Audiobook Review: The Guest Room

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Image via Goodreads

Rating: 3 out of 5

I have to admit that I was surprised that my fellow book club babes felt so negatively toward Chris Bohjalian’s The Guest Room. I was already a fan of the author after reading The Sandcastle Girls, his heartbreaking historical fiction novel about the Armenian Genocide. Honestly, there are so few Armenians left in existence, let alone Armenian writers, which compels me to appreciate the creative folks who share my heritage.

So even though some of the ladies at book club agreed with my 3-star rating, I was much more sympathetic about liking this story. However, since I recognize my own cultural bias, I wanted to share a plot summary written by my friend Kat, because it’s absolutely hilarious. She actually re-enacted this description during our meetup this week, and it’s safe to say that her sassy summaries will be a regular feature hereafter:

So basically you got a 40ish older brother (Mr. No Backbone) who throws a bachelor party for his immature womanizing 30ish baby brother at his home (*cough* damn fool *cough*), of which he shares with his devoted wife and 9-year-old daughter.

Said baby brother and even more hounddog groomsmen decide to hire strippers of which they pay extra to have sex (i.e. tag team) and guest what, oh, the strippers were sex slaves who took that very opportunity to kill their bodyguards/ captors right there in the house.

So now the strippers are on the run (literally 10 blocks down the street… They so smart 😐), the house is a crime scene, the older brother’s marriage and family are falling apart (🙄), and there is a whole lot of media coverage & legal heat on all the groomsmen (ya damn skippy 😏).

I couldn’t get jiggy with this because the characters were utterly stupid, and it was like as the story went on, the author kept dumbing everyone down for cheap thrills and sad attempts at creating suspense. Uh no! This gets 3 stars if I’m being nice, and a 2.5 if I’m keeping it real. Read at your own risk, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I have to agree with Kat that you question the judgment of the characters throughout the novel, correcting their decisions in your mind as a desperate attempt to prevent this bachelor-party-gone-wrong from getting even worse.

However, I pitied Richard, the relatively innocent bystander dealing with the aftermath of his brother’s mistakes, and Alexandra, who never asked to be abducted from her family in Armenia and forced to live as a sex slave. Having the POVs shift between these two protagonists, as well as to Richard’s wife and daughter, allows you to get in the minds of everyone affected and form your own conclusions about how you would feel and act in the same situation.

My only major complaint with The Guest Room was that it had too much feeling and not enough acting. Bohjalian is wonderful at writing inner turmoil, but this was not the sexy thriller my book club and I had been hoping for. As Kat concluded, read at your own risk, but as long as you know what kind of story you’re getting yourself into, I thought that it was enjoyable.

My final words of wisdom if you plan on adding this to your to-read list: definitely get the print version! Unfortunately, the audiobook is terrible with accents, and Alexandra sounds like an awful stereotype of a foreign bimbo. The Guest Room is a story with a ton of potential that didn’t quite deliver, and the poorly executed audiobook is another testament to that.

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101 Years and Counting: Remembering the Armenian Genocide

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Another year, another moment to reflect on one of our world’s most devastating tragedies. April 24th marks Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, commemorating the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks during World War I.

If you’re wondering why anyone outside of Armenia and its diaspora should care about this event, it is important to note that to this day Turkey denies that the genocide ever occurred, or at the very least asserts that the death toll is extremely overestimated (untrue) and that the Armenians started the conflict and therefore deserved their retribution (grossly untrue). Even worse, despite the outrage of millions of Armenian-Americans like myself, the United States also does not formally recognize the Armenian Genocide for fear of damaging its military alliance with Turkey.

If you’re a new reader of Book Club Babe and were unaware of my Armenian ancestry and of the cultural significance of the genocide, then I urge you to educate yourself today and spread your knowledge with others. You can do your part by sharing this blog post to your social networks with hashtags, such as #RememberAndDemand and #TurkeyFailed. And if you’d like to read some historical fiction, then I recommend The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian and The Gendarme by Mark T. Mustian.

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And for more information on the Armenian Genocide, please read my posts from previous years (20152014, 2013, 2012). Thank you for your support!

In Honor of Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day

Hi everyone!

As is tradition on Book Club Babe, I spend this day reflecting on my ancestral history and appreciating my culture. This April 24th is the 99th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, which means that next year will mark an entire century that this tragedy has been ignored.

As I have stated before, unlike the Jews during World War II, the Armenians never received their equivalent of the Nuremberg Trials. To this day, Turkey denies slaughtering its neighbors, and the United States and other nations refuse to formally recognize the ethnic cleansing as an official genocide–simply due to fear cowardice over losing their strategic military alliances in the Middle East.

I urge everyone to learn more about the genocide and spread awareness. Educate your friends and family and urge your local politicians to demand justice for the Armenian community. Violence begets violence, and the longer we turn our face from it, the longer it will continue.

You don’t have to be Armenian to empathize with one. To mark this day, I thought I would reblog my review of Chris Bohjalian’s historical novel, The Sandcastle Girls. It’s a beautifully written, heartbreaking depiction of this history, and one of my favorite reads of 2013. Highly, highly recommended!

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

One of the best feelings when you’re reading is when the story gains momentum and you just have to keep going until you finish it. This was one of those stories, and I’m so glad. As an Armenian, I had very high expectations of Chris Bohjalian’s The Sandcastle Girls, because it addresses the historical tragedy closest to my heart.

Bohjalian certainly doesn’t disappoint when it comes to discussing, as he puts it, “The Slaughter You Know Next to Nothing About.” Although Turkey, the United States, and various other countries refrain from calling the annihilation of 1.5 million Armenians a “genocide,” that’s exactly what it was. Between 1915 and 1923, we lost over half of our population, forever impacting future generations.

These multiple generations are all included in The Sandcastle Girls, since the author writes two stories concurrently. Laura Petrosian is writing a novel in the present-day about her grandparents, Armenian engineer Armen Petrosian and Bostonian volunteer Elizabeth Endicott.

In 1915, Armen has escaped the clutches of the Turks, killing men and losing his wife and daughter in the process. He meets Elizabeth in Aleppo, Syria, where her, her father, and other Americans are doing their best to help the survivors. The two quickly fall in love, but when Armen decides to fight in the war, their relationship must withstand great distance and the uncertainty of whether they’ll ever meet again.

Of course, the reader knows that they’re eventually reunited, otherwise Laura would not have been born and able to share her memories of her grandparents. From describing delicious cheese boregs to offering anecdotes of contemporary tension between Armenians and Turks, I appreciated such a devotion to our culture.

Even though my own family escaped the genocide before the death marches began, I related so much to this story. Having Armenian ancestry seems to be essential to our people, whether they’re full-blooded Hyes (Armenians) or part-odars (outsiders). Bohjalian does an excellent job explaining the nuances of our diaspora, and I recommend this novel to anyone who wants to learn more about it.

Obviously, this book won’t be for everybody. If you have a weak constitution, you probably won’t be able to handle the graphic scenes of rape, torture, dismemberment, disease, and death. Before the pace picked up, I would have to read this story in small amounts, just to save myself from becoming too emotionally overwhelmed. As many other readers have pointed out, this is not a beach read, but it’s a read that makes you simply grateful that you’re alive.

Some have called The Sandcastle Girls formulaic and melodramatic, its characters annoying and two-dimensional. Others dislike the flipping back and forth between past and present. I, on the other hand, argue that the book effectively weaves together this family’s lineage, but whether it’s 1915 or 2012, people are not always likeable or relatable. They make mistakes, and this genocide was one of the biggest mistakes in human history.

It’s easy to call this a wartime love story, but I think it’s also disrespectful to narrow it down like that. Bohjalian simultaneously educates his audience with historical research and vividly paints the picture of the desolate desert where  over a million Armenians met their doom. I know that I’m biased, but The Sandcastle Girls is so much bigger than boy-meets-girl, and if you read it, I hope you’ll agree.

I won’t spoil the meaning of the book’s title, but I think that a sandcastle is an apt metaphor for Armenia. We may have been trodded and trampled on in the past, but we were a shining beacon of hope in that desert, and we’ll continue to rebuild. For a race to experience such horror, we have become even more industrious, hard-working, and thankful for each day.

And even if those who wish us ill try to demolish the sandcastle and brush away the sandy remains as if it had never existed, what they’ll fail to erase is our memories. That, to me, is the most powerful weapon of all.

Book Review: The Sandcastle Girls

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

One of the best feelings when you’re reading is when the story gains momentum and you just have to keep going until you finish it. This was one of those stories, and I’m so glad. As an Armenian, I had very high expectations of Chris Bohjalian’s The Sandcastle Girls, because it addresses the historical tragedy closest to my heart.

Bohjalian certainly doesn’t disappoint when it comes to discussing, as he puts it, “The Slaughter You Know Next to Nothing About.” Although Turkey, the United States, and various other countries refrain from calling the annihilation of 1.5 million Armenians a “genocide,” that’s exactly what it was. Between 1915 and 1923, we lost over half of our population, forever impacting future generations.

These multiple generations are all included in The Sandcastle Girls, since the author writes two stories concurrently. Laura Petrosian is writing a novel in the present-day about her grandparents, Armenian engineer Armen Petrosian and Bostonian volunteer Elizabeth Endicott.

In 1915, Armen has escaped the clutches of the Turks, killing men and losing his wife and daughter in the process. He meets Elizabeth in Aleppo, Syria, where her, her father, and other Americans are doing their best to help the survivors. The two quickly fall in love, but when Armen decides to fight in the war, their relationship must withstand great distance and the uncertainty of whether they’ll ever meet again.

Of course, the reader knows that they’re eventually reunited, otherwise Laura would not have been born and able to share her memories of her grandparents. From describing delicious cheese boregs to offering anecdotes of contemporary tension between Armenians and Turks, I appreciated such a devotion to our culture.

Even though my own family escaped the genocide before the death marches began, I related so much to this story. Having Armenian ancestry seems to be essential to our people, whether they’re full-blooded Hyes (Armenians) or part-odars (outsiders). Bohjalian does an excellent job explaining the nuances of our diaspora, and I recommend this novel to anyone who wants to learn more about it.

Obviously, this book won’t be for everybody. If you have a weak constitution, you probably won’t be able to handle the graphic scenes of rape, torture, dismemberment, disease, and death. Before the pace picked up, I would have to read this story in small amounts, just to save myself from becoming too emotionally overwhelmed. As many other readers have pointed out, this is not a beach read, but it’s a read that makes you simply grateful that you’re alive.

Some have called The Sandcastle Girls formulaic and melodramatic, its characters annoying and two-dimensional. Others dislike the flipping back and forth between past and present. I, on the other hand, argue that the book effectively weaves together this family’s lineage, but whether it’s 1915 or 2012, people are not always likeable or relatable. They make mistakes, and this genocide was one of the biggest mistakes in human history.

It’s easy to call this a wartime love story, but I think it’s also disrespectful to narrow it down like that. Bohjalian simultaneously educates his audience with historical research and vividly paints the picture of the desolate desert where  over a million Armenians met their doom. I know that I’m biased, but The Sandcastle Girls is so much bigger than boy-meets-girl, and if you read it, I hope you’ll agree.

I won’t spoil the meaning of the book’s title, but I think that a sandcastle is an apt metaphor for Armenia. We may have been trodded and trampled on in the past, but we were a shining beacon of hope in that desert, and we’ll continue to rebuild. For a race to experience such horror, we have become even more industrious, hard-working, and thankful for each day.

And even if those who wish us ill try to demolish the sandcastle and brush away the sandy remains as if it had never existed, what they’ll fail to erase is our memories. That, to me, is the most powerful weapon of all.

Top 5 (Literary) Things I’m Thankful for This Year

I’m ashamed of myself for putting off blogging for so long–it’s amazing how fast this month has flown by! It’s been an exciting time for the company I work for, because not only has it made some valuable sales and acquisitions, it has also officially been rewarded the honor of creating the fastest supercomputer in the world!

I’ve also kept myself busy after work hours: I’m now half-way into Chris Bohjalian’s The Sandcastle Girls. It’s Bohjalian’s first novel about the Armenian Genocide of the early 20th century, and my first time reading about it in something other than historical texts. Since we’re both Armenians, or “Hyes,” I understand just how vital this experience is for our community.

Much like the Jews, the Armenians are a race bound by tragedy. The genocide is the single most important event in our history, and unlike the Holocaust, it remains unrecognized by its instigator Turkey and the greater portion of the globe–including the United States.

I won’t delve into the details (which you can read about in my memorial post here), but I will say that I feel culturally obligated to read this tale, as well as emotionally exhausted after pages and pages of cruelty, pain, and sorrow. As much as I chuckle about the similarities between my family and the narrator’s, it’s an arduous journey when the horrors of almost 100  years ago are depicted as vividly as if they occurred right before your eyes.

I think that The Sandcastle Girls is a perfect read for me during Thanksgiving, because it makes me so aware of all the good in my life. To celebrate the holiday, I’d like to share the top 5 literary things I’m thankful for this year:

1.  I’m thankful for my good health, considering that I have sight and hearing to read and listen to books, as well as capable limbs to drive to the store, grab a tome off the shelf, and cradle it in my hands.

2.  I’m thankful that I had parents and teachers who encouraged me to enjoy learning for learning’s sake, and motivate me to challenge myself intellectually.

3.  I’m thankful that I live in a country that values the freedom of speech and expression. As much as the crazies have tried to ban certain books, I do not live in Fahrenheit 451 where I can be arrested and disposed of simply for reading. This shouldn’t be a luxury in the rest of the world; it should be a right.

4.  I’m thankful that I live in a time period where women are not only allowed to write, they are just as celebrated and successful as their male counterparts. I’m not saying that we don’t have a long feminist road ahead of us (since female authors are still judged by the reproductive choices), but at least we can get Rowling-rich without needing psuedonyms.

5.  And one just for fun…I’m thankful that I only have to wait three more weeks until my most anticipated movie release of the year, “The Hobbit!” Dwarves and dragons, I’m so excited!!!