In August 2008, Amanda Lindhout was kidnapped by Somali militants and held for ransom. It was 460 days before she and her Australian companion Nigel Brennan were released. A House in the Sky, written with Sara Corbett, is her account of what she endured—and how she endured it. It’s a powerful story of captivity, survival and human resilience, told with honesty and clarity and without tabloid-esque hype. Amanda puts herself in context—her rough childhood in rural Canada, her years of backpacking in more than 50 countries, the desire to make it as a photojournalist that led to her naive, dangerous decision to go to Mogadishu. As reality becomes a living hell, she maintains her sanity by going inside herself, rallying strength from the good she had known, and finding a deeper humanity than she knew she had. Hearing Amanda’s voice as she reads makes it all more immediate, more moving and more redemptive.

The Wedding Gift, Marlen Suyapa Bodden’s compelling debut novel, is set on an antebellum Alabama plantation where cruelty and unwanted intimacies were the norm. The intertwined stories are told by Sarah, a slave and the illegitimate daughter of plantation owner Cornelius Allen, and Theodora, Allen’s genteel, long-suffering wife and mother of Clarissa, Sarah’s half-sister, with whom Sarah grows up and to whom she is given as a wedding present. Their separate strivings for freedom and dignity twist into a suspenseful spiral with a jolting finale. Jenna Lamia’s and January LaVoy’s nuanced narration validate these women and their tales.

If you’re steeped in New Testament scholarship and the “quest for the historical Jesus,” much of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, Reza Aslan’s best-selling, much-discussed biography, may not be as riveting as it is for the rest of us. Aslan’s account focuses on Jesus the man, the illiterate Jew from a tiny Galilean village who called on his brethren to fight the Roman occupation and corrupt Jewish Temple priests. He was one of many first-century Palestinian “messiahs” proclaiming the “end of days” and the coming of the Kingdom of God, and one of many who were crucified for sedition. Whether or not you agree with Aslan’s intriguing interpretation of what the gospels, Paul’s epistles and the few historical references yield, Zealot provides a full-color, cinematic picture of tumultuous first-century Jewish life, full of opression and rebellion. As good a reader as he is a writer, Aslan’s narration is well-paced and provocative.

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