Tag: War

Nonfiction Mini Reviews (Nonfiction November 2018) and New Additions to my TBR

November 29, 2018 Blogger Events 11

Nonfiction November 2018

 

Another Nonfiction November (hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey, Rennie at What’s Nonfiction?, Julie at Julz Reads, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, and me) is in the books! And, it was an awesome one. I read/listened to eight books and only one was a stinker. And, my favorite book of Nonfiction November was Dopesick by Beth Macy!

I usually use Nonfiction November to create my Nonfiction TBR for the coming year and I found some great books to get that started!

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link), through which I make a small commission when you make a purchase (at no cost to you!).

Nonfiction mini reviews

2018 Nonfiction November Mini Reviews

Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times by Mark Leibovich
Nonfiction – Sports (Released September 4, 2018)
400 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Penguin Press)

Plot Summary: Political writer Leibovich switches gears to go deep inside the NFL…with extensive access to Tom Brady and the Patriots.

My Thoughts: Mark Leibovich is the Chief National Correspondent for The New York Times Magazine focusing on politics and the author of This Town (my review), a look at the cultural landscape in Washington, D.C. I didn’t love This Town…but, I did love Leibovich’s dry, sarcastic writing style and his propensity to make fun of self-important big-shots. And, he does all that in Big Game…but, the targets are now self-important NFL owners (and there are some seriously eccentric personalities in this bunch) and Commissioner Roger Goodell. Leibovich covers concussions, Deflategate, owner/player/Commissioner dynamics, and more. It’s full of funny anecdotes about all the looney-tune personalities and hoopla surrounding the game…and doesn’t dig into the actual X’s and O’s of football too much, which I appreciated. There’s a big focus on the Patriots and my favorite person in the book is Tom Brady’s Dad…who seems like a down-to-earth guy who is flummoxed by his son’s somewhat woo-woo lifestyle. If you liked Jeanne Marie Laskas’ Concussion (my review), you’ll like this one!

“You guys are cattle and we’re the ranchers,” the late Dallas Cowboys president Tex Schramm once told Hall of Fame offensive lineman Gene Upshaw during a collective bargaining negotiation. It is an oft-quoted line that encapsulates the whole setup. Players get prodded, milked for all they’re worth, sold off, put out to pasture, and slaughtered. Implicit also here is that the cattle’s time is fleeting, like Not for Long football careers. “And ranchers can always get more cattle” is how Schramm’s quote concludes.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released January 1, 1994)
237 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Anchor)

Plot Summary: Lamott’s guide to writing well and living the writing life…based on writing workshops she taught.

My Thoughts: This was my maiden voyage with Anne Lamott and I had some pre-conceived notions about her because she often writes about faith. I thought she’d be wise and heartfelt…and serious. But, she totally surprised me with that last one! She’s relatable and funny…even irreverently funny, which I loved. I don’t have any grand writing ambitions, but I suspect this book would be invaluable to anyone who does. And, in her writing advice, I see many of the things I love to see in the books I read. Her overall message is: listen to your characters, they’ll show you the way. Sometimes she does get overly philosophical about “art,” but I loved it overall and would love to read more by her.

Your work as a writer, when you are giving everything you have to your characters and to your readers, will periodically make you feel like the single parent of a three-year-old, who is, by turns, wonderful, willful, terrible, crazed, and adoring. Toddlers can make you feel as if you have violated some archaic law in their personal Koran and you should die, infidel. Other times they’ll reach out and touch you like adoring grandparents on their deathbeds, trying to memorize your face with their fingers.

Dopesick by Beth Macy
Nonfiction – Investigative Journalism (Released August 7, 2018)
384 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Little, Brown)

Plot Summary: Beth Macy investigates America’s decades long opioid crisis, which is rampant in both rural and suburban areas in Central Appalachia.

My Thoughts: This book scared me sh*tless…there’s really no other way to say it. I knew America had an opioid crisis on its hands, but I had no idea how pervasive it was and that many people originally got addicted via doctor-prescribed painkillers. This book opened my eyes…and, as a parent, got me hoping that this trend will die a hard death by the time my children are old enough to encounter this stuff. Macy chronicles the many levels of failure in dealing with the opioid crisis…from drug companies, to law enforcement, to public policy makers, to doctors. It’s like the cigarette atrocity of this generation. Dopesick is a must read for parents…along with What Made Maddy Run, Girls & Sex, and Missoula…and is a good companion read for Hillbilly Elegy.

He remembered a dislocated coal miner from Grundy, Virginia, confessing that OxyContin had become more important to him than his family, his church, and his children. “It became my god,” the man said.

Driven by Julie Heldman
Nonfiction – Sports Memoir (Released August 22, 2018)
446 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Author (Self-Published)

Plot Summary: The memoir of Julie Heldman, a top-ranked pro tennis player in the 1960’s – 70’s and the daughter of Gladys Heldman, a legendary figure behind-the-scenes of the tennis world (she founded World Tennis magazine and was partially responsible for the formation of the Virginia Slims women’s tour, the precursor to today’s WTA).

My Thoughts: I’m a huge tennis fan, which is why I gave this self-published memoir a shot. There was a ton of fascinating tennis history in this book…the battle for equal treatment of women on the pro tour, the personalities of legendary players from that time (ex: Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert), and the politics surrounding pros and amateurs. Driven also focuses on Julie’s relationship with her mother (Gladys) and Julie’s eventual battle with mental illness. Famous and beloved in the tennis world, Gladys was a bit of a Mommie Dearest behind closed doors. While somewhat interesting, Heldman beats a dead horse for close to 500 pages (an outrageous length for this book). Driven is desperately in need of an editor…to cut repetitions, to craft story arcs, and to improve the writing (some sections felt like she’d copied directly from her childhood diaries). The tennis history is what kept me reading, so unless you’re an avid tennis fan, there’s probably not much in here to make it worth wading through the muck.

I grew up in a family where the youngest and most demanding child was the world’s largest tennis magazine.

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis
Nonfiction (Released October 2, 2018)
219 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: W.W. Norton)

Plot Summary: Lewis dives deep into the inner workings of murky government agencies (i.e. Department of Commerce, Department of Agriculture, etc) to explore the obscure risks the government grapples with every day.

My Thoughts: Michael Lewis is a master at making boring, tedious information sound fascinating and he did it again with The Fifth Risk. He shines a light on obscure people with important and interesting, but relatively unknown jobs within the federal government. He exposes risks that regular citizens probably never consider, but that the federal government works to mitigate every day (i.e. the electrical grid). And, he investigates the Trump transition (or lack thereof). There is an incredible amount of information packed into just over 200 pages…so much that the book felt like a brain dump at times. Despite being fascinated by almost everything he shared, I’m still unclear what his overall purpose is: is he trying to educate U.S. citizens about all the things government does for them / saves them from? Trying to expose Trump’s non-existent / unorganized transition? Figure out the biggest risks in government? Publicly recognize unsung government heroes? He seemed to have all these purposes at various times. Mostly, I took from it that I had no idea what certain parts of the government do…and now I know a little more. Also, it’s clear what side of the political aisle Michael Lewis identifies with…and he writes from that perspective.

Another way of putting this is: the risk we should most fear is not the risk we easily imagine. It is the risk that we don’t. Which brought us to the fifth risk. […] The fifth risk did not put him at risk of revealing classified information. “Project management,” was all he said.

Audiobooks

American Radical: Inside the World of an Undercover Muslim FBI Agent by Tamer Elnoury
Nonfiction – War (Released October 23, 2017)
9 Hours, 42 Minutes
Bottom Line: Read it
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Dutton)

Plot Summary: Written under a pseudonym for the author’s safety, this is his story of working undercover for an elite counterterrorism unit following 9/11.

My Thoughts: Elnoury made a career change from going undercover in the drug world to undercover in the terrorism world. And, his story is absolutely chilling. It illuminates terrorism plots that were thankfully thwarted and characters who are the worst of the worst. But, the most interesting part about it for me was the exploration of Elnoury’s version of Islam and how he feels about those that practice the radicalized version of his religion. And, I wondered if the terrorists in this book read it and recognized themselves in it…and what that means for Elnoury’s safety.

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
Nonfiction – Business / Investigative Journalism (Released May 21, 2018)
11 Hours, 37 Minutes
Bottom Line: Read it

Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Library (Publisher: Knopf)

Plot Summary: The true story of the meteoric rise and spectacular fall of the Silicon Valley biotech startup, Theranos.

My Thoughts: My favorite types of business books are the explosive, behind-the-scenes tell-all kinds (DisneyWar by James B. Stewart, Those Guys Have All the Fun by James Andrew Miller, and House of Cards by William Cohen) and Bad Blood fits the bill. Though I did get lost in some of the science and engineering details, I was fascinated / horrified at the arrogance of Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos’s young CEO who viewed herself as the next Steve Jobs, and the lengths Theranos went to to create a “unicorn” despite the absence of a viable product. This one will make a great “Dad” gift for the holidays!

New Nonfiction to My TBR

Silence in the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge (November 21, 2017)
Recommended by Reading with Jade (it was her favorite nonfiction read so far this year)…this one caught my eye because I loved Quiet by Susan Cain (my thoughts) and I’ve become more and more interested in introversion as I’ve gotten older. 

A transformative account of an experience that is essential for our sanity and our happiness.

Whoever Fights Monsters by Robert Ressler and Tom Schachtman (May 1, 1992)
Recommended by Kazan at Always Doing…I love true crime and this by two guys that track serial killers.

The man who coined the term “serial killer”, Ressler is a modern-day Sherlock Holmes who combines observation and a knowledge of psychopathic personalities to draw profiles of unknown perpetrators that are astonishingly accurate descriptions based on various aspects of the crime itself.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (October 21, 2014)
Recommended by Tina at TBR, etc…I’ve obviously been hearing about this book for ages from many people, but Tina’s Instagram post was what really made me want to read it.

A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time.

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott (May 1, 1993)
Recommended by Sarah K, one of my blog readers (via my comments section)…I love honest accounts of motherhood and loved my first Anne Lamott this month (Bird by Bird).

The most honest, wildly enjoyable book written about motherhood is surely Anne Lamott’s account of her son Sam’s first year.

Dead Girls by Alice Bolin (June 26, 2018)
Recommended by Kelly at Stacked…she paired this one with Sadie by Courtney Summers, which I liked, in her Fiction / Nonfiction pairings post. More for my true crime TBR list, which is getting longer every minute.

A collection of poignant, perceptive essays that expertly blends the personal and political in an exploration of American culture through the lens of our obsession with dead women.

This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Phillips (October 16, 2018)
Recommended by Susie at Novel Visits…I’m all for a juicy celebrity memoir, especially one that’s great on audio!

A memoir by the beloved comedic actress known for her roles on Freaks and Geeks, Dawson’s Creek, and Cougar Town who has become “the breakout star on Instagram stories…imagine I Love Lucy mixed with a modern lifestyle guru.”

The Good Nurse by Charles Graeber (April 15, 2013)
Recommended by Tina at TBR, etc.…more for my true crime TBR!

After his December 2003 arrest, registered nurse Charlie Cullen was quickly dubbed “The Angel of Death” by the media. But Cullen was no mercy killer, nor was he a simple monster. He was a favorite son, husband, beloved father, best friend, and celebrated caregiver. Implicated in the deaths of as many as 300 patients, he was also perhaps the most prolific serial killer in American history.

What was your favorite read and top TBR add of Nonfiction November?

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Alcohol & Advil: Waiting for Eden and Sadie

October 25, 2018 Mini Book Reviews 16

Alcohol and Advil Literary Style

 

Welcome to Alcohol & Advil, where I pair a book likely to cause a “reading hangover” (i.e. the alcohol) with a recovery book (i.e. the Advil)! For me, the “alcohol” is usually a book that I either absolutely loved or one that punched me in the gut in an emotionally depleting way…and, in this case, it’s both.

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an Alcohol & Advil post, but these perfect pairings don’t come along every day. Both of these books are pretty dark, but one is a total gut-punch, while the other is a quick and fairly easy read.

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link).

The Alcohol

Waiting for EdenWaiting for Eden by Elliot Ackerman
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: September 25, 2018)
192 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Knopf)

Plot Summary: After Eden returns burned over every inch of his body and barely alive from his second deployment in the Iraq war, his wife (Mary) keeps vigil at his bedside waiting for him to die.

My Thoughts: Normally I roll my eyes when publishers exaggerate in their marketing descriptions, but this one was no exaggeration: “a breathtakingly spare and shattering new novel.” Particularly the word shattering. That’s exactly what this novel is (plus, gut-punching). It’s rare to find an author that can tell such a powerful, immersive story in so few pages, but Ackerman (himself a Marine who served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor and the Purple Heart) did. The first chapter absolutely gutted me. I recovered a bit during the second chapter, only to be gutted again at the very end of it…and again and again. I kept making a noise that sounded something like “unh” (imagine an audible exhale along with that).

The story is narrated by Eden’s comrade who was killed in the blast that injured Eden…he’s waiting for him in the no-man’s-land between the living and the dead. You hear the progression of Eden’s post-combat journey juxtaposed with his life before that last deployment, which is complicated and messy. If you’re the kind of reader who likes stories that make you acutely feel, Waiting for Eden is a must read. I give up on trying to do this book justice here…just read it.

Still, sitting at the burn center’s main desk, alone, and on Christmas morning, she wondered about him. Even though he powered the relentless pounding of vital signs that surrounded her desk, she didn’t know if you could call what was in that room a person. Not alive, not dead, what it was didn’t have a name.

The Advil

Sadie by Courtney SummersSadie by Courtney Summers
Young Adult (Released September 4, 2018)
311 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Wednesday Books)

Plot Summary: When Sadie’s younger sister, Mattie, is found murdered in a field in their small, Colorado town, Sadie goes on the run to find her killer…as journalist West McCray puts together a Serial-esque podcast about the case.

My Thoughts: Y’all know I don’t normally read YA, but the fact that Sadie is partially told through a Serial-esque podcast transcript really intrigued me. Plus, some trusted recommendation sources that also don’t normally read a ton of YA liked it. It’s getting a ton of buzz right now and I liked it, but I’m not on board with quite the level of hype it’s getting. However, it was the perfect, easy read for me following Waiting for Eden.

I loved the podcast transcript sections of the story and really did feel like I was listening to an episode of Serial. However, I felt the YA-ness more in the sections narrated by Sadie as she’s on the run. I like that Sadie’s viewpoint was told and the subject matter is super dark, but I wish the writing of those sections had felt a little less like YA (I know…an unrealistic wish for a YA novel). Some people will be extremely frustrated with the ending, but I really liked it. It’s realistic and definitely not typical of a YA novel. Despite some flaws, Sadie was the right read for the right time for me and I appreciated the podcast transcript format!

I’m going to kill a man. I’m going to steal the light from his eyes. I want to watch it go out. You aren’t supposed to answer violence with more violence but sometimes I think violence is the only answer.

What’s the last book that gave you a reading hangover?

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April and May 2018 Books to Read (and Skip)

May 15, 2018 Mini Book Reviews 18

April and May 2018 Books to Read

 

My reading was all over the place in April (because I was reading way ahead for my 2018 Summer Reading Guide), so you’re getting a double dose of books this month!

In addition to my April and May 2018 Books to Read, stay tuned for my full review of another April book, Circe by Madeline Miller (coming a week from today).

Hosted by Modern Mrs. Darcy.
This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link).

April and May 2018 Books to Read

Alternative Remedies for LossAlternative Remedies for Loss by Joanna Cantor
Fiction – Brain Candy (Released May 8, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Bloomsbury USA)

Plot Summary: When Olivia’s Dad brings his new girlfriend on a family trip to India only months after her Mom’s death from cancer, Olivia has to figure out how to navigate her grief and get her life back on track.

My Thoughts: I bet you wouldn’t expect a novel about grief to be a light, easy read, but Joanna Cantor’s debut novel is both! I flew through it in just a few days at the beach…and it was an excellent beach read despite the focus on grief. During the Prologue, I was wavering about whether or not to continue reading, then something completely unexpected and interesting happened that caused me to keep going…and I’m so glad I did. This element isn’t a huge focus of the plot, but it was the pivotal moment that got me engrossed in the book. Beyond Olivia’s grief, Alternative Remedies for Loss is a story about a family trying to figure out their new normal after the loss of their mother and a daughter trying to get to know who her mother was as a person, beyond her role as mother and wife.

When you knew what you wanted, everything became simpler, more streamlined.

book of the month may 2018How to Walk Away by Katherine Center
Fiction – Brain Candy (Released May 15, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (St. Martin’s Press)

Plot Summary: After Margaret is in a tragic accident the night she gets engaged, she must figure out how to move forward and who she is post-accident.

My Thoughts: I’ve been on a streak lately with books about very serious topics that are handled in a light-hearted way…and that read like brain candy. Add How to Walk Away to that list (Alternative Remedies for Loss, Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties). How to Walk Away reminded me of a less ugly-cry spin on Me Before You. There’s a number of likable characters that I was rooting hard for, some romance, some humor, family drama, and a hopeful, inspirational tone. Admittedly, this is not the kind of book I normally enjoy (I usually like them extra dark and twisted), but all the unicorns and rainbows worked for me here. The ending is utterly ridiculous, but I would have been furious had it ended any other way (a sign of a true rom-com?). However, I could’ve done without the Epilogue. I have no idea why all these things I normally hate in books worked for me here, but they did and I no longer have to sheepishly admit I have nothing when people ask me for a “feel-good” book recommendation.

Needing to find reasons to live had forced me to build a life worth living. I would never say the accident was a good thing. I would never, ever claim that everything happens for a reason. Like all tragedies, it was senseless.

But I knew one thing for sure: The greater our capacity for sorrow becomes, the greater our capacity for joy.

So I went on, “That’s the thing you don’t know – that you can’t know until life has genuinely beaten the crap out of you: I am better for it all. I am better for being broken.”

Girl Who Smiled BeadsThe Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released April 24, 2018)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Book of the Month (Publisher: Crown)

Plot Summary: Clemantine was six years old when she and her older sister (Claire) were separated from their family during the Rwandan genocide and spent the next six years as refugees before being granted asylum in the U.S., and in Clemantine’s case, going on to get a degree from Yale.

My Thoughts: The Girl Who Smiled Beads was one of my April Book of the Month selections and it came with rave reviews. The story is told in alternating timelines (Clemantine and Claire’s time as refugees and their later childhood / early adulthood in the U.S.) and the refugee portion is as heart-wrenching as you’d expect. What they went through is appalling. However, the U.S. portion was incredibly intriguing to me as Clemantine struggled with her conflicted feelings about her identity and the help she received in the U.S. (she was taken in by a white, suburban family and supported through high school before heading on to Yale). She understandably has different views about many everyday things (e.g., camping, marriage, etc) that were shaped by her experience. The writing is simple and hard-hitting, which is my kind of writing and fit this story well, but the alternating timelines pulled me out of the story a bit. I’d admittedly not learned much about the various refugee crises around the world and this book started to change that.

It’s strange, how you go from being a person who is away from home to a person with no home at all. The place that is supposed to want you has pushed you out. No other place takes you in. You are unwanted, by everyone. You are a refugee.

You Think It, I'll Say ItYou Think It, I’ll Say It: Stories by Curtis Sittenfeld
Fiction – Short Stories (Released April 24, 2018)
256 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Random House)

Plot Summary: Novelist Curtis Sittenfeld’s (author of Prep, American Wife, and Eligible) first short story collection.

My Thoughts: Short stories are not my thing. I’ve only really loved two short story collections in my entire life (Beneath the Bonfire and Why They Run the Way They Do). I can now make that three because I adored this collection…it’s unquestionably 5 stars for me! The three collections I’ve loved all have one thing in common: the stories have something idiosyncratic in them, but are otherwise about mundane life. The stories in You Think It, I’ll Say It are mostly about otherwise normal relationships that have a hidden element of unconventionality or an awkward incident. They’re normal situations that end up taking unexpected turns…they’re relatable, yet surprising. I was completely invested in the characters in every story, which is a rarity for me with short stories. If you’ve been hesitant to try short stories, You Think It, I’ll Say It is a perfect first collection!

Oh, our private habits, our private selves – how strange we all are, how full of feelings and essentially alone.

April and May 2018 Books to Skip

I was very quick to DNF books over the past few months because I was trying to get through as many candidates for my Summer Reading Guide as possible. So, all my April and May skips are DNFs…

Campaign WidowsCampaign Widows by Aimee Agresti (May 22, 2018)
DNF at 6%

Honestly, I tried this so long ago and quit so early that I have zero memory of anything I did read or why I DNF’d it. Sorry!

 

 

Love and RuinLove and Ruin by Paula McLain (May 1, 2018)
DNF at 27%

I loved McLain’s The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun, but felt like I was slogging through Love and Ruin. Maybe it was because she went back to Hemingway a second time? I was reading it at the beach and that’s not the place you want to try to slog through a book!

 


That Kind of MotherThat Kind of Mother
 by Rumaan Alam (May 8, 2018)
DNF at 48%

I thought I’d love this novel about a woman who adopts the child of her nanny after she dies during childbirth because two of my top recommendation sources (Annie Jones from From the Front Porch podcast and Tyler Goodson, Manager at Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA) rated it 5 stars. Unfortunately, something felt off. I had trouble connecting with Rebecca (the main character), the observations about motherhood were kind of all over the map (maybe because it’s written by a man??), and I just couldn’t get fully immersed in it.

 

High SeasonThe High Season by Judy Blendell (May 1, 2018)
DNF at 20%

This novel was heavy on high society and museum board politics, which I found annoying and boring. Kind of like the mommy politics in Big Little Lies (my review) drove me crazy.

 

 

Italian PartyThe Italian Party by Christina Lynch (April 10, 2018)
DNF at 6%.
Ditto Campaign Widows.

 

 

 

What are the best April or May 2018 book you’ve read so far?

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Read One, Skip One: Never Leave Your Dead and Listen to Me

July 7, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 21

I’m a bit shocked at which books ended up in which slots for this installment of Read One, Skip One. I picked up Never Leave Your Dead thinking I’d take a peek, but probably not end up reading the whole thing. And, I really expected to love Listen to Me based on my feelings about Hannah Pittard’s last book, Reunion.

Never Leave Your Dead, Diane CameronNever Leave Your Dead by Diane Cameron
Nonfiction – War (Released June 7, 2016)
176 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Central Recovery Press)

Plot Summary: The true story of Donald Watkins, a WWII veteran (and the author’s stepfather) who murdered his first wife and mother-in-law long after returning from the China theatre.

My Thoughts: I have to be honest…this book was a total surprise for me. The story sounded interesting, but I had no idea truly how interesting it would turn out to be. I could not stop reading (despite the tiny print of my PDF-formatted ARC) and I ended up taking so much away from these compact 176 pages! Though the writing and story-telling is a bit choppy, the story of Donald Watkins blew my mind. He likely suffered from PTSD 40 years before it was acknowledged by the military and received years of counter-productive treatments. In telling Donald’s story, Cameron explores the history of mental illness as it relates to the military, conditions at an infamous mental hospital (St. Elizabeth’s), and a little known part of WWII (the American pre-Pearl Harbor presence in China and POW Camp Palawan).

I was almost equally enthralled with the story of Cameron discovering and pursuing Donald’s story. The book is structured in the order in which Cameron learned each new piece of Donald’s background, giving the reader a sense of her emotional journey. Never Leave Me Dead is quite an eye-opening read if you’re at all interested in trauma and recovery, PTSD (particularly in returning soldiers), less well-known parts of WWII, and/or the history of mental illness treatment. It’s going on my 2016 Summer Reading, Great Books Under 300 Pages, and Books for Guys lists.

Listen to Me, Hannah PittardListen to Me by Hannah Pittard
Fiction (Released July 5, 2016)
192 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Publisher (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) via NetGalley

Plot Summary: Married couple Mark and Maggie reflect on the state of their marriage and Maggie’s recovery from a recent mugging during a cross-country road trip with their dog, Gerome.

My Thoughts: I’m surprised to be writing this type of review for a Hannah Pittard book, as I loved her last novel, Reunion. Her latest effort is one of those books with a vague (but appealing to me) publisher’s blurb headline: “A modern gothic about a marriage and road trip gone hauntingly awry.” But, I now realize the vagueness probably has more to do with the central premise being fairly unclear. 

Even after finishing the book, I’m still unsure what it was truly about. It’s somewhat about the small resentments and slights of a marriage that accumulate to become big and intolerable and somewhat about recovering from trauma within a marriage…with Mark’s odd obsessions with the environment and the Internet destroying society running through it. These last bits felt like they were included to make some broader points about the world, but they didn’t fit the story.

A meandering book like this can work for me, but the writing needs to sparkle. And this writing was good, but not sparkling. In my June 13 reading update, I said about the prospect of digging into Listen to Me: “I’m hoping she tackles marriage with the same irreverence she applied to death and family in Reunion!” Maybe this is a case of having inaccurate expectations, but I really missed that irreverent tone here.

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Two Additions to My 2016 Summer Reading Guide: Grunt and Before the Fall

June 23, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 19

I published my 2016 Summer Reading Guide at the end of May and will be adding more books to it throughout the summer. Here are two of my latest, though very different, additions…

Grunt, Mary RoachGrunt by Mary Roach
Nonfiction (Released June 7, 2016)
288 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (W.W. Norton) via NetGalley

Plot Summary: Grunt tackles the science behind some of a soldier’s most challenging adversaries—panic, exhaustion, heat, noise—and introduces us to the scientists who seek to conquer them.” (Goodreads)

My Thoughts: Mary Roach is known for delving deep into an odd topic (like what happens to cadavers in Stiff) and using her dry (and frequently morbid) humor to share her findings in a relatable way. In Grunt, she focuses on seemingly minor issues (many of which civilians encounter in their daily lives) that wreck havoc with the military and military issues that don’t get a lot of media attention, including bird strikes, hearing loss, diarrhea prevention, flies and sleep. Though she doesn’t shy away from topics that civilians (hopefully) won’t need to concern themselves with: submarine escape, bomb safety for the undercarriages of vehicles, and flame resistant clothing.

With one chapter focusing on each topic, Grunt reads like a short story collection. And as with most short story collections, I had my winners and losers. A chapter on war-related genital injuries and reconstructive surgery was thankfully free of the heavy military and scientific jargon that caused me to glaze over in some of the other chapters…and was predictably fodder for some funny anecdotes. And, a chapter on sleep was relatable and applicable to anyone. I was less enamored with chapters on flies and odors because of the previously mentioned science and military jargon overload. Though Grunt had some hiccups, I would recommend it to people interested in the military or with an appreciation for quirky knowledge and a flair for the ridiculous (which Roach helpfully points out to the reader at every opportunity). 

Before the Fall, Noah HawleyBefore the Fall by Noah Hawley
Fiction – Mystery/Thriller (Released May 31, 2016)
400 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Grand Central Publishing)

Plot Summary: A private plane carrying two important businessmen (one of whom is the Rupert Murdoch-like head of a 24 hour news network), their families, and a down-on-his-luck painter crashes off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, leaving two survivors.

My Thoughts: Before the Fall, written by the creator of the TV show Fargo, has been hyped as “the thriller of the year” by many and has appeared on a number of the traditional media’s Summer Reading Guides. While I don’t feel quite as strongly about it, it is one of only two thrillers I’ve enjoyed all year.

Opening with the plane crash, the book works backwards and forwards to tell the stories of each passenger and those close to the crash’s aftermath. As with some other books that worked for me lately (The Expatriates, Only Love Can Break Your Heart), the mystery (i.e. why the plane crashed) serves as a catalyst to explore human emotions and behavior. The crux of this story is more about the people on the plane and what today’s media can do to a tragic story than the crash itself.

Unfortunately, the ending fizzled a bit for me. In the moment, I wanted it to be more and bigger than it was. But after reflecting, the lack of razzle-dazzle fits well with the book’s overarching point about how the 24 hour news cycle pumps up stories, squeezing every last ounce of possible ratings value from them, the truth be damned. Despite the ending, Before the Fall is a good choice for anyone who likes their thrillers to go beyond standard plot twists.

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