Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Review: Untamed

Untamed Untamed by Glennon Doyle
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Glennon Doyle is a deep thinker. She is an incredibly gifted writer. This book is the most serious by far. It is weighty and difficult to read at times. It's almost too much thought and word over something that doesn't need that much thought. There are many nuggets of wisdom within the pages but also a lot of pretty writing and descriptions that exhaust me. I found the book exhausting, actually.

I also found too many contradictions for my soul to find peace. For instance and I know I don't have the full picture but, Glennon and her husband were having serious issues. She called her marriage broken and was on the precipice of making a decision to stay or go. The underlying issue was that her husband had a long line of infidelities. Then G. goes to a conference to promote her book, ironically about putting the broken pieces back together to make a whole family, and Abby walks in and G. thinks, "There she is." The issue that Craig was unfaithful is a big issue. Something that any spouse should sit with and decide what to do, taking into account the needs of the cheated upon as well as the children. That's a whole process of its own. Rather than exploring that, G. starts a relationship with Abby. So she is then guilty of the same thing as her husband; being unfaithful. That just didn't sit right with me.

There are other inconsistencies that, taken only on the emotional level, the reader nods her head and says, "Yes! That's it!" Yet if the reader sits with the essay, pares it down from the pretty words, the essay becomes more of a justification for Glennon doing something that goes against her conscience. She often refers to herself as finally being free to be the cheetah that she was always meant to be, but it often sounds more like excuses for doing whatever she wants, hurting the people that count on her, then wrapping it up in pretty words and true nuggets of wisdom and presenting it to the world. Be who you want to be. Do what you want to do. But don't wrap it cheetah crap in a pretty box, put a bow on it, spray perfume on it, and call it a gift.

Beautiful words, beautiful essays, contradicting messages, lots of words that seem to want to justify that she betrayed her own beliefs by starting a relationship before she was divorced, shook the foundation of her family and herself, tearing down the building blocks of two marriages; her own and Abby's, and upended her children's reality just so she could do whatever she wants to do and calls it Being True to Herself. I found a lot of mental gymnastics and words that didn't quite equate to what she claimed to be saying so I have my doubts about her being True to Herself.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Review: Spare

Spare Spare by Prince Harry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Part I: This book has been wholly mischaracterized. Parts of it have been quoted in the media but, like most of Harry’s life, it is taken out of context. This book, at the very heart of it, is about a boy and his grief. Grief is complex. Processing the death of a mother at the age of 12 is a complicated undertaking for any adolescent boy. Harry’s journey with grief is isolated and lonely. That is the most striking tone of the book. Being part of the British Monarchy means standing apart from the rest, allowing conjecture even when it’s wrong, and never receiving the comfort needed.

This is not a Kitty Kelly tell-all. The attention Prince Harry gives to others is framed by and within his relationships. In fact, the relationships are quite endearing. I like King Charles much better after reading this book. The relationship between Harry and his father is quite tender. In fact, most of my preconceived notions about many of the Royalty were quite wrong. They really are humans cast in the role of Royals. Which really is quite lonely.

The barrier Harry breaks down shedding light on his own life. The life within the Monarchy is fascinating and different from anything I’ve ever known. At the same time, a very human Harry is navigating his duties, his education, trying to stay out of the tabloids, youthful foibles, growing up, and being human, all under the scrutiny of everybody. More than anything, though, Prince Harry is a boy carrying the heavy burden of his grief with nobody to help him process it. He’s not blaming anybody, he’s simply giving his story in authentic strokes and through the perspective of a man that has gained wisdom from his journey. I’m not finished but I’m finding the overarching theme of grief and loneliness universal.

To be continued.


Part II: Wow. Really. Wow. I have a lot of thoughts on this book. The first is that this is the first time a member of the British Monarchy has told his or her story first person. There is no hiding behind the curtain and the pretense of using a third party. This is Harry's story. Harry sheds a light on the goings on within the Monarchy. Again, it is not a gossip rag or tell-all. The Monarchy is a complex system. I watched interviews and was highly confused. Harry talks about the "Institution" with disdain yet shares a recent interaction with a grandparent that is heartwarming and tender. Although it's still not completely clear to me, it seems the Monarchy consists of 4 distinct parts. The first is the institution of the Monarchy. This is an overarching everythingness. It is the pomp and circumstance, the charitable work, the bloody history, the Royal Engagements, and all the people that make it work. It is the Crown. It is the national pride. It is sacred and must be protected at all costs. The second part of the Monarchy is the people. This was Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, Princess Diana, Harry, William, King Charles, etc. They are individuals and have relationships separate from the Institution. The Institution often dictates how they are treated in public and even how the Queen might meet her new great grandchildren, but this part is more personal. That said, the Institution of the Monarchy comes before all else. So relationships are not always intact. Thirdly, we have Royal Aides and secretaries. These are political parties/people that provide services for the Institution. These are also people that leak crap stories to the fourth, and final members of the Monarchy; the Press. The Press is not inherently evil but the tabloids are. Like in the United States, Rupert Murdoch has no respect for truth, privacy, or human life. But he is not the only one. Very early on, Harry establishes that the story spun by the parties regarding Diana's death was one of fiction. The blame fell on the driver who they claimed was drunk (he never drank while on duty) and was dead so he couldn't defend himself. Based on the way the tabloid reporters treated Harry, it is evident that it was they who ran the car into the pylon, causing Diana's death.

All of that is simply a preface to Prince Harry's story. He is unflinchingly honest. He is still very careful to not throw any family members under the bus. He is, however, honest in the fact that they are complicit in their dysfunctional symbiotic relationship with the tabloids. Prince Harry provides context for the past 25 years for his life in the tabloids. Did he do stupid stuff? He did and he owns it.

By the end of the book, I found that the story at shifted from a boy and his lonely grief to being a love letter. It is an achingly beautiful love letter to William. Such a complex relationship, as siblings often are. It is made much more complex in the fact that William's mindset is not relational but institutional. It is a love letter to his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth. The Queen had a special love for Harry and he never doubted it. It is a love letter to his father, the King. He loves him and wishes he had chosen to protect him but he still loves him. It is a love letter to Diana in so many ways. It is a love letter to Meghan and his children, the reason he followed through in doing what Diana began decades ago. He is putting his family first. He is still loyal to the Crown and country, but he separated himself from the Institution in order to become the husband and father he is today. As the "spare" he has the option of becoming an independent person. And frankly, we Americans love him for it. And Meghan for helping him.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Review: Shadows of Pecan Hollow

Shadows of Pecan Hollow Shadows of Pecan Hollow by Caroline Frost
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It was 1970 when thirteen-year-old runaway Kit Walker was abducted by Manny Romero, a smooth-talking, low-level criminal, who first coddled her and then groomed her into his partner-in-crime. Before long, Kit and Manny were infamous for their string of gas station robberies throughout Texas, making a name for themselves as the Texaco Twosome.

Twenty years after they meet, Kit has scraped together a life for herself and her daughter amongst the pecan trees and muddy creeks of the town of Pecan Hollow, far from Manny. But when he shows up at her doorstep a new man, fresh out of prison, Kit is forced to reckon with the shadows of her past, and her community is sent into a tailspin. 

This gritty, penetrating, and unexpectedly tender novel ensnares the reader in its story of resilience and bonds that define us. With its rich rural landscape, indelible characters, and striking regional language, Shadows of Pecan Hollow is a hauntingly intimate and distinctly original debut about the complexity of love—both romantic and familial—and the strength and vulnerability of womanhood. 

Gritty, it is. A little bit of Lolita and quite a bit disturbing. Not my favorite book but well written.

Review: We Carry Their Bones: The Search for Justice at the Dozier School for Boys

We Carry Their Bones: The Search for Justice at the Dozier School for Boys We Carry Their Bones: The Search for Justice at the Dozier School for Boys by Erin Kimmerle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The author of this book began this journey accidentally. As a forensic anthropologist she was called upon to verify 31 graves at an old reform school cemetery. What she discovered was a poorly kept burial spot for the children that died on the campus. As she dug deeper (figuratively speaking and, later, literally), she was approached by some of the survivors of the Arthur Dozier School. Buried in secrecy and shame, the school housed "juvenile delinquents" from ages 5 and up who were imprisoned for minor or no infractions and leased out as slave labor by day, and brutally abused and murdered by night. She uncovered horrific stories which are not clearly shared and attributed for privacy issues but enough is shared that the reader's stomach will turn. 

Using fascinating technology, Kimmerle maps out part of the land and discovers anomolies that indicate 55 graves instead of 31 that were previously marked. The secrets are vast and not all told nor uncovered, but what Kimmerle found were the grown boys of the "White House," a building painted white where unspeakable brutality occurred; beatings with a leather strap, up to 135 lashes by "The One Armed Man," rapes, and murders. The boys were in their late 60's and older and deeply haunted by their time at the school, struggling with mental health issues for the rest of their lives. Additionally, many families never knew what became of their sons and brothers when they didn't come home. The semi-cemetery gave some of them answers.

What the author uncovered was a small town in Florida that did not want the secrets to be told. The school employed their fathers, grandfathers, and uncles who went home every night to their wives and children. They didn't want to know about the systemic racism or the cruel treatment meted out within the walls of the school and the fields in the surrounding areas. 

The author brings some measure of closure to many of those impacted by the abuses at the school and shines a light on the historical (some are not in the distant history) mistreatment and inequality of the juvenile justice system in Florida. For the sake of brevity and readability, the detail on the lives of the boys is limited as is the story of abuse and death. Kimmerle is a scientist and carefully explains the way she went about identifying the unmarked graves, unearthing them, and identifying them where possible. It's heavier on the science side but the connections formed by her work are a clear by-product that impacted the author and the survivors lives for the better.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Review: Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

** spoiler alert ** Apparently, I read this book 12 years ago. I know it impacted me when I read it but I didn’t write a review. The probable reason is that I was still processing it. Honestly, I have spent 12 years processing it and just reread it. It was a different experience. The last time I read this book I was fascinated by the science of altitude, acclimation, climbing strategies, wind velocity, and then the terrible tragedy. Admittedly, I had opinions about many of the climbers and they weren’t always good. I accepted Krakauer’s report of what happened as the truth. The end.

This time around I viewed every climber with more compassion and humanity. I also noticed that Krakauer did not judge harshly. He merely reported what he remembered. He is a reporter AND a mountain climber. He didn’t dissect their characters, but I think I was still looking for a smoking gun, so to speak. Someone that bore responsibility for the tragedy that day. This time around, I viewed every climber with compassion and recognized that there is no smoking gun. There were at least a couple dozen contributing factors, but nothing and nobody caused that tragedy. And everybody and everything contributed to it.

I live at 4500 ft. above sea level. I spend a week every year at a lake at 6000 ft. We have a cabin at about 8000 ft. I think I will also add that, even given this altitude, I suffer from a genetic condition where I have too many red blood cells. Im sleepy the first few days at the lake. I can’t seem to take a full breath at the cabin and I can’t sleep. I am very aware of the altitude, particularly at the cabin. My son gets altitude sickness with a headache and throws up. He doesn’t enjoy the cabin quite as much. We would adapt if we lived there year round. Mount Everest is over 29000 ft. above sea level. They acclimate for some of the altitude, but the energy it takes to breathe thin air and stay warm is not sustainable. What happened is the climbers bodies used up all of their fat and started consuming the muscle. Then bran cells die without adequate oxygen.

As they climbed and the air thinned, their bodies were pushed to the limit but they took 6 weeks on the mountain before the summit. There are four camps. They moved freely between base camp and camp 2, adding camp 3 at the end. Camp 4 and the summit are above 27000 feet. That’s how high airplanes fly. The oxygen is so thin that it is called The Death Zone. Life is not sustainable no matter how prepared a climber is. The body consumes itself, it can’t stay warm, and above all, brain cells die. Every single climber is cognitively impaired. I could not read this book this time around without the fact at the forefront of my mind. It seemed that nobody possessed the cognitive ability at that altitude to make lucid decisions. Or even have clear thoughts. They are confused, may start hallucinating, even lack the ability to fully enjoy the view from the top of the world. I can’t imagine that kind of cognitive impairment, on a technical mountain at that altitude when a blizzard blows in.

This time reading I was most impacted with Krakauer as he returned to base camp and afterward. The sudden clarity as oxygen reached his brain and realization of what happened up there. It would be an impossible event to process. He pieced together the events by using his memory as a guide but gathering information from others. His account is not a complete story. But the aftermath is very real. He wrote this book as a way to process the experience but admitted it merely scratched the surface. Still, it is the most comprehensive book written on the 1996 Everest tragedy. I came away with a greater appreciation for Krakauer’s attempt to reconstruct what happened, mostly on May 10 and 11. There were survivors that are forever scarred (physically and emotionally) who barely made it out alive. Out of oxygen and completely exhausted, they couldn’t help with a possible rescue. There were some heroics but no heroes. There were mistakes but no villains. They were climbers uniting to summit Everest. They all have stories to tell. Krakauer gives as comprehensive report as he could. I read another that was pretty incredible from the group but the writing isn’t as good.

This book stays with you.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Please Join Us

Please Join UsPlease Join Us by Catherine McKenzie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This isn’t my favorite Catherine McKenzie book. The concept is original, though. A group of women form a sisterhood to support one another in their professional pursuits. But it may not be what it seems.

View all my reviews

The Spy Who Knew Too Much

The Spy Who Knew Too Much: Pete Bagley's Quest Through a Legacy of BetrayalThe Spy Who Knew Too Much: Pete Bagley's Quest Through a Legacy of Betrayal by Howard Blum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a really well written non fiction book that is organized like a good novel. Pete Bagley is a rising CIA star, keeping a cool head and using his extraordinary memory to catalog information. The book is told in past and present tense. The present begins in 1978 when a cover is blown in Moscow. Shortly thereafter, a former CIA agent disappears off his tricked out boat. Pete Bagley, retired CIA agent takes note and activates himself to solve some mysteries that cut his promising career short. The present moves forward from there to Bagley’s death in 2014.

The past tense sets the stage of the Cold War and double agents, defection, moles, and misinformation. Spoiler alert: One thing Russia has down Pat is disinformation. The author writes the book like a novel but is not as the cast of characters is large. Rather than take notes, I followed along well enough but will probably read it again. Absolutely fascinating. The story follows the end of the Cold War and enters into the Cold Peace. The book has a satisfying ending with an unlikely friendship developing. So intriguing is the unlikely friendship, I was led to an earlier work by the protagonist, Pete (Tennent) Bagley and am currently reading about the KGB side of the Cold War. Also fascinating but the cast of characters have Russian names so I’ve mostly given up on keeping track of them.

Better than any spy novel or movie I’ve seen.