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review 2014-07-14 00:20
Gritty, raw, adrenaline charged -what war actually feels like
War - Sebastian Junger

Opening Line: “O’Byrne and the men of Battle Company arrived in the last week of May when the rivers were running full and the upper peaks still held snow.”


Great cover on this, a haunting image and an equally powerful read. Written by Sabastian Junger (of The Perfect Storm fame) here he spends 15 months following a single platoon based at a remote outpost in Eastern Afghanistan. His objective is simple, to convey what soldiers experience, what war actually feels like.

Divided into 3 “books” Fear, Killing, and Love from the very first pages you are dropped right onto into the thick of it. Arriving on a remote hilltop in one of Afghanistan’s most dangerous outposts in the Korengal Valley, Junger gives insight into the truths of combat, how these soldiers live and what they see. He describes things that few civilians will ever witness or go through, the fear, the anticipation, the honor and the trust among men. Their outpost is inaccessible, hot, hilly, remote and mortally dangerous. It’s also home to (as I’ve come to understand) the ultimate testosterone filled boys club.

As with (The Perfect Storm) this is not so much a story or novel but a series of events (patrols/battles) tied together with the mechanics of war. How fast bullets travel, military strategy & history, studies on fear and courage and body armour. Lots of things you didn’t know you wanted to know. Junger also manages to get some fairly intimate stories from the men; and you do get a feel for them as they describe what it means to fight, why they’re serving, how they deal with boredom interspaced with sheer adrenaline, chaos and terror and how life will never be more pure or sharp than in that moment when there’s a good chance that you could die.

Between the sounds of gunfire and the agony of loss there are also some surprisingly funny moments, the jocularity and bromance of these guys who may not even like each other but would also die for their “brothers” It is the ultimate commitment not so much to their job but to each other.

Junger does spend some time (at the beginning and end) describing how the men are adjusting back to civilian life and I wish I could say something positive about that.

WAR is gritty, raw, eye opening, funny, adrenaline charged, futile and heartfelt.

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review 2014-07-11 01:10
A silly girl hikes the PCT
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail - Cheryl Strayed

Opening Line: “The trees were tall but I was taller, standing above them on a steep mountain slope in northern California.”


Wild was a very frustrating reading experience and I’m having a hard time understanding how this book received such high praise? Based on all those rave reviews I’d been expecting a “soul-enhancing, inspiring story” not an infuriating exercise on what not to do. I mean what kind of idiot decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone with zero backpacking experience and almost no money set aside for emergencies?

This is the kind of person that first-responders (i.e search & rescue) hate. Unprepared, inexperienced, naïve, a danger to themselves and just plain stupid. Getting into situations that require those first responders to risk their own lives in rescuing them because they didn’t do a little research and preparation. Granted Cheryl Strayed didn’t actually need rescuing but that was just dumb luck on her part.

I also almost lost my mind with the overuse of the word PCT. I get it you’re hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, I don’t need to see the acronym in every sentence, an average of 4-6 times a page, every page for the entire book. She also plugs “her bible” The Pacific Crest Trail volume 1 (and 2) writing the complete name of the book every couple of pages in case we forget what got her where she is.

“Was I on the PCT? All the while, I’d been searching for the small diamond-shaped PCT markers that were occasionally tacked to trees, but I hadn’t seen any. This wasn’t necessarily reason for alarm. I’d learned that the PCT markers weren’t to be relied upon. An hour later I saw a metal diamond that said PACIFIC CREST TRAIL tacked to a snowbound tree, and my body flooded with relief. I still didn’t know precisely where I was, but at least I knew I was on the PCT.”

Ultimately I had zero sympathy for this girl, in fact all she did was make me angry with her stupid decisions and (in the beginning chapters) depress me with the death of her mother, scattering of family members and dissolution of her marriage because she was sleeping around. Don’t even get me started on her lackadaisical, I’ve never tried it before decision to do heroin. I mean what could possibly go wrong there?

So after an abortion and with a fresh track mark on her leg from her last little experiment with H she decides to spend 3 months hiking from the Mojave Desert in California to Oregon in Washington State by herself.

This is still a hell of an adventure and I do have to give her full credit for finishing what she started and persevering through extreme conditions. I will also admit to actually enjoying the last 50 pages or so as Cheryl neared the end of her time on the PCT and seemed to come to terms with herself and find a sort of peace. The writing also improves in these chapters, becoming less repetitive or maybe I just got so used to seeing the word PCT I just didn’t see it anymore. PCT.
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review 2014-07-02 00:31
Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid - Denis Leary

Opening Line: Put this book down. Right now."


Many of my friends were curious about this book and asked me if Leary comes across like an a-hole in it. I assume they’re asking because he generally has a dark, angry style of comedy and his stand up routines contain a lot of yelling and ranting. My answer is no. Providing that is, you keep an open mind, are able to laugh at yourself and check your politically correctness at the door. Leary just states it like it is and tells a little truth about the sucky side in all of us.


I laughed while reading this. I mean really laughed, out loud and then started quoting parts to everyone, including my 67 year old mother who’s now reading it (and laughing). So if you’re a fan of Denis Leary then I can’t recommend this part memoir, part self help tirade enough. Surprisingly there were even sections that helped me, specifically when it comes to understanding how men’s brains work and why they do (or don’t do) what they do. And if you ever need a recipe that calls for 6,000 potatoes he’s got you covered.



Denis starts things out by giving an overview of what he’s going to talking about in the book. These first few chapters were mostly ranting and I wasn’t all that impressed but then he seemed to calm down and possibly even sat down at his computer, gave his mum a call and started to tell a real story. It then becomes a really interesting memoir with hilarious stories about his Irish Catholic upbringing. We learn about his fear of Kung Fu and fascination with the Vulcan nerve pinch. How his older brother beat the crap out of him and why he was lucky to make it out of childhood at all. He even gives us some amusing recipes from his Ma’s special Irish collection.


The middle part of the book moves away from the bio angle and becomes more of an observations about life; raising drug free kids (or not?), sports, his love of dogs and why cats are satanic spawn, guy friends and nicknames, politicians, pop icons, double standards, racism and why he loves Oprah so damn much.


Some parts that stood out for me were his hilarious tirade about Starbucks, how to interpret guy speak and what men are really thinking when you ask the question “What are you thinking?” (You don’t want to know) This section comes complete with an image of the male and female brain, broken down into compartments for importance of thought. Theres also 8 pages of photographs which include shots from his childhood, his wife and kids, Domina Patrick the race car driver (?) And a comparism between him and Willem Dafoe. Hmmm.


Like I said this made me laugh and yes at times it does come across like a comedy routine but it’s also a whole lot more. Besides anyone who’s been with the same woman for 25 years, obviously still adores her, has raised normal children and phones their mum regularly can’t really be an a-hole

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review 2014-06-27 00:09
Amazing Story of a Trek to Freedom
The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom - Slavomir Rawicz

Opening Line: “It was about nine o’clock one bleak November day that the key rattles in the heavy lock of my cell in the Lubyanka Prison and the two broad-shouldered guards marched purposely in.”


Wow what an amazing story, epic is I guess more the word I’m looking for. I read this after watching the movie The Way Back and as is usually the case the book is much better, vastly different yet obviously maintaining the gist of the year long trek across an entire continent to freedom. As a point of interest (or not) Colin Farrell’s tattooed gang character does not exist in the book. Anyways…



Slavomir Rawicz wrote this memoir in 1959 as a form of therapy to escape the memories that still haunted him. It has lost nothing with time however and remains one of the most incredible journeys of strength, endurance and human spirit you’ll ever read.


Its 1941 and “Slav” has just spent two years in a Soviet prison. After multiple beatings and interrogations at the hands of the sadistic prison guard “the Bull” he is eventually found guilty of espionage (?) and sentenced to 25 years forced labour in a Siberian work camp. (These sections were actually some of the most brutal in the whole book)


 Thus begins his journey. Transferred during the dead of winter Slav somehow survives the 3000 mile cattle car train ride and subsequent chain gang death march into inner Siberia and camp 303 in Yakutsk After enduring starvation, cold, illness and brutality he and six other prisoners escape.


Together they cross an entire continent on foot with nothing more than an axe, a knife, a weeks worth of food and an unbreakable will to live. Covering some of the most inhospitable conditions on earth they travel out of Siberia and through China, across the Gobi dessert into Tibet and finally over the Himalayas and into British India. This is where the epic part comes in because their journey is so brutal, so filled with despair and suffering its at times unbelievable and also impossible to put down.




The LONG WALK is written very factually and Slav doesn’t ever tell us how he feels, he just gives a meticulous account of what is taking place. However for this type of storytelling it was perfect. Included in this 1997 version is an afterwards with some of the readers most persistent questions answered. What Slav’s life was like after The Long Walk, What happened to the other men? Did he ever see them again?


This is a story I won’t ever forget and I highly recommend. I mean they walked from Siberia to India, just think about that for a second.

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review 2014-06-18 00:41
Excllent bio -70's surf culture, survival story, and a bond between father & son
Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival (P.S.) - Norman Ollestad

Opening Line: “February 19,1979. At seven that morning my dad, his girlfriend Sandra and I took off from Santa Monica Airport headed for the mountains of Big Bear.”

Set amid the wild uninhibited surf culture of Malibu and Mexico in the late 1970’s, Crazy For The Storm is a fascinating memoir that was hard to put down. It centers around 11 year old Norman Ollestad and the complicated relationship he had with his father. Demanding, charismatic and free-spirited, it is ultimately the thrill-seeking lifestyle and continual test of skills that Norman Senior puts his son through which are responsible for saving his life, when the chartered Cessna carrying them to a ski championship goes down in the California mountains killing everyone else on board.

This devastated 11 year old must then descend the treacherous icy mountain alone. Relying on tools subconsciously learned from an early age and with the voice of his father echoing in his ears “Go for it Boy Wonder. You can do it.”

“The fog undulated, as if breathing and it lifted off the snow for a moment. Fifteen feet across the slope the pilot’s shoes wandered in disparate directions. His legs twisted in the snow. The hem of his shirt folded back and his belly was pale. Am I still asleep?”

Now obviously if I’m reading his memoir then I know that Norman survives but there is still a huge element of suspense maintained throughout this story. The initial scenes with the plane crash are so riveting that at first I was super annoyed when the author decided to start alternating chapters back and forth between his life leading up to the crash and the hours directly after, I wanted to stay at the crash site. I’ll admit though I soon became equally engrossed in Norman’s unusual upbringing in Topanga beach, with its hippie culture, surfing lifestyle and his Mothers alcoholic and often violent boyfriend. Plus you never knew what adventure his father was going to drag him on next.

There are several chapters devoted to a road trip he took into Mexico to deliver a washing machine to his grandparents. With his father’s mantra “This is life Ollestead,” they end up broke, on the run from trigger happy Federales and finally hiding out in a village eating mangoes and surfing the perfect waves while they try to figure out how to get their car fixed.

His father may have been a charmer but he had dubious ideas when it came to parenting (the cover photo shows Norman at about a year old strapped to his father’s back while he surfs) He often placed his son in danger to challenge him and Norman both resented and idolized him and in my opinion was more than a little afraid of him.

While the writing is fantastic it does tend to get a little technical with the skiing and snow terms and I had a hard time visualizing the crash site (the slope -a curtain of ice) so that I never really had a clear picture of what he was facing. From what I understand it does however contain some very good “surf writing”.

I’m a real fan of true-life survival stories but this turned out to be more than a tale of adventure. Powerful and unforgettable, at its heart this is the story about the complex bond between fathers and sons, nurturing and teaching and what we pass on to our children. Leaving me close to tears at the end as we watch a grown Norman teach his own son how to ski and face his fears. Cheers

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