Thursday, December 31, 2015

I Had to Survive: How a Plane Crash in the Andes Inspired My Calling to Save Lives by Roberto Canessa and Pablo Vierci

I Had to Survive: How a Plane Crash in the Andes Inspired My Calling to Save Lives by Roberto Canessa and Pablo Vierci



                I was familiar with the story of the Uruguayan Rugby team that crashed in the Andes after watching the movie Alive years ago. I remember thinking after the movie ended how one could possibly go on living any semblance of a normal life after being in such a horrendous situation for over two months. Watching your friends die, having to eat their bodies to survive and the constant fear. It would take an unimaginable amount of strength to survive and then even more to continue to live. When I first ran across this title I was intrigued and ultimately overjoyed. Here was proof that someone could survive and not only continue living but use that strength to help others survive. I Had to Survive: How a Plane Crash in the Andes Inspired My Calling to Save Lives is well written memoir by Roberto Canessa who was 19 years old when his plane crashed in the Andes Mountains in 1972. This memoir is as much about the trials and tribulations of him and the other survivors as it is about the life he lived after leaving the mountain.
                This memoir is divided into two parts. The first details the struggles of Roberto and the other survivors, describing what life for them was like those sixty days barely living, before he and two others dared to try to hike out the mountain. He relays the information very matter of fact. He isn’t trying to sugar coat anything because he knows that every decision that was made was for survival. There was a selflessness that existed on the mountain that benefitted everyone. Roberto conveyed these situations in vivid detail. The second part of the memoir talks about how he uses his past experience to provide the best care possible in his field of pediatric cardiology. Roberto knows that even in the direst circumstances there is still a chance because he always believed that they had a chance to survive on that mountain and so does the child fighting to live in the incubator.

                Canessa and his coauthor Vierci did a great job with this memoir. This was written with the utmost respect for all those involved in the plane crash, those that survived and those that perished. I Had to Survive took it’s time relaying the story without lingering too long on some of the more disturbing aspects of what happened. Both parts of the book included chapters written by those whose life in some way was affected by Canessa, whether it was one of the pilots from the rescue missions, his own father or a patient. I found these included chapters to be beneficial in the first part but not so much in the second part. In the first part these chapters were used to move the plot forward and give a different perspective on life while the survivors were still on the mountain. In the second part they were used to show the many different lives Roberto has helped in different ways. I found the amount of these chapters included in the second section to be distracting but not without compassion. Overall though I enjoyed this memoir. It was well written and engaging. Canessa had an amazing story to tell and I am glad he chose to reveal what his life has been like since that plane crash in 1972.  The crash took so many lives and yet it also placed in one man’s heart a determination to never stop living and to help others. I gave this memoir 4 out of 5 stars. 

Thank you Netgalley for an e-arc of this book in exchange for an honest review

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Florynce “Flo” Kennedy: The Life of a Feminist Black Radical by Sherie M. Randolph

Florynce “Flo” Kennedy: The Life of a Feminist Black Radical by Sherie M. Randolph


                I love reading a biography that does more than just educate, instead it enlightens, broadens perspectives and changes the way certain segments of history are viewed. This biography of Florynce Kennedy is a great example of this type of biography. It is well written, narrated and honest about the life of a black feminist radical. Her story takes readers through many different pivotal moments throughout history and readers are exposed to the many injustices imposed on women, the Black community and both fights for equality.
                A simple narrative worked beautifully for this biography because Florynce Kennedy lived such a long and complex life. Her grandparents on both sides had been enslaved and at a young age, Kennedy saw her own parents threatened by members of the white community around her and they didn’t back down. Watching her parents stand tall in the face of discrimination influenced her own idea about what it meant to not take shit from anyone. She began challenging not only racism but sexism as well in her teens, feeling doubly criticized against because she was both Black and a woman. Kennedy would eventually attend Columbia University in the 1940’s and obtain her law degree. She would use the courts to challenge discrimination and even though she didn’t view that as the best approach she still used it to her advantage. Kennedy would join many different feminist and Black power organizations trying to fight the oppression and injustice on both sides. One of the ideas that Kennedy held on to was that the struggles of both women and the Black community should be bridged and fought together. Only by embracing both struggles and advancing both rights would there be success on both sides. Kennedy’s position in history within these different organizations refutes any past indication that the leaders of the Feminist movement, which would gain so much traction, was not exposed to the idea of fighting against both racism and sexism but simply chose to ignore the reasoning.

                I would never be able to give Florynce Kennedy’s life any justice in such a short summary. She was an extremely motivating woman who fought against extremely difficult odds and tried to make a change in our government and our culture. Her life story is extremely impressive and I am still shocked that I didn’t know more about her before reading this biography. Randolph let the story tell itself and was very detailed with the information that she provided. I have a very well rounded image of the woman that Florynce Kennedy was and the mark she has on history. My only complaint about this biography is that at times it got repetitive, not the struggles she endured but the way the information was relayed. This is definitely a novel that I would purchase and recommend. Extremely engaging from the beginning to the end. I give this biography 4 out of 5 stars. 

Thank you Netgalley for this advanced copy in exchange for an honest review

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

In The Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson

In The Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson


                Imagine the year is 1933 and you have just been sent to Berlin as America’s Ambassador to Germany. You have brought your wife and two grown children. You have loved Germany since attending school there years prior and have looked forward to returning. You’ve heard rumors of Hitler’s regime and how they are dealing with the Jewish problem, but you don’t have any reason to believe that this is more than hearsay. You arrive and see the pomp and circumstance that surrounds Hitler and his followers. You grow to realize that everything is not as it seems. American civilians are being attacked and the German soldiers involved are not being punished. Other things also catch your attention like the incident your daughter witnessed where a woman was stripped of her clothing, beaten, and paraded in the streets for having a relationship with a Jewish man. Time passes and you become disenchanted but how do you communicate that to the President of the United States? How do you make him understand that if action isn’t taken now that there will be war? This is just a glimpse of the life of William Dodd and the years he spent in Germany during the rise of Hitler.
                I’ve asked myself before how in the hell Hitler was able to rise to power and commit the atrocities that would come to define him. The answer is denial. Time and time again the answer, to me at least, is denial and willful ignorance. No one believed that he would ever actually commit the heinous acts that he was committing. Dodd was in denial himself until it became evident that Hitler wanted complete control, would gain complete control and would go to war. No one wanted to believe Dodd so they didn’t. World War II was a result of everyone’s willful ignorance. Larson produced with this nonfiction novel an amazing portrait of what life was like for Dodd and his family, especially his daughter Martha whose relationships with people in Germany would cause controversy, in in 1930’s Berlin.

                In The Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Berlin is a biography of William Dodd but it is written as a nonfiction novel. It is dramatic, informative, moves well and the world of 1930’s Germany is very well crafted. I enjoyed this biography. This time in history is filled with so many different elements and so much depth that it’s easy to get lost in the details. That didn’t happen with Larson. He was able to keep me interested and involved in this story. The tense atmosphere was felt throughout the pages. As a reader knowing the worst was to come, I found myself looking for the aspects of Hitler’s regime that I knew were going to change. Larson alludes to all what is to come while revealing one page at a time that things were changing and that those changes would lead to devastation. I can easily recommend this novel and give it 4 out of 5 stars. Larson’s writing style is one I enjoy and I am looking forward to reading more from him. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Oregon Trail: An American Journey by Rinker Buck

The Oregon Trail: An American Journey by Rinker Buck



                Rinker Buck and his brother Nick took three mules and covered wagon across The Oregon Trail in 2011. They were the first people to cross the trail in a covered wagon in over a century. The trials and tribulations they experienced were similar to those of the pioneers of the 1800’s: questionable craftsmanship of the wagon, a constant search for water, handling mules across varying terrains and weather. In this day and age the trail wasn’t exactly like the trail of the 1840’s. Now there was plenty of state sanctioned land and corrals for camping, friendly “trail families” along the way that offered showers, food and a dry place to sleep. The brothers were determined to cross the trail without motored assistance and they did. They took part in a journey that many could only dream of but never comprehend. A journey through a huge part of American history.
                Oh, The Oregon Trail. The first images that come to mind when I read those words are that of the computer game that I felt I could never win. It always seems so mysterious and so much a part of the past that I would never have imagined someone even attempting to cross it now. Rinker though had other plans and reading of his journey across the country with his brother was extremely enjoyable. Rinker Buck did a really great job at combining the history of The Oregon Trail with his journey. He did a great job at educating the reader while also filling the book with a sense of adventure. There was peril and a sense of the unknown. The banter between the brothers brought a sense of lightness to the entire book which kept it extremely entertaining.

                This was a very intimate and personal trip for Rinker as well. It meant a lot to his brother, Nick, to take on this journey with him, and they expressed those emotions to each other. The relationship between Rinker and his father, who took the family on a covered wagon trip in 1958 and has since passed, was one that resonated with Rinker throughout the trip. Seeing that kind of introspection and the effect the journey had on Rinker just added a certain level of depth to this story. I thought The Oregon Trail: An American Journey was an interesting, fun read, with highs and lows, in need of a little editing, but overall really enjoyable. I gave this 4 out of 5 stars. The easy narrative, focused and humorous writing brought this adventure to life nicely. 

Thanks to Netgalley for this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Alexander McQueen: Blood Beneath the Skin by Andrew Wilson

Alexander McQueen: Blood Beneath the Skin by Andrew Wilson


                I’ve always found Alexander McQueen fascinating. I wasn’t overly aware of his work before he passed but I was aware of some of his designs and was a fan of what I had seen. His suicide sent shock waves through the fashion world and it was then that I became more aware of the impact he had on fashion and the theatricality he brought to the runway. As sometimes happens after someone famous passes, Alexander McQueen became the hot topic and his fashion was thrust into the spotlight. It wasn’t until reading this biography I learned more about the man who was born Lee Alexander McQueen and how the way he lived his life and the clothes he created changed the way many saw fashion.
                Alexander McQueen was very complex. He was a gay fashion designer that struggled with his appearance and his confidence. He had been sexually abused, would later be diagnosed with HIV, did drugs, drank alcohol and had been in abusive relationships. But he knew what he wanted his brand to represent and he was consistently pushing the envelope with both his clothes and his runway shows. He wasn’t always the most admirable person but he was passionate about the things he cared about. That’s what I have learned about Alexander McQueen from reading this biography. It took Andrew Wilson quite some time to find his voice while writing this biography. The introduction to Alexander McQueen: Blood Beneath the Skin begins with the gathering held months after McQueen’s death and focused very heavily on the opinions others had of McQueen and the clothes they chose to wear to the event. Wilson continued the opinion heavy narrative throughout the first third of the biography and it honestly didn’t feel as if he had established his own narrative about McQueen’s life until midway through the book. Wilson’s style of writing isn’t my favorite because of the amount of tangents that took over the biography. When Wilson began to focus and lead the narrative of the story instead of letting the opinions and source information take over, this became a more enjoyable biography. Overall I give this 3 out of 5 stars. 

Thank you Netgalley for this book in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson


                When I begin reading a biography there are a few things I am looking for right off the back: authenticity because the book needs to be well researched, a sense of depth because I ultimately want to understand and appreciate the people I am reading about and (most importantly) an unbiased author. Steve Jobs nailed every single one of these on the head. After years of research, interviews with not only Steve Jobs himself, but his family, colleagues and even Bill Gates, Steve Jobs feels like a completed and honest biography about a man who revolutionized the way we use technology.
                Based on this biography I can easily conclude that Steve Jobs was an extremely complicated man and the few things that I knew about him before reading this book, paled in comparison to the truth. Isaacson covered Jobs abandonment issues from being adopted, his awareness of being smarter than his parents at a young age and how that affected his mentality while growing up and creating relationships. Isaacson discussed in detail throughout the biography how Jobs pervaded a reality distortion field around him and how he could convince people to do the impossible by making these crazy and completely unrealistic timelines or expectations simply because he believed that it could be done. (More than likely it was done because he demanded it be done.) Isaacson didn’t hold back in discussing Jobs temper, his outburst, his need to sometime hurt and belittle, or his painful honesty. But Isaacson also showed Jobs as the business man and how even though he wasn’t the engineer behind the parts, he was the visionary behind the merger of technology and art, which is something he prided himself on. Isaacson also touched on with grace and respect Jobs battle with cancer.

                I can only summarize Steve Jobs to show the tip of an iceberg that was a man who lived an incredible life. There is a reason why this biography was over 500 pages, there was a lot of story to tell. Isaacson did an amazing job with this biography. From the very beginning Isaacson was able to entice me and hold my interest. He looked at every possible angle of Jobs and his life. The interviews that he conducted with people, and the sources he used just gave so much depth to Jobs life. This biography never felt one sided. It always felt complete. Everyone weighed in and was honest about this man, his integrity, lack of, his genius, his attitude, his delusions and his strength. This gets 5 out of 5 stars from me. At the end of this book I honestly felt moved and happy that I am able to at least have some understanding of such a passionate and complicated person. This is definitely a biography I can stand behind and recommend. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner by James Dashner


                Thomas was jilted awake, with no memory of anything but his name. The walls surround him and he could feel the lift taking him higher. He came out of what the boys called “the box.” He was the newbie, the greenbean. There were boys who had been in the Glade for two years. Every month they got a new boy in the box. He would have to pitch in so there would still be order. He would stay away from the doors. The Glade was enclosed by four humongous, ancient walls. Outside those walls was a maze that none of the Runners could solve. In that maze were the Grievers. No one had lasted a night in the maze after the doors closed. The Grievers were keeping them in but the maze would be their only way out.
                You have no idea how hard it was for me to write that small blurb about this book. No idea what so ever. I really wanted to like this book. I went into reading this book convinced that I would really like it. The premise was amazing. These guys have to find a way out of this unsolvable maze. There were so many questions! How did they get in the maze? Why did the walls move? What kind of experiment is this? Why all boys? I spent a lot of time waiting for these questions to be answered. Hundreds of pages waiting on the answer and I am sorely disappointed, especially since most of my questions didn’t get answered. Therein lies the major problem with this book: the kids all lost their memory and had to discover this new world but wouldn’t divulge any useful information to Thomas. Why? Because he was new. It was extremely annoying. Thomas’s struggle to understand his memory loss and his urging for answers became repetitive and did not help move this plot along at all.
                The lack of information led to all the other problems I had with this book. There was no world building because the kids were in the Glade, the Glade was surrounded by these walls and there were places they could go in the Glade. That’s it. No hint of the outside world. No idea of what’s happening. The kids weren’t even really motivated to do anything, they just wanted to keep order, so they all had jobs they had to do. There also wasn’t any real struggle within the glade. The weather was perfect. They were provided with food and other supplies every week. They could request supplies. They even had livestock they took care of! The only struggle was to get out of the maze. Sigh.
                I wish I could go on to tell you the characters were at least well developed. But alas, I can’t do that either. This novel struggled. The characters felt immature. The language they used was childish and unnecessary. There was never a moment when I felt like the characters genuinely cared for each other. I never understood their real motivations. I am just at a loss.

                This book left me unimpressed with Dashner. This novel is a prime example of an author setting up for sequels. I guess my main problem is that this doesn’t feel stand alone at all. No useful information was provided. This was all misleading, meaningless. The reader is supposed to be kept dangling so they can’t wait for the next book. I can wait. I’m not going anywhere near the second book. This could have been great. If information had been provided, characters well developed and the point of the book not veiled in secrecy it would have been a success. The redeeming quality was that it was an easy read, even if I did roll my eyes through most of it. This gets 2 out of 5 stars from me.