Category Archives: book review

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin

most-dangerousGrowing up in my family provided me with some very interesting insight into the Vietnam War. I was born in 1979 and completely missed “experiencing” the Vietnam War for myself, but my grandfather, Jim Cain, has been telling me stories about the Vietnam War for as long as I can remember. Although I didn’t realize it was a big deal until I reached my late-teens/early-twenties, I always knew Grampa had been a “Raven.” He would tell me stories about secret missions and being shot down in Vietnam, but I always kinda assumed he was playing it up and putting on a show for his grandkids. Yeah… I was wrong! As it turns out, the Ravens “were fighter pilots used for forward air control in a covert operation in conjunction with the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States in Laos during America’s Vietnam War [who] provided direction for most of the air strikes against communist Pathet Lao targets and People’s Army of Vietnam’s infiltrators in support of the Laotian Hmong guerrilla army.” (Check out http://ravenfac.com/ravens/Adventures/Episode0000.htm for more information about the Ravens – and a picture of my grampa!)

Despite the fact that her father was fighting in the Vietnam War, my mother was a tried and true “hippie” who protested the war. (Her parents actually found out, long after the fact, that she had attended an anti-war rally while they were stationed in England because of an old photo that was published in their local paper when Bill Clinton was running for president!) Some people would argue that she was less than patriotic for not supporting that war, but I don’t think opposing war makes anyone a bad American. Especially after listening to this story of how politicians sabotaged one another and actively prolonged this particular war to “save face” and further their own political agendas, I find it extremely difficult to even consider accepting war without considering all other possible avenues toward diplomacy. I am grateful to live in a country where citizens have the right to free speech and where freedom of the press works to keep citizens informed of what is going on behind the scenes.  I never learned much about the “Pentagon Papers” in school, but this book had me riveted.  I especially liked the fact that the afterword of this story referenced a more current “information leak” involving Edward Snowden and provided Daniel Ellsberg’s opinion on the matter.  After what Ellsberg has been though, he is certainly someone whose opinion on the Snowden case is relevant.

Happy Reading!

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

bone-gapThe O’Sullivan brothers lived alone and did their best to get by, but it was tough having a dead father and an absentee mom (she took off with an orthodontist who didn’t seem to keen on having teen-aged step-sons).  Sean had to put his dreams of becoming a doctor on hold to take care of his younger brother Finn; he worked as an EMT instead.  Finn was an awkward boy whom the townspeople all seemed to talk/worry about, and Sean’s resentment was fairly evident.  Then, one day, Finn found a girl in their barn.  Roza was badly hurt, but she refused to go to the hospital, so Sean took her inside their house and did his best to mend her injuries.  They decided to give Roza the keys to the unused apartment in the back of their house, and her presence seemed to help all three of them thrive… until the day Roza disappeared from Bone Gap.

Sean was heart-broken and Finn was devastated because he largely blamed himself.  He swore that there was a man who took Roza away, but he couldn’t really describe the man other than the strange way he moved through the cornfields.  He felt that if he could just do a better job at describing the man, he could save her.  People in town had always called Finn names like “space man” because of he always seemed to lack focus and didn’t really look people in the eye.  He also seemed to have a hard time recognizing people, though his vision was technically fine.  The only person Finn seemed to get along with was a girl named Petey, whom most of the townspeople teased for being “ugly.”  Petey believed Finn when he said that a man took Roza away, and she was determined to help him solve the mystery, but she was so self-conscious she couldn’t help but wonder if Finn was just pretending to like her.

I’m gonna be perfectly honest and admit that I actually had to start listening to this audiobook over again because I was about half way through and all sorts of confused. The book changes perspectives between Finn and Roza — as he looks for her and she deals with having been taken — and also goes back in time a bit, at times, to explain how everything came to be.  I mean, I was doing chores like mowing the lawn and folding laundry, so it’s not like I was focused on something terribly exciting that took my attention away…  But it was confusing enough that I really couldn’t go on without starting over.  I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, but I just figured it was worth mentioning in case any of y’all start to read/listen to this book and end up feeling confused, too.  It was totally worth starting over again, in my opinion, so I would recommend doing the same if you also feel lost.  Now that I “got” it, it was pretty awesome.  If you like books with a touch of magical realism, like Belzhar, you should check this one out.

Happy Reading!

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom

tragic-kind-of-wonderful

Hamster is ACTIVE
Hummingbird is HOVERING
Hammerhead is CRUISING
Hanniganimal is UP!

This is the way the story opens, and the method Mel Hannigan uses to track her bipolar disorder.  The hamster represents her mind/thinking, the hummingbird represents her energy level, the hammerhead represents her physical health, and the Hanniganimal is how they all come together to form “The Hannigan Animal” (aka Mel).  As someone who is only mildly familiar with bipolar disorder and who hasn’t experienced it herself, I thought I would find it difficult to insinuate myself into the mind of a character who was experiencing constant and vast swings between mania and depression.  Though Mel’s experiences with Bipolar Disorder were different than my own mental health issues with “Pure O” OCD, though, these analogies helped me to relate better than I expected.

I truly appreciate that more authors are writing books like this to provide  readers with a healthy dose of information that contributes to compassion and empathy toward people suffering from mental health disorders.  We can’t #EndTheStigma if no one will talk about it!  Even better, I like the fact that this book did so without feeling clunky or didactic.  One of my favorite characters in this story is Dr. Jordan — a resident at the nursing home at which Mel works (who was a therapist, but is not *her* therapist).  He tells it like it is, but he is gentle and diplomatic enough that Mel doesn’t completely shut him out when she is vacillating between moods.  This isn’t just a book about Bipolar Disorder, though.  It’s also a book about navigating life, love, and friendship through the tumult that is adolescence.  After reading and loving both this book and Not If I See You First, I can’t wait to see what will be next from Eric Lindstrom.  (I may have to wait a while, though, since this book is not even due for publication until February 2017…)

Happy Reading!

The Memory Book by Lara Avery

memory-bookThis book hit a little too close to home…  Kinda.  It’s not that I know any young people who have dealt with a “Niemann-Pick Type C” diagnosis, but I have had all too much personal experience in knowing and loving people with varying forms of dementia.  Both of my father’s parents suffered from Alzheimer’s before they died.  My mother’s dad is currently living with Alzheimer’s.  And my own father had a ruptured brain aneurysm [nearly] two years ago that has left him with an “unspecified” dementia related to the TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) he sustained from the rupture, several open-brain surgeries, etc.  As far as I am concerned, it might as well be Alzheimer’s, but it seems that his doctors don’t want to pigeon-hole him into a specific diagnosis after a TBI.  What’s the point of me bringing my personal life into this?  Well, I think it speaks to my ability to say whether this book portrays dementia accurately.  And, sadly, I think Lara Avery must have some firsthand experience(s) of her own — because she was spot on.

It is, quite frankly, gut-wrenchingly awful to watch a parent or grandparent fall victim to dementia.  There are some “good” days, when the person will recognize people, be steady on his/her feet, and generally seem OK.  But, then there are the days when your own father doesn’t know who you are, remember where he is, or even recall that he already ate lunch today.  It is frustrating and heartbreaking to watch my father [who used to do construction for a living] struggle to stand up from a chair or take a short walk from the living room to the kitchen.  The only way I could imagine a worse scenario is if it would happen to one of my children, as it does to Sammie McCoy in this story.  Sammie has always been a good kid, gotten good grades, excelled in debate club, and had a plan to go off to NYU after graduation.  But, when she starts to suffer from both failing memory and failing health, her entire life plan starts to crumble.  This “memory book” is Sammie’s way to record her journey through the end of high school so that “future Sammie” will know the stories even if she can’t remember them.  FYI — don’t read this book in public if you’re worried about strangers seeing you cry…

Happy Reading!

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

23599075[1]I find it funny that people are comparing this book to Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games but not to the Graceling series. Game of Thrones makes sense because of the crazy king who thirsts for power, uprisings from conquered peoples, and mystical power that comes into play… But I don’t think Hunger Games is too similar. I mean, yes, there is a competition in which people are trained to fight and then whittle down to a single champion — but they aren’t forced to join the competition in the first place and not everyone who loses the game will end up dead. The Graceling series, on the other hand, has a badass heroine who was trained as an assassin and used as a weapon of sorts by the king. Sounds an awful lot like Celaena Sardothien!

Celaena was known throughout Erilea as one of the greatest assasins of all time, but her legend didn’t include the fact that she was both beautiful and very young. When the Crown Prince, Dorian, went to see her in the salt mines of a prison camp called Endovier — where most people last only about a month, but she had already managed to last over a year — he came with a rather strange proposition. Even though she had been sent to Endovier by order of the king, he asked Celaena to enter the competition to be the king’s champion. There was a catch, of course… She had to use an alias so that the people of the kingdom wouldn’t know they had all been “petrified of a girl” all along, and she had to return to Endovier if she lost. Though it was tempting to simply refuse, Prince Dorian’s offer also came with a pretty awesome reward; if Celaena won the competition and served the king for a number of years, she could actually earn her freedom. She would have been a fool to refuse, but she also worried that she had been foolish to accept — especially once champions started turning up murdered… shredded by some unknown beast.

Happy Reading!

The Young World by Chris Weitz

young-worldEver since I read The Girl Who Owned a City [back in fifth grade], I have been fairly obsessed with dystopian fiction.  There’s just something so intriguing about seeing that the world could be *even more* messed up than it already is, you know?  The thing about this story that instantly brought me back to The Girl Who Owned a City, of course, is the fact that the entire adult population in this story has been wiped out.  In this case, though, all the little kids have been wiped out too.  It’s only the teenagers who have survived — and it must have something to do with the particular blend of hormones that exists in teens, because even the survivors die off once they reach full maturity.

This is not just a random disease that struck and went away, by the way.  This is something that, if left unchecked, will wipe out the entire human race.  Yeah.  Let’s hope there are some super-genius teens out there who can figure out what to do to fix it all, right?!?  Enter the kids of Washington Square.  This story is told from the perspectives of various characters, including an “average” girl named Donna and a guy named Jefferson who has “inherited” leadership of Washington Square now that his older brother has turned 18 and died.  Oh yeah…  Jefferson is also secretly in love with Donna and just so happens to be think he might have found some information that could lead to a cure.  Jeff just needs to convince his friends to join him on a dangerous trip through the city to find more information and, you know, a lab where he can do some research.  Witty banter and fast-paced action make this a fairly quick read.  I recommend this book to fans of series like Hunger Games, Maze Runner, and Monument 14.

Happy Reading!

Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia

enter-title-hereI don’t know how honor students in high school today manage not to have nervous breakdowns on a regular basis.  I went to a school that had a fairly good “enrichment” program starting in elementary school and followed that program straight through taking AP level classes in high school.  Perhaps it is only because I attended a relatively small school (with a graduating class of just under 100 students), but I never felt any extreme pressure to work the system for the highest possible GPA.  We were all encouraged to do our best, to take AP exams to save on time/money in college, to apply for college and scholarships based on our interests, and to also participate in other extra-curricular activities.  My classmates and I had the general knowledge that extra-curricular activities could impact our college applications, but we didn’t spend every waking moment calculating which activities would look best on college applications — we just chose the activities that supported our interests.  (What a concept!)

Reshma Kapoor is a fictional character, but my experiences in working with teens over the last decade or so have shown me that she is absolutely based on reality…  I wasn’t even working with teens who attended super elite schools, and many of them were still beyond stressed about which classes they needed to take and which activities would best round-out their college applications.  (Some of them actually started worrying about college in middle school!)  In addition to the fact that Reshma attends an über elite and highly competitive school, though, she also faces a lot of pressure from her Asian-American parents who believe that studying and doing well in school are of the utmost importance.  For nearly her entire life, she has focused on academic achievement with an end-goal of becoming a doctor.  Now that senior year is here and Reshma is *this* close to graduating, she is fully dedicated to keeping her position as valedictorian and getting accepted to Stanford.  Especially now that Reshma has a literary agent who is interested in helping her publish a book, she is certain that she has an edge on the competition.  If only she wasn’t so lacking in life experience and knew more about “typical” teenagers, she might have an easier time writing that book…  So, she’ll just have to make a friend and get a boyfriend to get some plot points.  How hard could it possibly be?!?

Happy Reading!