Nonfiction Review: The Underground Girls of Kabul

The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan, Jenny Nordberg

Published July 14th 2015 by Broadway Books

Paperback, 366 pages

Source: Blogging for Books

In Afghanistan, a culture ruled almost entirely by men, the birth of a son is cause for celebration and the arrival of a daughter is often mourned as misfortune. A bacha posh (literally translated from Dari as “dressed up like a boy”) is a third kind of child – a girl temporarily raised as a boy and presented as such to the outside world. Jenny Nordberg, the reporter who broke the story of this phenomenon for the New York Times, constructs a powerful and moving account of those secretly living on the other side of a deeply segregated society where women have almost no rights and little freedom.

The Underground Girls of Kabul is anchored by vivid characters who bring this remarkable story to life: Azita, a female parliamentarian who sees no other choice but to turn her fourth daughter Mehran into a boy; Zahra, the tomboy teenager who struggles with puberty and refuses her parents’ attempts to turn her back into a girl; Shukria, now a married mother of three after living for twenty years as a man; and Nader, who prays with Shahed, the undercover female police officer, as they both remain in male disguise as adults.

At the heart of this emotional narrative is a new perspective on the extreme sacrifices of Afghan women and girls against the violent backdrop of America’s longest war. Divided into four parts, the book follows those born as the unwanted sex in Afghanistan, but who live as the socially favored gender through childhood and puberty, only to later be forced into marriage and childbirth. The Underground Girls of Kabul charts their dramatic life cycles, while examining our own history and the parallels to subversive actions of people who live under oppression everywhere.

I would love to be anything in nature

But not a woman

Not an Afghan woman.


Kabul, 2009

This poem at the beginning of The Underground Girls pretty much sums up my feelings on this book.  I think I would love to be anything in nature but an Afghan woman.  I feel so very fortunate for my life and for my daughter after reading this.  This book was completely fascinating, and at the same time totally heartbreaking.  The women that spoke to Nordberg were so brave despite the horrors and violence that are so often a part of everyday life in Afghanistan.  Their stories of their everyday were completely compelling.  

Nordberg met the family of an Afghan politician, specifically her 3 daughters and her 1 young son.  The daughters reveal that their brother is actually their youngest sister and Nordberg was off on the hunt of the tradition of the “bacha posh,” girls being raised sometimes from infancy as boys.  Honestly, when you read what life is like in Afghanistan for women this tradition kind of makes sense.  Women can’t go out alone, girls can’t run errands, and I learned that couples that don’t have sons are shamed by society and also by their own families.  

When one gender is so unwanted, so despised and so suppressed, in a place where daughters are expressly unwanted, perhaps both the body and the mind of a growing human can be expected to revolt against becoming a woman.  And thus, perhaps, alter someone for good.”

How exciting it must have been for Nordberg to realize this practice hadn’t really been published on! I keep trying to imagine what it must have felt like for her to be on the hunt for the bacha posh – to find the women who would talk about this practice.  It was fascinating to realize that many of the Afghan women Nordberg encountered who were empowered in small ways had been bacha posh and so felt able to take some power for themselves as women.

I am happy God made me a girl, so I can become a mother.  In my heart I am still a boy, but it is my choice to wear women’s clothing now.  It’s only important to be a bacha posh in the head, to know you can do anything.”  

This book made me hope for the women of Afghanistan, even as it also made me fear for them.  What a way to live – and what a stage of life to transition from.   So much to think about.  This is definitely a book to read and discuss.  I have a list of friends I’m pushing my copy onto!  

5 stars

Thank you Blogging for Books for this copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: Cop Town

Cop Town, Karin Slaughter

Published June 24th 2014 by Delacorte Press

Kindle Edition, 384 pages

Source:e-ARC from NetGalley


Atlanta, 1974: As a brutal murder and a furious manhunt rock the city’s police department, Kate Murphy wonders if her first day on the job will also be her last. She’s determined to defy her privileged background by making her own way—wearing a badge and carrying a gun. But for a beautiful young woman, life will be anything but easy in the macho world of the Atlanta PD, where even the female cops have little mercy for rookies. It’s also the worst day possible to start given that a beloved cop has been gunned down, his brothers in blue are out for blood, and the city is on the edge of war.

Kate isn’t the only woman on the force who’s feeling the heat. Maggie Lawson followed her uncle and brother into the ranks to prove her worth in their cynical eyes. When she and Kate, her new partner, are pushed out of the citywide search for a cop killer, their fury, pain, and pride finally reach the boiling point. With a killer poised to strike again, they will pursue their own line of investigation, risking everything as they venture into the city’s darkest heart.

This book was definitely gripping in the beginning.  A young cop, running for his life while carrying his partner’s body – will they live?  Is it too late for his partner?  

Unfortunately for me the mystery was lost in the totally misogynistic setting.  I’ll believe that Slaughter did her research and that this is what Atlanta’s Police was like for women of this time – and OMG they are amazing bad asses for surviving it if so – but the unrelenting sexism, racism, violence and homophobia of this book was just too much for me.  It felt like there was honestly nearly nothing uplifting that happened.  I can take a dark mystery, but give me a little levity please!

The bright side was that yes, Maggie and Kate, the two brave young women on the Atlanta Police Department were able to join together and search for the killer together despite the old white men’s club keeping them down.  I just wish they’d been richer characters that I really could have supported.  They were so downtrodden and there was so much darkness I just could barely root for them.

I was intrigued by the Shooter at first and trying to understand his motivations, but then those too felt too varied.  The resolution felt rushed, leaving the explanations flat for me as well.

Based on the reviews I’ve seen of Slaughter’s crime series I may look for those at the library when I need a thriller- but Cop Town was just not a win for me.  Based on the detail she put into this setting I’d like to try on of her books that’s set in a different time – maybe that would be a bit happier!

Thank you Delacorte Press and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Nonfiction Review: The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse: An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and Intrigue

The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse: An Extraordinary Edwardian Case of Deception and Intrigue, Piu Marie Eatwell

Published October 5th 2015 by W.W. Norton

Kindle Edition, 352 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss


Doesn’t this title make you want to pick this book up immediately?  What a totally bizarre story!  In 1897 Anna Maria Druce requested that the coffin of her father-in-law be exhumed with the goal of proving that T.C. Druce had faked his death.  She suggested Druce was actually the 5th Duke of Portland who had been posing as the owner of the Baker St Bazar selling furniture and other commodities to London’s wealthy.  Anna Maria proposed that her own children should inherit the Portland title and vast wealth rather than the distant relative living as the current 6th Duke.  

This case went back and forth from legal court to the ecclesiastical for 10 years to determine who had access to the grave site and who could possibly stand to inherit.  Witnesses and claimants traveled from New York and even Australia to testify.  So were Druce and the Duke the same person?  I’m not that easy that I’ll tell!  You have to read the book to find out!  What I will tell you is that this is a book about double lives, secret marriages, lies between parents and children, and estates with underground tunnels.  There shady attorneys and private investigators and determined policemen.  What a world those Victorians lived in!  

Eatwell lays out the history and the facts so cleanly that this nearly reads like fiction.  You’ll be caught up until the final page of the postscript to learn all that she uncovered.  She puts it all into perspective to say that the Druce affair was significant because of the light it shed on the lies, deceit and hypocrisy practised by society at the time and their tragic consequences.”  While this was a bizarre and entertaining story it certainly does leave you thinking about what life was like for those as fortunate as the Duke of Portland and those unfortunates trying to clamor for a share of his wealth.

Thank you W.W. Norton and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion. 

All quotes taken from an uncorrected galley copy in advance of publication.

Blog Tour: Every Move


I’m so excited to be on the blog tour for Every Word by Ellie Marney today! I’m feeling totally remiss as a blogger as I realized I never put up a review for book one in this series Every Breath.  So let me start by saying thanks to Nikki at There Were Books Involved raving about this Aussie version of Sherlock Holmes and Watson I purchased Every Breath – and I loved it.  

Rachel Watts moves with her family from the Australian country to Melbourne and where she befriends her nextdoor neighbor James Mycroft. Rachel is down when we meet her – she is not a city girl, her family is struggling and she’s just flat out homesick for the farm they left behind.  I loved Rachel for just being a normal girl.  She’s not the character who is too beautiful for her own good.  She knows how to work, is a good friend and she is happiest in her flannie and jeans.  Watts is full of anger that her family lost their farm, but still trying to help her parents get by while she finishes high school.  Mycroft has moved from England after his parents were killed in a car accident.  He’s everything you’d expect with his name – brilliant, socially challenged, dismissive of authority and loyal to his friends.  When Homeless Dave, a friend of Mycroft’s, is found murdered and the police aren’t sufficiently interested he at Rachel investigate on their own.  This was a fast mystery that grabbed me and with an end I didn’t see coming at all.  

And so,

That leads us to the reason I’m posting today!  More #Wattscroft goodness was released this year in Every Word. The official blurb reads:

James Mycroft has just left for London to investigate a car accident similar to the one that killed his parents seven years ago…without saying goodbye to Rachel Watts, his ‘partner in crime’.

Rachel is furious and worried about his strange behaviour – not that Mycroft’s ever exactly normal, but London is the scene of so many of his nightmares. So Rachel jumps on a plane to follow him…and lands straight in a whole storm of trouble.

The theft of a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, the possible murder of a rare books conservator, and the deaths of Mycroft’s parents…Can Watts help Mycroft make sense of the three events – or will she lose him forever?

Once you’ve read Every Breath I can tell you that you’ll have fallen for Rachel and Mycroft together.  They are clearly perfect for each other.  He’s slightly insane and she’s balancing and they are just good for each other – not just Rachel supporting her boyfriend.  So when Rachel receives word that Mycroft has gone to London to help investigate a car-jacking similar to the one that caused his parents’ deaths, she knows that he needs help. Marney develops Mycroft’s role in the investigation in such a way that it doesn’t feel implausible for this high school student along for the assist.  Rachel’s already in trouble for her last adventure with Mycroft and knows full well that she’s making a choice that her parents are going to punish her for – and again the way she gets herself to London just works with the story.  

Marney definitely does not glamourize the violence or the death in this series.  It is gritty and painful and you feel right there with the characters. We have young love and angst, murder, kidnapping, Shakespeare and 221B Baker Street.  What more do you need in mystery?  Watts and Mycroft are fantastic together and the drama is tense.  This is a strong sequel to Every Breath and just a fun series.

Thank you Tundra Books for this copy in exchange for an honest review!



Ellie Marney was born in Brisbane, and has lived in Indonesia, Singapore and India. Now she writes, teaches, talks about kid’s literature at libraries and schools, and gardens when she can, while living in a country idyll (actually a very messy wooden house on ten acres with a dog and lots of chickens) near Castlemaine, in north-central Victoria. Her partner and four sons still love her, even though she often forgets things and lets the housework go.

Ellie’s short stories for adults have won awards and been published in various anthologies. Every Breath was her first novel for young adults.

You can get to know Ellie better via her Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and/or Pinterest.

Be sure to visit the other stops on the tour:

Monday, Nov. 16

Samantha at Bellsie Books

Mandy C. at Forever Young Adult

Eri at Airy Reads

Heather at Books and Quilts

Nicole at Reading Lark

Tuesday, Nov. 17

Shelly at Books and Writing

Michelle at Michelle & Leslie’s Book Picks

Jen at The Starry-Eyed Revue

Amanda at Gun in Act One- That’s me!

Wednesday, Nov. 18

Gillian at Writer of Wrongs

Shilpa at

Sabrina at Hiver et Café

Adrienne at Books and Bassets

Thursday, Nov. 19


Marie at Ramblings of a Daydreamer

Liz at Midnight Bloom Reads

Amy at Tripping Over Books

Rachel at The Readers Den

Friday, Nov. 20

Lauren at Love is Not a Triangle

Kristen at My Friends Are Fiction

Morgan at Gone with the Words

Leanne at Author Leanne Dyck

You can also find Blog Tour posts on Twitter with the hashtag #wattscroft.

Become a Podcast Addict/ Nonfiction November



This week in Nonfiction November, the topic is nontraditional nonfiction – including “e-books, audiobooks, illustrated and graphic nonfiction, oversized folios, miniatures, internet publishing, and enhanced books complete with artifacts.”

I love a good nonfiction book, but when it comes to other ways of consuming nonfiction, I have a clear favorite: podcasts. Oh, not just any podcasts – I am here to tell you exactly where to start listening to get hooked on audio storytelling.

Here is your 5 step guide to becoming a podcast-addict.


  1. Start here: In 2014 (or maybe late 2013?) Alex Blumberg left NPR to found a podcast company called Gimlet, where he chronicled his own journey in season one of Startup, and started launching new (amazing!) podcasts. Check out this recent episode of Startup, called “The Secret Formula,” which explains the kind of obsessively crafted podcasts Gimlet makes. This will set the tone for everything else you’re about to listen to.startup_logo_small2
  2. Next, try another Gimlet podcast: Mystery Show hosted by Starlee Klein. If you don’t love the episode “Belt Buckle”, then I’m not sure we can be friends.mystery_logo_small
  3. Remember when I said Alex Blumberg left NPR? Now it’s time to revisit where he learned how to make great podcasts: from one Ira Glass at This American Life. There are currently 539 shows, so I get that seems a bit overwhelming. Here’s a few episodes to start with: “Very Tough Love,” about a drug court in Georgia, and “The Problem We All Live With” – parts 1 and 2, about school segregation and integration. And also, “Fear of Sleep.” Seriously, just listen.logo-v5
  4. Before there was Gimlet, Alex Blumberg helped start NPR’s Planet Money, a show that bills itself this way: “Imagine you could call up a friend and say, “Meet me at the bar and tell me what’s going on with the economy.” Now imagine that’s actually a fun evening. That’s what we’re going for at Planet Money.” If you’re ready to dive into this show, start with this 5 episode series where the Planet Money team worked with economists to create a fake presidential candidate pitching an economist-approved agenda. No, really – it will get you thinking for
  5. It’s time for one more Gimlet Show. Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt host Reply All, “a show about the internet.” Careful readers may have noticed that I say “this is a book blog,” but I often start with books and then write about whatever I feel like – that’s basically what Alex and PJ do. They definitely start with the internet, but this show goes into all sorts of fascinating directions. Like in the episode “Shipped to Timbuktu.” You really, really, really need to listen to this one.replyall_logo_small


Bonus step: visit and wait for Season 2 to be released. You can certainly catch-up on Season 1 if you haven’t heard that yet. But I’m assuming you have, right? It’s the only the most popular podcast ever.

download (1)

Some technical notes: iTunes is the obvious place that most people find podcasts, but there are definitely alternatives. I’ve been using an app (for Android) called Podcast Addict that I love. I download when I’m on wifi and listen to downloaded episodes wherever: in the car, on a run, and while making dinner or doing laundry. You can also play the linked episodes above right from your computer.

And finally – I am often terrible at responding to comments, but I really want to hear your thoughts on these podcasts and whatever podcasts you love! So let’s discuss, eh?

Nonfiction Review – Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by Irin Carmon, Shana Knizhnik

Published October 27th 2015 by Dey Street Books

ebook, 240 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss


Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg never asked for fame—she was just trying to make the world a little better and a little freer. But along the way, the feminist pioneer’s searing dissents and steely strength have inspired millions. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, created by the young lawyer who began the Internet sensation and an award-winning journalist, takes you behind the myth for an intimate, irreverent look at the justice’s life and work. As America struggles with the unfinished business of gender equality and civil rights, Ginsburg stays fierce. And if you don’t know, now you know.

A few things I took away from this delightful book that should convince you to read about an amazing woman.


  • RBG is in her 80’s and does 20 push-ups a day.  20 PUSH-UPS A DAY.  If that doesn’t tell you she’s a bad-ass that you should want to read about, read on.  
  • This woman was a mother of a 1 year-old, 1 of 9 women in her class at Harvard law when her husband Marty was diagnosed with cancer.  Marty was also a law student, a year ahead of RBG at Harvard.  RBG came home from law school every day, spent time with her child, typed up the notes she had other students take for Marty while he was being treated and then did her own law school work.  She’s super human.
  • RBG cooked her last meal in 1980.  Her daughter is quoted as saying “Mommy does the thinking and Daddy does the cooking.”  
  • RBG is an opera lover (something she shares with Justice Scalia in a truly fascinating friendship) and has said “If I had any talent that God could give me, I would be a great diva.”  Notorious RBG, Supreme Court Justice to opera diva, amazing.


  • RBG and Marty had what appears to have been a true partnership.  What an amazing couple.  I cried an embarrassing amount on the train while reading his last letter to her after more than 50 years of marriage.  I think everyone can only hope to be so lucky in love and friendship.


  • As an attorney she argued for equal gender rights not just for women, but for men – and this book shares her written opinions with legal commentary, not just her personal life.  This is a fast read, but not all fluff.  She taught law and worked for the ACLU before donning her judge’s robes.  RBG has done amazing work to help to empower everyone – not just women.
  • You can’t spell Truth without RUTH.

Read this!  If you haven’t had enough RBG check out the Tumblr site that was the inspiration for the book.  You will soon find yourself shopping for Notorious RBG merchandise like me!  My daughter calls my RBG tote my “King Bag” I need to work on reminding her that RBG is way cooler than a king!

5 stars!  

Thank you Dey Street Books for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

All quotes taken from an uncorrected galley copy in advance of publication.  

Book Pairings: Nonfiction November Edition


In case you missed it, last week Amanda kicked off our Nonfiction November with some of her fave NF reads. Lest she call me out again for skipping out, here I am to get us started for this week’s topic: pairing up a nonfiction book with a fiction one.

Grouping books together is totally my jam – see exhibits a, b, and c – so I am excited about this topic.

Holly’s Pairings

Issac’s Storm + The Promise


Both of these books have been on my TBR for a while, and I’m actually just waiting for Issac’s Storm to be mine from the library so I can hop to it! Issac’s Storm is Erik Larson’s nonfiction account of the 1900 hurricane in Galveston, Texas – the greatest natural disaster in American history. The Promise is Ann Weisgarber’s novel about a young woman from Ohio who arrives in Galveston in 1900 to marry a childhood admirer. I can’t to see how the fictional account works in the realities of the storm.


The Girls of Atomic City + Code Name Verity


If you are interested in reading about women during WWII, then I’m going to recommend both of these books. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is an amazing novel about two friends and the role they play in the war effort. The Girls of Atomic City is Denise Kiernan’s nonfiction account of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and the work that was done there during the war. Young women doing what they can during the war? Check. Hardships and reality? Check. Secrets and intrigue? Check. Seriously – you won’t regret reading either one.


Amanda’s Pairings

The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and The Missing Corpse + The Talented Mr. Ripley


I just finished The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and The Missing Corpse which was kind of a bizarre story.  I spent most of the book trying to figure out when the Dead Duke really died and whose life he was living at the time.  Trying unravel this mystery led me to thinking about Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley.  Ripley’s way of becoming someone is far more sinister than what might have happened with the mysterious 5th Duke of Portland and  T.C. Druce – but Druce sounds like kind of a dirtbag which led me to this comparison.  


The Witches: Salem, 1692 + A Few YA Reads


I’m only 20 pages into The Witches right now and I keep thinking of books I have read or want to read! First,  I thought of the Cahill Witch Chronicles by Jessica Spotswood which I’ve been wanting to read forever.  Witches trying to stay secret – yes please.  Next I thought of The Fever by Megan Abbott, about a creepy panic when high school girls fall ill.  Not my favorite read to be honest, but it was compelling and the paranoia hearkens back to Salem quite a bit in my mind.  Continuing with the YA theme I thought of The Witch Hunter by Virginia Boecker.  This is more of a stretch I think – but the accusations and the searching for witches is what brought it to my mind.   Last one,  maybe more middle grade I suppose, but the fantastic Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time series -specifically A Swiftly Tilting Planet.  As I read about Cotton Mather inserting himself into the history of Salem I thought about how he gets involved in the story of Meg and Charles Wallace.  And  I want to now throw over my whole TBR to read the whole Wrinkle in Time series again.   I am curious to see what else jumps to mind as I keep reading – and a bit nervous to read about what happened in Salem.  

What books are you linking together this week?