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Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home by Nando Parrado and Vince Rause

>> Thursday, June 28, 2007

Published: 2006
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 291
Non-Fiction Five Alternate #2

I first read the story of the Rugby team whose plane crashed in the Andes in 1972 back when I was in high school.
Alive by Piers Paul Read was a fascinating and compelling story of these young men who survived under unimaginable conditions for more than 2 months high in the Andes. I chose to skip the movie when it was released because it just seemed too much sensationalism over the fact that they survived by consuming the bodies of their fellow passengers.

Last year, when I found out that this book by one of the survivors was going to be released, I knew that I would read it. Nando Parrado was one of the two survivors who hiked out of the mountains and let the world know that they were still alive and there were others still fighting to stay that way up at the crash site.

This book is more than just a retelling of the story by one of the survivors. It’s also the story of how this horrifying experience has shaped and impacted his life from the perspective of thirty years later.

In Nando's words - Before:

Life for me was something that was happening today. I had no strong principles, no defining goals or drives. In those days, if you had asked me the purpose of life, I might have laughed and answered, “To have fun.” It did not occur to me that I could only afford the luxury of this carefree attitude because of the sacrifices of my father, who from a very young age, had taken his life seriously.


The mountains were forcing me to change. My mind was growing colder and simpler as it adjusted to my new reality. I began to see life as it must appear to an animal struggling to survive – as a simple game of win or lose, life or death, risk and opportunity. Basic instincts were taking hold, suppressing complex emotions and narrowing the focus of my mind until my entire existence seemed to revolve around the two new organizing principles of my life: the chilling apprehension that I was going to die, and the searing need to be with my father.

After hearing a radio transmission that the search for them had been called off:

I suddenly understood that in this awful place, too much certainty could kill us; ordinary civilized thinking could cost our lives. I vowed to myself that I would never pretend to understand these mountains.
I knew there was more to Numa’s refusal than simple disgust. On some level, he had had enough, and his refusal to eat was his rebellion against the inescapable nightmare our lives had become. Who could survive such a litany of horrors as we had been forced to endure? What had we done to deserve such misery? What was the meaning of our suffering? Did our lives have any value? What kind of God could be so cruel? These questions plagued me every moment, but somehow I understood that thoughts like these were dangerous. They led to nothing but an impotent rage that quickly soured into apathy. In this place, apathy meant death, so I fought off the questions by conjuring thoughts of my family at home.
. . . I took some pictures of Roberto and Tintin with the camera we had found. I thought that if we didn’t make it out alive, someone might find the camera and develop the film, and they would know that we had lived, at least for a while. For some reason, this was important to me.

After more than two months on the mountain Parrado and two other men set out . . . When they reached the summit and realized that they were deeper in the Andes than they had thought, one returned to the wreck. Nando and Roberto Canessa continued on despite their fears that it might be hopeless. 10 days and 70 miles (including a 15,000 foot mountain summit) after leaving the crash site they met up with a Chilean farmer who sent for help.

This book was fascinating, horrifying, and the kind of story that makes you think - could I? would I? I simply cannot imagine the horrors that these men experienced at such a young age. This book goes beyond 'Alive' to tell of the aftermath of this experience for Nando and the others. He has gone on to become a successful businessman, speaker and family man.

Why tell this story again all these years after 'Alive' was originally written? Co-author Vince Rause asked himself that before he met with Nando Parrado. In his acknowledgements he describes his first meeting and conversation with Nando:

Nando kept his eyes on me as he described these things and there was a quiet urgency in his voice. He wanted me to understand. The story has been told before, he seemed to be saying, but not this story, not my story . . .

It is a story worth reading.


Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs

>> Monday, June 25, 2007

Published: 1997
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 532
Challenge: Summer Mystery Reading Challenge #2

This is the first of a new series for me and I definitely plan on reading more if them. I know that this series is the basis for the TV series “Bones” but since I’ve never watched that show I had no preconceptions going in. As I understand, the books and the TV series are more different than they are alike.

Temperance Brennan is a Forensic Anthropologist working in Montreal. She begins to make connections between several rather gruesome cases but has a hard time convincing the lead investigator. Of course, this being a mystery series – she starts investigating on her own. The usual story of a smart character doing not-so-smart things. But, without that, where would the series have to go? Ultimately, she does convince the investigators and is made part of investigation team.

The pace is quick, the suspense builds, ebbs, and builds again. The reader learns a bit here and there along the way about Tempe’s life and past. This one kept me guessing and kept me turning the pages. I’m adding the next one from this series to my TBR list.


Shem Creek by Dorothea Benton Frank

>> Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Published: 2004
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 313
Challenges: Southern Reading Challenge #1
From the inside cover;

Linda Breland has no experience managing a restaurant, but then neither did Brad Jackson, and he owns the place.

Meet Linda Breland, single parent of two teenage daughters. The oldest, Lindsey, who always held her younger sister in check, is leaving for college. And Gracie, her Tasmanian devil, is giving her nightmares. Linda's personal life? Well, between the married men, the cold New Jersey winters, her pinched wallet and her ex-husband who marries a beautiful, successful woman ten years younger than she is—let’s just say, Linda has seen enough to fill a thousand pages.

As the story opens, she is barreling down Interstate 95, bound for Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, the land of her ancestors. Welcomed by the generous heart of her advice dispensing sister, Mimi, Linda and her daughters slowly begin to find their way and discover a sweeter rhythm of life.

I’ve read 3 other books by Dorothea Benton Frank and have enjoyed them. This one was a bit predictable, but I really didn't mind. Within a couple of chapters I knew how it would unfold. It was still a fun book and would make a great beach read. The setting is once again near Charleston, SC. I visited that area several times when my brother lived there, so I can readily envision it. Sure, the book is light and predictable, but the characters are fun and there is enough southern charm and wit to make it easy to just sit on the porch and enjoy reading it.


The Colony by John Tayman

>> Sunday, June 17, 2007

Published: 2006
Genre: Non Fiction
Pages: 386
Challenges: Non-Fiction Five #2

I first heard of Molokai when I read Hawaii by James Michener when I was in Junior High school. When this book came out in 2006, it wasn’t long before I started reading and hearing good things about it.

For 103 years, beginning in 1866, the Hawaiian and then American governments forcibly removed more than eight thousand people to a remote and inaccessible peninsula on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, and into one of the largest leprosy colonies in the world. The governments did so in the earnest belief that leprosy was rampantly contagious, that isolation was the only effective means of controlling the disease, and that every person it banished actually suffered from leprosy and was thus a hopeless case. On all three counts, they were wrong.
Tayman explores the history of Molokai and its people, from the Hawaii Board of Health, to the Administrators and Physicians involved, to the exiles themselves and the people who tried to help them. It’s a fascinating story of medical ignorance and fear that led to criminalizing a disease. The horrible conditions and neglect that lasted for years is contrasted with the stories of those who willingly went and tried to help. Once medical research finally let to treatment, the story focuses on some of the elderly who chose to stay in the place where they’d spent the majority of their lives.


Privileged Information by Stephen White

>> Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Published: 1991
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 381
Challenges: Medical Mystery Challenge #1,
Summer Mystery Reading Challenge #1

Alan Gregory is a clinical psychologist in Boulder, Colorado. When one of his patients dies of an apparent suicide, Alan is surprised because he didn’t see any indications that this might happen. Soon he finds himself under suspicion of inappropriate sexual contact with her. Before long, 2 more of his female clients are dead and Alan seems to be the only connection. Alan struggles with keeping information about his clients confidential, while at the same time trying to clear his name.

This is Stephen White’s first novel and is not bad for a debut. There are flaws – some of the characters seem a bit wooden, and somewhat unlikable, but it still kept me turning the pages. I changed my mind a couple of times about who the real killer might be and why. I did like it well enough to put more of Stephen White’s books on my TBR list.


Audiobook – The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith

>> Friday, June 8, 2007

Published: 2007
Genre: Fiction (I can’t honestly classify this series as mysteries)
Book on CD Read by Lisette Lecat

This is the most recent and eighth in a series that I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to. The combination of Lisette Lecat’s fabulous voices and accent and the quiet charm of the story are just a pleasure. I’ve never actually sat and read any of this series, so I don’t know if I’d feel the same way about them in that format. I have a feeling I might either breeze through them too fast to enjoy them or I might get bored and not continue with the series. For me, they have simply been ear candy.

If you like the series (either in audio or as a 3-D book) you’ll enjoy this latest installment. If you don’t like the series, this one won’t change your mind. If you tried reading and felt ambivalent with the earlier books, I encourage you to give Lisette Lecat’s reading of them a try.


Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles

Published: 2002
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 321

From the inside cover:

For the Colleys of southeastern Missouri, the War Between the States is a plague that threatens devastation, despite the family's avowed neutrality. For eighteen-year-old Adair Colley, it is a nightmare that tears apart her family and forces her and her sisters to flee. The treachery of a fellow traveler, however, brings about her arrest, and she is caged with the criminal and deranged in a filthy women's prison.

This is the first novel by Jiles, who had previously made a name for herself as a poet. The writing is definitely lyrical. There are fabulous images that pop up and make you pause:
Major William Neumann rode looking at his horse’s ears, as they twitched here
and there picking up sounds, the sight of another horse. The perfect
silver trunks of the beech trees passed him one by one and their shadow slipped
over him like the bars of a prison.
Although this is a novel, each chapter opens with excerpts from letters and documents from the period and gives the reader a sense of the context and setting of the story.

One thing about the writing both intrigued and annoyed me. The author chose not to use quotation marks within the text. For the first third or so of the book it was irritating. In one paragraph there would be narrative, things a character was thinking and things that same character was saying. I found myself having to go back and reread paragraphs many times. After a while though, I got used to it and just went with the flow of the writing.

The book wasn’t great for me, but I’m almost positive that was a timing issue. I read it because I needed to finish it soon to get it back to the library. I had just given up on a book and maybe I should have picked up something I knew would be a quick fast paced read. This was not. It was well written and interesting, but it didn’t capture me. Something about it just fell flat and I don’t know what.

This was my June book for the TBR challenge, so it’s good to cross another one off my list that’s been hanging around there for a while.


The Chunkster Challenge Complete

>> Monday, June 4, 2007

OK, so it wasn't the original six I'd planned to read, but it was still 6 books over 600 pages.
Thanks so much to Bookfool for hosting this Challenge. Without this combined with Booklogged's Classics Challenge I don't think I would have actually tackled both Les Miserables and The Three Musketeers. I did and totally loved both books.

The other 4 I read were good, but those two really stood out as excellent.

So - here's the final list with links back to my original posts.

  1. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1463 pages)
  2. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (719 pages)
  3. Wanderers Eastward, Wanderers West by Kathleen Winsor (919 pages)
  4. Voyager by Diana Gabaldon (1059 pages)
  5. Total Control by David Baldacci (692 pages)
  6. Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris (721 pages)

I love big fat books and I've enjoyed reading these, but I have to admit that I am looking forward to reading a bunch of those books that have been added to my TBR pile while I've been reading these.


Change of Challenge plans

I had to give up on Peachtree Road by Anne Rivers Siddons. I really love this book, but at the halfway point I couldn't care about the characters and could only care about how soon I could start reading something else. So -- back to the library it went.

This has implications for my plans for both the Chunkster Challenge and the Southern Reading Challenge.

As far as the Chunkster Challenge, I'm declaring that one successfully completed. Even without finishing Peachtree Road, because I’m substituting Total Control (692 pages), which I read in April as my 6th Chunkster and updating my posted lists.

For the Southern Reading Challenge, I’m going to substitute Shem Creek by Dorothea Benton Frank.


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