Desert Rose by K Moore is a thrilling and suspenseful novel that had me hooked from the first chapter. The book takes place in Dubai and revolves around Jen, our US expat narrator, who is a married mother of two. Jen is living in Dubai because her husband (also a US expat) does business there. One day, as she is out shopping, her daughter, Sarah, disappears. The adventure and adrenaline takes off from there, as we live through the hurdles Jen has to deal with in trying to find her daughter. Not only is Sarah gone, but Jen is forced to abide by Dubai’s cultural challenges.
At first, I thought this was going to be a Taken type of story, and I was waiting for the Liam Neeson character to show up with his “I have a certain set of skills…” speech that has spawned so many amazing memes. But that never happened. The only characteristics this book shares with Taken is that a daughter disappears in a foreign country. From then on, this is all K Moore’s story.
And what an awesome story it is. What really stands out to me is the author’s choices when it came to the style in which she tells the story. It took me a minute to get acclimated, but I came to love it in the end. While we follow Jen’s path, there are no dual perspectives or multiple timelines. We are just in Jen’s head the entire time and are left to extract details of other characters through Jen’s eyes, during a time of what I imagine would be a mother’s worst nightmare—her child disappearing. The story is not smooth, nor should it be. While the timeline moves forward and doesn’t bounce around, there are intentional gaps where it feels like the author hit fast forward for a couple minutes as new chapters are started. It felt raw and real in how Jen must have felt—lack of sleep, adrenaline, everything running together and mushing around, creating gaps in her consciousness. At first, I thought I was seeing plot holes, but the more I read, the more I realized this was an intentional style choice. I am so used to traditionally published serial thrillers following a very specific model where each minute and step of the narrator’s path is documented. The fact that this had some intentional gaps that forced me to imagine what was happening felt new and fresh.
At the end of the book, I reached out to K Moore to ask a couple questions. What I learned from her floored me. While this is a book of fiction, the author took her own experiences to create this storyline. Being involved in the military and intelligence sectors, in addition to living in Dubai and other areas of the Middle East prior to becoming an author, K Moore had a treasure trove of experiences from which to choose. People have really been through something like this? Yes. People have had to deal with some of these cultural differences in times of absolute devastation? Yes.
As you may know, Erica and I spent a substantial amount of time in China teaching English before getting into our current careers. We dealt with cultural differences, learned to adapt to new norms, and cultivated our tolerance for ambiguity. But we never had to deal with some of the hurdles Jen deals with. Erica never had to wait for a man to be in the room before a police officer would talk to her. (Not that she was talking to the cops regularly—shadiness didn’t really start until she was back in the States and dating me; yes, I may have corrupted her. Muahahahaa!)
Desert Rose, by the sheer nature of the story, is also a commentary on the people and government of Dubai (UAE) and other Middle Eastern countries. At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to review this book. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to push for people to read a story that can feed into the awful Islamaphobia we see in our culture today. But after talking with K Moore, I realized that this is Jen’s story. This is her experience with the world, and the fact that it was built from real-life experiences makes it even more important and relevant. In the end, this isn’t a book about Islam or Dubai. This is a story about a mother wanting to do anything she can to find and save her daughter.
Matt brought up some interesting points, but before I address them, I have to admit something: this review is two months in the making. Part of this is due to personal reasons. As some of you know, I have bipolar, so when the shit hits the fan, it really flies. (Clearly Matt has been a terrible influence on me because GROSS METAPHOR.) Anyway, this isn’t to say I didn’t like K’s book. I did. But the pacing wasn’t as fast as I’m used to in suspense thrillers. Unlike Matt’s experience, for me, the book starts with a bang and then slowly unfolds over time.
Let me start with what I love about the book. The author’s prose is beautiful. Because of the imagery and the thoughtful dialogue (with lots of showing rather than telling—hooray!), I wanted to keep reading. I mean, K can write! You’d never know this was her first book because it was so polished.
But what I struggled with was the environment. I like to consider myself a pretty open-minded person, especially since going to China (as Matt brought up), but I find cultures that disrespect women challenging. Equal rights is something I wholeheartedly believe in, and when that isn’t a given, I’m resistant to accept the situation. Those of you who read our The Hate You Give review may remember that I struggled with that book too—a book that deals with racial inequality. Maybe it’s the idealist in me, but I want everyone everywhere to have equal footing. And when they don’t, I feel sick inside.
So, naturally, there were points while reading Desert Rose when I just felt sick. The situation felt so realistic, I wanted to dive into the story and kick some of the Emirati ass that was negatively impacting Jennifer’s life. In many ways she was left to defend herself while in a very defenseless position. While Matt found this enthralling, I, as a woman, felt defeated right along with Jennifer.
It’s not K’s fault that I have issues with equality. It’s not her fault that I’m a sensitive reader. And the reality is, it’s because her story feels so realistic (and is written so realistically) that I feel this way. As Matt said, K wrote from her experience overseas. This shows so much in her descriptions of government, police, and everyday social practices. She has a clear understanding of this culture’s beliefs, and this is evidenced throughout the story.
If you’re asking yourself whether I’d read another book by K Moore, I say yes, absolutely. I think she shows a lot of promise with this book. But would I read another book set in the Middle East? That’s unlikely. It’s a culture so different from my own that I have a hard time understanding it. Ultimately, I want to read books that help me escape, and while this book helped me do that, it wasn’t exactly the kind of escape I wanted.
This is one of the first times Erica and I have had different opinions on a book. We both felt frustrated reading about the challenges Jen had, there is no doubt about that. For me, however, I am interested in learning more about these cultures that I don’t understand. Not to say Erica’s opinions are wrong—they aren’t. Her perspective makes perfect sense. But when I read something so terrible, such as the police not wanting to talk to a foreign woman until her husband arrives, that sick feeling Erica mentions drives me to want to learn more about why such a large area of the world would be okay with that.
K Moore’s Desert Rose is definitely an eye-opening experience, and I am always for expanding my horizon. Sometimes I get so lost in my own little bubble that I don’t see the forest for the trees. I agree with Erica that reading can take us away from real life, and, for me, Desert Rose took me out of my bubble, challenged my beliefs, and ultimately led to a great escape story. I look forward to reading more in the future by K Moore!
To purchase a copy of or read a synopsis for K Moore’s Desert Rose, click here.