A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

I thought a post on Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier was timely given the recent attention on social networking sites about Kony 2012. However, I would like to diverge from my usual book-review format to express my deep concern surrounding the negative attention the movie, and its creator, have faced amidst this new found awareness. In a time when celebrity sex tapes are as news worthy as a stock market crash, I find it rather appalling that people have taken to criticizing those for raising awareness to one of the world’s most horrific issues. To suggest that there is a “another side” to a story of children, children, hopped up on drugs, given automatic weapons and told to pull the trigger, rape and kill; I find this very hard to excuse. And so, for the billionth time I will repost the video because I believe in its cause: that you cannot solve a problem if no one knows it exists.

When Ishmael Beah made an appearance on George Strombolopolous’ show I couldn’t believe that the soft, yet well spoken, 26 year old with a smile that never left his face had soldiered the Sierra Leone jungles as a child. In A Long Way Gone, Beah takes us through his personal journey of survival in an army made up of those barely past the age of 16. This is a very chilling, very graphic story inside the life of a child soldier.

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Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Secret Daughter fared vastly different from my Heather’s Pick expectations. I’ve yet to get the chance to visit India, a country I’ve been dying to see since the inception of my travel obsession; so I’m partial to books that involve the country in some way. Secret Daughter follows two story lines; the first, a female medical student in the U.S. dating a classmate of Indian decent. The second, a village woman in India who gave her second-born daughter up for adoption after her husband murdered the first in a rage over not being granted a son. A third story line creeps in later in the narrative of the baby given up.

This is a serious book and shouldn’t be misconstrued for light, easy reading with a sunny ending. Trouble conceiving, martial struggles leading to separation, an inability to connect with your adopted daughter and, of course, the many issues surrounding life in a developing nation are just a few of the themes Gowda probes in Secret Daughter. This is one of those books that takes a no nonsense approach to what life looks like when it’s not working out. But all the while you’re thinking “I hope my life never takes that shape,” you’re swiftly reminded that things could be “developing nation” worse. Gowda perfectly juxtaposes the real-life problems of women in North America to those in India.

Having not expected such serious prose, I can’t say I particularly enjoyed reading this book; but I did respect it. The writing is good and I’m sure there are many readers who will identify with the characters. Depending on your literary tastes – this may or may not be a good choice for your next vacation read.

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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

It pains me to admit this publicly: one of my newest guilty pleasures is young adult fiction series. Ohh the shame… But I don’t think I’m alone here. Not only have I noticed other fellow 20 somethings make furtive sideways glances before dashing into the Tween section; the papers are starting to out us. But I’ve never read to impress others, always for pure enjoyment. And sometimes enjoyment comes in the form of a 17 year old girl killing others in a man-made arena so as not to be killed herself. So be it.

The Hunger Games (i.e. the new Twilight) is set years in the future, after the fall of the modern world. Set in what’s left of Canada and the U.S. are 12 separate districts with zero open lines of communication. District 1, The Capitol, rules the empire. Every year, two representatives between the ages of 12 and 17 are chosen at random from each district. They are then taken to the Capitol, given minimal weapons and combat training and sent to a simulated environment to hunt and kill each other – and quite viciously at that. Last one standing wins the game. Follow me so far? Main character Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her sister’s place when her name’s plucked out against all odds. And so starts the trilogy.

I read all three books in less than a month. Hindsight has me thinking I should have done three separate posts…

Book one, The Hunger Games: phenomenal. Truly suspenseful, grabs you right at the start and has tons of twists. By far the best of the three.

Book two, Catching Fire: also great and full of suspense. This one really sets up the premise of the third book.

Book three, Mockingjay: this is where the love kind of died. I won’t say it dragged, but there was a definite shift in pace. Good twist at the end and I love the continued reappearance of Buttercup.

Movies are on the way, naturally, with the first one out next month. For those of you who have read it – thoughts on who she ended up with? Was it what you predicted?

 

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The Company We Keep by Robert and Dayna Baer

I rarely allow my self the glossy-paged pleasure of reading a magazine even though I enjoy it so. I find they wake my inner “want” beast who insists I spend money on products and clothes I really can’t afford. Only when flying do I give in, and then I only ever get Marie Claire. Why MC? It’s progressive, has an international section and just flat out has the best content. Case in point – it was in an MC where I found an interview with husband and wife authors (and true-life CIA spies) Robert and Dayna Baer. They were promoting their new book The Company we Keep.

This book has it all.
Foreign settings and languages? Check.
Secret Ops and spy vernacular? Check.
Hand-to-hand combat and weapons training at clandestine camps? Check.
Engaging writing that reads like a story even though is based on a true events? Double check.

These two meet while doing recognizance on suspected terrorists in Greece. I think it was in Greece… Might’ve been in the Middle East. They know cool stuff. Stuff like: ceramic is tougher than glass, can be found in a common light bulb and is your best option when you need to shatter a car window without raising too much suspicion. They know how to take down a 200-pound guy holding a knife to your throat. And, perhaps most amazingly of all, they know how to write.

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The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

Apologies for my lack of December posts, but The Dovekeepers took up quite a bit of time. Alice Hoffman is one of my favourite authors. I rarely read books twice but I fell in love with Practical Magic and have re-read my tattered copy more times than I can count. So excited I was when I saw The Dovekeepers that it actually pains me to report bad news. I didn’t really like it. It was long, dragged on and detailed to the MAX. Forgive me Ms. Hoffman for I still worship your other pieces of work (I also loved Here on Earth); but this took some real muscle to finish. And finish I did because every step of the way I patiently waited for the story to pick up.

The book is broken into four parts, stories told from the perspectives of four separate women. Brought together by fate, the lives of these women are woven together in a secret village hidden from the Romans. One will find Hoffman’s usual themes tucked away inside the pages of this book. You’ll find love, magic and strong female characters throughout; you’ll even find a history lesson. But overall, this book yields one big overall yawn on my behalf.

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Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

What I’ve come to call “Eat, Pray Love goes to Prison,” it is my humble opinion that this book has not received its due recognition. I’m sure at one point in your life you’ve done something completely out of character. Something daring and impulsive. Hopefully you did anyway… At the time you were probably steeled from the false sense of confidence that comes from being young and reckless. But I also bet you got away with it. I find that most people have either done one thing or experienced a short phase of risky behaviour in their life, but it’s usually characterized as just that: a phase or one time thing. Indulge me for just a moment if you will and imagine how your life would have changed if you were caught for that risky little stunt you pulled. What if you were caught years after the fact?

Enter the story of Piper Kerman, a woman convicted of a crime almost 10 years after she committed it. The crime: international drug trafficking. Kerman’s upper-middle class background didn’t quell her urge to rebel at the age of 24 when she became mixed up in a crowd of international drug dealers. For about a year Kerman lived the high life – no pun intended – but gave up turning her life around completely. After years of living like a normal, working member of society, her past catches up to her and Kerman is sentenced to 15 months in a woman’s federal prison.

Kerman craftily recounts the events leading up to her incarceration and her experiences on the inside. Kerman’s insights about her time in prison and the surprising other woman she meets are sharp and hilarious. Kerman’s writing is as remarkable as the situation she finds herself.

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The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

The Girl Who Chased the Moon was the perfect chaser to the harsh bitterness of Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone.  Allen’s nice blend of real-life depth with just a touch of magic made this book an absolute delight to read.

The Story is set in a small town in North Carolina where the sweet smells of peach trees mingle with the smoky scents of barbeques. In this town, people can visibly see the sweetness of cakes wafting in the air and strange floating lights roaming the town’s forests at night. Country civility is still very much a part of life here. The book follows two characters: 30 something Julia and Emily who’s 17. Any reader who finds herself within this age frame will relate to the two characters; though the tone leans a little more to the mature side.

Allen has filled her book with town secrets and vivid characters with mysterious pasts. She did a stand-up job of keeping the material grounded while experimenting with whimsical concepts. I’m a total fan. I recommend this book to anyone looking for a nice light read.

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