Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A Thousand Naked Strangers

Book 75 of my 2019 Reading Challenge
read from November 13 - 19

A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic's Wild Ride to the Edge and Back
by Kevin Hazzard

Summary (via Goodreads)
published 2016

A former paramedic’s visceral, poignant, and mordantly funny account of a decade spent on Atlanta’s mean streets saving lives and connecting with the drama and occasional beauty that lies inside catastrophe.

In the aftermath of 9/11 Kevin Hazzard felt that something was missing from his life—his days were too safe, too routine. A failed salesman turned local reporter, he wanted to test himself, see how he might respond to pressure and danger. He signed up for emergency medical training and became, at age twenty-six, a newly minted EMT running calls in the worst sections of Atlanta. His life entered a different realm—one of blood, violence, and amazing grace.

Thoroughly intimidated at first and frequently terrified, he experienced on a nightly basis the adrenaline rush of walking into chaos. But in his downtime, Kevin reflected on how people’s facades drop away when catastrophe strikes. As his hours on the job piled up, he realized he was beginning to see into the truth of things. There is no pretense five beats into a chest compression, or in an alley next to a crack den, or on a dimly lit highway where cars have collided. Eventually, what had at first seemed impossible happened: Kevin acquired mastery. And in the process he was able to discern the professional differences between his freewheeling peers, what marked each—as he termed them—as “a tourist,” “true believer,” or “killer.”

Combining indelible scenes that remind us of life’s fragile beauty with laugh-out-loud moments that keep us smiling through the worst, A Thousand Naked Strangers is an absorbing read about one man’s journey of self-discovery—a trip that also teaches us about ourselves.

My Opinion
3 stars

I'm not going to review this book.  I read it while sitting with my dad in the hospital and my notes are all along the lines of, "strange to read in a hospital", "maybe not best to read about people dying", and "I may not have gauged correctly if I should read this book".  I finished reading it November 19 and it's the last book I read in 2019 as we transitioned from the hospital to hospice (which I didn't expect while I was reading this) to my dad's death on December 13.

Very much "wrong place, wrong time" for this book so I'm rating it neutrally.

Jay's Journal

Book 74 of my 2019 Reading Challenge
read November 18

Summary (via Goodreads)
published 2010

December 18
Things are going from worse to impossible. I'm fighting a losing battle...

Jay thought he could handle anything. The first time he took drugs was for fun. But what started as an escape quickly spiraled into a haze of addiction. That was just the beginning of the dangerous path that ultimately led Jay to take his own life. 

This is the journal he left behind.

My Opinion
1 star

Normally 1 star reviews are ones I hate so much I have to vent and rant but this won't be long.

What's the point of this book?  It was similar to "Go Ask Alice" in that it's obviously an adult trying to sound like a kid and failing miserably.  It was so bad.

So the author can say "retard" and "fruit/queer" multiple times but refers to using the bathroom as having to "go stinky"?  Ummm...ok.

The Future is Female!

Book 73 of my 2019 Reading Challenge
read from October 15 - November 15

The Future is Female! 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women

published 2018
*Note: this collection was published in 2018 but the stories themselves were written between the 1920s and 1960s*

A collection of science fiction stories, all written by women between the 1920s and 1960s.

My Opinion
4 stars

I came across this book in the library catalog while doing a keyword search for something else and I'm glad it caught my eye and I read it.  All the stories were written by women which was interesting but what interested me more were seeing the imagination of the times (the stories were written between the 1920s and 1960s).  The social commentary was insightful (such as a story using rainbow-colored aliens to talk about racism) and it was also fun seeing storylines that I'm sure were new at the time but are now the plot of every disaster movie (one person sacrificing themselves for the greater good).

I wrote a few notes about each story but they're pretty repetitive (how many times can I say "good read"?) so I'm not going to bother typing them out.  There were only one or two stories that I didn't like and the rest were good.  The ones I starred as really enjoying were The Black God's Kiss, In Hiding, Contagion, All the Colors of the Rainbow, The Tunnel Ahead, and Baby, You Were Great.  


Book 72 of my 2019 Reading Challenge
read from October 23 - 31

Dimestore: A Writer's Life
by Lee Smith

Summary (via Goodreads)
published 2016

For the inimitable Lee Smith, place is paramount. For forty-five years, her fiction has lived and breathed with the rhythms and people of the Appalachian South. But never before has she written her own story.
Set deep in the mountains of Virginia, the Grundy of Lee Smith’s youth was a place of coal miners, tent revivals, mountain music, drive-in theaters, and her daddy’s dimestore. It was in that dimestore--listening to customers and inventing adventures for the store’s dolls--that she became a storyteller. Even when she was sent off to college to earn some “culture,” she understood that perhaps the richest culture she might ever know was the one she was driving away from--and it’s a place that she never left behind.
Dimestore’s fifteen essays are crushingly honest, wise and perceptive, and superbly entertaining. Smith has created both a moving personal portrait and a testament to embracing one’s heritage. It’s also an inspiring story of the birth of a writer and a poignant look at a way of life that has all but vanished.

My Opinion
3 stars

This was a quiet book that didn't generate real feelings one way or the other for me.  A completely neutral 3 stars.

I'll Be Gone in the Dark

Book 71 of my 2019 Reading Challenge
read from October 9 - 23

I'll Be Gone in the Dark
by Michelle McNamara

Summary (via Goodreads)
published 2018

For more than ten years, a mysterious and violent predator committed fifty sexual assaults in Northern California before moving south, where he perpetrated ten sadistic murders. Then he disappeared, eluding capture by multiple police forces and some of the best detectives in the area.
Three decades later, Michelle McNamara, a true crime journalist who created the popular website TrueCrimeDiary.com, was determined to find the violent psychopath she called "the Golden State Killer." McNamara pored over police reports, interviewed victims, and embedded herself in the online communities that were as obsessed with the case as she was.
At the time of the crimes, the Golden State Killer was between the ages of eighteen and thirty, Caucasian, and athletic—capable of vaulting tall fences. He always wore a mask. After choosing a victim—he favored suburban couples—he often entered their home when no one was there, studying family pictures, mastering the layout. He attacked while they slept, using a flashlight to awaken and blind them. Though they could not recognize him, his victims recalled his voice: a guttural whisper through clenched teeth, abrupt and threatening.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark—the masterpiece McNamara was writing at the time of her sudden death—offers an atmospheric snapshot of a moment in American history and a chilling account of a criminal mastermind and the wreckage he left behind. It is also a portrait of a woman’s obsession and her unflagging pursuit of the truth. Framed by an introduction by Gillian Flynn and an afterword by her husband, Patton Oswalt, the book was completed by McNamara's lead researcher and a close colleague. Utterly original and compelling, it is destined to become a true crime classic—and may at last unmask the Golden State Killer.

My Opinion
3 stars

Good writing so if true crime is an interest of yours, you will enjoy this book.  Maybe...there is the frustration of not have an answer or even suspects to choose from (which is not a spoiler to say).  It was interesting to see the deep dives of both professionals and non-professionals.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Missing Pieces

Book 70 of my 2019 Reading Challenge
read on October 16

Missing Pieces
by Heather Gudenkauf

Summary (via the book jacket)
published 2016

Sarah Quinlin's husband, Jack, has been haunted for decades by the untimely death of his mother when he was just a teenager, her body found in the cellar of their family farm, the circumstances a mystery. For years Jack has avoided returning home, but when his beloved aunt Julia is in an accident, Jack and Sarah are forced to confront the past that they have long evaded.
Upon arriving, Sarah and Jack are welcomed by the family Jack left behind all those years ago. But as facts about Julia's accident begin to surface, Sarah realizes that nothing about the Quinlans is what it seems. Sarah dives deep into the puzzling rabbit hole of Jack's past, but the farther in she climbs, the harder it is for her to get out. And soon she is faced with a deadly truth she may not be prepared for.

My Opinion
4 stars

4 stars because it was intensely readable and I read it in one sitting to find out what happened (and didn't completely predict the ending).  However...that rating comes with the caveat that the reader must absolutely suspend belief about all the convenient coincidences and how the story develops (he's able to keep a secret from his wife for twenty years but then she can get all the details within forty-eight hours of setting foot in his hometown because a million strangers talk to her?) and just go along for the ride.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota

Book 69 of my 2019 Reading Challenge
read from October 7 - 15

The Lager Queen of Minnesota
by J. Ryan Stradal

Summary (via Goodreads)
published 2019

Two sisters, one farm. A family is split when their father leaves their shared inheritance entirely to Helen, his younger daughter. Despite baking award-winning pies at the local nursing home, her older sister, Edith, struggles to make what most people would call a living. So she can't help wondering what her life would have been like with even a portion of the farm money her sister kept for herself.
With the proceeds from the farm, Helen builds one of the most successful light breweries in the country, and makes their company motto ubiquitous: "Drink lots. It's Blotz." Where Edith has a heart as big as Minnesota, Helen's is as rigid as a steel keg. Yet one day, Helen will find she needs some help herself, and she could find a potential savior close to home. . . if it's not too late.
Meanwhile, Edith's granddaughter, Diana, grows up knowing that the real world requires a tougher constitution than her grandmother possesses. She earns a shot at learning the IPA business from the ground up--will that change their fortunes forever, and perhaps reunite her splintered family?
Here we meet a cast of lovable, funny, quintessentially American characters eager to make their mark in a world that's often stacked against them. In this deeply affecting family saga, resolution can take generations, but when it finally comes, we're surprised, moved, and delighted.

My Opinion
4 stars

First off, I have to again share the story of meeting this author.  My friends and I were on our annual girls' trip to the Iowa City Book Festival a few years ago and immediately after listening to him give a reading of his first book (Kitchens of the Great Midwest) we saw him eating alone at the restaurant next door.  I'm a complete introvert but to my friends' great surprise I actually approached him and invited him to eat with us.  He accepted, leading to a meal with wonderful conversation (and zero pictures, giving away the ages of everyone involved in this story).

As a born and bred Midwesterner (Iowa), I appreciate this author so much for his ability to capture the particular dialogue and lifestyle without completely descending into cliches.  Most people are "homey" and nice and yes, a little naive at times, but not stupid.  Not being worldly is not the same thing as not being smart which is an unfortunate trap authors fall into sometimes when writing about our area.

I know Edith on a cellular level.  I do not like Helen at all - there is no excuse for the way things continued.  This is not the author's fault, this is my opinion on characters as though they were real life people, haha.

This is just a lovely read that wraps up nicely but not sappily.