afghanistan. Amir is the spoiled son of a rich man, Hassan is the son of a loyal servant. Despite that, the two boys are best friends. The year the boys are 12, Amir is desperate to win the local kite-fighting tournament, and Hassan promises to help him. But neither of the boys can predict what will happen to Hassan that afternoon, an event that will shatter their lives. later, after the Russians invade, Amir and his father flee to America, and Amir realises that one day he will have to return to Afghanistan to find the one thing his new life cannot grant him:redemption.

My review. This is a surprisingly easy read, in the sense that you can get through it fairly quickly, once you’ve got used to the author’s style of writing. But in terms of subject matter, it’s tough. There are a number graphic scenes of war and violence, including rape (so don’t read it if such things are likely to upset you!). I spent most of the book wanting to sake the narrator, Amir. He’s a spoiled, selfish daddy’s boy and a coward. Yes, he was a child during the main events of the book and can in no way be blamed for his cowardice, but even before that he was jealous, self-centred and spoiled. And even when he does the right thing in the end, I felt as if he was doing it more for the sake of purging his own feelings of guilt than for the right reasons, to save a child.He does redeem himself but I still don’t find him very likeable. Having said that, I did like the book. It’s very different to the kind of thing I normally read and, while disturbing at times,  I think we all need to have our eyes opened about the things that go on in the world. However, I didn’t love the book like 99% of reviewers seem to have. 3 stars.

So there you have it. One location, two very different stories. I would say both are worth a read, depending on your own personal preferences, but I probably won’t read either of them a second time.

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10 thoughts on “Two book reviews for the 2015 summer reading challenge

  1. When I saw you were reading the first book I was going to ask if you had read The Kite Runner. That and The Lizard Cage were my fave summer books last year. I know what you mean about the main character not having been likeable – I felt the same way. I enjoyed the description of Afghanistan mostly!

  2. OMG – I also thought when I saw the photo on blogloving – have you read Khaled Hosseini? I LOVE his style of writing – it literally makes my heart melt – it sounds like poetry. Try his next two books but be warned – I still get teary when I think of the second one and his last one is just beautiful and very different from any book I’ve ever read 🙂 I didn’t enjoy the coffee shop of Kabul – found it unrealistic and dull, but an easy-read for sure! I shall keep checking in to see what else you are reading, as I always like a good recommendation 🙂

  3. I haven’t read the first book, but it does sound like the sort of easy read I might like for holiday reading. The Kite Runner I have read, and thought it was excellent, and definitely a page turner. I can’t remember specific details of the whole story now, because it was a few years ago. I do remember that it was the one book I have read which had a single event which really took me by surprise and shocked me.

  4. I felt the same way about The Little Coffee Shop. It was a bit embarrassing because the author contacted me after she read my review too! She was saying that a bit of chick lit is always good, but I just thought it was a very shallow book.

    1. Agreed, it wasn’t a bad read as such but it felt too shallow for the setting. Chick lit is fine in its place, I just don’t feel like the middle of a war IS its place!

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