What I’ve Been Reading: July/August 2017

While I’ve been neglecting my blog, I’ve been exploring the libraries and bookstores in my new city.  As it turns out, the libraries here fell way below my expectations, especially compared to the city where I grew up.  I jokingly-but-not wish I had visited the libraries before I moved here, but it is what it is.  And we do at least have a McKay’s, which is a giant, hugely popular book, movie, and music thrift shop — the absolute best kind of shop for browsing.  So here’s what I’ve picked up in the last couple of months.

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A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierly

My mom likes to say her favorite movie genre is “based on a true story,” and mine has become the same.  Sometime this summer, we watched the movie Lion.  Saroo, born in India, got lost as a 5-year-old and lived on the streets of Calcutta for months.  He eventually ended up being adopted by an Australian family when no one could figure out where he came from.  He grew up Australian, but as an adult, remembered snippets of India, and used Google Maps to track his way back to his birth family.  The movie is an incredible, chilling rendition of this incredible, chilling true story.  Stuff like this cannot be made up; when they say the truth is stranger than fiction, this story is what they’re talking about.  Read this book; watch the movie.  This is one I won’t forget for a long time.

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Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood by Koren Zailckas

Another true story/memoir/autobiography, this is the testimony of Koren, a girl who was introduced to alcohol at age 14 and didn’t look back for almost a decade.  Written during the time of her life when she realized just how much of life she was missing out on because of alcohol, it’s a detailed reflection of what could almost be considered lost years.  Koren, once she had had a taste, used alcohol to fill all the voids in her life because she didn’t know what else to do.  She drank her way through middle school, high school, and college, never quite getting physically addicted but never able to give it up.  It’s sad story, and sluggish at times because of the sheer amount of detail in it.  But Koren has a way with words.  She uses a lot of metaphor, which has drawn a lot of criticism on Goodreads, but I enjoyed her writing style because it felt graceful and genuine.  It’s obvious that Koren still has issues to work through, but don’t we all?

My final comments on this story are these: when I was glancing through the Goodreads reviews, I was appalled by the sheer amount of people who seem to hate Koren (not just her book, but Koren herself) because she was a sorority girl and because she wrote and was successful with this book so soon after she stepped away from alcohol for good.  What the crap, people?  Can’t we just let this girl help herself through her writing, through sharing her story?  The book was a New York Times best seller — it’s obvious that this is something that affects a lot of us.  Why tear down something that Koren should be proud of?

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Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

This is a story, told in reverse, of a man named Sean who shrinks from society after a horrible accident that disfigured his face.  He makes a living by creating and running an adventure game that is played through the mail.  But when two teen players experience tragedy because they attempted to recreate the game in the real world, Sean has to face the world again, and at the same time, his past.

This was a weird book to read.  Sean has a pleasant, nonchalant tone about him, but it’s obvious he hides something.  His life, and the chapters, are quiet, but things are revealed each chapter almost without the reader noticing.  As you piece together his life, and how it turned out this way, it gets more and more horrible.  And while the how behind his disfigurement is revealed, the why is much harder to grasp.  A lot of this book is implicit, but it’s obvious it deals with self-hate and depression without offering much hope or ways out.  This is one I would love to read with others in an analytical setting.

The Handm12961964aid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I’ll be honest; I only read this book because none of the other books I wanted to read were available at the library, and because of the new Hulu show based on it (which I haven’t seen).  And I wasn’t really that impressed.  It was boring and hard to get into at first.  It’s a book that very obviously tries to make a point, and so it’s a little two-dimensional.  I feel like the explanation for the dystopian society was a little weak and lacking in depth.  The characters were a bit flat also.  Some of my complaints could be because the whole book is supposed to be the transcript of a recording that was made supposedly long ago.  It’s a historical document being analyzed by professors in the year 29something.  But even so, this just wasn’t anything that particularly struck me.  If you want to read about dystopia, read the Hunger Games trilogy.  They’re put together much better.

Small Admissio30827125ns by Amy Poeppel

This is the story of Kate Pearson, who finds herself thrown for a complete loop after her serious boyfriend dumps her.  She wallows in her sadness for months, but after her sister’s prodding, finally gets a job in admissions at a prestigious private school.  As she’s getting back on her feet, her friends are keeping secrets, parents are doing inane things for an acceptance at the school, and her sister is learning to let go.

This is a fluffy book, like I expected it to be.  And it was delightful.  I did have a couple complaints — a parent of a student-hopeful begins to narrate about a third of the way through the book, which threw me for a loop.  I think she should have been introduced earlier.  And near the end, I felt the story had wrapped up nicely, and then there was an incident that seemed to drag the book out a few more chapters and didn’t do a whole lot for Kate’s character arc.  But overall, this was so fun to read.  The characters were interesting and distinct, there were surprises I didn’t see coming, and it was a great story about changing your expectations for life and being okay with that.  It was definitely a few hours well spent.

All images from Goodreads.

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Book Review: Legend by Eric Blehm

5

Inside Cover Synopsis:

In Legend, acclaimed bestselling author Eric Blehm takes as his canvas the Vietnam War, as seen through a single mission that occurred on May 2, 1968.  A twelve-man Special Forces team had been covertly inserted into a small clearing in the jungle of neutral Cambodia — where U.S. forces were forbidden to operate.  What the team didn’t know was that they had infiltrated a section of jungle that concealed a major enemy base.  Soon they found themselves surrounded by hundreds of North Vietnamese Army soldiers, under attack, low on ammunition, and stacking the bodies of the dead as cover in a desperate attempt to survive.

When Special Forces staff sergeant Roy Benavidez heard the distress call, he jumped aboard the next helicopter bound for the combat zone.

What followed would become legend in the Special Operations community.  Flown into the foray of battle by the courageous pilots and crew of the 240th Assault Helicopter Company, Benavidez jumped from the hovering aircraft and ran nearly 100 yards through withering enemy fire.  Despite being severely wounded, Benavidez reached the perimeter of the team and proceeded to organize an extraordinary defense and rescue.  During the hours-long battle, he was bayoneted, shot, and hit by grenade shrapnel more than thirty times, yet he refused to abandon his efforts until every survivor was out of harm’s way.

Written with extensive access to family members, surviving members of the 240th Assault Helicopter Company, eyewitness accounts never before published, as well as recently discovered archival and declassified military records, Blehm has created a riveting narrative of Roy Benavidez’s life and career, and of the inspiring events that defined the brotherhood of the air and ground warriors in Vietnam.  Despite being one of the many unsung heroes of the war, Benavidez was repeatedly denied the Congressional Medal of Honor.  His actions were revisited thirteen years later when a Green Beret eyewitness, whom Benavidez had rescued, came forth and wrote a statement that revealed, in graphic and vivid detail, what happened on that fateful day in 1968.

Again, Eric Blehm does a fantastic job telling a story that needs to be told.  There are so many soldiers from the Vietnam War whose bravery was never recognized, and in Legend, Blehm does one veteran absolute justice.  He chronicles Benavidez’s early life, spotlighting the experiences that shaped the man he would become, and details his vast experience and training in the US Army prior to May 2, 1968.  He causes the reader to feel a great respect for Benavidez and anyone else who serves in the military by showing the astonishing levels of character and discipline required.

I chose this book to review because I reviewed Fearless by the same author a couple years ago and absolutely loved it.  Blehm tells the stories of heroic soldiers in a way that honors them and is also interesting and easy to read.  My only problem with Fearless was that the military jargon was hard to understand; however, in Legend, he fixes that problem by quickly explaining acronyms and terms whenever they come up.

Legend was thrilling to read.  I read it in about two days because I couldn’t put it down.  I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys an exciting read, and I will forever pick up anything by Eric Blehm becuase he is a fantastic storyteller.

I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for this review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (Young Reader’s Edition)

5

i am malala

Inside Cover Synopsis:

Malala Yousafzai was only ten years old when the Taliban took control of her region. They said music was a crime.  They said women weren’t allowed to go to the market. They said girls couldn’t go to school.

Raised in a once-peaceful area of Pakistan transformed by terrorism, Malala was taught to stand up for what she believes.  So she fought for her right to be educated. And on October 9, 2012, she nearly lost her life for the cause: she was shot point-blank while riding the bus on her way home from school.

No one expected her to survive.

Now she is an international symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize Nominee.  In this Young Readers edition of her bestselling memoir, which includes exclusive photos and material, we hear firsthand the remarkable story of a girl who knew from a young age that she wanted to change the world — and she did.

Malala’s powerful story will open your eyes to another world and will make you believe in hope, truth, miracles, and the possibility that one person — one young person — can inspire change in her community and beyond.

They say the girl who wrote this is 17 now; was 16 when this book was published.  I think this might be a lie, because whoever wrote this is gobs wiser than I was at 17 — is wiser than I or most people probably ever will be.

Malala Yousafzai is an amazing person.  In her lifetime she has experienced more than most people ever will, and she is wise beyond her years.  Her story as an education activist and as a person is phenomenal, and she is fantastic at telling it.

She begins the book by recounting her childhood in pre-Taliban Pakistan, and details the entrance of the Taliban into her valley and the growth of their threats.  She tells the story of her school and how she has spoken out for girls’ rights to education, and she describes the shooting that resulted from this.  Maybe I am too easy to please, but I have only good things to say about this book.  It gripped me from the beginning.

Malala’s story is one that has many readers shaking their heads in disbelief, but she tells it with a grounded, positive outlook.  To Malala, the world is what it is, and the only thing we can do is live in it and try to make it better.  It is by no means a feel-good read, but it leaves the reader full of hope.  It inspires the reader to do everything he can to better the world, just as Malala is doing.

I think that the book accomplishes two things.  One is that is raises awareness about what is going on in the Middle East by giving a close-up look at the repercussions of terrorism in everyday lives.  Just by telling her story, Malala gives us the perspective we need to really empathize.  What if it had been me ordered to quit school?  What if it had been me listening to bombs and guns going off all around me at night?  What if it had been me shot in that bus?

The other thing it accomplishes is that it shows us Malala as she is.  Repeatedly throughout the book, Malala mentions that though she is famous because of her work, she still wants to be seen as normal.  She shows us that she is by giving us a glimpse into her competitive but playful relationship with her two younger brothers, and showing us the on-again-off-again feud with her best friend that so many of us can relate to.  The love and respect she shares with each of her parents also serve to help us see her more like the girl next door.

I will admit I may have been biased from the beginning, because before I read the book I already strongly admired Malala. However, this book sealed the deal for me.  Malala is an amazing girl, as an activist, person, and now author.  It gives an inspiring glimpse into a different way of life.  I heartily recommend it.

DISCLAIMER:  I have not been able to find the difference between the Young Reader’s Edition and the original edition.

Book Review: Fearless by Eric Blehm

5
Fearless Eric Blehm

Back Cover Synopsis:

When Navy SEAL Adam Brown woke up on March 17, 2010, he didn’t know he would die that night in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan — but he was ready.  In a letter to his children, not meant to be seen unless the worst happened, he wrote, “I’m not afraid of anything that might happen to me on this Earth because I know no matter what, nothing can take my spirit from me.”


Fearless is the story of a man of extremes, whose courage and determination were fueled by faith, family, and the love of a woman.  It’s about a man who waged a war against his own worst impulses, including drug addiction, and persevered to reach the top tier of the U.S. military.  In a deeply personal and absorbing chronicle, Fearless reveals a glimpse inside the SEAL Team SIX brotherhood and presents an indelible portrait of a highly trained warrior whose final act of bravery led to the ultimate sacrifice.

Adam Brown was a devoted man who was an unlikely hero but a true warrior, described by all who knew him as…fearless.

Usually when I write a book review, I ask myself what I liked and didn’t like about the book.  I try to make notes about the writing style and the editing.  I categorize the book by giving it stars.

In that sense, I am not reviewing this book.  Even though yes, technically I gave it stars, I really felt this book was too good to categorize.

I started out analyzing the book like I do normally, but I got so pulled in to Adam’s story.  Adam Brown was an amazing person.  He rebounded from a troubled youth to become a strong Christian, a faithful husband, a devoted father, and one of the best men in the entire US military.  He is the kind of man people look up to.  He is the kind of man we all strive to be.

Doing his story justice was a daunting task.  Blehm had to tell his story respectfully, showing Adam’s humanity and his mistakes, while also portraying him as the hero his family and friends knew him to be.  He had to tell the story in a way that Adam might have told it.

He definitely came through.  Blehm narrates Adam’s story from birth to death, giving very specific details about every part of his life.  Every scene in the book gives Adam a new level of depth; Blehm makes the reader feel almost as if he knew Adam.  But the text isn’t overwhelming the way it might be if someone else had chronicled it — Blehm gives the reader exactly enough information to be able to grasp who Adam was at any given stage of life, and then he moves on.

It wasn’t a book I had to force myself to keep reading.  As I said above, I got pulled into Adam’s story.  From the beginning, both Adam and Blehm had me emotionally hooked.

There is only one bad thing I can say about this book, and that is the military jargon.  The US military is a complicated, multi-faceted organization, especially at the upper levels where Adam was.  Blehm did a thorough job explaining the military structure and all the acronyms, but I still found myself skimming a bit over those explanations as they were a little confusing.

All in all, this was a book that I would actually bring up in conversation to say, “Hey, you should read this.”  Adam’s story is an inspiration that Blehm portrayed beautifully.

I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for this review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

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