Saturday, 23 October 2010

Guest Review: True Spirit by Jessica Watson

True Spirit is a real-life adventure story by 16-year-old Jessica Watson of Australia. On May 15, 2010 she sailed her yacht back into Sydney Harbour to a hero’s welcome. At that time she became the youngest person to ever sail solo, non-stop, and unassisted around the world. Even before she set foot on her boat, she and her parents were criticized by the media, by politicians, and by ordinary people all over the world. Many feared for her as she set out to do what a lot adults would never dream of doing. She and her little pink yacht, Ella’s Pink Lady, spent 210 days alone at sea where several times she battled monstrous seas and survived multiple knockdowns of her boat. However, in a voyage marked by extreme highs and lows, she also describes the amazing animals of the ocean which she encountered, the stunning sunsets that she alone was witness to, and the humor of trying to enjoy a normal life while on a 34-foot boat in the middle of the water.

Although she is primarily a sailor, Jessica writes with a style all her own. She is funny, honest and humble through it all. If I didn’t know better while reading it, I would think that she was at least in her mid-twenties because she writes like a grown woman and not a little girl. And yet, she also has moments where she demonstrates her age in humorous ways. The book is interspersed with entries from her blog which she updated faithfully by satellite while at sea. Like any teenage girl, she did battle some home-sickness and some depression and she tried to keep any negative comments out of her blog entries to avoid worrying her family at home. But in the book she reexamines the blog and points out the parts that were less than completely honest.

She starts off with a bit about herself and her life leading up to this amazing experience. She talks about her preparation both the serious (a boat collision just prior to the voyage that made her much more watchful on the trip itself) to the humorous (she took 576 chocolate bars with her). She tells about the doubts she had going into the trip, how she convinced her parents to let her go and about her sailing voyages prior to the circumnavigation itself. She shows the resiliency of teenage spirit, demonstrates what “dreaming big” really looks like, and encourages other people to do the same. Then she lays out the days and moments just prior to departure, the final words she had with her family, and how it felt to be utterly alone in the middle of the ocean. She discusses the technical aspects of solo sailing, the challenges of food preparation on a constantly moving stove, and lays out her celebration plans for Christmas, New Years and one of the biggest days of all for her: crossing the equator for the first time.

I am not a teenager nor am I a sailor, but this book made me wish I was both. I laughed when she tried to make pasta with diesel fuel instead of water, cried with happiness when she stepped off the boat all wobbly-legged at the end of her trip and couldn’t put the book down through the entire thing. So many “inspirational” books are sappy, annoying and theoretical but this book was none of those. It was very honest and was inspirational mostly in the fact that it was not trying to be. It made me want to get off of the couch and do the things that I want to do in my life, without waiting around until I’m older or have more money. Jessica did just that, put in years of hard work, and eventually completed the trip of a lifetime. I, for one, am grateful that she chose to put it on paper and share her experience with the world.

Contributed by Anna, who can be found here.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Guest Review: The Seven Secrets of Happiness – Sharon Owens

“A tale of finding happiness in the most surprising places.”

I bought ‘The Seven Secrets of Happiness’ when I was looking for a feel good chick lit to cheer me up. I thought the title was apt for that purpose – and I do admit that I am always one to judge a book by its cover!

I have to say that the book didn’t immediately do what it said on the cover, as it had me crying after the first few chapters – not exactly the feel good book I was looking for! But it grabbed my attention, being a sucker for depressing stories and love stories in equal measure – so I kept reading, and found it to be a very good book, with more true emotion than most chick lits. There is a tone of depression and grief continued throughout the book, but at the same time, it does show emotional strength and growth, and in that way, does bring veiled happiness, as well as making you evaluate aspects of your own life, in a way that most books of this genre usually wouldn’t.

Set in Belfast, the story follows Ruby, through the loss of her husband, learning how to get on with her life, finding happiness in new places, and learning lessons for how to live – the seven secrets of happiness. Working in a small boutique, Ruby makes 7 handbags, and with each handbag sold, she learns a valuable life lesson, from appreciating beauty in small, seemingly insignificant things, to doing good deeds. And of course, there is some romance intertwined in the story, as Ruby finds a perfect match in a Widower, Tom, who is leaning his own lessons in how to live without his late wife.

I found this a very interesting and enjoyable read, and it made me question many things in my life. One thing I love about books is when they really make you think, which this one definitely did! Am I emotionally independent? Is that really necessary to be happy? If I had better mental and physical health, would I be happier? Have I really let go of my past? Or should I forget it entirely? This book made me question all these things, and many more, while maintaining the girly writing style that I’ve come to expect from chick lit.

I would suggest this as a good read, but don’t expect it to be the happiest book you’ve ever read, despite the title, as although there is happiness, it is very much veiled in grief throughout the book. All in all, it was a very compelling, emotional read; definitely not the traditional happy ever after love story I was expecting!

Contributed by Jenny, who can be found here.