Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"A House in the Sky" by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

In August of 2008, Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout travelled to war-torn Somalia, the most dangerous place on earth, hoping to get her next big story.  Having already been to Afghanistan and Iraq, she knew the risks she was taking but what happened to her there was something she never expected.

On her fourth day in the country, Amanda and her photographer, ex-boyfriend Nigel Brennan, were abducted by masked men.  What followed was a nightmare.  Amanda and Nigel were held hostage for 460 days, abused and broken.  Theirs is a story of suffering, horror, and terror but more importantly one of hope, forgiveness, and survival.  

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett is an incredible tale of hope and survival against all odds.  Amanda is open and honest about her life before Somalia as well as her time in captivity.  Reading this book is as though you are sitting down with her yourself.  Her pain and her spirit jump off the page at you.

I remember reading about Amanda in the newspapers during her time in Somalia and I remember thinking "why on earth would she have gone there on her own?"  I could not understand how a young woman, unexperienced as a journalist, would head there on her own accord, without the backing and security of a major media outlet.  Now I know why.

Beginning with her troubled life in Alberta, where she would escape into back issues of National Geographic to get away from the instability of her family life, Amanda takes readers down the road that led her to Africa.  She began working as a waitress to pay for trips and she soon found herself going around the world for months at a time.  As she travelled to places in South America, Asia, and Africa, she realized that she could fund her trips through freelance journalism.  But after spending her time working for small outlets, including a stint in Iraq, she knew she needed something big to make her break.  And that is when she decided on Somalia.

The first part of the book reads like a travel memoir.  Amanda's stories of backpacking and meeting other travellers make you want to jet off yourself.  But the next part reminds you of how little we understand the world and how we often look at it with naiveté.  

Prior to heading to Somalia, Amanda had read the story of an Italian woman who was kidnapped in Somalia.  This sort of thing isn't rare.  Though very few Westerners are travelling there, there is money to be made through ransoms.  Amanda and Nigel did not come from wealthy families but this did not matter to their captors.  They had the means to hold them for long periods of time while the families collected the money.  And if they ran out of time, they could sell Amanda and Nigel to another, larger organization who could afford to keep them for as long as they needed to.  

This book is not an easy one to read.  Amanda and Nigel were physically abused by their captors and Amanda was sexually abused by a few of the men.  Though the two of them had converted to Islam as a means of survival, it did not stop the abuse from happening.  A failed attempt at escape made things worse.

But Amanda survived, not just physically but mentally.  It took every bit of strength she could draw upon.  And where one would assume she would build up nothing but hatred and contempt, she saw what laid behind the eyes of her captors - their failed dreams, and hearts and minds that knew nothing but violence and uncertainty.  Her story is by no means one that will make you feel sorry for her captors, but it does look at things from a view that is not often seen.  Despite their horrible actions, these are human beings and there are glimpses of understanding why human beings do such things to others.

One of the most moving parts of the book is when Amanda and Nigel attempt an escape.  As they flee to a nearby mosque with their captors following their trail, one person makes an attempt to save them.  An older woman puts her own safety on the line to try and save Amanda.  After reading that part, all I can do is hope that one day this woman will know how much her actions meant, not just to Amanda but to everyone who has heard her story.  Her actions that day showcase the love and compassion that exists in a country that from our side seems to know war and not much else.

Stories like Amanda's are very difficult to read, but they are important ones.  This is more than just a recounting of her kidnapping, it's a story about the strength of the human spirit.  While her physical wounds will heal, her emotional wounds may never, but Amanda is dedicated to not only telling her piece of the story of Somalia, but to making the future brighter for the people there.  This is one of the years must-read books.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

"The Silent Wife" by A.S.A. Harrison

From the outside, Jodi and Todd have the perfect marriage.  They both have great jobs, they live in a beautiful waterfront condo in Chicago, and they are equally supportive of each other.  But on the inside, it is a completely different story.  Todd is a serial philanderer and Jodi chooses to look the other way.  But things can't stay that way forever and they are headed down a path which at the end Todd lays dead and Jodi is the killer.

The Silent Wife is the debut novel by non-fiction writer A.S.A Harrison.  A gripping page-turner, it is the story of a marriage that is falling to pieces and is beyond repair.  A highly talked about novel, it has been called "this summer's Gone Girl."

I was hooked on this book from the beginning.  When you first pick up a book that tells you right on the back who committed the crime, you have to wonder how much there is going to be to hold your interest.  But this is more than a whodunit book, it's a relationship novel, a painful look at a troubled marriage.  It almost feels kind of naughty, like you're watching through the window at this couple in turmoil.

In alternating chapters, Harrison writes a well-rounded story told from both perspectives.  I have to say, I found Todd to be very maddening (the man-child is a character I will never appreciate), and worse was Jodi for her responses to his behaviours.   It's just a story but you can't help but think that in homes across the world, similar circumstances are playing out, and that's where this book becomes chilling. 

I have not read Gone Girl (yes, really) but if the comparisons between that book and this one are true, then I will definitely make a point to pick it up as I am now curious.  I'm amazed at how a book can come across as mundane at first glimpse but quickly draw you right in.  This is one of those books you can read in one sitting.

Weeks before this book was published, Ms. Harrison passed away from cancer.  This book is a wonderful offering and it's a shame to know that the next psychological thriller she was working on will not be finished.   While this book may not be for everyone, I recommend picking it up and finding out why it was one of the most talked about books this past summer.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Penguin Canada.  The opinions expressed above are purely my own.

Monday, September 9, 2013

"It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Well, we survived the first week of school.  There were a few tears (ok, quite a few tears, but they weren't from me.)  Thankfully, they weren't "I don't want to go school" tears.  Nope, they were "I don't want you to pick me up from school Mummy, I want Daddy to pick me up" tears.  Sure knows how to make his mom feel good! (I know he loves me, I found the whole scene quite hilarious actually, and it's quickly ended with me saying "hey, let's go to the park.")

I'm looking forward to having this time to myself, and I've got a great pile of books waiting for me to start enjoying it.  Unfortunately, this was not the week for it, as I was pretty tired.  I'm still like a teenager when it comes to the whole waking up early after a summer of late nights and mornings spent sleeping. 

What I Read Last Week
About A Girl by Lindsey Kelk and The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison - two very different novels, both just as enjoyable.

What I'm Reading Now
I am reading Jane Eyre through the month of September as part of a read-along.  The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon is not the type of book I would usually pick up but it has a lot of buzz surrounding it so I'm interesting to see what it's like.

What I Plan to Read Next
 I don't know.  I have so much fantastic fall CanLit coming my way from the library and publishers and it is going to be so difficult for me to decide what to read first!

What Are You Reading?

Saturday, September 7, 2013

"Here Come the Girls" by Milly Johnson

As young girls in school, Ven, Roz, Olive, and Frankie were inseparable.  As they daydreamed about all the future held in store for them, the romance and the fabulous jobs, they made a promise that they would take a cruise together when they're forty.  

But twenty-five years later, their lives haven't turned out the way they thought they would.  Olive cleans other people's homes while supporting her lazy husband and mother-in-law.  Roz is in a difficult relationship with the wonderful Manus because of the emotional state her cheating ex left her in.  On top of that, Roz and Frankie haven't spoken to each other in years.

But Ven thinks that she can get the girls back together and back on track.  When she wins a cruise before her fortieth birthday, everything seems to fall into place.  The ladies set sail for sixteen days of blue skies and hot sun.  But no matter how far away they go, they can't escape the life that awaits them back home.  Their two weeks at sea will see them make difficult decisions and life-changing discoveries about themselves all while having the time of their lives.

Here Come the Girls by Milly Johnson is a fun escape in a novel for anyone who loves travel, getting away from it all, or is looking for inspiration to give yourself a change.  I took this one on vacation with me and it was the perfect pairing.  

The book is written well so that you get the feel of everything going on around you - the cruise ship setting, the dreamy destinations, and the friendships and relationships developing on board.  It's very easy to imagine yourself right in the midst of it all.  I also enjoyed how loved ones staying at home were also given chapters to make the story lines well-rounded.

All of the characters in this book are easy to like despite their flaws.  While this book isn't one that will have you laughing the whole way through, it is one where you will find yourself invested in the characters and soaking up the warmth of both the stories and the setting.  This is a book where it is evident that the author knows how to do chick lit right.  There is nothing life-changing or incredibly thought-provoking, however it is full of joy and warmth and is just a lot of fun to read.  This is the first novel I have read by Milly Johnson and based on this, I will definitely be picking up more.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

"Summer Daydreams" by Carole Matthews

Nell McNamara has settled comfortably in her life, living with her boyfriend Olly and four-year-old daughter Petal while working at the local chip shop.  She loves her family, friends, and where she lives.  But times are tough and she and Olly are working opposite shifts trying to make ends meet.  

When it becomes evident the chip shop is in desperate need of a makeover, Nell takes on the task herself, unleashing the creativity inside her.  With her boss and co-workers cheering her on, she wonders if maybe she was meant for more than dishing up chips.  And so she follows her dream and designs a line of unique, must-have handbags.

Almost instantly, the line takes off and Nell finds herself thrust in the fashion world.  But it soon becomes evident that she doesn't know very much about running her business.  And with Olly wanting their old life back, Nell may be in over her head.  

Summer Daydreams by Carole Matthews is a delightful novel about chasing your dreams and finding out that they're not always what they're made out to be.

I found this at the bookstore and was instantly drawn to the cover.  And I found the book to be as sweet and darling as the cover.  As Nell gets swept up in her own daydreams, the reader gets swept up in the book.  Books like these are great for just what the title says, summer daydreams.

I always love reading books about creative types who change their lives doing what they love - maybe it's because I'm not very artistic so I get to live through them?  This book hit the spot for that.  I also loved the small town setting with the local purse, market, and chip shop.  I'm a big city girl who loves reading about small towns.  As well, the relationship between Nell and Olly made the characters so endearing, just like their little daughter Petal.

However, there were a few things story-wise that didn't make this a runaway smash for me.  I felt as though Nell's business all took off a little too fast.  I'm not saying the length of the book needed to be longer to draw out the process, but it all seemed a little too good and too quick to be believable.  It felt as the author was trying to put too much into the story.  Thankfully for me, just when I was starting to get annoyed by this as well as some of Nell's behaviour, the part of the story that takes place in the US came along to keep me reading and had me laughing and loving what I was reading.

This is the first book I have read by Carole Matthews.  I have come across her books many times before but for some reason I have passed them over.  I'm glad that I picked this one up.  Though I found it to be a little far-fetched, it's a great novel to escape with in the warm weather.  I won't be passing over her books anymore.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Jane Eyre Read-along

Kerry at Entomology of a Bookworm is hosting "Septemb-Eyre: A Jane Eyre" read-along and I have decided to join in!  If you're interested, be sure to check it out here.  It's a great opportunity for me to knock another book of my Classics list, and it's always nice to have others reading along with you.

But first, I have a little confession to make....not only have I not read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, I don't actually know what it is about.

Seriously Miss Jay.  (And hey, that's the first ever gif used on my blog!)  I honestly cannot tell you one thing about the book if asked.  So maybe it's a good thing this read-along has come along.

ETA: I posted this a few days before the actual intro post.  Today, September 3, everyone else is posting and introducing themselves, so I thought I'd add a bit about more for those who are new to my blog via the read-along.  I'm on Twitter - @goodbooksandtea so be sure to find me.  I'll be adding all participants to a list so I can follow everyone's thoughts as we go.

I am a stay at home mom of two little ones.  My daughter starts Grade 2 today and my son starts Kindergarten tomorrow.  I'm seriously looking forward to having my days to myself though I'm not looking forward to the busy mornings and afternoons as my kids go to different schools and leave for and from school an hour apart.  Oh, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to fall apart when I come home from dropping my son off tomorrow.

I love to read but haven't read very many Classics, hence my joining the Classics Club and read alongs like this.  For a long time I rebelled against anything that resembled required reading from high school so I'm working on changing that attitude.  So far, I'm doing pretty well.