The Honor Was Mine

A very special post today on Isle of Books, as we remember the fallen on the 15th anniversary of 9/11. For all those who serve at home and abroad. For all those civilians who have lost their lives to terrorists. And for all those who gave their lives in service to their country. We remember you.

The Honor Was Mine by Elizabeth Heaney

When therapist Elizabeth Heaney left her private practice to counsel military service members and their families, she came face-to-face with unheard-of struggles and fears. Emotions run deeply—and often silently—in the hearts of combat veterans in this eye-opening portrait of the complex, nuanced lives of service personnel, who return from battling the enemy and grapple with readjusting to civilian life.

Presenting the soldiers’ stories—told in their own words—as well as her own story of change, Heaney offers an intimate perspective, not of war itself but of its emotional aftermath. Some of these stories scrape the bone; others are hopeful, even comical. Every one reveals the sacrifices of those on the front lines and the courage, grace, and honor with which they serve.

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(Book provided in exchange for an honest review)

When I was first contacted about reviewing this book, I admit I was very apprehensive. I don’t normally read memoirs. I almost never read books about war. And I never read books about the soldiers who fought in those wars.

I’m so glad I said yes to this one. The Honor Was Mine is a profoundly touching look at the soldiers who fight for our country.

In reading this book, I realized how little I really knew about our military. It’s only within the past couple years that I’ve gotten to know a few active duty and recently returned military service members. But even that is not on the level of what this book takes you to. She takes us deep into the complex emotions of those that have served and those that have stayed behind.  In particularly moving section, the author writes, “When soldiers deploy, there are theoretically three possibilities: (1) they come home, (2) they come home changed, or (3) they don’t make it home at all. But in reality, only the last two options occur.” The Honor Was Mine is a book about a war and the soldiers who weather the storm of change.

The author’s own personal journey as a military counselor is intertwined with the many stories of service members and their families. Heaney takes us into a side of the military that is rarely glimpsed by the public. We get to know a little bit about how the bases operate, what life is like for soldiers “downrange”, the military spouse community, and most strikingly, the work that is done to return a deceased soldier’s effects to their family. This last was especially eye opening. I never thought much about what happens to the belongings and I especially didn’t consider that someone, somewhere, was taking the time to wash and dry their clothing, polish their shoes, and scrub their belt buckle clean.

The content it itself is tremendous, but so is the writing. The author has a great command of language and the organization of the book and the chosen subheads result in a book that is hard to put down.

This book should be required reading for all Americans! I hope this book gains the attention it deserves!

 

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9 Best Dystopian Fiction Novels

Since I did a roundup of the 9 Best Apocalyptic Fiction Novels a few weeks ago, I had to follow that up with my picks for best dystopian fiction novels.

As I mentioned in the first post, I draw a distinction between dystopian and apocalyptic fiction. To reiterate, in my opinion, a dystopian novel is one that puts forth the notion of a flawed utopia, which usually occurs after a great disaster. You can normally identify a dystopian by the presence of a strong government or ruler.

Merriam-Webster defines “Dystopia” as:

An imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives. An anti-utopia.

One of the first dystopian novels I ever read, and probably the most famous of the few that existed before The Hunger Games started a dystopian YA fad, is George Orwell’s 1984. 1984 definitely sparked my obsession with dystopian fiction. I’d read The Giver and Among the Hidden by that time, but it wasn’t until 1984 that I knew what these types of books were called and thus how to track down more of them to read. And 1984 also kicks off my list of the 9 Best Dystopian Fiction Novels!

9 Best Dystopian Fiction Novels

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1984 by George Orwell

Winston Smith works for the Ministry of truth in London, chief city of Airstrip One. Big Brother stares out from every poster, the Thought Police uncover every act of betrayal. When Winston finds love with Julia, he discovers that life does not have to be dull and deadening, and awakens to new possibilities. Despite the police helicopters that hover and circle overhead, Winston and Julia begin to question the Party; they are drawn towards conspiracy. Yet Big Brother will not tolerate dissent – even in the mind. For those with original thoughts they invented Room 101 . . .

My Take: This is the one that started it all for me. Relatively simple in its composition and ideas, 1984 nonetheless possesses that special something that endures and permeates our culture.

You can read my full review of 1984 here.

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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The nation of Panem, formed from a post-apocalyptic North America, is a country that consists of a wealthy Capitol region surrounded by 12 poorer districts. Early in its history, a rebellion led by a 13th district against the Capitol resulted in its destruction and the creation of an annual televised event known as the Hunger Games. In punishment, and as a reminder of the power and grace of the Capitol, each district must yield one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 through a lottery system to participate in the games. The ‘tributes’ are chosen during the annual Reaping and are forced to fight to the death, leaving only one survivor to claim victory.

When 16-year-old Katniss’s young sister, Prim, is selected as District 12’s female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart Peeta, are pitted against bigger, stronger representatives, some of whom have trained for this their whole lives. , she sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before. For her, survival is second nature.

My Take: I really enjoyed this series overall. I liked the story, but I also liked that Collins wasn’t afraid to shy away from violence. Once they hit high school, I believe teenagers are old enough to contemplate the big ideas of our world, the pretty and the not-so pretty.

You can read my full review of The Hunger Games series here.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

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In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

My Take: It’s rare these days that a book makes me stop to look up a word, but Divergent made me stop and look up two!! Abnegation and Erudite. This was overall a great series, but I can’t say I saw the direction the third book would take us in and that absolutely shocking death! Also, I’m still a little jealous of how young Roth was when she wrote this and gained international acclaim. Her and Victoria Aveyard.

You can read my full review of Divergent here.

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Matched by Allie Condie

In the Society, officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die.

Cassia has always trusted their choices. It’s hardly any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one…until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path no one else has ever dared follow—between perfection and passion.

My Take: This was a beautifully written series. Most of the books on this list sacrifice more lyrical prose in favorite of plot and action. The Matched series has plenty of plot, a little less action, and plenty of beautiful writing.

You can read my full review of Matched here.

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Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Ninety-five days, and then I’ll be safe.
I wonder whether the procedure will hurt.
I want to get it over with.
It’s hard to be patient.
It’s hard not to be afraid while I’m still uncured, though so far the deliria hasn’t touched me yet.
Still, I worry.
They say that in the old days, love drove people to madness.
The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don’t.

My Take: I still haven’t finished this series, I just recently picked up Pandemonium. But this was another book I really enjoyed and I’m excited to see where the series goes. It also inspired by my love for this E.E. Cummings poem: [I carry your heart (I carry it in].

You can read my full review of Delirium here.

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Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.

Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies… even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

My Take: This is one of the more recent books I’ve read on my list and one I’ve raved about. I haven’t finished this series yet either, but I will soon.

You can read my full review of Red Rising here.

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The Giver by Lois Lowry

In a world with no poverty, no crime, no sickness and no unemployment, and where every family is happy, 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community’s Receiver of Memories. Under the tutelage of the Elders and an old man known as the Giver, he discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world and struggles against the weight of its hypocrisy. With echoes of Brave New World, in this 1994 Newbery Medal winner, Lowry examines the idea that people might freely choose to give up their humanity in order to create a more stable society. Gradually Jonas learns just how costly this ordered and pain-free society can be, and boldly decides he cannot pay the price.

My Take:

This is probably truly one of the first dystopian novels I ever read, though I didn’t know it at the time. I often forget about this one when I’m thinking of Dystopian novels. I probably need to do a re-read of this one. I also read Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son, but I remember The Giver as being my favorite of the four.

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Uglies by Scott Westerfield

Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. In just a few weeks she’ll have the operation that will turn her from a repellent ugly into a stunning pretty. And as a pretty, she’ll be catapulted into a high-tech paradise where her only job is to have fun.

But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to become a pretty. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world– and it isn’t very pretty. The authorities offer Tally a choice: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. Tally’s choice will change her world forever…

My Take:

This is a great dystopian series from the pre-Hunger Games craze. Many books on this list came out in the wake of The Hunger Games mania, but this series pre-dates that. This is by far my favorite series by Westerfield.

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Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Luke has never been to school. He’s never had a birthday party, or gone to a friend’s house for an overnight. In fact, Luke has never had a friend.

Luke is one of the shadow children, a third child forbidden by the Population Police. He’s lived his entire life in hiding, and now, with a new housing development replacing the woods next to his family’s farm, he is no longer even allowed to go outside.

Then, one day Luke sees a girl’s face in the window of a house where he knows two other children already live. Finally, he’s met a shadow child like himself. Jen is willing to risk everything to come out of the shadows — does Luke dare to become involved in her dangerous plan? Can he afford “not” to?

My Take:

I honestly don’t know if I read this or The Giver first, but this is another series I often forget about. Both because I read it so long ago and because it’s aimed at a bit younger audience. I read all the rest of the books in this series and enjoyed them. I should probably reread this as well.

Anything you would add to my list? Leave me a comment below!

 

Cascadia

By H.W. “Buzz” Bernard

Dr. Rob Elwood, a respected geologist, has studied the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a dangerous fault off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, for years. Now he’s having repeated nightmares of a massive earthquake and tsunami striking the region. Knowing he’s placing his reputation and career at risk, he goes public with his premonitions.

The quake fails to occur and Rob fears he’s lost everything. But the disaster does strike, just not when expected, and Rob finds himself not only vindicated, but hurled abruptly into a life-and-death rescue mission with his private aircraft.

Rob’s story intersects with several others, including that of a retired fighter pilot attempting to make amends to a woman he jilted twenty-five years earlier, and another of an elderly black man searching for legendary buried treasure along the rugged Oregon coast.

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(A copy of this book was provided to me in exchange for an honest review)

I’m a huge fan of action movies. Even if someone tells me it’s a bad movie, I’ll still go watch it because, as long as things are blowing up, how can it really be a bad movie? I’m not expecting an Oscar-winning film. Just to see special effects and things set on fire.

The beginning of Cascadia was a bit heavy-handed with the explanation of earthquakes and how they work, etc, though I definitely walked away knowing more about earthquakes than I did before. I also wish more time had been spent introducing the main characters before the earthquake hit. But like I said, I’m not expecting Pultizer prize-winning writing. I just want to be entertained.

And I was! This book is very exciting and is everything you could want in a disaster movie, er, book. Widespread devastation, high stakes, narrow escapes, ordinary people turned heroes, it’s all here.

Jonathan and Zurry were by far my favorite characters. I love a good treasure hunt story and the fact that this was a sub-plot in a disaster story made it even better.

The only part I really couldn’t get my head around was the plotline with Cassie. It seemed very out-of-place and didn’t do much for the story.

Overall, a very enjoyable read that would be great for summer!

 

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Reached Ally Condie (Matched #3)

After leaving Society to desperately seek The Rising, and each other, Cassia and Ky have found what they were looking for, but at the cost of losing each other yet again. Cassia is assigned undercover in Central city, Ky outside the borders, an airship pilot with Indie. Xander is a medic, with a secret. All too soon, everything shifts again.

This is the third book in the Matched series. It was every bit as beautiful, engrossing, and unputdownable as the other two in the series. I still think Book 1 was probably my favorite, but this one tied all of the plot points up neatly, or as neatly as possible. All of the characters got an ending that left me feeling satisfied.

I love reading YA and YA dystopias in particular and I must say, this is by far the most beautiful and poetic of all the series. Most YA novels make do with work-horse language, with the occasional profound, quotable moment. This one is littered with it. I suppose some people might find that annoying, but I love it: you CAN blend stellar, action-packed plot with elevated and beautiful language.

Overall, this is definitely not a series to miss!

Have you read this series? Or this book in particular? Leave me a comment below!

A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (Book 1 in A Song of Ice and Fire)

Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun.

As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must … and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty.

The old gods have no power in the south, Stark’s family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, the vengeance-mad heir of the deposed Dragon King has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities. He claims the Iron Throne.

It’s been a couple years since I actually read this book, but as I’m attempting to read book 4 (big book, little time=very slow progress), I decided to go back and write a review. I had originally planned to review the series all at once, but plans change.

I first began this book on audiotape. My boyfriend at the time and I were going camping in Big Bear and we started playing it in the car to pass the hours.

I was immediately intrigued by the opening passages about the white walkers. My interest grew from there. Once we got back home, I drove to the bookstore and bought the book because I had to read the rest. We’d only gotten about a hundred or so pages in, so I still had a lot to read.

And yes, the audio book is also good.

This book introduces you to a huge cast of characters, a sprawling world, a complex history, a war of religions, and almost anything else you can think of. Tyrion was my favorite character in this book, a spot he still retains. I also love Daenerys.

Despite the immense size of the book and the steep learning curve of the world-building, this first entry in the spectacular series is engaging, accessible, and immensely entertaining. George R.R. Martin is quite a writer. Always, I found my jaw literally dropping at the perfection of the placement of some particular phrases or events. Yes, the series is raw, bloody, horrifying, and full of sex. But isn’t life?

After I finished the book, I moved on to the show. Also, so perfect. Peter Dinklage is the most perfect Tyrion. He somehow made the character even better, improving on perfection.

Seriously guys, if you haven’t managed to read the books or watch the show, get on it. Pronto.

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Bodies by Osmond Arnesto

The first printed collection of the author’s poetry and prose. Also featured is a short story on the joys of accounting. For the lonely, the lost, and everyone who has ever known the feeling.

I met Osmond in a few of my writing classes at UCSD. He always impressed me with his comic and heartfelt way of dealing with deeply icky, deeply uncomfortable, and deeply taboo subjects. A mix of theatre actor, stand-up comic, and all-around nice guy, his writing sparkles with that unique something you sadly can’t bottle and sell.

Recently, Osmond self-published his very first work, a collection of poems and short stories. I was delighted to see the short story included as one that had been work shopped in one of my classes.

His poetic voice and style is very well established; his unique way of putting poems together reminds me perhaps of what it might have been like to read a young William Carlos Williams or Juliana Spahr. If you’ve never read those two poets, I highly recommend checking them out.

At 54 pages, my main complaint with this collection was that there wasn’t more. I admire Osmond’s ability to attack difficult subjects and break them into something comedic, however squeamish, while displaying impeccable talent, poise, and extreme breadth of knowledge. There are easter eggs scattered throughout his work for the careful reader, some of them denoted with foot notes. While the ease of movement of the work suggests a hasty dash-off, bearing that beautiful fluidity of stream-of-consciousness, further examination reveals how meticulously every line and sentence have been constructed.

Osmond is off to teach English in Japan for a year, which I’m sure will prompt many more hilariously wonderful poems and stories that I for one can’t wait to read.

His book is available through Amazon or as an e-book through Lulu’s.

The Glass Castle

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn’t stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an “excitement addict.” Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.

Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town—and the family—Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents’ betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.

“I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.”

If that first line doesn’t make you sit down and take notice, nothing will. From the very beginning of the book, it is clear that this is an unconventional story. Made all the more unconventional by the fact that hers is a true story.

I wouldn’t recommend reading this book if you’re also working on/trying to write your own book: you might just feel like giving up. Walls’s writing is rich and powerful, sophisticated and tender. She tells a difficult story with a beautiful brush. As she moves from innocent child, for whom her parents are God, to independent adult, who almost pities them, her narrative style never wavers. Her story is generous and harsh in all the right places. While her parents were far from perfect and her childhood years even less so, we are never given the sense that Walls particularly regrets the past. Rather, she almost looks on it as a sad and distant adventure.

There is no question that it irrevocably shaped who she is. But perhaps, it was for the better. To triumph over such deep adversity, truly, that makes a person.

I loved the idea of “The Glass Castle”, what it represents, how it keeps coming back in the story, and ultimately, that Walls chose to title her memoir The Glass Castle.

Between that first line and this last line, lies an extraordinary book.

“A wind picked up, rattling the windows, and the candle flames suddenly shifted, dancing along the border between turbulence and order.”