It's a good book, but it's not my Typee...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Impossible Odds

Impossible Odds: The Kidnapping of Jessica Buchanan and her Dramatic Rescue by SEAL Team Six is exciting, touching, and nerve-wracking. There are no surprises since the title tells you the entire plot, but I still found myself on the edge of my seat a couple of times as Jessica's story unfolded.

It's not an outstanding book, but it's the first book of its kind I've read since I'm not interested in African politics or terrorism. And usually, when I hear about a journalist or tourist who gets kidnapped in one of these dangerous regions, I want to ask them why they were in such a stupid situation to begin with. I have a preconception that journalists who try to infiltrate groups or areas where they are likely to be harmed are doing it for the glory of getting a remarkable story, not necessarily altruistically attempting to bring injustice to light. And don't even get me started on the tourists. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

But Jessica was neither a journalist nor a tourist when she was taken captive. She was in Africa to help children--specifically to educate them about landmine safety. And she knew the dangers she faced. She was happily married and trying to start a family when a fairly routine meeting for her job took her close to a very dangerous region. She was hesitant to attend the meeting, but her security assured her that everything would be fine. Like so many of us, Jessica ignored a gut feeling that something was wrong. Instead of making a fuss and backing out, she went with the flow and didn't speak up about her misgivings. She and a coworker were taken hostage on the way back from the meeting and her nightmare began.

The bulk of the book is an almost day by day account of Jessica's experiences during her captivity. Like I said, there are no surprises in the story. But it's worth reading if you have any interest in what a person goes through during such an ordeal and how they can come out the other side intact. For more information, visit Jessica's website.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Chimes from a Cracked Southern Belle

So, this is a book I was not particularly looking forward to reading. The title and the cover just scream whacky Southern female humor. You know, the kind of book where people are shocked by 87 year-old Grammy who drinks white wine (I feel a stage whisper coming on) before noon. Or where all the girls have a three letter middle name that must be included every time their first name is said.

All this is to say that I was expecting Jenny Sue, Betty Lou, Bixie Lee, and Grammy Joe to go on a road trip and end up sitting on their front porch after learning valuable life lessons and watch the sun come up while sipping white wine and painting magnolia leaves on each others' toenails. The forlorn menfolk look on and shake their heads saying, "Gee golly, now who's gonna fix us our biscuits?" Or something.

Chimes turned out to be a really good book. And as someone who routinely judges a book by its cover, I can say I was very wrong about this one. It is funny and well written. The characters are indeed whacky and Southern, but they are three-dimensional. I didn't cringe once. Because Susan Reinhardt knows how to let her characters get crazy and over the top without for one second making them unbelievable.

It's good enough that my favorite character was named Aunt Weepie. Is that not the most ridiculous name ever? And I still liked her!

The main character is named Prudy and she is far from being the empty soap bubble of a Southern female character I dreaded so much. She is a victim of domestic violence who realizes that many people blame her for her husband's actions, or at least for being stupid enough to marry him in the first place. Prudy, or Dee, as she wants to be called after her "near-murder" is determined to find a job and some independence. She knows her two young children need her to drag herself out of bed everyday and make things normal for them. Prudy/Dee is left scarred and depressed after her husband hits her with his church van and stabs her with a screwdriver. Her story is horrific and unbelievable, but she is based on a woman Reinhardt once met.

The Author's Note says, "The premise of the novel arose from an incident in which a woman was mowed down by a church van driven by her crazed preacher husband...near my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina." Reinhardt doesn't remember the woman's name. Is it odd that she didn't track her down or at least research her story for the novel? Or did she avoid learning any more about the real story behind her character's life so that she could focus on fashioning her own fiction? If I knew where I wanted my story to go and thought the real life events would take me off my chosen path, I'd probably avoid them too.

A couple more fun facts about this book: Reinhardt admits that the photo on the front cover may, in fact, be of her; and the novel opens with a quote from Julia Sugarbaker from Designing Women. What more can you ask for?