Month: March 2014

Book Review: ‘Gaddafi’s Harem’ by Annick Cojean


Rating: 4.5 / 5

Soraya was a 15-year old school girl when she was kidnapped, abused, and raped repeatedly by Gaddafi.  While Gaddafi’s Harem focuses on Soraya for most of the book, her plight is reflective of treatment that thousands of women received during Gaddafi’s 42 year regime.

It was incredibly difficult to read about Soraya, and all the other women who suffered and are continuing to suffer from Gaddafi’s rule, and the Libyan culture.   What resonated the most with me was the fact that women who were raped were not seen as victims.  Since premarital sex is illegal in Libya, women were afraid to come forward.  Also, as it is the responsibility of fathers and brothers to protect their wives, sister, and children, a woman who spoke about being raped would bring shame to her family, and even worse, could be killed by her own brothers.

Soraya’s struggles mirrored many women abused by Gaddafi.  Though she was released, she spent crucial years as a sex slave.  Although she was not imprisoned, she lost many years of schooling, and in the eyes of others, she was seen as a whore.  Since she could not return to her parents for fear of bringing shame and a fear for her safety, she fled to France, hoping to get away from Gaddafi’s reach.  An education was not the only thing denied while she was Gaddafi’s captive; Soraya had no idea how to live, how to be an adult, and how to take care of herself.  Having no skills, no support system, and coupled with the physical and mental damage done by Gaddafi, it is not surprising that Soraya’s future is bleak.

I can’t even describe how heart wrenching and emotionally disturbing Gaddafi’s Harem is, and the shocking dual personalities of Gaddafi.  While publicly he championed women’s rights and developed a military institute to train women, it was known that he was a sexual predator, and thousands of girls and women that he raped and tortured were left with no respectable future and no recourse.

The first half of the book is Soraya’s story.  Her experiences are not an isolated event, but using one voice brings a raw, real, and personal account of the damage Gaddafi inflicted.  The second half of the book is about the struggles Libya faces is establishing a free and democratic country.  While it seems like Libyan women are progressive, the country as a whole has been slow to reform due to religious and traditional strongholds.

In the End:  Gaddafi’s Harem is a must-read.  What was done to these women was horrible, and the stories of Soraya and many others in her position is eye-opening, but ones that need to be told so others can be aware of what has gone on for over four decades.



Book Review: A Circle of Wives by Alice LaPlante


Rating: 3 / 5

When Dr. John Taylor is found dead in a hotel room, the death is initially determined to be from a heart attack. But, upon closer inspection, there is a mark that indicates that he was injected with a chemical prior to death.  Detective Samantha Adams has been assigned to the case, and as she digs into the life of Dr. Taylor, she realizes Dr. Taylor has been keeping secrets, namely that he was currently married to three separate women.   (more…)

Book Review: A Chance In The World by Steve Pemberton


Rating: 4 / 5

Nobody would be jealous of Steve Pemberton’s childhood: his earliest memories are of being abandoned for a day at a foster home.  He then lives with the Robinsons, where he is mentally and physically abused.  Although he originally thought that Betty Robinson and her husband were caring and loved him, he quickly realizes that they don’t actually care for him, but took him in for the extra money provided by the state.  Throughout it all, Steve has always wondered who is biological parents are, and what happened that made them put him in foster care. Against the odds, Steve succeeds in graduating from college, and as a young adult, decides to find his biological family.

A Chance in the World is a powerful story of succeeding in life.  Quite frankly, I am amazed that Steve did not go down the path of crime and drugs.  His memories of living with the Robinsons are heartbreaking, and at many points, challenging to read.  Instead of primarily focusing on the abusive environment, though, Steve highlights the people who helped him in ways they probably didn’t realize, from Mrs. Levin, who gave him books to read, to the construction crew, who taught him camaraderie, a strong work ethic, and basic do-it-yourself skills.

The first half of A Chance in the World is about Steve’s childhood, and the second half about his journey to find his biological family.  I don’t want to give anything away, but needless to say it was not an easy path for Steve.  The question of his identity has always lingered in Steve’s mind, and finding his biological family provides closure, knowledge, and a sense of being.

In the end: This is a great story for those who seem a little lost, or those who feel like they don’t really fit in. A Chance in the World is also a good read for those who want a narrative on the foster care system from someone who went through it. I absolutely recommend this book because it shows what the human spirit can endure, and the power of education and perseverance.


Book Review: The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan


Rating: 3.5 /5

Violet’s mother, Lucia is the owner of a first-class courtesan house in Shanghai, but with the political upheaval, and a chance at reuniting with her long-lost son,  Lucia prepares to leave with Violet to begin life anew in San Francisco.  Instead, though, Violet is kidnapped and sold as a virgin courtesan.  While her mother is American, she has never met her father, but recently discovered she is half Chinese, and her exotic looks are an advantage, making her one of the most sought-after courtesans.  Struggling with her identity, and with her mother across the Pacific Ocean thinking she is dead, Violet must make her own way in the world, and discover who she really is.  The Valley of Amazement is the story of Violet, her tragedies and poor decisions, and also the story of Lucia, of how she ended up in Shanghai, and her chance at redemption, which caused her to abandon her only daughter. (more…)

Book Review: Runner by Patrick Lee

Rating: 4.5 / 5

He faced forward and thought, Say antelope if you’re hearing this.
“Antelope,” Rachel said.

I pretty much figured I’m going to thoroughly enjoy Runner after reading those lines, and wasn’t disappointed in the least.  Sam Dryden is a retired Special Forces officer, quietly living his life, which consists solely of figuring out how to go on with life after the tragic death of his wife and daughter.  Out for a run late one night, a young girl, Rachel, stumbles upon him.  She is running away from heavily armed men and needs Dryden’s help.  After evading capture, Dryden realizes that the girl has been help captive because of a special power, and while she has escaped, she can’t remember anything past the last 2 months of her life.  As Dryden helps her unravel her past, they must also stay one step ahead of the people with unlimited resources and motivation to hunt her down.  (more…)

Book Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce


Rating: 4 / 5

Harold Fry is newly retired, and his days are rote and uneventful.  One day out of the blue he receives a letter from a co-worker, Queenie Hennessy, he knew two decades ago.  In the letter, Queenie states that she has inoperable cancer, and thanks Harold for his friendship 20 years ago.  His response is a quick one line, and when he goes to drop it off, realizes that the mail has already been picked up at that location, so decides to walk to the next closest post office.  Thus, Harold Fry’s pilgrimage begins, as after a couple of stops at various post offices only to realize he is too late, he decides, with the help of a stranger, that he should just walk to hospice where Queenie resides.  It is over 500 miles away, near Scotland, while Harold’s home is at the southern end, near the English Channel.  But Harold figures that if he just puts one step in front of the other and keeps on walking, he has faith that Queenie will hang on and wait for him. (more…)